ANGELS IN AMERICA
US, 2003, 352 minutes, Colour.
Al Pacino, Mary- Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, Patrick Wilson, James Cromwell, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson.
Directed by Mike Nichols.
Angels in America is quite a mammoth production for television. Originally, it was staged in the theatre in two parts, filmed for television in two parts, three hours each, but with five chapters, almost 6 hours of content.
The play was written by Tony Kushner who has adapted it for television. He won many awards including the Pulitzer Prize.
The play was in two parts: Millennium Coming and Perestroika.
The film has been directed by Mike Nichols and has an extraordinary cast most of whom take on several characters. While Al Pacino portrays lawyer Roy Cohn, Meryl Streep place several roles including that of the executed traitor, Ethel Rosenberg, as well as the Mormon mother of the conflicted young man who works for Cohn but has to struggle about his sexuality, played by Patrick Wilson. Emma Thompson portrays the angel, Jeffrey Wright has a strong role as does Justin Kirk, again struggling with sexuality.
This is a New York story although there is quite a deal of background of the Mormons and growing up in Utah.
Again, there is great deal of Jewish culture in the story. And there is a great deal about homosexuality, Roy Cohn and his work, aggressive, with Senator Joseph Mc Carthy in the 1950s blacklist era and now having to face the reality of AIDS, the needs for special drugs, and his being tormented by the memory of Ethel Rosenberg.
The film has a blend of the real and surreal, especially the scenes with the angel and also an allegory set in Antarctica involving Patrick Wilson and Mary- Louise Parker who portrays his struggling and estranged wife.
And, with the biblical references, especially to angels, there is a talk about heavenly messengers, the role of angels, Jacob struggle with the angel in the book of Genesis as well as Jacob’s ladder.
This is a television film which interests, entertains – but requires considerable study.
1. A television version of an award-winning play? America in the 20th century? Politics, sexuality, AIDS, the Jewish community? The film and its reliance on theatrical language?
2. The writer, adapting his play? The career of the director? The strong cast, the variety of roles?
3. The settings, the opening credits from San Francisco to New York? The musical score?
4. A New York story – but also with a focus on the Mormons and Utah?
5. A film about sexuality, the emphasis on homosexuality and relationships, the transition to coming out in the 20th century?
6. A film about AIDS, the early years in the 1980s, those suffering, the effect, medication, hospitalisation, deaths?
7. The focus on Roy Cohn, his reputation, the McCarthy? era, no sense of decency? 30 years later and his dying? Closet homosexual? His dealing with Ethel Rosenberg, her coming to haunt him, his final disbarment?
8. The blend of realism and surrealism? The fantasy sequences? Dreams? Characters reappearing in dreams? The fantasy with the angel? With Prior and his ancestors? The Antarctic? The final scenes in heaven?
9. The appearance of angels, reflection on angels, their presence, power, messages, the struggle with angels (and the use of the Genesis story of Jacob struggling with the angel), the ladder to heaven?
10. The focus on Millennium Coming and then on Perestroika?
11. The ending, and hope, desire for life?
• BAD NEWS
1. Lou and Prior, the funeral, in the synagogue, the Jewish community, the traditions, the old rabbi, the speech? The cemetery, and Lou arguing with the rabbi? Prior and Lou, in the street, the relationship, the revelation of the lesion, the background of AIDS, Lou meeting Joe in the toilet, weeping, the truth, Prior in bed, ill, Lou leaving?
2. Roy Cohn, Al Pacino’s performance, Cohn in himself, his reputation, references to the past, offering Joe the job in Washington, continually on the phone, getting tickets for people, favours, exercise of power? The visit to the doctor, AIDS, his saying he had liver cancer, and unwilling to admit homosexuality, talking about his power? The reaction to the doctor?
3. Joe and Harper, at home, his work, his ambitions, the offer to go to Washington? The encounter with Lou, the surfacing of his homosexuality? At home, his Mormon background, upset, his secret, going for walks? His admission to Harper?
