Seen at the Movies:
Anthony Hopkins' third go-round as Hannibal Lecter, in Red Dragon. This is an odd project for several reasons. The Thomas Harris novel on which it's based actually precedes The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, and features the good doctor as little more than a bit player. It was filmed before, in 1986, by director Michael Mann under the title Manhunter. In that movie, Brian Cox played Lecter, but the real focus was on William Petersen's FBI agent Will Graham, who consulted the imprisoned cannibalistic psychiatrist in his quest for another deranged killer, known as the Tooth Fairy.
In Red Dragon, which is directed by Brett Ratner, Lecter's role is beefed up, and Edward Norton takes on the role of Graham. It's an effective, well crafted thriller that, while not in the league of Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs, is a marked improvement on Ridley Scott's tiresomely lurid Hannibal. The cast is top-notch: Ralph Fiennes portrays hare-lipped murderer Francis Dolarhyde with an unsettling degree of compassion (and shows off an impressively toned and tattooed torso), Emily Watson brings a sensuous spark to the blind woman who becomes involved with him, and Philip Seymour Hoffman oozes memorably as a slimy tabloid reporter. Harvey Keitel and Mary-Louise Parker are also featured, and Mary Beth Hurt, Frank Whaley, and, if I'm not mistaken, the voice of Ellen Burstyn, register unbilled contributions. Hopkins, of course, is irresistibly entertaining, even if his portrait of Lecter has lost any hint of surprise. The action of Red Dragon is set prior to that of the 1991 Lambs, but Hopkins' Lecter seems to have entered some sort of timeless area.
On a technical level, Red Dragon is interesting for a couple of reasons. Lambs production designer Kristi Zea returned to recreate her classic set—with its rock walls and solid Plexiglas front barrier instead of bars–for Lecter's cell. And director of photography Dante Spinotti also shot Manhunter: someone should research whether there's a precedent for a DP shooting the same material twice, under different directors. Of course, Red Dragon's look is much closer to the gothic style of Silence of the Lambs than to Michael Mann's customarily clinical treatment in Manhunter. The film's costume designer is Betsy Heimann, and Fiennes' body tattoo is designed by Tom Berg.--John Calhoun
Seen Off Broadway: I didn’t like Lanford Wilson’s Burn This in its original 1987 Broadway production, for one reason: John Malkovich. The play hinges on one’s belief in a growing romance between the two leading characters, and Malkovich’s bizarre, mannered performance—which many people found electrifying—struck me as enough to send any reasonable woman running in the other direction. That’s why the current revival of Burn This, produced by the Signature Theatre at the Union Square Theatre is, to me, a revelation. Catherine Keener is striking as a dancer/choreographer thrown into a tailspin by the death of her friend and collaborator, who finds herself drawn, against her will, into an affair with the dead man’s eccentric, possibly violent, brother (played by Edward Norton with considerably more restraint than Malkovich). In James Houghton’s meticulously directed production, it’s now possible to grasp every nuance as these two people, each a kind of misfit, painfully confront a passion that will not be dismissed. Offering wry, expert commentary are Dallas Roberts and Ty Burrell, as Keener’s roommate and boyfriend, respectively.
A lofty set for Burn This
is structured like a traditional sex comedy (there’s the first scene filled with exposition, the lovers who hate each other at first sight, the one-night stand, the scene where the man wears the woman’s bathrobe), but Wilson infuses his tale with deep feelings of loss, regret, a sense of time passing. Call it a Chekhovian sex comedy, if you will; in this production it is very much worth seeing. It is also beautifully designed: Christine Jones’ cavernous loft setting is right on the nose (it’s also a rare naturalistic set from this fine artist). Jane Greenwood’s costumes show why she has one the finest eyes around for contemporary dress. Pat Collins’ lighting carves the actor’s bodies out of the large space, creating some deeply effective tableaux. (However, I don’t really get sound designer Robert Kaplowitz’s use of bird noises between scenes). This revival makes a very strong case for Burn This as a contemporary classic.
The Butter and Egg Man isn’t as revived as some of George S. Kaufman’s plays, perhaps because his only solo effort is filled with topical gags about the Broadway scene. Nevertheless, this 1925 farce is a little gem of comic construction, in which two shyster producers, desperate to fund a bloated Broadway potboiler called Her Lesson, chisel the money out of a young rube from Chillicothe, Ohio. Following the show’s disastrous Syracuse tryout, and an uproarious production meeting, our hayseed hero turns the tables on his business associates. This kind of period comedy is awfully hard to do, and it’s a relief to report that David Pittu’s Atlantic Theatre production has a firm grasp of the style, and a skilled cast of comic actors who understand the fine art of precision artillery when it comes to delivering Kaufman’s wisecracks. (Julie Halston’s withering way with a remark is particularly helpful here.) Two relative newcomers, David Turner and Rosemarie Dewitt, play the innocent hero and heroine with fine timing and not a trace of condescension.
