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Scott Joplin's ragtime gets its dues

1973's The Sting took it global, but there's more to ragtime music than that film's Keystone Kops crazy-chase soundtrack

Reading on mobile? Click here to listen to The Maple Leaf Rag played by Scott Joplin

One album was all it took to herald a revival. In 1970, the year of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Beatles' Let It Be, a record of arcane late 19th-century American piano music, released on a label that was otherwise building its reputation as a chronicler of the hardcore American avant-garde, began to sell in implausible quantities. Audiences ordinarily enamoured of piano miniatures by Chopin, Brahms and Liszt were suddenly taking pleasure in the compositions of Scott Joplin, the Texas-born "King of Ragtime" whose über-catchy 1899 Maple Leaf Rag brought him immediate popularity, but who died in 1917 with two typically embarrassing composerly problems hanging over him: syphilis and a terminally unproduced opera, Treemonisha,
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Film review: 'Illuminata'

Film review: 'Illuminata'
Backbiting, treachery, sexual dalliance, intrigues -- that is the stuff of drama, often more behind stage than actually on the boards. John Turturro's "Illuminata" is a raucously radiant depiction of theater-company dramatics. It's a bawdy and flowery piece that should enliven art house business in the U.S.

Bolstered by a premiere cast, including Turturro, Susan Sarandon, Beverly D'Angelo and Christopher Walken, "Illuminata" is a fleshy and aptly messy treatise on creativity and survival. In Turturro's adaptation of a stage play, we center in on a struggling New York repertory company at around the turn of the century. Not surprisingly, the playwright Tuccio (Turturro) and the lead actress (Katherine Borowitz) have a mutually beneficial relationship, both professional and sexual. Unfortunately for Tuccio, his lead actor doesn't break a leg during the first performance, he dies. Nevertheless, playwrights are an especially nimble lot and Tuccio has another play that he is eager to substitute, an idea not seconded by the theater's management. Alas, an aging diva (Susan Sarandon) sees advantage in the new play -- there is a big part for her as, incredibly, an ingenue -- and she shepherds the work to the schedule.

Brimming with vainglorious characters, each with their career agendas, "Illuminata" is both a satirical look at the theater as well as a shrewd commentary on creativity. Despite some scathing commentary on the morality of "theater people," the scenario (Brandon Cole, John Turturro) is an unabashed love poem to the theater. Their screenplay is a ripe tribute to the theater and peppered by from-the-wings insights into the magical and manic process.

Fittingly, the film comes most alive in the performances with Turturro evincing a wonderful lead performance as the ambitious playwright. A special delight are the sprightly performances by Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken who push their portrayals to the red line. As the prima-donna diva, Sarandon exudes appetite and manipulation, while Walken is terrific as a foppish, egocentric drama critic.

Under Turturro's affectionate hand, the technical contributions are consistently marvelous, from cinematographer Harris Savides' lush lensings to composer William Bolcom's circus-style score, which conveys the zest and craziness of the great and small dramas going on off stage.

In Competition

Illuminata

Overseas Filmgroup

CREDITS:

Executive producer:Giovanni di Clemente

Producers:John Penotti, John Turturro

Director:John Turturro

Screenwriters:Brandon Cole, John Turturro

Based on an original play by:Brandon Cole

Director of photography:Harris Savides

Editor:Michael Berenbaum

Line producer:Carol Cuddy

Music:William Bolcom with Arnold Black

Conceptual designer:Roman Paska, Donna Zakowska

Production designer:Robin Standefer

Costume designer:Donna Zakowska

Casting:Todd Thaler

CAST:

Tuccio:John Turturro

Rachel:Katherine Borowitz

Celimene:Susan Sarandon

Bevalaqua:Christopher Walken

Astergourd:Beverly D'Angelo

Simone:Georgina Gates

Dominique:Rufus Sewell

Old Flavio:Ben Gazzara

Marco:Bill Irwin

Pallenchio:Donal McCann

Marta:Aida Turturro

Running time:120 minutes

See also

Credited With | External Sites