I’m not sure about that title, but everything else is Bernard Rose’s rarely seen feature is pretty much uniformly monumental. Shot in a crystal-clear, warts and all HD format that made it hard to screen back in 2002, ivansxtc is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych, updated from 19th century Russia to the Hollywood social scene of 2000. The film is bleak for sure; if you’re going to get triggered by watching the main character get a cancer diagnosis, and respond with a drug-fuelled binge, then self-select and stay away. Otherwise, stay tuned for a film that’s notably fearless in conception, and huge in meaning.
Of course, star Danny Huston knows the Hollywood machine described here; son of John, brother of Angelica, he’s a perfect choice to play Ivan Beckman, a top agent who has just landed a notable scalp via director Don West (Robocop’s Peter Weller, blistering in probably his best role). Although he might seem to be on top of the world, Ivan has a come-uppance coming; he’s suffering from an incurable cancer, even if he doesn’t know it yet. As Ivan’s achievements fade, he’s left with nothing to contemplate but a meaningless life, unless one final grace-note might arrive in time to save his soul…
Ivansxtc is notably frank about the details of cancer; there’s no sentiment, just cold observation of medical procedure. But what’s even more shocking is the clinical observation of Hollywood drug culture. Films often lecture their audiences about the dangers of heroin, crystal meth or other illegal narcotics. But the truth is that most of the cast and crew of any film take the kind of party drugs that Ivan takes, speed, coke, amphetamines, and ecstasy. Rose catalogues these casual excesses with candour; if you’ve taken part of the Elsinore Wimbledon of LA film-making, you’ll recognise exactly the kind of immoral maze navigated here.
The film opens with twenty minutes of mourning, of a kind; we see Ivan’s colleagues trying to figure out what his sudden death will mean to them. Then we flip back to focus on Ivan’s fall, and Huston gives a massive performance, capturing both joy and despair, never lapsing into caricature, always centring the drama. Ivan’s collapse is messy, and the solace he seeks does not come from drugs; the film’s final scenes are undeniably powerful as Ivan’s sense of the world slips away, and he seeks a sense of his own worth amongst the carnage.
Freshly revived by Arrow Video, ixansxtc is worth seeking out as one of the most perceptive films made about the vapidity of a Hollywood system that had blinkers on and was set in its nosebag ways at the time of filming. It’s a transcendent piece of drama that demands to be seen, and one that delivers a firm moral lesson; no one is above the laws of nature.
ivansxtc is released in the UK on blu-ray and streaming from Sept 28th 2020.
Thanks to Arrow Films for early access to this title.