Morris Panych's movement piece, based on Nikolai Gogol's tragic 1835 short story of the same name, is reprised here for the CBC. It was originally an exercise for Studio 58, a premier Canadian theatre school. The Vancouver Playhouse commissioned a longer version for its mainstage, and a critical and popular success was born. Luckily for us, it transfers well -- kudos to the producers and film-makers for maintaining the stage production's stunning visuals for TV without losing its soul.
The Man, lithely played by Peter Anderson, is a desperately poor worker in an industrial design office. His anonymity is complete, both with his banal superiors and disaffected social peers. The only people who acknowledge him are his co-workers, who shun and mock him for his shoddy clothes. He saves his pennies until one day he buys a new coat, and he becomes an overnight sensation. What follows is like life itself: equal parts intoxicating, inspiring, humbling and crushing.
A very interested comparison kept hitting me during the showing -- there are many visual references to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Gogol wrote it in 1835, so there's a possibility Lang was familiar with the work -- but it's more possible the fallout from the industrial revolution haunted both men similarly, even 100 years apart.
Despite seemingly disparate themes -- the Overcoat is about an individual's flirtation with popularity after saving pennies for a new jacket, while Metropolis tackles social dystopia on a grand scale -- the common themes and visuals are stunning.
Originally produced as a movement piece for the Vancouver Playhouse, the Overcoat's one-hour TV special luckily managed to capture the wonder of the critical acclaim on film. No doubt Panych had at least a subconscious nod to Metropolis' machine district in his choreography, and set designer Ken MacDonald certainly has to have Lang's opus in his video collection. A definite must-see for fans of Metropolis, movement afficionados, and those who just plain enjoy good film.
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