Art & Artists
Art Basel 07
Art Basel 08
Art of Life
Basil Twist's Petrushka
Betty Tompkins
Diane Keaton Tribute
Edward Steichen
Gertrude Stein
Les Nubians
New Museum
Peek-A-Boo Revue
Pill Awards
Photogs to the Stars
Erotic Art Museum

A History of Violence

An Inconvenient Truth
Angels in America
Brokeback Mountain
Chris and Don
Little Children
Liza with a Z
Man on Wire
Notes on a Scandal
That Man: Peter Berlin
The History Boys
The Queen
The Savages
Woodstock Uncut
Morgan James
Joey Arias in Concert
Arias & Vine
Arias with a Twist
Brilliant Mistake
Candi Stanton
Diana Ross
Fight the People
Fish Circus
Fish Circus V2
Gavin Creel
Joe G's Winter Party
John Bucchino
Kevin Aviance
Lisa Shaw
Maximus 3000
Meow Meow
Paul Winter
Ute Lemper
A Chorus Line
ABT's Romeo & Juliet
August: Osage County
Avenue Q
Boeing Boeing
Coram Boy
Faith Healer
Getting Home
Grey Gardens
Heartbreak House
Joan Rivers
Journey's End
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Light in the Piazza
Marga Gomez
Mary Stuart
Movin’ Out
New York City Ballet
Rainy Days & Mondays
Rent 10
Some Men
Spelling Bee
Spring Awakening
Sunday in the Park
Sweeney Todd
The Little Dog Laughed
The Seagull
The Vertical Hour
Threepenny Opera
Times They Are A-Changin
Trailer Park
Wall to Wall Broadway
Photo Credit :: Rent
Arts & Entertainment
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
November 22, 2005 
Share |

For those of us whom others might consider Rentheads (and that’s a term to be earned), the making of the film version of RENT from the long-running (ten years in April) Broadway musical might have struck fear in our hearts. How do you translate such a visceral production into something for the flat screen? And what about Chris Columbus as director? And wouldn’t the original cast be a little too old now, for such youthful roles? And also, would this movie version of a beloved stage musical turn out to be like Richard Attenborough’s Chorus Line or, more favorably, somewhat closer to Rob Marshall’s Oscar-winning Chicago?

Well, then – fresh from a benefit screening of RENT for Friends in Deed (the caregiving organization without whom, arguably, there might not be a RENT at all), it is a joy to report that this Renthead’s fears about the movie version have been completely allayed. Admittedly, the judgment of an individual who has seen the Broadway version of this show no less than 73 times cannot be trusted to be completely objective, and yet, judging by the applause and standing ovation of last night’s sold-out audience at Symphony Space, even newcomers to this materal might find themselves, upon viewing this film, swept into the culthood.

The film opens with that immediately recognizable first note which starts the second half of the stage version, that first note of “Seasons of Love” – and there they are, the cast lined up face-front and center, singing to an empty theatre. From there, we shift into Mark Cohen’s documentary, with his voice telling us it’s 1989 – and then, with another shift, we’re on location in the East Village in Mark and Roger’s rambling and bedraggled loft apartment. And at first, it’s almost odd that you can repeat the dialogue with the characters in a film and know what they’re going to say before they say it (something most often associated with a Rocky Horror screening), but then, you start hearing a few phrases here and there which, as a Renthead, you know were not in the original show, and which actually fit in with the dialogue, and then, gradually, you give in to what the film does and you start to let go of all the other performances you’ve seen in these roles over the past ten years and you begin to focus on the story itself, and hear again, as if for the first time, the music.

RENT is still about, for the most part, Jonathan Larson’s music. And Columbus’s film does a superb job at opening up several of the numbers, making them bigger than the stage version, but in a way which is completely respectful to the original versions. “The Tango Maureen,” for example, opens into an incredible tango ballroom scene complete with at least a dozen other tangoing couples in evening dress, and perhaps, most importantly, this number, unlike the stage version, introduces the audience to the character Maureen, a linchpin for the evolving relationships. In other words, miraculously, Columbus clarifies the storyline.

Another number which benefits from Columbus’s reimagining of what Larson might have done had he lived long enough to tighten his plot and the machinations of his characters is the show-stopping duet between Maureen and Joanne, “Take Me or Leave Me.” Not only does Columbus provide a commitment ceremony for the two women, but he celebrates their union with a big splashy production number at the Greenwich Country Club. One complaint often voiced about Larson’s original show was the manner in which the two lesbian characters were treated, and Columbus’s inspired cinematic tweakings of their love offers viewers a deeper, more resonant relationship.

Similarly, Columbus does not shy away from the love between Angel and Collins, and both Jesse Martin and Wilson Jermaine Heredia imbue their roles with a palpable joy at being together (and particularly in a lovely daylight exterior scene where they dance down the street as gaily and happily – and rightfully so – as any other cinematic couple, regardless of sexual preference). There is not a shard of self-pity in these two performances, and these roles stand as a testament to the strength of character for all those living with disease.

The film is so sure-footed in its direction, and so beautifully shot – as if the entire city of New York, and particularly the East Village, existed in the lambent glow of candlelight – and never condescending or cynical about the romantic illusions of youth that it is nearly impossible to resist sliding back into that time of life – and celebrating again all that makes youth so beautiful. And tragic, as well – for there is one brief shot of the Manhattan skyline, complete with the Twin Towers sparkling in the night, whereupon your throat catches with the realization of how quickly things change and people disappear. As Larson would remind us, there is “no day but today.”

Sixteen years after the film’s setting, AIDS is still with us, perhaps moreso than ever, as is the extreme disparity of income in this country, and also homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction, and the ongoing fight for civil rights for gays and lesbians. To see Columbus’s film, and to hear again Larson’s libretto, is to be reminnded that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Perhaps that’s one reason RENT continues to sell-out the house on Broadway, and one reason why this film will touch so many people around the world: the struggle to find love and hold on to love is universal – and not only for the young.