The quality of students in all of the arts who spend their summers at Chautauqua Institution has elevated the professional programs at the Institution to a major force in the international arts community.
Recently, I received in the mail a copy of a film starring two recent alumni of the theater conservatory at Chautauqua. This week, I'd like to share with you my views of the film, and the acting of the two, and then to fill the column, I'll talk with you about some other films I have viewed lately.
Seth Numrich, right, a recent member of the acting conservatory at the Chautauqua Theater Company, plays an unlikely version of Shakespeare's Romeo, in the film 'Private Romeo.' Matt Doyle is his Juliet.
The plays of William Shakespeare were written in the 16th and 17th centuries, but there is no reason to apologize for the fact that they aren't 21st century theater. They are still among the most brilliant examples of plays which have ever been written. Their century isn't the point.
Ever since the Bard laid his pen down for the final time, directors have been trying to demonstrate that his understanding of human nature still holds true, in every time period and every geographical location.
The 2012 film "Private Romeo" is a vehicle for director Alan Brown to demonstrate that young love can rise above every effort by contemporaries to kill it off, whether it takes place among dueling families in the Italy of the 1200s, or competing cadets at an American military academy, perhaps five minutes ago.
Seth Numrich of the class of 2005 at Chautauqua, plays the title role in the film, the Bard's famed young lover. The role of the hot-tempered duelist Mercutio is undertaken by Hale Appleman, who performed at Chautauqua in both 2008 and 2009. Both demonstrate their considerable gift for speech played "trippingly on the tongue," just as they have on the stage of the Bratton Family Theater.
Numrich recently left the cast of the brilliant play "War Horse," at Lincoln Center to perform the juvenile lead in the revival of Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy," about a brilliant young artist tempted to give it all up in order to make a major financial success as a professional fighter.
This is not Appleman's first commercial film, either. He played a major role in the spoof of scare films, "Teeth," two or three years ago.
I am one critic who would rather see artists make a bold attempt to do something new and different in the arts than to see them do something safe, bland, and guaranteed to be pleasant. Such is the case with director Brown and his young actors.
Sadly, I don't think "Private Romeo" succeeds in its goal, but I certainly enjoyed and learned by watching the attempt.
The famed plot has been transferred to modern times and set in a military academy. The film suggests that the faculty has taken the entire student body away from school on some kind of exercise, leaving behind eight young men who have failed to qualify for the trip. The remaining cadets are ordered to continue their regular school work and to mind their behavior at any cost.
The academy's English classes have been assigned to read "Romeo and Juliet," during the period of isolation, but when the bell rings to end their class, and they head off to other demands, they remain in the character whose role they have been reading, continuing to speak to one another in the poetic and old fashioned lines of the play.
The principal problem which basically sinks the film is that Shakespeare's words do not describe conflicts in the ranks of military school cadets. The young actors speak their lines beautifully, but they often leave the viewer puzzled. It's like watching actors striving to perform "Macbeth," while dressed and given props to suggest they're playing "Hamlet." When the young male actor playing the Nurse talks of having suckled Juliet, as an infant, it's too much to ask of the imagination.
I know Shakespeare was forced to use all-male casts, by the laws and morality of his time, but they dressed as and pretended to be men or women, and the audience's imagination could take that leap of faith with them.
The fact that the actors are all in or close to their 30s also makes them unlikely high school students. Appleman's Mercutio, for example, both broods and lashes out like an adult, not like a temperamental teen, for example. I wondered if it was a good idea for the director to keep in the "making of" film, which is attached to the DVD, the fact that one and all in his cast seem to have felt that Appleman loved to behave as a prima donna during the filming.
For those of a delicate nature, there is some kissing by Numrich's Romeo and Matt Doyle's Juliet, and the director seems to delight in keeping all eight of his actors without shirts, and wrapped in a bath towel, but there is no nudity, and nothing questionable outside Shakespeare's classic tale.
It's an interesting attempt which didn't work. I enjoyed the attempt. Decide whether you would do so, or not. It sells at a popular computer sales site for approximately $15.
Greek mythology tells of a thief by the name of Procrustes. If stranger fell into the thief's hands, he would force the visitor to lie on his bed. If the visitor was too short, he would stretch him until he fit. If he was too tall, he would cut off pieces of his body until he fit.
American television has long operated like Procrustes' bed. If a screenplay is too short or too long, our networks will stretch them or cut their scenes until they fit into a 30-minute or a 60-minute time period. If the station needs to add commercials, it will put them into the flow of action, whether the viewer's readiness to interrupt the plot is primed or not.
