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Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Film Buff: When the Wind Blows

One of my favorite anecdotes in theatre history is the story of the Federal Theatre Project's production of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock produced by John Houseman and directed by Orson Welles in 1937.
The play was shut down just before it was to open due to "budget cuts,"  however, there is much speculation that it was in fact due to the accusations that the play was pro-Communist. It didn't help that the Federal Theatre Project was the subject of similar accusations at the time.
The theater where the play was to be performed was locked up and guarded with armed serviceman. The actors were even forbidden by the Actors' Union from performing in the show.
(And, yes, in case you were wondering, this happened in America.)
Now, that's not what makes this one of my favorite anecdotes. That's just Act 1, if you will.
In Act 2, the indomitable Welles and enterprising Houseman decide to perform the show anyway. They find another theatre, advertise to the press that The Cradle Will Rock is so controversial that it had to be shut down - basically ensuring that they will have a packed house- and ask playwright and composer Marc Blitzstein to perform the show himself, with just a piano. That night, however, members of the cast are sitting in the audience and decide - in defiance of the union - to get up and perform the show anyway.
It is the epitome of the adage that the show must go on, and a pretty brave thing to do during the Great Depression, considering that defying the union could affect one's ability to work.
Tim Robbins took this story and combined it with several others of the time for his semi-fictionalized movie Cradle Will Rock (1999) that explores the role of art and power in America - specifically in the 1930s.
Now, just in case you're thinking this might be a dry, heavily political, documentary, well, let's just go over the cast list:
Susana Sarandon, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Bill Murray, Jack Black, Rubén Blades, Vanessa Redgrave, Philip Baker Hall, Carey Elwes, Angus Macfadyen, Emily Watson, Hank Azaria, John Turturro, and Paul Giamatti.
That sounds good, doesn't it?
Well, it is. Funny, thought-provoking, and exciting - Cradle Will Rock is a great film that a lot of people missed when it first hit theaters. 

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