Friday, July 15, 2005

Films About Theatre: A DVD Friday Collection

Supplementing what has become a nightly diet of "Six Feet Under" episodes on DVD (an HBO series we've never seen because we didn't have HBO even when we had cable---we're into the second season now), I rented two movies that just got off the "new" list, and by complete accident they both were films about the theatre (the first two in the list below).

Films about theatre happen to form one of my favorite subgenres, and so these two new additions inspire the first of the DVD Friday lists of personal favorites. All are available on DVD unless otherwise noted, though I haven't yet seen them all on DVD.

1. '>BEING JULIA (2004) From a novel by Somerset Magham, scripted by playwright and theatre explainer Ronald Harwood, this story about a famous but aging actress in London of 1938 is smart, stylish, funny and moving. Annette Benning deserved the Oscar she was robbed of, for this film, and the other performances---from Jeremy Irons to the wonderful Juliet Stevenson to relative newcomers, at least to film in America---are uniformly excellent. And in dealing with youthful ambition (somewhat reminiscent of "All About Eve"-see below) the resolution is wonderfully theatrical.

2. '>FINDING NEVERLAND (2004) Johnny Depp plays J.M Barrie in London as the nineteenth century becomes the 20th, when after his latest play fails he meets the woman and her children who will inspire "Peter Pan," which as a play has a double role in the film's climax. Depp and Kate Winslet are outstanding, supported by perfectly pitched performances from Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. The whole cast is very good, especially the boys who play the boys (proving that not all the talented English children are in the Harry Potter movies.)

The story is based on real events, though of course reality was much messier. Barrie did in fact write his play for the sons of a woman he met, and did later become guardian to the boys. But the woman's husband was still alive (he's conveniently dead in the movie), and for all the faith in the power of magic Barrie may have instilled in them, the boys came to bad ends: one killed in World War I, one drowned in the embrace of another man, and Peter killed himself, although he was an adult by then, and in publishing, but may have felt himself a prisoner of Barrie's imaginings.

Still, it's a very good movie, if a little saccarine about imagination and unimaginative about faith. But it has lovely touches about theatre, especially the relationships between actors, trying to support each other in the midst of not having a clue why they are dressed up as a pirate and a dog. The DVD extras are great---the deleted scenes are as good as any in the movie, and the outtakes are funny. There's one of Johnny Depp doing a scene in the park with a dog that decides to take a dump, and Depp talks to him in the same Scottish accent he employs for Barrie.

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