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Slaves trapped in a circle going nowhere

Night Editor: Make sure the format of the dropped initial is correct.



Directed by James Ivory.

Screenplay, book by Tama Janowitz.

Starring Bernadette Peters, Adam Coleman Howard, and Madeleine Potter.

Opens today at Copley Place.


drop"I DESIGN HATS," SAYS ELEANOR (Bernadette Peters), on many occasions in many varied settings. But instead of a hat designer, Eleanor could be thought of as a hat herself, or perhaps more accurately as a rack on which hats may be hung. Eleanor, during most of the movie, shows virtually no depth of character, and allows things to happen to her without really attempting to take control and interact with these things around her. She walks through life allowing things to be thrown at her and on her, including her own eccentric hats.

Eleanor's boyfriend Stash (Adam Coleman Howard) is an aspiring artist who paints pictures of Popeye cartoon characters. The content of his pictures, in a sense, represent the overall effect of the movie: the exaggerated and, at the same time, apathetic interactions between cartoon characters, and the integral aspect of visualization of cartoons.

Slaves is set in the downtown New York art scene populated by myriad "downtown people." However, the New York the movie shows us does not exist, a fact which will be disturbing to many natives. James Ivory distorts the real-life New York by staging the film on unknown, austere-looking streets and by dressing the characters in baroque and flamboyant clothes in a way not found in the real New York. Ivory's New York is as cartoon-like as Stash's art. Between the often outlandish artwork, the somewhat gimmicky photographic effects (including the repeated use of split-screen photography, for example) and the sometimes overpowering rock music, we feel as though we are watching pieced-together music videos.

Author Tama Janowitz' screenplay (based upon her book of short stories Slaves of New York) does not contain the continuity or intriguing action that many people may have come to expect. Rather, it is a story about weak characters; weakest among them is the protagonist. Eleanor seems an easily dismissible character, as it is human nature to ignore those who simply allow life to happen to them. She goes to parties, she meets people, men fall in love with her, men fall out of love with her, but the audience tends not to care. At one point, Eleanor takes out a compact mirror, touches her face, and informs us that she's just checking to see whether she's still there (and I was beginning to wonder the same thing myself).

Bernadette Peters, in her typical, rather annoying, whiny behavior, does nothing but enhance the negative of Eleanor's character. Instead of merely doing nothing about the things that happen to her, she waits for life to happen and then whines about the outcome. Only at the end of the movie does Eleanor's character gain any strength or depth. Sans hat, and in relatively understated clothing, Eleanor makes her first and only insightful remarks during the movie. It is at this point that she is no longer a slave and no longer a hat rack, but an actual person. It is only through Eleanor's freedom that Ivory finally allows us to see the New York he purposely denied us during most of the film. We now see bridges, rooftops, sunsets behind the Empire State Building and the other shots typically shown in a depiction of New York.

Slaves of New York is filled with garish artwork and costume represented in often dreary settings. The visual effect of the film -- the unknown New York followed by a glimpse of the traditional skyline -- is James Ivory's artwork and, as such, is a visual treat.