Before I get into the fall preview, I should mention a slight shift in "Stage to Screen." In the past, this column has covered a blend of film and television, all with a theatrical bent. It’s put me in contact with everyone from Tim Robbins to Nicholas Hytner to Elaine Stritch to Craig Zadan, and it’s allowed me to delve into all sorts of cool cultural nooks and crannies.
Well, the column is shifting focus a bit. The worlds of television and film are fairly independent of each other, and each deserves a full-time columnist. So I’m shifting my attention to the movie side. This former usher (in high school) and film programmer (in college) is really looking forward to going into it in greater detail. My column will be alternating with "Channeling Theatre" by Michael Buckley — a dedicated, resourceful writer and a swell guy. Beginning Sept. 1, he’ll be writing about the TV world, and I encourage you to check his column out. I’ll be back in four weeks, with plenty of interviews, opinions, tips and tidbits. Watch for it.
In terms of actual stage properties being adapted for the screen, there are only two titles to discuss for fall 2002. One of them, however, is a doozy: After more than 25 years, it's time for "Chicago" (Dec. 27). The script by Bill Condon is supposed to be dynamite, director Rob Marshall has proven himself with musicals on TV, and the cast is hard to beat — Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, not to mention Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski and Taye Diggs. It’s the first major Hollywood musical since "Evita" in 1996 (I don’t count "The Fantasticks"), and the would-be producers of "Rent," "The Phantom of the Opera" and various other movie musicals are anxiously awaiting the first weekend’s box-office results. The "Chicago" trailer is currently playing in front of "Full Frontal" in several New York and Los Angeles theatres.
The other direct transfer isn’t nearly as high-octane, but it also has a strong ensemble cast. Tim Blake Nelson’s "The Grey Zone" is finally scheduled to open in limited release on Oct. 11, two years after filming wrapped. The Holocaust drama, based on Nelson’s 1996 play, stars Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi and two people you don’t necessarily think of in this sort of picture — David Arquette and Mira Sorvino. (After "Triumph of Love," this is Sorvino’s second stage adaptation this year.) It follows the Sonderkommando, the Jewish prisoners who were forced to clean the crematoria in Auschwitz. In addition to "The Grey Zone" and "Chicago," however, plenty of other offerings may interest theatre buffs. I’ve divided the fall entries into three categories:
—Familiar Directors. Sam Mendes already put his stamp on the year with "Road to Perdition." Now it’s time for two other Tony-winners' anticipated sophomore efforts. First up is "Frida" (Oct. 25), the Frida Kahlo biopic directed by Julie Taymor. Salma Hayek stars as the famed Mexican painter, with Ed Norton, Ashley Judd and Alfred Molina (as Diego Rivera) among her co-stars. Stephen Daldry takes his turn on Dec. 27, when "The Hours" opens. This has an even starrier cast than "Frida": Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep play the three leading characters. It’s remotely possible that Mendes, Taymor and Daldry could all find themselves among the Academy Award nominees for Best Director. And don’t forget Neil LaBute, whose "Possession" I’ll discuss in my next column.
—Familiar Writers. I’ve mentioned Kenneth Lonergan’s work on the Martin Scorsese epic "Gangs of New York" (Dec. 25) in past columns, along with David Hare’s adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Hours" (Dec. 27). In addition, look for Roman Polanski’s World War II drama "The Pianist." Screenwriter Ronald Harwood explored a similar chunk of history, also seen through the eyes of two men in conflict, in Taking Sides.
—Familiar Actors. Stanley Tucci (Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune) has two movies opening this season: the disaster flick "The Core" (Nov. 1) and the romantic comedy "Chambermaid" (Dec. 25). Toby Stephens joins such overqualified James Bond villains as Jonathan Pryce, Lotte Lenya and Ricky Jay when he appears in "Die Another Day" (Nov. 22), co-starring Judi Dench. And Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming and Tom Courtenay are among the stars of "Nicholas Nickleby" (Dec. 27), which reportedly has managed to shave at least six hours off the RSC's legendary adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel.
Several of the movies discussed above either have made or will make their debuts at one of the several film festivals that have sprouted up around the world. "Frida" will be up against Mendes’s "Road to Perdition" at the Venice Film Festival, which opens Aug. 29. (Daldry’s "The Hours" pulled out at the last minute.) "Frida" will also unspool a few weeks later at the Toronto Film Festival. Much of the film-buff crowd was at this festival last September 11, so it’s fitting that Jim Simpson’s film of the September 11-themed "The Guys," starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, will debut there this year in commemoration of the tragedy. Weaver and LaPaglia are among the notables who have appeared in the Off Off-Broadway play.
As for the New York Film Festival, the official program has yet to be unveiled, but advance guesses have been light on theatre-themed offerings. (This week's New York Observer paints a pretty damning portrait of the festival as a bastion of inaccessible elitist fare. I’ve seen too many great movies at the festival to know or even care if this is true.)
