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Movie announced for unfilmed Tennessee Williams play – 37 years after his death

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Playwright Tennessee Williams (Image courtesy Library of Congress. Photo credit: Walter Albertin)

Nearly four decades after Tennessee Williams made his final exit from the world stage, one of the iconic dramatist’s most controversial plays is finally set for a film adaptation.

The Tony and Pulitzer-winning playwright became one of America’s most lauded theatrical writers during the second half of the last century; his plays, which largely focus on outsider characters struggling against the pressures of a social norm in which they do not fit, often explored homosexual themes at a time when the subject was widely considered taboo, earning the openly queer playwright a special place in LGBTQ cultural history; many of his works, such as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” are undisputed classics that have been filmed many times and continue to be revived and performed on stages worldwide, and his influence is so deeply felt that references to his plays and characters still turn up in American pop culture, from classic episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld,” to movies as far-flung as “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Disaster Artist,” to songs by popular musicians like Lana Del Ray and Lil Wayne.

Williams died in 1983 at the age of 71, after grappling with depression and substance use issues for most of his life, but he left behind an impressive body of work that continues to fascinate scholars and artists today. One such artist is actor and filmmaker Ethan Hawke – who, according to Variety, has announced plans to adapt and direct a screen version of Williams’ wildly experimental 1953 play, “Camino Real.”

Ethan Hawke in the 2018 film “First Reformed” (Image courtesy A24)

Hawke – who, in a “who knew?” coincidence, happens to be Williams’ great-nephew – calls the planned feature film a “passion project.”

In an interview at Sundance, Hawke told Variety, “I’ve been obsessed with the piece for years. I kept turning it over and over again in my mind. It’s part rock opera, part ‘Waiting for Godot.’ What I think Tennessee was trying to do, cinema has caught up to and can do better.”

“It’s not dissimilar to what Baz Luhrmann was aspiring to on ‘Moulin Rouge,’ it’s just more spiritual,” he adds.

The original play was a departure for Williams, who in 1953 was fresh from the mega-success of “Streetcar,” which had not only won the Pulitzer Prize but been adapted into a multi-Oscar-winning movie which made an international star out of Marlon Brando. It’s a surreal mélange of history, literature, and myth, following a young American named Kilroy through encounters with characters like Don Quixote, Camille, Casanova, and Esmeralda from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Audiences and critics didn’t respond well to Williams in experimental mode, and its Broadway debut closed after only 60 performances – though it was “rediscovered” in subsequent decades and has spawned countless productions from theatre artists drawn to try their hand at an interpretation.

Hawke first became interested in the play when he starred as Kilroy in a well-received 1999 stage production at the Williamsburg Theatre Festival. He made a previous attempt to bring the play to the screen several years ago, hoping to film in Cuba while Fidel Castro was still in power. That project fell through, but now he has teamed with producer Uri Singer, with whom he collaborated on this year’s Sundance entry, “Tesla,” after Singer convinced him that filming in Rio de Janeiro – where Brazilian incentives for filmmakers would help to defray costs – could provide the kind of cosmopolitan backdrop needed for the piece.

“The play is set at the crossroads of all the world and we want to represent that with the production and the cast,” says Hawke. “Rio seems like the place to do that. There’s an intersection of extreme poverty and extreme wealth.”

Hawke, who has balanced a respected career in theatre with his work in film since debuting as a child actor in the 1985 sci-fi film “Explorers,” says he will not appear in the film. No casting has been announced, though he says he hopes to include Juliette Binoche, with whom he recently worked in the French-Japanese drama “The Truth.”

Filming will take place in Rio this year, and Hawkes says they hope to wrap production by Christmas.

As to whether there’s still an audience out there for a new Tennessee Williams film (particularly one so far removed from the queer icon’s usual mode of expression), that remains to be seen. For Hawkes, however, the motivation for making it has more to do with artistic fulfillment than financial reward.

“When something really daring works, there’s a high,” says the four-time Oscar nominee. “It’s like Jimi Hendrix when he played. When James Baldwin speaks, for example, he’s living on the edge. And Tennessee was living way out there.”

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Books

New book reveals that some secrets last a lifetime

‘All the Broken Places’ should be on your must-read list

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(Book cover image courtesy Pamela Dorman Books)

All the Broken Places
By John Boyne
c. 2022, Pamela Dorman Books
$28/400 pages

It shall not pass your lips.

