19 January 2007

Wallace Shawn: Call Me


Hi there, Wallace. How've you been? You're certainly looking well. I like those pants. Really I do. I'm thinking about getting some myself. Where did you get them? Oh yeah? That's part of what I love about you: stylish, yet down-to-earth. It's great. It's just great. Oh, and Wally, while I have your ear, about The Hotel Play...

WHAT?

And, if I may pose a follow-up question:

WHY?

For those of you, avid readers, who are ignorant of The Hotel Play, it is a work of unparalleled...er...work by the actor probably most widely known for his portrayal of Vezzini in "The Princess Bride." And to apply a little intellectual CO2 to the burning question of how this play exploded across my horizons, see my entry dated 1/12/07. It is a play requiring no less than 70-80 actors, covering the events of twenty-four hours in a tropical hotel. It has a ton of characters about whom we learn only a little from selected moments of their day, and who are designated only by certain demographic information, such as "Middle Aged Couple" and "Man Who Listens to Fish Story." The only character representing a through-line in this forty-two-page epic is the clerk.


SPOILER:
At the end we learn that said clerk is a ruthless murderer. Possibly by accident. (It turns out "ruth" is an archaic word meaning "pity." So to be "ruthless" really does mean "lacking in pity." I am not smart enough to know this, just lucky enough to have a friend who does.)


Now, I will concede that I may have missed the point entirely. I did only read the play once, and certainly that is not enough to grasp the brilliant interconnectedness of the dramaturgical likes of Shakespeare, Beckett or Lewis Carroll (his adaptation of "The Illiad" for the stage--words can not describe), but I still have trouble shaking the feeling that The Hotel Play just doesn't quite matter. Or inform. Or entertain. Like I say: I may have missed the point. But I quote here the final line of the clerk, whilst steeped in the remains of his quasi-sadistic act:

"The pumpkins--the pumpkins, tumbling down the road..."

A line worthy even of my translation of the lyrics of Paolo Conte (1/10/07).

On an entirely different note, let me announce to you that I saw (solo, which seems to be a very successful formula for my enjoying the hell out of a film) on Thursday "Children of Men." It is the rare day when I actually need a rest that I get it, and Thursday was such a day. I had plenty I could have gotten done--what aspirant actor doesn't?--but found myself wallowing at home, unable even to compel myself to do laundry, much less write the great American novel. So out I went, in the finally-wintry weather. The best thing, the only good thing, in fact, that I can say about the way cinemas are packaging their viewing experiences these days is that even if you are running dreadfully late for a film you stand a good chance of only missing the first seventeen previews. I got in, in other words, and had one of the most satisfying movie-watching experiences I've had in a year.

The Times review does a fair job of summing up some of the quality of this film. I think Manohla Dargis is surprisingly narrow-minded in the connections she draws between "Children of Men" and current events, relating the thing wholesale to the situation in Iraq. That's hard to trace to an explanation. She started writing for The Village Voice, and both papers have reputations for waging war on the current wars, but perhaps it was a matter of having only so much column space to devote. And World War II parallels may indeed be over-worked by this time. At any rate, the climax of the movie may indeed be a sneak-peek at battles in Baghdad, but the connection I drew over and over again was to documentaries I've seen on the subject of the Gaza Strip.

The movie is a drastic, yet to me entirely credible, supposition on where all the evil in the world may have us heading. It's a time-honored tradition in the science fiction genre, but rarely have I seen it so intelligently, effectively and (dare we hope) humorously done. The movie is in this sense more of what I had hoped for in "V for Vendetta," and achieves some of the seemingly magical prognostication of "Minority Report"...sans the guilty aftertaste and empty calories. Its stabs at modern society are acute and undeniable. As Michael Caine's character says, we live in a society that endorses drugs for potency and assisted suicide, but marijuana is still illegal. There's even a running joke (beautifully, subtly crafted) in which different people admonish our hero for smoking, reminding him that it will kill him (thankfully, Owen is never given a line in response to this advice [and, hey, uber-geeks: the cigarettes are manufactured in similar fashion to those smoked by Willis in "The 5th Element"--all filter, an inch of tobacco; it's never stated, that's just the prop used]). The best joke, of course, is that even after the world goes to diarrhetic shit and all the children are gone, Julianne Moore will still look ethereal.

I will go on, if ever I get talking about this movie with someone for whom I will not spoil it. Sadly, it seems to be getting ripped for all the wrong reasons. People are trying to understand it as a science fiction movie, as an action movie (and the action sequences are amazing, exciting but terrible with consequence), as a well-funded art film, and so keep pegging it as being flawed for various reasons. It's not, folks. Yes, the ending is unnecessarily conclusive for a story that dares you to accept ideas about the coexistence of chance and faith that no one's been able to quite get around in the course of human history. It should have ended merely with lights approaching through the fog. Remember I said that when you see it.

The meaning to it all, here? Don't let chance trick you into visiting The Hotel Play. Have a little faith in the "Children of Men."

2 comments:

Patrick said...

Just saw this movie tonight. Word to the wise: not so good a choice as a date movie. I don't do so well when the decision is up to me; once I took a guy to see "Monster". Afterwards I didn't want anyone to touch me ever again, not him, not anyone. Anyway, loved this movie, I think the ending is plenty open-ended to be honest. OH, spoiler alert by the way, if anyone else is reading this: I thought the boat showing up didn't decide anything. We now know the Tomorrow is a real boat, but we still don't know what actually happens at the Human Project. We don't know if they're actually good guys. We don't know if the project actually exists. We just know that one fact proved to be accurate. I did not feel like they were out of the woods just yet. The thing I was perplexed by was, why all the animals? And why didn't that seem to go anywhere? We see Theo befriended by dogs who "don't like anyone", then there's a kitten climbing his leg and purring, there are sheep, a sheepdog and chickens in war zones going about their business... I kept thinking there was going to be some point made with them. Not so much. Guess I just manufactured it myself.

Jeff Wills said...

I agree on the animal front. That was just Cuaron weirdness, I guess, or the DVD will reveal how a giant monkey loved Clive Owen enough to save them somewhere along the line, but it took too much time. But I disagree about the boat, dear Patrick. It's too many coincidences, the boat being there, as a fishing boat named "Tomorrow," the people on it seemingly expecting to find the mother by that buoy, etc. That just adds up to an answer for me, and I would have rather experienced lights in the fog and fade to black.