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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 So-Called Disaster basically documents the pre-production of Sam Shepard's 2000 play, `The Late Henry Moss', from about the third week of rehearsals to opening night. The movie is overall very engaging in its presentation of the featured actors involved, and because the visual style makes the viewer feel as though they were in the audience during the play's preparations.
Because `Henry Moss' is partially autobiographical, this movie provides some scenes of Shepard providing anecdotes about growing up with his father. I liked these scenes very much, because Sam Shepard's relationship with his father did was not typical of some relationships that alcoholic fathers had with their sons. There is a sense that Shepard accepted the way in which his father acted while drunk, and did not seem to have too much of a problem maintaining a relationship with him.
But the parts of Disaster that I particularly liked were everything involving the rehearsals of the play. It is very interesting to see the contrasting styles of preparation seen in the different actors, such as Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Cheech Marin, Woody Harrelson, and John Gammon. It was amazing to see that these actors were able to nail their performances every time they rehearsed their lines.
Along with their preparations, I was able to see these people in a much different light than I ever had before. In this movie, I wasn't seeing Sean Penn, bad boy actor, or Nick Nolte the oddball (though he does have his moments). The actors in the play are presented in this movie as people who are actors, not Hollywood movie stars.
Michael Almereyda does the viewer a favor by keeping the camera pretty much stationary throughout the picture. Early on, I thought I had to prepare myself for some sort of home video visual style, which is very amateurish in that it shakes all over the place and never settles down. But thankfully, the camera allows the audience to see this movie as though they were in the theater, watching people like Penn, Nolte, and others get ready for their performances.
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