Hal Hartley's epic oral history: The "Henry Fool" trilogy, Parker Posey and the real sage of '90s indie film

Hal Hartley defined American indie. As he concludes his Henry Fool trilogy, he and his stars look back on decades

Published April 3, 2015 11:00PM (EDT)

Thomas Jay Ryan and James Urbaniak in "Henry Fool"
Thomas Jay Ryan and James Urbaniak in "Henry Fool"

For 25 years – whether set in Berlin, Istanbul, Tokyo, Paris, Reykjavik or Lindenhurst, Long Island, the preface “written and directed by Hal Hartley” has always promised the same thing. Whether characters use pay phones or cell phones, whether they carry manuscripts or pistols (or a hand grenade), and whether they chain smoke (the '90s!) or clean up nice we will get a peek into the world of an existential hero or heroine as they pout and quip their way through a calamity.

Since his 1990 debut, the Nuclear Age romantic comedy "The Unbelievable Truth," Hartley has established himself as both a poet of the working class suburbs and an aspiring student of the French, British, Japanese and Swedish auteurs of the mid 20th century. Only Woody Allen, an admitted influence, and Wes Anderson (clearly influenced) are as consistent and prolific.

Also like Allen and Anderson, along the way Hartley established a kind of unofficial repertory company of dependable players from Martin Donovan (arguably the quintessential handsome but haunted  “face” of Hal Hartley cinema), to a pre-"Sopranos" Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Elina Lowensohn, Bill Sage, DJ Mendel, Karen Sillas, Parker Posey, the late Adrienne Shelly, and Miho Nikaido, now the director’s wife.

And while he’s never made a cash-in studio film, or (unlike Allen) truly repeated himself, by the end of the decade established movie stars, including European fixtures like Helen Mirren and Isabelle Huppert, were seeking out Hartley’s low-budget, idiosyncratic productions, eager to provide support, wrap their tongues around his pin-sharp dialogue and commit their bodies to his odd choreography (Hartley films could be plays if it weren’t for the often whimsical cinematography). Indie rock bands like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo considered him a peer, and Polly Harvey even signed up for one (1998’s "The Book of Life").

Within the Hartley universe, as within the Salinger universe, one family stands out. The Grims of Woodside Queens: Simon, a barely verbal garbage man turned Nobel Laureate poet (“I’m not retarded,” he informs us); Fay, an aging town tramp in a housecoat turned mother and wife; Ned, a precocious child out of Dahl with the world’s worst paternal role model; and Henry, a… What is Henry exactly? A guardian angel or the devil himself? Ex-CIA or a janitor with delusions of literary grandeur?

In the spring of 1998, Hartley’s best (certainly his most quotable) film, "Henry Fool," debuted in theaters and at a time when many once-indie film directors were routinely dealing with major studios and compromising their sensibilities, the director, pushing 40,  doubled down instead. "Henry Fool" is the most “Hal Hartley,” of Hal Hartley films (and the chain smoking prevails).    It’s also noticeable for its eerie prescience: predicting both internet-nurtured stardom and the coming culture wars. With 2006’s "Fay Grim," Hartley re-imagined Posey’s Fay as a kind of hipster Jason Bourne; a reluctant participant in post-9/11 international intrigue. Now comes "Ned Rifle," the saga-closing third film, available on Vimeo. It tackles “embarrassingly Oedipal” classical themes and very modern realities like religious fundamentalism and its place in a modern world and gives his beloved, profane firebrand Henry his day of reckoning.

Here, Hartley, longtime partners (Donovan, Posey), key "Henry Fool" figures (Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak) and newcomer Aubrey Plaza discuss the making of a classic American cinema trilogy.

 “You can’t put a fence around a man’s soul.” 

The East Village of Manhattan in the mid 1980s was teeming with rebel artists in bands and performance troupes. Hartley, just out of college (SUNY Purchase, where Burke, Falco, and Posey also went), opted to cede the streets to the likes of Jim Jarmusch and take the LIRR home instead to shoot his first films.  

