Wednesday, April 15, 2015

it's too late for that, man

(Before I get into Rent for today, a note: Once again, I am writing a blog entry on a plane--on the way to Ohio for a speech tournament--and it still amazes me that I can do this. I know my thesis I'm working on--and after this week in Ohio I'm planning on getting into the work part of it finally, going back through the more than 600 entries now and coding them for content--is ostensibly about the presentation of self, the re-creation of self through writing... through blogging, but there's something to be said for the practical part of it as well. I started this blog in a one room apartment, writing on a desktop computer while Groundhog Day ran on my tablet next to the desktop monitor. I was stuck in one place if I wanted to save time and write while the movie was one--and I did want to do that. An hour and forty-one minutes a day for that movie was a lot of time as things kept going. Writing during the film (most of the time) made things a lot easier. I graduated for a while into watching the movie(s) on the television, writing on the tablet. That gave me a little more mobility, but not much. When I wrote on planes before I had to just write, focus on the writing. At least one of those entries--I will paste the link later if I remember--turned out to be fairly thoughtful, so I'm glad the writing was separated from the viewing. But, last year, I finally got a smart phone. So now, when I'm at home, I can watch on the television, write on the tablet, and have research bits open on the phone. I used to print everything I'd use in this blog. I've got several binders worth of Groundhog Day stuff plus a couple binders on horror films, a binder on romantic comedies. Binder 8 (which is somewhat appropriate since the figure 8 turned sideways is infinity) may end up being the final Groundhog Day Project binder because I just don't need to print most of my research anymore.

Right now, I've go the movie playing on my tablet, and I'm writing on the phone. It's nice. It's something thoroughly modern... as if blogging itself were not. I started the movie as we left the ground, but didn't get the my wireless keyboard out for a little while. I think I just wanted to sit with the movie for a bit...)

...and maybe that was a bad idea because something I mentioned yesterday stood out even more. Lyrics spoken do not sound like dialogue. I told my friend Greg yesterday that musicals are more realistic than movies. And, this adaptation speaks to that point quite readily. The characters only seem real when they are singing... or at least more real when they are singing. There's a reason musicals work the way they work. Not just because the audience can interact with the performance; plays and musicals have been successfully adapted to the screen. Hell, I think the West Side Story film adaptation plays more like a film than an adaptation of something from the stage... except maybe for a couple of the dance numbers. Right now, as I write, Mimi's performing "Out Tonight" and there's something that I think works pretty well with her walking home from the Cat Scratch Club singing in the dark and dirty street. Like the montage of her dealing with her drug addiction later, it's something that really captures the character on screen... not better than the stage but differently.

Mark gets lost in this adaptation, an afterthought beside the other duos. Similarly, Benny gets lost a bit. Mark is supposed to be our in, our ticket to the show, our doorway into these lives; his narration plays like conversation if you watch Rent on stage, but here it plays like stilted film narration, bad documentary narration. Benny is supposed to be the villain whose seeming change (back) to the better is somewhat inexplicable but welcomed. We're right there in the theater with him and we want him to change, we want him to be better. And, this Benny--Taye Diggs--is charming, and when he sings about his cyber cafe and letting the profits keep him and Mark and Roger living in the building, you can sort of side with him, you can imagine it, too. Sure, there's all those other tenants that will be removed, but you get it. With Taye Diggs, the role works on the screen, but then he's gone for a while, shows up for a few lines in the Life Cafe and disappears again for a good long while. His presence at the funeral here seems unimportant... I only just realized that the subplot of Mimi cheating on Roger with Benny is not in the film version at all. It's strange how being more familiar with the stage version, especially the soundtrack, which I've listened to many times, I don't even notice that some things are missing. I just assume they're there, because that's what I know.

(I actually wondered recently if I watched Groundhog Day and some scene had been cut, how quickly I would notice--

(If you're new to this blog, for whatever reason--a Renthead maybe who found me during these three days with Rent, perhaps--you should know that this blog takes its name from how it started; basically, I watched Groundhog Day every day for a year. I've moved on to other movies, usually for a week at a time, but this month is special--movies recommended to me by other people, regular readers, family, friends. Ten films, each one for 3 days.)

