Two commenters dropped by recently with a pleasant word or two and I wanted to mention them here rather than just responding in the original comments, where it might get lost - especially as I have quite a bit to say about where these comments led me.
"Richard S.," who posts as "RockRichard" at VetVoice.com thanked me for the plug for his "Open Letter to Bill O'Reilly." I was surprised to get even the very brief thanks from him, as he's serving in Afghanistan now, and I think that between that and creating his excellent posts for VetVoice, he's busy enough without typing a few words to a NYC theatre-related (supposedly) blogger. But I'm honored.
I read several military-related blogs created and written by soldiers and veterans - I feel some kind of duty to do so at this point in time. These are voices not heard from nearly enough right now. My brother returned from Iraq a few months ago - injured, not badly - and I haven't talked with him about his service much, and I'm not sure he wants to. Luckily, he seems to be in fine shape all around and is building a good life for himself here at home now.
Since he was first over there, I've kept AntiWar.com in my blog reader - it's not at all the best site, frankly - most of the info there can be found in better form elsewhere - but it's the only place I found that gives a day-by-day running tally of casualties - injuries and deaths - broken down, soldiers and civilians, U.S.A. and Iraq. A headline with the count comes up in my blogreader every morning, and I make sure to look at it and consider my place in the world, and what I am doing, in the light of those numbers (Yesterday - one U.S. soldier dead and another injured in a vehicular accident/32 Iraqis killed/42 Iraqis wounded). Then, yes, I move on. Because you have to. Right?
VetVoice is a good central place for lots of links to other military blogs and sites. I found it through reading one of my favorites, Army of Dude by Alex Horton, an account of his life in Iraq, and since.
So, I read, and I move on and try to make Art-Things. For while the job of these soldiers is unfortunately sometimes necessary, I like to believe that my job is, too - that even the smallest drop in the bucket of creation is a Good Thing for the species, that the accumulation of these unnecessary things called Artworks actually does Make Us Better. Yes, unnecessary, but ultimately for the good, as sometimes for the good, the soldiers are sometimes necessary.
And if used (and wasted) when not necessary, it is, of course, a fucking crime.
Which reminds me. I've seen plenty written yesterday and today about the 935 "false statements" (where I'm from, we call those "lies") told by members of the current Administration to get us into war. And it should be noted that this only counts the lies told from 2001-2003 - from 9/11 to Iraq invasion - and none of the others that have come up since then.
Again, a fighting man's opinion of this is worth checking out, and HERE is RockRichard's.
Meanwhile, on the Art-Thing front, Alyssa Simon commented with a pointer to a review of Martin Denton's from nytheatre.com, of the current Broadway production of The 39 Steps, that contains this ego-boosting final paragraph:
For me, there's nothing particularly funny about throwing stones at a work of art, even an admittedly pulpy, pop one such as this film by Hitchcock. There's certainly nothing worth $96.25 (the top ticket price) happening on stage at the American Airlines Theatre. If you'd like to watch too few actors create the illusion of a lot going on, ironically or in all seriousness, check out any number of indie theater offerings available around NYC (works by Ian W. Hill and Frank Cwiklik come immediately to mind). And if you'd like to see The 39 Steps, rent it from Netflix.
And Martin's description of the show does indeed sound like everything wrong with a certain kind of theatre, which matters to me because - as the review alludes - I somewhat specialize at times in that kind of theatre.
What is the point of imitating film on stage? Or if not precisely imitating, in recreating, deconstructing, collaging, ironicizing, etc. films in a theatrical context?
I've done this myself, what, four or five times? Something like that. Maybe more. Which is maybe odd for someone who works in various media and who usually expresses the belief that the best work in most art forms is that work that can be only expressed in that form - theatre should do things that only theatre can do, painting should do things that only painting can do, prose should do things that only prose can do, film should do things that only film can do, etc., etc., ad nauseum.
And as someone working on translating Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons to the stage right now, this could cause some concern. If I hadn't worked most of it out already by this point.
First off, The 39 Steps is a terrible choice for a movie to stage, most immediately for one good reason: It's a good movie (I'll return to my concerns on Ambersons in a bit). What's the point? Nothing is added to it by staging it. Much is reduced. If a film is really good. it's almost certainly cinematic enough that the medium itself is unremovably entwined with its greatness.
On the other hand, just staging bad movies, ironically, deconstructed, musicalized or whatever, is not necessarily a better thing. From all accounts, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical had nothing going for it besides the concept of the title.
