Seen at the Movies: Lost in La Mancha, which charts the collapse of Terry Gilliam’s dream project Don Quixote, is one of the great documentaries about filmmaking. Gilliam, of course, is the artistic visionary behind everything from Monty Python cartoon sequences to grand-scale cinematic achievements like Brazil, The Fisher King, and 12 Monkeys; he also is responsible for two enormous fiascos, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Don Quixote, which barely started shooting on location in Spain in 2000 before shutting down, was doomed to join the latter group by fragile European financing that left no room for acts of God like freak hailstorms or lead actor Jean Rochefort’s crippling prostate and herniated disk problems. When you see a flash flood on the normally unrainy Spanish plain start to wash away the film’s equipment, all you can do is laugh at the cosmic joke being played on Gilliam, a joke Cervantes himself surely would have appreciated.
Lost in La Mancha photo: Quixote Films Ltd.
What we see of Gilliam’s unrealized epic in documentarians Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s account is certainly tantalizing: puppets and giants and windmills and the gaunt-faced Rochefort perched on his horse in very Quixote-style absurd glory. The aborted film’s DP Nicola Pecorini, production designer Benjamin Fernandez, and costume designer Gabriella Pescucci are all very visible, as well as visibly distressed—at one point Pescucci, informed of Rochefort’s failure to show up on schedule for costume fittings, throws a very colorful Italian hissy fit. It’s also fascinating to see Gilliam’s storyboards brought to life by animator Chaim Bianco. Lost in La Mancha is in some ways a sad chronicle of a gifted artist brought low, but Gilliam’s spirit seems too unquenchable to despair.
Shanghai Knights photo: Richard Cartwright/Spyglass Entertainment Inc.
Shanghai Knights is the splashy sequel to Shanghai Noon, a goofy little western-action-comedy that thrived on the teamwork of costars Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Their casual chemistry survives in Shanghai Knights, which in every other way is bigger than its predecessor. The film, directed by David Dobkin, opens in the Forbidden City with the killing of Chan’s father, cuts to an antic comedy sequence out West, moves on to New York where Chan collects Wilson, and then settles in London, where the boys track down Chan’s sister and his father’s killer. The year is supposedly 1887, which in the movie’s cheerfully anachronistic scheme allows automobiles and machine guns to play a role in the action. Everyone from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to an urchin Charlie Chaplin are introduced as supporting characters, with cameo appearances by Jack the Ripper and Queen Victoria. But the film’s main appeal remains Chan’s slapstick demolition of countless bad guys and Wilson’s running sardonic commentary. Shot by Adrian Biddle, Shanghai Knights is very easy on the eyes, although Allan Cameron’s big period sets and Anna Sheppard’s amusingly over-the-top costumes don’t always mesh very comfortably. The movie is entertaining, but the tension between the formula’s throwaway humor and the increasing demands of expensive production is starting to show. —John Calhoun
Seen Off Broadway: Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July, a Broadway hit in 1980, was one of the first plays to grapple with the fate of the 60s generation after the revolution was permanently postponed. Officially part of the playwright’s trilogy about the Talley family, it focuses on the uneasy reunion of four college friends at the home of Ken Talley, a legless Vietnam vet who is struggling to restart his life. The guest list includes June, Ken’s tough-minded sister; John, who may be the love of both Ken and June’s life (he’s also the father of June’s daughter, Shirley); and Gwen, John’s wife, a burned-out copper heiress who is working on a country-singing career. Also on hand are Jed, Ken’s watchful lover; Sally Friedman, Ken and June’s aunt, who can’t quite part with the ashes of her late husband; and Shirley, who spends her time loudly disdaining the adults around her. The play’s real subject is the spiritual hangover caused the post-Vietnam, post-political, post-everything 1970s. Besides that continually postponed funeral, there’s unfinished business everywhere, including the fate of the Talley homestead, Ken’s future as a teacher, and the unanswered question of why Ken ended up in Vietnam.
Fifth of July photo: Rahav Segev/Photopass.com
Wilson’s plays are tough on inexperienced actors. Moments of rage and shocking truth arise out of casual, amusing conversations, then disperse, like summer lightning. Mastering this technique is an art in its own right. Under the direction of Jo Bonney, the actors in the current Signature Theatre Company revival of Fifth of July have little or no feeling for the eccentric, offhand hilarity of Wilson’s dialogue. The first act is remarkably laugh-free, which cannot be right. Several key performances go wrong. Robert Sean Leonard never suggests the barely suppressed pain—both physical and emotional—that is eroding Ken’s spirit. As Gwen, a role in which Swoosie Kurtz scored a career-making success, Parker Posey is studiously, but unconvincingly, outrageous; in her hands, a glittering, complex woman becomes grating, a cartoon. Sarah Lord turns Shirley, already a kind of blurred copy of Carson McCullers' Frankie Addams, into an unappealing brat. Jessalyn Gilsig and Pamela Payton-Wright have their moments as June and Sally, but overall this is a disappointing effort. At least Richard Hoover’s stunning settings—the living room and porch of Ken and Jed’s Missouri home—is gorgeously rendered, with James Vermeulen’s lighting bathing it in a lovely sunset. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes are a little too self-consciously "70s" to be truly convincing. John Gromada’s sound design includes an evocative playlist of top-40 hits from the period, virtually everything from disco to Janis Ian. I must add, Fifth of July has earned a number of fine reviews, so maybe I’m a crank; still, Signature’s previous Wilson productions this season (Burn This, Book of Days) set a much higher standard. —David Barbour
Seen on the Runway: The Lane Bryant fashion show is always a must-see event during Fashion Week. This year's production, titled The Grand Cabaret, was staged in the Grand Ballroom at Manhattan Center Studios and featured performances by Rouge, the New Bohemian Cabaret, in addition to the traditional sexy lingerie fashion parade. Guests sat at small tables around the runway and free drinks were served. Adding more spice to the event was the infamous Roseanne as the hostess with the mostes', and the pièce de résistance was none other than Kelly Osbourne, who performed "Papa Don't Preach" at the end of the show. She had to stop the song after about 30 seconds and restart because her ear monitor didn't seem to be working. (Don't quit your day job, Kelly... Um, what I mean is, she has some growing to do as a performer. Sorry, but Simon would have a field day if she ever tried out for American Idol...) Sharon and Ozzy were rumored to have been in the wings cheering their little girl on. Also spotted in the audience: Joel Gray, Tommy Tune, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, whose daughter Mia was one of the models, and he had his camera with him. (I'm not sure what it means when a father takes photos of his daughter strutting down the catwalk in a negligee.)
Lane Bryant The Grand Cabaret photo: Shawn Robinson
Lighting design was by Gordon Link of Bernhard-Link Theatrical Productions, with ETC Source Fours, Vari*Lite VL1000s and VL2000 wash luminaires, plus R40 striplights along the runway for footlights, all controlled by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console with expansion wing. The ballroom has a large mirror ball which gave a magical sparkle to several scenes. Link succeeded in finding a balance between the bright white light needed for the fashion photographers at the end of the runway and the dark and colorful atmosphere the producers wanted for the cabaret feel. —Amy L. Slingerland
The new Vari*Lite Security Camera
photo: Barton Silverman/The New York Times
Seen at the Super Bowl Who knew that the Vari-Lite makes a security camera? One cleverly housed inside of a Vari*Lite VL2416 automated luminaire. Has Genlyte already branched Vari-Lite out into the security business? The above photo ran in the New York Times after the Super Bowl and was part of an article on all of the security at the event and how omnipresent Big Brother has become. I wonder, did the LD have control, or did security have its own console? - Michael S. Eddy