The first of these DVDs that we're going to see at my good friend Mike Ivie's house is really not a classic movie, but, instead, a classic play: a performance of the play for American television in 1972, later released as a DVD. But there's nothing wrong with classic plays; many of the most remarkable classic movies are film adaptations of classic plays.
The play in question is "The Shadow of a Gunman", written in 1923 by the groundbreaking Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, and performed here unabridged and in its entirety, and starring Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss, along with Frank Converse, who was in the television series "Movin 'On", and several lesser-known, probably mostly Irish, actors.
This is a play that I wish would be performed live here in Dallas, but the local live theaters, such as the Dallas Theatre Center, seem to be taking an attitude in recent years of they want to shelve the great classic plays in favor of newer plays and adaptations for the stage of classic novels. There's nothing wrong with the new; one can't live completely in the past, but I wish there would be more of a balance between the old and the new. I'd greatly like to see plays by the groundbreaking dramatists, the pioneers of the modern drama, such as August Strindberg, Paul Claudel, Eugene O' Neill, and O'Casey, performed all the time here in Dallas. But, in the absence of that, this DVD of this outstanding play should do nicely.
"The Shadow of a Gunman" is O'Casey's first major play, and his first play to be accepted for production at Dublin's legendary Abbey Theatre, which is one of the world's greatest theaters for the staging of live plays. It opened in Dublin 110 years ago, and has staged works not just by O'Casey, but by many other giants of the theatre, including William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge. Starting in 1925, shortly after Ireland's independence from Great Britain, it began receiving a permanent subsidy from the Irish government, making it the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world. And the Abbey Theatre still produces wonderful, amazing plays by the finest of dramatists.
This play is a comedy-drama, and is the first play in O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy, which also included "Juno and the Paycock" and "The Plough and the Stars".
O'Casey was a passionate Irish Republican, highly political, and highly controversial. His plays definitely had a message.
For instance, "The Plough and the Stars" was about the Easter Rising, an armed insurrection by the Irish that occurred during Easter Week in which they attempted to overthrow British rule in Ireland. This play was so controversial in its depiction of sex, religion, and the way that the men in the Rising were portrayed that the actors in the play objected to this and even refused to recite their lines, and full-scale riots broke out on the fourth night that the play was performed. It cannot be said that anyone was ever indifferent to O'Casey's works!
The story behind "The Shadow of a Gunman" involves a case of mistaken identity. A young poet moves into a Dublin apartment building, whose residents are all passionate Irish Republicans, at the height of the Irish War for Independence from Great Britain. He is mistakenly thought to be an Irish Republican Army gunman, in other words, an assassin trained to kill the hated British who rule Ireland.
Needless to say, this makes him a hero in the eyes of the other people in his building, and so he is in no hurry to correct their mistaken notion of his occupation, especially as this has gained him the affections of a beautiful young woman.
I understand that this play is VERY Irish, loaded with heavy Irish dialect and distinctly Irish words and expressions. So its exotic flavor should be quite delightful.
This is a great opportunity to see an amazing work that, as I said, is not performed much, at least not around here.
"The Shadow of a Gunman", even in this complete, unabridged form, is not a very long play, just an hour and 20 minutes long, giving us plenty of time for our second movie of the night: "Gravity", which just won big at the recent Academy Awards, winning more Oscars than any other film of the night (even though it lost out on the big one, Best Picture, to "12 Years a Slave"), including Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron.
I know that many of you have already seen it, since it has been a box office smash hit, but several people at Mike's house last month said that they'd like to see it, so here it is. And it doesn't ever hurt to see a great movie more than once.
For those of you who are still not familiar with the story, two American astronauts, played by Academy Award winners George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, are on a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.
During the course of their mission, the Russians decide to send a missile to destroy one of their own nearby spy satellites, so that its secrets will not become known to foreign powers.
They do not realize the consequences of their actions: the disintegrating satellite create a debris field, hurtling through space at tremendous speeds, and hitting other satellites, which then disintegrate, sending out their own lightning, fast debris fields, and hitting other satellites, along with the space shuttle and the International Space Station, which are badly damaged. The result of all of this is that most of the world's communications satellites are destroyed, and the supply of food, water, and oxygen on the space shuttle and International Space Station are destroyed. Clooney and Bullock, seemingly helpless and with no way to call for help back to earth, must find a way to get back to earth alive.
If "Gravity" were just a special effects movie, it would quickly become old hat, as technology, and special effects in films, are always advancing and becoming more incredible. So movies like this need to have a timeless message in order to ensure their longevity. And "Gravity" does: it captures, as has no other movie, the tremendous sense of the hostility of space to all life and man's isolation in space and complete dependence on what he brings with him into space in order to stay alive, and how helpless tat he is whenever anything goes wrong.
This one, just like that other timeless space movie, Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", is destined to become an all-time classic.
My friend Mike Ivie's Cine Mike home movie theatre, with its large-screen projection DVD player and plush media chairs, is a delightful, fun place to see movies. There will e lots of yummy snacks and plenty of time for meeting new people and just being with other folks who love movies. So come join us!