HAL HARTLEY:  I was living in New York City but I went back to Lindenhurst often to see my family and friends. I knew I had a good base there. That was an environment that I could control. It was a practical thing. I also remember feeling at that time the American suburbs and people who rub up against the status quo the wrong way -- there wasn’t anybody making movies like that. Stories about outsiders in the suburbs were not really being made. I thought  ‘Well, perhaps that’s something I can bring to this?' I felt very much connected to the Island.

Hartley put together "The Unbelievable Truth" budget (about $60,000) and set about casting Burke as an ex con, and discovering, via a headshot, the petite, blonde Shelly who would play Audry, Burke’s love interest, a high school student obsessed with the bomb (“Why are you two concerned about my college education?  The world is going to blow up any day now,” she asks her hapless parents). 

HAL HARTLEY: A lot of friends around me were saying ‘We don’t think this is right. We think you’re making a mistake with this girl.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so. I know she’s shorter than a model. But I think there’s something really special about her look and she’s funny in a way that she might not even be aware of yet. She was very young.

The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival and quickly established Hartley, along with Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh as a must-watch new talent. He next began planning the follow-up, "Trust." This time Shelly is Maria, pregnant with the high school football hero’s baby. Donovan makes his Hartley debut as Matthew, a high-strung engineer. Hartley and Shelly discovered Donovan after attending a play at the Cucaracha theater company in TriBeCa. 

MARTIN DONOVAN: When I saw "The Unbelievable Truth" there was this incredible sense of originality about Hal’s work in that film. But there was also instantaneously a sense that this was home for me, like I had come home to something. I’m not sure I can articulate it, but there was something about the sensibility, the sense of dread. Both of us came from sort of working-class, suburban, Catholic homes. We were both raised Catholic. So there was a major starting point for us both to comment on the whole sensibility and the suburban thing on absolute ends of the continent.

But also behind it, with Hal and even the character in "Trust," there’s an intellectual side to these characters that you don’t often see. Hal would have a more intellectual critique of the world, but he’d also punch your lights out. I felt like this was where I belonged. I felt an immediate affinity for the world as Hal saw it.

Hartley cast Donovan, Burke, Karen Sillas and Bill Sage in the well-received, Sam Shepard-like film "Simple Men" (1992), which screened at Cannes and brought Harley closer to what would become a more mainstream European fan base, which would only grow with 1994’s "Amateur," featuring acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert as a former nun. 1995’s "Flirt" finally found Posey and Hartley collaborating on a full-length film, although Posey, breaking out thanks to "Party Girl," is not the lead. For a while, it seemed like diverging career paths might keep the two from working together. 

PARKER POSEY:  I was doing a lot. Yeah. I was doing a lot.

HAL HARTLEY:  She was a friend. We were walking around each other a couple of years there as she was starting to get things. I had offered her other roles, which she didn’t want to do. She brought me scripts that people were looking for her to be in and she asked would you direct me in this and I’d be like no.

PARKER POSEY: (Selling out): he doesn’t know what that is. He doesn’t know what playing the game is either.

HAL HARTLEY:  "Amateur," that was the first time I ever got paid real money and not really owned the film. I was offered schlock – after the first and second film. I was offered stuff from perfectly well-intentioned people. As far as they were concerned I’d done a tiny little thing. A couple of different movies. Would I like to do this Steve Martin action flick? And I didn’t. They were nice people and that’s what their job was, to see if I wanted to work for the studio and be a director for hire.

MARTIN DONOVAN:  Working for Hollywood, he would have lost control of the content and everything else. He had no desire to direct someone else’s films, and he certainly had no desire to work within that corporate structure and turn out stuff that he wasn’t interested in doing. He had a lot more writing ahead of him.

PARKER POSEY:  Then he brought "Henry Fool" to me. He came into my kitchen when I was living in Chelsea with the script and he asked me to read it. He said that Fay was a very strong character, and she’s going to do some things in the movie that are very dramatic. He was questioning my ability and I was like, ‘You have nothing to worry about. I can’t wait!’

