|Director:||Arthur Allan Seidelman|
Other Movies Seen By This Director (0)
|10.24.05||Regal Arbor||This Screening is part of event: Austin Film Festival 2005|
The Regal Arbor hosted me for a double feature on this chilly day five of the Austin Film Festival. Not having to scrounge for parking was nice but I have to tell you that sitting in comfortable seats was even nicer. Now if only I could chow down on more than popcorn and soda... Oh Alamo Drafthouse, how I am missing you.
The first film I saw tonight was The Sisters, adapted from Richard Alferi's play which in turn was "suggested by" Chekov's Three Sisters: a classic of the theater produced innumerable times. To me, most movies based on plays are completely different animals than your average original screenplay or book adaptation. I feel drawn to mention, for the sake of anyone reading this, that my personal tastes shy away from most play-turned-films. I tend to find them tiresome with all that concentrated time spent in one place with characters talking to each other in ways that I never hear on the street. Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule, but if you've seen a few of these types of movies, I bet you know what I mean.
The Sisters fits very much into that mold. Yes it has a solid cast and yes the performances are powerful but I found myself borderline detached throughout the movie. Many people in the audience really loved the formality of the dialogue but I found it to be stilted and unrealistic. Again, I believe this to be an issue of taste so please bear that in mind.
At its core, The Sisters is about one family of siblings dealing with their paternal relationship each in a different way. Although it was originally entitled Three Sisters, there's also a brother as well as several significant others and co-workers rounding out the cast, each given their moment to shine with a meaty monologue in what seems like a sea of constant bickering and argument. Some time passes and the sisters sort of deal a tiny bit with their issues, most of the characters have their little arc, then the movie's over. It's a movie about confrontation, defense mechanisms, and verbal abuse. Maria Bello indulges in the latter with the most zeal, looking as hot as always while lashing out to anyone that will listen. Mary Stuart Masterson, Erika Christenson, Chris O'Donnell, Eric McCormack, Tony Goldwyn, Steven Culp, Alessandro Nivola, and Elizabeth Banks fill the other roles nicely, each with tons of dialogue filled with big words that I’m sure was a pain to memorize. Oh yeah, Rip Torn also has a part, although his accent is so vague I have no idea where he's supposed to be from. I have it down to either the south or Russia.
I can't call the movie bad. It kept me at least interested, I didn't walk out and I fully recognize that everyone around me enjoyed it a lot more than I did, but you know... Sweet Smell of Success had just as formal dialogue in just as much abundance but it still managed to feel like a film. There's a term used a lot with play-turned-movies: "Open it up." In the theater, the more economical you can write in terms of setting and number of characters, the less hassle it is to actually produce the thing. I've seen very few films (Twelve Angry Men comes to mind) that manage to spend over an hour in one room and keep it interesting. Due to thematic and story limitations in this particular case, almost every conversation is forced to happen either in a faculty lounge or a hospital waiting room. I yearn to be free. Open it up.
Anyway, enough of my griping about the film which I'm sure most people will praise. On to the Q&A! The director Arthur Allen Seidelman and actress Mary Stuart Masterson were both there to talk about the film and they mentioned lots of interested things:
-One of the big changes that Richard Alferi made to Chekov's play was to change the settings from the characters being in a small town in the Russian landscape yearning to return to Moscow to the characters being in New York City yearning to return to humble Charleston. He felt that the change made the play more contemporary since most of us tend to move toward big cities when we grow into adulthood rather than away from them. Seidelman directed the play at the Pasadena Playhouse when it was first written.
-The film was shot entirely in Eugene, Oregon in April and May of 2004 with a budget under 5 million. The cast had a week of rehearsal time which Masterson feels was very important in creating relationships with the other actors.
-Masterson noted that in a play there's always an ensemble camaraderie with the other actors but not so for some films. In this case however, everyone got along great and there were no egos or anything of that nature. Everyone got paid the same (Seidelman: "Very little").
-When asked what techniques he used to translate the play into a film, Seidelman mentioned using the camera to communicate certain emotions visually while other characters were talking. He said that the camera always serves the actors, never the other way around.
-Seidelman was asked how he prepared for the job and if he ever had to rein the actors in to which he responded "the reins should never fall from the director's hands." The job of each person working on a movie is to provide a piece of the puzzle and a director's job is to keep track of all those pieces and make sure he has a completed picture at the end, so it's essentially his job to "direct" the actors toward a desired shape and size that will fit with the rest of the puzzle. As for preparation goes, he said he went in every day with a plan but was free enough to change it.
-Someone asked Masterson about her tendency to play strong female characters and where that came from. Masterson related a bit of information about her parents (both accomplished actors) and that her mother was a real activist for a while. Apparently they both did a Geritol commercial to pay a few bills and Masterson’s mom had to live with her dad saying "My wife, I think I'll keep her" at the end of it. Mostly however, Masterson believes that strength of character mostly comes from the writing and that she's just happened to be chosen for these strong characters. She added that she's played a few weaker characters as well.
-Masterson also noted that a while back she did a stage production of Three Sisters playing the role of Irene (played by Erika Christensen in this film), and her overriding thought was that the play felt like each character was in her own world. This film, to her, felt like they were all in the same universe.
-Talking about the language in the film, Seidelman said there were very few changes made to the script during production. He personally thinks that our cinema has become language-poor, and although the formality of the language may be unfamiliar, he loves it and thought it important to keep. Also, he noted, the sisters use language as weapons and shields; it's the words that they hide behind while cocooned in the womb-like comfort of the faculty lounge, so the language was important in that regard as well.
With that, they had to clear the theater for the next show, which was already 20 minutes late.