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Great Performances: The Gospel at Colonus (1985)
Season 14, Episode 2
Gospel at Colonus
27 December 2009
I've seen the Gospel at Colonus twice in theatres (first at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in the late 1980s with Pops Staples and some of his family, among others) and the 2nd time a few years ago at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. I've got to say that seeing it live with a great cast and choir is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The Gospel of Colonus CD produced by Donald Fagen is also truly great. This DVD provides a good alternative as well.

I don't think that the versions I saw had the Morgan Freeman type narrator, or at least I don't remember that. I think the theatrical versions I saw unfolded the story more through the characters and the music with less narration. Having said that, it was fun to see Morgan Freeman, especially after having seen Invictus a few days ago. The music is phenomenal, of course, with the Five Blind Boys, the Soul Stirrers, The Steele's, and Robert Earl Jones (the father of James Earl Jones, who was Darth Vader among many other roles).

At some point during the 1990s, after seeing the Gospel of Colonus for the first time, I read the three Theban plays of Sophocles, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone, in the Robert Fagles translation. Gospel of Colonus is based primarily on Oedipus at Colonus with maybe a little bit of the others mixed in. This part of the story happens long after Oedipus married his mother (although he didn't know she was his mother) and killed his father (although he didn't know he was his father), the parents having abandoned him at birth because of the prophecy of an oracle. Oedipus, of course, blinded himself when he found out the truth and took himself off to exile. One thing I would emphasize is that Oedipus was a (fictional) King but wasn't a "greek god."

Needless to say, Oedipus' story is an incredibly dramatic one--not a "biblical" story exactly but an incredibly profound and dramatic one. Borrowing the "gospel" style of music to re-tell this story was an incredibly brilliant choice--the resulting story has a lot of contemporary relevance, I'd say. I would think that anyone could appreciate the "energy" of the music in the Gospel of Colonus without knowing much if anything about Oedipus and all that.
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I love the "I" part of the "Gleaners and I"
16 March 2009
I saw this movie again last night (at the Harvard Film Archive) as they are having a retrospective with Agnes introducing and doing Q&A after the films. I've got to say that I love many of Agnes' films (and Jacques Demy's, her late husband, as well), but this is my favorite. So, I like the "I" part of the "Gleaners and I" even though she said that she didn't like the English-language title (the French title doesn't include the "I" in the title). I do a little "gleaning" here and there, not that I need to, but I think in this current crazy world gleaning is an important topic. I'm going to rent the DVD again as I want to see the "two years later" piece again. The audience at Harvard loved Agnes, why is it wrong for her to have a voice? Her most recent film is a "film essay" of all the people she met during her long life: the guy behind me complained about it being "too much about" her even though it was a memoir! Making any documentary involves making many choices, picking the "sound bites" that express the documentarian's points, why should the documentary "hide" the inherent subjectivity? Her perennial interests have to do with subjectivity/objectivity, real vs subjective time, film as a "cimema essay" and so on. There is a lot in this movie that is both important and interesting.
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Stardust (2007)
Take That!
1 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Loved the movie--it was wonderful! Such a joy to go to a sneak preview with no expectations and find such an enjoyable film. I thought Charlie Cox did a great job as Tristran, going from ordinary "lad" to King--it was a joy to see. Michelle Pfeiffer gave another great performance as the villain--I've loved her performances for a long time (e.g., Married to the Mob, Jonathan Demme, director). Claire Danes was good as well, though Charlie Cox is the one that has the great story arc, and it was his performance that makes the movie work (I want to go back and Netflix his earlier movies, such as Casanova). As a sidenote, I picked up the book by Neil Gaiman and have now read it--excellent book! The movie follows the book quite closely, cutting some minors characters out--but getting the key incidents of the book just right. The Robert DeNiro role isn't really in the book, but it was a great, fun addition, so can't complain. DeNiro's retrofit of Charlie Cox's wardrobe was great! I hope this movie does really well (dare I say it, if Disney was involved, they could make this movie huge). Its a great story, well told, and it respects the audience: the movie realizes that the audience can put two and two together very quickly. The movie gives some hints of some of the connections between the characters, but not in a heavy-handed way (and, unlike Pirates 3, it does tell a coherent story). Also, the classical music provided excellent support for the story, and the Take That song at the end was pleasant (I can't judge a song by just one listen so I'll leave it at that). Finally, there will always be some carping about movies based on books, but fans of Stardust (the book) should, I think, be thrilled with this movie.
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Billy Elliot (2000)
great, great movie
14 October 2000
Melodrama at its best. I've seen a lot of movies already this year but this is the first one that has been truly outstanding IMHO. About a year ago I saw American Beauty and Three Kings in the same week. Until BE, nothing I've seen since then has come close. Anyway, I thought it was really emotionally affective and a great performance by the kid that played Billy. Also, I loved the score/soundtrack. How the music really came in hard to underline the drama. Like when the kid was running around, or when the father was running up the hill to tell his friends the good news. Great movie and highly recommended.
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Deterrence (1999)
Starts off well
27 February 2000
I was hopeful that this would turn out to be a good "book-end" to Three Kings, which I thought was a great though imperfect film. But this one sort of fizzled for me towards the end. The choices that were made had a sort of logic to them I guess but it became hard to suspend disbelief after a while. Do the Right Thing had an ending which was both incredibly powerful and morally ambiguous. If Deterrence had played out in that sort of way-- well it would have been a different movie. The movie I saw today was powerful but lacked something too.
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The 400 Blows (1959)
A movie with a perfect ending
31 December 1999
Francois Truffaut said that: "This life creates that solitude. That's it. It would have sounded a false note to have a cheerful or a pessimistic ending. At the edge of the water, I had this child come forward, look straight into the eyes of the public and, in effect, say, 'Well, here I am. The story's over.' There's a refusal to judge." A perfect film that ends on the perfect note. See Studs Terkel, The Spectator:Talk about movies and plays with the people that make them. 1999 t book]
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