Oedipus Rex Reviews
I read a ton of mythology as a child. I mean, that probably isn't literally true, but hundreds of pounds of books at least. My preference was for Greek; I don't know why, but it always appealed to me most. The only Greek play I've ever actually read (in translation, obviously) was [i]Medea[/i], which we read in my sophomore English class. I suspect this is another "my English teacher died" thing, since I know my sister read this in her own senior year. I don't know what translation they read, and I don't think she'd remember even if I asked her, but I doubt it was this one. I didn't know William Butler Yeats had ever translated Sophocles. Heck, I didn't know he spoke Greek well enough. I don't read Greek, and most of the mythology I consumed as a child was written for children. An uncle gave me [i]The Golden Bough[/i] when I was too young for it, and I'm not sure I've read it yet.
The play is the story turned somewhat inside out. As a child, I read the story in chronological order, I believe first in the d'Aulaire version. However, Sophocles gives us King Oedipus (Douglas Campbell) of Thebes. His people are frightened; there is a plague among them, and because this is Classical Greece, they believe this to be a punishment from the Gods. Creon (Robert Goodier), brother to Queen Jocasta (Eleanor Stuart), has gone to Delphi to find out what is causing the Gods' anger. He returns from the Oracle and says that the problem is that the murder of the old king, Jocasta's first husband, is still unavenged. Oedipus vows that he will learn who killed Laius. He summons blind prophet Tiresias (Donald Davis), who knows but doesn't want to say. He says it is better for Oedipus not to know, but Oedipus digs deeper, only partially to aid his people. And Tiresias is right--Oedipus didn't really want to know. It is all about a long-ago prophecy that the son of Laius will kill his father and marry his mother.
The choice to stage the play on a nearly bare stage and with enormous and elaborate Greek masks is an interesting one. However, I think one of the things it goes to show is that what we want out of a staging of a play has changed a great deal in the last two and a half thousand years. Now, on the one hand, it did quite nicely hide that one of the members of the chorus turns out to have been William Shatner, which was frankly information I could have done without. It is also true that the workmanship on the masks and costumes and so forth was really quite striking, and a well-done set of prints of the characters would probably be lovely, were such a thing available. It's certainly also true that the fashion in sets has changed back and forth several times in that two and a half thousand years, and everyone acted like it was all innovative and new when Thornton Wilder did it in 1938. It's not as though I haven't seen bare-set productions before.
On the other hand, they were doing what may or may not have been proper Greek tragedy intonation. What it in fact reminds me of is when Robin Williams, on the [i]Reality . . . What a Concept[/i] album, does improv Shakespeare to the theme of Studio 54 and Three Mile Island. Which was a bit Shakespearean but also had these perverse bits of Greek tragedy to it. Whenever he declaimed things, which was fairly often for an eight-minute bit, he sounded the way most of the cast does in this through the whole thing. Gwen told me that she kept thinking about how he didn't have to nanoo for a while, and I was thinking about the unkind things he'd said about Jimmy Carter. It was unfortunate. Maybe if I didn't have that association, I would have liked it better, but I think what I would have been doing instead was contemplating why we think that's how they performed. It more reminds me of the ridiculous, over-the-top acting we know people did in the eighteenth century, before naturalism was a thing.
I suppose everyone ought to have some exposure to Greek drama. It is also true that it is generally easier to watch drama than read it. With that in mind, this wouldn't be a bad thing to show an English class, though you'd probably have to do it over the course of two days. On the other hand, I'll confess I don't have much belief that anyone would just sit down and watch this for fun. There are several productions of the play, and while I have no intention of watching more than one of them, you'd have to be a huge fan of Greek drama in order to actually have any interest in watching this movie when you didn't have to. Though I suppose there are plenty of people who think that you'd have to be pretty weird to watch Shakespeare for fun, and I do that. So I don't know. I watched this because it started with "O." And because it had William Butler Yeats attached to it in a way I wasn't clear on when I brought it home. I don't know if awareness that Shatner was in the chorus would have made me more or less interested.
This movie would have been very difficult to follow, had I not already known the story. The chorus actually made it more difficult to hear as they weren't quite in perfect unison and the audio was sub-par for movie quality but I'll let it go since it was made in the '50's and they did at least do it in color.
Having seen many live plays, I've seen a lot of "strange" acting but I still think I would've had trouble not laughing at this, if I weren't watching alone, due to the far over-the-top acting. Even though this acting was sometimes necessary due to the actors faces being covered by masks, there was no reason for Oedipus to be talking in the high-pitched, almost moronic voice that he did, the mask didn't affect his voice as the masks were modified to not cover the mouths and the actors jaws were often painted to blend in as part of the mask.
Greek masks, however, had very large mouths to amplify voices. This would've appeared strange to modern audiences but what I'm getting at is that if they weren't going to follow the tradition exactly for the sake of quality, adding some music would've improved the quality greatly.
The point is that, while I like what the filmmakers were trying to do, I don't like the movie as much as I had hoped I would and feel this is primarily due to the pacing. It was slow and boring. While I may have been ecstatic to see something like this live, as anybody who's been to the live theatre can tell you, something just doesn't survive in film, that something is usually recreated through a soundtrack but never perfectly duplicated in a movie.