Re-Views, Unsolicited Solicitations

How “A Streetcar Named Desire” Took “Blue Jasmine” to the Oscars

I know, I know my darlings, you might get quite bored with me constantly talking about Tennessee Williams and Cate Blanchett, I know, but you know what they say, keep repeating that one thing and you will become a master at it. And darlings, who wouldn’t want to write plays like Tennessee and act like Cate, who? So here comes my next rant which involves another colleague of mine, my dear Woody Allen.

I have had quite a few woodies in my life and there might be some Allens involved with them, but this entry is not about them, even though I wish it would be, because that might have given me a happy ending, but I digress, no really, I do digress not having a happy ending for this entry.

During my breakfast break suddenly I… Well this has happened not so “suddenly” but the use of word “suddenly” reminded me about some writer I read recently who suggested that good writers should remove “suddenly” from all of their writings. His suggestion sounded quite strange because, first of all, who said that I want to be a good writer (this one I believe is a lie) and second of all, just imagine Tennessee Williams, yes, Tennessee Williams himself, removing “suddenly” from the name of his play “Suddenly Last Summer.” It would leave us only with “Last Summer” which would be just sad, because “suddenly” gives that needed kick in the balls and defines the pain which happened that last summer. This entry is not about “Suddenly” and not about “Last Summer” but it has something to do with removing some things and loosing the others because of that change.

While eating my breakfast I was arranging another “Temperamental “T” Battle.” Somewhere in between devouring a leaky egg yolk and a large piece of salt crystal I realized that I have way too much to say about Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” alone. Before I ate that egg I thought that I would compare two films, a great classic “A Streetcar Named Desire” and a new Oscar nominee “Blue Jasmine,” but, after finishing that poor egg I realized that that battle was won way before it even started. Who can compete with Tennessee Williams’ written characters, who? He is one of the best when it comes to it. When somebody wants to rewrite a gorgeous play written by him, it better be good, because whoever attempts to do so unsuccessfully might get a taste of Plastikoff’s testicles on their face. Your big movie name won’t help to avoid this from happening. You should be already aware that Plastikoff knows more than you do, so you must listen to him, otherwise you might get that uneaten egg yolk thrown at you and later smeared on your face by his, above mentioned, testicles. This time Woody Allen is under my radar or, should I say, under my hanging bangers. It is going to be hard (pun intended) to be Woody.

I love you Woody, I truly do. And how could I not love a director and writer who gave me one of my favorite comedy films “Bullets Over Broadway,” how? This will be tough for me to write, because you, my dear Woody, showed me with your “Bullets…” that you know and love theater very much.

The Oscars are literally a few hours away. This year’s nominations are quite forgettable. I don’t think any of the films which are nominated this year will be remembered after thirty years, but since I, ze Plastikoff himself, am living today, I thought I would give another piece of my mind (god, I am so generous, giving my brains and stuff away to ze people) and write another review of a film that has something to do with the Awards. If you haven’t read my take on “her,” you can read it here. This time I am going to go for “Blue Jasmine.”

It’s not a secret anymore that the film industry is going down the drain. There is almost nothing exciting coming out in the past few years and it’s getting worse. When movie theaters are concentrating more on the sale of popcorn and soda, you know you are popped.

This blentry (no, this is not a misspelled word, no, if you know a little Russian you know what “blet” means) is a character and play study where I discuss good versus bad adaptations of very known plays. I am going to concentrate my brain cells that are still left in my head on “A Streetcar Named Desire” and what happened to it when Woody Allen rewrote it into “Blue Jasmine.”

First of all one must be blind not to see that “Blue Jasmine” is “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It is and it is all the things it should not be.

I was quite shocked and taken aback by the fact that there was no mentioning of Tennessee Williams in any way in the credits of “Blue Jasmine.” What I saw was that this script was “originally” written by Woody Allen.

Oy Woody, Woody, yes, of course you gave your own twist to my bellowed play, but to be so blunt and not even say that your script was at least somehow inspired by “…Desire” was a sneaky way to go. You are definitely not winning any points from me on that. Thinking that putting Blanche (Jasmine in your film) in today’s environment would distract me from recognizing the play is a huge miscalculation.

