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A writer at the centre of one of the most elegant, entertaining, thoughtful and soulful tales to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time. John Guare's children are based , it seems, in real life people. How lucky for Guare to have found the great Fred Schepsi as their perfect foster father. Will Smith plays a man without identity, choosing one for himself, with such care, with such gusto that everyone remains enthralled, first of all us, the audience. Stockard Channing's Ouisa discovers a new side to her own self in front of our eyes. It is a performance of guts and beauty. Donald Sutherland's Flan is a first for the movies, we've never met a character like him on the screen. The scene in which he listens to Will Smith's Paul explain his thesis is a triumph. We see Flan falling in love. It is chillingly beautiful. Then, of course, the aforementioned Will Smith, he moves with a borrowed self confidence, like his character and it's impossible not to love him. He has the elegance of a Cary Grant and the charisma that we all now associate with Will Smith. I only regret that he didn't go for the kiss. That would have completed the shocking sum of all his parts. I love this film. I love John Guare for writing it. I love Schepsi (he's an old love of mine "Cry in Dark" "Plenty") The superb editing, the wonderful tangoish score and the work of the production and costume designers makes "Six Degrees of Separation" one of the most rewarding movie experiences. On this terrible summer of World at Wars, New Batmans and some other horrors, do yourself a favour. Rent the DVD and stay for dinner at home with the Kittredges.
SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION is an outstanding play transformed to the
screen with dignity but with a script that keeps us in the live theatre
instead of in a motion picture. Not that that is a bad thing: the
script by John Guare is brilliant. It simply seems a little static,
with its marvelous plays on words, repeated phrases, and disjointed
movements significant unto themselves but not really taking advantage
of cinematic possibilities of flow.
Essentially the tale of how a married couple who deal art (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland - both in peak form) are so caught up in their superficial lives that they are taken in by a handsome young African American con artist (Will Smith) whose various antics bring the couple round to reexamining their shallow existence. Most of the story is related over art dealings and dinner conversations and are peopled by such luminaries as Kitty Carlisle, Ian McKellen, artists Chuck Close and Kazuko, Mary Beth Hurt, Bruce Davidson etc - a really fine ensemble. There are many social comments clustered in this story and it continues to play well after its origins on the stage and fifteen years after the movie was made. This was one of Will Smith's entries into film as well as one of the gifted Stockard Channing's finest roles. Highly recommended for repeated viewings. Grady Harp
Puzzling offhanded moody film. I was struck by what seemed the
underlying assertion: the deep if unconscious longing of the divided
social classes in the country -- the wealthy and the disenfranchised --
for each other. The deep longing to heal the rift of "separation" that
the whole class system perpetuates through how people behave, who they
associate with, who is considered desirable.
The rich couple and especially Stockard Channing's character of Louisa is caught up in an affluent world of witty pretentious empty existence -- one they are exceedingly skilled at, and are able to milk to good profit. When they meet Paul (Will Smith's character), they are drawn to his directness, his charm -- he is skilled at being relaxed and conversant in their cultured world, yet he lacks the pretense of the elder members or the (satirically exaggerated) spoiled disaffection of the younger members, their children. They both relish telling the story and their friends seem undyingly riveted by it -- and Loisa especially tastes of a richness, a directness, a spark to life that she does not have.
Will Smith's character of Paul also longs for a life he does not have, their Upper East Side life. For the wealth, certainly, but also for the very real values of education, ideas, and that spark of art that is separate from the worldly commercial side of art's buying and selling. The slap that Louisa joyously gives to the hand of God in the Sistine Chapel.
Both sides are profoundly hurt by the rift, the gulf, that exists almost never to be crossed between Paul's ghetto and the Kittridges' beautiful penthouse. There may be a "mere" six degrees of separation between them but as Louisa meditates, how to broach them? How to find the people that came connect you?
(In "Six Degrees" it is interesting and telling that it is the gay member of the set that serves as the crossover person, the means by which Paul can make his more profound crossover. Somehow, those who are owning-class gay stand with a foot in both worlds they have a large degree of entree into the worldly affluent classes, yet they are also outcasts.)
As a comment outside the movie, it's my opinion that the class system is kept inexorably in place so that the wealthy might never have human relationships as equals with those whose labor they exploit, so as to avoid the pangs of conscience about benefiting unjustly from their labor. (One of Gandhi's seven root causes of injustice is: Wealth Without Work. In a just world, every person reaps the product of her or his own work; while to be wealthy, one generally must have people working for you from whom you derive some percentage profit of their work.)
But while this may sound radical, my further belief is that not only does this system hurt the poor, it also hurts the wealthy in profound ways. They get the wonderful apartments and private access to the Kandinsky, but their lives are empty and they don't see a way out, they must keep going to the obligatory mannered dinner parties at the price of a life that feels rich and alive with imagination.
