Thursday, April 23, 2009

San Francisco International Film Festival 2009 - Stage to Screen

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 23–May 7, 2009 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre and Landmark’s Clay Theatre in San Francisco; and the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to www.sffs.org.

Although already screening in Los Angeles and New York City, the San Francisco International Film Festival will be presenting the premiere of EVERY LITTLE STEP (dirs. Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern, USA, 2008, 96 mins.) What establishes this documentary about the audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of A CHORUS LINE apart from the latest trend in "competition documentaries" (i.e. SPELLBOUND, WORD WARS, etc.) is that there is a nice amount of material about the origin and creation of the show, starting with the interview tapes that Michael Bennett made during the workshops in 1974. The interviews with surviving original cast members Donna McKechnie and Baayork Lee (the revival's choreographer) and the revival's director Bob Avian, who co-choreographed with Bennett in 1974, and Marvin Hamlisch, the composer, also give the film a broader focus than just "the competition".

However, the film does eventually come down to the auditions, and there are a couple startling, if not nearly revelatory moments! Jason Tam's audition for "Paul" is simply spectacular. The vocal battle to sing Didi ("At The Ballet") has a visceral thrill to it, and the performers reading for "Sheila" lend the film it's most suspense. (What I found missing, was any reference to the character "Morales", who has two of the best numbers in the play. However, as can be the case with filming a performance based process, signed releases may have come into play.) The film skirts the controversy of the original cast's reimbursement for its part in creating the show. It also plays a bit into the criticism that has been leveled at Richard Attenborough's failed film version: it plays to the idea that these are "kids" at the start of their careers, and not to the struggle of the professional dancer on Broadway.

In the end, if you are at all a fan of the show, you should love this, especially as it screens at the Castro Theatre's big screen! (Also, a little shout out to Michael Gorman, assistant choreographer: "Hey there!" And a moment of silence in memory of Tharon Musser, light designer.)

Also on the festival's schedule is an adaption of Noel Coward's EASY VIRTUE (dir. Stephan Elliot, England/USA, 2008, 93 mins.) Jessica Biel nearly steals the film from British screen pros Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas. Mind you, she is costumed by Charlotte Walter in some breathtaking clothes, but she maintains the mystery of the character that attracted even Alfred Hitchcock to film the play (in his 1928 silent version). However, even with the exceptional costume and production design, and the overly capable cast's delivery of Coward's dialogue, there is just something missing. Director Stephan Elliot has not really let his productions "fly" since his spectacular signature piece THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Though all the parts are present in EASY VIRTUE, there is a certain lead-footedness about the proceedings. The cast is working almost too hard to be witty and, in its third act, to be dramatic. As gorgeous as it is to look at, I keep forgetting I've seen it without looking at my calendar notes, I am sorry to say.

Maxxxxx says
re EVERY LITTLE STEP: "Dooby doobie doo-ooo!"
re EASY VIRTUE: "Is it bedtime?"

1 comment:

Maya said...

I thought this was on hold review? Heh.