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Theatre on Film

 12 Angry Men  (Recommended by Steve R Coy.)

1957 United States. for Universal With Henry Fonda

12 Angry Men has been produced for the small screen, silver screen and both professional and amateur arenas on stage. It is a script that relies wholly on dialogue to progress the plot. The entire action occours in one room.

 42nd Street  (Recommended by William Grange.)

1933 United States. Dir. Lloyd Bacon for Warner Bros. With Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Bbe Daniels, Guy Kibbee, Gerge Brent, and Una Merkel

This spectacular movie musical is most famous as the debut film of choreographer Busby Berkeley and for Warner Baxter's line to Ruby Keeler, "You're going out there a youngster, but you're coming back a star!" But beyond that is its precedent-setting format as a "reflexive musical," or a "remythologized musical" (as Susan Sontag described it), making it seem that anybody can just jump into and perform this highly complicated art form. Its plot centers on director Julian Marsh (played with a world-weary despair extending down to his shoelaces by Baxter) who gets backing from a wealthy industrialist (Guy Kibbee) to put on a Broadway musical starring Kibbee's girlfriend (played by Bebe Daniels). During the show's out-of-town tryout Daniels breaks her ankle and the "star is born" plot convention with Ruby Keeler foams into full frothiness, with Keeler dancing her way stardom and into Dick Powell's heart. What makes this movie distinctive is the way it probes beneath the myths of show business to portray the dark side of theatre production. Self-centered louts abuse of young talent, cruel financial realities foster exploitative relationships, and ultimately the true artist in Baxter realizes that audiences assume musicals just "happen" if the director is lucky. The surface on this movie is glitzy and carefree, as the cast "Shuffles Off to Buffalo" against a gaudy backdrop of elaborate, constructivist settings, and Berkeley's biokinetic choreography creates a nightmarish fantasy that alternates between wish-fulfillment and meditations on suicide.

 A Life in the Theater  (Recommended by Mark..)

United States. Dir. Gregory Mosher With Jack Lemmon, Matthew Broderick

Its Mamet ...

 A Man For All Seasons  (Recommended by Fran Walheim.)

1966 United States. Dir. Fred Zinnemann for Columbia With Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles

Robert Bolt's play is a masterpiece. The film version is a pretty satisfactory adaptation of the stage play with a marvelous rendering of Thomas More by Paul Scofield. The spirituality of the man is evident without the saintliness; his respect for law and loyalty to king and state are passions second only to fealty to God's law. This is a man of charm, of wit, of legal argument and of family. Alice More gets rather short shrift in the film but the strength of the bond is still there. Meg becomes more the confidente. But, regardless, Scofield as More is the hero; Bolt's dialogue, heroic.

 An Actor's Revenge  (Recommended by Kurt Eisen.)

Click for details of availability1963 Japan. Dir. Kon Ichikawa With Kazuo Hsegawa, Fujiko Yamamoto

Makes inventive use of kabuki aesthetics in contructing a Hitchcockian thriller.

 August  (Recommended by Martin Gyselinck.)

1995 United Kingdom. Dir. Anthony Hopkins for Granada Film With Anthony Hopkins, Kate Burton, Leslie Phillips

Beautiful adaptation of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya", set in Wales at the end of the 19th century. Anthony Hopkins as a director, quite astohishing.

 bugsey malone 

United States.

 Bullets Over Broadway  (Recommended by Bodger Bell.)

1994 United States. Dir. Woody Allen With Tracy Ullman, Jim Broadbent, John Cusack, Chazz Palmintieri , Jennifer Tilly, Dianne Wiesti

Angst ridden writer gets mixed up with the mob... Affectionate look at the not-so Golden age of Broadway Theatre with a nod to "Kiss me Kate"...

 Cinema Paradiso  (Recommended by Patrick Finelli.)

