Henry Fool (1997) Directed by Hal Hartley
This is a genius film. It tells a very followable story about a family in Queens and how everything changes for them when one stranger enters their lives. Simplistic enough. But while I am watching the plot unfold, Henry Fool asks many important questions and takes a stand for creativity.
There is nothing wrong with being a garbage man, but if you are a garbage man with poetry inside then you can count yourself lucky that a certain Henry Fool straight from prison is going to get you writing.
And as happens in this movie, finding a creative outlet can be a question of life and death. It can change everything.
But once you have found your outlet, it does not mean that you are good at writing, or playing the piano for that matter. The question of quality, standards for art and the relationship one's creative product has with the existing cultural structure all become real and threatening to those who dare to try expressing themselves. It can be so dangerous and damaging to be criticized that we never recover from it, as the mother in Henry Fool shows.
Yet, there is something very powerful and all-conquering about finding creativity within oneself. What happens to Simon in this film is that through finding his creative outlet he also finds ways of being kind to others, and ways of communicating his true feelings in any given situation. It is as if people around him only really get to know him once he becomes a poet.
Finally, this movie is named after Henry Fool so it must matter who he turns out to be. People who have done bad things can also do good. That is the message.
I might give this as a Christmas present to all my friends.
Here's some questions for you to consider:
What is the value of creativity to us as a society? Should artists earn revenue from other sources other than their art? Could rich patrons be a way for artists, filmmakers, writers and musicians to survive in increasingly frugal times? Or should we support the arts and put our money in our pockets? Do we expect people to write a novelistic masterpiece while holding down a day job in McDonald's? Can they, or should we ask ourselves will they be able to do that? Would artists believe more in the value of what they were doing if the public supported their art through financial means? It's obvious the arts play an increasingly essential role in our lives, so why are we so unwilling to support this? Why do we want a free ride from our music and increasingly our movies and books? Would we support a director as great as Hal Hartley to keep making pictures? What value is there to artistic control? Let me know the answers please, I want to know.
Henry Fool touches on some of these issues as regards creativity. Where it comes from, what we need to do to harness that talent and so on. Henry Fool also looks at how magic and inspiration can come out of the mundane and that expression and honesty can always hit a raw nerve with all kinds of people. It's also a film about support and loyalty and doing the right thing by your friends. Henry Fool deals in varying degrees with mental illness, pedophilia, literary frauds and poetic geniuses, suicide, mass media communication through the internet, commerciality and domestic violence. It's a movie about love. It's also sardonically and blackly funny.
I so miss the cinema of Hal Hartley. Amateur, Simple Men, Trust & The Unbelievable Truth were all startling and original films. Henry Fool has a sequel in Fay Grim, I'd love to see it. Hartley's movies don't come to Europe anymore.
Henry Fool is a movie about ideas, from a master movie maker that we don't hear enough from nowadays. Hal Hartley come back. Henry Fool is a very convoluted picture. Over the years it may have become Hartley's masterpiece.