| by Kenneth Chase | 100 comments

RENT – Look Pretty and Do As Little as Possible: A Video Essay

ANCHOR: All were angry and many were frightened, and
they converged on City Hall demanding and pleading, and more than 200 were hauled off to the station house. LINDSAY: The first cases of AIDS
in the United States were reported in 1981. By 1983, there were over a thousand reported cases in
the US, and by that point, already half had proven fatal. Unlike other high-mortality-rate viruses like Ebola, HIV tended not to be something one may
eventually recover from once infected. Part of the slowed government response
was because of the epidemic curve of the HIV virus. Unlike Ebola virus, it was gradual, with symptoms
appearing in a matter of years instead of days. It’s easier for epidemiologists to
encourage behavior changes in a population for an in-your-face disease like Smallpox or Ebola virus;
but AIDS, despite its near-100% mortality rate, was so slow-moving that not only was
mass behavior change difficult to encourage, most people who spread the virus
did not themselves even know that they were infected. Drug use was a risk factor;
unprotected sex was also a risk factor; but many risk factors were not in people’s control. For instance, the 1980s was
not a great time to be a hemophiliac. But another aspect was the factor that
the epicenter of the outbreak was not in middle-class straight white families,
but the gay community in urban centers like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. Since all of the earliest cases were discovered
in gay men, it was easy for lawmakers to moralize the outbreak, not just as a sexually-
transmitted disease, but also of moral degeneracy. Pat Buchanan, who was the leader of White House
communications at the time, wrote about AIDS: Reagan didn’t seem to understand the seriousness
of the epidemic until his friend Rock Hudson announced that he was HIV-positive
four years into the epidemic. But even then, it wasn’t enough to
get the administration to act on it. Dr. Donald P. Francis and epidemiologists within
the CDC assigned to the AIDS outbreak later wrote: The CDC, with the help of Francis,
developed a comprehensive plan in 1985 to help stop the spread of HIV,
which had by now infected thousands, but the Reagan administration rejected it outright. The administration told
epidemiologists within the CDC to: Surgeon General C. Everett Koop
was explicitly banned by the Reagan administration from addressing the AIDS crisis.
When in 1986 he broke with orders and did address what was by now a pandemic, he was
attacked from within all areas of the administration. The powers-that-be within the CDC refused to stand up
to their bosses higher up in the Reagan Administration. Director of the CDC James Mason, regarding
the CDC’s failure to act, later said: By the late 1980s, with now
hundreds of thousands of new cases of HIV, it wasn’t an issue of passivity, but of active obstruction. An increasingly popular narrative surrounding
the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was that there was nothing to be done to stop it; that the onus was solely on the infected, and
there was nothing but their own behavior to blame. But the spread of HIV/AIDS in
the United States was not inevitable, and had the powers-that-be acted sooner,
millions of lives could have been saved. This is what happens when governments
fail the people they are sworn to protect. ALL: Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right! ALL: Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right!
Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right! So yeah, So yeah, anyway, today we’re gonna talk about RENT. ♪ Let he among us without sin
be the first to condemn ♪ Well fortunately, I have literally never sinned,
so condemn away I shall. Okay, so here’s the thing, full disclosure:
I have *always* hated RENT, for basically the same reason I hate “Reality Bites.”
Yes, even before the movie came out, and yes, despite the fact that I lived in the East Village of
New York City the first time I saw it on Broadway, and was surrounded by RENT-heads,
or hell, maybe even because of that. And the other thing is the older I get,
the more things I find about RENT that annoy me. Like, when I was a freshman at NYU, I was, like,
surrounded by these RENT-heads who were like, “it me!” and I’m like, “Well, you know, I guess you’re not
completely wrong”; you know, trust fund babies. And then later, I eventually burned a bridge
over someone who insisted that RENT was beyond criticism
because Jonathan Larson died of AIDS. He didn’t. And even if he did, He didn’t. And even if he did, no. I actually won the ticket lottery for this sucker twice.
So sorry, stage-show apologists, I’m not here for you. This ain’t a “stage show: good, movie: bad”
kind of episode, so hunker down y’all! MARK: ♪ Not to mention, of course,
hating dear old mom and daaaaaaaaaad! ♪ L: The thing is, the movie does exist in a
realm of bad partially separated from the stage show by virtue of adaptation sickness,
and it is not a good adaptation. But a lot of my problems with RENT
are with RENT as a whole. So this one goes out to all people
who ask me to deconstruct RENT like I did with Schumacher’s “Phantom [of the Opera]”,
and to you I say… like I did with Schumacher’s “Phantom [of the Opera]”,
and to you I say… I can’t. Sorry! MAUREEN: ♪ Hey mister. MAUREEN: ♪ Hey mister. She’s my sister. ♪ L: And the truth about RENT’s adaptation is
it’s not really that inept. I mean, although, there are some decisions
that are like… I mean, although, there are some decisions
that are like… “Wut?” ROGER, MARK [off-s]: ♪ You’re what you own! ♪ L: But the thing that makes RENT the Movie fail is
the same basic affliction Phantom suffered from: the filmmakers didn’t know how to translate the stage
musical effectively. And similar to what we discussed with the Phantom adaptation, its main failure is
stripping the source material of the theatrical elements that make it flow, and replacing it with… that make it flow, and replacing it with…
y’know, that make it flow, and replacing it with…
y’know, mostly montages… ROGER: ♪ From the soul of a young man…
A young man… ♪ L: …some on-screen dialogue… MAUREEN: You want me to be your slave?
