Sunday, April 27, 2014



Work continues at Camp Sisterwood on Bodice Ripper, the post-modern feminist musical version of the Jack the Ripper story that I am attempting to choreograph. I must admit it's not going as well as I might like. I had Bob Mackie run up some lovely little satin slips for the ladies of the chorus to wear in the second act brothel ballet only to have something akin to open mutiny from the ladies of the cast. They seem to think that flannel shirts and jackboots are the proper attire for any function and I'm just not getting very far with them at all, although I did at least get them to put taps on their boots for a rousing first act tap number about the queen entitled Victoria's Secret. 

I sat down with Vera Charles, who is playing the lead, for apple martinis in a local watering hole in an attempt to find some way through this troubled production. She thinks perhaps a tried and true stage gimmick might be just the trick so we've decided to convert the first act finale into an aerial ballet. Flying by Foy is arriving this weekend to get the ladies into harness. Perhaps hauling them up on cables will make them a little lighter on their feet. I have this vision of Vera, as the ripper character, all in black, flitting amongst the ladies of the chorus in front of a blood red cyclorama bearing a large axe in one hand and a machete in the other. 

After the martinis, we joined Normy at the local Cineplex for a matinee screening of Oliver Stone's new historical epic, Alexander. Stone is not usually drawn to period material, usually choosing instead to probe the mind and mores of the modern but one can see his interest in Alexander the Great and his story with its themes of conquest, visionary leadership, lust, power and hubris. The historical Alexander rose, in the fourth century BC, from relative obscurity as king of Macedonia to ruler of much of the known world within the space of fifteen years. After his premature death, his empire collapsed rapidly but the Hellenistic civilization he brought to lands from Greece to India altered the lives of millions and changed the course of historical development of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Central Asia. 

Alexander, the film, tries to find a way to make sense of a tumultuous and event filled life occurring in a historical period with which many of us may be unfamiliar. To keep the film under three hours, Stone has to settle for a Classics Comics Highlights version, skipping from scene to scene and leaving out a lot of the historical record. While Stone is able to keep his narrative thread, he sacrifices any coherent point of view. We never learn if this Alexander is a hero, a madman, a genius. As soon as we have a scene that seems to establish him in a certain light, we skip ahead to something opposing. This may be deliberate in order to show the massive contradictions in his life, but it's not good cinema without someone to guide us through it. Colin Farrell, in the lead role, is too remote. We never get inside his head and nothing comes through about how this man could have inspired his armies or created his empire. He's not a bad actor, although most of his big speeches smack of community theater productions of Henry V, he's just not given a well realized character. 

To try and keep us on track, Stone as writer/director gives us the voice over narrator (Anthony Hopkins as the aged general Ptolemy who ended up as ruler of Egypt after the collapse of the empire). While Ptolemy is present (in the guise of younger actor Robert Earley) for most of the key scenes, there's no real sense of connection between the two. Ptolemy is no more than one of a dozen supporting generals and friends who appear interchangeably in various battle scenes and strategy sessions. The supporting cast come off a bit better. Val Kilmer obviously relishes his role as Alexander's father, one eyed King Philip of Macedon and has great fun roaring with abandon. But he has a coherent character to play. As Alexander's mother, Olympias, Angelina Jolie has a fierceness and determination which far out shadow Farrell's; it's she who should be leading armies into the unknown and they'd follow her. Unfortunately, someone decided to show her 'otherness' by modeling her performance on Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle. I kept expecting her to bully some handmaiden into finding moose and squirrel. 

The film plays coy with Alexander's personal life. His well documented life long relationship with his comrade Hephastion (Jared Leto) is there, but so circumspect in its dealing with its physical nature (one assumes to keep from offending the mall crowd) that it's probably a mystery to many viewers why Hephastion is even in the film at all. It doesn't help that Mr. Leto has the charisma of an anchovy. The relationship with the Persian boy, Bagoas (Francisco Bosch) is so downplayed, that it's barely in the film. Farrell only truly romps with Rosario Dawson as the Afghan woman, Roxane, whom Alexander marries to help cement relations with the Asiatic part of the empire. (A move that helped make him the only successful conqueror of Afghanistan). Hellenistic views of sexuality were very different than our own and the attempts to tuck Alexander neatly into modern constructs seem disingenuous and dishonest to say the least. 

The film brings the ancient world to life. The gorgeous sets are at their best when they're not overly impressive. (Babylon here looks an awful lot like Intolerance, only grander.) The entire Moroccan army is employed to recreate the great battle of Gaugamela in which Alexander defeated Darius of Persia cementing his fame and empire. The only problem being that the film doesn't ever get around to explaining who Darius was or any of the events that led up to the battle. The battle sequences are technically skillful, full of severed limbs, squirting blood and rampaging elephants, but they all go on for far too long making the movie seem noisily tedious at times. 

I can't say the film is as bad as some have suggested. At the same time, some tidy editing and some judicious rewriting could have helped immensely. It's worth a peek on some rainy Saturday while waiting for your nails to dry. 

Mythic paintings. Horse taming. Royal assassination. Persian harem. Elephant stomping. Impalements. Pithing. Gratuitous symbolic eagle. Drinking bouts. Stoning aftermath. Monkey battle. Symbolic ring dropping.

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