One film that you won’t see on the film festival circuit, apparently, is "Tomorrow, La Scala!" This British entry by Francesca Joseph was scheduled to screen at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which is currently in full swing. The film, which is about a light-opera troupe that stages Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd in a maximum-security prison, never got the whole issue of permission worked out and had to drop out of the festival, according to Variety. Oops.
Back at the end of 2001, I mentioned Manoel de Oliveira’s "I’m Going Home," a touching but somehow life-affirming look at a talented stage actor begrudgingly witnessing his passion for the stage dwindle away after a family tragedy. At the time, the Village Voice had just hailed the film as "Best Undistributed Film (1996-2001)," and it was crying out for a distributor. At the time, I wrote: "This movie deserves an audience as soon as possible. It wouldn’t cost much to pick up, John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve have small parts, and it offers one of the best views in recent memory of a creative mind (Michel Piccoli) begrudgingly winding down."
Well, it found its distributor: Milestone Films — one of the more highly regarded boutique distribution houses — plans to release it nationally this fall. (Check www.milestonefilms.com for more information.) It’s currently playing at New York's always dependable Film Forum for a limited run. Any fan of theatre on film is encouraged to check it out when it reaches your area.
Every once in a while, I rely on you readers to fill in some blanks. I read recently that Linda Fiorentino has optioned the rights to a play called One Eyed Jacks and Suicide Kings by Colin Patrick Lynch, who is adapting his own work for the screen. Does anyone know anything about this play? From what little I know, it sounds fairly testosterone-heavy — what about it would draw a female director to take a crack at it? Let me know.
Cutting-Room Floor: The New York Sun reported last week that Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson may re-create their Cabaret roles for a film adaptation. Not to be terse, but what would a new "Cabaret" film offer that you can’t already find in the 1972 Bob Fosse film? Mark my words: Cumming and Richardson may return to the Broadway production or even film it for TV, but that’s it in terms of a new "Cabaret." ... Doug Wright (Quills, Unwrap Your Candy) is adapting "Scorched Earth," a mystery-thriller about racial prejudice, for Warner Bros. Wright, who adapted his own "Quills" for the big screen and has become a dependable hand in Hollywood, also hopes to debut his I Am My Own Wife Off-Broadway this spring. ... Of note to film buffs is the 1933 play Three-Cornered Moon, which begins an Off-Broadway revival on Sept. 6. The 1933 Gertrude Tonkonogy comedy was adapted into what many film buffs call the first "screwball comedy" (although Tonkonogy reportedly was not a fan of the film). The play is having a limited run at the Blue Heron Arts Center on East 24th Street. ... The next few weeks will see several films notable for familiar faces in the cast. Four days before she starts previews in Burn This, Catherine Keener stars in "Simone" (Aug. 23); 12 days after leaving The Goat, Bill Pullman stars in "Igby Goes Down (Sept. 13). In between those, look for Patti LuPone in "City by the Sea" and Kate Burton and Pamela Isaacs both appearing in "Swimfan" (both Sept. 6).
My Favorite Thought: A lot of you have very fond memories of American Film Theatre. I got a bunch of responses from people itching to know when they'll have a chance to see those films on video; no word yet on that, but I'll let you know if and when I hear more. Many of you also weighed in about other movies you'd like to see make their way to video. A few entries were packed with interesting titles but far too long — this column has stretched over as it is — but more than one of you suggested "Those Lips, Those Eyes," including Joe:
"One old theatre-related movie I remember fondly is 'Those Lips, Those Eyes' about life in summer stock. The 1980 picture came and went quickly, and I never notice it turning up on TV despite a cast that includes Frank Langella and Tom Hulce. The best performance, though, was by that wonderful NYC theatre actor Joseph Maher, who was very good as an alcoholic actor."
Jeremy also called my attention to a similar, albeit not quite as highbrow, series:
"I'd love to see the 'Broadway on Showtime' series make it to video. 'That series produced some really fun shows: Madeline Kahn in 'Scrambled Feet,' Andy Gibb (of all people) in 'Something's Afoot,' Kaye Ballard in 'The Robber Bridegroom' and a dead-on-target production of 'Vanities' featuring Meredith Baxter-Birney, Annette O'Toole and Shelly Hack. Coincidentally, I think all their offerings were actually Off-Broadway shows."
Your Thoughts: Great suggestions, and I'll try to keep my ear to the ground about the AFT offerings coming to video. Now, I have a hunch "Chicago" will be the overwhelming fan favorite of the upcoming movies, so let's do this: Name the three releases you're most excited about this fall. Why? And what do you know about this One-Eyed Jacks play? See you guys in about a month. Watch for Michael Buckley's column.
—Eric Grode is a 2002-2003 American Theatre Affiliated Writer, the New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, an assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage.