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Archive for the ‘HIGH TRAGEDY’ Category

Fences

27 Dec

Fences – directed by Denzel Washington. Drama. 2 hours 18 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

The Story:  The lives of a family swirl around the big personality of the pater familias who rules the roost with his ebullience and pigheadedness.

~

The movie is written by the now deceased playwright August Wilson. He is one of the great American playwrights, and I contrive to see any professional production of his plays that I can. His scheme was to write one play involving black lives for each decade of the 20th Century. Fences is set in the ‘50s.

August Wilson never went to plays or read them. So you can see, what he could not, the big flaw in this one, which is its failure, early enough, to dramatize the life-long frustration of the wife, which Viola Davis plays. It could have been remedied by the offstage children. And the frustration of the father needed to be established sooner also. He never seems frustrated. Instead what we get from him is a round and stunning display of vim and vitality.

But you take these in stride, and your stride must be long. For Wilson is the opposite of Harold Pinter. When you sit down to a play by August Wilson you sit down from soup to nuts. You get up from the feast stuffed. The danger with such a method for a playwright is that he may fall into the banal. He must always surprise you, and this the playwright does speech by speech and scene by scene.

James Earl Jones played it originally on Broadway, and he, of course, is, an actor of greater amplitude than Denzel Washington, but Washington gives the performance of his lifetime. He holds us still in his character’s terrible self-regarding silences and certainly holds us in the great arias Wilson has required of him. You watch him and you listen to him as mesmerized as his family is surrounding him.

His character, like at least one character in each of Wilson’s plays, has a big rhetoric. He talks a lot but he’s fun, he’s entertaining, he’s outrageous. He’s also full of himself.

This means his inability to see someone else’s point of view is his tragic flaw. His action in the play creates a fissure in him, and you can see it form. It creates a fissure in all the characters around him. Washington does that rare thing in movie actor performance: he lets you into his eyes. He  gives a performance which is sterling in its formation, for he performed it on Broadway, and has brought members of the Broadway cast into the picture Viola Davis plays the wife. The impeccable Stephen McKinley Henderson plays the chum Bono: every time he’s on the set you want the camera to be on him.

The play won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards for best play, Best Actor and Best Actress Tony Awards for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Also a Tony for Best revival.

This sort of acting is very seldom to be seen in movies, where character-story ends to reside in subtext and the oblique. Here the performance is a full-blown stage performance. And, in fact, nothing less will do.

I love movies with a lot of speeches. Where characters say it. As Coco Pekelis once said, Taciturnity is not more profound than self-expression. I like the glory and daring of our language. And when you see Fences, you will face it at once. It will take a moment to accustom yourself. After that you will lean forward in your seat, not wanting to miss a word.

 

 

 

 

 

Marketa Lazarova

18 Oct

Marketa Lazarova – directed by Frantisek Vlácil. Historical Drama. 162 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: Clans feud in the dark ages in Czechoslovakia.

~

What does the word “great” mean?

What does it mean when it means nothing less than the most it can mean?

Let’s put it this way: this film is on the order of Beethoven’s 9th.  King Lear.

It is on the level of the best films of Tarkovsky, Rossellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizogichi, Satyajit Ray.

I don’t think I need to go on any further about it.

Great is the comprehending of that which is beyond comprehension.

I like that kind of thing.

The sublime. The profound.

The Grand Canyon.

Marketa Lazarova.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Lear [Orson Welles, 1953 Omnibus TV Version]

11 Aug

King Lear [Orson Welles TV version] – directed by Peter Brook. High Tragedy. To retire with his cronies, an English King divides his kingdom, and the two daughters between whom he partitions it drive him to his death. 83 minutes Black and White 1953.

★★★★★

I saw Welles play King Lear at The City Center in New York, and he was quite inaudible – a grumbling old stage thunderer – magisterial and hollow.

Orson Welles was inaudible in many film parts – deliberately inaudible, evincing by that a grand contempt for the piffling project he was in and for acting and for the actors around him. I later came to realize he was neither a stage actor nor a movie actor nor a TV actor, but a radio actor, having to and eventually choosing to achieve all his effects vocally. He had voice of great depth and plangency, and he fancied it, and he thought that such a voice, if used as a bravura instrument, was all that acting needed to be for him, that such a voice was sufficient to play any part whatsoever. Many actors with natural or highly developed voices do the same.

But I find this boring. Misguided. Arrogant. Especially, in basso voices, such as Welles’, it leads to incomprehensibility. The words tend to become drowned in the tumult of ocean. The character as tuba.

