(Air Date: Week Of 01/22/97)
After seeing I'm Not Rappoport, an unsuccessful translation of a successful Broadway hit into celluloid, I wracked my brain for reasons why some plays make good films and others don't.
I'm Not Rappaport is about the friendship between two guys in their 80's, survivors, who hang out in Central Park together, mostly on the same bench, reminescing and chewing the fat. Nat, played by Walter Matthau, sees himself as a leftist in the radical Marxist style, often referring to an inspiring labor meeting he attended as child. A flashback to this meeting in the opening of the film is, unfortunately, the high point of this movie. Nat still attempts to foment revolution every chance he gets, doing things like telling folks in a rest home overlooking a picket line to 'grab your walker, roll your wheels -- join those workers outside.'
Ossie Davis plays Midge, a mealy-mouthed apartment superintendent who just wants to keep his job at any cost, Nat's perfect foil. The acting is fine, the dialogue is strong, the themes are powerful, the audience appeal is proven -- why isn't this a good film?
Two other successful plays that made less than successful films are Sam Shepard's Fool for Love and David Mamet's Oleanna. Now here's a common denominator -- like Rappaport, they're centered around a drama involving just two main characters, developed through verbal exchanges with long, meaty monologues, where the only focus is on the speaker. And they all mostly wazzu stay in the same space. Even though I'm Not Rappaport is mostly outdoors, the static camera makes Central Park seem confining. Whoa, maybe those compact, personal dramas that are so powerful on the stage, with a few flesh and blood actors sweating under the same roof as the audience, just don't expand to fill the big screen.
A very successful film was made by another play by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross. Unlike Oleanna, with its two antagonists and one-room setting, it has an ensemble of actors, and frequent shifts of scene. And here's a -- a film director, James Foley, directed Glengarry Glen Ross, while Mamet himself directed Oleanna. Ah ha! Rappaport, the movie, is directed by Herb Gardner, the same theatre guy who wrote and directed the play. Maybe the skills needed for theatre and movie direction are two different to overlap.
O.K., what other plays work on the big screen? Well, those messy, sprawling dramas of Tennessee Williams, and that big historical epic, The Lion in Winter, not to mention Shakespearean drama, richly peopled and all over the map. The roving, hungry eye of the camera obviously needs a lot to chew on.
To be fair, I have to say that I'm Not Rappaport is a heroic attempt to render unto cinema that which is not cinematic, and if you were always dying to see the play, but never got the chance, here's your chance.
Copyright 1997 Mary Weems
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