1OA - The Michigan Daily - Monday, January 11, 1999
Dutch film deftly
handles shaky topic
There's no song business like
Bernadette's sultry business
By Ed Shoflasky
Daily Film Editor
Have you ever looked at your
family and thought that they were
dysfunctional? Ever wondered if
there could possibly be a family
more screwed up than your own?
Welcome to the world of "The
This ironically titled Dutch
drama, like the sexual scandal of
this past fall's "Happiness,"
focuses on the 60th birthday
party of the family patriarch
Helge (Henning Moritzen). What
seems like what's going to be a
festive occasion turns into an
utter disaster when the oldest
son, Christian (Ulrich Thonisen),
reveals a long hidden family
His revelation about his
father's treatment of him and his
dead twin sister sets the three
remaining siblings against each
other. The hip, violent and adul-
terous Michael (Thomas
Bolarsen) and the loner sister
A f r i c a n
H e 1 e n e
the need to
their father or
ing this is
the fact that
has stolen the
work, but also the use of a hand-
held camera. While this approach
might seem amateurish at first, it
brings a great deal of personality
to the film.
Like "The Celebration" itself,
the camera work is unstable and
jarring. The brilliant use of the
simplistic approach gives the
audience the feeling that they are
actually attending the party them-
selves. As such, it gives them the
uncomfortable feelings that the
guests themselves are feeling.
In addition to the main story
revolving around the party, "The
Celebration" has a lot of backsto-
ry that develops the characters to
the point where you can under-
stand their behavior during the
party and the additional stresses
beyond Christian's revelation.
Michael is initially barred from
the party because of his alco-
holism and his extramarital
affairs. To show his stability, he
brings his wife Mette (Helle
Dolleris) and his three kids. This
doesn't stop him, however, from
abusing his wife psychologically
and beating a former lover, who
happens to be a waitress at his
father's hotel where the party is
Helene too has substance abuse
problems and a laundry list of
neuroses. She is the only person
in the room that knows whether
or not Christian is telling the
truth during his speeches, a secret
she's unwilling to reveal.
Beyond his behavior at the
party, Christian is having roman-
tic troubles. His love life is in
shambles, mostly because of his
inablitity to let his emotional
attachment to waitress Pia (Trine
It's these intracies that make
"The Celebration" so incredibly
fascinating. Nevertheless, "The
Celebration" isn't an easy movie
to watch. In fact, it's incredibly
painful to watch at times.
This is not a film for the easily
offended, the weak of heart or
those with a delicate constitution.
If you can't tolerate difficult sub-
ject matter, stay far away from
this film. If you can, however,
"The Celebration" is an incredi-
bly rewarding cinematic experi-
The Washington Post
NEW YORK - Bernadette Peters arrives alone at the
chrome-fancy restaurant bar, her 5-foot-2 presence
announced by the familiar bouquet of ringlets atop her
head. Her expectant smile brightens considerably at the
sight of a friend who's showed up to surprise her.
Nothing in her manner suggests she's somebody spe-
cial, but here on this island and in various other outposts
of the civilized world she is just that: Perhaps the the-
ater's most gifted diva of the last quarter-century. Her
voice can thrill you, envelop you and break your heart,
sometimes in the space of a single song, and the very
mention of her credits - a variable lot highlighted by
"Sunday in the Park With George," "Song and Dance"
and "Into the Woods" - can quicken the pulse of almost
any theater lover.
She's just back from Staten Island, of all places, where
she spent the afternoon posing with a horse for Vanity
Of course. After an absence of five years, Peters is
returning to the theater with a full-scale, reconceived
revival of "Annie Get Your Gun" that is generating a
good bit of buzz here and elsewhere. After all, the star
musical, a time-honored genre on Broadway, has
become something of a rarity in this era of ensemble
megashows. She'll test her spurs at the Kennedy Center
in Washington, where "Annie" opened Thursday night.
True, there has been minor carping that at 50, Peters
is a little, well, senior for the part of the brazen young
Annie Oakley. But not too much carping. After all, the
show's original star, Ethel Merman, revived it success-
fully when she was eight years older. And if she lives to
be 100, Peters will never be as old as Merman was at 58.
Playwright Arthur Laurents has observed that the
quality Peters is "experienced innocence." She can be
sexy or sultry or coy, but she's never vulgar - and never
false. In person, too, she seems the wise child, and the
smooth white skin and fetching underbite do nothing to
dispel the notion.
Ask her about the roles she's played and she casts her
eyes skyward and purses her lips around a large, pensive
ummmmmm before speaking about them. (Although
she's unfailingly cooperative, there's a sense that she'd
rather be working than talking about it.)
The youthful image comes up in any discussion of
her, whether it's besotted fans or critics, who have dis-
played a monotonous tendency over the years to com-
pare her with a kewpie doll. Still, by age 50, isn't that
"There's nothing I can do, reading about it, about what
people's perceptions are," Peters says pleasantly. "There
are other things about me besides looking kewpie-doll-
ish." She thinks about it. "I'd like people to see me as a
woman now, but it depends on the role you're playing."
