2 September 2005 | silverscreen888
A Fascinating Allegory About Power; Thoughtful, Funny and Unrelenting
Failed minds, postmodernists who recognize no means of defining the categories of reality, and recognize no hard-and-fast universe of what is real and what is not are "impractical" at achieving any sort of results; how could anyone unable to define what a film is confront an allegorical work of art? How, I ask could anyone understand a one-to-one correspondence between a 'second level of reference' and a primary one, if one is helpless to comprehend the priorities and internal-dynamic properties of the first? Case in point: the way in which imprecise thinkers try, mentally, to approach Joseph Strick's well-paced filmic version of Jean Genet's "The Balcony". "The Balcony" is a favorite film of mine; not because of its obscurity, and I grant it can be read in several ways at some places; I like it rather because its author tries to deal with the false philosophy of "postmodernism" itself; this is a film used for exposing its utter vacuousness. The way the author, and Ben Maddow in his perceptive screenplay, tried to show why pretension, authority-structures and believers are an endless circle of meaningless human shells was devastatingly simple. The author staged a revolution, in an unnamed urban city. Instead of dealing with specifics, the filmmaker followed his plot line by providing graphic images of what happens during any rebellion or revolt--a categorical expose of rebellions and revolutions as violent exercises of disagreement by dissidents; then he confined the dramatic action for the most part to a brothel; there under the direction of Madame (Shelley Winters) and her assistant (Lee Grant), clients play out their fantasies about power--using women as their paid "victims", co-participants and surrogate result-receivers and perpetrators. The Madam's boy friend, the real Chief of Police, (Peter Falk) then enters and is desperate. The General of the army, the Bishop of the Church and the the chief Justice of the country have all been killed; Madam suggests replacements--her best clients are better than the originals at these roles. He is persuaded. So are they. But once they have been sworn in outside, the rebellion gets real for them too. And they, and the rebel leader and the chief, are all driven back inside, to confront the emptiness of their exercises of power--the fact that only power over the real universe and oneself matter; that any other sort of "power- mongering" is meaningless after all; since pretensions are universal and a pragmatic structure that argues only that, "The Establishment needs to be maintained", its proponents forget that this is as anarchistic a premise as is anarchy--"any rebellion on any terms"--would have been. In the film, there are a few moments that seem like stage moments; but most of the narrative I suggestis fought out on a idea-level far above the average film. As the Madam, Shelley Winters is very capable but seems to play the film on too literal a level here and there; Grant is much slyer and in keeping with the spirit of the work. As the police chief, Falk keeps his difficult role this side of surreality with considerable skill; as his opponent, Leonard Nimoy seems very capable also. As the three power figures, Kent Smith as the General is superb, full-voiced, authoritative and compelling; Jeff Corey makes an arch Bishop, intellectual and devious; and Peter Brocco as the Judge is a well-trained classic actor also, very much capable of delivering judgments. As the women they boss over and are controlled by, Arnette Jens, Joyce Jameson and Ruby Dee are all very good and very intelligent; it is to be regretted all have been denied more work in films and the longer parts they deserved to play. The film's ending is celebrated; as some reviewers have noted, the ending working as well on film as it did in the staged version--you will have to view the film to judge this point for yourself; but the film seems to have been made yesterday, as others have suggested largely because its authors handle ideas about reality on a level of categorical truth, not specifics. George Folsey is credited with the cinematography, which is quite varied and difficult; the remainder of the credits are those of the original stage production used here in a translated fashion. The use of the characters within the brothel to comment upon the actions going on in the outside world needs to be noted; this chorus-like rediscovery, notable in "Pride and Prejudice" for instance, is a genuine reviving of an idea-level often missing from post WWII works. The title "The Balcony" refers to the idea that those not immediately engaged in activities within the "house" are spectators of reality, hence able to comment upon its ongoing progress; this also means they can do so in a sense relative to the world outside their limited mini-universe, being detached observers like those in a theatrical "balcony". I urge everyone interested in powerful drama to give this interesting "stunt" or limited-allegory of the world a try. I am an admirer of its purpose and of its execution.