MARTIN DONOVAN:  When’s he was making "Henry Fool," there was a point where we both thought that we needed to work with other people. After we did "Amateur," we sort of openly talked about that.

HAL HARTLEY:  The repertory wasn’t planned. When you end up working with somebody and you prove to yourself that they get it, it’s kind of natural to move on into the next project. But I would never cast against type. I would never cast Martin as somebody different in the next film.

Still, Hartley employed similar means to find his Simon and Henry.

JAMES URBANIAK: He used to come to this late-night show that we used to do at the Cucaracha, and that’s where he first saw me perform. My friend Todd Alcott wrote a bit where I played Samuel Beckett, and it was a wacky sketch where Samuel Beckett was like the front man in a rock band and muttering in an Irish accent. And it’s funny because I think that actually planted the seeds for casting me as Simon Grim, because there was this spectacled, internal energy.  I used to wear my hair short and spikey back then, not unlike the way Beckett wore his.

Thomas Jay Ryan, who would immortalize the greasy-haired, scowling Henry, was plucked from avant garde theater legend Richard Foreman’s umpteenth production. 

HAL HARTLEY:  I kept my eye on him for a year. He had a kind of outrageous theatricality. Bigger than life. He had access to that. It’s good if you are playing a character who is obviously intended to be seen as an idiot, but he doesn’t see himself like that. He’s got the gift of gab.

JAMES URBANIAK: Thomas is a delightfully charismatic person and quite a brilliant person, but that’s where his parallels to Henry Fool end. He’s a great guy, one of my dearest and oldest friends, but he’s nothing like that guy.

THOMAS JAY RYAN: It was really strange. He said, ‘I have a part that I think might be right for you in one of my films.’ And I remember going out with the (play’s) cast that night and saying, ‘Well I hope I have a couple lines or something. I hope it’s something that can’t be cut from the film. And then he sent me the script and it was this astounding role. This never happens to actors. It came in the mail. It was like holding dynamite in my hands. It was like holding a grenade.

HAL HARTLEY:  For that character I reach back to the classics. There’s Falstaff. There’s Mephistopheles in Goethe’s "Faust." Mephistopheles is kind of an idiot. He’s supposed to get this guy Faust and get his soul and he basically fucks it up because his mind is wandering and he’s very vain. I was spending a lot of time with Goethe’s "Faust."

THOMAS JAY RYAN: The subtitle of the original film, which was never seriously discussed as a real subtitle but something he said to me and I wrote it on the front of my "Henry Fool" script was 'The Devil Comes to Queens.’ So it was writ large in the mythic sense from the very beginning

PARKER POSEY: There’s something really Catholic about it, good and evil. Henry comes to them, to their world, and ignites them and gives them energy and compels them into these stories.

THOMAS JAY RYAN: Maria Porter, who played the mother so beautifully, she and I went to college together at Carnegie Mellon and then she was my recommendation to Hal. James Urbaniak and I had trafficked in the same downtown theater world for years; we had very similar backgrounds, and I was very grateful for that because we could hit the ground running. Parker intimidated the shit out of me because I think she made five movies that year.

JAMES URBANIAK:  She was the best-known and that was at the beginning of her initial fame. I remember the week we started shooting, if memory serves, there was a big spread about her in Interview magazine.

Liam Aiken won the role of Ned and completed the family unit…

THOMAS JAY RYAN: Parker and I auditioned the final three boys that Hal had narrowed it down to. When you work with child actors generally of that age, they’re very cute and they’ve been told what’s charming about them, so they’ve been told to pump that up. That’s what mom has told them or whoever. And he had none of that. He came in and he just was so naturally himself and so easy.

LIAM AIKEN: I think one of the funnier memories is my first day on set. I was sitting in a bar and putting money into the garter of a stripper. My father was teaching me some life lessons about what liquor tastes like and what cigarettes taste like — good family memory kind of thing. That was my first day of shooting on that. I think she had, like, a thick sweater on top, so we were never in a supercharged situation.

