Friday, July 15, 2005

8. '>ROSENCRANTZ AND GILDENSTERN ARE DEAD (1990). Then there are films about theatre within theatre. Tom Stoppard directed this film version of his famous play about two minor characters in Hamlet, and what they do when everybody else is watching the Prince of Denmark. The play is a classic, though its echoes of Beckett are now a bit jarring in view of Stoppard's later work. The movie is visually interesting and moves along at a goodly pace, but its chief virtue is the performances of Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss as the Player. Oldman and Roth play R & G like a literate Laurel and Hardy, and there are numerous anachronistic sight gags that suggest Stoppard was responsible for that brand of humor in "Shakespeare in Love."

The DVD bonus disk is amazing, featuring an interview with Tom Stoppard of over an hour, and exceptionally revealing (but shorter) interviews with Gary Oldman and Richard Dreyfuss. Trust me, you've never heard actors talk like this in public.

Of course, there are lots of film versions of famous plays, with waves of contemporary Shakespeare still washing over us, but that’s another list. Still it’s worth mentioning here that Gary Oldman said that he and Roth had so much fun being R & G that they rehearsed continually, and in public—they would even do scenes in the pub that they had already shot. Plus, when Mel Gibson did his “Hamlet” they volunteered to play R & G in it, wearing the same costumes as in this movie. Apparently the Gibson folks didn’t get it.

9. '>VANYA ON 42ND STREET (1994). This is another collaboration between Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory and Louis Malle, the team that created the unique "'>MY DINNER WITH ANDRE" (1981), an apparently spontaneous but in fact scripted conversation that was largely about theatre and its connections to contemporary life.

This time, we watch a group of New York actors gather one morning in an abandoned Ziegfield Follies theatre. They chat, get coffee, and suddenly, seamlessly, their chat becomes Chekov's "Uncle Vanya," and you are utterly hooked. Shawn plays Vanya, and Gregory directs from a script he adapted from David Mamet's very contemporary translation. This group of actors in fact had gathered periodically for years and years to simply work on this play with no thought of performance. Thanks to Malle's intimate camera work, we are privileged witnesses.

And with this, we have come full circle, to a film that is not only about theatre, but is theatre.

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