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111 II II II 11 II II II 111 comes home to find the dog catatonic. Throughout all of this we cut back to the 35mm “Rendezvous,” in which Blair Underwood’s Calvin plays an actor who’s making the jump from TV to the big screen by co-starring with Brad Pitt in a lame-brain action flick. Julia Roberts’ Francesca plays the celebrity journalist who’s assigned to profile him. They meet at JFK airport, they banter back and forth on the transcontinental flight to L.A., she follows him on-set for the making of the Brad Pitt movie that is, the movie within the movie within the movie. She attends pitch meetings with him, sees his weakness, how the system is rigged against him; he wears funny hats; they fall in love. It’s supposed to be Carl’s biting cinematic satire of the industry, and we see odd bits of the screenwriter’s life popping up in his film. Full Frontal would be stronger if there were more contrast between the digital portions and “Rendezvous.” Visually in terms of pixels and resolutionthere is. Nothing highlights the disparity between digital video and 35mm like toggling back and forth between the two. \(Soderbergh has opted for an exaggerated graininess that gives the digital video an impressionistic quality, and is probably preferable to the newscasty, not-as-good-as-film look of straight”Rendezvous” shot is a tight, claustrophobic interior shotrelatively inexpensive to shootso that the “Hollywood” flick ends up looking like a budget-wary, dialogue-laden indie without enough money to shoot on location or build outdoor sets. Which I guess it lacked. Perhaps that’s intentionalit’s meant to be Carl’s gritty, tell-itlike-it-is Hollywood expose, ruffling a few feathers and delighting the insiders with its dead-on satire. The joke is that as “Rendezvous” progresses, it becomes more and more formulaic, until it devolves into the pure Hollywood pap it seems to be trying to pillory at its outset.Yet there would be more bite to the humor if the scenes in “Rendezvous” looked less like everything else in the movie, only prettier. The temperature of Full Frontal admittedly is low. The characters are often cold, the digital is incapable of bringing much visual warmth, but it’s an appropriate chill. And while all of these films within films and satires within satires can be confusing on first viewing, there is logic here, and there is grammar and syntaxthe sentences can be parsed. Editing scenes is one area where Soderbergh shines, and it is another way he consistently distinguishes between “Rendezvous” and the digital Full Frontal that frames ithe has particular facility with jump-cutting dialogue so that conversations retain their coherence and thrust while the editing injects anxiety into the scene. And, throughout, we are treated to fine acting, frequent humor, and bits of dead-on satire. This is not the first movie about moviemaking, and it isn’t the best. Other films have more crucial or resonant or imaginative things to say about the strange, collaborative art of cinema: see Truffaut’s Day for Night, or Fellini’s 8 1 /2, or Godard’s Contempt, or, more recently, Living in Oblivion and CQ. If you want to see Hollywood held up for scrutiny, the choices are endless, from Sunset Boulevard to Altman’s The Player. Full Frontal is a small movie with a tight cast, good acting, some inspired editing, and perhaps we could leave it at that. But there is a point here that is made well. Full Frontal’s real commentary on Hollywood resides in its structure what others have, prematurely, I thinkdismissed as mere pretension or obfuscation. The movie is deliciously self-indicting. Just as “Rendezvous,” supposedly a film by disillusioned Hollywood insiders mocking the movie business, falls prey to a similar set of Hollywood clichesan inability to step outside the circle it attempts to draw around Hollywoodso Full Frontal ends with the camera pulling back to reveal another layer of selfregard back to reveal another layer of self-regard. It seems trapped within a hall of mirrors. Could this be a film within a film within a film within a filmmovie people looking at movie people looking at movie people, ad infinitum? This kind of infinite regression will infuriate some viewers, titillate others, but it is effective. So maybe Sunset Strip is something of a Moebius stripit’s not exactly a news flash that Hollywood is a one-dimensional place that bends over backwards to look at itself. But Full Frontal’s own contortions manage to convey this impossible shape, and there’s elegance in that. Jesse Lichtenstein has worked in movie production and written about online film for The New Republic. 9/13/02 THE TEXAS OBSE1146mmi