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Cameron H.

Musical Mondays Week 59 Passing Strange

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“Exquisite. Like an orgasm in reverse.”

We watched:

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I don’t know about the rest of you, but I loved Passing Strange the acting, the staging, the heart and humor. I love the music and the way it all kind of washes over you. They’re maybe not the most sing-a-longable, but it completely immersed you in the emotion that’s being conveyed.

This is the kind of movie where I really appreciate Musical Mondays as this was completely off my radar. I’m glad CakeBug picked it or I would never have known it existed.

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I agree, I had no real idea what I was picking, but I had this film highly praised and recommended by a playwright I respect, who said without hesitation that it was his favorite musical ever.  That's a big claim to make, so I think I had the expectation of that ringing in my ears as we went, and was glad I did this instead of Sharpay's Big Adventure...

Also, a few days ago, I was doing basement karaoke with my kids on my daughter's karaoke machine, and while waiting for my song to begin I wrapped the cord around my neck and started doing Mr Venus. So now my kids sit at dinner and every time there is a lull in conversation, they whisper 'vat's inside is yust a lie'.  10/10 parenting right there.

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I'm mad at you CaleBug.  I watched Sharpay's Big Adventure for nothing?!?!

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I was amazed at how the actors switched characters so easily.  I knew it was an actor playing the character each time because they can't change their look but they all changed mannerisms, way of walking, moving, etc. so fluidly that it was easy to get involved.  Given that Youth and the mom stayed the same character throughout I thought the whole play was going to be the youth choir and Mr. Franklin.  I was never happier to be wrong.  That was INSANE!

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I saw this a number of years ago, (2011 I believe) and was blown away by it. It was literally unlike any musical I had ever seen with Stew narrating his own story, on stage. It was brilliant and shocking and moving and repeatable and everything I want in a show.  Is it my favorite show? I can't say, this being my only exposure to it and while I love that Spike Lee directed it, it kind of reminds me of what Kevin Smith says about going in to direct The Flash or Supergirl or The Goldbergs, these types of things are fun but they aren't a "director's medium". I hate saying that because the music, the theatricality, the uniqueness of this show is just brilliant, but I think we need to judge these things as a whole. If I was seeing a live production, I wouldn't have these comments but having seen several "Recorded Live On Stage" shows (including others that Lee has done) there's nothing new or groundbreaking about the filming process, which is a shame because this show is so unique, I wish Lee had done more then point the camera.

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I just wanted to say, everything Colman Domingo (Mr Franklin/Joop/Mr Venus) did was amazing. The whole “Arlington Hill” number (“Coward’s ain’t got shit. Cowards only have...consequences”) was incredible.

 I also thought Eisa Davis (Mother) was pretty great. I feel like that could have been a pretty thankless part - considering the things everyone else got to do - but she imbued the role with so much gravitas and humanity. It was lovely work.

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56 minutes ago, EvRobert said:

I saw this a number of years ago, (2011 I believe) and was blown away by it. It was literally unlike any musical I had ever seen with Stew narrating his own story, on stage. It was brilliant and shocking and moving and repeatable and everything I want in a show.  Is it my favorite show? I can't say, this being my only exposure to it and while I love that Spike Lee directed it, it kind of reminds me of what Kevin Smith says about going in to direct The Flash or Supergirl or The Goldbergs, these types of things are fun but they aren't a "director's medium". I hate saying that because the music, the theatricality, the uniqueness of this show is just brilliant, but I think we need to judge these things as a whole. If I was seeing a live production, I wouldn't have these comments but having seen several "Recorded Live On Stage" shows (including others that Lee has done) there's nothing new or groundbreaking about the filming process, which is a shame because this show is so unique, I wish Lee had done more then point the camera.

I think Lee did quite a lot with this. Yes, the material and performances are excellent. But Lee was able to get cameras really close and intimate to capitalize on that energy. But I never saw a camera in any of the shots. Even when they had a camera right in someone's face, in a wide shot, I didn't see the camera filming the extreme close up from earlier. I think that's great filming and editing. The planning on filming this must have been pretty deep.

I've seen filmed plays that basically have 2-3 cameras filming wide shots from a couple angles. I would have liked the content of Passing Strange if it were just a single camera on a wide shot but Lee was able to get us in on the action.

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2 hours ago, grudlian. said:

I think Lee did quite a lot with this. Yes, the material and performances are excellent. But Lee was able to get cameras really close and intimate to capitalize on that energy. But I never saw a camera in any of the shots. Even when they had a camera right in someone's face, in a wide shot, I didn't see the camera filming the extreme close up from earlier. I think that's great filming and editing. The planning on filming this must have been pretty deep.

I've seen filmed plays that basically have 2-3 cameras filming wide shots from a couple angles. I would have liked the content of Passing Strange if it were just a single camera on a wide shot but Lee was able to get us in on the action.