Butter and Egg Man
Anna Louizos has provided two nifty sets—I particularly liked the electric sign outside the hotel setting of Act II—and a lovely show curtain, made up of newspaper clippings about Her Lesson. (Between scenes, lighting designer Robert Perry’s cues isolate different parts of the curtain, creating a headline-montage effect of the sort seen in so many vintage Hollywood films). Sound designer Fitz Patton provides a steady undercurrent of period-flavored music. I was disappointed in Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s costumes, which are a little garish and not always in period. Nevertheless, The Butter and Egg Man is a skillful and loving revival.
Also: Jolson & Co, a bio-musical about the legendary star (and egomaniac) Al Jolson, at the Century Center for the Performing Arts, is a fairly encyclopedic compendium of showbiz clichés, set to a score of Jolson standards. Stephen Mo Hanan does a creditable Jolson imitation, but the show is stolen by Nancy Anderson, in a riotous turn as all the women in his life (including Mae West and Ruby Keeler). Gail Baldoni’s costumes (especially the wigs) transform the actress from scene to scene…The Charity That Began at Home, at the Mint Theatre, is a comedy by St. John Hankin, a contemporary of Shaw’s whose promising career was ended by suicide. Charity is a drawing room comedy about a wealthy matron and her daughter, their devotion to a crackpot religion, and the disastrous results of their charitable work. Unfortunately the play’s wit has faded, leaving behind only its laborious construction. Anyway, Kristin Griffith and a game cast give it a go. Nice scenery by Charles F. Morgan and lush period costumes by Henry Shaffer….Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days is back at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where it opened four decades ago. Joyce Aaron plays Winnie, Beckett’s literally earthbound heroine, with exemplary commitment, and Joseph Chaikin’s direction is certainly authentic. This is never going to be my favorite play, however; it makes its points early and often. Riccardo Hernandez’s set is exactly what you expect from a Happy Days revival—a large mound of earth. Beverly Emmons’ subtle cue changes are extremely well-wrought, however.--David Barbour
Seen in Chelsea: Our Lady of 121st Street, Labyrinth Theatre Company playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' latest, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Labyrinth Theatre is steadily increasing its profile, perhaps due to Hoffman's work with the group--for instance, I spotted the New Yorker's John Lahr in last Friday's press audience. Hoffman's not the only shining talent in this group; many of the excellent actors in Our Lady have appeared in Guirgis and Hoffman's other two collaborations, In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings and Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. The long-term collaboration shows and works well. Some of the best Off Off Broadway designers also work with Labyrinth; this particular production features sets by Narelle Sissons (who seems to alternate Labyrinth design duties with ED October 2002 "Young Designer to Watch" Michelle Malavet), costumes by Mimi O'Donnell (an ED October 2001 cover girl), lighting by James Vermeulen, and sound by Eric DeArmon.
One set acts as funeral home viewing room and waiting room, after-hours bar, restaurant, and confessional booth. Changes are effected by Vermeulen's lighting and the movement of a few props. Sissons' color choice is scarily perfect: dead silver green and colorless almost-shabby nondescript furniture. There's also a dead-on drop ceiling, bad "Last Supper" portrait, and uncomfortable-looking benches and chairs. Vermeulen picks out various set features to emphasize place--a funereal bouquet is highlighted for the funeral home, warm yellow squares define the confessional, and harsh fluorescent light puts you in the waiting room late at night. O'Donnell works so closely to reality that it's hard to see her gift. You can totally believe the actors wear the clothes home, but God help them if they identify with their characters that much. Sound design relies a bit too much on volume and the shock value therein, but the musical choices--Ray Charles, Bebop, blues--were very effective.
Performances of Our Lady have been extended through October 12. For more information, go to the Labyrinth website, www.labtheater.org. Go see it.--Liz French
Seen at the New York Film Festival: In terms of sheer technical accomplishment, Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark is hard to beat. This 90-minute disquisition on 300 years of Russian history, set in St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, is composed of a single take, shot with a Sony HDW-F900 camera; the uncompressed image was recorded onto a new portable hard disk system. And this is no stationary-camera exercise: DP Tilman Büttner keeps the Steadicam moving through 33 of the museum's rooms, catching various state occasions, balls, and more private moments in the lives of such monarchs as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas I, and Nicholas II and Alexandra. Years of planning and months of rehearsal of the 867 actors and three live orchestras culminated in the 90-minute shoot, following a couple of false starts.