“An honest man is always in trouble.” 

THOMAS JAY RYAN: The financing kept getting delayed and the dates kept moving. I spent a lot of time on that first film, not rehearsing but meeting with Hal, drinking with Hal, hanging out with Hal and talking about it. He was very open on that film to my input, what did I think about this scene or that scene. And what was always of course very tantalizing about the character were the ambiguities. Is he a charlatan? Is he a hero?  I knew it was a minefield for an actor, a potential disaster. Because if it was theatrical in a stage-y way that was going to be awful, and if I shied away from the theatrical nature of it that would be bad, too. So we really were riding a very dangerous line in the playing of it.

Henry walks into town carrying a pair of suitcases, which contain his “confessions,” a series of marble composition notebooks full of handwritten notes.

THOMAS JAY RYAN: That’s all my handwriting. Hal gave me the notebook months in advance and said, ‘Just start writing so that when we shoot this we can have your handprints and writing all over it.’ I needed to know that it was enormous and of great importance and great weight. I thought a lot about that, I read a lot of very pretentious writing about mythic things, about good and evil and so forth.

Henry is both good and evil. He guzzles alcohol and has a penchant for underage girls but he quickly becomes a member of the close-knit community (which also includes James Saito and Nikaido as the local grocers and indie film mainstay Kevin Corrigan’s greaser turned far-right campaign canvaser, among others). He is a much-needed change of pace for the wandering Fay (among her first pre-Henry lines, “I wanna get fucked!”) and is a true friend and kind of Gordon Lish-ian mentor to Simon. It’s Henry who encourages Fay to upload Simon’s epic poem onto the Internet, which results in global outrage (the Pope denounces him) and insta-fame. So what if he sleeps with their severely depressed mother first (prompting the film’s oft quoted, “Simon, I made love to your mother about a half an hour ago and now I’m beginning to think that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.).  

JAMES URBANIAK:  I remember there was a moment in “Henry Fool” where Tom Ryan tells me that he just slept with my mother, he almost throws it in sort of peripherally, and Simon is shocked and gets upset. I remember we shot that scene, and I thought, ‘Whoa, this guy is kind of sheltered and he’s got to process this news,’ and I ended up playing it very emotional, like I was almost crying. I thought, ‘Here’s some good acting I’m doing.’ And Hal said, after the take, ‘OK, let’s pull back a little.’

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  It was a four-week, 24-day shoot, and I felt very comfortable there. After a year and a half of talking about it and circling around it and knowing the lines like I would know my own address.

JAMES  URBANIAK:  Simon goes ‘viral.’ There’s something both dated and ahead of the curve about the fact that everyone in the movie talks about this strange thing, ‘The Internet.’ But then again, it’s also I think one of the first movies where the character becomes an Internet celebrity. So most of us, when we shot "Henry Fool," didn’t even have email accounts yet.

THOMAS JAY RYAN: At the time we made it I was not aware how prophetic it would be. When I look at the film, it’s been a couple years, but when I look at it now I am shocked by it. I certainly didn’t have a computer in 1997.

“I’ve been bad.  Repeatedly.”

"Henry Fool" received some mixed reviews, but won the screenwriting prize at Cannes and slowly began to build a following over the years, via… the Internet. Hartley moved to Berlin and continued to make films, sometimes abstract and ponderous ("The Book of Life" deals with Donovan as a Christ figure and Ryan as the devil) but always very, very Hartley. Even Burke’s monster in the director’s Beauty and the Beast story, "No Such Thing" (also starring Sarah Polley, Christie and Mirren), is neurotic (“I’m not the beast I used to be,” he laments). Hartley surprised even some cast members when he announced he’d be revisiting the Henry Fool story (which did not end on much of a cliffhanger but did leave a lot unanswered). He’d dropped some hints, however. 

JAMES URBANIAK: The first week of shooting "Henry Fool," Hal made a joke. He would say, ‘OK, now in the sequel, such and such will happen.” And we all thought, ‘Haha, very funny.’

