Posts Tagged 'Theatre'

So Now Then

Ten years ago tonight, with the clock ticking toward midnight, there was an immense anxiety in me about what would happen. The world might forever be changed. It so filled my mind that I don’t really remember anything else I talked about that night, aside from this one thing – will I get to kiss my girlfriend? Y2K be damned, I didn’t care if the world ended or not; only about what it would be like to kiss her.

I didn’t. I chickened out. But it’s okay, we made up for it and then some for the next year or so.

Boy things were different back then. Looking back on the last ten years of my life, I am in the unique position of having come of age during this time, which is a strange thing and who knows, maybe ten years from now I’ll be saying the same thing about the next decade. But for now, I want to remember when.

This was the decade I graduated high school. And college. It’s the decade I got my first car. My first job. While things were in motion, this is the decade I fell in love with the movies and with acting and with writing. I directed my first movie. Isn’t it strange to think that 10 short years ago, I hadn’t seen my favorite movie of all time? Most of my favorite movies, in fact. I started reading books. Started reading The Bible. I hadn’t heard most of my favorite music yet. Think of it. All of these things that occupy my time and my mind and my heart and direct my life on a daily basis, and I didn’t have any idea they were out there. Things I can’t imagine being without; not the physical thing-ness of them, but the experience of them. The knowledge of them, the understanding of them. If you take enough of those things away, you take me away. I’m not me without them. I couldn’t be, I wouldn’t want to be, and I don’t know who I’d be. I’ve seen well over 1,000 movies in the last 10 years. Many of them good, some of them bad, and quite a few of them life-changing. Life-changing. A movie. A song. A television show. A fiction. A podcast. People doing things who I don’t know personally but somehow know deeply. Now how in the world does that happen?

And what about the people who do populate my life? Friendships that were only a few months or a couple years old are now lifelong bonds that have carried me through so much these years. People I didn’t know, or only knew peripherally. And now, what would life be without them? Where would I be? I had the immense fortune of having incredible friends around me at every turn these last 10 years. Where I would be without them is lost, completely stupidly lost. What kings and queens of goodness they are, what multitudes they hold.

There are small big things too. I voted for the first time, had my first beer, got my first tattoo, my first apartment, got my first corporate job, quit that job and moved to another state. I took my first trip out of the country, I went on vacation by myself and found I am a good traveling companion. I wrote and wrote and wrote thousands of pages of stories and journals and movies and essays and papers. Endless experiences and events and things done and things wished for and not received and regrets and elations and disappointments and poorly-timed, well-worded remarks that got me in mountains of trouble. 10 years ago I thought I was right all the time. Now I know the percentage is slightly lower, and things are often my own fault.

10 years is enough time, it turns out, to meet someone, love them, know them for 7 years, be hurt by them long enough and badly enough that you don’t know her anymore. 10 years of my life is still a pretty high percentage of it at this point (a little over 38% of it). And there is no bleed-over. It is a thing contained within one decade, a little parenthesis of a thing that, 20 years from now will matter, won’t matter, who knows? But there is before and there is after and it doesn’t reach either of them. It is cut off. That’s a little scary when you think about it.

10 years ago, I thought of my life in terms of my parents’ rhythms. Married by a certain age, children by a certain age, career by a certain age. It took time to realize that a different pattern was waiting for me. 10 years ago, I don’t think I could ever know I’d be sitting where I am today. If I talked to myself, I wouldn’t believe me. How much I had to learn. How much I have to learn. 10 years ago, I thought I would be a film actor. I don’t think I thought very highly of the theatre. 20+ plays later, I see I was a fool. The thrill of walking onto a stage in front of an audience and inhabiting another life is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The experience of being watched is similar to playing a sport, but it’s a different kind of thrill. I love them both. Still another is to write something you’re proud of and see it performed by someone else in front of a couple thousand people. And another to write and direct something, find the time and people and equipment to capture it on film, edit it, toil over it, and then see it projected onto a screen in a dark room with people you don’t know. To hear them react to it, find it is all out of your hands now. These things are magical. I wouldn’t trade these things for anything, and I wouldn’t ruin them by explaining them away to my younger self. If I never see them again, I’m glad for what I’ve got.

