Sunday, 29 March 2009

240: Theatricality - The Producers

The Producers (1968)
Written and directed by Mel Brooks

Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock
Gene Wilder as Leo Bloom
Christopher Hewett as Roger De Bris
Andréas Voutsinas as Carmen Ghia

How can you have a brash send-up of theatre without some homosexuals? Certainly, the 1960s saw various essays, subtle and not-so subtle, by leading critics arguing that the dominance of homosexuals in the theatre was having harmful effects. By the late 60s it’s now possible to put homosexuals up on the big screen without too much fear of censorship. Of course comic representations always lag slightly behind serious heavy-dramatic problems-of-modern-scociety-type homosexuals, so you could argue that “The Producers” is actually a kind of progress.
Brooks gives us two different clichés. There’s Carmen Ghia, self-possessed and ramrod stiff, with the impeccable hair and beard, a touch of make-up, and self-preening and florid hand gestures. I’m sure the all-black costume means something but I’m afraid it eludes me. In mannerisms Ghia is a variant on the traditional haughty, hissy queen, obviously reliant upon his relationship with de Bris for his status, and hence the passive/aggressive bitchery.
De Bris gives us a larger-than-life transvestite, but not a drag queen per se. The masculine resonant theatrical projection plays off against the dress. De Bris is bombastic and ignorant, his only concern a theatrical triviality ignorant of the demands of drama and history – in other words, a silly queen.
There’s then Bialystock’s mocking of Ghia’s walks and gestures.
Both Ghia and de Bris cast a few avid lascivious looks at the youthful Bloom, as well as de Bris’s clasping of Bloom’s shoulder. As in “Day at the Beach” this then encourages a certain amount of jealous sniping and bitching by the lovers at one another. On top of which we get the perpetual smiles and bright flashing eyes as though nothing could possibly perturb them. Bloom’s slightly anxious discomfort is also part of the joke, although its not played for the panicky hysteria of other scenes in the film
So Brooks crams quite a bit into this one scene.

1 comment:

Seeing_I said...

I think Carmen Ghia's all-black outfit was just supposed to look artistic and avant-garde...a bit of beatnik mixed with the camp homosexuality.

As for deBris, I don't think he was an actual transvestite, just doing drag for the ball. I believe it's the only time we see him in drag.