199. Six Degrees of Separation

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Movie: Six Degrees of Separation

Release Date: December 8, 1993

Director: Fred Schepisi

Starring: Stockard Channing, Will Smith, Donald Sutherland, Mary Beth Hart, Bruce Davison, Ian McKellen, Anthony Michael Hall, Heather Graham, Anthony Rapp.

Tag Lines: “For Paul, every person is a new door to a new world.”

Relevance: In the Spring of 1994, I was in my second semester of working on my Master’s Degree in Theater. In the Fall of 1993, I had just finished acting in a production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Now when I was an undergraduate at a different school, I worked on every single production no matter if it was acting, stage managing, box office or set design. There were usually four a year and I was involved in all of them. When it came to Graduate School, I only worked on one production a year. A little older and a little wiser, the rest of the time I spent studying. So with “Sweeney…,” my yearly commitment was fulfilled.

As a student at the school though, I would always read the plays or musicals of the other productions that year and attend them in support of my friends and professors. The play “Six Degrees of Separation” was the first show in the Spring of 1994. My very best friend was cast as Paul in the show and I was very excited for him as well as getting acquainted with the play by John Guare, As soon as I read the play, I fell in love. It spoke to me on many levels and I couldn’t wait to see my friend tackle this intricate role.

The production of the show was top-notch and my friend not only did a great job, he killed it. His performance as the skillful con artist was both riveting and heartbreaking. He is now a professional actor, and that comes at no surprise. Some people are just born with a natural talent and drive and it was very evident to me in 1994 that he not only had what it took, he was going to excel at it.

Now I was aware that the film version of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ was released the prior December, but I did not see it in theaters. The film got decent reviews and a few industry award nominations for Stockard Channing. Most of the talk about the movie I heard though was through my theater friends that were just in the play. Although most of them had not seen it either, their premature critiques were scathing based on the casting alone. Everyone has an opinion. I actually like to see a piece of art before judging it. I’m weird that way. So like I do with most of my theater friends, I listened, but when ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ became available for rental, I rented it to form my own opinion.

I was thoroughly moved and entertained by the film. It was a haunting movie that left me pondering its themes and meanings long after the credits rolled. But as a fan of the play, I knew that was a possibility. The adaptation was very well done and it was exquisitely directed and acted. Stockard Channing was absolutely fantastic as was the rest of the cast. The brouhaha about Will Smith being cast was totally unnecessary. It was definitely against type for him, but he tackled the difficult role of Paul with ease and elegance. He really showed to me that he was more than just a “fresh prince.” He could act. I was moved by his performance and I knew that he was going to become a force to reckon with in Hollywood.

Both the play and the movie have remained very close to my heart throughout the years. I have read and re-read the play many times. It is my dream one day to direct a version of it on the stage. I have also watched the movie a few times since the mid-1990’s. It really captured the heart of the play and is now a thirty year old nostalgic snapshot of society, even though its messages remain very relevant today.

Today’s Thoughts: “I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it extremely comforting that we’re so close. I also find it like Chinese water torture, that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection… I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.”

‘Six Degrees of Separation’ is really a spectacular film. It is a shame it did not get the recognition that it deserved. I probably haven’t seen it in its entirety in about a decade, so I was very eager to revisit it today.

I absolutely love this story. It really resonates with me for some reason that I just can’t seem to put in words. It is a lovely screenplay, adapted from its source material’s author, John Guare. Sure there are differences between the two, but none that make me feel like it betrayed its original intent. As mentioned above, the acting and directing are impeccable. Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland and Will Smith are equally convincing in their roles. I totally forgot that Ian McKellen was in the film but as always he is stellar. Special shout out today to both Anthony Rapp and Heather Graham. It is always nice to see now established actors pop up in older films “before they were famous,” although both have impressive resumes before 1993.

Drum-roll, please. ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ marks the return of the penis. Rare that a movie in the 1990’s (or today for that matter) prominently displays the male member like this film does. That is penis number eight for those of you who were counting. (I know who you are.) You can check out the seven other “penises” here: 209. The Fisher King, 295. Being John Malkovich, 296. Wildcats, 332. The Crying Game, 335. Born on the Fourth of July343. Sideways and 357. Amadeus.

I highly recommend watching ‘Six Degrees of Separation.’ It is tremendously moving, funny and thought provoking. I also would recommend reading the play by John Guare and if ever there is a production of the stage version, run don’t walk to the theater, that is when theaters finally open again. All of them are worth your time and money.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Stockard Channing (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, Stockard Channing (nomination), National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress, Stockard Channing (nomination), National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay, John Guare (nomination).

Ways to Watch: iTunes, Amazon Prime, DVD Availability.

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