Finally Watching "Company"

Previously, in the case of Danny v. Sondheim.

It has happened, at last. I wanted to enjoy Sondheim, I set about it carefully — at a pace, perhaps, too gingerly-set for some — but several years into the project and I can enthusiastically say I’ve really gotten somewhere. Finished the hat, you might say, if you couldn’t let go of some of the old resistance, and wanted to continue keeping something at arm’s length.

good times, bad rhymes, hey three’s company

don’t fuss, lunch us, that’s why company

best friends, west end, classic company!

Earlier this month I also watched Dogville for the first time. Grace and I spent most of April and the better part of May trading off movies — she’d show me something she wanted me to see, then I’d choose something in a loose response, then she’d respond, and so on. It was a lovely little project, and sometimes the response would be based in following an actress across projects, or finding something with a similar vibe, or a similarly jarring ending, or any other connection that made some sort of intuitive if not immediate sense. I’m less anxious than I used to be about slow projects (I can’t imagine being able to sit through Twin Peaks two or three years ago, for example), but I was still stymied at the idea of sitting through Dogville, which I could only imagine as some sort of endurance project, some version of being “trapped inside forever,” which is a fairly common response I have to any movie that could be characterized as either long or down. Part of what I’ve looked to movies for, historically, is an emotional shot in the arm, assuming that there’s no way to avoid ‘taking on’ whatever I assume the tone is supposed to be. Anyhow, I saw Dogville, and it did eventually end, and it didn’t remake me in its own psychic mold, which may very well be a sign of progress.

here’s to that dog-little town

everybody ville

nothing to do but tear down

grind it out to nil

here’s to that mountain-tight bunch

the gooseberries that freshen the punch

everybody hide! hide! hide! hide! hide!

There’s a natural sympathy between Company and Dogville, I think, or at least between Raúl Esparza’s Bobby and Nicole Kidman’s Grace, of the way a group can latch onto an outlier and try to force-pour an emotional reaction into that outlier until it’s either destroyed or absorbed or both. Between “Sorry-Grateful” on the one hand and “Chapter FIVE: Fourth of July after all” there is little difference; one can easily imagine Bobby hauling a ball-and-chain across the chalk-marked streets of Dogville and Nicole Kidman singing “No I’m not/No I’m not/No I’m not” in response to “Now you’re angry” in “Barcelona.”

Grace was the same and so was the town. That the gangsters had fixed to have charges made against Grace in their efforts to neutralize her came as no surprise. But everything had changed a little yet again.

Throw a lonely dog a bone, it’s still a bone
We're the only tenderness he's ever known

Grace had friends in Dogville. That was for sure. Whether they were few or many did not matter a jot. Grace had bared her throat to the town and it had responded with a great gift: with friends. 

What would we do without you?
How would we ever get through?
Who would I complain to for hours?
Who'd bring me the flowers
When I have the flu?
Who'd finish yesterday's stew?
Who'd take the kids to the zoo?
Who is so dear, and who is so deep
And who would keep her occupied when I want to sleep?
How would we ever get through?
What would we do without you?

She saw you, Grace. She saw you. Behind this pile of broken limbs — with Chuck... He said it wasn't the first time you'd made advances towards him. He never told me before because he wanted to spare my feelings. He’s a withdrawn and primitive man, but at heart he’s loyal and he is good. What do you want with my husband?

Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish. Want something. Want something.

All right, for that, I'm gonna be lenient. I'm going to break two of your figurines first, and if you can demonstrate your knowledge of the doctrine of stoicism by holding back your tears, I'll stop. Have you got that?

By the end of both Company and Dogville the project has worked (spoilers for both): Bobby gives his friends what they want, a big number about how much he wants something, and Grace gives the residents of Dogville what they want, which is to join them in the language of violence, and sink down into something together. They’re both big, flashy, show-stopping finales, the single outlier now containing all the force and verve and certainty and unanimity of the group that’s been trying to pour itself into them for hours. “Being Alive” could easily be the title of Dogville’s ninth chapter. Bobby and Grace both prove apt pupils, both finally drinking greedily from the hands of the group after staving them off unsuccessfully for hours.

The project of Bobby and Grace’s solitaryness is a failure — or at least, it’s not a project that withstands a concerted, collective grinding-down.

“What is it, the thing, that you don’t like about me?”

“It was a word you used that provoked me. You called me arrogant…But that is exactly what I don’t like about you. It is you that is arrogant.”

Exclusive you!
Elusive you!
Will any person ever get the juice of you?
You’re crazy
You’re a lovely person
You’re a moving
Deeply maladjusted,
Crazy person yourself

Both Dogville and Company get the juice; watching the squeeze is worth the effort, even if it leaves one with cramped hands afterwards.