NT Live and Young Vic Setting Trends for Modern Audiences

Last month, National Theatre Live, the phenomenal program that streams live tapings of some of the hottest British theatre events to international cinemas, presented the Young Vic’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. It starred Gillian Anderson as Blanche and Ben Foster as Stanley. The Young Vic certainly provided Tennessee Williams’ American classic with a modern, innovative lens. Small changes to the script and set allowed for a contemporary setting, as opposed to the its original post-Depression timeframe. Seating was in the round, and the minimalist apartment revolved slowly throughout the entire play, giving the action a bit of a revolving, gyre-like momentum. We’ve seen spinning sets on Broadway before, most recently You Can’t Take It With You, Act One, and Bullets Over Broadway but none that incorporated the motion in the entirety of the piece and played such an enormous influence on the overall tone as this. Also lending a youthful voice to the modern adaptation is a contemporary rock soundtrack that plays in between scenes, as characters race around the apartment swigging alcohol and taking baths to show the passage of time.

Ben Foster and Gillian Anderson as Stanley and Blanche

 But more interesting than th film has been incorporating the theatre world. Film and theatre are two very different mediums, and we could spend a whole ‘nother 2000-word post talking about what type of language each one uses and how adding a close-up shot to a theatre performance can change the mood and message of a scene entirely. My case in point is another NT Live screening of Coriolanus, where a close-up of Tom Hiddleston’s face during Tullus Aufidius’s (Hadley Fraser) bromantic Act 4 speech made the cinema audience erupt in laughter. The actual live stage audience had no such reaction.

There are huge strides being made in marrying film and theatre. NT Live is screening its first American show, Of Mice and Men next month. It’s not the first time a Broadway show has been filmed. In fact, every show is filmed and preserved in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The collection is only open to academics and fancy folks. Ever since learning about the collection in high school, I felt that the collection should be open to the public, or that there should be at least regular screenings from the collection (monthly?), even if they charge a few bucks as an NYPL fundraiser. If they’re worried about people opting to wait for the taping instead of paying the $100 Broadway ticket, fine, put a two-year-after-closing-date waiting period on those beauties. But you’re seriously gonna tell me I need a PhD in theatre to be able to see Patti Lupone in Anything Goes? Or Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods? C’mon, NYPL…

Memphis and Jekyll and Hyde were recently filmed for cinema audiences. Live at Lincoln Center brought us a fantastic Sweeney Todd. This New York Times article reports that the reason why more filmed performances aren’t being made is a hold-back on union negotiations. But where there’s a will there’s a way. And if the packed house at BAM’s ENCORE screening of Streetcar had anything to say, it’s that there’s definitely a will.

Another interesting incorporation of film into theatre comes from the team at The Young Vic, which creates short films directly related to their most popular productions. They’re called YV Shorts, and they explore different sides of the play, usually in the vein of a prologue. They’re not exactly for marketing purposes (they seem to have been released after the productions have ended). Instead they are there to provoke discussion, to promote a relationship between film-making and stage performance, and to explore the characters and themes of the works. They’re already had shorts featuring Patrick Stewart and Jude Law, and Streetcar fans can expect to see Gillian Anderson as Blanche at Belle-reve before arriving at Stella’s apartment in “The Departure”.

From “The Departure”

Dear theatre/film-makers,

More of this please and thank you.

Upcoming NT Live Screenings include Of Mice and Men, Skylight, and an Encore screening of Frankenstein.

5 Things the Oscars Should Do Instead of Those Redundant Montages

The most annoying part of sitting through a three-and-a-half hour awards ceremony is not, as most people would have it seem, the winners’ speeches. At best, they’re inspirational, witty, or just goshdarn poetic. At worst, they’re dry and cliche. But we the audience are gracious enough to give the winners their chance to speak because we know that the road to success can be a long one and these folks deserve half-a-minute to spill their hearts to us.

No, the worst part of it all is the clips and montages we’ve already see a thousand times this awards season. Why, in introducing the best picture nominees, does the Academy insist on showing us the same basic advertisements that flooded our televisions, theaters, and devices? I mean, I’ve basically memorized every shot in that Wolf of Wall Street trailer! And then, you’ve got some weird superhero theme going on, which gives some fanboy with final cut pro in the backroom a chance to mash up clips from all the superhero movies from the last fifteen years and make it look like Man of Steel was actually a good movie. This is the most self-congratulatory the Academy can get: Let’s honor In the Heat of the Night in the same category as The Amazing Spiderman, because everything Hollywood makes is ah-mazing, especially if there’s a hero, which is basically every movie you guys! How conveniently marketable!


