Queer Eye for the Straight Guy - Angels in America

A still from Angels in America
Sometime around Oscar season this year, I became aware of the existence of a man who goes by the name Tony Kushner. His name kept popping up every time they mentioned Lincoln, the biopic directed by Steven Spielberg. Kushner was the screenwriter for that film, having previously written Spielberg’s Munich. While I hold the latter film in high regard, I am yet to watch Lincoln. After the Oscars, Kushner’s name was relegated to the boondocks of my memory. Until of course, I encountered his legend all over again.

This time, it was during an impromptu screening of the TV show Inside the Actor’s Studio. The host of the show James Lipton had formally introduced the cast and creative team behind my all time favourite sitcom Will and Grace, and had just begun interviewing Debra Messing, who plays Grace in the series. As Debra recalled her advent into theater and the arts, she dropped Kushner’s name. No doubt, there was something phenomenally important Kushner had contributed to the growth of Debra and artists like her.

I knew my fate was sealed as it wouldn’t be long before I’d set out on yet another artistic manhunt, in search of the definitive work(s) that edified Tony Kushner. On a whim, I happened to look for the grand finale of Six Feet Under (SFU) on YouTube. Just so you know - SFU was one of my favorites in the category of Drama. I fondly remembered its opening theme composed by Thomas Newman, who I had revered since the time of The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. Here’s the link to that episode of SFU:

Having choked up on the episode that depicts the end of everyone and everything on SFU, I chanced upon Thomas Newman’s exhaustive repertoire. I realized he had also scored the soundtrack to a critically acclaimed TV show called Angels in America, which was an adaptation of a Tony Kushner play that went by the same name. Well, there wasn't much to it, the next thing I knew I was hooked on to the six-hour-long cinematic magnum opus – Angels in America (AIA) – written by Tony Kushner and directed by Mike Nichols.

The HBO production of AIA is considered to be one of the most successful made-for-cable movies of all time, led by a stellar ensemble of actors comprising Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Mary Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Patrick Wilson and James Cromwell among others. The story is set in New York, 1985, in the backdrop of the Reagan administration and the outbreak of AIDS. Chronicling the lives of homosexual men, both in the closet and out of it, and the lives of those around them, getting by in a time of nagging socio-political upheavals, Angels… makes for an immensely compelling and rewarding movie-going experience.

I will go out on a limb to vouch for the quality of writing in this film, which elevates the material into the realm of an all-time American classic. Kushner, a gay man himself, conveys the pathos of rejection, the fear of impending death, the subjugation of justice and morality, the ambiguity of political persecution and the life-affirming power of love and forgiveness in this epic tale that unmasks humanity in all its dehumanizing and humanizing aspects.

I haven’t had the good fortune of witnessing AIA as a stage play, when it ran to packed theaters in America. But thanks to Mike Nichols, a wizard no less, who is in splendid form, post his success with The Birdcage, I am lucky enough to be able to see this great work of art on film. As it’s become the standard with me, I won’t divulge anything about the plot. If I have taken the trouble to pen these words about a seminal work of art, it might as well be worth your time.

P.S: Fans of Alan Ball would find a recurring motif in his works, especially in the final act of a great TV series or film. Like the use of the song I Just want to Celebrate by Rare Earth in the aforementioned video from the final act of Six Feet Under. Or the use of the song The Seeker by The Who in the closing act of American Beauty. It's like a celebration preceding doom. Completely wicked and way beyond super cool.