This is the film that made even the most harshest critics admit that Will Smith had real potential as far as being a serious actor is concerned. This is the story of a young gay hustler named Paul (Smith) who knocks on the door of Ouisa and Flan Kittredge (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland) and tells them a story of being mugged and also being the son of Sidney Poitier. He says he knows their children from college and remembered they lived there so thats why he came. After a lot of talking and impressing them he cooks them a nice dinner and they invite him to spend the night. They also loan him money but in the morning they find him with another man and they kick everyone out. The Kittredge's talk to their friends and find out that they all encountered Paul as well but were afraid to say something because they were embarrassed. The films title refers to the fact that we all know everyone by six people or degrees. The main focus of the film deals with how this young man made these characters take a good hard look at themselves and the relationship they have with each other and their children. The writing is very sharp and for most of us what is being said onscreen can easily go over our heads. Its a very intelligent script that forces the characters to see things that they seem to take for granted. Directed by Fred Schepisi who has shown a real knack for filming plays before and he also has shown to be very good at making films that are more character oriented. I remember one of his first films from the 70's called "The Devils Playground" and was impressed at that time by his direction. What really stood out for me though were the performances. Will Smith seems to tackle this complex script with an all to easy manner. As I watched his performance it was clear that he really understood the script and his character. You don't see that everyday from such a young actor, especially one that has limited training. But for me the best performance comes from Stockard Channing who was in the play as well. She's always been a very strong actress and a very underrated one at that. While watching her character in this film Channing does a wonderful job of allowing the viewer to watch her characters attitude change from the first scene to the very last. It really is Channings film and she received a well deserved Oscar nomination for it. Its one of the best in her career and its the driving force for the film. Casual film watchers may be put off by the sharp dialogue at first but I hope they stay with it, its a very good film about self realization and all the actors here are terrific.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At once you can see this was a stage play, with the concentration on dialogue, and although it stands out somewhat here, and there is a slight edge of everything being just a notch above the usual, the visuals and acting bring you into this great story quite easily. Will Smith acts his pants off, well quite literally in some scenes, but he is superb in this role, and acting along such names as Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland, both of whom are spectacular in their roles. A story based around the idea that everyone is connected to everyone else by a maximum of six other people, it's just finding those six that make the link, and this is turned into an extremely interesting story, told in a series of anecdotal discussions between the main characters and their friends and business partners at various different social occasions. You find yourself drawn and fascinated to the tale as it unfolds, almost feeling as though you are one of those people, eager to hear the next step in the tale. However, I felt somewhat disappointed in the ending, almost as though it didn't fit and came out of nowhere. Yet the ideas of the stranger giving the couple more than they gave the stranger was a good one, I just think what they finally got wasn't what the story needed but then, sometimes that's life. A very good story, with brilliant performances, well worth watching.
This movie is absolutely stunning. Very original in plot, colors, and directing, with a superb soundtrack. It discusses how we are all no more then 6 degrees of separation from eachother. Yet this aspect is only the plot. In reality it adds another perspective on our daily lives. Through Ouisa Kittridge it teaches us how mundane our everyday events are, that we all need something drastic to happen to bring us out of sleepy everyday into a fun, exciting, new being. We are equated to John Kittridge who lives his self involved life not noticing the people around him - not the hippy couple in the park who happen to be artists, nor his kids away in college, not even his wife's true personality. Through Ouisa we are shown how we all look for something new to enter our lives, even a sham like Paul can turn us around, give a new meaning to the mundane. Of course the tango musical theme combined with extensive monologues by Paul forces viewer to dance with and listen into the characters, almost becoming one. (9+/10)
I don't understand why the public and the critic didn't celebrate "Six Degrees of Separation". It is a very, very good and unusual dramatic comedy about, among other subjects, the high society life and the ambitions. I liked this film very much and I highly recommend it. However, there is a hollow ending and so I gave it a 9 out of 10. The same way a must-see.
I saw Stockard Channing do this play on Broadway, and it remains one of
best theater experiences ever. It's really the story of her character
gradually seeing that her life is just pretty surfaces, and in meeting
young con-man with whom she makes an intense emotional connection, that
wants more than her marriage, her friends, her life. The dialogue goes
the wind and you barely get a chance to catch your breath; some of the
dialogue is spoken as a soliloquy. It's John Guare's mastery of the
language at its best, better than "The House of Blue Leaves." I'm much
of a movie person than a theater person, but this play really
Unfortunately the translation to film is only partially successful. Whereas the play is a spoken confessional of Oiusa Kitteridge, the movie emphasizes Paul (Will Smith). Smith does a good-to-great job with this character. The transition from a verbal to a visual medium robs the language of much of its power, and rather than re-write it as a movie, it's sort of a 'half-transition,' which doesn't really please anyone. The other problem I had with it was Donald Sutherland; who wasn't half-bad. But John Cunningham, who played the role on Broadway, was sharper, harder, a GAMBLER...Sutherland just comes across as a nice guy that gets a bit upset that he's been conned. And the emotional blow that comes at the end of the play when you realize that Oiusa's perfect marriage is falling apart just doesn't come across.