Here are five things the Academy (and other awards-giving organizations) can do instead of these ridiculous montages to make their show more meaningful.

1) Ally themselves with relevant charities and organizations

This years best picture nominees touched on a whole lot of societal issues that could use some attention. Dallas Buyer’s Club discussed LGBT issues, as well as corruption in big pharmaceuticals and government administrations. 12 Years a Slave presented a snippet of America’s long racial history. Philomena looked at the oppressive practices against single mothers. Why not make film-to-real life connections more clear? Celebrating these films’ successes is great, but we are at risk of forgetting their eye-opening messages and depictions of suffering amidst the glitz and glamor of Oscar night. As Lupita Nyong’o said so fricking eloquently “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Have a representative from the film (any one of the cast or crew) team up with an organization that aims to solve one of the issues presented in the film, and document some of what they do in a short feature. Put a website at the bottom of the screen, and voila! you’re putting art into action!

2) Show behind-the-scenes footage

How about instead of the same old trailers and montages, we show something new. Maybe the directors/writers talking about how they approached the film? How about footage showing JLaw goofing off on set or explaining how Christian Bale’s hair did…that? Maybe some background information with the real-life Captain Phillips or Philomena? You know, cool stuff!

3) Expose some emerging new artists

Remember these folks? They’re Team Oscar, students who plan on becoming future filmmakers. Judging from the contest applications (write an essay and create a short video about how you plan to contribute to the film industry), these aren’t active filmmakers with an existing repertoire. But hey, how about we see clips of those videos they sent? How about we invite writers to submit short screenplays and the winners’ screenplays will be filmed using other emerging actors, directors, and film crew? Then, we don’t have to feel so guilty about idolizing Meryl Streep every year or giving Cate Blanchett another Oscar because we’re simultaneously exposing new faces and talents. It’s a good way for those at the top of the Hollywood community to give back to those still climbing up the ladder.

4) Something educational?

Okay, we get it. Sidney Poitier is awesome. But average non-film buff of my generation might know the name but not the significance. We know the “Mr. Tibbs” line, but not why it plays in these montages every year. How about a featurette on Sidney Poitier’s significance to the film industry? Which does NOT mean another montage! It means asking experts and other filmmakers to provide a sentence or two on camera about why Poitier’s such a badass. Or asking Poitier himself why he still bothers coming to these things even though the man is 87 years old!

Or who is this scary Kim Novak lady and why is Matthew McConnaughey flirting with her in front of his wife? Give us a little background info please. Or instead of a Wizard of Oz montage, show us footage from the film’s 1939 premiere. Tell us about why it was technically and creatively so groundbreaking.

How about what a film editor or a sound designer or any of those techie people actually do? Find the most charismatic or socially-adept nominees, and give them some screen time.

5) Play the animated shorts

They’re short. They’re cute. They’re rousing. Who doesn’t love an animated short from time to time. Get the rights, you guys!

Get it, Academy.

“The Disinherited” @ AMC Empire 25

Director Jay Scheib premiered a both film and play this week—only they’re the same piece. Scheib adapted an unfinished Chekhov play, and while the theatrical performance was happening downtown at the Kitchen, Scheib was simultaneously filming and editing a film version that would be playing in theaters all over the city.

The play’s the thing… or is it a film?

I was really excited to see The Disinherited, the film version of the event. (The play version goes by the play’s original title, Platonov.) While simulcasting theatrical performances isn’t new, Platonov/The Disinherited offers a different experience: taking in one story in two distinct mediums simultaneously. It is an intriguing premise, and one I hope other artists consider and utilize in their own work.*

Mainly because The Disinherited is, unfortunately, painful to watch. The title sequence and opening credits hint at a movie, but the earnest, wide-eyed performances indicate something much more theatrical is going on. Meanwhile, the shaky-cam cinematography skews toward an amateurish home video more than an indie film. The Disinherited‘s main failing, however, is that a comprehensible story never seems to be told—and that’s necessary for any artistic narrative, regardless of medium.

Charles Isherwood attended the live performance of Platonov, and in his review says,

For newcomers to Mr. Scheib’s wacky world, the moviegoing route might be a more comfortable choice. At least then you have the option of fleeing this indulgent experiment without trampling on the sensibilities of the talented performers. Maybe you could even sneak into something more palatable: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” is currently an option at the AMC Empire 25.

Mr. Isherwood, I have to confess that I was one of those moviegoers who fled The Disinherited after twenty minutes. While I can’t confirm or deny if I snuck into something “more palatable,” I can say that “Anchorman 2” is pretty damn good.

