House of Games (1987)
January 6, 2017 7:53 PM - Subscribe

A psychiatrist comes to the aid of a compulsive gambler and is led by a smooth-talking grifter into the shadowy but compelling world of stings, scams, and con men.
posted by rhizome (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is a good movie for many reasons, but I am particularly fond of Ricky Jay in this.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:12 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ooh, ooh, ooh, this is one of my favorite movies and also I have a really great story to tell about it. Will post later.

Re: Jay: I am fond of everything Ricky Jay has ever done. He is one of the most interesting people alive.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:32 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

This was good overall, but Lindsey Crouse is so stagey in it. It really feels like a filmed play more than a movie.
posted by tel3path at 6:09 AM on January 9, 2017

This was good overall, but Lindsey Crouse is so stagey in it. It really feels like a filmed play more than a movie.

It's not just Crouse. Mantegna (who can be a great actor) also seems to be working on a stage. I think that staginess is a problem with Mamet's film work in general (which I nevertheless like). Rebecca Pidgeon was almost unbearably stagey in The Spanish Prisoner. But in both films, the dialog is so much fun, and the problems Mamet raises are so interesting, that it doesn't matter.
posted by ubiquity at 10:55 AM on January 9, 2017

What a great film.

I saw this when it first came out, and there was a bit of a buzz (amongst the tiny handful of people who might know or care) about this being Mamet's first foray into film directing, so I always figured a lot of the staginess was Mamet being uncomfortable/unfamiliar with the medium.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:22 PM on January 9, 2017

I've always thought that Crouse's performance was quite deliberate. It's part of a larger pattern of Mamet's dialogue that is, in some perverse sense, hyperreal. It's not real at all, but it's as if aliens had been studying human dialogue and got it 99% correct but essentially wrong. Which I think is deliberate on Mamet's part.

And particularly so in this film. It is "stagey". Because everything in this film is metaphorically on a stage, everything a performance.

I have So Many Thoughts on this film. Partly because it was formative for me ... I saw it in the theater when I was only 22. But it's easily my favorite thing that Mamet is done, even more than Glengarry Glen Ross.

My favorite story about this film involves my delight in reading the two issues of Film Quarterly -- the first in which appeared in Vol. 43 No. 4, Summer, 1990 as Psychoanalysis and Con Games: "House of Games" and then the subsequent correspondence from James Hyder and William F. van Wert [Vol. 44, No. 3 (Spring, 1991), pp. 61-63]. Those who have access or even just read the freely available abstracts can get the gist of it. I'll explain later if anyone cares.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:31 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think the stageyness is direction, whether it be deliberate or accidental. There's plenty of it in Spanish Prisoner, as ubiquity says, as well as in State and Main and even Heist. Which is a good argument for it being a deliberate Mamet choice since certainly he doesn't fail to gain experience over a fifteen year period.
posted by phearlez at 12:55 PM on January 11, 2017

It feels totally deliberate to me. The possibility arises most obviously in Billy Hahn, and is confirmed with Mantegna's "do you want to have sex with me?" I wonder if it's only between certain characters? Ricky Jay doesn't seem to use that diction.
posted by rhizome at 5:46 PM on January 11, 2017

I want to rewatch to figure this out, but not only do they switch between stentorian delivery and a more casual street affect, but the lighting changes between evenness and harsh, stylized, experimental uses. There's a scene with pretty incredible lighting in an exchange between Margaret and Mike toward the end. I want to say that between M&M is when we see the theatrical conceits, and only then, which makes some sense either given their relationship, or because Mike is playing in setting Margaret up as a mark.
posted by rhizome at 8:30 PM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I just scanned through the movie, and I want to say that the lighting is harsh when Margaret is being played, but it may just be when someone is getting played, as there are some points at the end when Mike is harshly lit while Margaret is evenly lit. Could be a red herring, but reading about how the entire production was structured:
Mamet’s leap to film director involved much pre-planning based in the theories of Sergei Eisenstein, so that the entire film was plotted out in a careful shot-by-shot logic. seems possible that something like what I'm thinking is going on. I haven't found any writing that's relevant to this, though, and regardless, at the end of the day, trying to shoehorn symbolism where it may not actually exist is a bit of a pseudointellectual tell on my part.
posted by rhizome at 12:31 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

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