Thanks to @Jazz’s suggestion on an earlier thread about Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of films that have the look, feel, acting or dialogue style of a theatrical production – it doesn’t have to be an adaptation of an existing play to qualify. This can mean anything from the distanciation devices of Brecht, the minimalist absurdity of Beckett, the presentational quality of Kabuki, the chamber plays of Strindberg or whatever.
Be sure to list why it “feels” like a play and if you think that detracts or adds to the film and why.
Von Trier’s Dogville is an obvious choice because of it’s stage-like set which borrows from Brecht. The austere setting and staging of the actor’s only enhanced the film’s indictment of the hypocrisy, opportunism, and pettiness that is distilled in his small American town but symptomatic of a widespread national mentality.
I’ll also throw Fassbinder’s The Bitter of Petra Von Kant into the mix as close to a chamber play in terms of its one setting, intense character focus and precise staging or framing as the case may be in cinematic terms.
the designated mourner stands out in my mind.
A lot of neil simon films and david mamet films seem not cinematic at all; this is not a bad thing so much it just makes me wish I could watch the play on stage.
I’ve never heard a solid explanation of why ‘theatrical’ films are ‘not cinematic’. The aforementioned Dogville and Manderlay are very cinematic, though they take place on a sound stage with a transparent set. Love to hear a detailed defense of this position.
The Leopard, most definitely.
I agree Dogville and Manderlay are highly cinematic
maybe because they did not start out as plays they are just scripts filmed in a different cinema manner.
Simon and Mamet tho often feel like they are playing to the back seats on sets. My Favorite Year is another one or A Life in Theater.
That’s a good point @Leaves. I definitely wasn’t thinking about a clear and fixed delineation between the two when posting the thread. That’s why I emphasized “feels” – I would like to hear other’s ideas on that.
The only things that really rings that bell for me when watching a movie is if there is a relatively fixed camera shooting from one position in a space similar to where an audience would be sitting in a theatre. Lengthy monologues (to the camera or not) and long, unedited takes in a single space like Rope also make me think of plays. All of those things don’t rely on editing or montage which I tend to associate with being “cinematic”.
I understand the distinction in ‘feeling’ but I’m wondering whether it’s a real distinction—whether ‘theatrical’ films are actually ‘uncinematic’. I don’t want to do a semantic thing here, though.
@HOL, I agree completely.
@Machiko, ‘Rope’ IS a much more apt example of what I think you’re getting at.
Kevin Smith films somewhat fit in here, mainly in the fact that Smith doesn’t have much to offer visually in any cinematic sense. Some of Mike Nichols’ more recent outings (‘Angels in America’, ‘Wit’, and ‘Closer’) also fall into this, but it might have a bit to do with their stagebound origins (even though Nichols offers a few cinematic elements to each).
I agree with Machiko: I don’t think this is a mutually exclusive issue. Dogville and Manderlay feel very theatrical to me. Also, I think the dialogue also make a film feel theatrical. Think of many of David Mamet’s films for example.
Thought of another: many of Dreyer’s films (which I understand were originally plays): Ordet or Gertrud. Yes, we can talk about the composition and mise-en-scene, but these films feel stiff and more theatrical than cinematic. Maybe people should talk about what they mean by cinematic and theatrical.
ROPE: secretly cinematic
Rope is emphatically cinematic. I mean, sure, narratively it’s very stage-oriented, but it’s a cinematic experience … read up on it.
Kevin Smith is uncinematic in that he’s completely uninteresting, but I see your point. A film having a “stage quality” to it, doesn’t necessarily mean it has no visual style or is conventionally “cinematic.” I think it has more to do with how it is written. In the case of Dogville, the intention was to mirror a stage setting, so that’s an obvious one only because it reaches so far to achieve it.
Incredibly theatrical. Incredibly cinematic.
read up on it.
Was that supposed to come off as condescending as it sounded or were you going to offer examples of what you mean?
@Leaves – Russian Ark is an incredibly good example both. The frontality and presentational form generally associated with a play but cinematography (endless panning) that could actually only be accomplished with not only a motion picture camera but a particular kind of camera: digital. If this isn’t what you meant I hope you elaborate!
Godard’s work is theatrical, especially La Chinoise where people dress in costume and recite lines for a book.
Theatrical: Exaggerated and excessively dramatic ; marked by pretense or artificiality of emotion
Senses of Cinema :
Much of this work is guilty of what allegory has always been accused of – simplistic obviousness, lack of subtlety, pedantry, irrelevant fantasy and absolutism, just to name a few of allegory’s traditional sins.
In Dogville (2003), Lars von Trier took cinematic allegory to its logical conclusion and reminded us that it can be (and should be) complex, subtle, dialectical, real and open to multiple readings.
How about Jodorowsky’s work – both theatrical and cinematic?
@ JR What we need at MUBI is a Glossary/wiki.
Inserts, with Richard Dreyfuss.
