An eloquent, exciting performance of a powerful play.
Curtis Crawford | Charlottesville, VA United States | 06/24/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Genevieve Bujold as Antigone is splendid; Fritz Weaver as Creon, even better. Anouilh's version of Antigone is longer than Sophocles', allocating far more time to the confrontation between the heroine and the king. Bujold has fine moments in this scene, but Weaver's acting skill and stage presence are completely, masterfully at home. What a shame that most of his video work has been with scripts which, compared with this, were poor stuff!Before the struggle with Creon, there is a love scene between Antigone and her fiance, Haemon. James Naughton's handsome, well dressed, thoroughly decent, college-boy Haemon, is the sturdy male partner, with and around whom Bujold dances in words and movement. Beautifully and affectingly. Stacy Keach as Chorus, Aline Macmahon as the nurse, Louis Zorich as Jonas (the first guard) and Peter Brandon as the messenger suit the performance well and contribute to its excellence.Jean Anouilh wrote in French. The translation used in this performance is Lewis Galantiere's "adaptation." It was used for the American premiere, New York City 1946, starring Katherine Cornell as Antigone and Cedric Hardwicke as Creon. Galantiere writes beautifully, but so does Anouilh, whom it's a shame to adapt when you can stay true to the original. Often, this production seems to agree, restoring some of the adapter's cuts and deleting various additions and emendations. Galantiere's understanding of the heroine's motives differs from Anouilh's in important respects. At the beginning of the play, Galantiere has Chorus, when introducing Antigone, assert that she is "on the side of the gods against the tyrant, of Man against the State." That may be how many people, vaguely remembering Sophocles, think of the character. But the take is Galantiere's, not corresponding to anything in the speech at hand, and not consistent with the development of the play.Anouilh's Antigone does not invoke the gods, the common people, mankind or humanity, or define what she opposes as tyranny or the state. Early in their confrontation, Creon asks Antigone why she tried to bury her brother, Polynices. She replies that she "owed it to him. . . Those who are not buried wander eternally and find no rest." She feels sure that what she did was right, but does not elaborate. One can tell little concerning her notions of an afterlife, and nothing concerning her belief in any gods.Creon asks whether she really believes that the dead wander as shades if not properly buried, and reminds her that burial ceremonies are often wretchedly performed by the priests, an insult to the dead and their mourners. Then, in a passage omitted by Galantiere but restored in this production, Creon says: "And you still insist on being put to death, merely because I refuse to let your brother go out with that grotesque passport, which you would have been the first to be embarrassed by if I'd allowed it. The whole thing is absurd." She replies, "Yes, it's absurd." Then, for whom did she disobey the law? "For nobody," she replies. "For myself. For me."Antigone had not seen Polynices, since he left home eight years ago, when she was only 12. Much of that time, Creon (honestly?) informs her, Polynices and her other brother, Eteocles, had spent plotting and attempting the assassination of her father, Oedipus. She is staggered by these charges, but finds a stance, in opposition to the kind of life that Creon exemplifies. To obtain happiness he must continually compromise, doing what he despises, saying Yes to what he hates. On the contrary, she insists, it is better to say No to what you would rather not do, even if you must die for it.This is her position at the end of the confrontation with Creon. In the last scene, as Jonas takes her to the tomb where she is to be buried alive, she dictates a letter to Haemon: "My darling, I wanted to die, and maybe you won't love me any more. Creon was right. It is terrible to die. And I don't even know what I'm dying for." The last three sentences were omitted by Galantiere, but restored in this production. To make sure that they register with the audience, they occur twice, dictated by Antigone and repeated by Jonas.Was Galantiere's version commissioned by the Broadway producers? Was he asked to soften the radical, existential despair in Anouilh's play?On another issue, the Chorus says some fascinating things about tragedy, which seem partly contradicted by the play. His ruminations occur shortly before the confrontation between Antigone and Creon. For example: "Tragedy is restful; and the reason is that hope, that foul, deceitful thing, has no part in it. There isn't any hope. You're trapped. ... In melodrama, you argue and struggle in the hope of escape." But in tragedy, you "shout" to express what you are. The point does fit Antigone's behavior. She has no hope of escaping death and does not try. But Creon argues and struggles with Antigone, hoping to change the outcome. So does Ismene. Haemon argues and struggles with his father. Even the Chorus gets into the argument, with suggestions to Creon on how to prevent the catastrophe. Should we treat the Chorus' aphorisms as evidence that sometimes he (or the playwright?) doesn't know what he's talking about?Should the audience respond to tragedy as if there were no hope? Thanks to their myths, the Greek audience knew how Antigone was going to end. Thanks to Sophocles, so do we. But while experiencing the play I seem to suspend this knowledge, hoping against hope that a decent way out exists, even if the characters don't quite manage to see or take it. (...)"