--how quickly I would catch that something is off. Would it be surreal, like the opposite of deja vu? Now, I'm wondering if I would even catch it at all. Would my brain just fill in the blanks? Like that video with the people passing basketballs around a circle and you're supposed to count the passes, but the trick is not that you can't keep up, it's--SPOILERS, especially if I remember to link to a copy of the video online... seriously, if there is a link here, click on the link, watch the video, then come back for the SPOILER...

Okay, you're back.

Or I forgot to insert the link. If so, look it up yourself. But anyway, the SPOILER: the trick is not that you cannot keep up with counting the passes, it is that while trying to count, you don't notice a person in a gorilla suit walking right through the circle of people, even stopping to look at the camera. Your brain can focus on something so much that it just missed other stuff nearby, even if that other stuff should be obvious.)

As "I'll Cover You" just ended, I should point out something that got lost in the changes between stage and screen. Angel still buys Collins a new coat, but he never--that we saw--told her that he lost his coat... or rather, "They Purloined my coat." And, don't forget the defiant followup: "Well, you missed a sleeve." That's who Collins is on stage. He's a guy who can get mugged and still be defiant about the fact that one of the sleeves of his purloined coat ripped off so all they got is a one-armed coat. Hell, he's the kind of guy who will use the word purloined casually enough to include it in the first minute of meeting someone new.The romance between Collins and Angel still means something on screen, of course, but it's diminished a little by both a lack of depth and a lack of intimacy. Angel dancing right in front of you during "Today 4 U" is an amazing thing to see. The performance in the film, while bigger, is less personal.

Angel's loss is also changed, made a little less personal. The film starts with "Seasons of Love A" which doesn't come until the start of Act Two on stage. And, that's fine. AS I said yesterday, seeing the eight principal cast members together on a stage is a nice love letter to Rentheads. The empty audience might be a little strange, but the scene works. Thing is, "Seasons of Love B" never happens. Well, it does, but it's heard over other action. We never get the missing-man-formation lineup, the principal cast members with a gap where Angel should be. Hell, we don't get any extra performers in that song, either. That extras and supporting cast members in the stage version become recognizable--at the production I saw this past fall, for example, Mark's mother was also a police officer and a homeless woman and one of the Bohemians at the life cafe. The homeless black woman who tells Mark, "My life's not for you to make a name for yourself on"--she got the big solo in "Seasons of Love" in two different productions I've seen. Here, it hardly matters to someone new in the audience who has that solo because we don't know these characters yet--

(That's one reason that opening number doesn't work; while the lyrics to "Seasons of Love" are nice, the film audience should not have to know who these characters are, should not be glad to see them all (well, six of them) again like they're old friends. I wonder if the stage number should have been saved for the end.)

--and it's actually quite nice that a bit player gets the big solo. In the audience, we might relate to that actor over the leads. It's like it could be us. We could be up there singing the solo... if we weren't stuck with day jobs or night jobs or both. We could be artists, we could be living the Bohemian life... and, we hope, not be dying from tuberculosis or AIDS or anything.

(We might also miss the homeless cast who sing "Christmas Bells" on stage. They make for a nice sort of comic relief even while framing the stark reality of their homelessness in winter.)

Speaking of dying, something I like about the staging of "La Vie Boheme" in the film is that since there is a fourth wall, the scene is not staged like it's The Last Supper. To be fair, it is like the last supper, Angel the Christ-Figure who will be sacrificed for the rest of these characters to figure their shit out and get on with their lives. It's no coincidence that Collins, who is closest to Angel and Maureen, who seems to already know Angel, both have their selves figured out more than, say Roger or Mark.

Longtime readers, don't worry, I won't be throwing in a Christ-Figure analysis of Angel to fill out one of these three days with Rent. I don't need to. I think it's obvious. Scott Miller, in his analysis of Rent (which, again, I'll link to later if I remember), focuses in on Angel for a bit. He writes:

Angel is the wise wizard in this collective hero myth story. She's almost other-worldly in her Zen-like understanding of the world around her, her wisdom, her compassion. She's there to teach the others (and us) a valuable lesson, to see the world in terms of what we can give instead of what we can get. As Collins says to Roger in Act II, "Angel helped us believe in love. I can't believe you disagree."

...Angel teaches her friends – and us? – to be more Christ-like.

