Yesterday, I went to see 'Stage Beauty', a good film, significantly improved by bumping into helenraven in the cinema foyer and having someone to go and squee at over Mr Carluccio's excellent coffee afterwards.
I was really worried that 'Stage Beauty' would address issues of gender and sexuality only to run away from them in the happy ending, but it did not work out quite like that.
For those of you that don't know, 'Stage Beauty' is a theatrical romance set at the cusp, shortly after the Restoration's re-opening of the theatre, when women were allowed to act, and men forbidden female parts. Ned Kynaston, who specializes in highly structured and stylized performances of femininity, finds his life in ruins - he cannot work, except in low cabarets, and his aristocratic lover/patron abandons him for a strategic marriage. Ned's dresser Margaret becomes the first female star of the new theatre, but knows that she does not know how to act. The attraction and obsession between the two of them produces a new theatrical art in which he can reclaim his career and she can also be great.
All of which is fascinating and involves some intelligent thought about how male actresses worked. The play is based partly on the documents of the time, partly on the techniques of other theatres without actresses - in the scene where Ned mocks Margaret for the catalogue of postures she does not know intellectually only from observation, we realize that he has learned femininity by the book, almost literally, and that this is not a reductive description of what he does.
When Margaret Hughes and Ned Kynaston seduce each other, she starts by grilling him about what he has done with his male lovers, and acting out postures, discussing as they go who is being man and who woman - which is cute, but ends up with heteronormative missionary screwing as you always knew it would, and which is the point at which the film lost me a little. Except that, in the last minutes of the film, as they slut around in the remnants of their makeup after a triumph with him as Othello and her as Desdemona, she echoes those scenes by asking him what he is now - and he answers, in absolute honesty, ' I don't know'.
This is a film about the bisexuality of one of the love pair which acknowledges that, yes, they are together and happy and it is wonderful, but that, in important areas, he has not changed. There is at least a chance that the exploration of emotional truth, which becomes, anachronistically, the way that the pair produce a memorable performance that avoids the stylization of the theatre in which they have been stars, is going to involve his actually killing her out of jealousy and resentment.
There are reasons, apart from the historical fact that the actual Kynaston excelled at different stages in his career as Desdemona and Othello, and that the actual Hughes also played her, why the play has to be 'Othello', because otherwise there would not be that sense of risk. It has to be a play about love and death and hatred and the meddling of others because otherwise the film would not be as much a unity. Margaret destroys Ned, for a while, because she wants both to own him and to be him; he is wantonly cruel to her because her love threatens who he is and what he does. This is a romantic view of love, in the end, but it is not a cosy one - both of them use and abuse power against the other and the happy ending is snatched from the jaws of tragedy.
I was impressed by the way that they use a codedly camp Rupert Everett as the extravagantly heterosexual Charles II, a cruel man with imagination. He helps his snobbish courtiers break Ned, but unlike them, he can see the tragedy of what is being done to the talented actor on whom they used to fawn. He has silenced Ned to please his mistress Nell, whom Ned has affronted, but he knows what exile is and means; empathy does not change what he does, but it makes him somehow different from the courtiers who have Ned thrashed for arrogance.
And yes, the film is deeply slashy, but that is not the point. I may yet, though, go back to my planned Darla/Charles/Nell vignette.
Actually, the one thing I don't like about it is the sub-Shakespeare in Love jokiness of some of it - this is a touching film about three-dimensional characters and it does not need so many gags about e.g. wanting to be a serious actress and putting bums on seats. One joke I did love - the villainous snob Sedley becomes Margaret's patron to spite Ned, who turned him down. At the climax, when Ned decides to play Othello in a hurry, he needs boot black and Sedley produces it instantly. Everyone looks at him and the absurd dandy says with great dignity ' A scuff is a terrible thing' and at that moment we love him unutterably after regarding him with hatred and contempt for the whole of the rest of the film.
I really did not plan to watch another film yesterday, but 'Heartbreakers' was on at the point when we were eating dinner - stir-fried lamb fillet with chili and mint on boiled kamut with steamed green beans, since you ask.
Sigourney Weaver is a goddess, that is most of what I want to say, and a movie in which she sings 'Back in the USSR' in a bad Russian accent is a movie which I may at some point decide to own, even though it has Jennifer Love Hewitt in it. Because - Ray Liotta and Anne Bancroft!
I feel in my bones that Bush is going to be re-elected and that it is going to be a disaster for the world.
O and it turns out, in The Bill that butch inspector Gina Gold and gangstermom Irene Radford have a past in which Irene was a famous cat burglar and Gina her nemesis. Be still my achingly slashy heart!