Archive for the ‘MADE FOR TV’ Category

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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The Rules Of The Game: Pirandello

13 Apr

The Rules Of The Game : Pirandello– Directed by Stephen Porter – Tragedy. A married woman prefers to live like a kept woman, and the consequences are dire. 87 minutes Color 1975.

* * * * *

The Nobel Prize winning Luigi Pirandello is my favorite playwright. And the reason for that is that his dramas hinge on the machinery of the human psyche and how its truth forces inner roles into becoming outer roles. Here we have a frivolous and capricious woman, a love-tease and a sex-tease, who can’t abide her husband and so lives away from him. She has a courter, well played by David Dukes, who may or may not be her lover, but who is devoted to his fascination with her, as is her husband, the lover’s close friend. One evening a trio of drunk playboys barges into her apartment thinking it is a bordello and molests her until her maid rouses the neighbors (among whom you will find Glenn Close). She then decides, as a dirty trick to play on him, that her husband must avenge her. What are the forces afield inside these individuals? What is really there? What makes all these plot developments inevitable? Why is the servant sure that his master will have breakfast at 7:30; is he a fool? Joan Van Ark misplays the wife as actressy, which throws the menge-a-trois-blanc into the realm of a shrug: how could anyone be attracted to this phony? But John McMartin plays the husband superbly. Mildred Dunnock once said to me that McMartin was an actor who played everything the same way. Which meant that he had a trick vocal lever he always pulled. Certain actors have such a lever: Sandy Dennis, for instance, Gloria Graham: they are always the same because they mechanize their voices. McMartin does not pull his usual lever here, and his remarkable voice and technique hold him in good stead. So as not to be confused with Jean Renoir’s film masterwork The Rules Of The Game, this translation might better have been titled The Rules Of Play. Still, beautifully directed by Stephen Porter and costumed by Nancy Potts, it’s a blessing to have rare, star, stage productions, such as this, preserved.



Shattered City:The Halifax Explosion

31 Mar

Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion — Directed by Bruce Pittman — TV Docudrama Miniseries. A shipment of high explosives converges with an out-of-line Belgian vessel in Halifax Harbor during World War I, and creates the greatest man-made explosion in the history of the world, and blows apart many local individuals’ lives. 3 hours Color 2003.

* * * *

This is a solid historical reconstruction of the events leading up to and trailing in the wake of the Halifax disaster. It’s a good piece of historical dramaturgy, based as it is on actual lives and deeds and on the memory of them by those who lived long after, such as the young Connie Collins, who lived until 2003. Arrogance at the helm brought ruin to the lives of 11,000 people that day. Many of the parts are beautifully played, particularly Ted Dykstra, the jolly pilot whose orders were remanded by the dazed captain, and by Lynn Griffin who is one bitching actress as Millicent Collins, the loving mother of all the children, who was permanently blinded, as were hundreds of others by the flash. Shauna Macdonald, a lovely actress, is perfectly cast for the intelligence and reserve which makes her successful as a visiting doctor, and the very handsome Vincent Walsh provides the necessary earnestness as the focal figure of the Royal Canadian Army Captain who takes charge.  Clara Stone plays Connie just fine. And the great Pete Postlethwaite turns up in the last part of this two part series to cause serious doubt as to whether the Captain will win his case. For, as the ship captain, the harbor master, and the pilot are all put on trial, it is worth waiting for the outcome. I found it interesting and informative and easy to take. The whole family could watch it together.



Who Am I This TIme?

07 Mar

Who Am I This Time? — Directed by Jonathan Demme — Comedy. Amateur theatricals enliven the lives of two shy leads. 60 minutes. Color 1982.

* * * * *

Jonathan Demme is around 28, Susan Sarandon is around 36, and Christopher Walken is around 29, and it’s curious to see how their developments differ. Demme had already made Melvin And Howard and a variety of other pictures by this time, but the work here seems rather ragtag, a consequence one might ascribe to the ragtag conditions of filming this American Playhouse piece by Kurt Vonnegut. However, it serves the amateur, hometown material which is itself ragtag, since it deals with the workings, personalities, and performances in a small town community theatre. Susan Sarandon is an actor almost incapable of giving an emotionally coherent performance. Sometimes she is very real and true; sometimes, she is just putting out the soap opera style in which she began her career. Here her problem may lie in being ten years too old for the part. She doesn’t look too old at all, but she is 36 playing a 26 year old, and it appears that one of her adjustments is to make the girl be young — a mistake, since to do it she makes her look innocent, which never works for an actor. As the emotionless highly competent visiting technician she is much more real than as the girl finding her emotions. Finding her emotions, she “uses” her hot brown hydrocephalic eyes, for this and that. It always sabotages her moment. However, the fun of the part is that, when she is called upon to come alive in an acting role in A Streetcar Named Desire, she does so on all four burners and the oven too, and the scene works like all get out. And this is true for the large body of the film, whose story depends upon the comic transformation of two wallflowers into creatures of raging passion, Stella and Stanley. Sarandon can act like gangbusters when she leaves herself alone. Christopher Walken, on the other hand, has to control himself like mad to act like gangbusters, and it’s interesting to see how solid he is in his craft at this age, a sort of American Terrence Stamp, beautiful to gaze upon, neurotic, mannered, and riveting. The constant looks off. The savoring of subtext over relating. The physical animation. The rashness. The inherent comic sense. The quirky timing. And the sense that he has spent a lot of time looking at himself in the mirror. He actually plays Cyrano de Bergerac before our very eyes in such a funny high fustian style that it is hard to believe it is the same actor whom we see playing Oscar Wilde’s Jack and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Stanley. The whole crew have caught the dear absurdity of amateur theatrics, the aliveness and excitement of performing. I have known actors like Walken’s character, brilliant nerds whose acting skills are world class and yet you have to drag them to the tryouts, and no one will ever know of them but their own small communities. The film is a tribute to actors of all ranges and regions — light, unforced, and endearingly awkward.



Butterfly Collectors

05 Mar

Butterfly Collectors — directed by Jean Stewart — 2 Part TV Police Procedural. A detective becomes partisan to a crime suspect. 150 minutes Color 1999

* * * *

What gifts bring an actor to the fore? Here we have Pete Postlethwaite playing opposite a very beautiful young man, who is also a good actor, Jamie Draven. And yet if the director were tempted to put them both in the same frame at the same time, one would not watch the beautiful young man. Put Edward G. Robinson on the stage with the most beautiful actor in the world, as Richard Burton said, and you would not be able to take your eyes off Edward G. Robinson. Postlethwaite’s face. Wide-spaced large blue eyes filled with uncertainty and searching. A ruddy complexion. A wide expressive mouth. A hatchet face marred or made by time. An incipient bald spot. A sense coming off of him that you do not know what he is going to do next, and whatever it is, you might not like it. A lower class affect. It would be hard to imagine him in a leading tuxedo part. He has, however, toured in King Lear playing all the parts, which means he played the dukes and the king and evidently all the princesses too. Emotionally he seems to have that rather rare quality in an actor –—Toshiro Mifune had it — of being able to turn on an emotional dime, a faculty which saves directors and screenwriters an enormous amount of time. He’s of middle height. Slender. Moves well. Can smoke innumerable cigarettes. Can give over to being entirely, deeply internal. Does not seem to act for the camera or for the second balcony, as Ingrid Bergman did. And a curious, distinctive, and well-placed voice. Does this help? In any case, here he is in a big long principal role in this two-part detective film. One of the great actors of modern times. I owe to myself to see him wherever I can, and to bring him to you, so that you may wonder and delight.


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