I agree that Spike Lee really did a lot with the camera work on this. On my first viewing I came in during the LSD scene, and I think he really captured the mood of the piece in a way that you couldn't get just by being in the audience. Also, yes, the way he captured the emotion in people's faces. I take it as a credit to the piece itself that he decided not to adapt it for the screen. This isn't something that I think would translate at all to cinema because I think you need the physical space of the stage, and Stew in the background, and part of the band. You also get the shots of the audience participating and singing along in the aisles. I think he brought some of the best benefits of camera work to a theater piece. Per the Wiki page, he used something like 17 cameras over three performances to capture everything. 

Oh, not to  mention the actors were able to emotionally go there with their performances with all the cameras around them in ways they aren't normally. 

That said, I found some of the actual music tiring by the end of Youth's time in Germany. It seemed to all run into each other and sound the same. But maybe it was my particular mood when watching it, or maybe that particular sound isn't my style. Though I really loved the punk song and "vatsinsideisjustalie."

I'm on the fence on this one. I really appreciate it as an interesting marriage of cinema and theater, but I don't know that I'll be revisiting it often...

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1 hour ago, WatchOutForSnakes said:

I agree that Spike Lee really did a lot with the camera work on this. On my first viewing I came in during the LSD scene, and I think he really captured the mood of the piece in a way that you couldn't get just by being in the audience. Also, yes, the way he captured the emotion in people's faces. I take it as a credit to the piece itself that he decided not to adapt it for the screen. This isn't something that I think would translate at all to cinema because I think you need the physical space of the stage, and Stew in the background, and part of the band. You also get the shots of the audience participating and singing along in the aisles. I think he brought some of the best benefits of camera work to a theater piece. Per the Wiki page, he used something like 17 cameras over three performances to capture everything. 

Oh, not to  mention the actors were able to emotionally go there with their performances with all the cameras around them in ways they aren't normally. 

That said, I found some of the actual music tiring by the end of Youth's time in Germany. It seemed to all run into each other and sound the same. But maybe it was my particular mood when watching it, or maybe that particular sound isn't my style. Though I really loved the punk song and "vatsinsideisjustalie."

I'm on the fence on this one. I really appreciate it as an interesting marriage of cinema and theater, but I don't know that I'll be revisiting it often...

I agree about being on the fence as far as re-viewings.  I understand Spike Lee's name was needed to bring in the money and exposure but calling it "A Spike Lee Joint" did this a dis-service.  I was expecting Spike Lee's touch on this or for him to have written it.  For him to have just adapted it to be filmed wasn't as much of a contribution as Stew and the actors.  Do we even know who directed Piya Berupiya or the live-on-Broadway Rent?  Yet here Spike Lee's name is the main one on the promotional material.  I didn't pay as much attention to the material as it deserved because of that.

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Mr. Franklin is very much every church music director I have ever known :) 

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2 hours ago, Cinco DeNio said:

I agree about being on the fence as far as re-viewings.  I understand Spike Lee's name was needed to bring in the money and exposure but calling it "A Spike Lee Joint" did this a dis-service.  I was expecting Spike Lee's touch on this or for him to have written it.  For him to have just adapted it to be filmed wasn't as much of a contribution as Stew and the actors.  Do we even know who directed Piya Berupiya or the live-on-Broadway Rent?  Yet here Spike Lee's name is the main one on the promotional material.  I didn't pay as much attention to the material as it deserved because of that.

IIRC, and it's been forever since I've seen it, wasn't John Leguizamo's first filmed Live on Stage one man show marketed very similar as being a Spike Lee Joint? 

At one time (and he still may) I know Spike prided himself on doing the Woody Allen thing where he directs a movie a year, I think these were done for that purpose.

I still disagree, that Spike did anything that I hadn't seen before in a love on stage version. Some are better than others and this is one of the best ones, but I just don't think it's super ground breaking in changing the landscape of how Live On Stage productions are filmed. 

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1 hour ago, EvRobert said:

IIRC, and it's been forever since I've seen it, wasn't John Leguizamo's first filmed Live on Stage one man show marketed very similar as being a Spike Lee Joint? 

At one time (and he still may) I know Spike prided himself on doing the Woody Allen thing where he directs a movie a year, I think these were done for that purpose.

I still disagree, that Spike did anything that I hadn't seen before in a love on stage version. Some are better than others and this is one of the best ones, but I just don't think it's super ground breaking in changing the landscape of how Live On Stage productions are filmed. 

John Leguizamo's 1998 show Freak is shown as "Directed by Spike Lee" in the promo picture shown on IMDB.  Can't speak for earlier materials.

Also, there's this about Passing Strange:

Quote

Lee said he filmed the last three performances in front of audiences, then did one more day of shooting on the empty stage so he could rerun scenes and go for setup shots. "It's very true to what people saw in Berkeley and the Public and on Broadway," he said. "But I still made it a Spike Lee joint at the same time."

