I recently saw the newest 3d visual stunner, Gravity. The Alfonso Cuaron directed movie was incredibly tense, optically remarkable, and expertly used the specific capabilities of the medium of film. Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, wrote in his review of the blockbuster, “For me, watching movies about space is like a congresswoman watching ‘House of Cards.’ It’s entertaining, but it’s obviously not the real thing. Director Alfonso Cuarón does come remarkably close with ‘Gravity.’”
As a layman who has never been to space, I can attest to vividly feeling the sensation of disorientation that I imagine accompanies existing in a world void of gravity. Additionally, as an audience member I experienced the feeling of intense tension that I can imagine would accompany any outer space dilemma. For these reasons, I would call the film generally successful.
However, I was unable to fully relate to and believe the two characters around which the plot of the movie revolves. While I have no specific qualms with Sandra Bullock‘s portrayal of the somewhat depressed medical engineer, I take issue with the producer’s choice to cast two big name celebrities in this film. I understand that without Clooney and Bullock the film probably would not have been able to afford to create the mind-blowing, 3d, cinematic experience that it did. Still, I can’t ignore the fact that, as an audience member, I was unable to mentally surmount the distraction of watching Danny Ocean and Miss Congeniality float around in space.
This movie specifically called for unknown actors. Its one thing to require your audience to suspend their disbelief enough to be able to accept George Clooney as a conspiring casino robber in the familiar landscape of Las Vegas. Somehow its another thing entirely to expect an audience to believe his and Bullock’s well known faces belong to trained astronauts. The issue of the two celebrity’s recognizability is heightened by the fact that for most of their presence on screen exclusively their glass shielded faces are visible. A similar celebrity distraction occurs in the medium of live theater, but almost exclusively on Broadway. Currently Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are performing in two shows in reparatory- Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot, and Pinter’s No Man’s Land. While I cannot deny my overwhelming excitement to see the production of No Man’s Land- for which I already have my (overpriced) ticket- and while I respect both McKellen and Stewart as exemplary actors, it bothers me that Broadway casting directors often seem unwilling to trust a good play or good playwright’s ability to draw an audience. It seems that without a star studded cast, few theatrical or cinematic productions can be trusted to make any money.
Its especially disturbing that even Pinter and Beckett- two incredibly well known and respected playwrights- cannot be relied upon to draw a crowd.
In my imagined theatrical utopia, stars like McKellan and Clooney would be more likely to appear in Off-Broadway or even regional theater productions of new plays by unknown playwrights. In such an ideal artistic industry those with fame and fortune would use their celebrity status to draw attention to emerging artists that they personally believe in. Additionally, with the roles in well known Broadway revivals freed up, more emerging actors would get the chance of a “big break.”
Call me a communist, but this hypothetical system would serve to diminish the stifling impact of hierarchy in the artistic industry.