It's amazing, if not surprising, the degree to which trashing God, trashing America, and trashing traditional values are the entertainment factory's favorite pastimes. All these ritual hatreds are brought together in HBO's miniseries "Angels in America," as the "prestige" cable channel tiptoes into another season of Golden Globes, Emmys and deep-bowing tributes.
HBO, that jewel of the Time Warner empire, has taken Tony Kushner's propagandistic Broadway smash -- the theatrical version of one of those crazy letters to the editor that never end and have too many capital letters -- and devoted $60 million to turning this stale 1980s artifact into a cinematic tour de fossil. They expected viewers to watch this for six hours! It's like a long, slow root canal accompanied by a Fidel Castro address.
"Angels in America." It sounds uplifting, patriotic, wholesome. It's a funny title for a parade of blasphemy and profanity, a concerto of conservative-bashing. It's meant to chronicle the madness brought by AIDS, but it only displays the madness of the maestro who concocted it. How does it stink? Let us count the ways.
Artistically, it's a sprawling mess. It's exactly what playwrights and actors love -- self-consciously writerly, intellectually preening, over-emoting, -- and yet it never seems to prove a point other than how mind-numbing political correctness can silence any artistic critique. As a movie, it is, to steal from Kushner's script, "reassuringly incomprehensible." It is a propaganda pop-gun. It's so badly disorganized in its droning blah-blah-blah, you can understand why the TV ratings were dismal, and declining as the airings progressed.
Politically, it's just the same old claptrap, The Nation on hallucinogenic drugs. The play's chief villain is Roy Cohn, the lawyer who helped convict Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving the secret of the nuclear bomb to the Soviet Union. For this "sin," Kushner indicts Cohn through his characters as the "polestar of human evil." (Stalin, Hitler? They apparently take a back seat.) Kushner repeatedly suggests that conservatives are the opposite of idealism, honesty, sweetness, even freedom. "These people don't begin to know what ontologically freedom is, or human rights," declares Louis, a character who seems to speak for the playwright.
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