*Speaking of awesome theatre film hybrids, Deconstructive Theatre Project does an inventive live film reimagining of the Orpheus myth called “The Orpheus Variations.” You can read our review about it here.

Trailer Alert: Only Lovers Left Alive

Somebody decided to make a movie starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires, and now we have a Japanese trailer for it.

The film is called Only Lovers Left Alive, and while the creative team obviously had a penchant for putting the entire cast in Hermione Granger-esque wigs, the film looks like a blood-sucking good time.

Speaking of sucking…

And the moody cinematography and trailer’s Japanese voice overs reminded me of Moon Child, aka the best vampire J-Rock film ever.

The film won’t be released until 2014. I’ll continue being jealous of a popsicle until then.

Giveaway! Win Tickets to the CBGB Festival

cbgbfilmfestWe’re super pleased to announce our first contest at Letters from the Mezzanine! We’re teaming up with the CBGB Festival to see some awesome new films, and you, gentle reader, can join us.

To enter, “like” our Facebook page. Once you like us, comment on our Facebook post and let us know what you want to see! Here are the films and their dates:

1. Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost) East Coast Premiere with artist Q/A

10/10 4:30pm at the Landmark Sunshine Theater

An intimate “fly on the wall” documentary about iconoclastic rocker Bobby Bare Jr., son of country music legend Bobby Bare, and his struggles dealing with the repercussions of a perpetual life on the road- the constant separation and the disconnect from loved ones back home.

2. Passione with artist Q/A (John Turturro)

A musical journey through the city of Naples, past and present.

10/11 2:30pm at the Landmark Sunshine Theater

3. Don’t Ask Me Questions  East Coast Premiere

Don’t Ask Me Questions is about the life and music career of Graham Parker and the Rumor.  Featuring Bruce Springsteen, Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and many others, the film follows the bands short career of international acclaim and their unlikely reunion 30 years after breaking up.

10/11 6:00pm at Landmark Sunshine Theatre and October 12th at 5pm at the Indie Screen

10/10 8pm at Anthology Film Archives with artist Q/A and performance by Bobby Brown

or 10/12 at 1:30pm at Anthology Film Archives

4. Heart of Bruno Wizard

Bruno Wizard is a London punk musician who became an underground legend. He performed at the Roxy club alongside The Jam/Generation X, and was part of the Blitz kids scene, squatting with the Warren Street mafia. His lifelong loathing of the establishment has led him to follow his own heart. At all costs!

10/10 11:30am at Indie Screen US Premiere with Q/A

or 10/12 5:30pm at Anthology Film Archives

5. Viva Viva

Steeped in the riotous music of urban chaos, meet two generations shaping a global culture of dissent. From the slums to the city center of S‹o Paulo, Brazil, the punks invite us to open our eyes. Viva Viva!

10/10/13 at Anthology Film Archives 1  11:30 am

6. Twenty Feet From Stardom

Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names.  In his compelling new film, Twenty Feet From Stardom, award-winning director Morgan Neville shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Triumphant and heartbreaking in equal measure, the film is both a tribute to the unsung voices who brought shape and style to popular music and a reflection on the conflicts, sacrifices and rewards of a career spent harmonizing with others.

10/11/13 at Indie Screen 6:30pm

7. Shorts Center

on 10/11 11:30am or 10/12 at 11am at Wythe Hotel (all the following films)

Spacetime Fabric Softner
The Beast and the Angel
Pussy Riot: Putin Pissed Himself
Tunnel of Love
Leave It All Behind
Good To Me
Who Shot Rock N Roll
Frank Turner: The Way I Tend to Be
You Don’t Know Jack
The Johnny Thunders Story

“What a Story, Mark!” Reviews “The Disaster Artist”


The Room, my favorite little-bad-movie-that-could, now has its own book by actor/line-producer/survivor Greg Sestero. I was so excited about this book that I contacted all the publicists and received a copy before publication date. Now you can read my review for it on While you do that, I’ll be online shopping for Lisa-blonde wigs in preparation for Sunshine Cinema’s monthly midnight screening of The Room, where Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero will be making an appearance.

PS. If you missed it: Greg Sestero did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit. You can read it here.

Life and Times: Episodes 4.5 and 5 @ FIAF

Last winter, Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Life and Times saga took the New York theatre world by storm at the Public’s Under the Radar Festival. (Check out our review here.) Now they’re back with two more installments that ran this weekend at the French Institute Alliance Française.

