Theater of War
Backstage insights into art and ideology
''Theater of War'' follows a 2006 production of ''Mother Courage and Her Children'' that starred Meryl Streep. ''Theater of War'' follows a 2006 production of ''Mother Courage and Her Children'' that starred Meryl Streep. (MICHAL DANIEL)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / March 27, 2009
In the summer of 2006, thousands of theatergoers, stargazers, and people who enjoy Marxist German classics braved impossible heat to attend a production of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" in Central Park. It was more hoopla than Brecht ordinarily receives, even by the standards of the New York stage. But this Public Theatre production was somewhat out of the ordinary. Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline were starring in a new translation by Tony Kushner, directed by George C. Wolfe with music by Jeanine Tesori. And it was free.
John W. Walter, a film editor and documentary maker, was around to film the show's rehearsals. But it wasn't just Streep's star that struck him. It was Brecht's. "Theater of War," Walter's invigorating film, asserts the value of Brecht - and the power of art - for our troubled times.
The film combines backstage footage, interviews with Kushner, Wolfe, Tesori, and Streep, and conversations with two professors, one of whom worked alongside Brecht, the other who teaches his work. What comes of all this is both a film of ideas (call it "Everyday Brecht") and a modest journey into the dramatist's life. More than once the two merge into living philosophy.
Much of the playwright's biography is explained by Tufts University's Jay Cantor, who discusses how Marxism presented Brecht the intellectual rigging for his political anger. The film applies the basic revelations of Marxism (work is tyranny, labor effaces personality, that sort of thing) to the Public's production itself. Initially there is reason to fear. Jeremy Lydic, who oversaw the props and wrote his thesis on "Mother Courage," and Marina Draghici, who managed the costumes, do their jobs while Cantor explains that our work is who we are.
It's not drudgery we see, though, but a kind of personal pride in craft. Eventually Cantor, who has allowed himself to stare down the Marxist rabbit hole and seems the glummer for it, moves on to the productive uses of Marxism, which, under these circumstances, have more to do with the effectiveness of collective action. That, after all, is how art is usually made.
Brecht wrote "Mother Courage" as an antiwar jeremiad, and the play's enduring strength is the ugly reach of its moral quagmire. Mother Courage runs a profitable mobile canteen for soldiers that she continues to haul even after the war has cost her her three children. Death is tragic, but so, in a sense, is this woman's will to live. Walter sees in the Central Park production a parallel to contemporary military conflicts. American troops were spending another year in Iraq, and Israel had just invaded Lebanon.
"Theater of War" is perfectly Brechtian in form - "action and commentary on the action," as someone points out. Much of the most stirring commentary comes from Streep, who objects to the general idea of filming rehearsals (process looks like "bad acting," she says), but appears to go with the Brechtian flow, letting us sees flubs, sweat, and tears.
Walter juxtaposes her grueling, almost deranged performance with footage of the legendary performance by Brecht's wife, Helene Weigel, who appears to be twice as formidable while doing half the work. These backstage scenes explore the Brechtian urge to create and rebel. But the movie wonders whether creation is an adequately confrontational act. What is the value of art in times of strife? Should people be sitting in the theater or rioting in the streets? Walter's film reminds us that once there was a man whose work made no distinction between the two.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
By Maggie Overfelt, CNNMoney.com contributing writer
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The news this week that Blockbuster Video has hired advisors to explore "restructuring" options, which analysts say could include a bankruptcy filing, is bittersweet to the movie rental business's remaining indie stores.
They're likely to outlive the corporate Goliath that once crushed scores of smaller retailers beneath its blue-and-yellow onslaught of identical chain stores. But the same forces that seem to have doomed Blockbuster (BBI, Fortune 500) - mail-order DVDs and streaming online video - may kill off the entire industry.
John Koch, the founder of Cinema Revolution in Minneapolis, is fighting on all fronts to keep his business going. Sales started softening in the middle of last year, when high gas prices kept people from making the drive out to his store. To compensate, he moved to a new location in Minneapolis, with a higher rent but also a more diverse and artistic community. Koch hopes his new neighbors will better appreciate his selection of foreign and cult films; he also provides a haven for local filmmakers who need a venue to screen their movies.
Read the article at cnn.money.
New York, NY - March 12, 2009 - Lorber HT Digital has acquired the U.S. theatrical rights and public performance rights to the acclaimed documentary NOLLYWOOD BABYLON, co-directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, on the heels of the film's U.S. premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition. The deal was negotiated by Christina Rogers for the National Film Board and by Richard Lorber and Elizabeth Sheldon for Lorber HT Digital.
Lorber HT Digital will open NOLLYWOOD BABYLON theatrically at select venues in the second quarter of this year, and will also make it available to educational and cultural institutions. After the initial theatrical release, Lorber HT Digital will release the DVD to the consumer market on its Alive Mind label later in 2009.
Industry pioneer Richard Lorber, founder of Lorber HT Digital, comments on the acquisition, "NOLLYWOOD BABYLON celebrates the power of film to transform a culture and an industry. The explosion of Nigerian cinema over the last two decades is the reclaiming of African story-telling and culture by and for Africans. Nigeria is the new cultural center of Africa and Nollywood is the epicenter."
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times calls the film, "...an irresistible treatise on the Nigerian film industry..."
