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Mottola: Clear History (2013)

Clear History has come along around the same time fans were expecting a ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm – and it addresses that desire pretty well, perhaps better than another season actually could. As the eighth season of Curb drew to a close, Larry had moved to New York – and while earlier episodes of the series had taken place in the Big Apple, this was the first sustained narrative arc that took place there without any intricate pretext or sustained through-story. In some ways, it felt a bit like an exhaustion of Curb – at the very least, it clarified how attuned the series’ peripatetic, improvisational ambience was to Los Angeles, a fact that Larry addressed by introducing a series of episodes revolving around car travel, effectively creating a pretext to turn New York into a driving city like Los Angeles, as well as forestall the almost immediate incursion of Seinfeld tropes and figures into the series. Clear History starts from that point – like one of the final episodes in the eighth season, it’s about the fallout that ensues when Larry, here barely disguised as Nathan Flomm, pulls out from investing in a billion-dollar automotive invention at just the wrong time. Losing face with his partner (Jon Hamm) and shamed by the financial media, he retreats to Martha’s Vineyard, where he lives for ten years under an assumed name – and it’s here that the peripatetic momentum of Curb starts to resume, as the privileged micro-villages of Pacific Palisades segue quite naturally into those of Cape Cod. That’s all prologue, though, since the main narrative revolves around what happens when Nathan’s partner turns up on Martha’s Vineyard, and Nathan plans revenge. That might make it sound like a slightly misanthropic film in the vein of Sour Grapes, but what gives this just enough modulation from a Curb episode is that Nathan’s beloved by the Vineyard community, fleshed out by a fantastic array of character actors, many of whom have also starred in Curb episodes. Some reviews have suggested that this modulation isn’t marked enough, but Larry’s charisma is so irreducible and unmistakable that it doesn’t really work when directors try and make it over in their own image, as occurred, say, in Whatever Works. It’s a tribute to Mottola, then, that he doesn’t try and remediate Larry as a film actor – instead he embraces Larry as a telemovie actor to produce something like a feature-length episode of Curb, but in the best possible way.

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