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"Great Performances" Oedipus Rex (1993)

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:


Author: bartc-1 from Los Angeles
3 June 2002

This is a video version of a stage production, with extra shooting for the video edition. The result gains both the drama of the stage with the impact of well produced film. The set by George Tsypin, with sculptures and masks by Julie Taymor are superb.

Jessye Norman is terrific, and one gets to hear (and see) the young Bryn Terfel. This production is stunning, emotional and majestic. If you don't see this you have missed out.

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Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
15 May 2012

What a fantastic performance. I admit I am not the biggest Stravinsky fan, though he is growing on me all the time, I do acknowledge his importance in music and would never question it, but Oedipus Rex is extraordinary and ranks as his best work with The Firebird not close behind. I cannot fault this performance at all really. The costumes and sets are stunning, and the staging is reserved yet artistic and maintains Oedipus Rex's emotional impact. The whole performance is beautifully photographed as well, never static or distracting. The music is riveting, and the powerful orchestral playing and Seji Ozawa's firm conducting are equally so. The performances I cannot fault either, Phillip Langridge plays Oedipus with his usual dramatic commitment and not always beautiful but still wonderful, Jessye Norman is a dramatically riveting and stately Jocaste, Kayoko Shiraishi's monologues in Japanese are delivered with such pathos and a young Bryn Terfel sings as virile as ever before. Overall, an amazing performance of Stravinsky's masterpiece. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Sparse Riches, Sight and Containment

Author: tedg ( from Virginia Beach
11 January 2006

I was asked recently who my favorite woman filmmaker was. I didn't hesitate in my answer, Julie Taymor.

She's not a real filmmaker in the sense I demand, more of a set designer with an eye that understands the effect of camera placement and the rhythms of movement and color in the multiple threads of the drama, the motion we see and the motions we make.

I recently saw the masterful "Dracula" by Guy Madden, so took the effort to search this project out. I am so glad I did.

First of all, you have to understand the simple state in which it exists. It is a Greek play, so therefore a stark and abstract thing, about sight and fate. On this, a Frenchman (himself a master filmmaker) overlaid a libretto (in Latin!) that added a level of reflection, where the characters see each other in a more self-aware fashion than Greeks could.

Philip Glass constructed music for the opera thus drawn, music that may be his best opera because the notions have to do with richly elaborated starkness. And that's generally how his music forms.

Now take that stack, and restage, reimagine it with imperious Shinto narration, and temple- derived sets. Have the actors affect Kabuki manner, itself extremely refined notions of visual conveyance (and incidentally almost never filmed well).

The best Japanese conductor. Some strong performers.

Now, add Taymor to the equation.

I know many of my readers will have not seen the film and want to imagine what it is like.

Taymor's influences are shadow puppets from Indonesia, recast as giant animated puppets that the characters wear. Each is a Golem, a stone-like abstraction inhabited by someone clearly on fire. She uses Welles-like angles and Greenaway-like composition, and like both of those, every element of what you see and how you see is deeply, deeply integrated.

I am considering this as one of the two films from 95 that I allow on my most watch list.

Is it important that it is by a woman? Well, I have to answer that if I did not know it was a woman, I could not deduce it. I mean, who could tell Lionel Hampton was gay through his jazz? Even he didn't know.

But knowing enriches the thing.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

the best of the best

Author: red_amok from United States
8 December 2007

The music is by Stravinsky (and not by stupid incompetent Philip Glass) and was written ten years before glass' unfortunate birth. The staging is simply extraordinary. The narrative in Japanese adds a threatening quality and intensity that the Latin version does not have. cf. Terzieff's version. The giant heads and hands are totally justified by the mythic aspect of the tale. The props and make up used for the plague are simply spot on. It's Taymor's best work. The singers are very good, especially Terfel. Langridge is quite moving and clean, and Norman finds the right expression, and her beauty is magnified here and finds its right place: larger than life. Simply a must.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:


Author: Framescourer from London, UK
28 January 2006

A pretty straightforward rendition of Stravinsky's extraordinary dramatic oratorio, dramatically and musically speaking. Most striking is the production design, not entirely divorced from Noh theatre with its economical, stylised movements and masks (worn on rather than over the head by the soloists).

Key to the success of this film of the staging is the intrusive freedom of the camera, getting right in close to singers, chorus and actors alike. This is a good compensating decision in respect of the comparative immobility of the cast (in respect of Stravinsky's intentions).

The music is well-performed although the sound, taken from the live performances has a bizarre open-air recoil to it. This doesn't detract from the overall impact of the film though - it may even be said to be a defining feature of it. 6/10

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

As long as he loves his mother

Author: Gyran from Birmingham, England
10 January 2006

This film is a tour de force from Julie Taymor who directs and does the stage design and masks. No-one comes near to matching her imagination on the modern operatic stage. Since making this film in 1992 she has had much success in film-making and in directing musicals. One can only hope that she can be persuaded to return to opera one day. I would love to see a Ring cycle directed by her. The current Rheingold at Covent Garden has giants with over-sized hands just like the characters in this film. The current Butterfly at ENO uses Japanese puppetry. Coincidence maybe, or evidence that Taymor's influence is pervasive.

Taymar uses fantastical costumes, masks, puppets, and origami birds to recreate the story of Oedipus on a stage set on stilts above a lake. Red ribbons are a recurring theme. They are used as an umbilical chord when Oedipus is born, they hang down from Oedipus's eyes after he has blinded himself, in a breathtaking effect they are used to make a crossroads when Oedipus's slaying of his father is reenacted by puppets.

This neo-classical opera-ballet by Stravinsky enjoyed justified obscurity until this film brought it to life. The music is uninspired but inoffensive and Philip Langridge, Jesse Norman and a very young Bryn Terfel make the most of it. The singers are fairly immobile, in accordance with Stravinsky's wishes. Min Tanaka is the dancing Oedipus to Langridge's singing Oedipus. This creates some slight confusion towards the end when dancing Oedipus pokes out the eyes of singing Oedipus.

The libretto is in Latin but do not worry if your high-school Latin is a bit rusty. There is a helpful narrator who introduces and describes each scene in Japanese.

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