Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Angels in America: Thinking About Greatness
How did I miss this? Emma Thompson as an angel replete with gorgeous wings? Al Pacino in a blood chilling performance of a man consumed by self-hatred? I watched Angels in America this weekend for the very first time. And yes, I am a decade or so behind everyone else. Actually, the play is now twenty years old with the 20th Anniversary Edition coming out this year. The movie was first aired on HBO and I suppose I didn't think it was a "real" movie as it wasn't released in the theaters. How could it be? It's over five hours long -- and yet I didn't want it to end.
I think this is the first time that I have seen any piece of art that so expertly combined so many realms of life in one work. There is surrealism, history, politics, and romance to name but a few elements --- I suppose it is the writing that elevates this so -- along with superb cinematography and world class acting - but that's not the point either. I mean, that goes without saying and is meaningless until you see the film.
What I really keep thinking about is the scope of Tony Kushner's ambition: to create a piece of theater that so completely speaks to its time (the 1980's including the Reagan years and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic) and in the same piece, go far beyond its particulars to something universal. There are references to the films of Cocteau and to The Wizard of Oz.
I confess when I am writing I rarely (well, never) create on such a large canvas. Mixing so many different themes and concerns together often ends up in disaster, but not here. I'm inspired to try and do more with my work - maybe not the equivalent to a five hour film that's operatic in its structure - but at least be more aware of the larger world around me. I'm in the stage of working on a new book when nothing is clear, I'm floating or sinking depending on the day. What seeing "Angels in America" did for me over the weekend was to remind me how much is possible. How far from the everyday art can take us. We soar out of our lives and through to another world where things make sense and are imbued with an imperfect beauty. What does it take to make art like that?