I completely forgot to mention that I went and saw “The Designated Mourner” on Friday night, which was put on by the Right Brain Project, the same company I did “The Castle” with. This play was written by Wallace Shawn (if I say “Vizzini from Princess Bride,” you know who he is) and I was not expecting it to be as dark as it was. Basically it was a discussion about what is more appropriate—to like “highbrow” entertainments like art and poetry, or “lowbrow” arts like adult magazines and crappy food. The whole play was structured in this sort of futuristic world where the people who enjoyed the highbrow arts—and, by extension thinking—were slowly being jailed or killed by the government. It was a very intense piece, and I enjoyed it a lot. This is the first theatre I’ve seen in awhile, and it was refreshing to go see a piece that was engaging, but also made you think. A lot. Although I could also sympathise with the character who was defending his choices to watch television and read glossy magazines. I’ve been debating about buying a TV, but I don’t know if I’m ready to make that kind of a commitment.
Then on Sunday afternoon I went to the Chicago Botanical Gardens to see an exhibit of Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculptures. Niki is a French/American sculptures who makes this large artforms out of fiberglass and then paints them or covers them in semi-precious jewels, mirrors, pieces of shiny materials and beads, so the result is a sort of three-dimensional mosaic. I loved them. They were so bright and so colourful and so damn JOYOUS that it made me happy just to see them. Most of the pieces you could touch and climb on as well, which is always exciting—in addition to the visual stimuli you could feel the roughness, the heat, tactile senses we don’t always get in an art gallery. (as much as I love Turner I have yet to pet one of his paintings) Add to the fact that most of her women are large and curvy, and I felt like here was an artist that I could really get into. The location added a lot as well—the Chicago Botanical Gardens were a civic-minded project from the 1920s, and the sculptures were scattered all over the grounds, leading you on a sort of treasure hunt, the foliage and artwork complementing each other totally. Whoever curated this exhibition deserves a medal—because this is one of the best art shows I’ve ever been to. And only $5?! And—you are welcome to bring a picnic lunch and eat on their lawns. Heaven.
Then last night I went to see the movie “Hairspray” which is fantastic. I will make one sweeping statement though: I don’t know why movie directors feel the need to chop up musicals to fit into some kind of artificial movie style. Musicals have two acts, they end on a big number, and they come back with a big number, they’re balanced. Movie directors! Don’t be afraid of the intermission! Embrace it!
Okay, having said that. “Hairspray” the new movie-musical is a lot of fun to go and see. I think the director made a lot of interesting choices, especially the big choice to tone everything down a notch. All the sets and costumes is pretty realistic—well, as realistic as you’re going to get in a movie where people spontaneously burst into song. The hair, of course, is still mile high. What really impressed me the most was the woman who played Tracy Turnblad, Nikki Blonsky. Smoother heads than mine have said how amazing she was, but I was skeptical until I saw the movie and was absolutely blown away. I mean, I want to write a musical just so I can hear her sing some more. She was incredible! And the man who played her love interest, Zac Effron, was great too. He’s going to get overlooked because they took away his one big song, but he had his character down, with all the little self-confident asides that make his transformation from snarky asshole into the genuine nice person we know he is more believeable.
That was a really long sentence. I’m sorry.
The character I had the most problem with was Edna Turnblad, played by John Travolta. Partly because the entire time he was acting I was distracted by his accent, which was part Ed Sullivan, part “that one time John Travolta made a cameo on the second Austin Powers Movie.” (tell me I’m wrong! It’s so true!) But the other reason I had a problem with it was the aforementioned hacking up the script. Now, the musical’s first act ends with Tracy going to a dance party in the black part of town, hosted by Motormouth Mama Mabel, and being discovered by her parents. The party has decided to march on the TV studios to forcibly integrate the Corny Collins dance show, and they are trying to convince Edna to go along with it. Edna does not want to because she is still self-conscious about her weight—so Mabel sings this ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT SONG about being “big, blond and beautiful” which not only convinces Edna that she’s got it in all the right places, but she shouldn’t apologise for who she is—and that she shouldn’t hide herself under a bushel. Needless to say, Edna marches.
What the movie does is take this song and turn it into an introduction to Mabel—silly, since we’ve met her earlier. Now she is singing it while the kids dance, but it makes no sense! Who is she explaining her empowerment to? All these skinny little teenagers? I don’t think so. The worst part is Edna is about to take Tracy away when Mabel says “Don’t you want to stay and…have something to eat?” sweeping her arm back and revealing a table full of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens. (Stereotypical, perhaps, but this is pretty damn tongue-in-cheek) So Edna, instead of being swayed by Mabel’s argument, is instead coaxed along with FOOD. Because all fat people go weak-kneed at the sight of a plate of fried chicken. Sigh. I was just really appalled at how they gutted this song—and made Mabel’s character much less of a presence. Not only that, but Edna continues to have self-esteem issues because she’s never been properly talked to about her appearance.
“So bring on that pecan pie!
Pour some sugar on it, sugar, don’t be shy
Keep it in my oven ‘til it’s good and hot—
Keep on stirring ‘til it hits the spot!
Because I’m big, blond—and beautiful
There is nothing ‘bout me that’s unsuitable,
Why settle for something that only offers the least,
When girl we’re servin’ up the whole damn feast.”
When I listened to the song this morning I thought maybe they cut it a bit because it is pretty naughty, and the movie is rated PG, but I’m still mad that they chose to focus so much on the integration issue and push the other issues to the side.
I feel like I’ve been really negative about this movie—but I really did enjoy it! Even the analyzing it part! I was applauding after the final scene and singing the songs all the way home, and I’m looking forward to buying the album. If you go see the movie, keep your eyes peeled for John Waters’ cameo as a flasher in the first song—he was the director of the original film—and also Alison Janney’s performance as the repressive mother of Tracy’s best friend. Apparently having her daughter start dating an African-American affected her so much she later became the press secretary to a Democratic president.
“Like a week that’s only Mondays
Only ice-cream, never sundaes,
Like a circle with no center,
Like a door marked ‘Do Not Enter!’
I’ll be yours forever, ‘cause I never wanna be
Without love, so darlin’ throw away the key.”