Vanya is essentially a performance of Uncle Vanya, not quite the gloomiest of Chekhov's plays. I adore Chekhov; one of the delusions I harbored about acting was that it would involve doing Chekhov for a living. If I hadn't learned better the hard way, this film's bonus documentary would have schooled me, since it involves the actors, including legendary performers and one genuine star, talking about how doing Chekhov for free without an audience was the last best hope any of them had to work on this material.
The film reminded me a bit of The Passion of Joan of Arc, the silent classic. Close intimate faces, group compositions. Obviously this relied on line readings a bit more though. Intelligent, thoughtful acting. What I want from theatre. It saddened me to hear that, film aside, this group's ongoing exploration of Vanya was only ever performed for a coterie of A-listers. It leads me to think the future of good theatre may be in private readings and such.
In fact, that's another association I had with this film: Almost a decade ago I was in a community theatre production of The Goat by Edward Albee, and a beloved figure of local theatre had missed it for health reasons. Instead of a cast party, we gathered in her home and read the play. I was astonished at the intimacy of it: we didn't need to project to the back of the house or make our expressions visible. It was the difference between a blowtorch and a candleflame. Vanya on 42nd Street is a movie about candleflame acting, not blowtorch acting. It is also, of course, about Chekhov. Codirector Andre (of My Dinner With Andre fame) says in the extra feature that Chekhov's plays are primarily about the sensation of being alive, which may be why I value them so. Uncle Vanya is also about resenting the years wasted glorifying that which held one in virtual enslavement, so I can't help seeing it as being about the mug's game of professional acting. Bitter? Naw. Although today I rewatched the demo reel of the only genuinely gifted graduate of BSC Theatre Department's Class of '96 (who graduated early in '95, and I missed her) on IMDB... She was such a remarkable performer, and her reel consists of minor TV appearances, microscopic movie appearances, and commercials for garbage. She radiates so much humanity, sexiness,and humor, in these professional snippets, but she has been wasted by the entertainment/advertising industry. She is pearls before swine.
As for Prometheus, I'm not sure what its titular titan has to do with the narrative, but I knew one of the main writers of Lost was involved in the film, so I wan't surprised that it included such Lost motifs as:
- Convoluted pulpy plotting that doesn't parse very smoothly
- Ensemble sassing
- Skinny pretty actors
- Pregnancy body horror
- The present witnessing the past as an immediate way to unfold the history of the environment
- New-ageyness that pines for simplicity yet grudgingly acknowledges complexity
- God talk
- Daddy issues, Daddy issues, Daddy issues
Spoiler Warning: I'm with the android. Who cares what deadbeat Space Daddy thinks? The Space Daddies are contiguous neither with God nor the heroine's actual Daddy, so I say she's a sap to go chasing after them. Let the Aliens eat 'em and live your own life, gurl. I did like the thing about the withered old immortality-seeking patriarch lurking secretly on the spaceship like the gender-bending patriarch of The Old Dark House, and his relationspaceship with his icy blonde Second was reminiscent of economic politics here in the town I reside in... for that matter, Uncle Vanya might be as well, with its self-absorbed old man toodling along and blithely exploiting the locals.
Oh also Ridley Scott has made a fantastic looking film, but I can't imagine the working class heroes of the original Alien sitting still for the operatic New Age bromides that underlie this flick.