Thirteen years ago, The New York Times wrote of her,
"As an actress, singer, comedienne and all-around
warming presence, she has no peer in the musical theater
right now." Her colleagues are no less effusive.
"She's my fave - I adore her," says James Lapine,
who directed and wrote the books for "Sunday" and
"Into the Woods." "She's a loving, generous person, and
car keys of the party guests, pre-
venting them from leaving so that
Christian can expose his father in
front of all his friends.
Like the aforementioned
"Happiness," "The Celebration"
is a film that gets under your
skin. "The Celebration" is much
more effective in this respect,
though, because it's a drama, not
a satire like "Happiness."
Further unstabling the audi-
ence and the picture itself is the
Dogma 95 guidelines under
which uncredited director
Thomas Vinterberg works. Their
rules call for not only the director
not being credited for his or her
Courtesy of Tne Washington rost
Bernadette Peters is still shootin' strong.
I think it comes through in her performances as well."
Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the scores for those
shows, concurs. "Like very few others, she sings and
acts at the same time," he says. "Most performers act and
then sing. Bernadette is flawless as far as I'm con-
She got a lot of jobs, but most of her early shows were
unsuccessful. Probably her best moments came in
"Mack and Mabel" (1974), in which she portrayed the
drug-addicted silent film star Mabel Normand opposite
the great Robert Preston. But a strong score and fine per-
formances couldn't counteract the otherwise lousy
reviews and downbeat story, in which Normand dies of
an overdose. The show folded after 66 performances.
It would be 10 years before Peters was seen again on
a Broadway stage.
"I think those were the dark years of New York and of
theater, she says. "I think those were the years when
there weren't a lot of shows being done. I figured I had
to go to L.A. to make more of a name for myself."
When she finally did return to Broadway in 1984, it
was in perhaps her greatest role: Dot, the mistress of
Georges Seurat (Mandy Patinkin) in the dazzling
"Sunday in the Park." The show won the Pulitzer Prize,
and Peters' radiant performance captivated both critics
and the public.
She followed that up the next year with Andrew Lloyd
Webber's unconventional "Song and Dance," in which
she was alone onstage throughout Act I in the role of a
young Englishwoman who moves to New York and
undergoes various romantic traumas. Though the show
didn't thrill critics, it ran, and she took the Tony Award.
"'Song and Dance' presented an onerous workload-
an adventure that I'd go through every night,' she calls it.
"People would say, 'How many songs do you sing in the
show?"' she recalls.
"I don't know. I don't count them. I'd rather just go out
and do it." She laughs. "Try to do it."
Sondheim and Lapine's "Into the Woods," an explo-
ration of fairy tales, brought her back in 1987 in the role
of the Witch. She had some magical moments, particu-
larly when she delivered the beautiful and touching
"Children Will Listen."It's become one of her standards.
Fifty-year-old voices might be expected to be a little
on the downward slide. But Sondheim, with whom on*
doesn't argue, says, "I think her voice is getting better as
she gets older." And from the evidence, he's right. On
recent recordings her high notes have grown 'surer, the
sound more supple overall.
Which makes it all the more ironic that Peters has
done so little theater lately. Why couldn't this woman get
Lapine puts it best: "What role can you think of that
she might have played that's been on the boards?" he
asks. "There are just not musicals that are star-driven.
And I don't think Bernadette wanted to do just any
When asked whether there is any show of the last 30
years that she wishes she'd gotten a crack at, Peters gives
another of those small ummmmmmms, and the face
scrunches just a bit as it comes to rest on her palm.
Suddenly she brightens. "I'll tell you what I'm really
glad I gotta do," she says helpfully. "My concerts."
They've been mightily successful, those concerts -
"Sondheim, etc.," a widely acclaimed Carnegie Hall
benefit, is preserved on CD, and a taped London reprise.
will air on PBS next spring. And she has said they're
now her favorite projects. Of course, she hasn't reallyW
answered the question. But this appears to be the way her
She can't control what shows she's offered or the size
of her roles or the impressions of people who go to see
them. And most especially, the fact that if she'd been
born 30 or 40 years earlier she'd probably have been a
rather busier Broadway baby. If it's out of her control,
she tries not to worry about it.
"My years in the theater, the successful years;" she
muses, slipping into the past tense, "ended up being
'Sunday in the Park,'"'Song and Dance,'"Into the Woods
- I didn't have a successful show until then." She
breaks into laughter. "I thought every show closed!"
She'll play Annie for "a year, if all goes well;" she
says. If not, there are other shows, as well as the concert
The discussion turns again to her voice and the
strange and wonderful changes that are taking place in it.
Peters acknowledges all that but seems more comfort-
able discussing other singers, women who are lighting
the way for her.
"Lena Horne was doing her concert at 65," she point
out. And then there's the "amazing" Barbara Cook, who
recently made a triumphant return to Carnegie Hall at 71.
"I mean, my voice may lose some of its luster" Peters
says, sounding not terribly disturbed at the prospect.
"But look what I can look forward to, you know?
Hopefully, I can keep on singing."
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