4. Harper, taking the pills, the Mormon background, loving Joe, miscarriage, the tensions, at home, staying at home, untidy, the confrontation? The lack of the sexual relationship? The appearance of the angel, his slick talk, suggesting she go for a trip? Harper and her preoccupation with the ozone layer and its effect?
5. Prior’s dream, Harper’s dream, their meeting? Prior in drag? The discussions about relationships, sex?
• IN VITRO
1. Roy Cohn’s story, his friend, the dinner with Joe, the pressure on him to go to Washington, Cohn’s affection for him?
2. Harper, at home, Joe returning, her wanting him to go to Washington, her saying she would leave? His admission to her about his homosexuality? His meeting with Lou in the park, their talk? His wandering the streets, going into the park, looking at the gay men? His phoning his mother? At 4 am? Her response, his weeping, drinking, his admission to her, wanting to know whether his father loved him? Her response, saying that he was talking nonsense, wanting him to go home?
3. Prior, the collapse in the hallway, Lou getting the ambulance, Prior in hospital, the treatment? The nurse, her consideration, her attitude towards Lou and watching him? Prior and his sleeping, Lou leaving, getting the taxi, moving out? Talking with Joe in the park? His going to see Prior, Prior and his scream? The visit from the drag queen, the lotion, sympathy?
4. Prior and his fantasy, his ancestors, Michael Gambon and Simon Callow, from the plague in the Middle Ages, from the 18th century? The musical fantasy?
• THE MESSENGER
1. The introduction of greater fantasy sequences? Blending with realism? And the messenger?
2. Prior, in hospital, the attentions of the nurse, his reaction to Lou and his absence? The nurse and her speaking in Hebrew, her life? His own foreign language words? The conversations with Belize? Going home, in bed, his fantasies, the roof, the light, the angel? And Emma Thompson as nurse and Angel? The words, the opening of the kitchen floor, the emerging of the Hebrew book? His bewilderment? AIDS?
3. Lou, leaving Prior, his fears? In the restaurant with Belize, his incessant talk, Belize’s reaction, the racist commentaries, African- Americans, anti-Semitic attitudes?
4. Harper, her dream, in Antarctica, with Mr Lies, the discussions, her wanting to stay there, the forest, the Eskimo? The Eskimo being Joe? The lighting the fire, waking, in New York? The police?
5. Joe, his meeting with Roy, his love, ideas? Roy’s response? His being the Eskimo in Harper’s fantasy? Meeting Lou?
6. Joe’s mother, coming to New York, Joe not at the airport, her waiting, the bus, stranded in the street in the early morning, the talking to the bag lady, eating her soup, her frustrations, getting directions, going to the flat, ordering the superintendent around? The phone call about Harper?
7. Roy, his ranting, Ethel Rosenberg appearing in his apartment?
• STOP MOVING!
1. Joe, meeting with Lou in the park, the encounter, Joe’s needs, touching Lou, going home with him, the night, the buildup to the sexual encounter, his decision? Staying weeks in Lou’s apartment?
2. The doctor, arriving at the hospital, his demands of Belize? Belize and the comments about Roy Cohn’s liver cancer, on the AIDS floor?
3. Roy, in hospital, the liver cancer, dealing with Belize, his ranting against him, the racist attitudes, the gay situation, being offensive? Belize, his reactions? His warnings to Roy? Roy on the phone, his being crippled with pain and cramps? The AZT and his access to it from Martin Heller, the discussions with Belize and his taking the medication for Prior?
4. The funeral, everybody there, Prior and Belize walking away, the talk in the street, the flashbacks to the experience of the angel? The songs and the Fred Astaire homage and Prior and Lou dancing?
5. Roy, in his hospital bed, with Belize, the appearance of Ethel Rosenberg, her taunting him, appearing and disappearing? The issue of his being disbarred and her wanting to go to be witness to this?
