The film is essentially a filmed record of the live theatre production by the Royal Shakespeare Co. that toured to New York in the late 1960's and was filmed for Art House distribution by Universal. This is one of my all-time favorite films because of the sheer density of meaning in it. The story is set in an asylum in 1808 in the Napoleonic era, and the play within it is set in 1793 during the most violent part of the French Revolutionary era. Most of the dialogue has relevance to political criticism in both eras. If that were not enough, it also has levels that are clearly evoking the era that the playwright Weiss was writing in (the 1960's) and also Germany's recent (Holocaust/WWII) past. Some passages in the play, most notably those relating to war, manage to have a level of meaning for ALL FOUR eras at once! Because I show this film to classes, I've seen it dozens of times and I'm continually intrigued by it because each viewing reveals new meanings as it seems to weirdly comment on the current day's events that occurred long after it was written and filmed. The first viewing is often disorienting because it piles so much historic-socio-sexual-political content up with so much odd directing and extreme acting style that it is hard to grasp at first, but repeated viewings suck you in like an intellectual's Rocky Horror Picture Show, and some theatre junkies learn to sing along. The Film of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Marat/Sade (1967) is considered a classic avant garde 1960's drama in the style known as "Theatre of Cruelty". It is often shown to university level theatre classes because it has wonderful examples of both Artaud and Brecht theatre styles in it. I show it to my classes and it never fails to blow their undergraduate minds. It stars Glenda Jackson as Charlotte Corday (now Dame Glenda Jackson, MP), Ian Richardson (of "House of Cards" fame) as Marat, and Patrick Magee (Clockwork Orange) as de Sade. As the title implies, the film is entirely a play-within-a-play where most cast members depict both a character from the French Revolution as well as an insane asylum inmate playing that character. While the film (like the later comedy-drama about deSade, "Quills") addresses censorship, it is primarily concerned with a debate between Marat as a sort of representative of revolutionary radical communism, and de Sade as a nihilistic existentialist frustrated with his own, and society's, violently cruel urges, as well as the futility of revolutionary action to improve mankind. Despite this very heavy and multi-layered topic, the film also manages to be both sexy and funny in regular intervals. Great moments include a comic "orgy" scene where the inmates sing "What's the point of a revolution without general copulation?" in a round like "row-row-row your boat" and mime a vigorously improbable group sex event fully clothed, Magee's various speeches on the nature of man: "What we do, is but a shadow of what we want to do...", Richardson's unblinking intensity as he waits for the knife to "kill" him, and Jackson, doing a little dance trying to capture the knife from de Sade while he teases her with it in an effort to get her in his arms. Add to this the delightful theatricality and musical numbers (yes there are many musical numbers!) and it is little wonder that the play on which the film is based has regularly been performed all around the world ever since it was written.
Drama / History / Music
Drama / History / Music
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In an insane asylum, Marquis de Sade directs Jean Paul Marat's last days through a theater play. The actors are the patients.
May 15, 2021