Knit to This: Vanya on 42nd Street
I’ve spent the past few weeks yammering to anyone who will listen to me about how good Drive My Car is. And I mean: what’s not to love? It’s a three-hour subtitled Japanese movie about a production of Uncle Vanya! SIGN ME UP.
But honestly, it’s a tough “Knit to This.” In addition to the aforementioned subtitles of it, about half the movie exists in the silences between the dialogue—glances and side-eyes and looking at things in a rearview mirror or whatever. It’s not ideal for knitting, especially if you’re trying to master entrelac all of a sudden.
But the Uncle Vanyaness of it did remind me of another movie, Louis Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street (streaming in a lot of places). If you’ve never seen it, it’s quite something. And if you have already seen it, it’s always worth a revisit. It’s Chekhov-talky—almost like a radio play at times—so it’s a good knitting companion.
It’s a lo-fi adaptation of the play—no on-location scenery or period costumes. Just actors (Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, George Gaynes, Brooke Smith) in a decrepit theater, running through Chekhov’s play in a brisk two hours. It starts with the actors milling around the theater and then Shawn naps on a bench; when he awakens, ta-da, he’s Uncle Vanya and the play commences. It’s the best kind of theater-ish magic and is a good reminder that an audience can be transported without a lot of theatrical trickery.
The famous closing monologue falls to Brooke Smith—she of the “it puts on the lotion” basement well scenes in Silence of the Lambs. She is so good in this final scene, you’ll never think of her as that again, though. By the end of it, she’s Sonya, now and forever.
It’s a good warmup for Drive My Car, too—hint, hint—which is streaming on HBO Max.