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Theater of War (2008)

 |  Documentary  |  April 2008 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 163 users   Metascore: 68/100
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A behind-the-scenes look at The Public Theater's production of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage" that examines the playwright's life and ideas.


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Credited cast:
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bertolt Brecht ...
Himself (archive footage)
Barbara Brecht-Schall ...
Army Recruiter
Jeremy Lydic ...
Silvestre Rasuk ...


A behind-the-scenes look at The Public Theater's production of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage" that examines the playwright's life and ideas.

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Fights Itself
1 August 2009 | by (Virginia Beach) – See all my reviews

There are several narratives here, shoved together. While some of them are compelling by themselves, the combination sometimes eats itself.

The main backbone of the thing is a production of "Mother Courage" put on recently in New York City. It features Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and others, being a new translation with new songs. The play is a strange thing, highly theoretical in form and apparently difficult to present properly — meaning with the original, ironic intent. It is an anti-war presentation with a nuance usually not present in such things. The idea is that though it is the powerful who push war for profit, it is the "little folks" who truly enable it by compliance.

A layer on top of that is essentially a documentary on the development of the production: rehearsals and such. It may have been the original intent of the filmmakers to have just these two threads, combined in the manner of "Vanya on 42nd Street," where the politics and interaction of the production mirror and annotate the play.

But we have all sorts of extra stuff slathered on top. We have some detailed, overly worshipful history of the play. Some is interesting, most is not.

On top of that is a sort of biography of Brecht, the author. It is the full Ken Burns treatment, leveraging every photo, home movie and newsreel. To give you the flavor of this part, it even includes a dotted line on a map showing the progressive travels of the man.

But oh no, we do not stop there. Brecht was influenced in a minor way by Marx, so we drag in a professor of Marxian thought and we hear him pontificate, sometimes to his classroom. Ultimately, after we hear personal assurances of this fellow's antiwar credentials, he admits to us that Marx has nothing to do with the play. But that's not before he...

Gives us the standard antiwar pitch, complete with references to current conflicts, and footage through "duck and cover," the Bimini blast and the holocaust. The tone of this section is the very thing the play is designed to undermine. The very thing! Not only that, but this fellow's personal journey through antiwar activity features a specific event that he participated in and is proud to show footage of. Well, as it happens, I was at that very event, right in the center of it all. It was one of several Vietnam protests at MIT, concerning labs that did work for the military. I do not recall it being much like he reports.

You have to edit this yourself, taking out all the junk that Brecht would have had none of. You have to simply go back to the play, and Meryl's comments on her commitment. She is why it happened, and it is her intent that matters, not anyone else that circulates around her. It is at least genuine, and in these interview segments we are shamed because we little people enable.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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