Rent must have been really good on stage – you can tell from the stagy performances throughout the film, the energy and the hard, heavy and chunky rock band. But it really did need to be recast as a film. It was very imbalanced: the staged numbers were too long and the chorus numbers were pointless. If Forman had done to Rent what he did to Hair, we might have had a narrative line devoid of gratuitous detours that must have been very good theatre.
It is a pity I didn’t see it on stage, but that is primarily why I went to the film. Listening to some of the music from their website, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the music. The film starts with a solo piano with the cast on stage a la Chorus Line, and my Musical Enemy Number Three (after the bagpipes and pipe organ), a sixties sounding electric organ enchants us with a countermelody, from where it went musically downhill. There is not one song I would wish to hear again, as I also felt about the musicals Billy Eliot and The Full Monty. As much as I have disliked Andrew Lloyd Webber’s contributions to the art form, he has undeniably contributed some gems to the repertoire. I also thought it was plain silly not to orchestrate the movie of Rent – I do like my violins, it has to be said. Or even one violin, in the case of Capote! Hair would also have sounded raw unorchestrated.
The retelling of La Boheme was delightfully quirky, if we allow for the distracted narrative. The quartet of struggling artists consists of a filmmaker who ultimately sells out to big business – he is perhaps the only one who does actually pursue his art. Then there is a hopeless, talentless muso in search of the great song as he picks out Musetta’s waltz on his guitar. He ends up accepting Mimi’s outrageous advances – they are a doomed couple. I think they are both HIV positive – we see her buying and injecting drugs. And everyone is on AZT. At one stage he quits NY for Santa Fe and we almost break into Good Morning Sunshine, but not quite. Then there was the gay dropout philosophy teacher who has the most cute and cudly affair with Angel, a young transvestite and they are both HIV positive. If the quartet has a fourth member as Boheme does, it must be their now yuppified ex-friend turned landlord, a source of fiscal tension for the struggling artists. Their NY garret was a wildly spacious loft, the likes of which we know from Pittsburgh’s very own QAF, tho in Brian’s case it is tastefully and expensively outfitted. The filmmaker’s ex-girlfriend, an extraordinary performance artist has a girlfriend now, a lawyer and we see their relationship’s highs culminating in a delightful commitment ceremony, and lows – not much in between. In fact, her one woman show was the highlight of the film for me, as a multi-media show which also took the narrative forward.
Mimi, a pole dancer, survives her deathbed scene. Death was awarded to Angel, “complications arising from HIV”. And as the most endearing character, the most appropriate to die. Lifting herself from her deathbed, Mimi had to deliver a rather clunky speech – tunnel of light and seeing Angel who had some puerile message which I cannot remember. Never mind, it wasn’t worth it. The stage musical did, however, win a Pulitzer prize!