Sit, Sit, Eat, Sit (16 cents)

While yesterday morning was dedicated to housebound chores, the afternoon and the evening were devoted to sitting and watching, interrupted by some food.

We hadn’t been to the Saturday free films at the National Gallery of Art for some time. Yesterday’s showings were two 1948 American films, The Secret Beyond the Door (starring Michael Redgrave and Joan Bennett and directed by Fritz Lang) and Ruthless (starring Zachary Scott and three slender, attractive women).

The Secret Beyond the Door is a highly stylized, beautifully filmed, black and white story of a wealthy young woman from New York, alone in the world after the death of her brother, who takes a vacation to Mexico where she meets, and is entranced by, a very unappealing Michael Redgrave, a frustrated young architect, whom she quickly decides to marry, not realizing that (a) she won’t be living in New York City any more but in his family’s generational home somewhere in New Jersey about 100 miles from the City, (b) that he has previously been married to a woman who passed away, and has a young teenage son, who loved his mother and hates his father, and (c) that the household would include her new sister in law, as well as a her husband’s assistant, a middle aged woman who wears flamboyant scarves around her neck and half of her face to hide a serious burn scar. She also finds her new financially strapped husband to be moody to the max, and also finds that he has a strange hobby – he collects rooms, which he recreates (using original materials) in rooms in their very large house, and that the rooms are all rooms in which murders have occurred. One of the rooms is locked – and it turns out it is a replica of her own bedroom, apparently just waiting for her own murder.

Joan Bennett’s clothing is extraordinary, the interiors of the estate is beautifully detailed, Mexico is a stereotyped kick, 1948 America looks quite Norman Rockwell, but the script is weaker than weak, and you wonder if this would not have been better off as a silent movie (Fritz Lang had directed silent films, of course). Two other things of note: This is a movie focusing Freudian interpretations of human actions, and the power of the subconscious and the effects of one’s upbringing (and therefore once you come to terms with your demons, you can exorcise them and live happily ever after). And second, it I read that it is based on the Bluebeard fairy tale, and I must admit I did not know what that was, but apparently it involves the story of a French nobleman, who had a series of wives, all of whom disappeared mysteriously, and whose latest wife discovers, behind a locked door in a room she is forbidden to enter, each of the former wives impaled on meat hooks hanging on the walls. So, I guess this is also a film about gender relations, and spousal relations, and suppressed male desires to destroy the things he loves the most, as a way to avoid being emasculated by the female.

OK, so it is corny. And OK, based on his acting her, Michael Redgrave should have changed careers, but this move is beautiful to watch and, in its own eccentric way, does bring up a number of things to think about.

The second film, Ruthless, doesn’t bring up any issues at all. Zachary Scott (not to be confused with Randolph Scott) plays a young man from a broken family, with an alcoholic father and a wound-up-much-too-tight mother, who, based on his brains and his ruthless character, decides to become wealthy on Wall Street, which he does, destroying everyone who helped him (leading his primary banker to commit suicide when he refuses to see him in his office), and seducing and discarding the beautiful women who are dating his best friends. A sort of Not-So-Great Gatsby, H. Woodruff Vendig (Scott) has made so much money that he donates his unbelievable mansion (where could they have filmed such a large house?) and a $25 million endowment to a newly found Institute for Peace, yet he cannot outrun his enemies forever, and he is caught on the edge of the pier, his large yacht in the background, where he falls during a fist fight and drowns.

As opposed the The Secret Beyond the Door,this film’s cinematography is very ordinary,as is the script, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.

After Ruthless, we had a meal at Burma Cafe on 6th Street (in Chinatown, atop a Thai restaurant, next to a new kabob/falafel house – go figure!) – papaya salad, sour mustard greens with chicken, dried tofu and vegetables. (See my Yelp review, if you want)

And then we stood the standby line, surprisingly short, for about 30 minutes to see the Shakespeare Theater’s 2010 Free-for-All production of Twelfth Night at the Sidney Harmon Theater. (Performances started Thursday night, and end September 5) I must admit I was a bit reluctant to commit to three more hours of sitting, but there we were, and it was a beautiful night to stand in line.

Our tickets were high in the balcony, but that’s OK – after all, it’s free. The production was a reprise of a 2008 Shakespeare Theater production of Twelfth Night. The cast is wonderful – with some of the roles just stellar, particularly Christina Pumariega as Viola/Cesario and Sarah Agnew as Olivia, as well as Tom Story as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. And of course, no one can put a continual smile on my face like Floyd King or Nancy Robinette.

You read the summary of the plot of Twelfth Night, and you can’t imagine being able to follow the story line. Not to worry – the plot is as clear as can be, the humor (based on the very strong audience reaction) comes through loud and clear, and, as they say, a good time was had by all.

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