First of all putting a play or adapting a play for today’s environment is nothing new, you know that, Woody. Almost every play has gotten that treatment in theater. Directors take old plays and adapt them constantly. Theater directors (usually) acknowledge original writers leaving their names in credits even though there might be nothing “original” left in their productions.

I recognized that Stella’s home from “A Streetcar Named Desire” is Jasmine sister’s home in San Francisco in your film, my dear Woody. Jasmine from “Blue Jasmine” is broke as it is the original Blanche from “A Streetcar…” when she comes to live with her sister. My dear Woody, you haven’t even escaped saying that Jasmine has a French background, and oh yeah, you think I would not catch where Jasmine’s name originated from? Blanche in “…Desire” mentions her perfume “Jasmine” which is hated by Stanley Kowalski. Is this where the name Jasmine came from in your film? There are many recognizable details as this in your film, Woody, but let me dissect first how “A Streetcar Named Desire’s” characters became “Blue Jasmine’s” characters.

As you know, my dear darlings, I love the fact that I find certain things hidden in films. If you read this review, you know what I am talking about. So here it goes, characters from “Blue Jasmine” and which characters from “A Streetcar Named Desire” I think “inspired” them:

Jasmine is Blanche DuBois
Ginger is Stella
Chili, Augie and Dr. Flicker are Stanley Kowalski
Dwight is Mitch
Hal, Jasmine’s husband, is the boy who killed himself in “…Desire”

I am going to start from Stanley Kowalski. Stanley was broken into three characters in “Blue Jasmine.” This was a very poor decision from you my dear Woody. And this is why.

You lost all the drama that surrounded Blanche by breaking the events and characteristics of Kowalski. All of these men in “Blue Jasmine” became very plain and didn’t contribute to Jasmine’s mind f*ck as Kowalski did in “…Desire.” What was this mess that represented Stanley in your film, Mr. Allen? You flattened Stanley from ”…Desire” so much that I was just plain sorry for the guys who were playing representations of what was once the greatest character in the history of theater.

Augie, played by Andrew Dice Clay, became Stanley whom Blanche met for the first time after arrival to her sister’s home in “A Streetcar…”
The sexy, full of passion and temperament Stanley from “…Desire” became Chili, played by Bobby Cannavale.
The “raping scene Stanley” became Dr. Flicker played by Michael Stuhlbarg.

The three characters created from one became disjointed and without depth. It was very disappointing to watch that happen.

In “A Streetcar…” Blanche’s character remembers a boy she fell in love with, who later on she realized was gay. In your version, Woody, this boy became Jasmine’s husband, Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, who cheated on her and killed himself in jail because of… well I didn’t quite get why did Jasmine’s husband killed himself in jail.

The boy from “…Desire” killed himself because he was a homosexual. Blanche revealed that secret. Jasmine’s husband, on the other hand, killed himself because Jasmine called the FBI and told them about the shady business her husband had been doing. Jasmine was emotionally distressed after finding out about Hal’s cheating. Hal got jailed because of Jasmine. I am not going to tell you in every detail how that happened but if you know “A Streetcar…,” Jasmine as well as Blanche had something to do with the suicides of their husbands.

While I totally understood Blanche’s boy’s suicide, I was not buying Jasmine’s husband’s suicide at all. The story leading to the event was flat and just too weak to be convincing. The way you wrote Hal’s character, my dear Woody, gave me an opposite impression. I couldn’t believe that a man like Hal was able to kill himself this easily.

I understand that you, my dear, wanted to portray these rich, lying people in your “Blue Jasmine,” but you failed it. You rewrote the sensitive boy’s character from “A Streetcar…” who represented Blanche’s feelings into this manipulative, cheating husband of Jasmine’s. Of course I could find some kind of connection there and say that Jasmine’s husband Hal represented Jasmine’s wish to live richly without doing any work to earn any money. That is true, that could be your idea of why Jasmine had her nervous breakdown. But with the decision of writing Hal the way you did you completely removed Jasmine’s fragility. Later on you went to explore that quality of Jasmine’s in other scenes of your film where she’s meeting Dwight, but it was too late.  You already made a cold Jasmine. You removed from her the greatest value, her fragility which was so beautifully developed by Tennessee Williams in Blanche.