Life and Times is based on a series of telephone conversations with company member Kristin Worrall about her life… so far. The result has been a series of theatrical episodes that uses Worrall’s story word-for-word, including the “likes,” “ums,” and incomplete thoughts that make up authentic human speech. The episodes are all genre-specific, and so far Nature Theater has tackled music, singing, dance, and Agatha Christie-esque mysteries as framing devices. Episodes 4.5 & 5 continue to push the theatre-making envelope. Episode 4.5 is a short animated film, with super titles of the dialogue on the screen. Said dialogue is actually sung, which is a welcome element from previous episodes. Episode 5 takes the form of an illuminated medieval-style manuscript.

Episode 4.5
Episode 4.5

While visual art may be the obvious theme of 4.5 & 5,  the evening is still strongly theatrical. Before Episode 4.5, the audience is given manilla envelopes with instructions not to open them. At the start of Episode 5, a man dressed in a tuxedo with a blue cummerbund instructs the audience to open the envelope, which contains a flashlight, a book, and earplugs. While the man plays the keyboard set to sound like an organ (thus the earplug option), the audience has forty-four minutes and twenty-eight seconds to read the book.  Reading a book in itself doesn’t seem theatrical; reading the same book in the cover of darkness in a theatre filled with people doing the same thing does. It feels as if we were all voyeurs, reading the narrator’s diary with a flashlight under the covers. This is no mistake, as we learn the narrator’s first diary, like the book in our hands, has a blue cover. The voyeurism is only intensified by the illustrations, Kama Sutra-stylings with likenesses of Nature Theater founders Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska in a variety of sexual positions. As Copper writes in the book’s afterword, it becomes a “Nature Theater sex tape.”

Episode 5 also takes on a scholarly edge. It’s as if the audience takes on the role of anachronistic scholars, as the electric-powered organ music accompanies calligraphied descriptions of a remodeled teenager’s bedroom. The countdown clock on the screen seems to promise a post-show exam.

Episodes 4.5 & 5 are relatively shorter than previous episodes, but the multimedia creation is a satisfying installment that excites, surprises, and takes us to the end of the narrator’s junior year of high school.

To be continued…


Evil things happen in this world. We know this but we do our best to have hope, to focus on the blessings we have because if the reality of the amount of evil happening was in the front of our consciousness, we would not be able to function. Violence against children is a subject portrayed in film over and over again, typically in action movies, where an angry grieving father grows a huge pair of saline balls (DON’T GOOGLE IMAGE IT…okay, do it), buys a gun from Walmart and hunts for justice.

While the father, of a kidnapped little girl, Keller Dover (played by Hugh Jackman) makes a very tough dad, Denis Villneuve’s Prisoners  shows the emotional costs of looking for payback. Dover is frustrated by the rules and policies the police have on questioning the kidnapper suspects like Paul Dano’s soft spoken 10 year old IQ Alex Jones. Cruelty begets cruelty.

But before we get to the nitty gritty….can we talk about the perpetuation of the stereotype that folks with big 70′s prescription glasses are creepers? Director Villneuve CLEARLY has a big case of 20/20 privilege.

Melissa Leo and Paul Dano for LENS CRAFTERS.

The overall message of this film is quite bleak. The police captain states to a tattooed and frustrated Jake Gyllenhaal “We’re just cops. Janitors.” Justice is clean-up. Not guaranteed.

This movie should have been at least 30 minutes shorter. It is laden with tense moments that are unnecessary to the story such as a long blurry car ride to the emergency room and the arduous inspection of a RV with nothing plot-changing inside. It was frustrating to sit and wait for all the “make em sit at the edge of their seat” bull shit to find out what the hell was going on. BUT….through all that….I think this film is definitely worth seeing. Hugh Jackman’s depth of emotion and how he handles the contradictions between his desire for justice and the way he goes about getting it is going to stay on my mind for awhile.

No one prays the Our Father sexier than Hugh Jackman.

Is Kick-Ass 2 Too Violent?

I don’t really plan on answering the question I’ve posed. It’s one that keeps resurfacing from time to time and my opinions always change depending on the time, place, and content. I’ve written papers about violence representing some kind of cleansing, growth, necessary change, shock, etc. I’ve also pondered that maybe violence in video games should be treated more seriously than violence in novels or film because in most video games, the player is actually performing the acts of violence through a character (and I’ve been surprised by how intense and gory some of these games can be) and maybe there’s more risk of impressionability.  I would never ever (ever never) watch films that depict graphic violence similar to depictions of pornographic sex (things like Saw or Hostel), but more so because they will give me nightmares than that I have some kind of moral objections. On the other hand, I love all the violence in Game of Thrones and the abundance of severed body parts and the appearance of Raul Esparza’s spleen in Hannibal. Can we give that spleen an Emmy or something?

