RENT Rant: Living and Dying Hollywood-style

Rent

RENT

The film adaptation of RENT certainly has its flaws, none more offensive than that which it inherited from its source material: the death of homosexual transvestite Angel and the miraculous survival of Mimi because of the endurance of “straight” love. Of course, the medium of film manages to take things to a new level: Angel, when dying, is emaciated and covered with sores, but Mimi, although sweating profusely, looks more like she has stepped out of a sauna at the gym when it seems as though her death is imminent. That another way in which one satisfy the conservative masses, you see: let the gay man die painfully because of his HIV-infection, which is what the conservative masses believe is right and justified and, to an extent, an awful shame. In this way, the conservative masses can feel really proud of themselves for feeling sorry for the gay man who dies of AIDS, even though they’re really happy and validated when the straight girl suffering from the same disease lives.

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31 Responses to RENT Rant: Living and Dying Hollywood-style

  1. Enrique Sanchez says:

    I agree. Killing off that darn “faggot” is such a given. Ugh.

  2. Andy Simpson says:

    Have you seen Philadelphia? Look at Tom Hanks in that film. And who says that Mimi is dying of AIDS at any point in the film? She has a drug problem. She probably got AIDS from sharing a needle with The Man. Also, she’d been missing for three weeks, and when she was found, she’d ‘been living on the street.’ She could have been starving to death.

  3. The Very Angry Woman says:

    Enrique Sanchez wrote:
    I agree. Killing off that darn “faggot” is such a given. Ugh.

    Although that comes with the source material. It wasn’t going to change with a movie adaptation.

  4. Enrique Sanchez says:

    Yes. I first got into the show way back in 1996 when it first opened and saw the original Broadway cast at the Nederlander. For some reason, it never really hit me before, until I recently saw the film. I wouldn’t exactly call it discrimination or intentionally being in favor of the heterosexual couple over the gay one, but killing-off the gay character is repetitive. At least in film.

    Have you seen The Celluloid Closet? It’s a very interesting documentary on the representation of gays in Hollywood and how their roles in film have evolved. Personally, after watching that, it’s more about how gay roles have not evolved. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

    I’ve recently heard many make the case about how discriminatory the Rent film adaptation is toward the gay male couple. There was a heated discussion on this over at BroadwayWorld recently, in fact. More than just “killing off the gay dude”, it had more to do with the accusation that straight Chris Columbus intentionally glorified the lesbian couple, while pushing the gay one into the background.

    Angel’s death and Mimi’s near-death experience are in no way influenced by bigotry, whether on film or on stage. Like you said, this was already in place long before the show transferred to the Nederlander and definitely way before the film adaptation. It’s really just newbies who have never seen the stage version, that get all worked up. Funny.

  5. Fontinau says:

    Andy Simpson wrote:
    Have you seen Philadelphia? Look at Tom Hanks in that film. And who says that Mimi is dying of AIDS at any point in the film? She has a drug problem. She probably got AIDS from sharing a needle with The Man. Also, she’d been missing for three weeks, and when she was found, she’d ‘been living on the street.’ She could have been starving to death.

    Regrettably, I have seen Philadelphia. Who cares? The point is that Mimi looked awfully photogenic for somebody on death’s doorstep.

  6. David Fick says:

    Enrique Sanchez wrote:
    It’s really just newbies who have never seen the stage version, that get all worked up.

    I’m no newbie. And I have been grappling with the issues surrounding the representation of homosexuals in RENT for a long time. Of course no one’s going to make an obviously bigoted statement against homosexuals. That would be easy to deal with and protest. The problem with the narrative in RENT is that is governed by complacent and latent prejudicial attitudes. These are embedded below the surface; the internal thoughts that underline the physical action. That’s more dangerous than something that obviously declares its presence. Still, I don’t think that the adaptation should be about not killing Angel off; it should be about killing Mimi off too. The choice is let Mimi live is the primary flaw of the text on stage, on record and in the film.

    Contrary to what The Very Angry Woman says in her post above, I think that the film was the perfect time to make changes. RENT deals with some of the issues it confronts in a superficial and stereotypical manner. I think that the text of the show was prematurely frozen because of Larson’s death and people seem to view it as some kind of blasphemy to even think about making alterations to the narrative. Even though Larson had done a lot of work between the workshop and the previews on Broadway, I think there would have been room for more work and I believe that more work would have been done had he lived. I also think that RENT would have been critically more stringently in the mainstream press and I think it would have been interesting to see his reaction to the criticism.

  7. Kevinm1986 says:

    I really don’t see how the play or film is anti-homosexual, because it’s highly doubtful that Jonathan Larson had anything against homosexuals, consciously or subconsciously. You can’t prove that the play is anti-homosexual because Angel dies and Mimi doesn’t. It’s pretty commonplace for musicals to change their source material for the sake of a happier ending. Is West Side Story anti-white because Tony dies but Maria lives, unlike in Romeo and Juliet? Of course not. Whether or not having Mimi live is a good dramatic choice is certainly debatable, but to say that it’s proof for homophobia is utter nonsense. And I don’t see what’s simmering under the surface that isn’t Larson’s presumably accurate depiction of what prejudice and hatred there was at that time period. It was more than a decade and a half ago; I think people don’t tend to realize that it was a different era.

  8. Enrique Sanchez says:

    David Fick wrote:
    The problem with the narrative in RENT is that is governed by complacent and latent prejudicial attitudes. These are embedded below the surface; the internal thoughts that underline the physical action. That’s more dangerous than something that obviously declares its presence…. RENT deals with some of the issues it confronts in a superficial and stereotypical manner.

    I agree. Complacent, latent attitudes regarding things that often times don’t readily produce an answer or solution, is definitely one of society’s most detrimental ills. The need to cheat one’s way toward a conclusion is the lazy man’s approach to that which he doesn’t understand. Even though I don’t consider myself to be that sort of person, I’ll admit to having viewed the mere surface the issue.

    Like you said, it’s easy to argue the issue from the typical anti-hate point of view but at the same time, there isn’t much to be said about society’s handy stereotyping of those that are different and the complacency that results from it. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that will take God knows how long to undo. It’s a sad reality, really, and if anything, mere acknowledgment of this can effectively lead to progress. Now, if only we can make everyone in the world acknowledge this together, all at once.

  9. David Fick wrote:
    The choice is let Mimi live is the primary flaw of the text on stage, on record and in the film.

    The reason that Mimi didn’t die is because the show is about survival. If she had died it would have been too over-dramatic and Webber-esque.

  10. Fontinau says:

    Says who?

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