Synopsis

The sometimes rocky relationship between art and politics in America in the 1930s -- as well as the gulf between the wealthy and the struggling -- sets the stage for Tim Robbins' ambitious comedy-drama Cradle Will Rock. Pulling together a variety of threads from actual events, Robbins examines the lives and ambitions of a variety of creative mavericks and figures of power. Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes) are working with Marc Bliztstein (Hank Azaria) to stage the latter's leftist musical "The Cradle Will Rock" for the WPA-funded Federal Theater Project. After Congress cuts funding for the embattled Federal Theater over the perceived leftist slant of their presentations, the project is canceled on the day of its premier. Welles and his cast respond by marching 21 blocks from the theater where the show was to open to another venue where, in deference to Actors Equity regulations, they perform the entire show from the audience. A member of Welles' cast, Aldo Silvano (John Turturro), is a dedicated actor from Italy who is trying to resolve his attitudes about his family, who loyally support Mussolini, to Silvano's disgust. Meanwhile, El Duce's former mistress, Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon), is consorting with industrial tycoon Gray Mathers (Philip Baker Hall) -- whose wife, Contesse LaGrange (Vanessa Redgrave) is a friend and supporter of Welles' project. Elsewhere, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) has hired expatriot Mexican artist Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) to create a mural for his projected Rockefeller Center, but the two are soon locking horns over their different views on art, politics and the work at hand. And a ventriloquist fallen on hard times, Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray), finds himself trying to teach both comedy and speaking without lip movements to a pair of would-be performers at a WPA-backed vaudeville house. William Randolph Hearst (John Carpenter), Marion Davies (Gretchen Mol), Frida Kahlo (Corina Katt), and Olive Stanton (Emily Watson) are also woven into the tapestry of this historical epic, which premiered at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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