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?)

Return to the Calendar page!