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Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder

Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder can only do so much to battle fascism and conformity in Rhinoceros

RHINOCEROS (Tom O’Horgan, 1974)
Museum of the Moving Image, Redstone Theater
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, November 4, $15, 6:30

Seven years after striking comedy gold in Mel Brooks’s The Producers, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder teamed up again in the misguided, misbegotten Rhinoceros, Tom O’Horgan’s completely mishandled cinematic adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s 1959 Theatre of the Absurd classic. Mostel reprises the role of bon vivant John (Jean), which earned him a Tony, while Wilder is his downstairs neighbor Stanley (Bérenger), a schlemiel of an accountant. Stanley is in love with his coworker Daisy (Karen Black), which coincidentally is the same name as the sheep Wilder’s character falls hard for in Woody Allen’s 1972 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask. But this time the animal problem involves the rhinoceros, some species of which in the twenty-first century are endangered because they are illegally hunted for their horns and by big-gamers filling their trophy cases. The plot deals with individuality and fascism as humanity threatens to become extinct as the strong-skinned rhino starts taking over the streets, even though we never see them. Meta and metaphors abound in the wacky, way-too-over-the-top slapstick farce, which never gains traction; even the 1970s score is utterly absurd, and not in a good way. I’ve seen a terrific production of the play in French and a disappointing one in Yiddish, but the movie is in its own oddball category.

Rhinoceros is screening November 4 at 6:30 at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of the “Science on Screen” series, with political scientist Ester Fuchs, author of Mayors and Money: Fiscal Policy in New York and Chicago and director of, and Theresa Rebeck, writer of such current shows as Bernhardt/Hamlet and Downstairs — and who wrote her own adaptation of Rhinoceros in 1996 — attempting to examine the film within the context of the decline of civilization today, particularly under President Donald Trump, whose sons are trophy hunters themselves.

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