Author Archive: Huntley Dent

Huntley Dent

Huntley Dent is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Santa Fe.

The Young Pope HBO limited series. Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino.

The Young Pope in the Sistine Chapel. Photo Gianni Fiorito.

The Young Pope, widely greeted and at the same time widely dismissed as merely a visual spectacle, actually accomplishes something considerably deeper. It does for the papacy what Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) did for the decaying Ching dynasty and what Roberto Rossellini’s The Rise of Louis XIV (1966) did for the Sun King. In a lavish, slow-motion ritual where the protagonist is encased in a cocoon of surreal pomp and majesty, The Young Pope brings to bear the full panoply of cinema to ask how human existence created such a bizarrely inhuman situation.



Manchester by the Sea, Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.

A plot about the walking wounded is an indie staple, and Manchester by the Sea wears no external garb beyond the stereotype. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) isn’t an Iraq War vet or a widower whose dead wife has left him bereft. At first we don’t know why he’s wounded—the opening scenes are of a taciturn, truculent janitor in a small apartment building in Quincy, outside Boston. Lee is thirty-something, scruffy, eyes averted, and armed with a huge chip on his shoulder that causes him to lash out at a bitchy tenant with a defiant lack of remorse. In his psyche the tarp is nailed down at all four corners unless a gust of wind flaps one up.



Hangmen by Martin McDonagh, at Wyndham’s Theatre, London

Andy Nyman and David Morrissey in Hangmen at Wyndhams Theatre. Photo Tristram Kenton.

After a stunning stretch of plays set in the West Country of Ireland, the playwright Martin McDonagh found himself saddled with literary freight. Could he—or did he even want to—extend the legacy of Irish drama into unforeseeable territory? From Yeats onward, the audience for Irish drama had quaffed a brew of poverty and poetry, blarney and eloquence, myth and the kitchen sink. Suddenly, like the young Sam Shepard and his equally meteoric rise, McDonagh found a style no one anticipated, as viscerally violent as Shepard’s, as psychologically edgy, and as recklessly antagonistic toward the audience’s comfort zone.



Husbands and Sons by D. H. Lawrence, National Theatre, London—until Feb. 10

Julia Ford & Lloyd Hutchinson. Photo Manuel Harlan.

Down in the pit. The misery of being a woman in Nottinghamshire back when coal was king forms the preoccupation of Husbands and Sons, a composite of three one-act plays by D. H. Lawrence. Before they were rediscovered and staged, Lawrence’s dramas were an obscure part of his output, and now they risk being too dated to be vital. Like early Eugene O’Neill, the stage-minded Lawrence of 1911 to 1913, when these plays were written, aimed at naked social realism. The women trapped by brutal husbands working in the colliery stand on the brink of ruination from mining accidents, impending strikes, the cruel work hours that destroyed men’s bodies, and always the shadow of poverty.



True Romance on Screen: Todd Haynes’ Carol…with a Sideglance at the Latest from Spielberg & Hanks

Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird and Rooney Mara as Therese Believe in Todd Haynes' Carol

True Romance. The essence of Carol, a film much lauded but low grossing (which has become the norm for prestige films at Oscar season) is that it is a lesbian love story as Eric Rohmer might have conceived it and Alfred Hitchcock might have photographed it. The plot is slender. At Christmas around 1950 Carol Aird, an unhappy housewife on the verge of divorce (Cate Blanchett), feels an immediate attraction to Therese Belivet, a much younger sales girl in a New York department store (Rooney Mara).  Poised between upper-middle-class privilege of the period, swathed in mink, and her sexual loneliness, Carol initiates a love affair that quickly takes us into literary territory, with the visuals doing much of the poetic writing, in the “camera-pen“ tradition that French critics admired in great American movies.



Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

Ellar Coltrane as he appears in Richard Linklater's Boyhood

When The Who named their landmark 1979 album The Kids Are Alright, it was an anthem of baby boomer self-confidence. Boomers were more than all right—they knew without being told that they would one day be in charge of everything. Great expectations formed a generational bond going back to the cradle. As applied to the insecure Gen X adults who populate Richard Linklater’s widely acclaimed but elusive film Boyhood, the album would be called “Are the kids alright? How the fuck should I know? I can barely run my own life.” Born between the early Sixties and early Eighties, Gen Xers shunned baby boomer values. They defined themselves by being cool with underachievement. Without knowing how it happened, some drifted like tourists inside their own lives.



John Adams, The Death of Klinghoffer at the Metropolitan Opera

The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams. Cast.

No one was trembling in their seats at the Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer on October 20. Taking no chances, the police presence outside the hall was considerable, and if you made light of it, the box office manager was quick to frown. “It’s for your own protection, sir.” But how can this Mayfly of a contretemps be seen as anything inflammatory? Every lens you view it through is skewed. A woman was introduced at the rally outside (protesters had been squeezed into the tiny strip park that separates Lincoln Center from Broadway) as a heroine for Israel. Through a bullhorn she shouted that “Peter Gelb, a Jew, has brought danger to all of us.” It would take the thinnest of skins and hottest of heads to remotely believe such a charge.



Children of the Sun at the National Theatre

Gorky's Children of the Sun at the National Theatre, London. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.

Molotov cocktail hour. Writing a three-act play while imprisoned under orders from the Czar probably wasn’t as romantic as it sounds. But when the play is as good as Gorky’s Children of the Sun (premiered in 1905), the feat is impressive, all the more because it took him only a month. Gorky means “bitter” in Russian, and he had taken it as his pen name when producing reams of revolutionary journalism on behalf of the rising Bolsheviks. Yet this particular play isn’t bitter, revolutionary, or tilted toward gritty realism the way The Lower Depths is. That earlier play made Gorky world famous, luckily for him, since it took a protest by eminent foreign writers to coax the Czarist police to release him from the Peter and Paul Fortress, his new play drying on the page.



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