May 26, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 19 May 2011 10:35
Each week, The Reel Dad talk about films that a family can enjoy together. This week he takes a look at the films written and inspired by Arthur Laurents, the legendary writer who recently died following a spectacular career filled with lasting Broadway and Hollywood experiences.The recent death of writer Arthur Laurents, at age 93, brings to mind the close relationship between the theater and the movies. While Laurents is best remembered as a playwright and stage director, he made a significant contribution to film with original screenplays as well as film adaptations of his stage successes. And, thanks to DVDs and online movie delivery, we can easily sit back and appreciate his work. Here are a few favorites:
The Way We Were (1973). After many celebrated years in the theater, Laurents created this original screenplay for Barbra Streisand that is widely considered as one of the most memorable love stories ever filmed. While Laurents hoped the movie would examine the impact of the Hollywood Blacklist, most of his political messages were deleted from the final cut to focus on the magnetic chemistry between Streisand and co-star Robert Redford. Few final scenes in any film compare to the reunion of the ill-fated couple in front of New York’s Plaza Hotel.
The Turning Point (1977). In collaboration with director Herbert Ross, Laurents created a tribute to ballet by examining the friendship between two performers. One, played by Anne Bancroft, gave up her personal life to focus on her career; the other, played by Shirley MacLaine, left the ballet to marry and raise a family. At its time, the film’s issues of career vs. family struck a chord with audiences who made the film a surprising hit and the Academy, which nominated the film for 11 Oscars. Today the women’s choices may seem out of date but the essentials of friendship and rivalry remains relevant.
West Side Story (1961). While Laurents did not write the actual film script — penned, instead, by Ernest Lehman — his book for the landmark Broadway musical is at the core of this Oscar-winning classic. Laurents envisioned the modern-day telling of Romeo and Juliet in the streets of New York City, in what can be called Broadway’s first concept musical, with a script that remains a hallmark of efficient, effective musical storytelling. He brings the passions of Shakespeare’s characters to life through the challenges of immigrants living in a tough urban neighborhood. The approach, today, remains fresh and remarkably contemporary.
Summertime (1955). In the early 1950s, Laurents — after writing screenplays for Rope and The Snake Pit — began to focus on the theater and won raves for The Time of the Cuckoo in 1952. This story of a lonely spinster’s visit to Venice, and her first discovery of romantic love, was beautifully filmed a few years later by David Lean under a new title. With Katherine Hepburn in the lead, Summertime remains a most endearing love story even if its romantic issues seems dated. Laurents displayed, on stage and on film, an uncanny ability to express the emotional resonance of a woman, which he continued to develop throughout his career.
Gypsy (1962). As with West Side Story, Laurents’ book for the Broadway musical was adapted by another writer for the film. And, looking back, the producers should have stuck with the original, and deleted the unnecessary changes for the screen. Laurents’ book for Gypsy is perfect — lean, touching, expressive — and survives intact in a television adaptation that starred Bette Midler in 1993. For the 1962 version, Rosalind Russell plays the volcanic stage mother determined to make her daughter, Natalie Wood, a star no matter the personal and professional cost. Laurents’ willingness to pierce beneath superficial musical conventions make Gypsy, in any version, a memorable study of mothers and daughters.
While the name Arthur Laurents may not be widely remembered, his work for the stage and screen enrich our viewing memories. The man simply knew how to tell a story and, no matter the topic, created vivid characters that brought important issues to life. Treat your family to a festival of his work; you will be entertained and have a lot to talk about.
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