Click for details of availability1989 Italy. Dir. Guiseppe Tornatore for Miramax With Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili

There are several ways that we incorporate film theory into our theory courses. One concerns the cinefication of the stage in dramatic writing as in screenplay structures that may be found as early as Buchner's "Woyzzek." Another focuses on the use of film and projections onstage in epic and multimedia theatre. Among the most important considerations is the difference between "camera reality" and poetic reality, perhaps helping to explain why so much is lost when we attempt to film a play. Sometimes we have used a scene from "Cinema Paradiso" that aptly demonstrates Siegfried Kracauer's concept of the realistic and formative tendencies in film. The scene shows the Paradiso, the movie theatre that is the social centerpiece of a small Italian town. The small house is packed and angry townspeople are turned away with the promise that "tomorrow we'll have movie magic, a western perhaps." But they are not content. Alfredo, the projectionist, looks out at the angry mob below his window and suggests to his young apprentice that he should give the people what they want. Slowly he turns the projector around as the black and white image of an old movie pans across the walls and furniture until the film is projected through the window onto the wall of a building across the piazza. At first there is no sound, then he moves the speaker to the window so everyone can hear and see the film as the people proclaim "the square belongs to everyone" and the madman who inhabits the square says "no, la piazza mia." The quasi-Brechtian moment continues when the theatre owner decides to charge admission (half price) to the assembled multitude watching the film projected on an apartment building. The realistic and formative tendencies intersect in the shots of the people holding hands in the theatre, the owners barring spectators from exceeding capacity, the angry mob, the movement of the projector and the reaction of the madman. Ultimately, the film catches fire, not only disappointing the crowd but consuming the Paradiso itself. In a perfect example of the formative tendency, the flames devouring the movie posters in the projection booth symbolically speak volumes about what has been lost.

 Cradle will Rock  (Recommended by Joe Frost.)

1999 United States. Dir. Tim Robbins for Touchstone Pictures With John Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Emily Watson, Hank Azaria, Angus Macfadyen, Bill Murray, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Cary Elwes, Ruben Blades

Set during the days of the Federal Theatre Project, it tells the story of the Orson Welles/ John Houseman production of the pro-Union musical that refused to bow to federal censorship. While maybe not completely accurate, it will at least arouse interest in the era for history buffs. The film deals with many issues of censorship and creativity, standing up to say what's right even though it endangers your funding. Great performances and a lot of fun.

 El perro del hortelano  (Recommended by María M. Carrión.)

1995 Spain. Dir. Pilar Miró for Enrique Cerezo Producciones Cinematográficas, SA With Emma Suárez, Carmelo Gómez, Anda Duato and Fernando Conde

Excellent reconstruction of a Spanish classical theatre piece. Lavish costumes, use of space, cinematography, and playful acting in verse. A rare, bewitching flashback of Spanish cultural history (now and then).

 Elizabeth  (Recommended by Katie Davies.)

1998 United Kingdom. With Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke

This is a theatrical film. The cinematography is spectacular: the richness of colour, the composition, the use of light and dark. It highlights the theatricality of a court scene and Queen Elizabeth I's own passion for the theatre, acting and performance. As well as providing a sympathetic narrative relating the trials and troubles of England's most powerful and influential female Monarch.

 End of days  (Recommended by Sean Kelly.)

1999 Australia. Dir. Steven Speilberg for 20 century fox With Arnold Swartzanegger

It's got a good story line.

 Heller in Pink Tights  (Recommended by William Grange.)

1960 United States. Dir. George Cukor for Paramount With Sophia Loren, Anthony Quinn, Margaret O'Brien, Steve Forrest, Eileen Heckart, and Ramon Navarro

Quinn and Sophia Loren play troupers in the Healy Dramatic Company, on the getaway from Nebraska territory into Colorado of the 1870s. They end up having one adventure after another, including staging "Mazeppa" with Sophia in a skin-tight body suit, much the way Helena Modjeska performed it on the back of a horse. The venue is a highly believable stage in frontier-town saloon. "Mazeppa" scenes are the film's high points; the rest of them can get fairly goofy, thought it remains, on the whole, good entertainment. It semi-documents "how the West was fun." The film was based on a novel by Louis L'Amour, a writer not noted for accuracy. It was produced by Carlo Ponti, Sophia's husband, and that is part of the problem. Too many production values were done on the cheap.

 Home and the World  (Recommended by Kurt Eisen.)

India. Dir. Satyajit Ray

There's a scene that features the English stage as an instrument of colonial rule.

 human trafic  (Recommended by Stuart McBride.)

1999 United Kingdom. Dir. Justin Corrigan for Fruit salad films With a lot of pill monstars

coz it iz so nere 2 da truth innit

 Hurly Burly 

1998 United States.

 Illuminata  (Recommended by Joe Frost.)

