Love and Death on Long Island

A reclusive, old-fashioned, intellectual novelist and widower living in London (John Hurt) stumbles accidentally into a screening of Hotpants College II at his local multiplex and becomes hopelessly, obsessively enamored of one of its young American stars (Jason Priestley). Fan magazines and the purchase of a VCR fail to satisfy his longings, so he travels to the Long Island town where his beloved resides and plots to encounter him in the flesh. This perfectly realized, beautifully acted, sweetly hilarious 1997 first feature by English writer-director Richard Kwietniowski, adroitly adapted from Gilbert Adair’s short novel of the same name (a comic variation on Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”), is a witty, canny meditation on the power of pop culture in general and the rationalizations of cinephilia and film criticism in particular. What makes it perhaps even better than Adair’s clever novel, which is somewhat limited by its first-person narration, is the beautiful balance of humane sympathies Kwietniowski achieves; at no point does the foolishness or vanity of either character wipe out our sense of his dignity, and Fiona Loewi is no less touching as the movie star’s girlfriend. A “small” film only in appearance, this is as solid and confident as any first feature I’ve seen this year. Evanston, Lake, Pipers Alley. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.