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Cut to Bob Dale - An off-camera chat with the bow-tied veteran of San Diego television

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Dots on the Map - Heading East on Old Highway 80

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Where Wild Things Were- Something is lost when something is built

One for the Zipper- The quintessential carnival ride must bring chaos to the calm center of the soul

Deadhead Redux - No one knows for sure why Grateful Dead fans have such a drive to communicate with each other but they do-and they’ve turned Blair Jackson and Regan McMahon’s “The Golden Road” into the most successful fanzine in the history of the form.

The Last Anniversary - An Altamont Memoir

Desolation Row -The lonesome cry of Jack Kerouac

Faster Than a Speeding Mythos: Superman at 50 - Superman at 50: The Persistence of a Legend

When Art is No Object -The Eloquent Object - At the Oakland Museum, Great Hall, through May 15.

“He Wasn’t Dying to Live in L.A.” - Intrepid Journalist’s Last Dispatch Before His Collapse

Search for Honesty in Post-war Life - Plenty

Armageddon Averted: Where Will You be on August 16. 1987? - Inside Art Goes to the Frontiers of the Mind

Of Speckle-Faced Rats and Supernovas - Michael McClure

George Coates - The Physics of Performance and the Art of Iceskating

No Escape from the SOUNDHOUSE - Maryanne Amacher

A Pynchon's Time

Grants - State of Art/Art of the State

Poetry from Outside the Pale - Allen Ginsberg

Once Upon a Time - In Berkeley

The poet from Turtle Island - Gary Snyder

Noh Quarter

Joyce Jenkins and the Language Troubles

Philip Whalen

Search for Honesty in Post-war Life

September 25,1985

Everybody knows about the problems inherent in transferring a stage play to the screen. Either you get a static "record" of the live drama, suitable for the archives, or you get something so padded with extraneous material meant to “open out" and cinematize the original that the end effect is ludicrous bastardy. Also (to get more specific), what are you supposed to do about the dialogue? Because the hard fact is that stage dialogue doesn't sound like movie dialogue, which is more likely, though not guaranteed, to sound the way people do in real life.

In Plenty, the new movie based on David Hare's stage hit (with screenplay by Hare), starring Meryl Streep and directed by Fred
Schepisi, all of these problems and more have been overcome. What's more, the movie has gained a level of lyrical beauty and virtuosity in overcoming them. The material hasn't so much been padded as ornamented, and the result is a feast-for-the-eyes essay in movie-making. It's true that, as in less ably done adaptations, there are points at which you're a bit too aware that the dialogue and staging you're seeing is lifted wholesale from the original version; but the movie is handled so that such scenes come across like moments of truth, culminating episodes wherein the characters speak minds and emotions with unusual clarity. You just sail right through them with the feeling that the people on the screen are, really getting to it.

The movie is about nostalgia for wartime. Meryl Streep plays an Englishwoman serving with the French Resistance during World War II, and the bulk of the story recounts her difficulty in finding any peace or personal satisfaction during the decades subsequent to victory. All her war existence is danger, concealment, sacrifice, and highmindedness - but a practical, even pragmatic highmindedness. So it's little wonder that afterwards, in the equivocal atmosphere of cold-war peace that prevails, she longs for the out-and-out motivation and action of the real war. She's like a person with no home or family, drifting from one context to another and back, finding her interactions with others frustrating because they will not say - they don't even know— what they really want.

Although the story is sometimes emotionally harrowing, it's a gentle movie; Hare and Schepisi treat their characters kindly yet unflinchingly - it's a study in how you can find (occasional) rottenness in a person and still not wish to see that person in hell. And at the end of the story we feel grateful to the film-makers for sending their heroine neither to the isolation wing of a mental hospital nor to suicide row. It's a nice bit of poetry, as well as a nice bit of realism, that Streep's character is finally able to find a few moments of peace in the company of an old comrade.

It's possible that Meryl Streep has never had a role more suited to her talents and personal qualities. She has always seemed somewhat unreachable to her audience. Here, however, this is an attribute that works to her advantage and that fits in beautifully with the nature of the character she plays - a woman who learns unreachability in the fatality zone behind the enemy lines and who can't seem to shake it off, or to want to shake it off, no matter how “kind" others are to her. Of all her roles, the character here is most like the one she played in The French Lieutenant's Woman —with this difference, that while in French Lieutenant the heroine's behavior and motivation were entirely enigmatic, here we see both sides of the picture: what's eating her, and how it goes about doing so. It's as though the earlier film were the essential statement of Streep's movie persona, the present work the illuminating gloss. In this instance, the gloss outdoes the statement in terms of drama and aesthetic impact.

