September 29, 2009
As I walked out of the press screening of Richard Linklater's excellent new film about Orson Welles and the build-up to his landmark 1937 Mercury Theatre adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar last night, it struck me that as engrossing as Linklater's film is -- and it is indeed worth seeing for the quality of the performances, the slick storytelling and the shabbily endearing 1930s New York aesthetic -- in one respect it's just like pretty much all of the films that are made these days about the world of the stage: It paints it in a twee and comedic light.
Where are the new films that treat theatre as a serious dramatic subject? Where is the 21st century's version of Les Enfants du Paradis? It strikes me that films that include the theatre at all in their plotlines these days are mostly historical in context. Even the best of these, such as Linklater's Me and Orson Welles mentioned above or Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy, look back at the stage as a medium of the past. Rose-tinted nostalgia and heaps of tweeness are often part of the cinematographic package.
Meanwhile, the films that portray theatre in the present day, such as Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman, tend to make fun of the stage and the people involved in making theatre -- it's a subject ripe for ridicule rather than serious consideration. I don't have anything against comedy. Let's face it, there's a lot about the theatre that's pretty funny. But it would be great to see a different approach for once. I think there's definitely a niche out there for some enterprising writer / director to create a movie about the theatre that's contemporary and that doesn't prettify, or otherwise condescend to the subject matter.