(Air Date: Week Of 1/1/97)
The best part of seeing "Evita!" is that I don't have to see it again. When studio tom-toms start beating for Madonna, Antonio Banderas, director Alan Parker and producer Robert Stigwood to win Academy Awards en masse in the spring, I won't have to listen to a single well-meaning soul say, "But Monica, how can you KNOW 'Evita!' doesn't deserve best picture if you haven't even SEEN it?" For starters, how about eight Madonna movies? (I skipped another seven.) How about six Alan Parker movies? (I skipped another six.) But anyway, who cares what I think about the odds for the Oscars? "Evita!" will very likely be a huge hit, spawning "Evita!" hairstyles and fashions, and maybe even an "Evita!" doll from the Franklin Mint!
The marriage of the century (this one circa 1946) is mostly a series of neverending photo opportunities for Juan Peron, Evita Duarte and everyone else in Argentina. In many ways, the visuals are strikingly similar to another marriage of the century (that one circa 1981). But Charles and Diana lack the WOW finish crucial for opera: They didn't like each other and split up. No arias there. To live fast, then to die while still young and beautiful is the stuff of which media myths are made. No biography of "Evita!" will capture that myth, which has more to do with the inexplicable bond between icon and the rest of us. Madonna does her best to reveal the Evita myth, without, of course, surrendering a fraction of her own myth. You are never allowed to forget that you're seeing and hearing Madonna, who switches her image as often and as emphatically as Joan Crawford used to. And Alan Parker will never let you see a single clear shot or hear a simple unprocessed note. The silver screen is forever bathed in an amber glow, and every vocal has been digitized to abstraction. Both are unnatural, undercutting most of Tim Rice's lyrics. Andrew Lloyd Weber's overwhelming soundtrack fits right in with the rest of the ambiance.
To say that Madonna is better than everyone expected just means they won't have to do damage control on a major bomb like Stigwood's film of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". But they might have done a better job of concealing her strappingly healthy looks while she's wasting sway to eighty pounds. Meanwhile, Jonathan Pryce, among the best actors of his generation, works quiet wonders as Juan Peron opposite his flashier co-stars and (presumably) hopes for more roles in his future like Lytton Strachey in "Carrington": Not an icon, just a real flesh and blood character, who makes you forget that it's only a movie.
Copyright 1997 Monica Sullivan
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