Still fascinating for its premise and worth a look; even this watered-down version never fails to entertain.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"David took a great joy in living the life he lived," said attorney Ronald Kuby, who knew Hampton for more than a decade. "It was performance art on the world's smallest possible stage, usually involving an audience of only one or two." -- Obituary for David Hampton, Associated Press Saturday, July 19, 2003
In SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, Paul, a con artist passing himself off as the son of Sidney Poitier, has a wonderful monologue. He goes into detail describing a nonexistent thesis he claims to have written about the book "The Catcher in the Rye" and about how its themes have become a manifesto for violence. It is a beautifully written piece by playwright/screenwriter John Guare that Will Smith does so well that you might not at first realize that it is really about the character that Smith is actually playing. "Catcher's" Holden Caulfield is a liar, but he hates phonies; wants to be liked, but mostly shows contempt for others; and he complains that people just don't see what is obvious. Holden sees himself as one person, but reveals himself to be someone quite different. So does Paul.
SIX DEGREES, play and movie, is based on a true incident. David Hampton pulled the Sidney Poitier scam in the early 1980s and insinuated himself into the lives of various affluent New Yorkers. His hoax was eventually revealed and the result for Hampton was a jail sentence and, thanks to Guare's fanciful play, minor celebrity status. Told mostly from the viewpoint of the generous, star-struck and gullible people that Hampton scammed, personified by the fictitious Flan and Ouisa Kitteridge (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing), the film apparently expands on monologues from the play, opening things up so that the tale slowly becomes a minor New York urban legend. As the Kitteridges compare notes with other victims of Paul's masquerade, the legend grows and the story shifts from anger, to amazement, to giddy amusement, before turning suddenly tragic.
For the most part the film is a gentle comedy, not that far removed from the screwball farces of the 30s and 40s which found basically good people falling for lovable rascals who brazenly assume false identities. The message was that respectability is only skin deep; true integrity lies much deeper. SIX DEGREES embraces that ideal by making Paul's con game basically harmless, a plea for acceptance and identity, not a petty swindle. As long as the film maintains this sense of innocence, it is an utterly charming tale. But like Paul, the filmmakers reach beyond their grasp and the film falters.
The film has problems, which standout all the more because of the intelligence of the overall quality of the production. It is jarring, for instance, when we are introduced to the various children of the main characters, because they are shown to be loud, bitter and antagonistic. Since the adults are shown to be so nice, albeit self-absorbed, it is hard to believe that they are all supposedly to be lousy parents. Certainly these college kids are meant to represent a contrast to Paul's overt politeness, as well as illustrate a generation gap, but the kids are just too overwhelmingly unpleasant and ungrateful. Their scenes ring false.
Also, Ouisa at one point angrily insists that the entire story has to be more than just a cocktail party anecdote; yet in the end, that is all that it is and that is how the film unfolds. It is a stylishly told tale, made all the more intriguing because it is based on the truth, but the film strives to romanticize it all of out of proportion. It is suggested that what would rightly be no more than an amusing footnote in these characters' lives, should be treated as mythic tragedy. The film ends on a particularly ridiculous note, wherein Ouisa apparently walks out on Flan because he doesn't share her belief that Paul's story has been a life transforming experience. We are to assume from the ending that her encounter with Paul has been a liberating experience that has awakened her to the shallowness of her life and the emptiness of her marriage. This is absurd, especially the latter part; Flan and Ouisa are depicted as being deeply devoted to each other throughout the story, making her sudden exit inexplicable. But feminist cliche dictates that liberated women must abandoned their husbands. Channing is, as always, just wonderful in the role of Ouisa, and she almost makes the character's impulsive behavior seem credible. But, in the end, we are left befuddled like Flan, not irate and angry like Ouisa.
It is a pity that Guare and director Fred Schepisi weren't satisfied with simply letting the story be a gentle satire on our celebrity driven society. It seems they had to somehow justify making the film by creating fake drama out of real life farce.
The pampered rich folk of Manhattan get skewered alive in this elegant adaptation of John Guare's hit play. Based on an amazing true story, the film concerns a wealthy Manhattan couple (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland) whose lives are turned upside down when a young black man (Will Smith) who claims to be a friend of their children's drops in after having been attacked in the park. He says he's Sidney Poitier's son, cooks up a gourmet meal, quotes "Catcher in the Rye," and endears himself to this couple. As the film progresses, one stunning event after another occurs, culminating in a beautifully cathartic ending. Sutherland gives one of his best performances, but it is the luminescent Channing who steals the movie. It is so nice to see this gifted actress -- looking more beautiful than ever -- in the lead as opposed to playing someone's best friend. Her impeccable timing and innate charm elevate an already dazzling screenplay to heights unimaginable. "Six Degrees of Separation" is as witty, thoughtful, and relevant as any film made the entire decade.
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