Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I'll Talk About Drinking Later, I Promise

Caught up with Rent and Capote this weekend. I tend to want to agree with the good folks at the A.V. Club about the former, which I think is actually more telling as a generational stance than a critical one. I shouldn't have been surprised that several older, more established/establishment critics, such as A.O. Scott, Owen Gleiberman, and even J.R. Jones, took the "yeah, it's cheesy, yeah, it's Disneyfied and reductive, but it still put a lump in my throat and won me over in spite of myself" cop-out instead of excoriating it for the completely uninteresting waste of time and talent it so clearly is. I was thankful, then, to find Nathan Rabin had as little patience for the soured milk in this time capsule as I did, which I'm going to chalk up, in a flailing belly flop of probably faulty logic, to the fact that we're younger and closer in age to the characters and have a more visceral memory of both the era in which the show is set and the heyday of the musical itself. Somehow that proximity seems to allow for a clearer perspective on where it went oh so wrong and a willingness to call it like we see it.

I guess I just have a hard time letting this movie slide by with a shrug, despite the fact that I was never really a Renthead back in the day. I just love musicals so much, and they're such a huge part of me and will probably always inform a great deal of my musical and artistic tastes, and I want, and expect, so much from them that I feel personally let down when they don't live up to my expectations, or, even worse, do live up to the cliched expectations of what a musical is "supposed" to be (cheesy, overwrought, culturally irrelevant, etc.). Not to mention that, in a world where the very nearly perfect stage-to-screen translation exists in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there's just no fucking excuse for a movie musical—especially a moderately rock 'n' roll movie musical—not to have a healthy dose of self-awareness, formally. I think part of what subconsciously galled me most about the whole thing was its increasingly nested levels of abstraction: a movie based on a musical based on an opera using most of the original Broadway cast members playing characters a good decade younger than they are, filmed in the mid '00s but written in the mid '90s and set in the late '80s, on a San Francisco soundstage version of a New York milieu that doesn't really exist anymore. In another, more capable director's hands, this project could have gone to some thrillingly Brechtian places with a few meta gestures here (without resorting to the goofy "we're putting on a show in the desert" thing that Jesus Christ Superstar does), but Columbus, big shocker, simply wasn't up to the task.

(Amusing sidenote: on the brown line platform at Randolph and Wabash around 7:30 on Thanksgiving evening, a bunch of young DePaul students were keeping us all warm with how much they were flagrantly flaming in their discussion of appropriate lip gloss for the cold air and whether they should see Rent or the new Harry Potter movie later that night. The train eventually pulled up and an upper middle class, upper middle aged white lady who had been quietly sitting by herself on a nearby bench the whole time meekly offered to one of the boys as we were all stepping into the same car together, "oh, I saw Rent on stage when it was here in Chicago." Ha! Classic. That exchange totally made my night.)

On the complete other side of the tonal spectrum, I admired Capote for its restraint. I liked that there were no big, obvious Oscar moments, that the score was both fairly spare and used minimally—and never overly ham-fisted when it was—and that the acting was nicely nuanced and not necessarily splashy in the usual biopic way. However, having never read In Cold Blood, I don't feel like I have much more to say about it.

Finally saw Andrew Bird perform live for the first time this weekend and was every bit as wowed as I expected to be. BAK said she was disappointed that it was a relatively low-energy show, but, having nothing to compare it to, I was just blown away. Any performer who can captivate an audience so intensely and so thoroughly is clearly something special. Each song he played from Mysterious Production instantly became my favorite song from the album, at least until he played the next one, and I don't think I've ever yelled louder at a relatively demure show than I did at the end of "Fake Palindromes," which was just impossibly awesome. Bird somehow seems to burn a little more cleanly as a human; I get the sense that he's probably a vegan and most likely has come close to levitating a couple of times during what I imagine to be his early morning yoga and meditation regimen. All this is to say: the focus, my God, the focus. He actually walked by me at the end of the show as I was on my way to the bathroom, and I was so breathless with excitement I could barely force enough air out of my lungs to croak "brilliant show" at him. Which, right after I said it, immediately felt as pointless and irreducible as telling the Eiffel Tower that it is certainly is a pretty structure.

Oh, the tragicomic Romeo and Julietness of it all! The headline says everything you need to know: Teen with Peanut Allergy Dies After Kiss. (Note also that the URL defines it as "canada_deadly_kiss".) Kinda awesome in its own sweetly sad way. That poor kid is going to need so much therapy.

Get ready to have some strong opinions about this, one way or another: Dating Without Kundera—Milan, that is (via mimi smartypants).

Now for the Liz Armstrong portion of the post: and then I got really drunk last night and fell down. Big love to the Pimp Ninja, who once again was responsible for getting me out for a fair bit of alcohol-related mischief on a school night.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Felus, for the Andrew Bird phone message!!

brendon, long lost said...


Anonymous said...

I saw *Rent* last night and was similarly underwhelmed. I did laugh, however, at the way they turned the recitative into straight dialogue that just "happens" to rhyme. It reminded me of our boy Brynn auditioning with "Today for You, Tomorrow for Me" as a dramatic monologue. --ctla