Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wednesday Top Five: Angels in America edition

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I watched Angels in America on DVD this week, for about the dozenth time. I just love it so much. It’s put together so well, with the characters and the themes, and every time I see it I’m drawing new conclusions from it. It’s just fantastic. So, purely for selfish reasons, this week’s top 5 will consist of my favorite scenes from Angels in America.

And if you haven’t seen it, see it.

01 - “That was heaven, Roy.”
Belize, “the negro night nurse,” explains his vision of heaven to a delusional Roy Cohn. Jeffrey Wright’s performance as Belize is phenomenal throughout the film, but it’s best showcased here. His delivery, his diction, is so precise. His spoken words have a melody to them. And it’s not like a poetry slam, it’s like . . .singing. Only he’s talking. And the words are lyrics. When he finally gets to “all the deities are creole, mullatto, brown as the mouths of rivers,” the scene almost starts to float. It’s an amazing showcase.

02 - ”I’m not in your hallucination, you’re in my dream.”
Prior and Harper’s shared hallucination is filmed in the most dramatic, majestic way possible, each entering the scene amid billowing curtains, each relishing their Norma Desmond-like closeup. It’s the only time these characters will share a scene, and that’s significant because their arcs parallel each other so strongly. Both sick, both abandoned, both envisioning doomed portents in the sky. It’s not a scene of great consequence, plotwise. Prior tells Harper something she probably already knows (her husband’s a homo), Harper tells Prior something he doesn’t believe (at his core, he is free of disease).

I love the scene so much mostly because I love the performances of Justin Kirk and Mary-Louise Parker. The MLP fan club isn’t well populated. That’s fine, it allows me to stretch my legs a bit. I love her screen persona in general, and I especially love her as Harper. She does the crazy stuff so well, without a bag full of tics and crazy eyes. Kirk was criminally under-praised for his work as Prior, the film’s most crucial role. The Emmys, as they always do, went to the “name” stars like Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. But Kirk was most worthy.

Three more, after the link . . .

03 – “He’s saying Kaddish for Roy Cohn.”
Louis is far from the most admirable character in the film, and his redemption is granted grudgingly, if at all. In this scene – in which Louis, at Belize’s behest, prays the Kaddish for the deceased conservative demagogue Cohn – he experiences the act of forgiveness as a conduit between Cohn and the executed Ethel Rosenberg. (Confused? It’d make sense if you’d watch the thing. Sort of.) Streep is every bit the spectral haunting she needs to be as Ethel, and her forgiveness for the man who sent her to her death is affecting. Like all the best scenes in Angels, this walks a thin line between fantasy and reality. It also touches on any number of the movie’s larger ideas: forgiveness, religion, and redemption.

04 - “You can never make that crossing that she made.”
It took me probably until my fifth or sixth viewing to really appreciate the opening scene. First off, Meryl Streep as the old Jewish rabbi was significantly creepy to me, in ways I can’t describe. Just . . . weird. Then there was the problem of me watching Angels on TV and coming in slightly after it began, so I kept missing it. But once you pay attention to what it’s saying right off the bat, that physical immigration may not be possible anymore, but that the human race certainly still had its journeys to make, it’s a beautiful place setting. As it always does, Thomas Newman’s score leaves an indelible mark.

05 - “The Angel Bethesda”
It’s partly history lesson told in the Socratic method. It’s partly a concluding monologue with some encouraging words for the audience. Traditionally, it’s not the kind of filmmaking you want to see, it’s more “tell” than “show” and it’s speechy (although compared to the rest of the play/movie, this scene doesn’t know from speechy). But I think it wraps everything up exactly as it needs to. The world spinning forward. For once, a movie dealing with AIDS doesn’t end in a teary deathbed scene. World politics taking another journey into the unknown. It’s moving, to me. It’s also hopeful. And looking at Angels through the lens of Bush II, Term II, “hopeful” is welcome.


par3182 said...

I've been in the MLP club as far back as 'Longtime Companion' and her casting in 'Angels..' was pure genius as far as I'm concerned. Her rendition of Harper's beautiful final speech is way up there in my favourite scene list. Honorable mentions - Prior's visit to Heaven (which worked better on screen than it did on stage) and the opening credit sequence with its flight over America combined with Newman's haunting music sets up the magic of what's to come.

You've got me so excited I'm going to watch it again tonight.

Joe R. said...

The "night flight to San Francisco" scene? Love it. Probably a close #6. When she chokes up for no discernable reason? So good.