WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNERNR
With Wrestling With Angels, Academy and Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) delivers a rich and uplifting film that succeeds largely because its hugely talented subject, Tony Kushner, is so generous in sharing his life, work and thoughts.
Mock's cameras take us on journeys into Kushner's past, beginning with his comfortable, progressive, upper-middle-class upbringing in small-town Louisiana. In school, the future playwright, who would eventually triumph with the critically acclaimed AIDS-themed opus Angels in America, showed a taste and gift for debate. Footage makes clear that Kushner's left-leaning and artistically inclined parents had much to do with nurturing his gifts and aspirations.
Mentors, too, were important to Kushner, including director Oskar Eustis, an early believer in Angels in America, and renowned writer-illustrator Maurice Sendak, with whom Kushner formed a deep bond and collaborated on the Holocaust-themed opera Brundibar.
Wrestling With Angels abounds in glimpses of many bright lights of New York theatre and film who have been important to Kushner. These include Mike Nichols, Marian Seldes, Marcia Gay Harden and Meryl Streep, but many other familiar faces appear in the excerpts from four of Kushner's canon. Scenes focusing on the Public Theater's George C. Wolfe, Kushner music collaborator Jeanine Tesori, and Linda Emond, who starred in Kushner's challenging terrorism-themed play Homebody/Kabul, are among the many that lend especially valuable insights into the nature of collaboration and the creative process.
A behind-the-scenes look at the journey of the playwright's autobiographical Caroline, or Change suggests what it takes to make it to Broadway. The material covering Angels in America conveys the woes and joys of delivering a controversial hit as both play and film.
Wrestling With Angels, candid in its depiction of Kushner's early struggle with his homosexuality and eventual marriage to life partner Mark Harris, is also a moving portrait of the artist as a gay man.
This beautifully produced documentary moves briskly and the forays into so much of Kushner's art and personal life are thrilling. Revelations about Kushner's character and his considerable body of work bear a message suggesting that generosity, responsibility, imagination and courage are the DNA of creativity.