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The seven rages of David Mamet: genius or symbol of toxic masculinity?



With his weaponised dialogue and hypnotic macho characters, no writer has so relentlessly confronted the explosive issues of our times. But theatre and Hollywood are changing. As he hits 70, we ask: is David Mamet losing his magic?

David Mamet arrives at his 70th birthday this week, and there couldnt be a better moment for his classic Glengarry Glen Ross to be storming Londons West End once again: that gripping spectacle of desperate middle-aged men competing to sell real estate in a recession or get fired. They are twitching rats in a laboratory of capitalism, terrified of failure and terrified of death.

For me, the authors birthday milestone is a time to ponder something else: a quintessentially Mamet moment in the 1991 movie Homicide, which he wrote and directed. Two cops Bobby Gold, played by Joe Mantegna, and his partner Tim Sullivan, played by William H Macy are working on a case with unexpected personal implications for Bobby. He appears, in the eyes of his aghast partner, to be suffering some kind of breakdown. Tim fiercely lectures him on the need to stay tough: Its like the old whore says, Once you start coming with the customers, its time to quit.

There is no sign of Mamet showing this kind of empathy with his own customers, and no sign of him quitting. Those customers were treated to an unforgiving display of control freakery recently when he banned all post-performance Q&As, on pain of a $25,000 fine. Mamet was perhaps irritated by a concession to audience debate that encourages disruptive campus-style challenges as if in the academic classroom, that arena for painful ideological confrontation he explosively depicted in his 1992 play Oleanna, about teacher-pupil harassment. Mamet took out a cease-and-desist action against a Milwaukee theatre company who wanted to change the female character to male, in order to make it about same-sex harassment.

Coffee is for closers Stanley Townsend and Christian Slater in the current production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Yet Mamet reaches his 70s with his face on Rushmore pretty well complete. He is an American icon who has been influenced by Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Philip Roth and who in turn has influenced Aaron Sorkin and James Gray. He has compellingly tackled masculinity, sexuality, capitalism and Judaism. His movies are serious, but he can take on pop forms like thrillers, capers and neo-noir dramas, while films such as House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner are wonderful trompe loeuils, essays in illusion.

His non-fiction writing is also terrifically witty, readable and smart and he is a master of the Hollywood insider genre. Above all, there is his legendary dialogue terse, fierce, telegrammatic, often imitated and spoofed, celebrated as a unique prose poetry of disquiet and confrontation. It is a fugue of verbal violence. His characters riffs smack into each other like sumo wrestlers bellies. His 2001 movie Heist has one of the great noir lines of all time. Danny DeVitos villain lies dying after an almighty shootout and sneeringly asks Gene Hackman: Dont you want to hear my last words? Hackman replies coolly: I just did and finishes him off with a final shot.

Yet Mamet does not have an endless golden touch, perhaps inevitably for someone so magnificently productive. He has had some recent Broadway flops: China Doll (2015), starring Al Pacino, received tepid reviews, The Anarchist (2012), about a Weather Underground-type protest veteran, and the political comedy November (2008) did not run long.

Radioactively brilliant a 2004 Royal Court production of Oleanna, with Lia Williams and David Suchet. Photograph: Alastair Muir

Furthermore, his 2011 book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture dismayed his fans by trumpeting a personal shift to the right, with climate-change scepticism and attacks on feminism, progressives and liberal academia. Christopher Hitchens called it an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.

It is, however, possible to be sceptical about this shift. Mamets tough-guy aesthetic has always looked conservative and provocations like Oleanna and Race (in which a top defence lawyers female African-American junior appears to leak information to the prosecutor in a racially charged rape case) were male-centred. His aggressive tendencies became weaponised in the war-on-terror era with his frankly absurd movies such as 2004s Spartan, in which Val Kilmers special forces hombre interrogates a suspect in a back alley by threatening to cut out an eye, and Redbelt (2008), about Mamets infatuation with martial arts.

Viewed unsympathetically, even the famed Mamet dialogue is just a Tourette syndrome chorus of macho self-pity, and the Hollywood-themed works are very much of the Weinstein age, which takes a drolly forgiving view of Hollywood honchos seducing younger women, who are often shown as knowing and complicit.

The playwright and film-maker in 1977. Photograph: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Glengarry Glen Ross will perhaps go down as his single greatest work: a compelling display of male paranoia and male competition, although Blake, the guy from head office who appears briefly in act one to tell everyone that under-performers will be canned, is a character invented specifically for the film version, not the play. He is famously portrayed by a shark-like Alec Baldwin. Coffee is for closers, he snarls at over-the-hill salesman Jack Lemmon, who had presumed to pour himself a cup while Blake was speaking. Then he announces the bonuses: First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize is a set of steak knives and the third prize is youre fired.