My writing of this review is as messy as your film my darling Woody. See what you have done to me?

Yes, you tried to return to the original Blanche with your Jasmine being dependent on rich men. I was waiting for “I depend on the kindness of strangers” come out of Jasmine’s lips the whole film but it never happened. This beautiful quote turned into some mumbling jumble coming out of Jasmine’s lips at the end of the film which was just plainly very disappointing to me. I wanted to kick you in the balls my dear Woody. You had Cate Blanchett saying those meaningless words at the end of your film which actually hurt Cate’s as an actress’ image. She was put in a situation where she was asked to do a very cliché thing, talk into nothing with her lips slightly shivering and leaking through her eye sockets, what appeared to be some kind of liquid called tears. I found myself concentrating on Cate Blanchett’s face without make up rather than “feeling” what she was going through in that particular scene.

Funny, how you, my dear, were not able to escape shower scenes in your film. The shower scenes in “…Desire” were essential. After every one of them something happened to Blanche. Not so much happened to Jasmine in your film, my dear Woody. In “A Streetcar…” Blanche wanted to wash off something that could not be washed off. What you washed off in “Blue Jasmine,” my dear, was Cate Blanchett’s make up and that was it. Yes, with that you revealed how old Jasmine is, but it added almost nothing to the character. Cate Blanchett went quite disheveled and with the runny make up throughout the whole film. You decided to “add” to Blanche’s from “…Desire” character, an oily skin shine and sweaty armpits. This was strange to see happening knowing that the action takes place in San Francisco where the weather is cool. New Orleans’ weather is thick with sweaty armpits and oily skin. That is more appropriate for Tennessee Williams’ play, but I guess you can sweat in any weather if you drink this much alcohol as Jasmine did in your film.

The difference with Stella, Ginger in “Blue Jasmine,” is less obvious. In “Blue Jasmine” Ginger has two children while in “A Streetcar…” Stella is pregnant with her first one. Ginger’s character in “Blue Jasmine” got Blanche’s sexual freedom. Jasmine’s character became even flatter because having Ginger this sexually active removed another great layer beautifully written by Tennessee Williams for Blanche.

Jasmine’s sister, Ginger, goes around sleeping with men. She divorced her first husband for no apparent reason. There was not even a hint why she did it. Then she almost ditched a better looking and more passionate boyfriend/fiancé after she met a balding man, Al, played by Louis C.K., at a party. Ginger’s new interest was apparently cheating with her on his wife. After a phone call to Al’s house and talking with his wife, Ginger, almost instantly, dropped the passionate love for Al and returned to her hot fiancé Chili as if nothing has happened. Ginger switched back to the hotty in literally a second after she learned about Al’s wife. Ugh.

And what was that mess of a scene with Jasmine and Dr. Flicker when he was sexually abusing her in the office? I went, what the duck just happened? This came from nowhere and was so painful to watch that I lost it. This scene was so fake that I think I believed more in drag queen’s fake boobs than Dr. Flicker’s arousal towards Jasmine in that scene.

I am going to end my rant with another quite strange detail about “Blue Jasmine.” The young salesman who came by Stella’s house in “A Streetcar…” and met Blanche there became Jasmine’s son. Weird decision I’d say. With that you, my dear Woody, stripped away from Jasmine her sexual gravitation to younger men which was so crucial in Tennessee Williams’ play. With that you not only said that Jasmine is not sexually attractive, because she has a son, but you also didn’t even suggest that Jasmine could like any of her sister’s lovers.

