David Mamet’s Oleanna

Re-watching: Oleanna
I watch far too much American cinema, as I imagine do many of my generation. And why? Because it allows us to multitask. You can’t multitask if you’re not fluent in the language. So back to goddamned David Mamet, and his farewell to the institutions of learning in this country – so much more effective than the confused attempt by Mike Figgis in this same year, 1994 – or perhaps just a time capsule of the generational shift that marked us all entitled little brats.
Male, teacher, proud philistine, William H. Macy:
Female, student, baffled and infuriated by a world of mansplainers, Debra Eisenstadt:

At 26:28:
“…I was suggesting, many times, that that which we wish to retain is retained oftentimes, I think, better with less expenditure of effort.”

Primo example of Mamet’s literary sense of humor. I’ve always been skeptical of the amount of wisdom that actually exists in Mamet’s work since he can often appear to take himself painfully seriously, but let’s not forget that he has a pretty great sense of humor that is prevalent in a much of his ‘serious’ work. Mamet may just succeed most when his wit is applied to (to wit) wit. At least, potentially… State and Main is hardly imperfect, after all…


Yes, it’s a set.
Yes, it’s a play.

At 36:16…
…Eisenstadt has to deliver a line which is almost impossible to imagine working in any context: “…I’m bad!” She does it with childishly plaintive guilt, the way most of her lines are delivered (her character will strike most people as a plainly impossible creature to begin with). Does this delivery work? As much so as this film’s sort of magical realism works, yes. The poor actor.

The actress is great. You know what the black space is? It’s boring.
And one tasty lurking still.

And then there’s Macy, lurking by just being there.

Macy: “…and, I love the aspect of performance. I think I must confess that.”
Mamet apologizing for the self-reflexive nature of his writing? Or a window into Macy’s character? He stresses often how much he loves teaching. Perhaps he loves performing more..? The Performing Pedant (and the Prurient Priss). Any man, actor or not, who busies himself by buttoning up his blazer… mmm… That’s what actors call “business.” Also, take one look at that office and tell me this movie isn’t dull as hell for its production design. I won’t hear any arguments about the purity of the theater.

Like most pieces of my criticism, it doesn’t endure very long beyond Act 1.
But in Oleanna the momentum definitely dies own. We love our abrupt endings, and we certainly were waiting for this ending, so take it away, Will:
Problem solved. But you still get an F. As for Mamet, I was never exposed to much quality theater so maybe I am just not patient with the theater, but this moralistic stuff that ends with characters lapsing into silence, all momentum genuinely dying because the play is over, strikes me as sophomoric and sanctimonious. Vomit.

written by David Ashley

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