You can read my essay about Prince’s acting career.here. What doesn’t come through in the article, I think, is how much I actually like Under the Cherry Moon.
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In 1970, poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron declared that, “the revolution will not be televised.” Playwright Tom Stoppard reminds us, however, that just because the revolution might not be televised, that doesn’t negate the need for a groovy soundtrack as tanks roll in, bullets whiz, and dissidents get beaten senseless into hopelessness, submission, and enemy collaboration. The final and fatal assault in Stoppard’s play comes when those that fought the hardest transmogrify into plain ol’ political progressives, settling for the serenity of a gentler and kinder body politic that they once put their love and lives at stake for.
The year is 1968 and Professor Max Morrow (Stephen Yoakam), is a loyalist to the Communism ideal, yet resides in a decidedly un-Communist abode in Cambridge, England, where he tutors students in the ways of classical philosophy and Socialist order. His wife Eleanor (Mary Beth Fisher) is also an academic and shares Max’s passion to open their home to further tutoring students, all while battling the chronic effects of breast cancer. Max’s pupil and protégé, Jan (Timothy Edward Kane), wants only to lose himself in the rock music that fills up the milk crates on his apartment floor, including the music of Plastic People of the Universe, a dissident Czech rock band. Max teaches and preaches to Jan why they all must remain true to the Communist cause, ignoring the Czech government, as it turns menacing and violent against protesters. In turn, Max ignores Eleanor’s desperate need for her husband’s erotic validation, which is now possessed by her student Lenka (Amy J. Carle). Eleanor also loses her sixteen-year-old daughter Esme (Mattie Hawkinson) to the embrace of London hippie culture and her barely hidden sexual desire for Jan.
Unable to contain his boredom of the socialist ideal as academic argument, Jan returns to Prague to get up close and personal with his love of all things rock ‘n’ roll. He positions himself a disciple of the Plastic People, who have become an enemy of the state for their refusal to discontinue playing music not sanctioned by the government, which has banned all Western-influenced commodities. August 1968, and Soviet tanks roll through Prague. Czech dissidents and idealistic college students valiantly but unsuccessfully fight back; the Plastic People go further underground and Jan recommits himself as a disciple to rock ‘n’ roll, following the Plastic People, and purchasing the music of the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground, and Pink Floyd.
Jan builds his rock ‘n’ roll monument even as government agents stand sentry outside his rundown Prague flat until the damn breaks. By the mid-‘70s the government, losing patience with those ideologues who challenge them, order the destruction of all things anti-government, including Jan’s precious record collection, an act that culminates with his interrogation, beating, and imprisonment. Jan stays behind bars until Max, lonely via widowhood, speaks with the higher-ups during a return visit to Prague, and arranges his release.
The years pass. Glasnost arrives. The Berlin Wall falls. The ‘90s bring a new name, government, and political philosophy to the Czech people, while Max’s heart breaks in double time to the fall of Communism in the East and the rise of political Conservatism in his adopted West. Max is now an old man, still professing in Cambridge, taking up British citizenship and living with the now-divorced daughter, Esme. His former son-in-law Nigel has gone to the Czech Republic to document the rise and fall of old and new, and meets a dejected and disillusioned Jan, using him as a “guide”. When Nigel confirms that he and Esme are no longer married, Jan makes the journey to Cambridge to visit Max and thank him for his kindness at arranging his release from prison.
Esme greets her old crush Jan as if she’s sixteen again, her spirit and sexuality renewed. About to lose her daughter Alice to university, and with her father becoming more embittered by romantic regret both human and political, Esme wants more than the occasional sighting of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett cycling through Cambridge to quench her desire. She plans a dinner party to include Lenka, Nigel, and Nigel’s new wife Candida (Susie McMonagle). The dinner table passes around shared histories and the evening ends with regrets, reshaping of lives, and the absolution that love never dies… and neither will rock ‘n’ roll.
Rock ‘N’ Roll makes its Chicago debut after critical and commercial success on Broadway and London’s West End. A revolution may or may not be televised, but Stoppard does a most excellent job of writing the revolution as a powerful presence on stage. Director Charles Newell shapes the music to deftly ebb and flow with the characters’ emotional rise and fall, failures and triumphs, and all the actors live up to their places on stage, with Mary Beth Fisher literally consuming the theater as Eleanor and the adult Esme, absorbing the moisture from the stage rafters to give her characters their very life’s blood and dimension. So convincing and scene-chewing was Ms. Fischer’s presence, it was not until the end when the actors took their requisite bows that I realized only one actress played two decidedly different generations.
Rock ‘N’ Roll is a force of cultural nature, and a lyrical reminder that no matter where we stand, with a revolt before us, there’s a soundtrack for it, and we pick the selections from an ethereal jukebox.
Runs through June 7th
The guitar-loving Conan O’Brien has finally taken over The Tonight Show and describes his first musical guest as “one of the greatest rock bands in the world”. We wonder if Jay Leno would agree.
Swedish poppers the Sounds put out a new album this week, Crossing the Rubicon, and have just released a video for the first single. The band seems pretty chuffed that they’ll be playing this on David Letterman’s show June 15th.
