Every moment he felt that … he was drawing nearer and nearer to what terrified him.
—Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Ivan Beckman (Danny Huston) is one of those Hollywood agents that earn enough to afford a home in the hills, but not a palatial one. Parties enough to have a reputation, but not hard enough yet to have “a problem.” Lands clients big enough that the office lines up and applauds him when he shows up to work the next day, but not big enough that anyone seems to like the project attached. In another life, Ivan could be a suckerfish or a leech, but in this life, he is a Hollywood agent, so it all fits like a glove. And since that life is coming to a rapid end, there won’t be much time for revelation or atonement.
Written by Lisa Enos (who also produces) and Bernard Rose (who also directs and edits) ivansxtc. (2000) is an update of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It was the third time Tolstoy’s 1886 novella saw the screen—the first being Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru in 1952, arguably one of the greatest movies ever made. That’s a long shadow to step out of.
But Ivan Illyich is only one part of the equation. The other belongs to the rise and fall of real-life CAA agent Jay Maloney. Once a student of the great Michael Ovitz, Maloney rose to fame with Steven Spielberg, David Letterman, Uma Thurman, and Rose as his clients. Then came the drugs, and the downfall followed. On Nov. 16, 1999, Maloney hanged himself in his home. He was 35.
Even before Maloney’s untimely end, Rose wanted to tell his story and the hypocrisy of the Hollywood entertainment machine. Enos lost her mother to cancer and needed an outlet to process her emotions. Their result: ivansxtc.—a loose adaptation of Tolstoy’s story filtered through Maloney’s fall, backed by Hollywood insider knowledge. It was a project no studio wanted to touch, so Enos and Rose made it on the cheap ($500,000), used real locations, friends and family for extras, and, probably most notable, shot on a digital HDCam (Sony HDW700A).
According to Rose, ivansxtc. (sometimes spelled as ivans xtc or Ivansxtc) was the first Hollywood feature shot entirely on digital, and the movie looks every bit it. In some scenes—say, the penthouse party—the digital works in service of the story: slightly too realistic, slightly distorted, slightly over lit. They mirror the city of Los Angeles. But in other scenes, the overexposed digital image flattens out emotion and depth.
And yet, ivansxtc. isn’t a movie easily dismissed. Thanks in part to Huston, who gives Ivan everything and then some. His toothy grin, plastered on 24/7, is both alarming and disarming. He’s the kind of guy you see coming a mile away but want to stick close to as the night drags on.
Only lung cancer can wipe that smirk off Ivan’s face. These scenes are among Huston’s best. And when he has to light up that smile again, you can see how phony it is. Everyone has a fake smile, but it takes a good actor to make a fake smile look false.
Rose and cinematographer Ron Forsythe keep Huston’s face in close-up during these moments. It’s a way of signaling Ivan’s isolation while also un-clouding the moment. These close-ups also push out the supporting cast, which is on the weak side. There are bright spots: Peter Weller as Ivan’s top client, Don West—an overpaid actor loaded with toxic, bad-boy behavior—and Enos as Ivan’s girlfriend, Charlotte. There’s a heartbreaking sadness in Charlotte. She looks like Hollywood took everything she had to give and left the rest on the curb.
Though ivansxtc.’s reach exceeds its grasp, there’s honesty at work here—albeit somewhat buried at times. It earned the movie praise from Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, four nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards in 2003, played film festivals, and seemed to be headed for good things. But the movie failed to draw at the box office and slipped into obscurity.
Two decades later, ivansxtc. is back thanks to Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release with three versions of the movie: The theatrical cut presented in both 24 frames-per-second and 60i—the frame rate the movie was shot in—and Enos’ extended producer’s cut, presented in 60i.
Arrow’s set also includes a commentary from Enos and filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft; Charlotte’s Story, a documentary on the making of the film from Enos’ perspective, made during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown; Q&A with Enos, Rose, Huston, Weller, and Adam Krentzman from a 2018 screening at the American Cinematheque (the audio quality here is lacking); archival interviews from the 2001 Santa Barbara Film Festival; multiple takes of the party sequence; theatrical trailer; and a booklet tracing the many versions and many deaths of Ivan Ilyich by Robert JE Simpson.
Directed by Bernard Rose
Written by Bernard Rose & Lisa Enos
Based on The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
Produced by Lisa Enos
Starring: Danny Huston, Peter Weller, Lisa Enos
Rhino Films, Rated R, Running time 92 minutes, Released June 7, 2002.
Available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, special features include:
- Theatrical cut present in two versions: the preferred director’s version and the producer’s version, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
- Extended Producer’s Cut with Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio, present for the first time
- Brand new commentary for the Extended Cut with cowriter/producer/actor Lisa Enos and filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft
- Charlotte’s Story—a brand new documentary on the making of the film from Lisa Enos
- Q&A with Lisa Enos, director Bernard Rose, actors Danny Huston, Peter Weller and Adam Krentzman from a 2018 screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles
- Archival interviews with Lisa Enos and Bernard Rose from the 2001 Santa Barbara Film Festival
- Extended Party Sequence Outtakes
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Robert JE Simpson