CRADLE WILL ROCK
About The Production
Tim Robbins drew from true 1930s incidents to create his tale of eccentric artists and their clashes over artistic expression:
"It all started with hearing the story of the night when Orson Welles' company defied censorship and risked everything to perform the show." says director writer/producer Robbins.
"Cradle Will Rock" is a tale that covers the extremes of New York culture during the Depression, from high society to life on the streets. The group that performs the play "The Cradle Will Rock" risks all that they have. "This was a time in which there were no unemployment insurance, no minimum wages, no welfare—and a looming threat of turmoil in the United States," says Robbins. "This act of heroism screamed to be told. The more research I did, the more interesting people from all walks of life presented themselves as characters in the story. What started as a story about a theater company being censored began to grow into a wild cornucopia of ideas. The key was finding the common spirit that united the piece."
Among the privileged, one young man who becomes central to the story is one whose name is still synonymous with wealth. Nelson Rockefeller, played by John Cusack, is a powerful man; as Cusack puts it, "The Bill Gates of his time." Rockefeller, like William Randolph Hearst (portrayed in the film by John Carpenter) and others of his circle, is torn between his enthusiasm for art and desire to control it. Cusack was attracted to the "fascinating contradictions" of these famous capitalist
dynamos: "They were cutthroat and monopolistic, but also had a lot of humane, liberal values. The amount of money that [Rockefeller] gave away is staggering."
The gap between the patrons of the arts and the artists themselves is very vividly rendered by the incident that occurs between Rockefeller and Mexican artist Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades). "He fancied himself quite the art connoisseur," says Cusack of Rockefeller. But Rivera's mural intended for Rockefeller Center does not quite turn out as the high society aesthete envisions. Rockefeller attempts to assert the power of his wallet over Rivera's freedom as the artist, resulting in a very
complex question of ownership. Says Blades, "It is as much a clash of ideology as it is a clash on the issue of the First Amendment."
Fraternizing with both sides is the fascist sympathizer and propagandist Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon). Despite a difference in ideology with Rivera and Rockefeller alike, this former mistress of Mussolini uses her skillfully applied charm to gain entrance into the hub of American power. Highly successful as an art broker, as well as a ghostwriter of Hearst Newspaper articles for Mussolini, she raises funds for her fascists by selling masterpieces to Rockefeller and his peers.
Another Sarfatti client is exasperated millionaire Grey Mathers (Philip Baker Hall), who can run a huge corporation but is at his wits' end when it comes to his flamboyant wife, the Countess La Grange (Vanessa Redgrave). According to Philip Baker Hall, Mathers, who is somewhat of a composite of American industrialist figures like George Pullman and Andrew Carnegie, "has this soft spot for the countess," even as her Bohemian exploits embarrass him. Hall terms it "his only compassion."
Vanessa Redgrave describes the extremely appealing aspects of the film for her—the ensemble structure and the comedy. "[The film is] an extraordinarily skillful weaving together of stories. It is also incredibly funny, and it's got the best cast I've seen for years and years and years." As for her enthusiastic character, who loves the excitement and backstage carrying-on of the theater world nearly more than the actual performances, she says "My E
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