 

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So I was reading through the Wikipedia plot synopsis and it says this about the end of the play: "The Narrator and the Youth confront each other directly and in a serious moment for the first time as the Youth copes with his grief; dealing with the loss of the same mother, it is clear now that the Narrator and Youth represent the same person at two different times in his life ("Passing Phase")."

Like, no one was actually surprised that they were supposed to be the same person, right?

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Regarding the filming , unless I'm misunderstanding the complaints, I kind of respected the fact that Spike Lee didn't try to inject too much of his own style upon it. It shows a level of respect for the material to allow it to stand on its own rather than just be another "Spike Lee Joint." I also don't know how you would film this movie in any other way. So much of it relies on metatextual asides and band and audience interaction. I don't know if numbers like "Is it Alright" would work as well if wasn't for the audience getting out of their seats and clapping like they were having a religious experience or something. I mean, I suppose the same thing could be done with actors, but there's something more visceral about seeing  people being moved in a genuine, rather than artificial, way.    

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22 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

Regarding the filming , unless I'm misunderstanding the complaints, I kind of respected the fact that Spike Lee didn't try to inject too much of his own style upon it. It shows a level of respect for the material to allow it to stand on its own rather than just be another "Spike Lee Joint." I also don't know how you would film this movie in any other way. So much of it relies on metatextual asides and band and audience interaction. I don't know if numbers like "Is it Alright" would work as well if wasn't for the audience getting out of their seats and clapping like they were having a religious experience or something. I mean, I suppose the same thing could be done with actors, but there's something more visceral about seeing  people being moved in a genuine, rather than artificial, way.    

I absolutely agree with you about the filming.  I was commenting on the publicity calling it a Spike Lee Joint put preconceptions in my mind that the material didn't live up to.  If it had just said "Directed by Spike Lee" it would have been a different story for me.  That's all I was trying to say.  Also Spike himself said he tried to put his spin on the material so he did change it somewhat.

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IIRC, having Spike Lee's name on the movie was supposed to increase exposure of Passing Strange, which was a critical darling on Broadway, but wasn't a hit with theatergoers.  I was fortunate to see this on stage and the theater was barely half full.  After the show, Stew came back to address the audience.  He asked us to stay for a few more minutes and fill out a survey/questionnaire about the show - things like how did you hear about the show, how likely are you to recommend the show to others, etc.  

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9 minutes ago, tomspanks said:

IIRC, having Spike Lee's name on the movie was supposed to increase exposure of Passing Strange, which was a critical darling on Broadway, but wasn't a hit with theatergoers.  I was fortunate to see this on stage and the theater was barely half full.  After the show, Stew came back to address the audience.  He asked us to stay for a few more minutes and fill out a survey/questionnaire about the show - things like how did you hear about the show, how likely are you to recommend the show to others, etc.  

I hope the comment card said: "You don't know me and I don't know you...so, please, tell me something about yourself."

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10 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

I hope the comment card said: "You don't know me and I don't know you...so, please, tell me something about yourself."

Honestly it was a generic marketing survey form.  But to their credit, I think they only sent me 1 newsletter.  

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Tom, how was the experience of the live performance? I imagine with a half-full audience it wasn't as riotous as the filmed version.  What do you recall?

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I had the misfortune of watching this on YouTube so not the greatest quality picture, it was split oddly (seriously cut at the intermission) and had Spanish subtitles but I loved it. I thought it was a high energy production with some catchy music and some fantastic performances. I think the thing I liked the most was the actual staging with minimalist sets of basically just chairs and the set up with the musicians in the stage and them being able to perform around that. At the start I was very worried they'd fall into one of the musician holes. That said this seems very much like a show that is good on video but great in person. Live music and all that. It succeeded in making me really miss live theater as well.

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On 2/12/2019 at 12:11 PM, Cameron H. said:

So I was reading through the Wikipedia plot synopsis and it says this about the end of the play: "The Narrator and the Youth confront each other directly and in a serious moment for the first time as the Youth copes with his grief; dealing with the loss of the same mother, it is clear now that the Narrator and Youth represent the same person at two different times in his life ("Passing Phase")."

Like, no one was actually surprised that they were supposed to be the same person, right?

No I clocked that from near the start (anytime a protagonist is unnamed brace yourself for a big reveal later) and I want to even say there is a reference to it early on. I can't remember what exactly, I think maybe referring to choir group as we. The one thing I liked that I didn't fully notice right away was the boy was wearing a red shirt the entire time and Stew is wearing a red shirt as well. 

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12 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

The one thing I liked that I didn't fully notice right away was the boy was wearing a red shirt the entire time and Stew is wearing a red shirt as well. 

I literally didn’t catch that until the last song 🤫

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10 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I literally didn’t catch that until the last song 🤫

They had to signal that externally because "vatsinsideisjustalie".

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