Angels in America – The Millennium Approaches – Act One: Bad News (October-November 1985) – Scene 9

Possibly one of the best scenes I have ever seen on a TV screen and the moment when I realised that the Angels in America mini-series was something incredibly special. The scene is almost word perfect from the play-page with only a few adaptations to suit Pacino’s rhythm as Roy Cohn. The most substantial change being a line delivered by James Cromwell who plays Roy’s doctor

“What are you doing, Roy?” – Play

“Why are you doing this Roy?” – Screenplay

Although similar in content I actually think that the screenplay was a fair update because the doctor knows exactly what Roy Cohn is doing by forcing the issue but does not understand why. Another reason why the updated script is possibly better than the older version is that Tony Kushner himself did all of the re-writes. An interesting and daring experiment, especially considering that The Millennium Approaches won him a Pulizter  for drama. It is hard to judge the quality of the whole text update by this one scene as the play is epic in scope and the mini-series is hours long. Plus, much to my sadness, I have never seen the play on stage so a direct aesthetic comparison is hard to procure.

However, this play created one of the most exciting television event of the last ten decades and a mini-series that expanded the imagination, did not pull any punches when it came to serious public and personal issues, got Al Pacino back on form (finally) and gave viewers a chance to see Emma Thompson act out an orgasm while flying through the air dressed as an angel.

This week’s awesome discovery: Nick Reding played Joe Pitt at the National in London in 1992. Look him up (and I will write about him later on).


Zack Snyder and “The bond of the theatre”.

Recently I was unfortunate enough to witness the incoherent mess that is Sucker Punch which is directed and outlined (I’ll explain why I will not use ‘written’ a bit later) by ‘the visionary’ Zack Snyder, the man who gave us 300 and Watchmen with their tight, tight spandex underpants and hyper-usage of slow motion.

Now, previously I had no particular problem with Zack Snyder’s approach to directing although I have to say that his ‘vision’ was always limited to the same checklist of ‘things to do to make my films cool’ which included overbearing music, loud colour schemes and a finger firmly pressed on the slow motion button (as mentioned before).

Beyond this narrow approach to directing there was also a couple of underlying issues that got in the way of his ‘vision’: script and character understanding. The two converge into one massive problem: He doesn’t seem to grasp the importance, or even concept, of either elements. Armed with brilliant source material from Frank Miller (300) and Alan Moore (Watchmen) he sacrifices any engagement or depth in favour of mad camera angles and frantic visuals. I did not really mind because I was quite content to slot both films into the ‘enjoyable mindless action flick’ category as I did not have much contact with either text before seeing the films.

One would think that after a handful of directorial adventures he would understand his limitations and possibly accept them in order to focus on what he does best: tight man-trousers and loud music (each is fine). One would be incredibly wrong. Because in the instance of Sucker Punch he decided to unleash his vision on all fronts by writing, producing and directing it himself. Big mistake.

I dream of seeing an actual copy of this particular script because in all likelihood it will be considerably shorter than average as he isn’t a great fan of dialogue (and can’t write it anyway) or the text will be incredibly, incredibly extensive. The second possibility could happen if he had decided to write up all the stage directions and music notations in extreme detail. He just can’t write, he can only outline the action. Hence the usage of outline rather than write earlier on.

Lets leave aside all comment on the gender politics of Sucker Punch as that would simply take too long and has been covered brilliantly by various others. Just google it. All that needs to be said is that all the female characters have been given a variety of film-stripperesque names such as Baby Doll, Sweet Pea and Amber without any sense of irony and they spend most of the film scantily clad wielding big guns.

The problem is that the film, like Mark Kermode pointed out, is just so mind-numbingly boring and stupid I couldn’t even be bothered to get angry at its misogyny. I simply could not care less. That is until right at the beginning of the third, and thankfully final, act of the movie when this particular line cropped up:

“The bond of the theatre.” – Blue Jones.

And all of a sudden I was instantly enraged. Let me explain why. This line is spat at the rebel group of strippers by their ‘master’/’owner’ just when their magnificently planned escape plot begins to unravel. Note to future escapees: Do not write extensive plan of escape in note form on the back of a black board which is in plain sight of everyone and can be discovered by simply turning said board around. Apparently this is supposed to be some sort of commentary on the relationships that can develop between people who practice and/or participate in stage work.

No! Zack Snyder. Simply: No! You are not allowed to reference the theatre in any way, shape or form when you do not have the slightest inkling of an idea about what you are referring to. It might have escaped your notice but a strip club (masquerading as a burlesque club, I don’t think he understands the difference there either) is not a theatre establishment. It might have theatrical elements but that does not a theatre make my friend. These unfortunate women (and by that I not only mean the characters but also the actresses in the film) might be performing but there is nothing artistic about a woman forced to gyrate in front of her captor in order for her, and her friends, to escape their clutches. You have not earned the right to even use the word ‘theatre’ as any type of metaphor, analogy or springboard for your infantile musings on the state of human existence.

ps. Beyond the misappropriation of the world ‘theatre’ in terms of human relationships he is also not equipped to use it when he has proven himself incapable of using the concept of silence. He never trusts either the script or the performers to supply the emotional groundwork for any scene but feels the need to underscore everything with hyper sound editing and overbearing (not to mention manipulative) use of music.

pps. As for the use of music I am also quite irritated that ‘the visionary’ Zack Snyder has forever tainted Björk’s Army of Me.

Mark Kermode and the running

This. Makes. Me. Happy.

(A future blog on Mark Kermode will follow in future, not immediate but soon.)

The Hall of Asgard vs. Hallgrímskirkja

Took a peak at Kenneth Branagh’s Thor trailer today, am still on the fence about the whole thing but am terrified that it will turn out like Ang Lee’s Hulk. However, best moment was easy to spot as it turns out that their design for the Hall of Asgard looks very very similar to Iceland’s own Hallgrímskirkja, which I find quite awesome I have to say.

Watch trailer:

See photo:

Is it just me? Am paging Mr. Branagh for comment.

Small layover in Yann-Tiersen-land

and with a lovely ‘Goodbye’ to ‘Lenin’

Anthony Lane’s Poetry Corner

I derive deep and unashamed pleasure from watching Sally Potter’s Yes at least once a year. One of the few films in recent years to surprise me, mostly based on the fact that I had no clue going in that the entire script was in blank verse and that I didn’t actually notice until about fifteen minutes in. However, I am more than well-aware that viewed from a certain angle the film can be seen as incredibly pretentious and hugely flawed, most of the problems are to do with said script, its politics and rhyme schemes. Since I first saw it there have been many attempts to watch the film with a critical eye and yet it somehow manages to bypass all of my bullshit- and political-filters (often one and the same filter). Every time it goes straight for the emotional jugular, even to the point that I am a proud owner of a copy of the aforementioned text.

This does not mean that I do not have a certain sense of humour about the films that I cherish, on the contrary. (Although I get incensed when musicals are deemed an inferior genre, but that is another story.) When I first read Anthony Lane’s critique of Yes I was in floods of tears I laughed so hard. Absolutely spot on, well-argued, hideously funny and a small victory for film criticism everywhere when its authors are allowed to put their views into verse. Feast your eyes on this, and what a feast it is:

White Dwarfs

“this is for those people

that hover and hover

and die on the ether peripheries”

– M. O.

ps. An entry on The English Patient is imminent.