Theater of War (2008) Poster

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8/10
Documentary on Life and Work of Bertold Brecht
RudolphBing9 May 2008
I saw this on Sat., May 3, 2008, at the AMC VII as a part of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. I attended the screening because I had seen the Public Theatre's production of Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children," and because I continue to want to understand how Meryl Streep constructs her characters and how she performs. I am also ignorant of the significance of Bertold Brecht, and needed to get a fuller picture of his life and work.

So, with that rather severe academic assignment to myself, off I went on a dreary chilly late morning to see this movie.

The movie is strong, strong, good, good. It is a lesson in politics; a summary of the life of Brecht; and a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at a staged production of the play "Mother Courage and Her Children." The significance of the two world wars on Brecht's life is clearly the basis of the Play "Mother Courage," but the opportunity to understand why Meryl Streep (lead in the play), George Woolf (director), Oscar Eustis (director of the Public Theatre), and Tony Kushner (playwright and translator of the play) wanted - needed - to bring the play to the stage refreshed my memory of the cycle of horrors of war and abuse of authority that our present office holders are responsible for. The play is anti-war, even espousing a communistic view of the world, understandable for its time and for Brecht's experiences; but the play produced in 2006, in the midst of a new war is a scream for an end to war.

Best interviews are with an aging man who worked with Brecht in Germany. His experience in an allied prison camp in the UK during the war, and his experiences working with Brecht on the first production of "Mother Courage" in Berlin in 1949, help to bring the 59 years closer to our times.

The movie is standard in many ways containing interviews, images, historic footage, and moments at relevant locations, but is an excellent introduction to the huge tragedy of war and to the relevance of art in civic life.

SEE THEATRE ON THE STAGE! it is alive, as Dr. Frankenstein would say.

PS. Seeing Meryl Streep sweating it out on stage two summers ago in Central Park, and especially watching her one on one against Austin Pendleton as the priest, was marvelous. To think Streep did the show for - what - 4 weeks running - is amazing.
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Fights Itself
tedg1 August 2009
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.
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2/10
Meryl Streep is the best thing about this droll generic work
fairchildqua27 May 2017
A child could have directed this Or the camera could have done this by itself Zero on one to ten for creativity 10 for subject matter Glad it got funded and made but drink Coffee because the way it was shot is as dreary as. Funeral Seriously wish they gave this project to an undergraduate student - just because you know how to make a film doesn't mean that you can
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