Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Spacey, Maureen Anderman, Stephen Lee Anderson, Jeremy Bobb, Nathan Darrow, Jack Ellis, Hadyn Dwynne, Chukwudi Iwuji, Isaiah Johnson, Gemma Jones, Andrew Long, Katherine Manners, Sam Mendes, Howard W. Overshown, Simon Lee Phillips
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Jeremy Whelehan
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 97
Date: 05/09/2014

NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Documentary of Our Discontent

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeremy Whelehan's documentary NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage tells the story of the world tour of Sam Mendes' production of Richard III, starring Kevin Spacey. It looks like it would have been a hell of a show in real life, but the documentary leaves me with several troubling reactions.

While it's fun watching these actors, Spacey, Gemma Jones, and a lesser-known international cast, form a bond, the movie doesn't really know how to get the viewer in on that bond. It keeps us at a little distance, mainly because a large chunk of the movie consists of individual talking heads. ("It was so great to work with so-and-so..."). We rarely see any interaction except for short snatches of stolen backstage footage.

The director of the play, Sam Mendes -- who worked with Spacey in American Beauty (1999) -- just sort of disappears at some point; I guess on a play the director isn't needed after it opens.

The movie also could have shown us larger chunks of the play, or given a better overview of it. It's hard not to notice that Spacey was already part of a similar, and vastly superior documentary called Looking for Richard (1996). He played a smaller part in the production while Al Pacino starred, and directed the documentary. That film spent its running time interviewing scholars, explaining and exploring the play's history and backstory, and finding new depths to it. In addition, it contained juicy scenes from a rehearsal, giving a general, but satisfying overview of its plot and tone.

But I think the biggest problem with NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage is that it's really a gift for the people who saw the play. If you didn't see it, you end up spending the entire movie wishing you had. When the actors talk about decisions they made in regards to their character or discoveries they made in their craft, it's hard to connect unless we can see what they're talking about.

I still found large portions of this movie fascinating and enjoyable. It's fun watching Spacey be Spacey, and judging from the bits we see of his strapped-down, painful-looking performance as Richard, it looks like it might have been spectacular. It's also interesting seeing that the rest of the cast never really gets over being starstruck by him, riding in awe on his yacht, or talking about him in hushed tones. It was also fun watching Spacey driving his convertible across the Golden Gate Bridge here in my town.

But ultimately this is something like a DVD featurette for a movie that was never made, and if you've never seen the real thing, it won't matter a whole lot.

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