Here in the U.S., a host of films take on a host of viewpoints regarding the state of the American union in 2018. And over the summer, while traveling abroad-- in England, but it easily could be anywhere outside the U.S.-- I could not stop asking myself a series of questions. They only begin with: How are non-Americans viewing America? Even more specifically: How is the U.S. being presented in the arts? Are there any points-of-view here? This was answered in two very different but equally disturbing new works. One is a film. The other is a stage play.
The film in question is THE FIRST PURGE, which actually is the latest in a series of “Purge” films and which came to theaters earlier this summer both here and across the globe. THE FIRST PURGE is a Grade-F actioner which charts the scheme of the NFFA, or National Founding Fathers of America: an organization that exudes fascism. Of special note is not the content of its scenario but the way in which it was marketed. I could not help but notice its ads, which were adorning the sides of London busses. They featured three characters that were right out of contemporary horror films and that were to varying degrees caricatured variations of carcasses. What was particularly striking was the catch phrase accompanying the images. It was: “Witness the Birth of an American Tradition.”
It’s a wonderful life indeed! Anything will be hawked these days, in any way possible, all in the name of profit. Plus, it was not surprising that THE FIRST PURGE theatrical release date in the U.S., the UK, and beyond was July 4...
The play in question is THE LEHMAN TRILOGY, based on Italian writer Stefano Massini’s play, which opened in mid-July at London's National Theatre. THE LEHMAN TRILOGY runs three-and-a-half hours. It features just three actors-- Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles, and Adam Godley-- playing various members of the Lehman clan: immigrants who came to the U.S. from Bavaria in the mid-19th-century. Like so many settlers, the Lehman brothers yearn to embrace the American Dream-- and they do. But of course, their brand of capitalism western-style takes us directly to the financial disaster that enveloped the world in 2008.
On stage, THE LEHMAN TRILOGY is nothing short of groundbreaking, from its script and acting to Sam Mendes’ inspired direction. But seeing it in England adds extra-special insight into how the worlds of Wall Street and high finance American-style are viewed in the present-day outside America’s borders. I sincerely hope that THE LEHMAN TRILOGY makes its way to the U.S. It deserves to be seen as both a mesmerizing work of art and a view of the American Dream in our troubling contemporary world.
Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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