If any of you New Yorkers haven't made it to the Screening Room yet, now's a good time to stop by. It's not in the most convenient location—It's at the end of Varick Street, practically in the Holland Tunnel—and it shows a stream of quirky retrospectives and art-house movies. A lot of Film Forum offerings head there eventually, and it has really good popcorn and a lot of character.
Starting April 6, it also has a one-week retrospective of releases from Artistic License Films. This documentary-happy label makes films all over the thematic map, bus it has a soft spot for the performing arts, as this series will show. The series kicks off with famed documentarian D.A. Pennebaker introducing two of his films, including the priceless "Moon Over Broadway." This warts-and-all chronicle of Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo makes an out-of-town tryout look about as stressful and harrowing as you imagined it would be. It's essential viewing for theater fans, and it would be great to see it on the big screen. (The DVD recently came out.)
Later in the week, Catherine Gund will introduce "Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance," about the controversial performance artist who used his HIV-tainted blood on stage; downtown guru Tom Noonan will screen his "The Wife," co-starring Wallace Shawn; and the Paul Taylor documentary "Dancemaker" will also be shown. Call 334-2100.
A week later, the Screening Room will unveil something of particular interest to David Mamet fans: The long-delayed "Lakeboat" is scheduled to run for one week only (although extensions are always popular). This early work, directed by longtime Mamet associate Joe Mantegna, follows a college student who spends a summer internship on a rough-and-tumble Great Lakes fishing boat. The cast includes Charles Durning, Denis Leary, Peter Falk, George Wendt and Tony Mamet (David's brother) as the student. It's been an unusually Mamet-free year in New York—his Boston Marriage just opened at London's Donmar Warehouse—so I thought you might be interested in this. I hope to learn more about it before the April 13 opening. ***
No big shocks at the Oscars, although I was pleasantly surprised to see Marcia Gay Harden win over Kate Hudson and Judi Dench, and unpleasantly surprised to see Cameron Crowe beat Ken Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay. A lot of people really loved "Almost Famous," and I think many felt compelled to have it win something. Frances McDormand and Crowe's script were the best things in it, in my opinion, and the Academy turned out for Crowe. Seeing as he's one of the only directors who consistently combines writerly gifts with sheer populist appeal ("Jerry Maguire," "Say Anything"), Crowe is certainly deserving of recognition. I just thought Lonergan's script was better.
Beyond that, three very good movies—"Gladiator," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Traffic"—combined to win the vast majority of awards. Julia Roberts didn't blow me away, but she did possibly her best work in "Erin Brockovich." And the sound in both "Gladiator" and "U-571" truly was exceptional. I, for one, liked Steve Martin. Everyone complains when the Oscars go on too long; then, when someone moves the show along with a minimum of self-indulgence, he's accused of being boring. No, he's just giving the Oscars back to the people who win awards and telling a few jokes along the way.
OK, I've toyed with doing this for a few months now, but the news of a proposed "Flashdance" musical put me over the edge. Not counting The Producers and The Full Monty, there are almost a dozen would-be Broadway musicals based on existing films. So I thought I'd pose you a question. In the next two years (by the end of the 2002-2003 season), how many of these shows will have found their way to a Broadway stage? If you're feeling adventurous, rank the whole lot in order of likelihood and chronology. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
"The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T"
"Summer of '42"
"Sweet Smell of Success"
"Thoroughly Modern Millie"
"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"
Send in your guesses in the next two weeks. I'll rig up some semi-scientific way to weight your guesses and come up with a kind of consensus. Good luck.
Two movies opening in the next two weeks sound very similar, and they both apparently have stage backgrounds. First up is "Sordid Lives" (April 6), about a family that gathers in a small Texas town after the matriarch's death. The comedy's woman-heavy cast includes Bonnie Bedelia, Delta Burke and former singer Olivia Newton-John. It's based on a play of the same name by Del Shores (Daddy's Dyin' ? Who's Got the Will?). Opening a week later is "Kingdom Come," about a family that gathers after a patriarch's death. The comedy's woman-heavy cast includes Whoopi Goldberg, Jada Pinkett Smith, and current singer Toni Braxton (and LL Cool J). It's based on a play by David Dean Botrell called Dearly Departed. Has anyone heard of wither of these plays? And what on earth is going on that two family comedies about funerals are opening within a week of each others?
Cutting-Room Floor: As I predicted/feared, "O" is back on mothballs. In the wake of all the recent high school shootings, Dimension Films is extremely wary about releasing the teen-themed "Othello" update, and it's hard to blame the studio. I'll let you know if anything changes. Another Shakespeare retelling should meet with less controversy... Patrick Stewart will begin filming "King of Texas," a TNT adaptation of King Lear set in 1840s Texas, next month in Mexico. Among the costars are newly minted Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden as Regan, Roy Scheider as Gloucester and Lauren Holly as Goneril... Two supporting actors in the Morgan Freeman thriller "Along Came a Spider" (April 6) caught my eye. Fans of Shakespeare in the Park might remember Jay O. Sanders and Dylan Baker as the male leads of the 1999 shows: They played Petruchio and Tartuffe, respectively. Elsewhere in theaters, Alan Cumming's takeover of Hollywood continues on April 13, when "Josie and the Pussycats" opens. Opening the same day is "Bridget Jones' Diary," featuring Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent. ***
My Favorite Thought: I try to keep my own opinions as politic as possible, unless something is so good ("You Can Count on Me") or so bad ("Love's Labour's Lost") that I feel a moral obligation to make that known. Thankfully, though, many of you don't feel quite so hemmed in. Kevin has written in before, and he undoubtedly will again, but this commentary on "The Fantasticks" film is particularly memorable:
"I don't know enough about hip-hop (only that it's hard to walk around in those big floppy jeans, especially when the crotch is down about the knees) to comment intelligently about Danny Hoch. So I'll have to backtrack to a previous column, since I've finally seen the movie of 'The Fantasticks,' which almost gave me a fondness for those half-assed TV movie musical remakes being cranked out nowadays. Barnard Hughes is the only cast member I wouldn't have replaced, although I admit Brad Sullivan kind of grew on me as the film progressed. If only they'd gotten Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau for the fathers, Johnny Depp for Matt, Antonio Banderas for El Gallo and a Luisa who didn't play it like a Disney heroine (whoever told her to twirl--twice!-- during 'Much More' should be slapped). Anyway, here's my own little tribute (to the tune of 'This Plum is Too Ripe'):
"This song is too slow
Joel Grey looks and acts like an unhappy raisin
Getting Francis Ford Coppola's advice on a movie musical is like having the iceberg steer the Titanic
Take away 'Try to Remember'
Take away the 'Radish' song
What on stage is oh so scenic
May be cinematically wrong
Take away the stylization
Take away the human wall
What on stage is oh so scenic
Doesn't work on film at all
So take it away and shelve it up tight!
So take it away and don't release it!
So take it away! The cast isn't right!
I mean, though it really is a pity
(Joe McIntyre's pretty)
Take away the jazzy rhythms
Take away the quirky speech
What on stage is oh so scenic
Moviemakers cannot reach."
Your Thoughts: What other Mamet plays are crying out to hit the big screen? By my count, Oleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross, Sexual Perversity in Chicago (sort of), A Life in the Theater, The Water Engine, American Buffalo and now Lakeboat are taken care of. Which should be next? Edmond? The Woods? The Cryptogram? Does Speed-the-Plow bite the hand that feeds it any more than "State & Main" did? And don't forget to chime in with your guesses/predictions about which movies will make it to Broadway.
— Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theater critic for Back Stage.