Results tagged “spike lee” from Drama Queen

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Spike Lee's filmed version of Passing Strange--that dark horse of a rock-musical coming-of-age tale which garnered 7 Tony noms and won one statuette for Best Book (P.S.: the New York Drama Critics Circle voted it Best Musical, which makes one wonder if such a show even stands a chance now that critics are cut out of the Tony Process. But I digress.)--opens LA.'s Downtown Film Festival tonight. And while it's great for Stew and crew to have a permanent record of their Broadway moment--which I missed--is filming a play ever worth the effort? 

After all, the thing about live theater is that it's live, right? That's what makes it special. All those people together in the same room, the energy, the hormones, the chance that it could all go off the rails or converge into an amazing, shining beacon of synchronicity. And then there's acting for the stage, which is a completely different critter than acting for the screen. Whenever live theater is filmed, unless it's filmed as, well, a film, it's like watching Kabuki. But really, really bad Kabuki. 

I often Netflix filmed productions as homework for upcoming shows, and it's always a matter of the ends justifying the means; I watch because it will help the review, not because it gives me much pleasure. The actors' faces emote to the back rows because they're supposed to be life-sized, not 30 feet high or shot in close-up. Onscreen, stage acting can't help looking corny. It's for a different medium where subtleties are in the language or direction, but not so much the face.

Of course, Lee is no stranger to filming staged performance. 2000's The Original Kings of Comedy not only knocked the comedy film genre out of the park, but also mainstreamed the careers of all four featured comedians, and gave some smart producer the entire premise for The Bernie Mac show (R.I.P. to both Mr. Mac and his show), which I, for one, watched every single week. 

Lee filmed two of the Kings' live performances, editing them together for the final product--a method he repeated for Passing Strange. However, to facilitate his vision for its cinematography, he also shot the show once through without an audience, and of the two live shows he filmed, one was the cast's final performance at Broadway's Belasco Theatre. 

So does it work?

Well, I watched the DVD alone in my bedroom and gave it a standing ovation, applause and all. For real. And if that sounds bizarre to you, you either haven't seen it yet, or I wouldn't want to hang out with you anyway. Point is, the effect, both with and without an audience equals a damn fine film of a damn fine show, and its editing is so seamless you never notice the difference anyway. Lee tightens in to get intimate with the characters without making them look like puppets and zooms out to capture their frenzied crescendos. Yeah, sometimes they're miked and flinging sweat, but most of the time they're not playing to the crowd, they're playing to each other, and that's what separates Lee's film from other efforts to capture Broadway magic onscreen. (Plus it's really, really nice to see Daniel Breaker out of that donkey suit and burning up the stage as an actual human being.) It may be ironic that Spike Lee found the real by making it less so, but that was Stew's point anyway. 

If you're not in L.A. and can't catch the film tonight, it will be available on cable On Demand starting August 21, and will air again in 2010 on PBS' "Great Performances" series.

Don't believe the hype: the movie is SO much better than this lame trailer.
August 12, 2009 3:29 PM |
Two more reviews in the paper today, Altar Boyz and the world premiere of Russell Davis' The Day of the Picnic.

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Here's what I'm wondering: As I mentioned in the review, I believe The Day of the Picnic relies heavily on the stereotype of the "magic negro." (At left: Sidney Poitier in what has been labeled the sine qua non of magic negro films.) The Wooster Group recently caught a whole lot of flack--while getting great reviews from white people--for reviving their blackfaced Emperor Jones. And complicating things, Young Jean Lee, who usually writes about Asian-American stereotypes, wrote The Shipment for an African-American cast about African-American stereotypes, which was then reviewed--favorably--again, by a white reviewer. So when, if ever, is it okay for a non-African-American company or playwright to use these kinds of images? And if they're all right with white reviewers, but not with African-Americans, does that mean black steps back, or at this point in our culture are both perceptions equally valid?

If, as many would have you believe, we're now postracial, I guess you can make the assumption that plenty of us are familiar with the history of racism in this country, and have grown up learning African-American history right alongside European-American history, and perhaps, in a few school districts, some Asian-American history too. We've grown up in integrated communities, worked in integrated workplaces and socialized in an integrated fashion all our lives. 

So is it okay to go blackfaced if you're completely aware of all its implications? Or if you're co-opting them to make your own, separate point? After all, Wooster's Elizabeth LeCompte says in David Savrian's Breaking the Rules: The Wooster Group, "The blackface is not sociological. It's a theatrical metaphor." And is it okay to use the magic negro if you're a white playwright making a point about British colonialism in Africa? Or does a white critic--as most of us are--have an obligation to call attention to these issues in the first place? And hey, if the answer to any of these questions is yes or no, well then, who gets to make the rules?

Below: A theatrical metaphor from Spike Lee's Bamboozled.
February 3, 2009 3:00 PM | | Comments (3)
zombies_on_broadway.jpgDespite the critical successes of Passing Strange, In the Heights, and August: Osage County, next season's Broadway roster looks an awful lot like seasons past. In fact, most of it comes from seasons past. In fact, even much of the new stuff--Billy Elliot, Shrek, Nine to Five, Vanities, Nice Work If You Can Get It (which gets its music from the Gershwins)--smells pretty musty. 

Rather than grabbing the excitement of last year's out-of-town newbies and burgeoning racial diversity, and adding more seats to the table, it's as though New York's producers collectively donned their blinders, dug in their heels and refused to budge. Taking cues from South Pacific and Sunday in the Park with George, we can expect almost all retreads, all the time. The 2008-09 season features Waiting for Godot, Guys and Dolls, All My Sons, Equus, Speed-the-Plow, Pal Joey, Dancin', Brigadoon, Godspell, somebody please stop me, I feel a flashback coming on...

There are a few ways to fight the revived zombies, even if they're really, truly wonderful zombies. And--high and mighty alert--I believe it's our duty as a theatergoing society to do so. After all, if we allow the zombies to feed unchecked, they will kill all our hopes for the future and spread across the land depositing mouldering revivals in every region. And the new shows? Without our help, they won't stand a chance. 

Just look at Passing Strange, which succumbed last week; the show closed after playing to less than half-filled houses for the past few months. Who wanted to play big spender with unpredictable Stew when Sandy and Danny were available? (Well, Spike Lee, for one, who filmed during the show's final week. But clearly he's an exception.) 

Ahead of the retrograde pack are a couple of little shows that could--[Title of Show] and 13--which are set to capture some of the glory meant for Glory Days. But diversity? Well, we can look backward for that too, with the revamped West Side Story, and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (When the Rainbow is Enuf), which may or may not proceed as planned with India.Arie leading the cast. Still, there's Off-Broadway's production of the Bill T. Jones-directed and choreographed Fela!, which opens in previews tomorrow, and sounds like it might have big-time potential. And doubtless, a few surprises will emerge later in the season as well. Let's just hope they get the  kind of support they--and we--need in order to survive.


July 30, 2008 7:54 AM |
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