And here comes the ending punch. The way the character of Mitch from “A Streetcar…” was written in “Blue Jasmine” was so outlandish that you, my dear Woody, didn’t know yourself what to do with him. Dwight, played by Peter Sarsgaard, appears from nowhere like a rich prince on a white horse. He almost instantly proposed to Jasmine, then he dropped her as a plastic bottle in the middle of nowhere after learning that Jasmine was divorced and had a child. It was quite convenient, I should say, to be dropped next to a place where Jasmine’s estranged son was working. Okay, I think I got it, this scene was needed because it was vital for Cate to get a little of California’s sun on her pale skin while walking those few frames, I got it.

The decision for Jasmine and Dwight to get married and break up came so forced and fast in “Blue Jasmine” that one could miss it. Turn your attention for a few moments from the screen and you won’t even know that the proposal even happened.

The dialog between characters were flat and choppy. I was constantly hearing Woody Allen’s voice which was weird because Jasmine is hardly Woody (pun intended). It was painful to listen.

After writing all of this long ass wordy diarrhea I came to a realization that you, my dear Woody, most likely decided to play a game with us. You took “A Streetcar Named Desire” written by Tennessee Williams and decided to rewrite it creating opposite characters to those written by Tennessee Williams. Hmmm, I think you didn’t have enough Port to do that my dear Woody. But I guess it worked out somehow for you, because you got quite a few nominations for the film.

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Temperamental "T" Battles, Theater

“Period of Adjustment” vs. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”

Play reading is challenging for some people. It happens so that I enjoy reading them. Of course it has something to do with me being a theater director, actor, playwright and what not. That’s right, Plastikoff is a very important theater artist, so you always should listen to what, he, ze Plasikoff himself, has to say to you about one or another play. Yes, of course, he has something to say about cats and Port drinking too, but today’s entry is not about that, unless you find a connection between Tennessee Williams and his cats.

If you are in theater arts, you most likely heard questions like, “so what play would you recommend?” Or “what’s in theaters right now?” Most of the people who ask these questions want to take a short cut. I don’t know if I should blame them for that and throw some paint into their faces? Maybe I should just break some vases instead? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be Plastikoff if I would not find some fun in those questions and my play reading.

These dialogs, monologues and short descriptions might get you when you read theater plays. You might say: “how the duck should I imagine how big actress’ boobs are when I read a description like this:

“ISABEL appears before the house, small and white-faced with fatigue, eyes dark-circled, manner dazed and uncertain. She wears a cheap navy-blue cloth coat, caries a shiny new patent-leather purse, has on red wool mittens.”

A fun fact about those boobs: apparently Jane Fonda had to wear fake titties while performing in a film version of Tennessee Williams’ play “Period of Adjustment.” I don’t know if that’s true, but her titties looked pretty real to me.

There are many things directors, actors, composers, stage and costume designers have to imagine while reading those, sometimes never ending, dialogs. I am here to enhance their and your imagination, my darlings. Considering all this challenge you might face reading a play, I want to present to you “The Temperamental “T” Battles” between two plays.

I would like to share with you the insights of how I read plays. To make it more interesting for myself and maybe for you, I am going to compare one play with another and see which one is stronger, which themes and characters are developed better and so on and so forth.

To put a play on the stage requires a lot of time and energy, so you want to find that perfect play which includes everything what you are looking for. My “very important notes” might make you read those plays and, who knows, this might become a reason why you have chosen one or another play for your theater. Yes, you can thank me in your play bills later, just don’t forget to send me some Port after you do that (I think that’s a good place to insert a smiley face, no?).

Here are the rules of the battle. I am going to take two in a way similar plays and playwrights and am going to compare them as if they are break dancing on the street or something. Somebody or something has to win. In no way I want to put down one or another play or playwright. They all are one way or another great, but, just it happens so, I might find one play more appealing to me than another. It could be that by points one play might be loosing the battle, but that would not necessary mean that I am less fond of the loosing play and am dismissing the “weaker” one and not considering it for a possible production. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you will find the same attraction to the plays I find exciting. First of all you are not Plastikoff to find dead things exciting and second of all… well there is no second of all, you are just not Plastikoff and that’s that (smiley face).

