Thursday, November 10, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
British actor Neil Dickson runs in "The Standard Bearer" at the Stephanie Feury Workshop, set up as an intimate hut in the shadow of Paramount Studios- and he couldn't feel more at home even though the play is set deep in the African sub-continent circa 1982. Dickson, best known to UK and Adventure film fans as Biggles, the WW1 Sopwith Camel flying ace in the 1985 film of the same name (full disclosure: this reviewer is a long-time friend, as we both made our feature film debuts together starring in this "time-travel, win the war" film, an 80's gem) inhabits his character's wanderlust and resignation in the time-honored tradition of British gents the world over, whether they be spies or conquerors or, as in this case, minstrels with a story. Parts like this don't come along often and Dickson makes the most of it with an effective duality. Entering like an old pair of shoes in search of their wearer, his well-worn frame giving us his history, we see his soul spark to life yet again as he shares prose and verse to his nightly new audience of native students, as he tours his one-man show ever deeper into the abyss. As did Finney in "Under the Volcano" or Olivier as Archie Rice in "The Entertainer", Neil hits all the right notes, as one must, when one portrays an Englishman of status, pun intended; because never is an actor more alone than the last moment before he enters an empty stage. And rarely is an audience let in as much as this. That is the magic of theatre. An empty set, the bamboo, the table, the bottle of "water", the empty soul; shedding his story nightly and by so doing rejuvenating, again-- to do it again. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow....of course he will make peace with himself and his offstage traveling companions, because that is the point, off the show and of his life. To make peace with this piece. That is his life's journey. Art and Nature share a mutual reason to exist, and that is to find LIFE: to live, to fight, to love. All to live again.That is Neil Dickson as "The Standard Bearer."
As he settles into the run, Neil is sure to settle into the role of a lifetime, if he wants it to be. By working against the more melancholy strains in the material, Neil brings a quality of perseverance, optimism and mercy that no doubt will mature in the running of it and become more, shall we say, cloying. As it does, what initially seems sweet may be actually become more distasteful, as if he were adding just a touch more vermouth to his "water". As a friend it was great to see him fill that empty stage. As an actor it will be greater even to see him fill the character and make this role a singularity for him, and only him.
The one-act runs through mid-November. See ad below.
Directed by Julian Sands and Produced by Jill Schoelen.
Monday, May 30, 2011
"I don't like it;" four words that are used so very often. What do they mean those four words—are we supposed to like something, what does it mean to like? (Think favorably, perhaps. Show favor to. Dote? No certainly, not. For doting, conjures up images of over-protectiveness and we certainly don't want to send our progeny out into the world unprotected, do we?)
There is something at the heart of this film that is profoundly moving. My initial reaction was that I was fascinated by the experience of viewing this film. That sounds cold and, upon reflection, I think that because so much of this film is disjointed, but never careless, that coldness speaks to heartache.
Never a fan of stories that revolve around the loss of a child, in this instance mercifully played via partial phone calls, picture without sound and recurring narration references, this film is nothing if not about acceptance. So I accept it, from it's very first moment when on screen appears a divine monolith, in the form of what looked to me to be gaseous matter-in-formation, to its stunning and self-reflective conclusion montage of meeting all who will ever be on the white sands of some primordial shore. And I am glad. I like it. This film is extraordinary. It's not a movie, not in the way we are used to, and that is another reason for championing it. This film is so natural, and therefore chaotic, messy and pulverizing, that it is mesmerizing. Shot using film stock as well as digitally this film also blurs lines of distinction. And that is why I like it.
No question is too small, no question is too large; we search for answers, constantly. Much of our lives are hijacked by our innate desire to create order from chaos. We compartmentalize our time-- running to stay in shape, monitoring our food intake, yet still worry that we don't do enough.
But time marches on and eventually compartmentalizes us until we are but a memory, a form of gas from which reality morphs. We have idealized longing to fall back on which allows us, if we choose, to forgive, in a way similar to post-war British poet Laureate Robert Graves epic prologue to his opus The White Goddess, writing that he was "gifted with so huge a sense of (her) nakedly worn magnificence that I forget cruelty and past betrayal, careless of where the next bright bolt may fall." Acceptance over time can lead to a spiritual reckoning of self in the grand scheme. He claimed that this massive and undecipherable work exploded out of him during a brief and intense period, without warning, a kind of creative "big bang." As warned by the actor Peter Coyote, who gave me the book in 1989, "this will take you a year to read, but it will change your life." Perhaps the same can be said of watching Tree of Life that trying to explain it proves frustrating. If so, I posit that it's simply not "I don't like it". By definition, any system that becomes more efficient narrows its cause. Nature cruelly seeks perfect harmony yet leaves destruction in its wake. Grace allows us to pick up the pieces and move on.
The Western world bases much of its cultural evolution to the early Greek philosophers and Roman councilors who deified the proper nouns, among them Nature and Grace. Perhaps they are on to something, Malick may be asking in this telling; for they are the forces which govern this world.
I don't know enough about film history to speculate where this film belongs and it is supercilious and pretentious to even think along those lines. But, if I could speak eloquently about literature enough to discuss Milton's Paradise Lost or cinema about 2001: A Space Odyssey or about specific books from the Bible then I could so find a place for Tree of Life.
It is a singular work of titanic majesty by a most expressive and courageous soul. So personal that he probably can't explain it, the film is bracketed by the two most unreachable, defiant and other-worldly extremes of the human condition- the search for meaning from without and for understanding from within. Where did we come from? How did we evolve? What moves me? Who am I? Why do I love?
Or maybe even more devastating question, why don't I love?
When she says, "I give him to you, I give my son to you" I understood a closing of the only discernable narrative line in the film but also felt joy of unexpectedly receiving a gift. The filmmakers behind this opus have given it to us, unprotected. They will accept those who say those four words, and there will be many, I don't like it. This story made me think of three words, I am alone.
Thank you. Love.