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Catastrophe (2000)

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6.5
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Ratings: 6.5/10 from 156 users  
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A stage director and his female assistant find the blackest protagonist possible, then make him up as white as possible, to create the titular character.

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Complete credited cast:
Harold Pinter ...
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The Director's Assistant
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One of Samuel Beckett's shortest plays. A director and his assistant prepare an aged man for a public spectacle for a political purpose. The play was dedicated to the Czech dissident Vaclev Havel and was recently revived by the director and scientist Stephen Armourae as part of his 'New Blood' Theatre Season. The role of the aged protagonist was shared between Armourae and the actress Rosanna Hoult as a means of subverting Beckett's messages till further by presenting either Armourae or the very pretty Rosanna as the supposedly aged man as described in Beckett's text: Armourae and Hoult have worked as models. Written by filmweaver

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John Gielgud's final acting project. See more »

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no matter try again fail again fail better
7 March 2003 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

It's quite an achievement to take a five minute play and completely miss the point, but that's what David Mamet seems to have done. Beckett's play is about a director and his assistants trying to create a stage image of abject despair. They take an actor, the Protagonist, who remains silent throughout, and adjust him and tweak him until his clothing and posture project the required image of pitiful dejectedness. Then they shine a light on him and admire their handiwork, and the applause of a vast audience echoes through the theatre. But instead of staying in his abject position, the Protagonist rebels: he lifts his head and stares the audience in the eye. The applause falters and dies. End of play.

It's probably the most optimistic play Beckett wrote and symbolises the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of totalitarianism (it was written for the imprisoned Czech playwright Vaclav Havel).

Anyway, Mamet spoils it by trying to make it naturalistic. First, he films it in a real place, which looks like a tiny theatre in a village hall, with dinky wooden chairs and a parquet floor. This means that Harold Pinter, as the Director, looks like a local amateur dramatics honcho rather than a symbol of totalitarian oppression. Secondly, Mamet ignores Beckett's stage direction about the applause of a vast audience, and instead gives us only the Director's Assistant clapping; this removes the film even further from its satire on totalitarianism. Finally, Mamet obscures John Gielgud's poignant performance as the Protagonist: we don't see him raise his head, and only see his face for a couple of seconds (whereas Beckett asks for a long pause), so the play's most powerful moment is muffled.

All I have to say, Mr Mamet, is, IT'S MEANT TO BE SYMBOLIC!! Hello...?


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