Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A History of Motion Pictures by Frank Bren, May 2, 2007

A History of Motion Pictures 
 by Frank Bren
La Mama, until May 6, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A History of Motion Pictures, by Frank Bren, derives its style from the Film Noir movies.

In a parody of a detective story, it superficially comments on the Communist hunts in the motion picture industry in Hollywood in the 1950s.

The production is rough around the edges, comically representing movies as shadow play behind a rumpled white screen or in black and white photos. The premise is that Senator Pete Logan (Daniel Oldaker) and his father, the Old Senator (Bren) mount MovieCom, an enquiry into the Communist infiltration into the content of American movies as well as into the affiliations of the artists in the industry.

There are some laughs in both the verbal play and referencing of the Phillip Marlowe style detecting and in the slapstick dumb show. Oldaker is engaging and versatile as Logan and other characters while Bren is suitably gruff as the right-wing Old Senator. Jessica Hackett displays some range playing multiple characters including Lisa, the torch song singer and Lefty, the armless detective.

Olga Makeeva plays Madge Mantan, a Russian film analyst who is called to give evidence against various artists accused of secreting Commie messages in their innocuous films. The absurdity of the accusations is obvious, firstly in Johnnie the Baptist, a silent movie based on the biblical story based on Salome, Herod and the Baptist.

Next movie under the microscope is a documentary about Pancho Villa in Mexico, described as the forerunner of reality television. Then follows indictments of Max Linder and Charlie Chaplin and, finally, the ingenuous Karl Minx, a cowboy movie star with nothing in common with his like-named Karl Marx. This confusion ends in the tragic suicide of Minx.

There is an Australian reference to Pat Sullivan, creator of Felix the Cat, and his successful attempts to regain the copyright to his cartoon character.

The performances are entertaining, Glenn Perry’s direction taking full advantage of the comic style of the dialogue and imagery. Although comic in tone, the play raises the alarming manner in which a person’s life and career can be decimated by a simple accusation, by prejudice, politics and witch hunts.

By Kate Herbert

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