Herman Melville's 1853 short story Bartleby is an absurdist horror comedy about a clerk who declines to participate in work, to the metaphysical consternation of his boss, the story's narrator. Bartleby's mantra is 'I prefer not to', and his passive abnegation is a conundrum which the author preferred to leave hanging. Such a blank enigma is a challenge to any adapter. Parker's film rescues this character from the Dead Letter Office and transfers him to City Records, but the elapsed 150 years have not improved his attitude one jot. While remaining true to the central relationship between the paternalistic, but incredulous and exasperated employer (Paymer) and his indefatigably recalcitrant 'son' (Glover), Parker and co-writer Catherine Di Napoli understandably take the easy option by fleshing out the supporting characters with quirky comic actors like Headly, Chaykin, Piscopo and Cassel. It makes for a strange mix. Most of the action is confined to the office - there's a memorable establishing shot locating it in a concrete bunker filleted into a freeway overpass, and the whole building vibrates alarmingly from time to time. What with the bright plastic office decor and some broad, slapsticky humour, the movie might be mistaken for some aberrant sitcom spin-off. At best a Melville curio.
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Jonathan Parker, Catherine Di Napoli|
Catherine Di Napoli