Welles’ voice doomed him. He was too famous for it. He, like Reciter-Actors such as Richard Burton, foundered on the rocks of vocal vanity. Vocally his Macbeth, his Othello, his Falstaff are all the same: deep without depth: orotund: the deep sounds shallow.

But Orson Welles’ TV-Omnibus King Lear is another matter entirely. You understand every single thing he says. And part of the pleasure of this is one’s sense that Welles loves this play, this poetry, in just the right way, which is to say humbly. He also knows it so thoroughly, so inwardly, that you sense the actor knows it truly by heart. It’s a wonderful rendition.

He brings the great mass and height of his body to bear without bullying and augments it with a big long nose, which removes from his face the piggy quality it ordinarily had and the visage of a demonic elf, and sets him above all lesser noses. He gives himself patriarchal eyebrows, which erase his own which were those of a mountebank and mere magician. He wears a Neptune beard and hair, which turn him primordial. We are in the presence of a terrible old king before he even opens his mouth, which actually happens at once, since the Edmund/Edgar subplot is banished from this production. Removing the first scene, which justifies the children’s behavior to parents who treat them as no parent should, still does streamline the play for TV length. It’s all right. We are not really asked to concern ourselves with anything other than the central performance.

Alan Badel plays the Fool; Natasha Parry, Cordelia; Arnold Moss, Albany; Bramwell Fletcher, Kent; Beatrice Straight, Goneril; Margaret Phillips, Regan; Michael MacLiammóir, Tom A Bedlam; Fredrick Worlock, Gloucester. And. aged thirty-eight, as the four-score-years-and-more King Lear, Orson Welles. A great Lear, a true investment by the actor. Miss him at your cost.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: STAGE ENGLISH, HIGH TRAGEDY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, MADE FOR TV, Orson Welles, ROYALS, Tudor Costume Drama, WRITTEN BY: William Shakespeare

 

Coriolanus

15 Aug

Coriolanus – directed by Ralph Fiennes. High Tragedy. A great warrior refuses to be polite for political position in. 123 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

Changing People’s Minds is the subject of many of Shakespeare’s plays. What is the outcome of asking people to go against their grain? Hamlet tortures himself with it. Macbeth tries it although he knows it won’t work. Lear’s daughter refuses to do it. Coriolanus is the great examination of this subject. Changing people. And of all his great tragedies it is the one that contains scenes of the most excruciating brilliance. How does someone who is set in his ways, see himself other than what he takes himself to be? How can he see himself at all. “That’s just the way I am,” he will say, not realizing that the real truth is, “That’s just what I do.” Identification with one’s own behavior as The Truth, identification with one’s own emotional habits, identification with the righteousness of one’s conduct and story, obscured by the triumph of its success in certain circumstances, enriches our spectacle of this extraordinary person, Coriolanus, a man made darker of mind by the fabulous rhetoric he can speak to support himself on his path. The text is simple and thorny, the diction plain and incomprehensible because the utterance of internal musings. This is how the mind actually works, the words not so much a way of thinking as an interiority. And it is very difficult for the ear to reach into. I performed Cominius in this play once in my acting life, and it is remarkable how, once reading the script which seems to be written in another language, one gets under it to find how physical it is, and therefore how renderable. Brian Cox, who plays the campaign manager Menenius, is a case in point of an actor who has discovered this, the secret of making all the points so small they reverberate with reality. When he leaves we should miss him more. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain plays the worried wife, a thankless role we thank no lesser actress is performing. Vanessa Redgrave, an actress who I monstrously dislike, is Volumnia, the mother, the holder of moral suasion for the hero, but her performance is too exquisite for us to see Volumnia’s neurosis as being more hypnotic to Coriolanus and herself than either her maternal care, her passion, or her reason. After all, there really is something wrong with Volumnia. But the performance is simple, direct, and clear. Although there is nothing Mediterranean about her, the same is true of  Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, a part one would suppose him too slight of vitality and physique to play (Richard Burton was notable in the role), but not so. He is marvelous. With his lowering brow, his intention is so resolute, it has no place to go but collapse. His belligerence is massive. He fights with Gerard Butler as Aufidius as though every knife blow were a deep passionate kiss. They both do. Aufidius can kill Coriolanus, but cannot conquer him. He cannot out-best him. The best he can do is hate and adore him. Fiennes brings to the role an unexpected physical solidity, a snobbishness so symphonic you dare not admire it, the assurance of a hero who has his own back. He tends to play many of his big scenes small, and so he should, for the camera, after all, is right at his nostrils. He has a trick of raising his upper left lip in contempt and disgust, which is essentially mugging, and like many English actors he tends to generalize and bray when loud, so the words are lost. And the principal responsibility with filming Shakespeare is that it be detailed, not a word lost – not to whispers and not to shouts. But, for the most part, one leans forward in the wonder of what resides behind Shakespeare’s incredible diction. The power of it to release the human truth of the actor is without competition. It is a very great play, Shakespeare’s only tragedy in the Greek mode, Coriolanus, the drama of  a man of the highest accomplishments and whose valor preserves civilization, being brought down by the rigidity of his own ideals. His is the human tragedy of holding onto the part of you that you take to be yourself, yet your relinquishing of that part to your peril. Not easy watching. But great watching.