"Injustice," by Anthony Horowitz is an example of how British television deals with such a situation. The plot and its playing out required five hours, so the network made it into five separate episodes, none of which is exactly the same length as the others. And, there are no commercials.
Another thing which I enjoyed about the disc was that each character had good elements, yet each had flaws, including some very negative flaws. It makes each of them a more accurate human portrait than our usual "totally good guys vs. entirely bad guys" approach.
The central character is a brilliant young lawyer, William Travers, who lives in wealthy comfort in Suffolk, a rural area northeast of London. Traverse is a great humanist, and he stubbornly refuses to represent any client who he believes is guilty. Backed with his strong convictions, he has little trouble convincing juries that his clients are innocent.
The only trouble is that sometimes they aren't, and on the rare occasion that he learns that he has helped a guilty man to escape, Travers cannot bear it, and his guilty conscience has little trouble convincing him that this great champion of the law might sometimes be justified in breaking or circumventing the law.
When one of his famous cases sets the defendant free because Travers proves that the police detective who headed the case made mistakes and mis-presented evidence, the detective determines to look into Travers' perfect-seeming life, and to find those flaws which seem to bedevil us all.
James Purefoy is movie star handsome as Travers, yet he shows us the hubris which leads his character to do very wrong things for very good reasons.
Charlie Creed-Miles is the obviously flawed detective, who shows us that, given the right encouragement, he can discover what's right, even when we don't want him to do so.
The cast is excellent. The cinematography is both brilliantly beautiful and sinister, as needed by the plot.
Because of the British accents and the fact that words are used somewhat differently in our two countries, I suggest watching the DVD with the English subtitles turned on, but the choice is entirely your own.
The film is dated 2011, and the five episodes are shown on two discs. They sell at a popular Internet purchase site for a bit less than $20.
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD
What would you do if you knew for certain that the entire world was coming to an end in approximately three weeks?
Director and screenwriter Lorene Scafaria considers exactly that question in her 2012 film "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World."
The film has a number of very funny passages, based on the idea that people would not need to plan for the future, so they could eat as often and as much as they wanted, they could drink and smoke and engage in just about any behavior without worrying about the usual consequences, at least in this world.
The filmmaker logically assumes that some people would continue going about their daily activities, because they would consider that the warnings of doom might be as wrong as the daily weather forecast. Beside that, many have nothing better to do than to live on as they always have done. So some people drive to their jobs, weaving around drunks passed out in the middle of the street, people dancing around a looted television and the like.
Others set off to reconnect with their families or to have that adventure they've been putting off until it's too late or whatever. When airline pilots stop showing up for work, the airlines have to close down. When gas station employees don't bother to get up in the morning, automobile traffic gradually subsides to nothing.
The central character is Dodge Peterson, whom we first see listening to his car radio as the announcer reports that a space shuttle sent to try and deflect or destroy the giant meteor which is rapidly plunging into Earth's atmosphere has mysteriously been destroyed, so the human race's last hope of survival is gone. Dodge's wife opens her car door and walks away, leaving him alone to face the end.
Actor Steve Carrell is not a great actor, but he has a gift for making us like him, and for doing very funny things while seeming sincerely to believe that they aren't funny at all. It was interesting to learn that the female actor who plays Dodge's wife actually is Carrell's wife in real life.
Gazing out his apartment window, as he contemplates his end, Dodge sees that a riot has broken out, and that the crowd is coming in the direction of his building. Dodge decides to skip the opportunity to meet the mob, but he nobly goes to the apartment of his downstairs neighbors to warn them of the danger before he flees himself.
In the neighboring apartment, he meets a classically kookie British girl named Penny, and her nut case boyfriend, Owen. The neighbors are played by Keira Knightley and Adam Brody. Penny gathers up her favorite record albums and joins Dodge in flight. Because her parents and siblings are in England and not reachable without airplanes, Penny decides to help Dodge make his pilgrimage, hoping to reunite with his first love, whom he has never forgotten.
Some of the events of the film are too unlikely for even the most willing suspension of disbelief. Dodge returns to his apartment, and finds that even though rioters had already broken into the building before he left, and they were burning and blowing up cars on the street, his apartment is completely untouched and his cleaning lady is vacuuming and ironing, smilingly doing work for which she will never live to be paid and which he will never live to benefit from.
It's a charming, funny, not very believable film, and made for an enjoyable evening. There were some serious and thoughtful minutes and a lot of silly fun. The film is still in some theaters, and can be bought, via computer for just under $20.
