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Last night I got to screen the insanely glorious 1982 production of The Critic for new friends.   What a joy!

I adore theatre about theatre, and films about theatre:  above all, about theatrical fiasco.  I so love The Critic (1982), which culimnates in a dementedly bad production of the tatters of a tissue of twaddle.  Unlike the producers in The Producers (1968), Mr. Puff is perfectly assured of his genius. So are the delusionals in Waiting for Guffman (1996).  That's hilarious, but ouch!  There's a strong scent of burning dreams about it, like a bonfire of plastic cups.  In the Bleak Midwinter (otherwise A Midwinter’s Tale, 1995) follows an ad hoc company of misfits, neurotics, and visionaries trying to put on Hamlet in a church at Christmas.  It's a slighter version of the wickedly brilliant Slings & Arrows (2003-2006).  And now we're getting close to the threshing floor, to the great mystery of how theatre happens.

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

Never mind the romance in Shakespeare In Love (1998):  it's the company of players that I treasure.  They're all somewhat fantastical--brilliant caricatures of real figures mingled with imaginary ones--but that Romeo and Juliet they put on is a good production.  In Topsy-Turvy (1999), there 's a very real-seeming world of Victorians working to create an transcendently fantastical world on stage.  Both unreal, of course:  it's a film.  But they're all fully there, all these cranky, egotistical people in terribly hot clothes, from the rehearsal pianist and Miss Sixpence Please to Gilbert and Sullivan themselves.  (Mike Leigh does the best 19th century ever.  Can't wait to see Mr. Turner.)

Other films are about the unmaking of the mystery.  The Dresser (1983) follows a touring company during World War II, made up of Shakespeareans too old or too fragile to fight, who can only gallantly distract.  Their great tragedian, Sir, is off somewhere in the marches of dementia; his dresser, who loves him devotedly, tries hold him together, to get him through one more performance, and one more.

Stage Beauty (2004) is about the cisgendering of the theatre in the Restoration.  Edward Kynaston, the last of the boy players, whom Pepys called "the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life," is about to be replaced by an actress. (Farewell!  Desdemona's occupation's gone.)  A woman playing a woman!  Where's the artistry in that?  This movie actually thinks, just a bit, about gender performance.  It also has that scene of Charles II with terrible wig hair, in bed with Nell Gwyn and about a zillion spaniels that cracks me up when I remember it.  Sadly, it also has the invention of method acting in the 1660's.  Sigh.

So what are your favorites films about the theatre?  I'd love to find new delights.

Nine

Gosh

25 October 2006 03:03 pm
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"What can be said about Greer Gilman's extraordinary 'Down the Wall'? Her dreamlike fictions, as impossible to summarize as they are to forget, seethe with protean mythic energies. Written in a language of Shakespearean intensity and raw inventiveness that calls the early fiction of Cormac McCarthy to mind, 'Down the Wall' has a post-apocalyptic feel, a post-everything feel ... yet it also seems like a mysterious new beginning. To call Gilman a difficult writer is an understatement; Gene Wolfe's work is easier to parse. But those who surrender to this wildly original talent will be amply repaid for any confusion."

Nine

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