Here are the categories I am going to rate the plays in the fight:

  1. Which play has a more appealing/intriguing name?
  2. Are these plays race friendly?
  3. Could they be produced in other countries considering where they were originally written and produced?
  4. What are the weakest points and parts of the fighting plays?
  5. What are the strongest points and parts of the fighting plays?
  6. Was there anything that was censored in the plays?
  7. Is there anything that should be censored now?
  8. What type of plays are they?

a) A Director’s play
b) An Actor’s play (character driven play)
c) Are these plays giving more freedom for visual interpretations for stage designers, choreographers and composers?

And, of course, are there enough of “flying” sentences in the fighting plays to satisfy some similar situations you might find yourself in? You never know when you might need to make some lemonade and borrow some money for the lemons. I am here to do some research for you and help you with that, because we all know that most artist “have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Two points for you if you know where this sentence came from.

I am pretty sure more things will come up later, but for now I am inviting two great American playwrights Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee for the battle of temperamentals. The fight is going to be between “Period of Adjustment” by T. Williams and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by E. Albee. Let the fight begin.

First, let me tell you in short what these plays are all about.

“Period of Adjustment” is a play about two couples dealing with their marriages. Two men in the play are long time friends. They know each other from the times when they were soldiers during Korean War. One of them, the older one, Ralph, is on the verge of divorcing his wife Dorothea. He married her for her money. Another one, George, just got married. There is something he is hiding from his wife Isabel and the world. There are plenty of hints to suggest that George has some homosexual tendencies. Well, darlings, it wouldn’t be a Tennessee Williams play if you would not have at least something which suggests “the secret.” George has a “performance anxiety.” This might be a code that he doesn’t really like ladies, but is forced to get married to make the town stop talking. His secret is subtly revealed by his placement of his hands on Ralph’s shoulders, his talk about a possibility of buying a ranch together and overly excitement of meeting Ralph again after some years. Considering that he got married to a stunning beauty, the suspicion about his “tendencies” intensifies.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is also about two couples who deal with their relationships. There is an older married couple and a young couple. The young couple gets invited by the older couple to their home for more drinking and debauchery. Constant (drunk) fights between the older couple reveal to us a lot about their relationship.

I don’t want to go deeper into plot details of those two plays, because that would add another four hundred words. You can find the plots on the Internet easily, so I am going to skip on that part and concentrate more on the “fight” and juicy details instead, revealing to you which play gets more points from me and which one is more likely to be produced right now.

First of all, the names of the plays:

Definitely, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a better title than “Period of Adjustment” which is surprising to me because Tennessee Williams is way better than Edward Albee with names for his plays. Who can compete with names like “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?” Nobody. “Period of Adjustment” is not a successful name for this particular play. It could be that because of the name this play is less known than any of Tennessee Williams plays, which is a shame, because I find this play to be a very strong play. I give Albee 5 stars for the name while Williams gets only 2 stars.

Next, are these plays race friendly?

This is going to hit Tennessee Williams into the balls hard, because his play is not race friendly. I understand that the play takes place in the south and that at that time African Americans played servants only, but… I don’t see this play being performed with actors whose skin color is other than white. Also I hardly see this play being successful in other countries like, let’s say, China, Philippines or Nigeria. The play is about white people’s problems in the south of the U.S. of A. and that is quite a shame, because the way characters are written by Mr. Williams is absolutely gorgeous.

On another hand, even though “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” original cast was all white, I can see this play being adapted in other countries and played by actors of different races.

I am giving Tennessee Williams 2 stars and Edward Albee 4 stars for race friendliness.

Now what are the weak points/parts of each of these plays?

“Period of Adjustment” weak points are:

a) The name – Mr. Williams could have found a better name.
b) The overuse of “Period of Adjustment” in dialog between      characters.
c) The use of “colored,” “negro” in the text and African Americans as servants.
d) Too “happy” of an ending considering the undertones explored in the play.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” weak points are:

None.

