Spanking Don Giovanni

Don G

I haven’t gotten my hands on the enticing 2-disc DVD of Joe Losey’s DON GIOVANNI yet, but I’m working on it. Meanwhile there are lots of bits on YouTube:

I’m a complete foetus when it comes to opera. Julien Temple’s childhood impression of “some fat bird freaking out in a foreign language,” strikes me as a bit strong, though — I would say I’m sympathetic to the IDEA of opera but I’ve simply had too little experience of it to judge.

The unique problem of the filmed opera is a fascinating one though. Losey’s film, shot on real locations, has to find a balance between the stylised and potentially unnatural approach of sung dialogue, and the palpable reality of the environments. It reminds me of Olivier’s reasoning behind shooting HENRY V on stylised sets: “I felt the audience might very well think, if we did it on location, ‘Well, that’s a field and that’s a house and that’s a horse — why’s everybody talking so funny?'” Creating a theatrical world is one way to facilitate theatrical performances.

But not the only way — the musical wasn’t immediately killed off by Donen and Kelly filming sequences of ON THE TOWN on location — though arguably the slow creep of realistic settings coincides with the musical’s decline. The sound stage may be the music-film’s most natural home.

The thing that bother’s me most in this clip, though, and this is quite literally a half-arsed view since I haven’t seen the movie, is that bit with the naked girl (ah, some of you hadn’t watched the clip but I bet you will now). Two men recline on the bed where she’s asleep, but she doesn’t rouse from her (post-coital)slumbers. One of them cops a feel, and she doesn’t even twitch. Perhaps she’s drunk. Then the other slaps his hand away, effectively spanking her backside, and she STILL doesn’t react. Is she DEAD?

The danger of shoving naked girls into operas seems to me to be that in a situation like this they tend to get used as props. An ordinary extra can be given bits of business and brought to life as a character in a scene, and they are generally eager to contribute to this process. Because extras are actors. But this nude is probably a model, and if the director doesn’t tell her to react, she won’t. The result can be sexist in a way that simple nudity, even gratuitous nudity, isn’t.

Nevertheless, friends rave about Losey’s DON G so I’m psyched to see it.


3 Responses to “Spanking Don Giovanni”

  1. Chris B Says:

    I’ve returned my copy from LoveFilm, so you might get it soon. :)

  2. I haven’t seen it since it came out but it’s not bad. A bit like Boom visually. Opera films were the rage back then, Rosi’s Carmen being the most famous along with Zefferelli’s La Traviata and Otello. Peter Brook did a La Tragedie de Carmen that’s quite intimate and less well-known. And then there’s the Starub’s Moses and Aaron. The Gold Standard, however is Chereau’s <i.Ring Cycle which was videoed and widely available on DVD.

    Can’t agree about open air musicals. Much of Good News is out of doors, as is I Love Melvin.

  3. Oh, I think outdoors musicals can certainly work, it would be madness to claim otherwise. I do think they’re harder, and the musical declined not because they never worked but because fewer of them worked…

    Chereau’s Ring Cycle isn’t available here but his House of the Dead, by Janacek, is. I like the bits of Janacek I’ve heard so I think I’ll rent it.

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