It's Not Perfect, but Genevieve Bujold is Excellent
Janet S. Hendrickson | Redmond, WA USA | 11/21/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw this production of "Antigone" on a scratchy VHS recording back in 1979. I was a freshman in high school, and the show, especially Genevieve Bujold's performance, made a tremendous impression on me. I had hardly dared hope that it would one day be released on DVD.It's not quite as perfect as I remember it -- but well worth seeing. Bujold is excellent: her "dark, tense, serious girl" is a near-perfect portrayal of Anouilh's heroine, even if she goes into an excess of hysteria near the end of her confrontation with Creon. She is passionate, stubborn, and vulnerable even in her unwillingness to yield. Fritz Weaver is a fine actor, but his performance was undercut by a terrible hair and makeup job that made him look more like someone who lives in an attic than a king who is supremely conscious of public image. He does, however, manage to make Creon "the most persuasive of tyrants." Stacy Keach does a fine, understated job as the detached, cynical Chorus. The rest of the cast: Haemon, Ismene, the Guard, the Messenger, the Nurse, are competent but not anywhere near the same caliber as the leads, which is unfortunate. It would be nice to one day see a Haemon who actually seems as if he was capable of winning the love of a fierce and passionate creature like Antigone, or an Ismene who was as much a princess as a rationalizing, fearful nay-sayer, or a Guard who seemed genuinely dangerous.Before the performance, there is a disclaimer about this DVD edition betraying the limitations of the original recording, and it is indeed an issue. The picture is sometimes blurred or scratchy, and the sound is out of balance in places -- particularly at the beginning, when the piano solo is intrusive under the Chorus's introduction. But I'd be very surprised if there were a better edition available.All in all, this is a flawed production and a flawed recording, but the performances of the leads, especially Bujold, and Jean Anouilh's marvelous script make it well worth seeing."
Great drama, superb performances
Alan | New York, NY | 07/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are times when people disagree with you on a play, movie or book, but you can understand why they feel differently. Reading some of the negative reviews for this DVD, I have to say I'm a little mystified.
One reviewer complains that this is not the Sophocles play "Antigone." Yes, it's not; it's Jean Anouilh's very free adaptation of it, further adapted into English by Lewis Galantiere. It seems a little silly to attack this for not being Sophocles when the cover says "Jean Anouilh's Antigone." In addition, the amazon editorial review makes it clear that this is Anouillh's play, and the "Product Description" (taken from the back cover of the DVD box) also makes it clear. So it's not as if this DVD is masquerading as the Sophocles play or that amazon is misleading people.
Sophocles wrote a great play but so did Anouilh. Written and first produced during the Nazi occupation of France, it clearly was intended as a protest against the Nazis and even more against the French collaborators, with Creon representing the collaborators and Antigone representing the resistance. This is so obvious that it's a little surprising that the Nazis allowed the play to be performed, even in a censored version.
As one reviewer notes, the technical aspects of the presentation are imperfect. This PBS production dates from 1974 and it was obviously done on a low budget. But I found the sound to be fine except for some very brief moments here and there. Sometimes the picture is a little blurry, but rarely enough to be more than a passing and minor annoyance. (Those who are bothered by the sound here would surely have a more difficult time watching some of the boxed sets of BBC productions of classic plays. Some of those have really problematic sound, much worse than this.)
The production was filmed inside and outside the Juilliard School in Manhattan (which had been recently built). The cool architecture, modern yet somewhat classical, provides perfect settings for this modern adaptation of a classic play.
Trying to figure out why some of the reviewers are so negative, I suppose I can see that the first 40 minutes or so may require a little patience (though I would hardly call it boring). But once you hit the big confrontation between Antigone and Creon, it's riveting, or at least it is for me, straight through to the devastating ending.
That confrontation is where the play is really brilliantly written. Creon is given such eloquent, even moving arguments, in some ways more effective than Antigone's, even though we're clearly supposed to side with Antigone. This adds to the complexity and interest of the scene. That this scene is so riveting is thanks not only to Anouilh's writing but also to the superb performances of Genevieve Bujold and Fritz Weaver, both ideally cast. Both know when to keep it relatively quiet and when to let loose. It's exciting to watch these two first-rate actors go at it, rising to the challenge of their great roles.
One stylized touch is Weaver's hair, clearly artificially gray, long and slightly disheveled, making him look like a sad, melancholy figure. I like this though I can see why another reviewer doesn't.
While the production is dominated by Bujold and Weaver, under Gerald Freedman's direction every member of the cast is excellent, with the great veteran actress Aline MacMahon perhaps the standout as the Nurse.
One of the negative reviewers writes that his class of 10th graders was bored with it, even though they'd been studying the play. I was in 10th grade when I first saw this when it was originally shown in 1974. I'd never read the play but I loved this production and watched it again and again (as PBS used to repeat things frequently back then). So I'd say that if you're an adult (or even a teenager) who loves classic drama, this is a DVD you may well find fascinating and very powerful."
Well-acted performance of Anouilh's play
Thomas Evans | Durham, NC | 12/30/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The debate between Creon and Antigone is intense and makes up for the poor video quality. Note to teachers, this is worth showing to classes who are reading the Sophocles play, though the differences are more useful than the similarities--especially the role of the chorus."