“Portmanteau” is French for “coat rack”. Lewis Carroll appropriated the word in 1871 for Through The Looking Glass to explain two words merged into one; “chortle” is a portmanteau Carroll invented, while “Internet”, “blog” and “sexploitation” are three he did not. In the month of January, I’ll take a look at portmanteau films, where we find different coats hanging in the same closet, whether tailored by one filmmaker or the collaborative effort of several.
Four Rooms (1995)
Directed by Allison Anders (segment: The Missing Ingredient), Alexandre Rockwell (segment: The Wrong Man), Robert Rodriguez (segment: The Misbehavers), Quentin Tarantino (segment: The Man From Hollywood)
Written by Allison Anders (segment: The Missing Ingredient), Alexandre Rockwell (segment: The Wrong Man), Robert Rodriguez (segment: The Misbehavers), Quentin Tarantino (segment: The Man From Hollywood)
Produced by Lawrence Bender
A victory lap by the studio that brought you Pulp Ficton, Four Rooms turns into a demolition derby. Alexandre Rockwell hit upon the idea for a portmanteau film tied together by the hijinks of a bellhop on New Year’s Eve after he befriended Allison Anders and Quentin Tarantino at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, where their career calling cards In The Soup, Gas Food Lodging and Reservoir Dogs were on the bill (Robert Rodriguez joined the club when he met Rockwell and Tarantino at the Toronto Film Festival with his calling card El Mariachi). The role of the bellhop was conceived with Steve Buscemi in mind, but when he declined, Tim Roth took the part. With Miramax Films footing a budget that settled at $4 million, Four Rooms was rushed into production while Tarantino was being crowned master of the universe on the press tour for Pulp Fiction in the fall of 1994.
Author Peter Biskind’s account — in Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film — was that Four Rooms was produced in complete acrimony, with studio co-chairman Harvey Weinstein taking a 160-minute cut and lopping over an hour off, eviscerating segments by Anders and Rockwell, who blamed the toxic end product on the hubris of Tarantino. Officially the worst effort “QT” has yet written and directed, the concept behind Four Rooms is completely (and refreshingly) bug nuts to begin with, as if Jerry Schatzberg, Elaine May, George Lucas & Steven Spielberg agreed to make an anthology film together in 1976. There are excellent ideas at play here, an animated title sequence for instance, but like almost everything else in the movie, it’s indicative of how rushed the whole enterprise appears. Rodriguez’s contribution is far and away the most coherent.
On New Year’s Eve at the once glorious “Hotel Mon Signor” in Los Angeles, the crusty bellhop (Marc Lawrence) passes the torch to his heir apparent, Ted (Tim Roth), advising him to “stay clear of night clerks, hookers, kids and married arguments.” In the first of four misadventures, Ted escorts a coven of witches (Valeria Golino, Madonna, Alicia Witt, Sammi Davis, Lili Taylor) to the honeymoon suite, where their ritual to resurrect a 1950s pinup queen from the afterlife hits a snag and requires the aloof Eva (Ione Skye) to elicit a specimen from Ted. Summoned to refill the ice for a Yuppie party in Room 404, Ted then bumbles into a room where a deranged husband (David Proval) has bound and gagged his wife Angela (Jennifer Beals) and lies in wait with a gun for her supposed lover to join them.
In Room 309, a couple (Antonio Banderas, Tamlyn Tomita) depart for a night on the town. The man offers Ted $300 to check on his children (Danny Verduzco, Lana McKissak) every 30 minutes. Making it $500, the “pain the ass” kids torment Ted by discovering a hypodermic needle and the body of a hooker in the room. On the brink of quitting, Ted phones the apartment of his boss, where a stoner (Marisa Tomei) answers and tries to lift his spirits. The boss (Kathy Griffin) talks Ted into staying long enough to service the penthouse, where movie star Chester Rush (Quentin Tarantino) has requested a block of wood, a bucket of ice and a meat cleaver. Chester’s love for “The Man From Rio” episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents has inspired a wager with his assistant (Paul Calderon) that Ted discovers he has a role in.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 14,449 users: 72% for Four Rooms
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
What do you say?