When I was doing my original production of the temperance play Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, I was interested in certain qualities of "bad" acting. The company of my play was supposed to be playing an acting company in a post-civilization future, attempting to recreate What Had Been through the few dramatic texts they had. Unfortunately, they don't have good texts, and they're not good actors. But they're committed. So I showed my cast Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda? as an example of the kind of "bad" acting I was looking for. Tim Cusack put it best when he noted that the actors were giving their all to their roles, as much as any talented actor would, but that they didn't have the actual craft to express themselves properly - "Commitment without talent" is what he called it, and he also noted thoughtfully that Glen or Glenda? was a "rich text."
Yes. And that's the point. Glen or Glenda? is probably a bad movie by most standards (I'm too in love with it to tell anymore), but it is a Rich Text. Debbie Does Dallas is not only a bad movie, it's an uninteresting one, not even a very good porno, with a catchy title that sold it, and it is very definitely Not A Rich Text. I staged Glen or Glenda? eventually as part of the EdFest that Frank Cwiklik, Michele Schlossberg and I put together in 2000, and dammit if the film wasn't somehow illuminated in a new light by being put into three dimensions in a tiny theatre. As did all of the Ed Wood scripts we adapted for that festival.
I always wanted to stage the Patrick Swayze film Road House for fun - another Rich Text - but got beaten to it by Tim Haskell. From many accounts, it worked. Other cheesy films, Not Rich Texts, have fared less well. You see them come and go in the OOB listings.
Most of the time, my filmic explorations in theatre have taken the form of a kind of collage, or as I prefer, collision (hence the name of my company) of two or more seemingly unrelated works.
David LM Mcintyre says he wants a nickel every time I use the word "collision" since he first defined us, jokingly, as the leaders of the movement "New Collisionism" back in '91 or so - after a dinner at the Cedar Tavern and a lot of Guinness, it wasn't a joke anymore. It started when David and I collided Disney's The Jungle Book with Coppola's Apocalypse Now and made Even the Jungle. Since then, I've gone back to the form many times, with variations (collide dialogue from 165 films noir with quotes from the Bush Administration, you get World Gone Wrong). Leaving film out of it, collide H.P. Lovecraft with Winsor McCay you get At the Mountains of Slumberland.
Done right, the collision, like a car accident, twists and turns the original and opens up new surfaces, new textures, that were there all the time but that you couldn't see until they were violently wrenched into new forms.
So, what to do with staging Ambersons which is 1) not only a good movie, even in studio-mangled form, but a great one; 2) a rich text; 3) intensely cinematic in a way that seems inseparable from its greatness? Why do this, and what do I hope to do?
Well . . . okay. It's a problem. The main reason for doing it, really, is because I want to see the story in the way that Welles intended to tell it, with the dialogue, scenes, and music that were supposed to be there (and I want others to see it, too). That I can do. What I can't do is recreate his shots, compositions, and editing - all crucial to Welles. So, I'm just reconstructing the story the way Welles wanted it, not the film itself. So I'm immediately pulling back from the cinematic aspects and finding the elements that will not only work, but may be illuminated through staging. Next, I can't recreate anything like the opulence of Welles' settings, and even token gestures that way would be, at most, a halfway measure. So do what theatre does well - abstract it all. Instead of matte paintings, we have shadow puppets. Instead of period automobiles, we have a pile of boxes. Pull it further back from film, and into what not only works but is best in a small black box theatre.
And gradually, it all comes clear. I'm seeing it more and more, and I think this will be a damned fine piece of theatre. It still might be "doing well what ought not to be done at all," as a lot of film and theatre seems to me, but, well, we'll never have the Welles film the way he wanted, and I want to see this. I wrote out a list of 14 actors I'd like in the cast last night (with two others - I'm going to have to look for a Major Amberson and pick another from the pool of the actors I love). I think I'll be finishing my playscript of it by this evening, and then I'll send it out to the people I'd like in it and see what they think.
Enough. Sorry to prattle on, but that's how it goes on here. Either I have too much to say or nothing. or both at the same time, perhaps.
Finally, for pure WTF? enjoyment stimulus, a couple videos. The first showed up on the WFMU blog this morning, headlined "Lou Reed vs. Pavarotti." It's an excerpt from one of the Pavarotti and Friends charity concerts that I missed posting when the big man died. Want an odd mix of voices? Try this (I'm disappointed that Luciano doesn't join in on the second song here, "Walk on the Wild Side" - that may have made my head explode - in a good way):
And since when did "Perfect Day" become, like, the top Lou Reed song? I mean, it's nice and all, but why this one? (was it used in Trainspotting and some other movie or something?)
It's like going to a Bowie concert in the last few years and realizing that his most popular song is going to wind up being "Changes." I mean, yeah, sure, fine song, but the one DB's going to be remembered for? (the other top Bowie songs, judging from crowd response, are "Ziggy Stardust" and "Fame") In any case, the BBC did an all-star version of this Reed song that winds up being charming through some of the unlikely faces/voices that show up in it: