|This page highlights two stage plays that have been made into films which both have different “takes” on the same subject matter: The incarceration of the Marquis de Sade in an insane asylum during the latter part of his life.|
An interestingly grim fairy tale, with a violent, yet wickedly funny twist, this is my favorite film for 2000. While having excellent design and directing, the two strongest features are the screenplay (also by Doug Wright), and the actors’ performances. To give you a taste of both, I recommend seeing the clip Quills “The Tale of a Virginal Laundry-lass” to see how beautifully the film combines plot, humor and character development.
From the opening scene, where a beautiful guillotine victim appears to be finding a kinky arousal in the process of her execution, to the last, where a saintly young priest is seen madly scribbling a pornographic tale to alleviate his insanity, the whole film has a naughty, funny tinge, that makes it enjoyably to watch, despite all one’s favorite characters ending badly.
The film Script also by Doug Wright is markedly different from the play, concentrating a great deal on the most likeable and sane character, Madeline, played by the estimable Kate Winslet. The Marquis de Sade, as played by Geoffrey Rush, is like the original Marquis, selfish, spoiled, lewd, rude, and insulting, yet somehow manages to, (as the original was said to) be curiously lovable and charming. Rush, it should be noted, does this while being physically as unlike the original as possible, Sade was in his 70’s and a bit pudgy, Rush is 49 and bony. His lack of physical resemblance however doesn’t come close to matching Joaquin Phoenix’s for the role of Abbe Coulmier. Coulmier was a 4 foot tall dwarf.
This German play is, as the title implies, entirely a play-within-a-play where most cast members depict both a character from the French Revolution as well as an insane asylum inmate playing that character.
This play, while it also addresses censorship, is primarily concerned with a debate between Marat as a sort of representative of revolutionary radical communism, and de Sade as a kind of nihilistic
existentialist frustrated with his own, and society’s violently cruel urges, as well as the futility of revolutionary action to improve mankind. Despite this very heavy and multi-layered topic, the filmed production of the play (below) also manages to be both sexy and funny in regular intervals.
I designed backstage-for-maratsade-uaf-1989 for a production of the play in 1989 at Theatre UAF. It is one of my all-time favorite plays because of the sheer density of meaning in it. The play is set in the asylum in 1808 in the Napoleonic era, and the play within it is set in 1793 during the Revolutionary era. Most of the dialogue has relevance to political criticism in both eras. If that were not enough, it also has levels that are clearly evoking the era that Weiss was writing in (the 1960’s) and also Germany’s recent (Holocaust/WWII) past. Some passages in the play, most notably those relating to war, manage to have a level of meaning for ALL FOUR eras at once!
Add to this the delightful theatricality and musical numbers (really) of the play, and it is little wonder that it has regularly been performed around the world ever since it was written.
As a footnote, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Marquis de Sade in the film of Quills, incidentally played Jean-Paul Marat, in an Australian stage production of Marat/Sade some time ago.
The Film of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Marat/Sade (1967) is considered a classic avant garde 1960’s drama in the style known as “Theatre of Cruelty”. It is often shown to university level theatre classes because it has wonderful examples of both Artaud and Brecht theatre styles in it. I show it to my classes and it never fails to blow their undergraduate minds. It stars Glenda Jackson as Charlotte Corday (now Dame Glenda Jackson, MP), Ian Richardson (of “House of Cards” fame) as
Marat, and Patrick Magee as de Sade.
Great moments include a comic “orgy” scene where the inmates sing “What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?” in a round like “row-row-row your boat” and mime a vigorously improbable group sex event fully clothed, Magee’s various speeches on the nature of man: “What we do, is but a shadow of what we want to do…”, Richardson’s unblinking intensity as he waits for the knife to kill him, and Jackson, doing a little dance trying to capture the knife from de Sade while he teases her with it in an effort to get her in his arms.