 

 

Precious

30 Nov

Precious — Directed by Lee Daniels. Tragedy. A bullied and beset teenager lives through it. 109 minutes Color 2009.

* * * * *

A beatuiful film — beautiful in all respects, particularly as regards the resplendent beauty of its leading player Gabourey Sidibe. Andrew Dunn’s filming of it is stunning from the first shot to the last, and always surprising, and always right. The editing of Joe Klotz is tells the story with a ferocious economy, letting us fill in the blanks, and thus participate to the fullest. It does not make any sense to say that the film is performed by great actors, but only to say that everyone is great in acting their roles, particularly when you consider that many actors come from the realm of entertainment rather than theatre. Paula Patton is a raving beauty, and its effect is felt as a mesmerizing force in the classroom where she teaches. Mariah Carey, whom I had never heard or even heard of, possesses plainness and homeliness and a tired Long Island City directness that is riveting as the social worker whose job it is to get to the truth. Mo’Nique plays the mother of Precious in a performance that won her an Oscar for supporting player. It is a performance that never takes-it-back. Seeing her go beyond these extremes, one wonders how the director ever decided to use her, or any of them, but use them he did, and he elicits from them great performances in a great story. His sense of detail is infallible – a pen being shared across an aisle as a camera retreats – and his devotion to and mining of the strength and character of Precious as he got it out of Gabourey Sidibe as the put-upon girl whose story this is. Her face is set in introversion and withdrawal as she moves through her life to survive its conditions. Her eyes seem closed half the time, so dreadful is her situation. But her stillness is a sonnet. There is nothing I or anyone can say to lure anyone to see this film. Except for one thing which supervenes all else: you will be enriched immeasurably as you watch it.

 

Cry, The Beloved Country, James Earle Jones version

02 Oct

Cry, The Beloved Country – Directed by Darrell Roodt. High Tragedy. A country priest travels to Johannesburg to find his lost son. 106 minutes Color 1995.

* * * * *

On a list of the most influential books of the 20th Century, Cry, The Beloved Country might come first. Because, for non-South Africans, it spread out, over the landscape of a prose that in its power and beauty stood in for the land itself, a threefold world pain. And that pain is, one, the pain of a father whose son has been shot to death in a robbery, two, the pain of the father whose son has shot him, and three, our pain which we recognize is the same pain as theirs just as they come to recognize it. The fortunate importance of this concurrence made the book a worldwide best seller, and brought into operation the necessity of amnesty in South Africa when apartheid eventually ended many years later. For, of course, apartheid is the desolating cause. As he makes his way through the slums of Johannesburg, the poor Black minister, whose son has shot the son of the White landholder, becomes educated about the latitude of the harm of apartheid when he sees the poverty and degradation that the suppression of the Black population has brought about. And the father of the murdered boy learns the same. Here, in Johannesburg, there is no beautiful country. For one of the great values of this movie is our vision of the ravishing landscape of South Africa filmed by Paul Gilpin. It is like a prayer. A 1951 Black and White version of this story had Sidney Poitier as the priest-guide, Charles Carson as the White man, and Canada Lee as the Black minister. At that time apartheid was in force, and in order for Poitier and Lee to be allowed to enter South Africa and to be permitted to associate with the White film director, the authorities had to be told that Lee and Poitier were his indentured servants. The present film has Vusi Kunene, wonderful as the priest psychopomp, James Earle Jones as the poor country priest, and Richard Harris as the landowner. Charles S. Dutton plays the political radical brother of Jones. James Earle Jones plays the priest as a good man wounded by greater and greater difficulty as he stumbles into each of them. Richard Harris, as the White landowner father of the murdered boy, is shot through and shot through again, and then again. After the murder, his life changes when he sees the noble work his dead son did for the Blacks, and he wakes up. “What if when the White man turns to love, the Black man turns to hate?” his son has written. But it is not the Black’s forgiveness of the wrong done to him, but the White man’s forgiveness that speeds the truth home that, just as pain is, forgiveness is panhuman and is the beloved ground on which everything may be rebuilt. In that fact lies the power and influence of this book, from which both our awareness of apartheid everywhere and the amnesty at the end of apartheid came to be. Apartheid has not ended in America. This film may still help end it. See it. You may think this film will make you sad. I know it will. But see it. It will also make you alive.

