Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


It's been a long time since I saw Rent. Anyone who knows me knows that I was a Rent-head in middle school and (kind of) high school. I managed to see it with much of the original cast still intact, and one of the two CD's that comprised the soundtrack always seemed to be playing in my CD player.

I reacted with a bit of skepticism when I heard that it was being made into a movie, and was being directed by Rob Marshall of Chicago fame (although Chicago was entertaining).

And even though much of the original cast is returning, I still have doubts about the ability of the camera to capture the industrial elements of the original set. I'm not sure how I'll react to the characters running around New York. While it certainly promises some good scenes (Mimi being homeless in Central Park at the end of the movie, Collins and Angel shopping at the bazaar at the end of the first half), the trailer appears to convey a lot more movement through New York than I think is appropriate in the adaptation of a musical (or opera or what have you).

More importantly, the news about the movie adaptation of Rent got me thinking.

I took a lot of things about the dialogue and the songs for granted. I also realized that Jonathan Larson made a few obvious faux pas (faux passes?) and wrote a few elements into the script that were amusing for a 12 year old, don't hold that much weight now.

Just a few examples:

1) I didn't realize for a long time that Tom Collins is an alcoholic drink. That kind of sours the character for me (pun intended if you know what a Tom Collins is), which is a pity, because Jesse Martin was my favorite member of the cast.

2) While I did know that it was based on Puccini's La Boheme, I didn't realize at the time that I saw it what an exact retelling of La Boheme it was.

3) This one is probably Larson's most obvious mistake. Angel, the gay transvestite, is responsible for making Muffy's (Benny's wife) dog commit suicide. But Angel is commissioned by a woman "to make her neighbor's yappy dog disappear." There's also something in the script about it being small and yappy. But "the Akita, Evita" is not a small dog. Why? Because Akita's are friggin humongous. They run between 80 and 130 pounds. Not small at all. They're big things. Jonathan Larson was obviously thinking about a Pomeranian, which is a small, fluffy yappy dog, but you try rhyming Pomeranian in a song. Still, it's a glaring inconsitency for anyone who knows their dog breeds.

4) All gay people get along. This actually a pretty bad stereotype it seems. Collins really gets along with Angel, who gets along with everyone. Maureen and Joanne are a couple, but besides some residual heterosexual tension, it seems that everyone has already worked out the sexuality issues. And for a musical so outspoken about sexuality, this means that homosexuality gets a rather blanket treatment

However, much of the musical should survive the passage of time, all stereotypes, good and bad, intact. The references to AZT are going to be anachronistic, as will be the idea of moving out to Santa Fe, since Arizona is now a hotbed of urban escapees looking for a good nightlife, but the message of the musical is still there.

I sometimes have troubles with the message actually. "No day but today" is well and good, but does anyone ever wonder if Roger ever performs his song for anyone besides himself and Mimi? Does Mark ever screen any of his movies? Maureen is the only character with any ambition and a) she doesn't have AIDS and b) she's labelled a bitch because of it. Mimi sings about the Spanish babies crying in her neighborhood, indicating that she yearns for an escape, but she's bound by a lifestyle of sex and drugs. While Mimi is encouraged to leave that lifestyle behind by anyone who knows what's good for her, there's a kind of black and white to the story that I've come to realize more lately.

Live for today is a message that isn't even appropriate for people with AIDS, because there is a tomorrow. And even if there weren't, the musical is still uncomfortable with "how to measure the days in a year." To me, it doesn't ever adequately answer that question. Mark either stays a starving artist or sells out. There's no option where Mark makes a scathing video about the life on the streets, and brings attention to the horrors of AIDS to an audience at the Tribeca film festival. Roger doesn't get his message out to anyone. In the end, these characters are still living for themselves, and their friends. But is that what the musical advocates? Is there something bigger that these people should be striving for, even in (especially in) their limited time?

Even if you can argue that the above would make for a shitty ending to a musical (and you can), it could have been done better. It is entirely possible that Larson wrote the end of the musical attempting to convey the fact that his characters are still flawed, and have a good amount of living, learning, loving and losing still to come, but is that really emphasized towards the end of Rent?

None of the characters really reach out to their families even. There are the phone calls, which are a nice way of making the characters deeper, separating the songs, and injecting a bit of Jewish/Hispanic/African American humor. But the whole concerned parents bit is left unresolved at the end, because for the purposes of the musical, the friendships are more important than the families. At the end of the Rent, none of the parents are any closer to their kids than when the musical started.

The white (Maureen's performance) and the black (Benny calling the cops) are never really reconciled, even though Benny does kind of come around in the end.

To me now, the most important part of the message is in the critique, which is why even though I'll enjoy lines that talk about Mark not being able to get it up on the high holy days and "so let her be a lesbian, there are other fishies in the sea," I'll understand that there's a lot more that Rent never touches, and never really dares to touch.


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