The universe is telling me to mark my 7 month blogging anniversary by posting something about Staged, the short film directed by Darren Denison in 1999, starring Richard Armitage and Jennifer Taylor Lawrence.
Last week I re-published my maiden blogpost Staged is Here and So Is Armitage Agonistes.– It contained no discussion of Staged at all. I hadn’t received my DVD yet and anyway, I lacked the confidence to add my opinion to that of more experienced bloggers and Armitage watchers who posted their reviews. [X] [XX], [XXX to cite a few]
Add to that, the past two weeks which have seen me immersed in the staged reading of The Proust Screenplay, marking Richard Armitage’s return to live theater for the first time since the Old Vic 24 Hour Plays in 2010.
Finally, Staged itself takes place, for the most part, on a theater stage and is a bit of a play within a film – anyway, Richard Armitage spends most of the 12 or so minutes “on stage.”
In Staged , a divorced couple, actors, reunite for a stage play about a “scornful and forbidden affair.” Darryl (Richard Armitage) was a brilliant stage actor who found his way to Hollywood movies, the last few of which bombed. He sees this play as a chance to get back to his theater roots and jump start his career.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer. (I’ve chosen not to upload the film. Darren Denison charged a nominal amount for the DVDs and, financially, it was probably more trouble than it was worth. But I suggest for new fans that you get on his Facebook page or twitter and ask him to consider another printing. Go to his Facebook page anyway, and see what he’s been doing. You’ll find out about Jennifer Taylor Lawrence, as well.)
Lisa, Darryls’s ex-wife, seems more successful in the film’s present, and there’s some hint that she may be doing the play to help Darryl along. Their marriage ended because she had an affair that was splashed over the tabloid headlines and, according to Darryl, he never forgives betrayal. Still, the heat between them seems palpable as they negotiate dangerous terrain.
I wonder now whether Denison found his inspiration from real life – from one of the greatest romances of the twentieth century. In 1983, twice divorced Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor reunited on stage for a production, produced by Taylor, of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, a talky comedy about a divorced couple who had new partners. This episode in their lives was recently made into a BBCA mini-series, Burton and Taylor (available on-demand if you have BBCA. ) Source material for the mini-series came, in part, from Richard Burton’s diary.
It was widely believed at the time that Liz Taylor mounted the production to help Burton who wanted to get back into theater, and was planning to play King Lear. The success of the play was far more important to Burton than Taylor. Taylor’s secondary motive was to get close to Burton again. Promotional material for the play, somewhat shamelessly, capitalized on the couple’s relationship. Numerous lines in Private Lives applied to the Burton/Taylor relationship and audiences ate it up, notwithstanding that the play got poor reviews across the board.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Denison’s 13 minutes of Staged found it’s roots in the Taylor/Burton story.
I knew nothing about that this when I first saw Staged. As a new fan, I was mostly bowled over by Armitage’s sex appeal, and I found it wanting in Staged. I didn’t like the hair, the clothes, the body wasn’t what I was used to. ( I had the same issues with Between the Sheets when I first saw it). On top of that, there were some awful lines of dialogue and questionable acting.
Instead of concentrating on Richard Armitage, I was trying to figure out what was going on. For one, I detected an American accent in Richard Armitage’s first lines – and in Jennifer Lawrence’s. It was not easy to discern when they were rehearsing the play and when they were acting in the present real life. It would make sense to differentiate the time by having them utilize different accents.
Not everyone agrees about the accents, but I’m convinced. The problem is, the only time I detected the American accent was in the first lines of the play. I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s accent was obvious and well done. Armitage on the the other hand was, problematic. I think he effected a southern accent made prominent by how he pronounced the word ” I” as closer to “Ah” ( “Ah have always depended on the kindness of strangers” – Blanche Duboise) and his slowed down, lilting diction. Except for the first few lines, all other rehearsal scenes from “the play” had no dialogue, so there were no other comparisons possible.
You decide. Three words are inaudible. If anyone has a better copy and can let us know what those missing words are, I’d be interested. When you play this, turn the volume down. It’s less grating and easier to hear. You may want to listen to that moan a few times. Not that it’ll tell you anything about the accent,but the man can moan. [ETA: Thanks to MorrighansMuse for working out a better recording for me. In this one, the first part, up to about 50 is the American Accent. After that, they are playing in real life, and I think you can hear the difference, especially in Richard’s pronunciation of the long “I”sound.]
So, the discussion is open again.
Watching Staged again was informative, but after seeing Armitage in The Proust Screenplay and in person, for me there’s no doubt. He’s better, in every way, with age. Open him up and let him breathe – that’s what I want to do.
Swann’s Kiss by Chrissy Lampard. Darryl’s Kiss, my own screencap.