Tuesday, March 30, 2010

review: The Cradle Will Rock

Considering how long I have been writing these reviews, I am surprised that I have yet lavished on this film. I love this film. No, I LOVE this film. It is by far, my favorite movie ever. And I have a long list of favorite movies.

Of course, it is about theatre - well, part of it is. The movie is loosely based on the circumstances surrounding Project 891's production of Marc Blitzstein's Cradle Will Rock. Tied into this is also the story of Diego Rivera and Nelson Rockerfeller, the HUAC, and politics mixing with art. Normally, I would leave it there, but I love discussing this movie as much as I love seeing it, so you're going to get it all with commentary.
In the Opening Sequence, we meet:
* Olive Stanton (played by Emily Watson), a homeless waif sleeping on curtains who tries to sing songs on the streets for nickles.
* Hazel Huffman (Joan Cusack), a clerk for the FTP who is posting leaflets about a meeting for people who are dissatisfied with the FTP.
* Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria), a writer with the FTP who is working on composing his labor opera.
* Gray Mathers - head of Mather's Steel, and his wife, Countess LeGrance (Vanessa Redgrave).
* Aldo Silvano (John Tuturro), a member of FTP's project 891, an Italian American with a large family.
* Hallie Flannagan (Cherry Jones), the head of the FTP.
* Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray), a ventriloquist, who is convinced that his Vaudeville company is host to Communists.
* Jack Houseman (Cary Elwes) producer of Project 891
* Orson Welles (Angus McFayden), artistic director of Project 891.
Mathers, Sarfatti, and Rockerfeller at an art exhibit
Then we jump to the other part of the story: the world of visual art and politics where we meet:
* William Randolph Hearst - powerful man who decides public opinion in his network of newspapers.
* Marion Davies: Hearst's mistress and protogee
* Margharrita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon), who is the "cultural emissary" from Mussolini in America.
* Nelson Rockerfeller (John Cusack) successful businessman with a love of art.
* Diego Rivera (Rueben Blades) brilliant painter of the time, who is a communist.
Trying to boil this into a nutshell is kind of hard. There are so many stories and most of them interconnect.
You have the Cradle Will Rock storyline. This focuses mostly on the coming together of this particular show. (That is the easiest way to explain it)
There is the Visual Art storylines. Part one is the sale of Italian art for the promise of money and supplies to make war materials. Hearst and Mathers agree to help the Italians, because, as of this point, the US was was more concerned with Communism than with Nazis - and we didn't look too deep into the future plans and ambitions of Mussolini. All this is done with the help of Sarfatti, who served as a "publicity queen" for Italy to the world. Part two deals with a very American story. Rockerfeller hires Rivera to paint a mural in the Rockerfeller building. Once the mural is finished, Rockerfeller has a problem: its a bit of a political hot potato for many reasons, the most of which is that it features Lenin prominately. There is quite a lot of controversy when Rockerfeller is forced to destroy the work.
The next storyline is about the FTP and the HUAC. Congressman Dies starts a committe to oversee hearings about finding Communism in the WPA. While, historically, his seach is of the whole WPA, the FTP was an easy target. People like Huffman testified for months, and when it came time to Flanagan to testify, she was only given hours.
I think I covered it all.
Diego Rivera's Man at the Cross Roads

One of the best parts of the film is when Blitzstein comes across a protest in the park. He sits and listens for a while, then begins to compose on an imaginary piano "Joe Worker" while the police ride in and the protest becomes a riot with police beating the workers. It is brilliant. Blitstein playing the "piano" while he hears a woman singing the song as people are running and screaming. This lands him in jail when he starts calling the policemen "whores" There he developes the plot of his opera.

Marc in jail with his characters and his imaginary helpmates: his late wife and Bertolt Brecht

But the best part of the movie is the entire ending sequence. Everyone arrives at the theatre to find the doors padlocked and armed soldiers guarding the door. They sneak in a window to the backstage and begin to try and find a plan B. Ironicly, once they find a new theatre, they are told that the Musicians' and Actors' Unions have forbidden them from performing on any other stage. Still, they decide to go on with the show, having Blitzstein basically do all of the parts. So, they announce it to the crowd, and begin to lead them on a walk to the new theatre.

Houseman, Blitzstein, and Welles worry as they walk

It all comes down to this one performance. Most of the actors go, but even going to the performance, they run the chance of losing their jobs. So they are faced with a decision.

The rest has to be experienced.

Blitzstein at the piano

This movie is brilliant. I love live theatre, and I love its power, but in the case of Cradle Will Rock, we can never again experience the thrill of this first show. First of all, the show is so much about its time, that has become dated. On top of that, the show itself has changed because of that first performance. It is now a historical piece with a lore to it. This event is famous in the world of the theatre - and no show can ever capture what this first performance had because of the circumstances surrounding its opening. This movie gives us the chance to experience the electricity of that moment in time; the importance, the passion, the politics.

Design-wise. This is wonderfully done. Re-creating life in New York in the 1930s (both the rich and the poor worlds) is not easy, but they do it so well. Also - they are recreating historical places and events that were recorded in one way or another. Especially the theatre you see. I love seeing the Faustus bits, because that also is the stuff of theatre legend.

Acting-wise, it is phenomenal. I mean, look at the cast! I can not say enough about it. So I will stop there. Everyone is fantastic.

There are so many reasons I love this movie. Everytime I watch it, I get so caught up. I've seen it at least a hundred times, and I find myself tearing up in those last minutes. There is a moment in the play when Silvano is making a speech and the entire theatre is quiet. Everyone in the audience is on the edge of their seats - living, not only with the characters they are watching, but with the actors who have been placed in this amazing situation and are doing what they do best with all the defiance, fire, strength, and passion they have.

And I'm starting to tear up as I write about it. I'm crazy. As far as I know, this won no major awards, but I don't care. You seriously, see this movie. And if you want to see it, watch it with me!

5 out of 5 stars

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