Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches – Tony Kushner – the movie

AIA movieHaving read and discussed the script two months ago, it was an eye-opener to see the play performed. Music, sound and visual effects make it come alive. The pace is slow so one can dwell on and think about the characters and themes in more depth.

The visual effects are beautiful, though Kushner wanted a more ‘rough theatre’ – think Brecht, in the stage version – you should be able to see the wires holding up the angels. The special effects in the series were by Richard Edlund who also did the Star Wars trilogy. He created the two important Angel visitation sequences, as well as the opening sequence wherein the angel at the Bethesda Fountain opens its eyes in the end, signifying her “coming to life.”

HBO allocated a $60 million budget to the film, which is why it is, perhaps, too polished.

However, Roy Cohn played by Al Pacino, was almost too slow. We imagined him to answer the phones more speedily and exhibit more charisma. In the film vision he is less a man of action and more ponderous and clingy.

Belize, the male nurse and drag queen appeared to me to be caring but frivolous. The film brings out his intelligent wit.

Prior Walker, likewise, comes across as a much deeper person than in the script. He is able to understand, very quickly, what is going on when his doctor updates his prognosis and he comes to terms with it in a sober way and more quickly that Louis.

We noticed that when Louis speaks to the Rabbi played by Meryl Streep after his grandmother’s funeral, two of the rabbis also sitting on the cemetery bench are played by Tony Kushner (who wrote the play and screenplay) and children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who collaborated on the book Brundibar with Kushner.

One scene shows a painting of “Jacob wrestling with the angel ” by Alexander-Louis Leloir.

When Harper went through the fridge to the Antarctic, was that some sort of echo of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia?

I wondered, and later discovered that I was right, that he Central Park fountain that is prominently featured in Kushner’s play and its film adaptation is officially titled “The Angel of the Waters” and familiarly known as “The Bethesda Fountain.” (echoing the biblical story of the paralysed man who believed in the superstition that whenever an angel stirred the waters of a pool, the first person on the water would be cured.)

I didn’t get these allusions at the time: When Prior Walter and Harper Pitt share a dream, the set is based on a dream in Jean Cocteau’s film Beauty and the Beast (1946). When Prior Walter ascends to heaven, portions of heaven are based on Cocteau’s view of the afterlife in Orpheus (1950).

Despite it being nearly three hours long, the time went very quickly.

However, we felt that we were not sure what we would have made of it had we not read the script beforehand.

Our review of the script is here

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1 Comment »

  1. […] A review of the film version is at… […]

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