American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Paul Schrader's "Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters" (1985) is the most unconventional biopic I've ever seen, and one of the best. In a triumph of concise writing and construction, it considers three crucial aspects of the life of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). In black and white, we see formative scenes from his earlier years. In brilliant colors we see events from three of his most famous novels. And in realistic color we see the last day of his life.
What he did on that day validated, in his mind, both his life and his work. A fanatic traditionalist who exalted the medieval code of the samurai, he had formed a private army to express his devotion to the emperor. With four of its members, he drove to a regimental headquarters of the Japanese army, held a general as hostage, demanded to be allowed to address the gathered troops, and then committed ritual suicide by simultaneously disemboweling himself and having an acolyte behead him.
As unorthodox as Schrader's approach to Mishima's life may be, I cannot imagine a better one. Like Hemingway and Mailer, Mishima conceived his life and his work as intimately related through his libido. In Mishima's case this process was made more complex by his bisexuality and masochism, and his "private army" combined ritual with buried sexuality; his soldiers were young, handsome and willing to die for him, and they wore uniforms as fetishistic as the Nazis.
Schrader has throughout his life as a screenwriter and director been fascinated by the starting-point of a "man in a room," as he describes it: a man dressing and preparing himself to go out and do battle for his goals. In his screenplays for Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," great emphasis is placed on Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta preparing for conflict, Bickle with his elaborate gun mounts and verbal rehearsals, LaMotta in his dressing room. In Schrader's own "American Gigolo," his hero trains and dresses himself to seem attractive to women, and in his latest film, "The Walker," he shows a man carefully preparing to be a presentable companion for older women.