You want me to just obey your every wish? L: …more scenes, less singing…
setting leases on fire… But in the end it has more in common with the
adaptation of Les Mis[erables] than Phantom: It’s just kind of a boring musical
made by a boring filmmaker who never seemed terribly comfortable
with the source material. And in fairness to the original work, the movie
is much more… And in fairness to the original work, the movie
is much more… “ungood” than the Broadway show. And it is important to note that RENT is one of the first
mainstream-ish works with any kind of substantial LGBT representation. And hey, this is also one of the
rare representations of a bisexual character, although she of course is the Slutty McSlutter Slutterson who
wants to slut it up with every living human, she, of course, is the Slutty McSlutter-Slutterson who
wants to slut it up with every living human, because “bi.” MAUREEN: There will always be
women in rubber flirting with me! RENT was a step. It was a step in helping to humanize
the LGBT community and urban centers to a… broader audience who might not have humanized them
otherwise, you know? I’m not here to deny that. That said, I don’t have much nice to say about RENT. So if it was, like, integral to your childhood or something,
you probably might want to sit this one out. (Alright.) If there was one wrong directorial choice to embody
the counter-cultural discontent of the youngs, it was Chris Columbus, fresh off
voice-of-a-generation, avant-garde tentpoles like Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire,
and the first two Harry Potters. L: Hell, maybe that’s why Benny the alleged sellout is,
unlike the stage show, easily the most sympathetic character in the movie. Columbus is like,
“Here’s a guy who knows what’s up!” BENNY: You want to produce films and write songs?
♪ You need somewhere to do it! ♪ L: “Invest your money wisely, Benny! And use that
money to fund your passion project five years from now! And meanwhile your old friends will still be poor
and wondering why the cruel, cruel world is forcing them to pay rent to live in a building.” Anyway, I can’t speak to your local
community theater production of RENT, but the problems that most people have with RENT
are not necessarily unique to the movie. VOICEMAIL: (beep) Mark! You there?
Are you screening your calls? It’s Mom! Hi, just wanted to call and say we love you. But they are certainly more pronounced! MARK: There are times when we’re
dirt broke and hungry and freezing, and I ask myself,
“Why the hell am I still living here?” And then they call. And then they call.
L: F*ck you, Mark. God, this fucking movie wakes the inner walker-wielding
granny in me yelling at these kids to get off my lawn. And these “damn kids” are from
the generation *before* mine. So yeah, the reason why RENT the Movie fails
has a lot in common with why Phantom the Movie did not work, but,
you know, we’ve already covered that ground. I’m more interested in RENT as
part of the grander counter-cultural canon. Do you feel left behind by the system? A system that, say, doesn’t
take your art seriously, or maybe failed to act on an epidemic before
it became a *pandemic*? A system that profited off life-saving drugs,
that failed to fund research? PETER STALEY: There are over 140 drugs out there
that the FDA has identified as possibilities. L: That stigmatized the sick, that looked the other way when hundreds of thousands of people
in our own country were dropping dead? I think we’d all like a generation-defining musical that
really takes the system to task… I think we’d all like a generation-defining musical that
really takes the system to task… but RENT ain’t it. [silly, arrhythmic kazoo sounds] ♪ Mama who bore me, Mama who gave me,
no way to handle things, who made me so sad! ♪ L: The stage musical is a popular format to try
and capture the discontent of the… L: The stage musical is a popular format to try
and capture the discontent of the… something. ♪ It is the music of a people
who will not be slaves again. ♪ L: There’s a lot of those. But RENT is literally based on the first “We Have
Been Left Behind by the System: The Musical”. RODOLFO: ♪ Ho uno zio milionario ♪
(I have a millionaire uncle) ♪ Se fa senno il buon Dio… ♪
(If the good Lord is considerate…) L: La Bohème was the original… L: La Bohème was the original… that. Puccini’s La Bohème was arguably the start of the
mainstream counter-cultural “fighting the man” musical. It is the basis of not only RENT,
but many modern films and musicals, most notably Moulin Rouge which, although based on La Traviata,
borrows arguably more from Bohème than Traviata, or the film from which it takes its name,
but not its exclamation point. or the film from which it takes its name,
but not its exclamation point! I’d summarize the plot, but
it’s basically identical to RENT; swap out tuberculosis with AIDS,
the Latin Quarter with Alphabet City, the 1840s with the 1980s, and
American-ify the characters’ names a bit. ♪ I’m Roger. ♪ L: Puccini’s Bohème was popular because its characters
were relatable and the story was emotionally charged. The real revelation here is that
his opera is about an underclass; he isn’t writing about kings or dukes, but about
starving artists who feel that they’ve been left behind. It is truly a universal story translatable to any era.