Now, none of the above regularly depict gun violence, except the video games. Could we say there’s something more artistic in the way Saw and Hostel find brutal ways to harm oneself and others in the most terribly painful ways using everyday objects, as opposed, let’s say, just shooting each other off? Is cannibalism somehow a higher form of murder (cut to classical music melody playing in Hannibal’s kitchen as he puts his gorgeously plated meat on a serving platter) than the quick death a bullet to the head provides?

Some might argue yes. That gun violence is an easy murder of power, i.e. I have a gun and you don’t therefore you die. But we could also see it this way- when a film shows a crazy Nazi surgeon sewing together one man’s mouth to another man’s butthole, there’s absolutely no way a viewer goes home thinking “hmm, that looks like a lot of fun!” When Eddie Izzard makes his victim’s torso looks like an opened can of worms, we don’t think, “hey, Eddie Izzard’s character is so manly and powerful.” Nazi scientist and Eddie Izzard are bad people, crazy people, and perhaps more importantly, people with means. Not only do they need enough of the crazies to actually do what they’re doing, but their methods of violence necessitate lots of research, genius, and money.

Nobody needs a biomedical education or perverse genius to wield a gun. Nobody needs thousands of dollars of equipment and a secret lair to shoot someone. Hell, even a kid can do it!

Like this one?

Which finally brings me to Kick-Ass. Now, I really enjoy the Kick-Ass series. Both Kick-Ass movies specialize in over-the-top everything. Lots of violence, lots of cursing, lots of drama, huge plot twists, big comedy, and big characters. There’s an “I don’t give a shit about subtlety” attitude in both films that is exhilarating. You can’t expect to wander into a screening and analyze it for cultural relevance and dramatic structure the way you go into The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (though I think you’d find your efforts mostly wasted in either of them to be honest, don’t hurt me).

Kick-Ass 2 has lots of fun characters, but doesn’t waste time on making them all complex and self-important. It establishes quick community, breaks that community, raises the stakes, and resolves its issues in a quick ninety minutes, all the while bringing character development and lots of humor, some of which is scatological. (Man, I thought I wasn’t supposed to analyze for dramatic structure…)

My good feelings about the film, however, do mean that I would take a ten-year old kid, like the one sitting a few seats away from me, to see the film. The opening scene of the film shows Hit Girl shooting Kick-Ass in the chest at close range while he is wearing a bullet-proof suit. No lies, it looked like a lot of fun. And if I were living in a community that glorified gun violence the way that many communities do, and I were a thousand times more impressionable, I might start contemplating becoming a gun-owner. Now, that’s nowhere near actually becoming a murderer, but it makes it one huge step easier.

But I still hesitate to denounce a scene like that as promoting gun violence. I’d be quicker to denounce photo-shopped magazine covers. In fact, I’d be quicker to denounce photo-shopping than a scene depicting bulimia in a film because a magazine cover tends to often ‘speak’ to consumers directly (‘YOU can lose 5 lbs. a week!) while a film locates the bulimia within a character’s storyline. I could also say that Kick-Ass 2‘s ending shows the consequences of violence, and perhaps a film might show the emotional and psychological effects of bulimia, but this is a case-by-case basis and I don’t think the film’s ending is didactic enough (nor should it be) to trump out all the scenes where shooting things looks like total fun.

There’s also the big gun-toting, ball-blasting, camouflage-wearing elephant (?) in the room and that’s… Jim Carrey. (I stand by my elephant image because Horton Hears a Who is a great movie.)

Das Tweets

Something had always troubled me about Jim Carrey’s refusal to promote the film, and this Flavorwire article hits it right on the nail. The key point of the article is that by denouncing the film, gun-control activist Jim Carrey is actually feeding into the pro-gun lobbies’ message that violent video games and films, NOT guns themselves, are the root of mass killings and gun violence.

This is bad, you guys. What’s worse is that he’s amazing in the film and, I believe, genuine about his activism. After watching the film, I thought that maybe Jim Carrey realized he’d have to defend playing a character who shoots up a mafia boss to interviewers who can’t function on a high-school critical thinking level, let alone do research on their topic. I’m guessing he couldn’t figure out what he to say when Piers Morgan asks him how he could criticize Charlton Heston and play Stars and Stripes at the same time without getting into theories of genre and entertainment mediums and alienating his audience. Maybe he needed a spokesperson like moi to beat off the angry crowds.

Whether Carrey believes in the film or not, the discussion on gun-control and gun violence depictions should continue.



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