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HBO: Angels in America

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The play won a Pulitzer for Kushner. I remember going to see it when it was playing in LA. Long (two-night experience). Very powerful. Roy Cohn. AIDS. Mormons. Gay-bashing (and in Cohn's case especially, gay self-bashing.) Self-discovery. It has take a long time to get it from the stage to a screen.

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is this the only/main thread for this? feel free to redirect me if i'm mistaken in posting here.

has anyone else seen angels on DVD yet? we rented part 1 (chapters 1-3, three hours long) last night, and i'm enthralled. the acting is extraordinary, and though i've never seen the play, it seems to translate to film seamlessly--the dialogue is certainly "theater-y," but its poetry and richness are welcome.

i'll probably have more to say after we watch part 2 tonight, but this is one of the best things i've seen all year. are miniseries allowed in the top ten?!

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Kebbie, I hope that this doesn't sound too cliched, but reading Angels in America for the first time six years ago quite literally changed my life. I've designed my entire dissertation project, in fact, as an excuse to write about it. After finishing the HBO film, do take the time to read both plays, as Angels -- despite Mike Nichols' impressive efforts -- remains, first and foremost, a work of theater.

I'm glad that you are enjoying the poetry of Kushner's language. The loudest criticisms of the film (well, except for those critics who don't care for the work's politics) have been levelled by those who expected more natural, more typically-filmlike dialogue. But it's not natural. It's stylized and deliberately ornate and achingly beautiful. I'm of the opinion, actually, that Angels is the single greatest work of American drama and that, along with Eugene O'Neill, Kushner is our great playwright.

Just a warning: most people prefer Millennium Approaches (part 1) to Perestroika (part 2) on first exposure. Perestroika, as Kushner freely admits, is a much messier, much more amibitious work, and he plans to continue tweaking it for the rest of his career. After reading Angels 20 or 30 times over the years, I've fallen deeply in love with Perestroika, though. I'm convinced that it -- and all of Angels, actually -- is about grace (though some of the most important lines in this regard have been cut from the film). And talk about poetry: Belize's description of heaven (to Roy) and Harper's final soliloquy are transcendant.

If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email (hughes00@utk.edu). This might be the only subject on which I can rightly consider myself an expert.

Best,

Darren

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ah yes! i remembered earlier today that you had written and linked extensively about angels on your blog, so i spent a good chunk of my workday reading long pauses. smile.gif

thanks for replying to this, darren. clearly you are both passionate and informed about kushner, his plays, and this remarkable miniseries. i agree with you about the writing--i have always been partial to the stylized dramatic language of the theater, so that's probably why the long speeches and carefully crafted give-and-takes don't get any complaints from me! i'll take jeffrey wright's languorous recitations any day of the week, and mary-louise parker's doped-up delivery has a kind of rhythm to it that fascinates me. and, as always, i love the divine ms. streep (particularly as ethel rosenberg--her wry exclamations about the phone's buttons and "singing" as cohn lies dying are brilliant).

i'm looking forward to the second volume and will keep your insight in mind, darren. i'll also plan to add the play to my reading list. this is something i could probably google, but you being the authority and all wink.gif -- do you know if angels is still showing on the stage anywhere, or if there are plans to revive it?

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Angels is almost always playing somewhere these days. I'll let you know when I hear of new productions. Two years ago, I saw both parts staged on back-to-back nights in Phoenix, and it was a revelation.

Mary-Louise Parker gives my favorite performance in the film. Hers is the only one that made me reconsider a character. Her Harper is more world-weary than I've read her, which makes the resolution of her story less jarring (I've always considered Kushner's handling of Joe and Harper a bit rushed in Perestoika).

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well. wow. i have never been as tense and stressed out for three continuous hours than i was while watching "perestroika"! \

SPOILERS

i have lots to say, but work forbids it right now--mainly, i'm interested in knowing (from darren or whoever else) how you reacted to prior's confrontation of the angels in heaven. earlier in the film, i felt sad about the idea that God is said to have abandoned his creation, but had hoped for a twist of reconciliation. but prior ends up confirming angrily that God has left and is not, in fact, coming back--and that if God does, the angels should sue him for abandoning them.

at which point my boyfriend and i looked at each other and went, WHAT?

it seemed like such a frivolous conclusion to come to. i felt deeply grieved over it, especially because there is so much hope and grace present in the series (i mean, ethel rosenberg saying kaddish for roy cohn! oy! i cried). i feel that perhaps i am confused about or misunderstanding kushner's conclusions about God. can someone explain?

thanks!