1998 United States. Dir. John Turturro for Artisan With Katherine Borowitz, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, John Turturro, Beverly D'Angelo

It's a backstage look at 19th Century theatre-the film references Ibsen as "the next big thing"- and deals with very symbolic and poetic theatre. Some breif glimpses of stage mechanisms. Also, the film is very funny and entertaining.

 IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER  (Recommended by Alain Coetmeur.)

1995 United Kingdom. Dir. Kenneth Branagh With Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Richard Briers, Hetta Charnley, Joan Collins, Mark Hadfield, Gerard Horan, Celia Imrie

This film describe with an amazing sensibility and realism the history of the creation of a theater play. Hope and doubt, fear, money problems, the actors that evolves, share and battle... and in the middle of this huricane something that is beeing created, despite all... the desperate magic of the last chance... Believe me or not, but as an amateur actor in a motivated troup, with a passionate director, I've already lived some of the scene, and not the least dramatic ones. so, if you don't know what theater is, in the human sense, look at this film. nb: sorry for my bad english, but I'm not used to write english in non technical context...

 Inherit the Wind  (Recommended by Martin Gyselinck.)

1960 United States. Dir. Stanley Kramer for United Artists With Spencer Tracey, Frederich March, Gene Kelly

No adaptation but true play-text of the original by Lee and Lawrence. A perfect historical court-room drama. Two of the greatest american actors at work.

 Johnny Stecchino  (Recommended by Andrew W. White.)

1992 Italy. Dir. Roberto Benigni With Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi

The opera scene from "Johnny Stecchino" with Roberto Benigni. In this scene Benigni, who is taken for a notorious Mafia don (he's a bus driver) goes to the opera, and sits in a box seat. The audience in the orchestra immediately denounce him, and start to leave, calling him every name in the book. (The humor derives from the fact that Benigni is unaware of his likeness to the don, plus he has just ripped off a banana from the concession stand, so he thinks the whole fuss is over the banana.) That's a crude summary, I know, but you have to see it to appreciate how drop-dead funny this thing really is.<P> Use: It comes in handy when discussing the audience demonstrations that would greet Roman dignitaries at the start of a theater performance. Also segues nicely into discussions of the Blue and Green factions at the hippodromes of Rome and Constantinople. Funny how even today the Italians seem to revel in this kind of public demonstration.

 Le pay d'où je vien2 

United States.

 Les Enfants du Paradis  (Recommended by Gavin Witt.)

Click for details of availability1945 France. Dir. Marcel Carné With Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty, Pierre Brasseur, Maria Casarès

Singling out a true favorite that's endlessly apposite, I'd say Les Enfants du Paradis. The pantomime scenes provide an amazing insight into centuries of Commedia and French popular theater (including vivid illustration of the very real pressures of maintaining a non-speaking style outside the licensed performances of Comedie Francaise and the Opera...). Like Chaplin, Keaton, Marx Bros. the film was made early enough to reflect not just institutional memory but actual experience from the unbroken string of commedia/pantomime/vaudeville world. Which is great for anything from Moliere/Marivaux through Beckett, really. (I think Marx Bros. are indispensable for Farce and surprisingly unfamiliar to today's undergrads).

 Miss Julie  (Recommended by Joe Frost.)

1999 United States. Dir. Mike Figgis for MGM With Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan, Maria Doyle Kennedy

Strindberg's play, done in period without any excess craziness, and capturing well the power and drama of the piece. Great performances. What a film of a play should be. Makes one think that hundred year old plays by dead white guys aren't all bad.

 Moon Over Broadway  (Recommended by Joe Frost.)

1998 United States. Dir. Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker for DocuRama With Carol Burnett, Philip Bosco, Ken Ludwig, Tom Moore

This is a documentary of the original Broadway production of Ken Ludwig's Moon over Buffalo, following it from the initial press conference announcing the show through the Boston preview and the eventual Broadway opening, rounded out with a few shots of the closing 9 months after the opening. The documentary is totally unblinking, not taking it easy on any of the stars, director or writer. If you really want to know what it takes to put up a play on Broadway, this will tell you. Rewrites, rehearsals, more rewrites, technical failures, a few line changes, tepid reviews, a new ending, soothing stars' egos and even more rewrites. As entertaining as it is informative

 night flight 

2002 United Kingdom. Dir. andrew pettie for BBC With christopher plummer. edward woodward

 Noises Off  (Recommended by Jeannie Henry.)