V FOR VENDETTA
One of England's big holidays takes place on Nov. 5, which celebrates that date in the year 1605, when government officials discovered a revolutionary named Guy Fawkes, who was hiding a huge roomful of explosives under the houses of parliament. The plan was to blow up King James I and the entire royal family plus the entire parliament, thus creating chaos and setting the people free to return to the Roman Catholic Church.
On that holiday, which they call Guy Fawkes Day, people shoot off firecrackers, build bonfires in the streets in which they burn dummies made to look like the traitor, and frequently dress up as Fawkes, including a white mask with blank, vivid features. Like American trick or treaters, English children often go from door to door, in their versions of this mask, asking each person they meet to give "a penny for the Guy."
If that phrase brings back memories of T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," you get two points of extra credit.
"V for Vendetta" imagines a day in the near future when well-meaning people - recognizing that a major roadblock to world peace is people's diverse individual actions, based on a nearly infinite variety of reasons and understandings - have created a world of horror.
The film envisions a day when people's fear of uncertainty and of each other will lead to government being given the power to assume absolute control over everyone's activities, and even their thoughts. From "Brave New World," to "1984," to "A Clockwork Orange," our literature is full of predictions of a totalitarian future which people must either rise against or be destroyed by.
A revolutionary who dresses in the style of the 17th century and wears a Guy Fawkes mask, struggles against the absolutist government, and plans to destroy parliament to create a new era of chaos, during which Englishmen can free themselves from the complete control of the government.
The film hints that the character in the mask may have been hideously deformed, like the Phantom of the Opera, and like the phantom he comes near to being seduced from his destiny by a beautiful woman - in this case played by Natalie Portman. But a number of film cliches come a hair's breath from being shown, only to have them whisked away into something completely different at the last minute.
Australian actor Hugo Weaving plays the man in the mask, and it is Weaving's voice which we hear when the character speaks, but it has been reported that James Purefoy, who played the lead in "Injustice," above, is the man we see in the mask throughout much of the film. No one seems to know why Purefoy was dismissed from the film to be replaced audibly, if not visibly, by Weaving.
It's a good action picture which wisely reminds us that however noble their motives may be, we put ourselves in terrible danger when we allow others to take control of our lives and our thoughts. It isn't art, but it is a lot of fun, and often quite exciting.
"V for Vendetta" was made in 2005, and sells at the online site for around $8.
Whether you buy or borrow these films, you can see them almost any day, wherever you have access to a television or computer screen with a machine for playing films.
Tomorrow at 7 p.m., the Unitarian Universalist Music Salons will return, with a performance by Fredonia's Water Street Trio. The trio is a piano and two saxophones.
The location of the concert will be 1255 Prendergast Ave. The performance is free of charge and open to the public. A freewill offering will be taken.
* * *
The Broadway show "Legally Blonde," based on the feature film by the same title, will be performed by the Jamestown Community College Uncommoners in the campus' Robert L. Scharmann Theatre.
Performances will take place Nov. 2-4, 9-11, and 15-17. Curtain times are 8 p.m., except Nov. 4 and 11, on which it will begin at 2 p.m.
If purchased in advance, tickets are $16 for the general public, $14 for senior citizens and students in programs other than JCC, and $8 for members of the Faculty-Student Organization at JCC. If purchased at the door, all prices are $2 higher.
A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the American Cancer Society.
* * *
Today at 8 p.m., and tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a program of music by Brahms, Debussy, and Daugherty, under the baton of guest conductor Hugh Wolff, who has conducted memorable performances in our area with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.
Violinist Alexandre Da Costa will be guest soloist. He will be performing Daugherty's "Fire and Blood Concerto."
Tickets range in price from $27 to $74, depending on where you sit. The performance is in Kleinhans Music Hall, on Symphony Circle, in Buffalo.
For information or to purchase tickets, phone (800) 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.
* * *
Screenwriter, actor, director, and producer Kevin Smith, famed for portraying the character Silent Bob in many of his own films, will speak and answer the audience's questions at the Center for the Arts, on the North Campus of the University at Buffalo.
Smith's presentation will take place Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. All tickets are $39.50. Purchase them in person at the UB Center for the Arts Box Office, by telephone at (888) 223-6000, or by computer at www.ubcfa.org. For more information about Smith's presentation, phone 645-2787.
To find the Center for the Arts, exit from I-290 at Millersport Highway, and drive north, away from Buffalo.