Monday, May 08, 2006

Recent viewings: Devil in a Blue Dress, and Godspell

Devil in a Blue Dress
I saw this because it was on the list of best adaptations ever. When it came out, I gave it a pass because it looked like it was gonna be sucky wanna-be noir. (After YEARS of watching trailers while working at theatres, I've got a good feel for what they do and do not give away about a movie.) Well, it was sucky wanna-be noir; my instincts were right. Yeah, Don Cheadle and Denzel Washington were great, but they always are, and that does not necessarily save a bad movie. Also, the conclusion was - I thought - kinda silly.

Turns out that all the bad stuff happens because Jennifer Beals' (yes, Ms. Flashdance) character is mulatto who can and does pass for white; however, the rich white family who's son is running for Mayor (Governor? I don't remember) doesn't want him to marry her in case the "awful truth" ever came out. So murders and violence ensue - as if that wouldn't also cause problems for a political career.

I know this stuff happened, and still happens to a lesser extent, but to treat it like a big, hush-hush conspiracy along the lines of The Da Vinci Code just sets everyone up for the anti-climax blues. It would have been better to let that one out of the bag right away so we could've just watched the events unfold rather than anticipate warmed-over race relations follies.

To be fair, I thought I could detect a fine novel between the lines. Washington's character, Easy Rawlins, strikes me as someone who would be very charming on the page, particularly if you were let into his thoughts. However, it will remain a mystery to me. I didn't like the story enough to bother reading it again. (If anyone has read it, chime in on the comments.)

I'd never gotten around to watching this 'til now, completing my survey of 60s/70s religious/message musicals (Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). I don't really like musicals in the first place, thus I tend to procrastinate getting around to the "classics" thereof. I was searching for something else, this popped up, the library had it, and here ya go.

You've gotta have some context in order to watch this sub-genre of musicals that reek so much of the summer of love hippie ethos, BTW. (It's best to avoid the operation of heavy machinery afterwards in case you've gotten a stealth contact high.) Without the context of actually being there for the 60s/70s hippie movement, you might wonder what in the hell is wrong with these stoner moonbats who act like children with developmental delays and plagued with an over-fondness for mime - much like the mannered acting in the movies of the 30s and 40s is hard to bear unless you know the history behind it (overacting carried across from the stage until the method actors proved that more naturalistic acting served the medium better). Hair was the only movie version of these musicals that got away from that cloying hippieness, but only because it was done a decade after the fact by the master Milos Forman.

Godspell is based on the Gospel according to Matthew, kinda like JFK is based on the Kennedy assassination trials. As stated, we must wade through a bunch of hippie/mime/60s theater cuteness (even, egad, face painting) before the story actually starts. Then a bearded gentleman shows up who looks like Jesus, and I thought they did a fine job of casting there, until it turned out he was John the Baptist. Then the actor actually playing Jesus shows up, of course, and ... well, I find my reaction difficult to describe.

Heck, just see for yourself; he's the guy in the Superman shirt. (And guess who he is! Victor Garber! Shock me with a cattle prod! Most of you would remember his as the builder of the Titanic who goes down with the ship while adjusting a clock on the mantle a lot.)

My reaction was something along the lines of Foghorn Leghorn's reaction to the little nerd chick he's saddled with when trying to court his momma hen: "Thar's, I say, thar's something kinda ... eeeew ... 'bout a boy that don't play baseball." And that's putting it politely as possible.

One of the criticisms of the movie version of "The Last Temptation of Christ," besides the fact that it's a fictionalization of the life of Christ that takes a LOT of liberties, is that Christ was too wimpy and indecisive. Well, lemme tell ya, Willem Dafoe's Christ was a coconut-sized-cajones he-man compared to the Christ in Godspell. I just wanted to knock him to the ground and shave off his white guy fro while screaming that NO ONE needs an Art Garfunkel impersonator. The original is enough funkel for everyone, already.

Anyway, once I was past that shock, I enjoyed some of the songs. "Day by Day" is still pretty bitchin'. Every time I hear some of the more shocking teachings of Christ, I'm reminded what a rebel He really was (is). But ultimately Godspell has aged badly. I recommend waiting until you can see a stage production, if it's ever done anymore. I can only imagine a high school putting it on, but then in these days, I'm sure someone would scream about such an overtly religious play being put on by a public school, what with classics like Angels in America and Rent providing a better example to the kids today. (Damn ... I think I broke my irony filter..)

Which reminds me of the other reason I'd always wanted to see Godspell. My buddies and I got into the plays in high school because it got us out of the house, and we got to hang out with lotsa cool girls (that's how it is before college, anyway). The lore of those who came before was one of the perks for we lower classmen. The seniors, particularly the girls, could not talk enough about the time they put on Godspell. You'd have thought that Jesus Himself had come down to play ... Himself. The guy who did play him had a strong resemblance to Jason Patrick and sang so well that there wasn't a dry seat in the house, as the saying goes. Needless to say, the combination of his pipes, his looks, and the fact he was playing Jesus, wreaked all sorts of havoc on the knees of female student body, be they weakened, parted, or planted, and so forth and so on. The biggest part of the scandal was that before he played Jesus, the guy had been in one of those charming high school romances that had been around since Jr. High or something. But when all those temptresses did their thang, he strayed, a big messy breakup ensued, and then there were the many storms of jealousy over whom he was banging at any given time. Rumor had it that he eventually bedded over half the girls in school, and a couple MILFs to boot. Yes, these little stories of the Peyton Place that was our little high school theatre department just a year or so before we came along fueled many of the dusk 'til dawn storytelling sessions, only to be eclipsed when the uber-hottie Senior babe (who was rumored to have been one of the now famed boinkers of faux Jesus) slunk around on all fours in nothing more than a leotard and cat ears during our Freshman year's production. She nearly killed us all.

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