As for the other acting in the picture, it's of exceptionally high quality. Charles Dance, as Streep's foreign-office husband, a kindly soul who "saves" her from an acute form of her discontent, skillfully adds a dimension to his character's personality as the movie progresses. In a key scene, you realize that his kindness to her is double-edged, meant both as kindness and as a way of subduing and mastering her. Tracey Ullman, as Streeps eccentric friend, also gives good measure - although the vivid sense of her character's high spirits which is conveyed by the first shots of her striding jauntily along a dockside is never quite matched when she is obliged to stand still and talk.

As for Sting, he gets to do some honest-to-God acting and acquits himself more than creditably; if you had never heard of the Police, you'd never believe that this slightly weasily, somewhat pathetic working-class patsy could possibly be a charismatic rock star of the first order. His character is used quite shamelessly by Streep’s, and you can’t help but feel for him at the same time that you understand she doesn't harbor an ounce of malice toward him - she's just desperately going through her wartime motions of clandestine sex-on-the-run. When he rages at her, and she then takes a couple of shots with a pistol at the ceiling above his head, your heart goes out to the both of them.

As for John Gielgud (and let’s give him his own paragraph, whaddaya say?), you really have to hand it to the old limey. Having played reptilian (not to say repellent) elderly upper-crusters for several decades now, his miracle is that we not only haven't gotten weary of it but that, these days, every time we see him (as we had the glorious opportunity of doing in the recent Shooting Party) we come away hoping he’ll live forever and play the same part into eternity. As Dance's ambassadorial superior, he starts out effortlessly with the usual seamless Gielgud moves: but he keeps sliding along at it, and by the time we see him flipping up his coattails to sit down after delivering himself of a riposte to a verbal parry from Streep, we don't give a damn how starchy or forbidding he is - we just wanna see him flip those coattails one more time. He never does, but he walks out of the scene with such - you can only call it panache - that you're willing to let the coattails ride until next time.

All this wonderful stuff, and we haven't even gotten to the good part yet. The good part (to take the larger view) is that this is a visually fascinating, beautifully rhythmed, intricately lyrical movie that is a wonder to behold. Starting out in the French countryside at night, with the actors' faces almost maddeningly shadowed and mysterious, the film progresses into richly textured daytime vistas in France, England, and the Middle East—teeming streets and bridges, bustling corridors and markets, a Coronation Day parade. The characters seem to float from one scene to the next through an ambience of interesting depths and surfaces, like elegant sea creatures. The interior shots, where most of the intact passages from the play occur, seem genuinely to be attached to the outside panoramas and to partake of their light.

Ending up in a flashback in the French countryside on a day of radiant sunshine, the visual scheme of the movie reaches its full circle. When Streep says to an old French peasant, referring to the valleyscape spread out before them, "Isn't this the most beautiful thing you ever saw?”, one is tempted to answer her in the affirmative. Throughout, vast panoplies of costume, set, locale, and scenic detail are managed in the least heavy-handed way imaginable - it’s all as fluid and effortless as movies ever get. All of which, of course, would be no more than a mockery of dust and ashes if the characters at the center of it all weren't convincingly written and portrayed.

Schepisi is possessed of a remarkable range. In The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, the Australian director delivered a graphic, complex tale of colonial injustice and violence that has probaby never been equalled. In Barbarossa, set in the old American west, he told a more whimsical yet still humanly engrossing story of folkloric titans waging a battle of nerves and imagination in the sage brush. Here, he leaps back into the twentieth century and gives us, in the microcosm of one woman's story, a picture of the strange and lingering impact that World War II has had on the personality of our times.

There are one or two things that alloy our enjoyment somewhat. While it's all to the good that obtrusive makeup techniques weren't used to artificially age Streep as the fifteen years of the story pass, it is as little weird to realize that in around 1960 (which I gather to be about the end point of the film) she looks - not a single hour older than she did during the war. And in the penultimate scene where Streep and her wartime buddy make love and reminisce, the man's jovial admonishment to her not to remove her clothes as it would ruin it for him seems unnecessary and lessens the import of the fact that they have just finished making love fully clothed.

But these objections come under the head of quibbling. The fact remains that it's a wonderful movie, substantial but not lugubrious, filled with light, darkness, interesting people, and images that flow like music.

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