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Boesman And Lena

13 Jun

Boesman and Lena – Directed by John Berry. High Tragedy. A South African couple, dispossessed and refugee, work out their destiny in a wasteland. 84 minutes Color 2000.

* * * * *

I did not know it had been made; I knew I would be a fool not to see this. Atol Fugard is one of the greatest of modern playwrights, and this play is his King Lear. It takes place in a wasteland and a storm. It is a two character piece in which both characters play the fool, play the monarch, play the bastard-son Edmund. It offers up to us a married couple at rock bottom in their marital and material lives, bulldozed out of their township and now forced to scrounge in desolate mudflats by the sea. The man, Boesman, played by Danny Glover has become stone-hearted by cynicism and reduction, as he knows, to the non-human status of white-man’s-rubbish. Lena Played by Angela Bassett is his alcoholic wife, whose brain has become damage by drink, by circumstance, and by the violent abuse of her husband. I would never have believed Angela Bassett had in her the intelligence, the technique, or the temperament to play as I see her play here, with uncanny daring and immediacy in a range that goes beyond even this great script — which is what you want from the play King Lear, and what you want from the play Boesman and Lena. It is what  such plays exist for. The extraordinary depths to which the script takes us, and the heights to which this actress takes us you will seldom see combined. These two people have become junkyard junk in their marriage and in society. Yet they live. And they fight tenaciously, ignorantly, deeply, not knowing if their fight even leads back. Would you be a fool to miss it? I am happy to say I was not.

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Amistad

27 Feb

Amistad — Directed by Steven Spielberg — High Tragedy. Men on a slave ship revolt, are captured, and brought to trial in 1838. 2 hours 15 minutes Color 1997.

* * * * *

High tragedy, yes, that rare thing in movies, as a great and noble king in exile is brought to the point of death by his captors and rescued by a deus ex macchina in the form of another great and noble king. I have not seen all of Spielberg’s films, but this is the finest I have seen. It is perfectly cast, produced, written, and performed. It is narrated by the director unexceptionably save for the coda of the destruction of the slave fortress in Sierra Leone, which should interlace the main tale itself as a counter-chorus, and not come wagging its tail at us in the end, but then, all Spielberg’s finales are false. The music by John Williams is not as vulgar as that which wrecks The Color Purple, but its Orff-like choruses and excessive swells almost overset the craft a number of times. The great Pete Postlethwaite as the opposing lawyer is concise, real, and fair. As the President, Nigel Hawthorne gives us a man helpless before his own real ignorance. Morgan Freeman stands in reserve as a force of Negro abolition almost out of touch with his original slave past. Matthew McConaughey brings a, perhaps, natural crassness to the part of the young lawyer who takes on the case and he is very convincing as a man whose limited vision and slightly cockeyed rashness moves the case forward. Anthony Hopkins, in his best screen performance, dodders and pots as John Quincy Adams, the old former President, who finally raises the Supreme Court to liberate the Negros and return them to Africa. But the film depends entirely for its power, its movement, and its authenticity on Djimon Hounsou, the leader of the Negros, their particular king. A man of great stature and bearing, he performs with an emotional immediacy and truth and rashness of being that causes him to stand for everything — and not just to stand for  — but to be it in our hearts and souls as we watch — everything that the film means to say. Which is to present under attack the essence of freedom itself in a human being, as though that freedom had never been born or seen before. Anyone who has ever been oppressed, has ever oppressed, or wishes to oppress, wants to see this film, because this actor reveals to us that freedom is inherent in us, not bestowed, not legalized, not purchased, and that its abrogation and annulment by anyone or any agency or any thing is an agony titanic. If this makes the film a civics lesson, so be it, for it is a record of the Exemplary in our American ancestry and in the ancestry of the world, and we benefit and are enlarged by such examples. I am moved by Djimon Hounsou’s soul, and I recommend that you place yourself before it. This is a film which proves what film at its best can do. Give it to yourself somehow.

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