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HBO: Angels in America


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#1 (unregistered)

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Posted 23 November 2003 - 12:15 AM

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#2 Darrel Manson

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Posted 23 November 2003 - 09:45 AM

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.

#3 kebbie

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 12:18 PM

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?!



#4 Darren H

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 02:28 PM

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

#5 kebbie

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 03:17 PM

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?

#6 Darren H

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 03:41 PM

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).

#7 kebbie

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Posted 01 October 2004 - 01:56 PM

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!

#8 Darrel Manson

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Posted 02 October 2004 - 10:38 AM

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?

#9 Darren H

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Posted 04 October 2004 - 03:59 PM

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, ďTheses on the Philosophy of History.Ē Writing about a Paul Klee painting, Benjamin writes:

QUOTE
"Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.


Those last two sentences are key. Especially when we consider Harper's final soliloquy:

QUOTE
ďNothingís lost forever.  In this world, there is a kind of painful progress.  Longing for what weíve left behind, and dreaming ahead.  At least I think thatís so.Ē


The Angels' request that Prior (and the world) "stop moving" is their attempt to stop progress, to stop human invention and creation and exploration, to be suspect of all advances and change that might make us reconsider old assumptions. (And as a fellow disgruntled evangelical, I'm guessing that that might have a familiar ring to it for you.)

- Like I mentioned earlier, grace is key to the plays. When I saw them performed, I warned my wife going into the final act that I would be a puddle during the Kaddish scene, and I was. Totally. There are also all of these great moments when Louis (oblivious, as usual) fails to comprehend grace: "I don't think I deserve being loved," he tells Joe. Also, Nichols cut from the film my favorite line. After Belize and Louise have their argument at the diner, they step outside and Belize smells the snow coming. In the play, it goes like this:

QUOTE
Belize: All today it's felt like Thanksgiving.  Soon, this . . . ruination will be blanketed white.  You can smell it--can you smell it?"

Louis: Smell what?

Belize: Softness, compliance, forgiveness, grace."


One could argue, actually, that Belize is the real angel in the play -- he's the moral center, certainly.

- Think of the epilogue as a benediction. "The great work begins," Prior says. Granted, Kushner's theology is tinged with enough humanism to make most Christians rightfully uncomfortable, but it is not just humanism. We've been sitting for seven hours (I've mentioned that twice because the epic scope of the plays is critical to their effect), wrestling with the Almighty, wrestling with the possibility and necessity of grace, and learning to love and empathize with others who suffer. It's a pretty powerful sermon, if you ask me.

Enough for now. wink.gif

#10 Darren H

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Posted 04 October 2004 - 04:06 PM

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, 04 October 2004 - 04:10 PM.


#11 kebbie

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Posted 05 October 2004 - 12:25 PM

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

#12 Darren H

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 12:42 PM

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

#13 DanBuck

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 12:47 PM

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.

#14 Darren H

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 12:53 PM

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

#15 DanBuck

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 12:54 PM

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.

#16 Christian

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 01:00 PM

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

#17 Darren H

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 01:17 PM

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

#18 Christian

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 01:25 PM

OK, you've drawn me out. I'll post my PM here. spoilers1.gif
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I have both discs. Itís a hopeless proposition, to make it through both this week. We have two other movies we have to watch (I use ďhave toĒ lightly; but theyíre do back on or before the day ďAngelsĒ is due), Iím at a movie Thursday night, and we have a play Tuesday night. Saturday is my daughterís birthday. So itís a busy week.

I tried to watch the first half, disc one, last night, but I didnít start it until 8:30. We hit the hay around 10, so I watched the first 80 minutes, or about half of disc 1.

Here are my thoughts/questions so far.

If youíve read my posts in the past, Iíve been pretty open about my discomfort with gay themes in the cinema. A mainstream film like ďAmerican BeautyĒ seems to me so hedonistic and irresponsible that I canít really relate to it, making the acclaim it received all the more offensive to me. Itís not really a matter of whether I can relate to the content Ė I understand the mindset, and itís prominent among my heterosexual friends too Ė but it seemed so transparently gay in its view of sexuality/liberation/freedom. At the time I first saw it, I admit that the film felt a little like a slap in the face, but I acknowledge that gay people probably feel that way *all the time* by most other movies, so I try to be respectful. At the same time, I see no reason to approve the film; I donít think itís praiseworthy or noble. It celebrates, rather than just showing, a view of life that is destructive. Again, admittedly, you could take the outcome of the Kevin Spacey character as a sign that the movie shows just how destructive such behavior can be, but then again, the voiceover at the end puts everything under a soft halo. Gross, gross, gross.

Why do I mention ďAmerican BeautyĒ? Only because itís a mainstream film created by gay men that exemplifies trends in cinema that I donít care for. When a film is self-consciously about gay life, as ďAngelsĒ is in large part, Iím more willing to engage it on its own terms.

OK, that sets the stage. I may have already lost you. I know from your Long Pauses posts that this play is one of your most admired pieces of writing/performance. And that gets at another critique: I donít understand why you admire it so much, based on the first 80 minutes. The scenes between the gay couple are just tiresome. Thereís nothing outstanding about them, other than that we donít often see affectionate interaction between gay men on the screen. But really, whatís to love about their dialogue? Itís not the worst Iíve heard, but it does seem to be run-of-the-mill, sitcom/dramadey at most times. The hallucination scene with the wife and AIDS patient included a stereotypical high-pitched scream by the gay man in drag. Thatís supposed to be funny?

The closeted gay lawyer/husband character is not too surprising. I thought heíd be a stereotypically straight-laced religious guy, played as a crazed zealot, but Kushner, I guess, traded one stereotype for another.

Iím wondering how fresh this was when it was first written (early 90s? late 80s?). Today, most it strikes me as trite, at least the earlygoing.

Hereís what I like: Al Pacino. At first I recoiled, thinking Pacino was giving yet another bombastic ďScent of a WomanĒ performance, but it quickly became apparent that it was more nuanced. The scene between Pacino and Cromwell, his doctor, was the best of the first 80 minutes. I also like Mary Beth whatshername, the Mormon wife. Iím not sure where her character is going.

Iíve gotta get back to work. Weíre wrapping production on the August issue of the magazine. But these are early thoughts, not written in stone. Suffice to say I liked some of what Iíve seen, but the bulk of it didnít seem particularly rewarding. I hope to watch the rest of Part 1 tonight; Part 2 may have to wait for another week.

Any guidance/encouragement to offer?


#19 Darren H

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 05:15 PM

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.

#20 Christian

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 10:36 AM

Finished Pt. 1 last night. Iíve grown accustomed the characters, so the second half of Pt. 1 didnít grate on me as much. In fact, itís getting more interesting.

Iím disturbed by the earlier posts that Pt. 2 isnít as accessible/ĒenjoyableĒ as Pt. 1. To my mind, the story is just getting warmed up with the concluding scene of Pt. 1!

Edited by Christian, 12 July 2005 - 10:36 AM.