HAL HARTLEY: It happened as I went along. "Henry Fool" was conceived as a film all by itself. I didn’t even think of it so much as a trilogy – once I knew I would make films once in a while about this family. Do you know the films by Lindsay Anderson? I’d been really excited by this thing that he’d accomplished. Over the course of 30 years he made these three totally different films but they were tied together by this one character who keeps popping up in each one. And London was different and that’s when I decided a couple of years after "Henry Fool" was completed and I’d decided I wanted to write a movie for Parker.

Henry is missing and some say, dead. Fay is raising a now teenaged Ned, who is beginning to emulate his father’s nasty habits. “I’m afraid he’ll grow up to be like his father,” Fay tells an incarcerated Simon. Raising Ned alone. Simon in prison. A decade has passed. The world has changed, but Fay has not moved on.

PARKER POSEY: Fay’s in love with him and she’s kind of trapped by him as well. She’s compelled to follow his trail and to find him. She becomes a spy, an unwilling spy, and an unlikely heroine.

HAL HARTLEY:  It would be in a certain sense a continuation of the story of "Henry Fool" but – what I was really hoping was over the course of some decades I would make these three different films – different styles – about different things but using the Grim family, which I gleaned was the catalyst.

LIAM AIKEN: I didn't see the first movie; it wasn't entirely appropriate and I don't really think I would've understood what-all was supposed to be happening. When the later movies started to be developed, that's really when I started to get into all these movies. "Henry Fool," when I watched that early on in high school, I was so affected by it because it felt like such a piece of family history that I had almost forgotten about. It was something that had sort of escaped into the past; I always knew that I had done the movie but until that point it hadn't come around. 

The complications and anxieties of a post-9/11 reality seem to have figured into what is actually one of Hartley’s loopier films, which moves way beyond Woodside and even into the shadowy realms of the counter-intelligence world (which Henry intimated he’d traveled in film one) complete with gunfire, deception, speeding motor scooters and an Osama Bin Laden doppelganger. 

THOMAS JAY RYAN: I was shocked when I read the script, not just by how small a part I have. I think most people walk away from"Henry Fool" thinking, ‘Oh he’s full of shit, he’s full of hot air,' to some extent, to say, 'Oh no, everything he told you in that film was absolutely, literally true!’ This shocked me. I thought to myself, ‘Well just play it and just play the honesty of it. Play it as if yes, this is a scene from a James Bond film and this is literally who you are.’

Jeff Goldblum co-stars as CIA Agent Fulbright, who may have shared a dark past with Henry. Leo Fitzpatrick, Saffron Burrows and Lowensohn appear as mysterious contenders, all jockeying along with Simon’s publisher (Chuck Montgomery) to find Henry’s confessions, which may be encrypted with classified data. 

PARKER POSEY: Jeff was seamless and fun and he loved to move. I remember we worked so fast, we only got like three takes, because we'd have to work with such limitations and we did like three takes and Hal was like, ‘OK, that’s it.” And Jeff was like, ‘What?! I was just getting started!’ ‘Nope, sorry, moving on.’ We shot in Berlin for a few months. We shot in Paris and Istanbul, indie film-style in Europe.

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  I think it was clear that Hal wanted to address in that film the nature of America in the world, and what is our place in the world now.

For years, Hartley used “Ned Rifle” as an alias, often for recording and releasing music.  

HAL HARTLEY: Ned Rifle was a name I made up in college for a character in my class writing assignments. But I wasn't thinking of that when I named Henry and Fay's son Ned in "Henry Fool." It's just a common name in my extended family. But when it came time to think about the third film, "Ned Fool" seemed wrong. And "Ned Grim" seemed wrong. But the name Ned Rifle was right there. Waiting. And it felt like a rich decision, ripe with meaning.

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  He told me when he gave me the script for "Fay Grim," ‘OK, you don’t have a very big part, but if we do this one, we’re going to do a third one and in that one in my mind you have a larger role to play.’ So yeah, I think once he did a second one he felt the thing couldn’t end with that second one, that there needed to be a third and that it would focus on Liam.