There is a lot of vintage Mamet dialogue, when the subject of burgling the office for privileged information is furtively discussed among the sweaty, hapless losers. But it wasnt until I watched the film again that I realised that there is a further dimension to Mamet dialogue: absurdism and black comedy. Perhaps Mamet has been influenced, not by Pinter but Abbott and Costello and their famous Whos on first? routine. Yet always there is desperation the need to grab the brass ring.

Theres something similar in his play American Buffalo: the junk-shop owner needs to get hold of a buffalo nickel, which could be hugely valuable, the kind of a once-in-a-lifetime shot at riches. With it, his entire life in the crummy shop might have meant something but if it slips through his fingers, his life could look terrifyingly meaningless.

For the almost existential maleness of Mamet, you couldnt have a better example than his 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, whose showstopping and atypically grabby title did much to get him noticed. It is about sex, intimacy, communication and miscommunication; a rackety, juicy comedy that audiences still love. Danny and Bernie are buddies who confide in each other, and their relationship is in some way closer than Dannys with his girlfriend, Deborah. Separate scenes show Deborah listening to her own best friend Joan confide her exasperation with hopeless males. Eventually Danny and Deborah break up; the male-male bond appears to survive where the romantic partnership doesnt.

Quintessential Mamet Joe Mantegna and William H Macy in the 1991 film Homicide. Photograph: Pressman/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

This play, with its language and worldview, is the polar opposite of a writer like Nora Ephron and her much more female-centric When Harry Met Sally, which it might appear to resemble superficially. Sexual Perversity has been adapted twice for cinema, both times with the title About Last Night, and both films look as if they have been forced uncomfortably into the Ephron-romcom-date-movie worldview. Mamet is more male, more cynical.

As for Hollywood, no student of Mamet should neglect the importance of his longtime producer and collaborator Art Linson, who wrote a hilarious memoir of the producing life entitled What Just Happened? with an uproarious account of trying to get Mamets utterly forgotten 90s thriller The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, off the ground. Linson is a very funny writer and almost a Mamet character himself. Just as desperate real estate guys sell property to the public, so desperate Hollywood producers sell hot properties to studio heads and these movies putative status as artworks mean the producers invest so much of themselves in them, as well as their male professional self-esteem.

It is often about reclaiming or refusing reality, a land-grab of the mind. Wag the Dog was Mamets adaptation of Larry Beinharts novel about a movie producer and political spin doctor creating a bogus war in Albania to distract the public from a political scandal. State and Main is about an independent film crew that turns up to shoot in a remote Massachusetts town only to find that it is wholly wrong for the story. And the crews troubles include an ageing leading man with a taste for younger women a part of the comedy that looks exposed in todays Hollywood.

Once-in-a-lifetime shot at riches from left, John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damian Lewis in a 2015 production of American Buffalo. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

But these movies are not as highly charged and intensely felt as his play Speed-the-Plow, which, crucially, has a much more corporate, workplace-oriented setting. A Hollywood producer seduces a younger woman in the office (someone over whom he has power) at least partly as a result of a crude bet with another guy. But this woman turns out to be more Machiavellian and less of a victim than anyone thought.

Again, its the kind of satire that, at this moment, feels dangerously obtuse and dated. But it still has a good insight into the aggressive, scared mentality of the producer who fears that he will never again get another movie into cinemas. Movies are, after all, unlike real estate in that they are pure luxury items: you dont need a film, but you have to be persuaded that you need it by people who have already frantically persuaded themselves. In 2008, it was notably revived at Londons Old Vic with Kevin Spacey.

But perhaps the most tactless, painful and radioactively brilliant work is Oleanna a play and then a film from the Clinton 90s that can still trigger furious responses: it shows a college professor accused of sexual harassment and sexual abuse who is basically innocent. Ultimately, both man and woman are in the grip of something in the air, some tragic force of violence and despair that overwhelms everything and everyone, an imperative that drives them to open warfare.

Mamets new play The Penitent, about a psychiatrist who is attacked for appearing to side against an LGBT patient, is an obvious cousin to Oleanna. Im surprised Mamet hasnt weighed in to the trans debate, with a professor or teacher or some other flawed careworn male authority figure being fired or disgraced for appearing to victimise a trans person by failing to use gender-neutral pronouns. Perhaps, once his 70th birthday celebrations are out of the way, he will start something on this theme and prove that no one can match him for detonating an almighty rage.