“POA” strong points are:

a) Strong characters and small cast.
b) Strong and mysterious undertones in the play. There is a very subtle way Williams tells about a possible homosexual attraction between two friends Ralph and George. The subtle arm placement on each other’s shoulders and overly excitement when they see each other for the first time, give me an impression that Ralph and George enjoy each other’s company more than the company of their wives. Mr. Williams uses very strong text to express Ralph’s feelings towards homosexuals. Ralph tells several times how he is not happy about his son being turned into a sissy by his wife. There is a “Brokeback Mountain” moment in the play when Ralph and George are talking about leaving their wives and buying a ranch together somewhere in Texas to grow cattle. Isabel who is married to George feels that there is something wrong with him, because of how he behaved on the first night after the wedding. Latter on Ralph discloses that George didn’t really have sex while in Korea during the Korean War which again suggests that George might be leaning towards homosexual love. A little detail about the car George drives gives us an understanding that his marriage is his coffin.
c) Everything happens during one day, no time lapse.

“WAOVW” strong points are:

a) Strong characters and small cast.
b) Relationship undertones reveal to us in a very peculiar way that the older couple is without children even though they talk a lot about their son. The way the madness between characters progresses during the play is genius.
c) Everything happens during one night, no time lapse either.
d) Also the names of the three acts definitely add to the enjoyment of the play. They are: 1st act “Fun and Games,” 2nd act “Walpurgisnacht” and 3rd act “The Exorcism.”

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” definitely wins this battle, but “Period of Adjustment” with a few edits could become one of the strongest Tennessee Williams plays. Because of the themes in “POA” I tend to choose this play for my future production.

Regarding the censorship, both plays had some censorship happen to them when they were first produced. As almost always as it was with Tennessee Williams’ plays which had homosexual undertones, suggested leanings towards love between two men were removed from productions, be it in film or theater.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” had a few cuts too, but it suffered less than “POA.” The replacements were minor. The word “screw” was completely removed from the film. “Hump the hostess” was retained, but had some headaches happen to a few “good” people involved with censorship of profanity and sexual innuendos.

Both plays are character driven, actor plays, which means that they could be directed by actors and playwrights alike. There is not much for a director to do just to make sure that actors are following the script and character development.

On the ending note, even though “Period of Adjustment” lost this round by points, I should say that this play is as great as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and should be produced more often, maybe just with a few edits.

And now the juicy “flying” sentences for you.

“Period of Adjustment”

Ralph Baitz: The human heart could never pass the drunk test. Take a human heart out of a human body, put legs on it and tell it to walk a straight line, and it couldn’t. The heart could never pass a drunk test.

Ralph Baitz: Who remembers the last war? They’re too busy on the next one.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”

[George takes a corner far too fast, tossing everyone in the car from side to side. Pause]
Martha: Aren’t you going to apologize?
George: Not my fault, the road should’ve been straight.
Martha: No, aren’t you going to apologize for making Honey throw up?
George: I didn’t make her throw up.
Martha: What, you think it was sexy back there? You think he made his own wife sick?
George: Well, you make me sick.
Martha: That’s different.

Martha: I swear, if you existed, I’d divorce you.

George: Martha, in my mind you’re buried in cement right up to the neck. No, up to the nose, it’s much quieter.

George: Martha is 108… years old. She weighs somewhat more than that.

George: Martha, will you show her where we keep the, uh, euphemism?

Nick: Who did the painting?
George: Some Greek with a mustache Martha attacked one night.
Nick: It’s got a…
George: Quiet intensity?
Nick: Well, no, a…
George: Well then, a certain noisy relaxed quality maybe?
Nick: No, what I meant was…
George: How about a quietly noisy relaxed intensity?

George: You can sit around with the gin running out of your mouth; you can humiliate me; you can tear me to pieces all night, that’s perfectly okay, that’s all right.
Martha: You can stand it!
George: I cannot stand it!
Martha: You can stand it, you married me for it!

Nick: May I use the… uh… bar?
George: Oh, yes… yes… by all means. Drink away… you’ll need it as the years go on.

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