After all, Rent is about "the least of these," the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the rejected, the kind of people Jesus hung out with. For much of the twentieth century, Alphabet City has been where mainstream society's rejects form their own community, their own support system, to some extent even their own economy. It's the place where Mark can toast, "To being an us for once, instead of a them." It's a place where Mark can ask, "Is anyone in the mainstream?" because he knows the answer is no. Not here.

There is no mainstream. There is only us. There is only this.

And, I don't know about you, I want to be closer to these characters when I see it on stage, and I feel closer to them. On the screen, though, there's a separation. It's broken down here and there; I rather like, for example, how the camera follows Roger and Mimi around during "Light My Candle." In the film version, when Angel grabs the trashcan to break the padlock, it's a nice human moment that exists only in this version. Collins asks, "Baby, what you doin?" Then, when she heads for the door with trashcan in hand, he says, "You're drunk." Angel, quite simply, responds, "No, I'm not." It's brief, it's straightforward, and it tells us something about Angel almost as much as her grabbing that trashcan does. It's one of the few additions that adds something to the story. Alexi Darling--the movie version adds... something, but I'm not sure if it's good... well, it does allow for this awesome framing:

(And, in naming that image, I just accidentally coined an awesome word for anyone named Mark who happens to be socially awkward--you're welcome, Marks. That word is Markward. Or, if your name isn't Mark, let's use it to describe that third wheel--or, is it fifth wheel?--feeling, when you're the Mark in a cast full of couples--

(Benny, notably, is married to Muffy, who we never see, but also (in the stage version, at least) also hooks up with Mimi, while Mark hooks up with no one. Maybe they should have hinted at a relationship between Mark and Alexi if they were going to go with the interesting casting choice of Sarah Silverman.

I kid.

That would be a horrible thing.)

Maybe I'll find a way to use this new word in this blog at a later date, like Phil Connoring someone, which, really can be a little Markward if you're not good at it.)

Despite my complaints about changes, and my unvoiced (so far) complaint about the commitment party setup, I rather love Mark's mother's "Maybe now you two can get back together." She is almost as Markward as Mark is.

It occurs to me that "Take Me Or Leave Me" is like the song that, if a musical could sing a song, the stage version of Rent should sing to the film version, or to Chris Columbus. Maybe Robert DeNiro (who produced this) could have gotten Martin Scorsese to direct (as he tried to) if the script had been closer to the original. Columbus and--insert the name of the credited screenwriter later--should learn to Take< the show for what it is and not try too much to change it. I'm not saying they should change nothing. Some of the montages are quite nice; the three-dimensional, hey-there's-a-fourth-wall staging can pull us into some scenes more than the stage version might be able to; and it's much easier to see the passage of time on the screen. That's a conceit we're used to. In the audience of the stage version, if you don't look in your program, and miss a line or two because--I don't know--you're distracted by your milk duds spilling on the floor, you might be confused that it's Halloween suddenly or that Christmas shows up again. The montage, the jump in time--that's normal for the screen. On stage, you get--blanking on the title and I can't look it up, but that song with everyone under the sheets writhing around, culminating in breakups and Angel's death, the song left out Markwardly by student productions but (maybe) left out less Markwardly here.

You know what else is Markward: that cut from Collins' "I can't believe this family must die" to a reaction shot from Benny, the guy who arguably is least part of the family.

Roger's little trip to Santa Fe was always Markward. Getting some location shooting in it is nice, but it doesn't make it any less... insubstantial.

You know, since Roger knows Mark and Mark knows Maureen and Maureen knows Angel and Angel (maybe) knows Mimi--Angel may have just lifted her drumsticks to Mimi after "Rent" to relate to a fellow human and not a friend--Roger should have gotten himself some inside information to Phil Connor Mimi into falling for him a little more thoroughly.

(Sorry, newbies. You'll just have to figure that one out yourself. I'm not sure if I can find the entry in which I coined the idea of Phil Connoring someone later. But, I'll try.)

Actually, Mimi should have Phil Connored Roger. I'm sorry for being sexist and putting the onus on him. She's the one who threw herself at him. She's the one who blew out her candle at the mention of his ex-girlfriend. A little more personal information and maybe she could have gotten Roger to get past his emotional baggage a little sooner, and they could have had more time together.

Instead of being so Markward together.

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