Monday, June 12, 2006

The reason A Prairie Home Companion works so well for its subject, the reason it's an unusual movie, the reason it's a typical Altman movie, and the reason critics have been more or less condescendingly calling it endearing rather than just recognizing that it's a really good movie, all come down to the stranglehold the standard three-act structure has on American movies. While most movies derive from Ibsen, Altman's derive from Chekhov; not only are their plots and characters diffuse, but they have that same seriocomic spirit and unfamiliar acceptance of everything that make Chekhov popular with actors and a little scary for most audiences. No matter how big the project, Altman's movies are always modest in aim; he's never wanted to make a great movie featuring great performances that will knock everyone's socks off, and that makes him very hard for film reviewers to really get. They treat him like an eccentric uncle because they don't get that the rejection of greatness is a pretty great thing.
John C. Reilly has such a beautiful voice you have to wish somebody'd write him a musical.

The Faculty Room, at Wolly Mammoth, is not great and does not work. There's sort of an amusing bit in it in which a sock-puppet Holden Caulfield has a dialogue with an English teacher and, eventually, a sock-puppet J. D. Salinger. The thing is, it only reminds one that Holden is right: most people are phonies, and that sucks, and people really ought to try to make some kind of commitment to being truer to who they really are. The Faculty Room seems phony because everything in it seems contrived to have its effect, including the invocation of the popularity of the Left Behind books. It's evident that the play is trying to use the Rapture in the way Angels in America used angels, but it comes off as just a device to make something happen. The central line of the drama futzes around on the topic of teachers sleeping with students, but it just makes the appeal to conventional morality seem squalid and unimaginative.

This week I've got to finish a conference presentation on The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T to give in Massachusetts next week and I'm way behind. I'd like this to be the core of an article or even book I've had in mind for at least five years. I'll also be working on stuff for the dreams and education book. After the conference Art and I will be in Provincetown for a week, so it'll be July 4 before I'm back and trying to get back on a writing schedule. When I get a chance I'm going to write some on what I learned by doing the Sex and Cinema course this summer; I want to throw together a couple of book proposals and see if I can get a project going (on dreams); and I've got fall preparation to do. But i'm hoping to get back to some other writing in July and August.