So now then. What have we learned? What conclusions can we draw? What do we do now? How can I do better? The best answer I know is to say that these aren’t questions reserved for the ends of decades, but for every day. Contentment in limbo. It sounds like an impossible thing, but I think that’s where the truth lives. If I find out, I’ll tell you in 10 years.




TV vs Stage vs Film vs History

TV vs Stage vs Film vs History

The material that makes up this particular piece of art represents one of the most unique challenges for me to write about. “Frost/Nixon” the film has just opened, was directed by Ron Howard and stars Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. If these actors are not household names of cinema, it may make a little more sense to learn that they originated the material on stage, the medium it was created for by writer Peter Morgan. It started in London and transferred to New York on Broadway. That was where I first saw it, in the summer of 2007.

So now I have the rare perspective of having seen the same actors performing the same material as the same characters on both the stage and screen. Which is better, you might reasonably inquire? That is what I wondered and still wonder.

In the journal I kept on that trip to New York City, I wrote to myself that the play did not quite have the power I had expected it to and that Michael Sheen, whose acting I had loved onscreen in 2006’s “The Queen,” made the fatal error of over-gesturing. He cycled through them over and over, and the performance rang of inexperience and actor trickery (something I know a little about myself, I will admit). But it was the play’s writing that most offended me. It made abundant use of one of the most tiresome theatrical conventions, in which a minor character continually broke the fourth wall to give us plot updates, usually during scene changes. Dreadful lines like, “We were about to give Richard Nixon the trial he never had!” were delivered with all the subtlety of machine gun fire next to your ear. Ouch.

It was to my immense surprise, therefore, that both Sheen and the entire supporting cast were handled so much better in the film. Sam Rockwell plays the character, James Reston, and his asides are translated into interview style, direct-addresses to the camera. Also wise is the decision to allow more than just Reston a voice. Both camps are represented, which also provides slightly more balance than the play gives. In the play, you feel perpetually off-center, because it is narrated by someone you care little about, and about a man kept always at a distance. By giving Nixon’s people more of a voice, it inflates the scope of the film, and raises more questions about how we may perceive Nixon himself by the end. And Sheen seems so much more comfortable on camera than onstage. His gestures are more contained, he trusts stillness more, and the movement he does choose is grounded in purpose and intention, instead of fear from the total exposure that is live theatre (I do not know if he was nervous, it could easily have been that I saw the evening show after a matinee. The man could simply have been tired).

But for all that, Ron Howard manages to do what he always does and that is to say that he makes a Ron Howard movie. I cannot quite put my finger on the problem, except to say that his films have a way, in my opinion, of overlooking the acting and story that they are supposed to be capturing. There is something inherently bulky and bloated about the way his shots are arranged, especially now. My favorite film of his is, hands down, “Apollo 13,” because unlike most of his films, it feels authentic. But in movies like “Cinderella Man” and even a movie I mostly like, “A Beautiful Mind” there seems a lack of specificity to his movies and the way he captures performances.

And speaking of performances, Frank Langella. It’s a very good performance in the film. You can tell that Langella knows his character; is his character. It is everything that good acting should be. And yet. As solid as his big moments were in the film, they were dynamic on the stage. He has a monologue at the end, in which he is making his apology. Howard shoots it tight, he bludgeons us with closeup, closeup, closeup. It still works, it’s still effective, but on stage! Oh, on stage, Langella’s voice was barely a whisper, like he was afraid to say the words too loudly. The distance drew us in all the more. It was mesmerizing. It was crystal clear, I caught every single word, even from nearly the back of the theatre. The crowd was so completely silent. There was no music underscoring it. Just two men in chairs, one speaking, one listening. Ladies and Gentlemen… Theatre.

So how do you decide which is better, when more people are better in the film, but the lead actor is better on stage? Which is the better way to view a piece of dramatic art? IS there a better way, or maybe just a different way? Since you obviously can’t go back in time and see the play, you should do yourself a favor and see the film. For it’s flaws, it is inherently fascinating subject matter; very similar in fact, to Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk,” another true story, in which knowing the ending actually increases the effectiveness of the film. 

It Has Come to This

June 2019
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