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Zen of Film: A Recommendation, #4

These are not recommendations of movies about Buddhism, but rather ones about the human condition, the lives of ordinary people, though every life, when viewed deeply, is extraordinary. As Deshan (ninth century Chan master and curmudgeon extraordinaire is quoted as saying: “What is known as ‘realizing the mystery’ is nothing but breaking through to grab an ordinary person’s life”.

This weeks recommendation is a film of the stage production of the musical “Into the Woods”, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. In 1988, up against “Phantom of the Opera”, it won three Tony Awards: Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Actress. And from New York’s Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Lyrics, Outstanding Book and Outstanding Actress. This is a re-telling and interweaving of some classic Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There is the witch, the wolf, the giant, and Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rupunzel, the Baker and his wife, charming princes, romance and adventure. The first half is all of the characters having to go “Into the Woods” to get what they wish for. The second half is their having to go back “Into the Woods” to deal with what they wished for. It’s all about dealing with human longing and the consequences of acting on that longing.The performance is just over 2 1/2 hours long with an intermission. It could easily be split into 2 viewings. My children were 7 and 13 when we first saw it on PBS, and they loved it. I’ve never gotten over how well done and smart the whole production is. I grew up listening to my mother’s recordings of Broadway musicals. This one is by far my favorite. If you like musicals don’t miss this one, if you’re not a fan of musicals, don’t miss this one.