German HD specialists Kopp Media developed the portable camera rig for the film, and Cologne-based Director's Friend devised the hard disk system. Art directors Yelena Zhukova and Natalia Kochergina helped restore the Hermitage spaces to their period styles, and the hundreds of sumptuous costumes were designed by Lidiya Kriukova, Tamara Seferyan, and Maria Grishanova. Fortunately, Russian Ark is not just a stunt but also an artistic accomplishment, providing a melancholy portrait of Russia as a land both of and not of Europe.
One of the more high-profile films in the festival, which continues through Sunday, Oct. 13 at Lincoln Center, is Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, about the double life and squalid murder of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane. Greg Kinnear finds the role of a lifetime in Crane, who left behind his comfortable, conservative married-with-children existence to partake of the sexual revolution with a vengeance, preserving his encounters for posterity on videotape. Willem Dafoe plays the video technician who was Crane's swinging buddy and possible killer. The period span (early 60s-late 70s) is smartly captured by production designer James Chinlund and costume designer Julie Weiss (see Entertainment Design's November issue for an interview with Weiss), as are some Hogan's Heroes recreations. Fred Murphy is director of photography.
Paul Greengrass' Bloody Sunday puts you right in the midst of the 1972 massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland, and achieves a visceral impact close to the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. The thick brogues and jagged style make it difficult to sort out the political issues, however. Ivan Strasburg's cinematography is strikingly rough and desaturated…Another piece of Irish political theatre is provided by Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters, which catalogues of horrors of laundries run by Catholic nuns and staffed by "wayward" women held in conditions of virtual slavery. This crudely powerful film, set in the 1960s, is shot by Nigel Willoughby…
The Man Without a Past
The best thing about Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past is DP Timo Salminen's vibrant color palette (dig those azure skies). Otherwise, Kaurismaki's droll telling of a story about an amnesia victim is a matter of taste, verging on the cutesy…Perhaps the best festival film so far is Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Son, a tightly focused yet emotionally supple exploration of the bond between a Belgian carpenter (Cannes Best Actor winner Olivier Gourmet) and his teenage apprentice, a possibly reformed murderer. What the older man knows that the younger doesn't: the boy's victim was his son. There's nothing overtly showy in DP Alain Marcoen's camerawork, but it does a remarkable job of keeping the viewer close to Gourmet's conflicted character.--JC
Heard From Paris: Certainly gathering no moss, Rolling Stones lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe has left Mick Jagger and the boys in the capable hands of lighting directors Ethan Weber and Jim Straw. Taking a break from the world of rock and roll, Woodroffe has jetted off to Paris, France, where he is designing the lighting for an opera production, a double bill of Schoenberg's Erwartung and Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, starring diva Jessye Norman at the Theatre de Chatelet. Directed by Andre Heller, with sets by Mimmo Paladino, the production will be seen on October 5, 9, and 13.--Ellen Lampert Gréaux
Heard From Brooklyn: San Francisco-based sound designer Bill Fontana currently has a large urban installation in DUMBO, the hot Brooklyn neighborhood "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass." The project is set in the ruins of a Civil War-era tobacco warehouse, where there is no longer a roof and the 19th-century brick walls are open to the sky and views of the river. Since Fontana was not allowed to attach anything to these walls, he installed eight Meyer Sound Parabolic directional loudspeakers on the roof of an adjacent building. "The speakers are the size of spot lights," says Fontana, whose soundscape ranges from sounds of the nearby bridges to the noises of the harbor environment. Organized by the Manhattan-based organization Creative Time, the installation will be in place through October 27 (Thursdays through Sundays) in conjunction with an exhibit entitled "Consuming Places," on art, technology, and urbanism.--ELG
Seen in Quimper: French lighting designer Pierre Nègre of L'Atelier Lumière in Grenoble has illuminated the cathedral in the city of Quimper, using over 250 automated luminaires, including fixtures from Clay Paky and Griven with a Martin ProScenium control system. The lighting design adds soft layers of color to the interior and exterior of the building, highlighting the colors of the stained glass windows and the texture of the stone. With the Martin computerized control system, Nègre can check in from his office in Grenoble and make sure all is running correctly over in Quimper.--ELG
Burn This photo: Susan Johann
Butter and Egg Man photo: Carol Rosegg