Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 May 2007

Wertenbaker and Two Films from Last Year

I read two more plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker today. The book (Plays One) includes five plays total:
New Anatomies is a really cool piece about a Swiss woman from history who dressed as an Arab man during the French occupation of Algeria. The cast is made up entirely of women, each of whom plays a Western man, a Western woman and an Arab man in the play. It's (obviously) about gender, but also about obsession and journeying. It's very cool.
The Grace of Mary Traverse is also about a journey and about womanhood. But this play is mostly about class in England. It's set in 1870 and it's a powerful play, filled with fascinating characters. Rather in the vein of Stephen Jeffreys' The Clink (if I remember that play correctly) and Naomi Wallace's One Flea Spare. It's brutal and messy and very interesting.
Our Country's Good is the most famous play in the book, and rightly so. I don't think I've ever read this play without crying. It's powerful and beautiful, and my undergrad (bless them) did it this Fall, though I didn't get to see it.
The Love of the Nightingale is a re-telling of the myth of Philomele, who has her tongue cut out by her brother-in-law after he rapes her. The play is quite beautiful, but perhaps I am becoming bored with adaptations of our old Greek myths, at least the ones that are set in Ancient Greece. I could direct the Hell out of this play, but it doesn't say quite as much as I would like it to.
The last play in the book is Three Birds Alighting on a Field, which I finished this afternoon. It's about the art world. High art, expensive art, selling out. I was kinda bored. It's not a subject that interests me much, though as we all know I am as susceptible to wanting to be fashionable as the next snob over. Thing is, nothing happens in this play. There's just a lot of, well, talk.

But I watched two movies yesterday that I want to talk about. Both of them were released in this country last year, and both are excellent. So:

Three Times is a film by Tiawanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. It is really three separate films, each set in a different time period, but all three surrounding a couple played by Chang Chen and Shu Qi. The first segment "A Time for Love" was my favorite. Set in 1966, it follows a pair of very shy lovers as they meet and slowly fall in love. It's extremely cute and I found it touching without being sentimental. They're so awkward and adorable and they need each other so much! The second segment "A Time for Freedom" is set in 1911 and surrounds Taiwan and its independence from Japan. This segment is set entirely in the interior of a kind of hotel. The couple barely speaks to one another, so much so that this entire segment is a silent film, with the dialogue displayed on title cards. It's an intriguing device and the film is subtle and everything internalized, like a Merchant-Ivory film without dialogue. The third segment "A Time for Youth" is set in 2005 and concerns a triangle of characters, who interact with one another through technology. It's interesting, but the characters are rather hapless and it's not as stylistically cool as the first two segments. But I liked the film very much and moved it onto my top 25 for last year.

Shortbus is the latest film from Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell. Shortbus, which is unrated due to its sexually explicit conduct, is a fabulous film. It's about sex and New Yorkers and deep, difficult sadness. This movie is the best sexually explicit movie I've ever seen, and the sex is important. It's interesting. The people in Shortbus talk about sex and have sex and it looks real in the movie. They laugh and do silly things while having sex, and they talk and stop and start again. It's all so believable. The story concerns a bunch of New Yorkers thinking about sex and dealing with their sexual problems. It's funny and beautiful and accurate, and at times Shortbus is deeply moving and very powerful. I loved it. HOWEVER, there is explicit sex, both straight and gay in the film, and this movie is not for those who are bothered by the idea of sucking cock.

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