The "Henry Fool" series was, in its way, "Boyhood" before "Boyhood." Aiken’s tot, as envisioned by Hartley, is now a full-grown man, searching for his father.

LIAM AIKEN: We've talked about the whole development of "Ned Rifle," that there would be a third film, from very early on when we were making "Fay Grim." It wasn't totally decided.  But Hal didn't know that I would be someone he would want to work with because I was still growing up and still becoming an adult.

HAL HARTLEY:  Even before I made "Fay Grim" – even before I set about trying  to raise the money for it I took Liam out to lunch. He was like 16 or 17. He’d gone on to have a good career as a child actor. I really need to know from you if you are intending to follow through with this acting thing. I can’t just make part two; I have to make part three and part three would definitely be about Ned. And like any 17-year-old he was like ‘oh I don’t know maybe I’ll become a director or a scientist.'

Hartley turned to crowd funding to finance his trilogy-ending tale. Nearly 2,000 backers on Kickstarter raised almost $400 thousand in the winter of 2013. 

HAL HARTLEY:  I was sick and tired of trying to finance the film the regular old way and thought I had enough fans around the world who would be willing to pay for a DVD a year in advance. I was right. Yes, it was successful, but it was very difficult. It's like trying to get elected and you are very exposed during such a thing. There's a lot of psychic, emotional and even physical pressure.

LIAM AIKEN:  Hal worked tirelessly on that end; I bit my nails and crossed my fingers and did my best to help in any way I could. We got the word out a little bit but beyond that the support that was shown was immense.

PARKER POSEY:  We did all my scenes in one day; that was heavy, that was a lot. But I’d do anything for him. One day, I was on my way to shoot in the prison in Queens. It’s where the prisoners are held before they go to Riker’s. I said, “Hal, wow, we’re in prison. Do you have these fantasies that you’re going to be found out and you’re going to have to spend some time in jail?” And he goes, ‘Yes, yes, we get to make movies, we should be in jail. We should be in prison.'" I thought that was such a truth about artists that get to make things. I like that little story a lot.

HAL HARTLEY:  I didn’t know Aubrey Plaza from a hole in the wall. I didn’t know anything about her. I was searching all over the world and I didn’t expect I would be able to get someone who was a celebrity because it was a very small-budgeted film. I started looking at the show that she’s on ("Parks and Recreation"). I didn’t get anything there but when I saw the film she did with Mark Duplass, "Safety Not Guaranteed," I was pretty convinced that she was it.

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  Once we got the money on Kickstarter, I was excited because I felt now you can tap any actress, she doesn’t have to be a star; there had been pressure to raise the money previously that there be a star in that part, and now he could really cast somebody who was perfect for it. So when it was going to be her I thought, ‘Hmm, OK. That’s helpful, she’s really good, I like her, but is she going to be down with what we have to do and is she going to get Hal?’

AUBREY PLAZA:  I went to NYU film school. NYU film school kind of encourages you to devour all of those kinds of filmmakers like Hal. Filmmakers that have a very distinct style and those were always kind of the ones I was drawn to. The more artistic independent films that kind of do different things. Weird or whatever you want to call them. Especially at NYU. Those were the kinds of filmmakers people were interested in rather than checking out all the big blockbuster movies. I was aware that he had made a second movie after "Henry Fool" but I’d never seen it. My agent kind of sent me an email randomly and was like “Hey, so Hal Hartley. Not sure if you’ve heard of him or are a fan of his but he’s doing a third movie in the trilogy of Henry Fool explaining everything about Henry Fool,” and I was like 'I love Henry Fool! I had no idea he was making another movie. I 100% want to work with him.' I didn’t even really have to read the script.

Before filming, Posey took Plaza out for coffee…

PARKER POSEY: I told her, ‘Learn your lines. Learn your lines and it’s going to be great. You’re in good hands. That’s the main thing, you’re in his hands. With ease and grace and humor, you’ll move around and be in his world.’