A lot of the early Hollywood musicals are in fact, filmed stage plays. THE COCOANUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS and WHOOPEE! for example. They’ve got some interest, particularly the Marx Brothers films, but they very definitely feel very “stagy” — there’s not a lot done to bring them to life onscreen, unlike something like WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, which Nichols & Co. brought very convincingly to life onscreen, I think.
For me, the theatricality of something like DOGVILLE is not about the exagerration in the story or the acting, but in the device of having no sets and rudimentary props, a la Wilder’s OUR TOWN.
“Was that supposed to come off as condescending as it sounded or were you going to offer examples of what you mean?”
Well, I realize it probably came off as condescending, but I’m genuinely encouraging you (or anyone, everyone) to read up further on Rope. There’s no reason for me to list reasons while there’s a healthy selection of Internet sources waiting to be … what’s the word I’m looking for … shucked?
On Dogville, I didn’t find it glaringly exaggerated. The formality of the writing/dialogue and the obvious quality of the set design screamed ‘theatre’. Does it succeed as a brilliant piece of theatre? Eh, so-so. I suppose it works better in film format, but I’m not a huge fan of it I must admit. Too on-the-nose, too predictable, too moralist. Von Trier isn’t exactly the “friar of subtlety.” though I’d suppose he could be considered a friar of pain and suffering. For better or worse. Some of his work is genuinely excellent, such as The Element of Crime or even The Idiots (certain sections at least, not sure about the whole).
^ The great thing about Dogville and Manderlay at least for me, was that after a period of time the lack of set pieces no longer mattered and I accepted the world as “real” for the rest of the film.
Yes Roscoe, I was going below the surface of the sets and rudimentary props.
The point I was making was that theatricality is more than sets and staging. The exaggerated portrayal of ideas by way of ALLEGORY helped actors project from the theater stage of yore.
The genius of Dogville is what Von Trier did with the concept of ALLEGORY.
@ deckard croix Too on-the-nose, too predictable, too moralist.
You completely missed the genius of Von Trier’s work.
Don’t be "shucked’ – read the SoS article at the link above.
Right, but I don’t see that the exaggerated portrayal of ideas by way of ALLEGORY is necessarily theatrical. Is it?
And well, DOGVILLE. I’m not seeing much genius in it, a three-hour film version of a three-minute song from THREEPENNY OPERA. I liked the style, and appreciated that von Trier made it work, but I wish he’d found a more interesting story to tell and ideas to deal with.
@ RoscoeMuch of this work is guilty of what allegory has always been accused of – simplistic obviousness, lack of subtlety, pedantry, irrelevant fantasy and absolutism, just to name a few of allegory’s traditional sins.In Dogville (2003), Lars von Trier took cinematic allegory to its logical conclusion and reminded us that it can be (and should be) complex, subtle, dialectical, real and open to multiple readings.
That^ is the genius.
Yeah, it’s a tad subtle for most, but hell, even Carney got it.
To answer your other question: no, nothing is necessary in art – that would preclude new forms, which is what Von Trier did and why I say he is a genius.
I am making a link between theatricality, exaggeration, allegory, and Dogville – finding there is a relationship, however subtle.
Robert, I find his allegorical approach in general too on-the-nose. I had a similar problem with Antichrist and the majority of his work. I realize it’s allegorical, but many, many works of art are allegorical; that aspect alone doesn’t automatically elevate them all to the level of Camus or something. Allegory can be done well with subtlety and it can be too precise.
I read your article, Robert (thanks by the way, it was an interesting read), but I disagree with the conclusion that Von Trier has done something brilliant with Dogville in how he uses “allegory.”
It’s moralist not because morals are decided upon as being one better than the other but because ‘good’ and ‘evil’ come into play at all and then drifts off into dualism.
“Much of this work is guilty of what allegory has always been accused of – simplistic obviousness, lack of subtlety, pedantry, irrelevant fantasy and absolutism, just to name a few of allegory’s traditional sins.”
I don’t believe I accused it of any of that. I think I can safely say that I “got” DOGVILLE. It isn’t exactly a difficult film to get — admirably clear in pretty much all respectes, well made, well acted, etc.
I just found it rather dull, an extended riff on Pirate Jenny. One person’s tedium is another person’s profundity.
But he never resolves the dualism, which is why there is no third film in the trilogy.
I didn’t find it glaringly exaggerated.
C’mon DC, they tie her to a bed and the town rapes her?
Please define ‘exaggerated’ for us.
Isn’t there supposed to be a third film? I was always under the impression that he wanted to make the third film, but hasn’t for some reason or another.
Yes, Deckard pressed that button when he referenced dualism.
It can’t be resolved yet, even in physics.
The third film would be the integration of the individual with society.
Right now, that is done by way of hypocrisy.
@ Roscoe I don’t believe I accused it of any of that.
Right – that quote is out of context – the author is refering to other works in the SoS article.
^^Let’s wait for the third and final installment before we start bickering about this again gents eh? ;-)