  • Glengarry Glen Ross is at the Playhouse, London, until 3 February. Box office: 0844-871 7627.

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Judy Garland lives again, in the form of Rene Zellweger in ‘Judy’: Photo



Rene Zellweger in 2017

Image: Jason Laveris / FilmMagic

Renée Zellweger is practically unrecognizable in her latest film role… but she does bear a striking resemblance to somebody else.

Pathé UK has released the first official photo from Judy, which stars Zellweger as silver screen legend Judy Garland. 

(For comparison, here’s a photo of Garland in 1960, via Vanity Fair.)

The film takes place in the late 1960s, as Garland arrives in London for a series of concerts. By this point, Garland is well into her 40s and her memorable turn in The Wizard of Oz is nearly thirty years behind her. 

But even as she prepares to face crowds of adoring fans, she’s still battling the demons left behind by her troubled childhood in Hollywood.

Judy, which started shooting Monday, also stars Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, and Michael Gambon. Rupert Goold (True Story) directs from a script by Tom Edge (Lovesick). Some of Garland’s most beloved songs will be featured in the movie, including “Over the Rainbow.”

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Madonna to direct movie based on life of ballerina Michaela DePrince



MGM announces the singer will direct Taking Flight, the story of DePrinces journey from war orphan in Sierra Leone to world-class ballerina

Madonna is to return to the movies after a seven-year absence to direct Taking Flight, a feature film based on the life of Michaela DePrince, a war orphan from Sierra Leone who became a leading ballerina.

According to Deadline, Hollywood studio MGM has been developing the project since 2015 when it acquired the rights to DePrinces memoir, co-written with her adoptive mother, Elaine.

Michaelas journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity, Madonna said. We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone, and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside. I am honoured to bring her story to life.

Ballet dancer Michaela DePrince in Johannesburg, in 2012. Photograph: Gallo Images/Rex/Shutterstock

DePrince, 23, lost both of her parents in Sierra Leones civil war when she was three years old. The following year, she was adopted by a New Jersey couple and brought to the US, where she developed a passion for ballet. She was one of the stars of 2011 documentary First Position, about young ballet hopefuls, and is a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet and Opera. She also appeared in Beyoncs music video album, Lemonade.

We were immediately awestruck by Michaelas journey and know Madonnas vision and passion for the material will deliver a film that inspires audiences everywhere, said producer Leslie Morgenstein.

No cast or released date has yet been finalised. Camilla Blackett, writer of the comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, will write the screenplay.

Madonna is the bestselling female recording artist of all time but her movie career has been more chequered, especially behind the camera. Her 2008 feature debut, Filth and Wisdom, was described by the Guardians Peter Bradshaw as a dumb and tacky comedy-drama about three people sharing a flat in a quaintly conceived London. Its follow-up, 2011s WE, in which Andrea Riseborough played Wallis Simpson, was also critically panned, with Bradshaw describing it as one long humourless and necrophiliac swoon at the Windsors supposed tragi-romantic glamour.

Madonna wrote, produced and narrated 2008 documentary I Am Because We Are, about children in Malawi orphaned by the Aids epidemic. She has adopted four children from Malawi, including twin girls in 2017.

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‘Black Panther’ Hits $1 Billion Mark In Worldwide Box Office Numbers



“Black Panther” has surpassed $1 billion at the worldwide box office, challenging industry norms about films with black casts. 

The Marvel blockbuster passed the major benchmark on Friday, Forbes reports.

The film is now the United States’ ninth highest-grossing film of all time, and had the second-largest four-day domestic opening weekend. “Black Panther” brought in $242 million in the U.S. over Presidents Day weekend, behind the $288 million “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made when it opened in 2015. 

The international success of “Black Panther” has challenged the myth that films with predominately black casts don’t sell  and it helps unravel “unwritten Hollywood rules,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told The New York Times.

“I think about it like a wall crumbling,” Bock said. “In terms of ‘Black Panther,’ no studio can say again, ’Oh, black movies don’t travel, overseas interest will be minimal.’”

Stars of the film, including Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, have spoken out about the importance of representation in the movie. “Black Panther,” which is set in the fictional country of Wakanda, shows the possibilities of an African society untouched by colonialism and gender inequity. 

“I think there’s a thirst for these images,” Boseman told NBC. “There’s a real thirst for black superheroes.” 

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed this week that a “Black Panther” sequel is in the works. Feige told Entertainment Weekly that there was “nothing specific to reveal” about the next movie but added that “we absolutely will do that.”


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