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Moving a bit off topic, we're thinking about going to Kushner's new play, Caroline, at the Ahmanson in Nov. or Dec. Any comment from Darren on this play?

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Kebbie, I've been out of town for the last five days. Sorry it's taken a while to get back to this thread. I probably won't be able to put together a coherent explanation of the play's finale, but here are some important tidbits in fairly random order. Forgive my longwindedness.

- Kushner usually identifies himself as a Jew, a "devout agnostic," a secular humanist, a homosexual, and a socialist (also in fairly random order). For him, the question of God's existence can never be satisfactorily answered, but -- and this is really important -- the question must be asked. Or, as Rabbi Chemelwitz says in an odd scene that was cut from the film, "You must wrestle with the Almighty!" And this, of course, is exactly what Prior does (and what we in the audience also do as we spend seven hours participating in these lives). Kushner seems to genuinely lament the lack of a vital religious discourse in America's public life, particularly among left-leaning intellectuals, and Angels, to some extent, is his effort to reinvigorate it.

- While the scenes in heaven are informed in part by our Christian understanding of it, they are also shaped by Jewish mysiticism (if you're curious, I'll even tell you why the Angel of America begins every utterance with "I-I-I-I") and by Mormonism. In other words, the plays' theology asks us to wrestle with the Almighty, but it's not any particular god. Kushner is borrowing the familiar iconography of religion, but he's manipulating it, twisting it for his own needs. (I'm calling it a "progressive theology" in my dissertation.) When Prior rejects the prophecy, he is not rejecting God but a particular -- and particularly reactionary and twisted -- theology.

- The plays' central image is borrowed from an essay by Walter Benjamin,

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Darrel, I haven't seen Caroline, but my understanding is that it is another example of Kushner's debt to Brecht, this time the Brecht/Waldheim collaborations. I'm curious to see it mostly because Kushner exploits the effects of the theater better than anyone and because it is largely autobiographical. Kushner grew up in Louisiana, and his family employed a black housekeeper.

Edited by Darren H

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thanks so much, darren. your reflections are invaluable. i for one would like to read that dissertation when it's done!

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So I have it on pretty good authority that Christian might be watching Angels this week. Hmmm?

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It's not too far down my Netflix queue. Although, it will probably frustrate me. Another fantastic play which I can't direct. (at least in my current venue)

Add this to W;t, Proof, Art, The Zoo Story. the list goes on.

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Just the idea of a Christian high school production of Zoo Story makes me smile. smile.gif

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heh, heh. Maybe it will be my last play. Well, if I do it, it WILL be my last play, the question is whether I intended it to be so or not.

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I PM'd Darren with my thoughts on the early part of Angels this morning, but he hasn't PM'd me back. My guess: He's trying to draw me out and get me to post my half-baked thoughts here, in the public forum.

No chance, Darren! No chance. smile.gif

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They must be lost in PM land, 'cause I haven't gotten them yet.

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OK, you've drawn me out. I'll post my PM here. spoilers1.gif

--------------------------------------------------

I have both discs. It

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Thanks for posting that, Christian. I do hope you stick with it and watch the rest. I've often wanted to show the film to my parents, in part because it does mean so much to me, but I know that the play's frank depiction of homosexuality would be too great a barrier for them. Like you said, for the plays/film to have their intended effect, one must accept it on its own terms, chief of which is the very simple idea that two men can love one another. (Obviously, the folks who gather here at this forum can debate for weeks at a time the "sinfulness" of that idea, but, well.)

I could point to some favorite bits of dialogue from the first 80 minutes, but I'm reluctant to spend too much energy on a post when you've only seen 1/5th of the film. I will say, though, that one of the early scenes -- the moment when Prior tells Louis that he has AIDS -- was certainly groundbreaking. In the early-80s, the first sign of Kaposi's sarcoma (K.S.) was, in essence, a death sentence. The film version stifles some of the scene's power, but for Prior to make jokes about it -- "My troubles are lesion, Lessionaires disease" -- was like, I don't know, maybe James Brown getting kids to sing "Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud!"

What makes the scene so great, though, is that you have a thirty-year-old man making jokes about his impending death, while his lover (who's a pretty dispicable guy in many ways) tries to absorb the many facets of the news -- My lover is about to die; There's a good chance I'm going to die too; Before he dies, he will be very very, sick, and I'll be expected to take care of him; Who will take care of me?

As for other advice, browse through this thread. I put wuite a bit of time into my earlier posts.