No, That Thing You Do Not Talk About is off-limits in all conversation, a non-topic when the subject surfaces. Truly, there are just certain things that are nobody’s business and in the new novel, “All the Broken Places” by John Boyne, some secrets must last a lifetime.

She hated the idea that she would have to adjust to new neighbors.

Ninety-one-year-old Gretel Fernsby wasn’t so much bothered by new people, as she was by new noise. She hated the thought of inuring herself to new sounds, and what if the new tenants had children? That was the worst of all. Gretel never was much for children, not her own and certainly not any living below her.

Once, there was a time when Gretel could imagine herself with many children. That was nearly 80 years ago, when she was in love with her father’s driver, Kurt. She thought about Kurt through the years – he had fallen out of favor with her father, and was sent elsewhere – and she wondered if he survived the war.

Her father didn’t, nor did her younger brother but Gretel didn’t think about those things. What happened at the “other place” was not her fault.

She hadn’t known. She was innocent.

That was what she told herself as she and her mother fled to Paris. Gretel was 15 then, and she worked hard to get rid of her German accent but not everyone was fooled by her bad French or her story. She was accosted, hated. As soon as her mother died, she sailed to Australia, where she lived with a woman who loved other women, until it became dangerous there, too. She practiced her English and moved to London where she was married, widowed, and now she had to get used to new neighbors and new sounds and new ways for old secrets to sneak into a conversation.

OK, clear your calendar. Get “All the Broken Places” and just don’t make any plans, other than to read and read and read.

The very first impression you get of author John Boyne’s main character, Gretel, is that she’s grumpy, awful, and nasty. With the many bon mots she drops, however, the feeling passes and it’s sometimes easy to almost like her – although it’s clear that she’s done some vile things in her lifetime, things that emerge slowly as the horror of her story dawns. Then again, she professes to dislike children, but (no spoilers here!) she doesn’t, not really, and that makes her seem like someone’s sweet old grandmother. ‘Tis a conundrum.

Don’t let that fool you, though. Boyne has a number of Gretel-sized roadside bombs planted along the journey that is this book. Each ka-boom will hit your heart a little harder.

This is a somewhat-sequel to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” but you can read it alone. Do, and when you finish, you’ll want to immediately read it again, to savor anew.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Movies

The ‘Spoiler’ is you’re going to cry

Love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly

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Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge star in ‘Spoiler Alert.’ (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

It’s been a refreshing year for LGBTQ love stories on the screen. From “Fire Island” to “Bros,” from “Crush” to “Anything’s Possible,” we’ve seen narratives that offer up hopeful and positive alternatives to the gloomy outcomes presented by movies of the past. Instead of stories that reinforce the tired trope of doomed queer romance, we’re finally seeing ourselves get the same chance at a happily-ever-after ending as everybody else. 

It’s been a welcome change – but just when Hollywood finally seems to have finally figured out that all our relationships don’t have to end in tragedy, “Spoiler Alert” has come along to remind us that sometimes they still do.

Based on the best-selling memoir by Michael Ausiello (“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”) and directed by Michael Showalter from a screenplay by David Marshall Grant and gay blogger/author/pundit Dan Savage, it’s the true story of a couple (Ausiello and his eventual husband, photographer Kit Cowan) who find love and build a relationship over the course of more than a decade only to face the heartbreak of Kit’s diagnosis of – and his (SPOILER ALERT, hence the title) premature passing from – a rare form of terminal cancer. Though It’s not exactly a rom-com, it does try to keep things light-hearted, and it aims for the uplift despite its foregone tragic conclusion.

That’s a tough tightrope to walk. The book, penned by veteran television and entertainment journalist Ausiello, pulled it off successfully, becoming a bestseller – and not just among queer readers – with its warts-and-all celebration of what it truly means to commit to love. After all, we may adore our fairy tale fantasies, but we all know that even a couple’s best-case scenario is guaranteed a sad ending; Ausiello’s first-person written narrative managed to get the point across that it’s all worth it, anyway.

Sometimes, though, a literary device that works on the page doesn’t translate easily to the screen, and on film, Ausiello’s “we-already-know-the-outcome” approach faces a more resistant challenge.