• BEYOND NELLY
1. This episode having scenes principally of realism?
2. Joe and his story, the relationship with Lou, their walking along the beach, Lou and his declarations about love, friendship, Prior? Joe willing to do anything, even stripping off his Mormon underwear, standing naked? His visit to Roy in the hospital? Apologising to Roy, Roy’s tantrum when Joe said he would go back to Harper? The blood? Belize and his reaction? Roy dismissing Joe?
3. Joe, going to his mother, her not understanding, talking about his father? His going back to Harper, her reaction, his wanting to be with her, the sexual encounter, impotent, her standing naked and his saying he saw nothing? The truth and the impact on her?
4. Joe’s mother, selling the house, working in New York, at the Mormon exhibition, her diligence, Harper sitting in the front row, a slob with all the junk food and drink? Seeing Joe’s resemblance in the exhibit? The wife coming alive, Harper talking to her, the wife challenging Harper and Harper wondering what was like in the 19th century? Later seen. the model in the window?
5. Roy, being sick, Joe’s visit, his tantrum and exasperation, wanting Joe to go back to Harper? Pulling out the needle, the liquid and blood flowing? Belize having to deal with him? And Ethel Rosenberg sitting in the ward again?
6. Prior, the phone call from Lou, Prior’s anger and exasperation, going to meet him, dressed like the Grim Reaper? The hostility, the argument, walking away? The discussions with Belize? Sharing? The going to the office, seeing Joe, Belize recognising him? Joe and his bewilderment at their visit and their identity? Prior following Joe, to the exhibition,
talking with Joe’s mother, her letting him in, her asking about homosexuality, his collapse and her helping him?
7. Belize and Lou, Lou accusing him of jealousy, that he loved Prior, but Belize claiming only friendship?
• HEAVEN, I’M IN HEAVEN
1. The final episode? The ending and hope?
2. Hannah, the encounter with Prior, her keeping him company? The effect on her? His being called a prophet? Talk about the angel? Sensing the angel coming? The appearance, his struggle with the angel, in the sky, over New York? Hannah and her hiding? Prior and his defeating the angel?
3. Ray, dying in hospital, his ranting, the presence of Ethel Rosenberg? His death, wanting her to sing, her moment of compassion, singing, the Jewish hymn, his holding her hand? And then the revelation that he was pretending and the effect on Ethel? His interactions with Belize? His final words, Ethel telling him that he had been disbarred, that he had been defeated? His death?
4. Belize, with Roy, taking the AZT tablets, the meeting with Lou, giving them to Prior? Prior’s reaction and refusal? Belize and his demand that Lou recite the Jewish prayers over Roy Cohn, for his enemy? Ethel Rosenberg joining with Lou?
5. Joe, going to the apartment, the encounter with Lou, Lou and his anger? Bringing the documents, the argument about Joe’s giving advice to the Justice, Joe and his application of the law, hard decisions? The fight with Lou? Lou and the contact with Prior, his wounds now on the surface?
6. Harper, the final confrontation with Joe, his credit card, never wanting to see him again? On the plane, her final words, the trip across America? The ozone layer? Her hopes?
7. Prior, the fight with the angel, the ladder to heaven, his being in heaven, black-and-white photography, his red coat? Seeing people in heaven, the desks with all the people? The pool? His going before the panel? The variety of characters in his dream and on the panel? The angel and her appeal? His wanting life, wanting to leave heaven, his speeches about the value of life and his return, wanting the blessing, the angel giving the blessing? Waiting through the pool, the return to his bed, wet, the nurse and her attention, Hannah and the memory of her dream?
8. Five years later, Washington Square, the angel? Winter? Hannah and her being with the men, friendships, discussions? Prior talking to the audience, his experience of the five years, his living, Belize and Lou coming to talk to the audience? Hannah? Their leaving, talking together, affirming life?