Wednesday, November 24, 2004

We Three Kings Be Renting Our Hair to Boal

Sorry. That was a really tough title to come up with. Sue me.

But hey, it does let you on to the topic, doesn't it? It even implies the spoiler warning right in there, so I don't even have to make it. (I wonder if I'm going to have one spoiler warning per post . . . we shall see.)

Cassie posted something interesting about RENT and HAIR, and this weekend at T's I saw THREE KINGS. THREE KINGS is a little bit separate from the other two, but the ending does relate, so I'm going to start there.

In 1999, when THREE KINGS (which is excellent and you should see it, though I warn you not to attempt to do anything for hours afterwards) came out, you could probably actually see it as a movie, maybe even some kind of an action movie, where the things that happen are happening to characters in a movie. Nooooooo longer. This is probably a failing on my part, and I guess then on the parts of the people I was watching it with as well, but now that there's another war in Iraq (THREE KINGS is about the end of the Gulf War, if you didn't know), I was watching it almost as documentary, certainly as entirely plausible. Except for the ending. At the end, the refugees get to cross the border (though to Iran--that wouldn't be terrifically helpful in this day 'n' age, that's for sure) and Mark Wahlberg (*such* excellent acting) survives, neither of which probably would have happened in real life. Otherwise it seemed transfixingly real, and led me to say incredulously, "That was the *Gulf War.* *Nothing fucking happened* in the Gulf War. Imagine what's going on over there now."

And yet we were all three (me, T and her roomie) entirely grateful for the implausible semi-happy ending. And this is where the connection to RENT comes in. Probably in 1999 I would have been artistically disappointed by the ending of THREE KINGS; here in 2004 I just this side of required it. Wish-fulfillment much? Which is the same deal as the even-less-plausible ending of RENT--given how desperately I, and presumably David O. Russell (though he *made* the movie in 1999, but maybe he has some connection to the Gulf War that I don't know about explicitly), needed the slight relief of the movie ending as it did, even as I knew it to be implausible and not happening right now, can I really deny Jonathan Larson and his audience of people between six and twenty years older than I, coming of age in one way or another during the American peak of the AIDS crisis and having it deeply impact all those who surround you and effect/attack you, the relief of imagining that ending could happen to people? Which concept offends the work of Augusto Boal, though it seems at first to have some impact on it.

Boal is the creator of the system of Theater of the Oppressed, which is based on the notion that typical theater/art, that is to say Aristotelian catharsis, where you watch theater in order to go through a journey with the characters and to purge your emotions through watching them, is oppressive because it means you purge your feelings in a non-real world, and having them purged don't have to look at their relation to the world in which you live. In other words, or partial other words since Aristotle wrote this concept about the incredibly unforgiving genre of Greek tragedy, since THREE KINGS took me (relatively priveleged in relationship to this situation, though that may change with the advent o' the draft) through such an intense journey but allowed me to believe that such an ending was actually possible, I've purged the need to actually do something to change the conditions that caused the horrors in the movie to occur. Theater of the Oppressed, which I don't want to go into too much detail about right now, is way more interactive--one part of it allows audience members to step into situations they recognize in an attempt to change them. Theater of the Oppressed does not offer answers, it allows the audience to step in and find its own solutions.

You know the Ways to Divide the World--dog people/cat people, techies/fuzzies, beer people/wine people, etc.? My father and I once proposed as one of them question people/answer people, and while applying it to people doesn't always work, I think question art/answer art is one of my strongest deciding factors. In spite of the temporary relief that the ending of THREE KINGS provided, it turned a piece of incredible, incredible question art into answer art, providing the fact that there was one right thing to do, evidenced by the fact that a) the thing they all felt was right to do eventually got done and b) Mark Wahlberg got to survive. Sure, they had to endure a lot of stress and horror and lost a friend, but they got home to the U.S. and everything was okay--I mean, I'm sure Russell meant a certain level of irony by having George Clooney and Ice Cube become Hollywood military consultants, but it's subtle enough that it was probably lost on the majority of the movie's audience. Fundamentally, at the end of THREE KINGS, everything is Okay. Same deal for RENT, as long as you have your family of friends who have made all the same social choices/have all the same social values you have to support you.

Which is, to get to part of the end, why I find HAIR a superior piece of theater to RENT, and specifically consider "Where Do I Go," one of the songs C cited in her post as exemplary in HAIR, superior to all the songs in RENT except for "Santa Fe." Not musically necessarily, because I think Larson's a bloody amazing musician, though the MacDermot-Ragni-Rani team ain't bad themselves (and yes, I did have to look up their names in my iTunes, 'cause I know you were wondering). But in terms of lyrics and service of lyrics to plot, HAIR is about questions. Any answer it offers, say in "Aquarius," (yes, the this-is-the-dawning-of-the-age song itself) it manages to subvert in the course of the storyline. It's showing characters/a social group that thinks something is right, rather than insisting that its audience think the same things right, which I feel RENT does. RENT does put its values out there straightforwardly (this is actually a song lyric that follows--Maureen: "I think we need an agent." Joanne: "That's selling out." Mark: "But it's nice to dream."), but it castigates any individual, within the piece or within the audience, who does not share them to the letter. "Santa Fe" is the only song that really offers a dream and, because of its impossibility, which is inherent in the music as well as the lyrics, doesn't believe that dream as a true solution, simply wishes it could be. And "Where Do I Go," while not nearly as musically compelling, subverts not only the character's professed philosophy/lifestyle, but the very social values the piece ostensibly wholeheardtedly endorses. I think it's wishes and desires within art that propel us to action, not answers. Though that's a very oversimplified answer I just gave right there.

I don't know . . . I am definitely propelled by art, in that it's got the strongest effect on how I make a lot of decisions, choose a lot of directions, etc. But as my father's pointed out, art is basically my family's religion. It's where we seek transcendence, it's what changes us the most, it has a strong impact on our views and decisions. So I relate to art as many relate to Jesus/the Bible, look at these three pieces as many must look at, say, Leviticus? Maybe. I certainly don't see individual pieces of art as irrefutable, the way many see the Bible. Or do I? What's in my canon? Good lord, I have to go to work and can't really start this now.


At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cassie Again.

Wow, I feel so educated reading your posts! Wh needs school! But I think your journal here explains perfectly my reactions to the two musicals initially and now. I said something of this below before reading this entry, so I wont go into it. But I intially loved Rent because I could just sit back and watch it and laugh and cry and dream right along with the characters. I didnt have to figure anything out, I just had to watch and imagine I was there too, in their fun little group. With Hair I left only with questions, both about the piece and production: why did the character do that? Why did the director place them there? Why did it end with that song? And what happened to her? Etc. But now I am listening to the songs knowing more about our country, about other countries, about myself and about world politics and no, I still havent answered all my questions, but I can appreaciate the questions as questions that, for some of them, dont have answers yet. Tragic, since weve had 40 years to answer them. Sorry, this is very unspecific because I am not thinking of the musical directly, just my reactions to this journal. Anyways - long response. Sorry

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me again, sorry Im trashing your journal with comments. But I literally read this five minutes after that last comment.

*specifically the first two boxes - but the author and his entire strip is great!*


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