Thursday, July 10, 2008

Passing Strange: The Movie

Well, I'd rather see Spike Lee turn Passing Strange into a movie than direct Stalag-17 for Broadway, but to be honest, I feel as if a huge opportunity is being missed. Sure, he made The Original Kings of Comedy, but stand-up makes a natural translation to the screen; concert films rarely do (and I'm talking directly to my copy of the short-lived Blast!, a spectacle that seemed confined and studied when I watched it on DVD). A musical like Passing Strange is no doubt difficult to make into a feature film, especially if you're trying to go direct to HBO, but I fear that, in a rush of justifiable excitement, this critically acclaimed musical may end up the next Futuresex/Loveshow. And no, I'm not talking about the live show, which was already sold out. I'm talking about the HBO special.

Why not give Passing Strange the same treatment as Chicago, Mama Mia, or (inevitably) In the Heights? To directly film the stage version--especially with audiences in the house--can only cheapen the effect of actually being there, whereas creating a pure film version can at least put Spike Lee's talents to good use. Wouldn't you love to see him find the gritty contrast between Amsterdam and Berlin? Between the perception of South Central, LA, and Youth's actual slice of sunny suburban life?

Again, I'm not against a film version of Passing Strange: but a staged concert seem to dilute the idea of "the Real." I mean, that's not even a live broadcast, ala the final show of Rent (which, by the way, has already been fully adapted for film): it's two steps removed, and, given that Lee plans to film at least four productions from which to cull the best takes and angles, will probably be processed, too. Even full-on film can't capture the wall of sound that Stew conjures up (and if it could, the casual viewer would just turn the sound down), but at least it could break film conventions. How is a straight reproduction going to capture the way Stew breaks the Belasco's fourth wall? You need some movie magic, some creative energy, and some entrepreneurial spirit to find that.

Funny. Between Spike Lee, Steve Klein, and Stew, I'd have thought it was all there. That said, I'm hoping for the best, and you crazy fans who want to show your support for the production, tickets are still on sale for the July 19th performances.


Gina said...

But I think Spike Lee wants people to see the show as is - though, I read some little bit of information elsewhere and it sounds like he's got a trick or 2 up his sleeve. Which sounds like he's gonna 'spiffy' it up somehow. Movie musicals these days don't quite live up to the material, though I could definitely see Passing Strange turning out like another Hedwig, which is how I see it right now anyhow. The whole life journal tale accompanied by a rock show, yet it still very much has theatrical elements. But for others like me who will never see the show on Broadway, I am glad that Spike is filming this stage version. I can definitely wait 5+ years for a movie adaptation.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Aaron, You've been one of the biggest and best champions of this show, and while I agree with your sentiments, it may be about the only way we'll get to see this show beyond its July 20 expiration date. A double-edged sword if there ever was one.

Aaron Riccio said...

Gina -- I certainly hope he's got something up his sleeve; Hedwig was actually something along the lines of what I had in mind, although I was hoping to see Spike take it a greater direction. My worry is that Spike Lee today has become a "safe" director: he's backed away from edgier content (I can't speak for his new film, and I'm not counting his heartstring HBO documentary) and stepped back a little too far from both camera AND content, in my opinion.

Steve -- I agree, especially now that Passing is officially passing . . . but I don't like to SETTLE for things. If this were the ONLY way to get the show made into a movie, then fine. But I really do feel as if the production team just tried to squeeze back some of their costs by repurposing a stage show as a film. Make no mistake, this version is going to be for the fans who are already out there; I don't think it will have as big an impact on newcomers to the show as an actual adaptation or real-live experience would.

But yeah, like I said, given NO alternatives? Happy to have a DVD.