A House On A Hill

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A House On A Hill

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A House On A Hill

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Chuck Workman's A House On A Hill is a facile meditation on the plight of the suffering artist, but at least it's got a gimmick. Workman uses all the tricks he's learned in 30 years as a documentarian, trailer editor, and awards-show montage artist: split-screens, shrunken screens, screens-within-screens, and a whole palette of video-age effects. But the razzle-dazzle makes a discernible impact in only one scene, when Philip Baker Hall (playing an architect) designs a house while Laura San Giacomo (playing a filmmaker) edits a movie simultaneously on a different part of the screen. The direct comparison of two creative people in the tedious but spiritually enriching act of construction says more in a couple of minutes than all of Workman's Ayn Rand reiterations do in an hour and a half. Otherwise, A House On A Hill is flatly acted and ridiculous. Hall possesses a natural gravity, as always, but his heavy gruffness adds a layer of cliché to his character, a compromised idealist who agrees to sell his land and the plans to a long-abandoned dream house to yuppies who demand further compromises. San Giacomo is hired by the couple to make a documentary about the process, which allows Workman to cheat by having jabbering talking heads fill in backstory and baldly state the film's themes. The energy of Workman's editing and the innate value of seeing the creative process play out makes House watchable, and there's a sad poetry in Hall finding a way to get excited about making someone else's perversion of his dream come true. But the movie's tone should either be more understated or more farcical. Instead, it's dryly remedial, with the situation and the players abstracted for allegorical effect amid few philosophical or aesthetic specifics. And it's impeded by Workman's (again, very Rand-ian) insistence that no audience member miss his broad points. It's bad enough when a character says that part of a house design "reminds me of Icarus," but does he have to clarify, "You know, the one who built wings out of feathers and wax and flew too close to the sun?"

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