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In 1961, famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram designed a psychology experiment in which people think they're delivering electric shocks to an affable stranger strapped into a chair in another room.
After the American playwright and actor Sam Shepard had played the role of the ghost in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet, Shepard invited the filmmaker to document rehearsals for his The Late Henry Moss, that he staged with Nick Nolte and Sean Penn in leading roles. Almereyda and his crew filmed the last three weeks before the première. The film combines interviews with Shepard, his actors and staff with images of the rehearsals. The result is both a portrait and a unique glimpse of top actors seeking their way through the material. The film also offers a survey of the career of Shepard, including a report of his stormy relationship with his father, who died in 1984. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
This is a hard film to review because basically it was nothing more than a documentary reviewing the performances and story of Shepard's new play. It was a huge review that showcased the talents of the artist and the director while also giving us a backstage pass to a play many of us probably never heard of. It was our chance to see art in progress without having to leave the comfort of our couches. This was sad to see because we as people should be getting out of our seats and spending more time in museums, theaters, and galleries, but for those that do not wish to do so we have this film to enjoy. We get to see one side of the story with good emotional moments torn out to allow for more of Shepard trying to show us that this play is not about his life, but instead just a work of fiction.
While I am sure that this comment will anger some, I felt that this documentary was too commercial. I say this because I am not really sure what the purpose of making this film was. By the end of the film, I am excited to see that Shepard's work paid of well for him, but I never really saw him struggling. I guess that I am brought up in the MTV generation where "reality programs" have that constant theme of emotional turbulence, but there was nothing in this feature that came close to that. There was honestly no real direction that director Michael Almereyda gave to his film. Were we to see that Shepard was a bastard in real life because of the influence of his father? Maybe, but it was never shown. There was the one scene where Shepard tells Nolte to forget that his mother just died because he has a job to fulfill, a job that basically highlights the death of his own father. I thought that this was rude of Shepard, and I felt some unknown sympathy for Nolte. Outside of this Shepard was never really mean to his actors nor did he ever really blow a fuse. His emotional level was non-existent as he wandered through this documentary. Perhaps this film was to show how the actors stressed emotionally and physically to Shepard's style of directing? I would have to say I never saw this either. The actors did their job (well, maybe not Woody) and they listened to what Shepard had to say. He was respected and everyone gave him the respect that he deserved. This was a flawless performance and development that I thought Almereyda was trying to create. I thought he was the catalyst in this film, only causing more trouble than actually showing the play itself. It almost felt as if he was digging his nose into other people's business, and they were not receptive to it. I remember one scene where Penn literally ran away when he saw the camera. I don't think anyone was overly excited about this guy filming their work.
Overall, I was not impressed with this film. I have seen documentaries come and go that better showcase the trials or honesty of a production than this film did. I felt at times the documentary felt scripted and forced to both us the viewers and the actors. Shepard was a pit of lies as he attempted to push the idea that this was not about his life, but instead a "father/son" themed performance, when in actuality there was documented proof that Henry Moss was a very close representation of his father. I wanted honesty with everyone, and I found none of it. I had trouble seeing what the purpose of this documentary. If it was to show how Hollywood hitters go back to their roots and learn acting 101, then so be it but it had to be longer. The time of 89 minutes just didn't give me enough meat and potatoes to fully appreciate the work. We were jumbled around between the direction, the acting, and the sub-stories that ultimately plagued this film, but not the production of the play. There was no reason for this film and I think that Almereyda was really grabbing and hoping that he would uncover something, yet he never did. I was unhappy with the final cut of this film and do not suggest it to anyone. Skip it; there are better ones out there!
Grade: * out of *****
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