I had only been gone a year (having skipped the 2011 version due to continuous business travel), but the Chicago International Film Festival suddenly feels like a true film festival. Thanks to the floor-length banners, the multiple information desks, the plentiful volunteer ushers, and the organized audience lines there is hardly any of the helter-skelter, madhouse frenzy of previous years. But I think it’s also because of the presence of numerous directors, actors, and producers introducing their films, holding talkbacks, and yes, attending screenings of other people’s films. I think, finally, world filmmakers are realizing that Chicago is not just a blip on the film festival circuit map between Telluride and Toronto. And Chicago audiences are the luckier for it. Here are my thoughts on the first set of films I saw during my first weekend at the festival.
A wise old queen (drag, not royal) once told me that if you stick around long enough, you will see everything start to come back again: fashion, music, ex-boyfriends who dumped you in front of Roscoe’s. Add to that list celebrated Chicago theater directors revisiting their earlier works. In 2002, I saw Mary Zimmermann’s Metamorphoses, and as I said in a previous post, this year’s Lookingglass remount is still thrilling to me ten years later. In 2002 as well I saw Gary Griffin’s intimate, emotionally-satisfying production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George at Chicago Shakespeare’s upstairs theater, well-remembered around this theater parts for it’s innovative runaway staging (years before David Cromer used it to enthralling effect in Our Town), and for it’s simple, minimalist evocation of George Seurat’s painting “La Grand Jatte” in the Act 1 musical show-stopper, “Sunday”. Griffin is also revisiting Sunday in the Park with George this year, but this time around he is staging it at Chicago Shakes’ main thrust stage, and with all the bells and whistles and grand ambition that a now internationally-renowned theater director can muster. And this Sunday in the Park is a stunning achievement, with gorgeous singing, exceptional design, and two larger-than-life yet beautifully-relatable lead performances from Jason Danieley and, especially, Carmen Cusack.
For some people October is about going on long drives to see the changing of the leaves, while for others it is about spending weekends prancing around apple groves or pumpkin patches. For some, it’s the month of plotting to come up with the gayest, most outrageous, most bedazzling Halloween costume this side of RuPaul’s All-Star Drag Race. For me it’s the time of year when I can spend two glorious weeks in a darkened theater watching, for hours on end, the best (or at least the most intriguing and provocative) of world cinema during the essential, irreplaceable Chicago International Film Festival. I’ve gone to the Chicago filmfest since the late 1990s, and I’ve only missed it once, last year when I was on a grueling 5-days-a-week travel schedule, so if you’ve been around my blog woods for a while, you would have read my sometimes infuriated, sometimes awestruck reviews of the films, many of which do not get commercial runs in Chicago. The 2012 edition, which begins this Thursday, October 11 and runs till Thursday, October 25, seems slightly smaller than previous festivals with approximately 150 films from 50 countries, but it’s a very well-curated one (although I’m perturbed by the lack of Asian films from a festival that has historically had strong representation from them).
When I met a cute twentysomething guy a couple of weeks ago at an event and he asked me how old I was, I quickly answered “37”. Oops, I’m not 37, but I guess I’m already at that age when a little white lie is oddly comforting because it doesn’t include the number forty in it (and for the record, that adorable boy thought I was 35, ha!). The great Tennessee Williams wrote about our deep-seated fear of aging and its attendant harsh reminders about our limitations and mortality in Sweet Bird of Youth, an overwrought piece of business about an aging movie star (supposedly modeled after Williams’ friend Tallulah Bankhead) and her companion, a younger, but also fading, male hustler. They’re back in the guy’s hometown in Southern Florida where he plans to spirit away his former girlfriend, the love of his life, even under threat of castration from her big-time politician father. It’s rarely revived so when I read last year that David Cromer fresh off his magnificent take on Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire in Chicago was planning a Broadway revival with Nicole Kidman and James Franco in it, I was ready to buy plane tickets to New York. Well, the fickle Franco dropped out (I guess he prefers to collaborate with gay porn directors instead?) and the production was cancelled. The Goodman Theater picked it up and thank goodness for that, because this Sweet Bird of Youth now has the glorious Diane Lane, a true movie star, playing the larger-than-cinematic-life movie star Alexandra del Lago in an inspired, freshly well-thought out performance that is ferocious in its steeliness and self-preservation.
Tags: Goodman Theatre
I saw Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses right after it transferred to Broadway in 2002, after a much-heralded off-Broadway run that began two days after the September 11 attacks. It was one of the highlights of my theatergoing life till that point – Zimmerman’s luminous yet bittersweet adaptation of Greek myths that dealt with death, separation, loss, and transgression bowled me over, and left me sobbing like the New Yorkers sitting around me (seeing tears in a New York theater audience was, and still is, as surprising as seeing tears in a, well, crocodile). It was also the first show that I saw that had a swimming pool as part of the performance space, and I thought then, wow, who would have ever thought to stage a play in a pool? In the ten years since, I’ve seen so many more plays with pools; I’ve seen so many more plays, period, so I’ve become as I’d like to believe a jaded, savvy, not-easily-impressed theatergoer. So when I went to see Zimmerman’s re-staging of Metamorphoses which opened the 25th season of Lookingglass Theater (where she is an ensemble member), with the original design team and with a cast comprised of many of the original Chicago and Broadway cast members, I was a little apprehensive: would this play affect the older, wiser, more skeptical, more self-possessed Francis differently? Should I just have left it well enough alone as a fond, burnished memory of my cultural upbringing? Since 2002, I have had lots of life changes as well, including the significant life-marking loss of my Mom, my greatest influence and cheerleader, in 2006, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that seeing Metamorphoses this time around was actually a more illuminating and, to a certain extent, gut-wrenching experience. It was also a more optimistic one. Like all great theater, Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses puts up a clear-eyed mirror to your own life – with age and experience, its reflections and reverberations become richer and more profound.
Tags: Lookingglass Theatre