In the first act of the film, which details the meeting and early romance of its two lead characters (Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge as Michael and Kit, respectively), our knowledge of the ending becomes an obstacle. This may be particularly true for more jaded viewers, who are apt to be keenly aware of the emotional payoffs being set up in advance. Heartwarming moments can easily come off as deliberate, even manufactured, and one might sense an obvious bid to force our identification with the characters in the movie’s deployment of all the standard “new gay relationship” tropes. In reading, it’s easy to personalize such universal moments through our own imaginations, which can fill in the spaces (and the faces) in a way that rings true for us. On film (this film, at least), such communally identifiable experiences run the risk of feeling manipulative: a little too perfect, a little too pat, a little too “meet-cute,“ and a little too… well, precious.

The dissonance between formulaic fantasy and genuine lived experience is sometimes made even more obtrusive by occasional flashbacks to Michael’s childhood, framed as excerpts from an imagined ‘90s sitcom, which distance us further from the story – a stylistic ploy that seems intended to keep the tone of the narrative as far from tragic as possible.

When it’s time to get real, however, Showalter’s film lands on more solid ground. Once the blissful “happy-ever-after” couple-hood of the two men is established, the movie takes us into deeper, more mature – and therefore, less predictable – territory. Things don’t end up being perfect in Michael and Kit’s ostensible lover’s paradise: jealousies, self-esteem issues, and the inevitable individual growth that sometimes drives wedges between us in our relationships take their toll. As any successful long-term couple – queer or otherwise – is bound to discover, relationships take a lot of work, and seeing the two protagonists confront that seldom-told part of the story goes a long way toward making their experience more relatable for those who are looking for more than mere aspirational fantasy.

So, too, does the acting from the two leads. Parsons, who struggles against the obvious artificiality of playing against being two-decades-too-old in the film’s earlier scenes, blossoms once the story moves ahead in time to deliver an emotionally brave and affectingly authentic portrait of a man overcoming the baggage of his awkward and socially isolated youth (there’s a Smurf addiction involved, need we say more?) and finding the resilience to weather a battle for his lover’s life. Aldridge, a Brit flawlessly playing American, is perhaps even better – not that it needs to be a competition – as Kit, whose easy-going self-esteem masks a world of unresolved insecurities and makes an almost-too-good-to-be-true character endearingly real; perhaps more importantly, the emotional journey he’s tasked with portraying requires an absolute dedication to unornamented truth, and he delivers it impeccably.

It helps that the two actors, who carry most of the movie’s running time, have a convincingly natural chemistry together that gradually persuades us to invest in these characters even if we had resisted becoming invested in them before. Bolstering the emotional solidity even further is the presence of seasoned pros Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Kit’s parents, who deepen this not-as-clueless-as-they-seem pair beyond the familiar stereotype they represent and raise them above the easy sentimentality they might otherwise have carried into the story’s already-poignant mix. 

These considerable advantages are enough to help us forgive the movie’s contrived expository beginnings, though its ongoing sitcom conceit for childhood flashbacks – as well as its occasional fourth-wall-breaking interruptions from Michael’s TV obsessed imagination – continue to feel a little gimmicky, especially after the plot has passed the point where such amusements are welcome or even necessary.

Still, the movie’s fortunate choice to play against its tearjerker underpinnings – such as when it undercuts a particularly histrionic scene of hospital drama by calling itself out on its own shameless nod (which any gay movie buff will surely already recognize) to an iconic moment from a cinema classic – keeps the tears which finally come from feeling as though they’ve been shamelessly manipulated out of us. It’s this quality that marks the best entries in the tearjerker genre; the thing that movies like “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolia” have in common (besides Shirley MacLaine) is their ability to lean fully into the artifice of their own weepy, sentimental style without sacrificing the sincerity of their emotional payoffs. Films like these don’t play their big moments for drama, or even for laughs, to keep us involved – they play those moments for truth. “Spoiler Alert” clearly aspires to the same standard.

It mostly succeeds, after an awkward start; though some viewers might find its quirkier narrative conceits to be an overcompensation for its weepy ending, its characters are real enough to get past all that and win us over. And though it’s hard to deny that it’s ultimately another tragic gay love story, it manages to remind us that love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly.

After all, just because a romance is doomed doesn’t mean it has to be a downer.

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Sports

Protester with Pride flag disrupts World Cup game

Protest took place during match between Portugal and Uruguay

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(Al Jazeera screenshot)

During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman symbol and the phrase “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident, the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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