1993 United States. Dir. Peter Bogdanovich With Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Chrisopher Reeves, and many more

This film is a hysterical look at situations in theater where the action backstage is almost more interesting than that onstage. The movie is based on Michael Frayn's Tony award- winning play of the same name, there is about 20 minutes in the middle where the actors are running the entrance and exit cues that really makes you appreciate the importance of good timing, especially in comedy. The movie is very fast-paced and physical. Anyone who has ever done theater, especially those of us who have done it for years, will get a big kick out of this movie.

 Of Mice and Men  (Recommended by T. Hubbell.)

1995 United States. Dir. Gary Sinise With John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Ray Walston, Sherilyn Fenn

A brilliant adaption of Steinbeck's book with a screenplay by Horton Foote. It is the best version I have ever seen and, if you can get past the mild profanity (mild in content, not in quantity) classes will love it. I have used it in 7th and 8th grade theatre classes for several years. A not of caution.......there needs to be lots of discussion about George's solution, preferablly before it is seen (even knowing the ending, it is still VERY powerful).


United States. With DEick Powell

 San Francisco  (Recommended by Jerry D. Eisenhour.)

Click for details of availability1936 United States. With Jeannette McDonald, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy

There are several opera sequences where students can see "painted scenery", the size of the stage, the size of the auditoriums, elaborate decor, and so on. I've showed this several times to good effect in theatre history classes--with the caveat that the filmmakers probably took some liberties. Nevertheless, it's worth a look. Also has a great earthquake montage.

 Shakespeare in love  (Recommended by Anne Bomar.)

Click for details of availability1998 United Kingdom. Dir. John Madden With Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow

At the conclusion of an all-too-brief segment on Shakespeare in a non- majors Intro to Theatre course, I showed the play within the movie sequence near the ending (R&J at the Curtain). My students responded with a level of enthusiasm that, frankly, surprised and heartened me. I think the brief moments of theatre in Elizabeth's court would also be effective, particularly Will Kemp and the dog from "Two Gentlemen...".

 Steel Magnolias  (Recommended by Iyeshia P. Livingston.)

1990 United States. With Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton

It has happy moments and sad moments, so you never take your eyes off the screen let alone the stage.

 Sweeney Todd  (Recommended by Jerry D. Eisenhour.)

1979 United States. With Angela Lansbury, Len Cariou, Victor Garber, Edmund Lyndeck, Ken Jennings, Merle Louise

The video of SWEENEY TODD with Angela Lansbury comes as close as film can come to replicating a stage performance. If you haven't seen this, it's worth a look because the video shows all the stage machinery, stagehands, and so forth--and, I believe, gives students a good look at what live theatre can be like. The play was filmed before a live audience, so we hear their reactions as well.

 The Castle 

1997 United States. With Micheal Caton

Its an Australian film with Australians character and a good script. I think it would be relavent to students esspeciallt if they needed australians plays for an assignment.

 The Cradle Will Rock  (Recommended by Gavin Witt.)

1999 United States. Dir. Tim Robbins With Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Bob Balaban, John Turturro, Emily Watson, Susan Sarandon, Cherry Jones, John Cusack, Ruben Blades, Hank Azaria

What's NOT to like about it: the WPA Federal Theatre Project (with Cherry Jones as Hallie Flanagan); Orson Welles and John Houseman tangling over staging a production; Marc Blitzstein trying to create his radical singspiel and then struggling to get it performed in the combustible climate of Depression-era theater in NYC; Bill Murray in a remarkable turn as a ventriloquist; glimpses of theater in the 30s within a much broader social/political framework that might have led who-knows-where; an amazing, rousing, against-all-odds guerilla performance that ties together shows from Threepenny to Urinetown; and a gut-wrenching "funeral" for theater up Broadway the final shot of which is a gesture of satiric commentary so simple, profound, and dire it stays with you for a long, long, long time. The stars surely make the "message" and historical aspects initially appealing to undergrads; the work itself quickly carries its own weight.

 The Dresser  (Recommended by Peter Sfyris.)

