Main Entry: thau·ma·turg
Etymology: French, from New Latin thaumaturgus, from Greek thaumatourgos working miracles, from thaumat-, thauma miracle + ergon work — more at Theater, Work
The official blog of the Dramaturgy Department at Baltimore's CENTERSTAGE. For posts related to our current and upcoming shows, click the links to the right. Alternatively, you could begin at the beginning, and explore our posts in chronological order.
Plenty more where this came from; check out the link to see, and then come check out American Buffalo at CENTERSTAGE, for a look at where the journey began.
As we prepare for American Buffalo, I’m reading about the young David Mamet, and am finding him utterly charming. I wish I had known his 17 year old self, when he was wandering around in Chicago and would spend his nights in a different era:
"I would dress in a sport coat and tie, evenings, and walk down to the hotels, and find myself an empty ballroom, and sit in the dark playing piano." (from Jafsie and John Henry).
Or in his mid-twenties, acting “like a 1930s author - playing pool, smoking cigars” and:
"Dressed in a long coat and even longer scarf…Mamet seemed as if he just stepped off the 20th Century Limited from New York with a voice, ‘that is of the counter man at Ashkenaz Delicatessan, his general aura that of a North Side Duddy Kravitz" (from David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre by Ira Nadel).
-posted by Kellie, dturgy fellow.
Two things occurred this spring that turned my attention to seventies film: the death of Sidney Lumet and the 35th anniversary of Taxi Driver. They were the topics of conversation all over my main media medium, podcasting. Terry Gross replayed old interviews with Lumet, the folks on Slate’s Culture Gabfest discussed his canon. and the Filmspotting folks dove into Taxi Driver. I’m no film buff, so the information was new to me, but it was clear that Taxi Driver and some of the Lumet films discussed (Cerpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network) were tapping into some common cultural preoccupations prevalent in the 70s: a sense of alienation and disillusionment, a focus on the anti-hero, the underdog, grit and grime and all that fun stuff.
One can draw many lines of similarity between these films and American Buffalo, first produced in 1975. The ambivalent, antagonistic nature of the main characters, the gritty setting, the belief that guides the characters’ choices, that law and order are broken, or non-existent, and one needs to ignore the law to get ahead, or defy the law to obtain justice.
But none of this is what got me thinking of 70s films after re-reading American Buffalo. It was not until I reached the end of Act II and came to Teach’s stunning outburst that they came to mind. In response to a major plot twist, Teach begins trashing Don’s junk shop, shouting “My Whole Cocksucking Life. The Whole Entire World. There Is No Law. There Is No Right And Wrong. There Is No Friendship. Every Fucking Thing.
Every God Forsaken Thing.”
I thought of the 'mad as hell' scene in Network and Sonny Wortzick’s 'Attica' cry in Dog Day Afternoon, the scenes people talk about when they talk about these movies. These scenes are explosions, howls of frustration, visceral, emotional responses to the state of affairs at the time. They resonate, not only with American Buffalo, but with the malaise I know I feel today in response to the aftermath of Obama’s campaign, the recession, and the wars in Washington.
So I’ve decided to offer these films as companions to AB in the program, to show how Mamet’s work was part of a larger cultural response to the moment in our history. As well as the films mentioned above, I’ll look at The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, The China Syndrome, MASH, Shampoo, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There are, of course, many other films that also contribute to the conversation, but these are a good sampling, I think. It’s interesting how much crossover there is in terms of the artists working on these projects: as mentioned, Lumet directed several of the films I’m looking at. Scorsese, Coppola, and Altman are sometimes grouped together as “New Hollywood” filmmakers as they all claim French New Wave cinema as a major influence on their work. Actors like Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and John Cazale show up in more than one of these films, and De Niro, Pacino and Cazale all worked in different combinations with Scorsese, Coppola, and Lumet. It’s also worth mentioning that Pacino and De Niro both show up in films written by Mamet, Lumet directed Mamet’s film The Verdict, and Robert Duvall played Teach in the original Broadway production of American Buffalo. These fellas were in cahoots, it seems, all in conversation, though the tone of the conversation changed by the time Mamet got into the film business.
Would love to hear other films that folks think belong in this world, other favorite scenes, or actors/directors/writers (whom I left woefully unmentioned, though they certainly played a role). Or other film trends from the moment that contrast to this one. Hit me with ‘em.