About The Film
NOLLYWOOD BABYLON chronicles the wild world of "Nollywood," a term coined in the early ‘90s to describe the world's fastest-growing national cinema, surpassed only by its Indian counterpart. The film delves first-hand into Nigeria's explosive homegrown movie industry, where Jesus and voodoo vie for screen time. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, known in Lagos as "Da Governor," is one of the most influential men in Nollywood. Undeterred by miniscule budgets, Da Governor is one of a cadre of resourceful filmmakers creating a garish, imaginative, and wildly popular form of B-movie that has frenzied fans begging for more. Among the bustling stalls of Lagos's Idumato market, films are sold, and budding stars are born. Creating stories that explore the growing battle between traditional mysticism and modern culture, good versus evil, witchcraft and Christianity, Nollywood auteurs have mastered a down-and-dirty, straight-to-video production formula that has become the industry standard in a country plagued by poverty. This burgeoning Nigerian film industry is tapping a national identity where proud Africans are telling their own stories to a public hungry to see their lives on screen. Peppered with outrageously juicy movie clips and buoyed by a rousing score fusing Afropop and traditional sounds, NOLLYWOOD BABYLON celebrates the distinctive power of Nigerian cinema as it marvels in the magic of movies.
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U.S. press missed a lot in Gaza according to the article in SF Chronicle:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visits Israel and the West Bank this week, giving the U.S. media another opportunity to tell the story of the 22-day war between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza in December and January. To San Francisco-based Middle Eastern media watcher Jalal Ghazi and other analysts, few Americans saw as many of the devastating images from Gaza as the rest of the world did.
Ghazi did. He is an associate producer for "Mosaic," a Peabody Award-winning daily aggregation of Middle Eastern news programs produced by San Francisco's Link TV. "Mosaic" culls broadcasts from 36 stations in 22 countries in the region.
Streep and Kevin Kline featured in documentary on the Tony Kushner-adapted Brecht masterwork
New York, NY – March 4, 2009 – Richard Lorber’s documentary label Alive Mind has acquired the U.S. theatrical, public performance and home video rights to the acclaimed documentary THEATER OF WAR, directed by John Walter (How to Draw a Bunny – Winner, Special Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival). Featuring Meryl Streep as the unforgettable Mother Courage, this 2008 documentary was based on the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Bertolt Brecht’s "Mother Courage and Her Children” in Central Park. THEATER OF WAR displays yet another facet to the brilliance of Streep, recently honored at the Oscars where she was cited for an unprecedented 15 nominations and two wins. The deal was negotiated by Sheri Levine and Michael Thornton of Forward Entertainment, Jack Turner of White Buffalo productions, and by Richard Lorber and Elizabeth Sheldon of Lorber HT Digital, for release under its Alive Mind banner.
Alive Mind will now advance the theatrical and festival roll-out of THEATER OF WAR which was recently showcased at New York’s Film Forum to stellar reviews, including that of Mahohla Dargis of the New York Times who called it an “…inspired, inspiring essayistic documentary.” The company has set bookings next month at the Coolidge Corner in Boston with other dates at the Walker in Minneapolis, Facets in Chicago, the Loft Cinema in Tucson, the Wexner Center in Columbus, the Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg, and many more to be announced soon. In addition, Alive Mind will offer public performance copies of the DVD for sale to cultural institutions, universities and libraries under its Alive Mind Education label, and will release the DVD to the consumer market next year.
Richard Lorber, commented, “In the gifted vision of John Walter, Brecht’s work via Tony Kushner takes on a new power, hugely amplified by Streep and Kline, a way of looking at the world through the creation of art and at a work of art from the inside out.”
John Walter adds, “The Alive Mind team has quickly demonstrated that they have an unique and intelligent way of bringing a film to its audience and we are excited to be working with them on THEATER OF WAR.”
About the Film
Filmmaker John Walter artfully captures Meryl Streep groping for – and then seizing – the character in her unforgettable portrayal of Mother Courage in Tony Kushner’s adaptation of the Bertold Brecht masterpiece “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which was presented by The Public Theater/NY Shakespeare Festival in Central Park in the summer of 2006. As Manohla Dargis in the Times observerd, “filmmaker John Walter jumps from art to history and politics and back again, from the theater of the streets to the theater of the stage, without pause. That makes the movie… tough to summarize, which is part of its appeal.” Though this film could easily have been crafted into a star vehicle for Streep and Kevin Kline, Walter instead digs deeply into Brecht’s motives and politics, unearthing the playwright’s famed and famously clever testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee – the day after which he fled from the United States. THEATER OF WAR is about theater and war, capitalism and Marxism, the postwar anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, and one literary genius’s ability to make art from them all.
About Alive Mind
Alive Mind releases documentary programming in the areas of enlightened consciousness and cultural transformation. Alive Mind was launched by industry pioneer Richard Lorber as a specialty distribution arm of his company, Lorber HT Digital. The company seeks to provide its audience with intellectually provocative work from leading filmmakers that delivers the “aha” response of a transformative experience. Current releases include the documentary film on the generation changing stage sensation Hair: Let the Sun Shine In; Academy Award winning director Jessica Yu’s Protagonist; and the internationally acclaimed FLicKeR about Brion Gysin, visionary artist and beat generation inventor of the “Dreamachine.” Upcoming releases include Antonio Ferrera and Albert Maysles’ landmark documentary, THE GATES, and others to be announced soon.
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