1984 United Kingdom. Dir. Peter Yates With Tom Courteney, Albert Finney

It is perhaps the only dramatic film about the backstage experience of a touring acting troupe in war-time England, still under the spell of the "star" actor-manager. Finney is outstanding as the "Sir", the provincial "star" who performs Shakespeare around the country's provinces. The film is atmospheric and faithfully recreates a whole, long forgotten, period of British theatrical tradition.

 the great dictator 

United States.

 The Jolson Story  (Recommended by James Fisher.)

1946 United States. Dir. Alfred E. Green for Columbia Pictures With Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, and the voice of Al Jolson

This highly fictionalized film of the life of musical theater and screen legend Al Jolson charmingly captures the backstage life of early twentieth century theater. Parks gives a masterful performance as Jolson and the vocals supplied by Jolson himself (who is seen singing "Swanee" in a long shot in the film) richly revive songs from the Stone Age of twentieth century musical theater. The success of this film prompted a sequel, JOLSON SINGS AGAIN (1949), with Parks again playing Jolson and Jolson again supplying vocals.

 The Miracle Worker  (Recommended by Arvid Sponberg.)

Click for details of availability1962 United States. Dir. Arthur Penn With Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke

I was once in a playwriting workshop with Jeff Sweet. In order to illustrate the importance and the craft of writing action for the stage, he used the scene from "The Miracle Worker" in which Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) teaches Helen Keller (Patty McCormack) how to eat politely. It's fair use because the scene is in the play and not added for the film. As there is not a line of dialogue in the 9-minute scene, Sweet's point shot home with marked effectiveness.

 The raven 

United States.

 the ruling class 

1972 United Kingdom. Dir. peter medac With peter otoole

 The Tall Guy  (Recommended by Ben Fisler.)

1989 United Kingdom. Dir. Mel Smith With Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson

Filled with stage references, it points an always hilarious, though not always kind, eye at contemporary popular theatre. Goldblum is an American actor working in London. At one point he is starring in the title role in a musical of the Elephant Man, footed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Atkinson is the supreme stage egotist, entering his seventh year in a comedy review that's almost exclusively about him. Excellent illustration for lectures on acting as a profession and musical theatre.

 The Tell-Tale Heart 

United States.

 The Trojan Women 

1971 United States.

 Topsy Turvy  (Recommended by Joe Frost.)

2000 United Kingdom. Dir. Mike Leigh for USA Films With Jim Broadbent, Allen Corduner, Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville

It tells the story of Gilbert and Sullivan creating The Mikado. A lot of backstage and rehearsal scenes from an era when directing was still a new idea. Fun for even those who aren't big G&S fans (I'm not one!). The film is beautifully shot, with plenty of performance scenes, although the story does get slow and somewhat random at times. Another way to key into an era of theatre history- although not necessarily 100% accurate.

 True West  (Recommended by Dee Dee Hamilton.)

198~ United States. for Steppenwolf Theatre Company With John Malkovich, Gary Sinise

It's one of the greatest films of live theatre that exists...

 Wit  (Recommended by Joe Frost.)

2001 United States. Dir. Mike Nichols for HBO With Emma Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Atkins, Harold Pinter

Excellent adaptation of the play by Thompson and Nichols. Absolutely riveting performance by Thompson. Brilliant.

 Withnail & I 

United Kingdom. for Hand made films With Richard E Grant, Paul Magan, Richard Griffiths

It is about the lives of two actors and thier struggle to find work.

 Yankee Doodle Dandy  (Recommended by James Fisher.)

1942 United States. Dir. Michael Curtiz for Warner Bros. With James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney, Walter Catlett

This vital fictionalization of the life of George M. Cohan features James Cagney in an Academy Award-winning performance as Cohan, one of the outstanding figures of early twentieth century popular theater. Cohan's songs are heard throughout, as well as one Rodgers and Hart song, "Off the Record" from their show, I'D RATHER BE RIGHT, which Cohan starred in late in his life. The recreation of scenes from Cohan's LITTLE JOHNNY JONES, FORTY-FIVE MINUTES FROM BROADWAY, and GEORGE WASHINGTON, JR. are memorable, as are cameos by Eddie Foy, Jr. playing his father, stage comic Eddie Foy, and Walter Catlett, who had actually appeared in several Cohan plays, in the role of a cantankerous theater manager. Walter Huston also gives a fine performance as Cohan's vaudevillian father.