Fans of Hartley’s work will certainly notice the unofficial family reunion that "Ned Rifle" occasions. Donovan, Sage, Burke, Sillas and Sage join film one’s players (only missing was Shelly, who was murdered in her West Village apartment in 2006).

MARTIN DONOVAN:  He wanted me to be in it. He sent me the script, and we started talking about it. He started saying he was thinking about bringing back a lot of people, and I said that’s great; Rob Burke, and Karen Sillas, Bill Sage, all those people from the early '90s. It was just fun. It was a way to bring everybody back together. I don’t know if there was anything profound. I don’t think there was any deep meaning beyond ‘Hey, let’s get everyone together and do a show.’

HAL HARTLEY:  I needed to surround myself with trusted comrades! They're all some of the best character actors I know. I was placing my bets on some new, young, new comers like Liam and Aubrey and I needed my old pals to watch my back.

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  I hope it’s a little bit of a homecoming for some people.

AUBREY PLAZA:  It was really cool. It felt like a weird fever-dream or something. To all of a sudden be thrown into that world with all of those characters that I was familiar with was bizarre.

“They have to bludgeon a man into obscurity before they’ll acknowledge his genius” 

With the recent Blu Ray re-issues of "The Unbelievable Truth" and "Trust," a new generation of film geeks have become familiar with Hartley’s early work, but nearly two decades on, it’s the Grim family saga that endures most. Will "Ned Rifle" be the last we hear from them? Very likely, but Hartley is nothing if not unpredictable.   

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  If you were to read, the three films, if you were to read them one after the next, they come off to me like an epic novel with such wit and verve and style.

LIAM AIKEN:  I think the film is a very definitive end and I think so because if you watch all three, the cadence of the end of the third film, what it means in reference to how the other films continued, what happens at the end of the film is the end of the journey. From start to finish, that's the journey of this family as a three-person unit.

AUBREY PLAZA: It is cool. It’s an erotic film noir thriller. They don’t make movies like that anymore and I think that’s also the reason why I really wanted to work on this movie with him because just the tone of it -- no one does it anywhere. No one makes characters that are these really smart, sexy women.

JAMES URBANIAK:  Another nice thing is that all his films, but "Henry Fool" in particular, are being discovered. It’s funny to be at an age when one uses phrases like ‘younger people,’ but younger people come up to me all the time, like 20-somethings who were children when "Henry Fool" came out. There’s a recurring thing where 20-somethings will meet me and tell me how much that movie means to them. I think young people really respond to that movie, about this alienated weirdo who becomes an artist and his mentor.

PARKER POSEY:  Hal told me he had a screening of some of his films here in a museum or something and half the audience had seen them and the other half hadn’t. A younger audience member stood up and said, ‘These movies don’t even look like they’re shot in this country."

MARTIN DONOVAN:  Well, on the other hand, still to this day I can get on a film set or whatever and an AD or filmmakers or occasionally the odd producer of a certain age will come up to me and say Hal is the reason I got into films. He inspired a lot of people.  In a certain sense, it’s been a very circuitous route between Hollywood films and employment based on Hal’s movies.

THOMAS JAY RYAN:  I had no perspective about the film when it came out in 1998. But I would meet people like Cameron Crowe for whom the movie was this big deal, who were really moved by it, who really cared about it, not to mention lots of un-famous people who I would run into. Then I would meet the majority of the world who had never heard of it. So it was kind of a mind fuck over the years. Was this a film that people cared about and knew? Or was it really nothing?

PARKER POSEY:  I’m a Hal Hartley fan, and I can spot them. They’re very Brooklyn and they’re smart and they’re cinephiles. Glasses and beards. The people who comes to the movies, I guess the younger generation, loves cinema and the way that these people talk, the things that they say.

By Marc Spitz

Marc Spitz is the author of "Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York City in the '90s" (Da Capo Press). His new book on rock and roll cinema, "Loud Pictures," will be released by Dey Street Books/Harper Collins in 2017 Follow Marc Spitz at @marcspitz

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