A recent thread in a DVD site discussion board got me thinking about actors I’d like to see elevated to superstar status. You know the drill - beyond b-movie badass-dom or cult icon consideration. The names that come to mind are many - Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Combs, Ted Levine - but none are as fascinating as Lance Henriksen. Known now for his dark, broody turns and his genre giant status, the 69 year old character actor has one of the more intriguing backstories in all of Tinsel Town. Born to a poor family, he dropped out of school when he was 12. He didn’t learn to read until he was 30 (that’s right - Henriksen was illiterate for most of his early adult life) and graduated from the prestigious Actor’s Studio in New York. Outside of work, he’s an accomplished artist and master potter, and some of us are lucky enough to own tea cups hand thrown by the man himself.
As for his work in films, fans who look carefully will see Henriksen as one of the technicians helping aliens make first contact in Steven Spielberg’s masterful Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and he turned up in other seminal post-modern efforts like Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and Prince of the City. By 1983, he found himself playing one of the fabled Mercury astronauts (Wally Schirra) in Phillip Kaufman’s excellent adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s space race chronicle, The Right Stuff. But it was James Cameron who truly elevated Henriksen’s performer profile. Originally tagged as the cruel killing machine known as the Terminator in the 1984 hit, producers balked at letting the seemingly unknown thespian take on the lead. While a certain sitting Governor became the iconic villain, Henriksen was relegated to the role of wise cracking cop Hal Vukovich.
But Cameron didn’t forget his favorite passed-over player. Casting Henriksen as Bishop, the benevolent android in his sequel to Alien, Aliens, he found a unique way to make the man into an action hero after all. Yet something odd happened around 1986. Henriksen had been working steadily, taking on roles in such mainstream movies as Jagged Edge, but he suddenly started finding a kind of easy direct to video acceptability which gave him unlimited access to numerous below the radar projects. While he elevated independent horror gems like, The Horror Show, Near Dark, and Pumpkinhead, he was, by the ‘90s, turning into a solid schlock legend. Sure, he had a commercial cache that lead to work in Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead and Disney’s Tarzan, but it wasn’t until Chris Carter’s X-Files follow-up, TV’s Millennium, that Henriksen flirted with household name acknowledgment.
Sadly, after three seasons - two of which stand as some of the best television has/had to offer - the serial killer series was cancelled, and with it, the possibility of the actor making the leap back into the A-list. This isn’t to suggest that Henriksen has since found it difficult getting work. A look at his Wikipedia and IMDb pages proves the man can clearly get cast. But the titles he’s been associated with are inconsistent at best, from big budget bullcrap like Alien vs. Predator, to low budget nonentities like Sasquatch Mountain and Dark Reel. Even within the most miserable moviemaking dynamic, however, Henriksen soars. He’s the kind of reliable lynchpin that can turn your turgid tale of zombies/vampires/monsters/murders/insert supernatural threat here into something semi-cogent and coherent.
Oh, he still gets the callback to the big time now and then. Ed Harris, an old pal from way back when, offered Henriksen a juicy role in his old fashioned Western Appaloosa and the z-movie maverick more than held his own with celebrated co-stars Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons. In fact, he was so good, that his return to tripe like Alone in the Dark II appeared counterproductive. Now there is nothing wrong with an actor working. Indeed, many in the peripheries of the profession would give their right arm, left leg, and first born child to have the kind of career Henriksen manages. But as he continues to cultivate a direct to digital film façade, it looks like standard Tinsel Town talents are merely overlooking this amazing man.
And that’s a shame, because if anyone can act rings around today’s so-called dramatic superstars, it’s Henricksen. He can out attitude DeNiro and put that showboating shill Pacino in his place. He’s got a classic old school façade that makes him perfect for paternal roles, and he is also equipped with enough late in life electricity to be an excellent over the hill rogue. In fact, when one looks at his overall oeuvre, when they see him effortlessly move between thrillers and juicy genre fare, evil incarnate to voice-over work for kiddie cartoons, it’s clear that Henriksen is our greatest living actor. The fact that no one wants to challenge him on said ability is sad. He is more than happy to elevate a first time filmmaker’s lousy goofball ghost story. He’ll gladly champion some no-name hack’s hideous scary movie mung. Imagine what he could do with someone like Christopher Nolan or David Fincher on his side. It boggles the mind.
So here is your challenge, so called smarter-than-us suits in Hollywood - give Lance a chance! That’s right, drop your agent-mandated list of go to guys and give this fright flick fixture a shot at the solid social superstardom he so richly deserves. Some would argue that he is already there, a recognizable name and famous face that few actually remember but most never forget. In a realm which can chew up and spit out a talented little twinkie, turning them from above the marquee to up the river in a single cinematic season, Henriksen has survived - struggled by survived. Now, as he enters his 70th year, he should become what he so richly deserves to be: an acknowledged master of his craft and a well-paid, well-placed personality. Again, he really is all of those things, just not to the oblivious free market moviegoer. It’s time to let the rest of the artform’s aficionados know we we’ve been saving for decades. Lance Henriksen is a giant and a true movie star. It’s time to start treating him like one.
// Channel Surfing
"In another stand-alone episode, there's a lot of teen drama and some surprises, but not much potential.READ the article