24 March 2014


I've been teaching.

Which sounds like a confession of some kind.

Today we watched the 2001 film version of Waiting for Godot. I am always suspect of film versions of plays. They are rarely good. Theater translates poorly to film. Almost worse than fiction does.

When it works it's because one of two things have happened in the process. Either the film has managed to cover up the stage origins of the work or it embraces them and allows the film to be 'stagey'.

Can we talk about how Julia Roberts stopped
smiling like this sometime in 1997?
Let's talk about Steel Magnolias.

Which I bet most people don't even know is a play.

I'll start by saying that the movie is real good. In a specific late 80s way. A big hair Olympia Dukakis Pretty Woman era Julia Roberts Dolly Parton in 9 to 5 way. Think about Beaches. That's what I'm talking about.

The play was written by Robert Haling, who adapted the work into the screenplay. It is based on his own sister's death from diabetes. He wrote a short story version first, then changed it into a play within 10 days.

It is a rare example of a work moving quickly form one stage to another. The play premiered in 1987. The move in 1989. Though it never went to Broadway until 2005.

It is most certainly an example of a plays origins being masked.

But it is also a very rare example of a playwright being responsible for the film.

On the other end of the spectrum is another Julia Roberts movie, 2004's Closer.

That film is also written by the original playwright. In this case, Patrick Marber. He also wrote the screenplay for Notes on a Scandal FYI. A film you need to see now.

The play actively refuses to be solid. It is one of roughly drawn character and scene. Things are implied. Plot is left out until afterwards, then only mentioned. Scenery is sparse. It is very post-modern.

The movie takes a note from this. It leaves the characters broadly drawn. It keeps the settings simplistic. And it feels stagy. In this case it makes the whole film feel wooden. Awkward. Distant.

Like it's all being kept from you. This is where the translation from stage to film can go wrong.

The Godot film we watched was basically a stage production with good close-ups. In this case it works. But this is because the play is already strange enough to hold up to the glare of cameras. And the film makers wisely decided to make it a stage production filmed with nice close ups.

And it draws you in like a stage production. Steel Magnolias pulls you with melodrama and sweeping southern town charms. Closer pushes you away. It's hard to say which is better. I prefer to be reminded of the format. I like the disconnect of knowing it's a production. But there still needs to be connection. And sometimes a screen keeps that from happening.

14 March 2014


I often think about the ways languages change.

Over time standards move.

The Guardian spent some time running down the ways English evolves.

The one that stands out to me is Epenthesis. This is when a consonant appears where there isn't one. The examples given are 'thunder' and 'empty'. These words used to be 'thuner' and 'emty'. The example of a word that this is in the process of happening to is 'hamster'. Most people insert a 'p' in there.

This brings to mind the word 'wash'. In central Pennsylvania you will hear it pronounced as 'warsh'.

A lot of people get really caught up being bothered by this.

Say the word 'balm' out loud. If you pronounce the 'l' you are a part of this shifting language. That 'l' was left out. Until very recently.

I can't. Language is beautiful because it isn't a pure thing. We change, borrow, and steal to make it what it is. And I'm happy to see it living and breathing and becoming something new.

Think about people 100 years from now not understanding our spelling and syntax. It's a trippy thought, but take a look at syntax and language from the late 1800s sometime. It will explode your view of how quickly language shifts.

I've recently begun teaching a class on contemporary North American plays. We were reading Jose Rivera's Marisol. We began by talking about the early 90s. The kids in the class are all int heir early 20s so they were babies in the 90s.


We talked about the weirdness of that time. The L.A. riots, the Tailhook scandal, the first World Trade Center bombing, abortion clinic bombings, the mere fact that Nirvana became #1 and a week earlier Michael Jackson was...

There was a sense that culture was in upheaval.

It made me realize that culture shifts quickly the same way language does. That what matters in 1992 will be strange and hard to explain in 2014.

That time and place are impermanent.

))))mind expands((((