From Stage to Screen: Hollywood Does Theatre

It might be no more than yet another sign of the slow death rattle of Hollywood, the slow, wheezing sound of the balloon deflating as originality continues to be usurped in favour of that most valued of commodities – the ‘sure-fire’ hit,  however it never stops being frustrating to go and see a film you loved on stage only to realise that those complex, live-wire characterisations by total unknowns have been replaced by a type-A, blank-eyed, lantern-jawed hero who only ever appear against a backdrop of  an elegiac piano-based score while using a script so simplistic it might have been rejected by Dan Brown…

Welcome to Hollywood Does Theatre – an opportunity to see your favourite plays on the big screen: re-scripted, re-cast and re-duced substantially in quality. Well that may not be entirely fair, it can be argued that given the right play with the right cast and a sympathetic director the results can be substantially more enjoyable than the original play. This play went on to do be quite popular as I recall…

The beginning of last year saw the crowning of The Kings Speech, whilst towards the end of the year Terence Davies took on Terence Rattigan in a version of ‘The Deep Blue Sea’. The critical consensus seems to have awarded it the label of solid, if unspectacular. Davies is such a talent and,due to his relative inactivity, under-appreciated master of composition that it could hardly fail to overwhelm the visual  but it is also clear that he is a huge admirer of Rattigan and if anything the material is handled to reverently. By the end the audience is left wondering, as splendid as all the constituent parts are, why they are watching a film of a play that felt outdated even at the  time of its original release back in 1952. (I mean this was released in 1951 and within moments our obsession with emotional reticence looked about as old-fashioned as our obsession with the Empire: 

So what is on the slate for 2012?

1) Warhorse (Released: 13 January)  

Unless you had been living in a cave you could scarcely have failed to notice the Warhorse phenomenon that has developed over the last 5 years.  Initially a  hit as a book for Michael Morpurgo, it tells the story of the relationship between a young soldier and his horse. It is a unashamed tear-jerker and touches on just about every emotional heartstring going.  So it is, perhaps, no surprise that it eventually found its way into Spielberg’s mitts. If there was ever a director who has mastered the blockbuster, wide-angle lens camera pan set to a not-too-obvious but vaguely familiar stringed background, then it is the man who directed E.T., Close Encounters and Band of Brothers.

Perhaps more surprisingly is the fact that in between the book and the film came a play that has been both critically lauded and a  commercial smash wherever it has played.  And each and every review poured praise on the inventiveness and skill of the puppetry of the horse in evoking an anthropomorphic reaction to the creature. At times zyou can barely hear the actors over the sound of sobbing in the aisles. So naturally Spielberg has removed the puppet.

Well it pulls about every Spielbergian trick out the book – it seems you can’t move in his trailers without risking an eye to an errant violinist’s bow. This is movie-making not film-making. It is a statement of intent but a statement that seems to have fallen on deaf ears among the critics that appreciate the quality but feel there is an absence of heart. So Puppets 1: 0 Spielberg.

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