The Shape of Things is a film by Neil LaBute, adapted from his play
of the same name and featuring the same cast as the London production.
LaBute made a splash in 1997 with his debut movie In the Company of Men,
in which a successful executive is so warped by the dehumanizing ethical void
of the corporate world that he decides to destroy a random person just for the
fun of it. By contast, The Shape of Things is about an MFA student...
who is so warped by the dehumanizing ethical void of the art world that she
decides to destroy a random person just for the art of it.
What I find interesting is that I came away from this film disappointed,
thinking, "Bleah, he basically just remade In the Company of Men and
put a new title on it." But then, the whole reason I'd wanted to see this
film was because I'd liked In the Company of Men and this was by the
same guy. Clearly I'd been hoping for some similarity. Just not
this much. Where's the line?
I've gathered that for some people this isn't even really an issue —
they don't want anything new or unexpected. And, sure, to an extent
I can see this. There's little that's more disappointing than putting on
the new CD of a band you like and discovering that the members have changed
their sound. (Madder Rose went trip-hop in 1997. No Doubt switched to
urban dance crap in 2001. Feh.) But still, I totally cannot relate to
people like the one I heard on NPR once talking about how she'd been
flipping around the dial looking for something familiar on TV and found that
a show she liked was about to start but then turned it off a few minutes in
because she hadn't seen that episode before. My mind is blown by
the research that shows
that audiences want movie trailers to cover the entire movie, including
all plot twists. Nor is this a new phenomenon. I've been reading a
bunch of 1960s Spider-Man issues lately, and while the dialogue has often
been surprisingly good and I like the characters and the romance subplots,
I very quickly got tired of seeing the exact same scenes over and over.
J. Jonah Jameson accuses Spider-Man of working with, or being, the villain.
Peter Parker has photos to sell to the Daily Bugle and Jameson is a
cheapskate. Aunt May is sick. The same beats, pretty much every single
issue. And then you swing by the comics bulletin boards and see people
complaining that the books aren't hitting those beats anymore. Argh.
I also recently finished Speeches, the last volume in the Oxford
Mark Twain. These aren't speeches in the sense of major addresses on
the issues of the day — they're mostly introducing after-dinner
speakers, giving brief thanks for various awards, that sort of thing.
So in effect reading this wasn't much more than a victory lap.
To celebrate having finished all 29 volumes, I went with Jen down to
Hartford to visit the Mark Twain
House, an eye-catching three-story number on Farmington Avenue in
which Twain and his family lived from 1874 to 1891. Though at various
times after the Clemenses left it had been used as a school and divided
up into apartments, it has since been restored to its 1880s splendor,
with a lot of the original furniture and wall decorations and stuff.
(The wall decorations are elaborate arabesques of metallic paint
sloppily applied to wood. Looks great from afar, lousy close up.)
I would have found this fascinating even had it been the house of some
random — it's a field trip to five generations ago. If you're
ever in Hartford, check it out. (I mean, what else are you going to
do in Hartford?)
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