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Finished Pt. 1 last night. I

Edited by Christian

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Yeah, those last few seconds of Millennium Approaches are among the greatest of all American theater. In his introduction to the plays, Kushner warns directors to budget twice as much time as they would originally deem necessary preparing for the angel's arrival. And he also asks that it be a self-conscious piece of theatrical artifice. "The wires should show." In the great production I saw, the backdrop split in half and the angel appeared atop a large set of stairs that were pushed forward on wheels. I almost wish Emma Thompson's appearance were a little less impressive.

Perestroika is messier. In many ways, it's much more ambitious than the first part and more emotionally rich. But it usually doesn't meet first-time viewers/readers' expectations and, so, seems less impressive. I think the problem has more to do with expectations than execution. The angel's appearance sets you up for a second half that explains, with a perfect narrative arc and logical development, why Prior has been made a prophet. While that does happen to a certain degree, the second half is much more about the relationships. Belize becomes a much more prominent figure (and moral voice), as do Roy and Ethel.

So since you've finished Millennium Approaches, I can now also point to a really important scene: Louis and Belize discuss the "problems with being Left in this country," while Prior is examined by the nurse/angel. When staged, these two scenes are going on literally side-by-side -- within just a few feet of one another. Louis and Belize talk about AIDS; audiences see a skinny, naked (full-frontal in the best productions), lesion-pocked body. If I'm not mistaken, Reagan never even uttered the word AIDS in a public statement. I know he hadn't by 1985, when the play is set. It's an incredibly shocking and emotional scene (the film weakens it, unfortunately), but it is also a deliberately political statement. It's kind of the equivalent of "Stop Killing us!" which Michael Petrelis, one of the founding members of ACT-UP, would scream at rallies.

Edit: So did anyone notice my profit/prophet glitch? Freud just did a 360. Damn homonyms.

Edited by Darren H

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I thought I remembered the scene you referred to Darren, but this morning I realized I was thinking of a different scene

Edited by Christian

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Edit: So did anyone notice my profit/prophet glitch?  Freud just did a 360.  Damn homonyms.

I didn't notice, but I never gave too much credit to those who value Freud. ITs one of those sex of psychology that seems so off base.

wink.gif

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Yeah, Christian, I do have the soundtrack, and it's really great. The break-up scene you mentioned (which is also staged side-by-side) features my favorite bit of music. It's called "Quartet" and was once a Long Pauses song of the moment. I also really love his score for Lemony Snicket and the title music of Six Feet Under.

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I'm going to respond to the film, and then go read Darren's stuff about it on Long Pauses. Just so my opinions are pure. I haven't decided if that's worth anything, but if it is...

:spoilers:

Compelling There is no doubt this piece drew me in. Never before have six hours flown by so fast. The dialogue in Millenium Approaches only truly crackles in the Angellic segments and the visions. I absolutely love the shared vision between Harper and Prior. I was brought to tears when she told Prior there was a place deep within him that was entirely free of disease. The second part Perestroika is essentially more powerful. SOOOO many glorious moments of dialogue. I could've watched Prior and the Lawyer's mother all night long.

Agendas / Politics I'm certianly not the first to believe that the politics and demonizing of specific people and groups bogs down a film thats supposed to be about freeing ourselves of this. Certainly their targets have their share of guilt in the atrocities of this disease, but statements were made as gospel that that were as sweepingly bigotted as the people they decried. Although, P came around a bit to demonstrate that its about much more than politics or religions. I really had trouble with the cliche' "everyone, deep down is a homosexual" philosophy. The only people who weren't gay were women who are crapped on anyway, and oh... one of them makes out with a female angel.

Bleak Worldview The film goes to such great pains to demonstrate how awful the world is, largely because of heterosexual white males, that I had trouble believing Prior's decision to keep living. Why? The "habit"? I don't buy it. Ultimately, if I believed God had abandoned us, and that the world was just rife with suffering and only getting worse, I'd have no hope. There's just no logical consistency here. The world is crap, and getting worse, God is gone, but let's forgive one another and live anyway. There are so many people doing horrible things to each other, and yet man has no culpability in the state of the world? Or America? It's all God's fault? C'mon!

Big T Little t I find myself frequently touched by authentic and powerful moments throughout the film. Moments of truth. But the parts add up to a whole that's philosophically absurd. I love the truth in the film, but can't believe any one really buys into the Truth its preporting.

Directon Nichols is visually at the top of his game here. So many beautiful sweeping camera moves and subtle moments. Both special effects and real world stuff. It was very satisying. I love right after Belize's description of Heaven when Cohn looks back and sees Belize and Ethyl side by side. Exquisite.

Okay, off to Long Pauses now. I'm sure its there, but I'm most anxious to see how this piece has changed your life. I'm not being accusatory, I genuinely want to know what you saw there, Darren.

Edited by DanBuck

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