Phantom of the Opera also draws a lot of inspiration from Bohème in that it goes a long way
with raw, simple, shallow emotionality. – PHANTOM: Sing for me!
– [Christine belting] L: But the difference between Phantom and RENT is, Phantom wasn’t trying to make a grand statement
about society. And the truth is, La Bohème isn’t either. Not really. It exists more
in the same vein as Moulin Rouge. MAN: You’re the voice of the Children of the Revolution! L: But what is the Revolution? I mean, it’s not
a socialist revolution or a class revolution or… ♪ Yeah, Freedom, ♪ Yeah, Freedom, Beauty, ♪ Yeah, Freedom, Beauty, Truth, and ♪ Yeah, Freedom, Beauty, Truth, and Looooove! ♪ Oh, okay. See, they use terms like “revolution” in Moulin Rouge,
but really it’s about emotionality with an artistic movement set as the backdrop.
Shows like this have romantic ideas in the guise of revolution, but none of them
challenge any existing power structures in a way that might alienate the wealthy audience,
especially as portrayed in the movie. MAUREEN: ♪ In Cyberland MAUREEN: ♪ In Cyberland we only drink [cowbell] – Diet Coke.
– [audience chuckles] Yeah, that’ll show “the man”.
Look at those monocles popping everywhere. Every decade sort of had its own:
the 1960s had Hair, the 70s had Jesus Christ Superstar, 80’s had Les Mis, 90s had RENT.
2000s… *wanted* to have Spring Awakening (but really they had Avenue Q). They all tried to capture the voice of
the class of youngs that feel left out of the system, although all of these are what George Ishikawa
has called “bourgeois” or “finished theater”. [thundering applause and cheers] In other words, they frame themselves as revolutionary, but continue to push the voice,
worldview, and values of the status quo; in this case, middle-class white kids
who want to pass off their home movies as “true art.” MARK: From here on in, I shoot without a script. L: Without a script?! Oh Mark, you visionary! ◔_◔ See, this is what I meant when I say
that RENT’s primary purpose is to validate a certain sub-sect
of the theater-going public, rather than bring any
“Theater of the Oppressed” to the masses. This is an idea developed by revolutionary
Brazilian dramatist Augusto Boal, who developed the idea of Theater of the Oppressed. And Boal takes a Marxist reading to pretty much
all theater on the subject, so bear that in mind. Echoing Marx, Boal argues that the dominant art
is the art of the dominant class, who control the means to disseminate art;
in this case, Broadway shows. All of these shows revolve around
the social discontent of some underclass, but the shows did not reach the mainstream
because some underclass propelled them there. RENT did claw its way up from off-Broadway, yes, but only because it found success
with the people who had money. MAUREEN: ♪ Only thing to do is jump over the moon! ♪ L: Hamilton is a perfect example of
this phenomenon in action right now; high demand and extremely limited quantities mean
that only the wealthy control access to the stage show. A lottery system does exist that sells tickets for $10, but there are 21 of these tickets *per show*,
and thousands of entrants; real access comes in the form of people with
thousands of dollars to drop on tickets. And because Broadway shows are so
uniquely expensive in terms of consumable art, they have to walk a fine line between
being trendy and maybe even a little edgy, but not enough to put the people with money
outside of their comfort zones. It presents a multi-culti hip-hop narrative
about the life of Alexander Hamilton and the foundation of the country, but it is ultimately
really, really reassuring about the American experiment. ALL: ♪ Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? ♪ L: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? L: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
The ruling class does. GEORGE III: ♪ You remember you belong to me. ♪ L: If you want people to hear your message, it first
has to get the okay from your wealthy patrons. I mean, it’s no coincidence that
the first hip-hop musical to become a huge hit happens to be about the whitest thing ever.
And Hamilton is excellent, don’t get me wrong, y’know? It’s just not here to challenge any ideas
on American exceptionalism or start any revolutions. BURR: ♪ I’m with you, but the situation is fraught ♪ ♪ You’ve got to be carefully taught
If you talk, you’re gonna get shot! ♪ Does every musical need to necessarily challenge
the culture it’s trying to sell itself to? God, no! I mean, how else
would I see Phantom for the 20th time?! – VALJEAN: ♪ One day more! ♪
– MARIUS, COSETTE ♪ I did not live until today ♪ L: But anyway, not every musical,
even the ones with explicit revolutionary text, needs to be trying to tear down the system. But what would a revolution look like
if it had been included in RENT rather than the subtext being
“reject the system” instead of “change it”? Well, probably what was going down in Alphabet City,
in the 80s, in the real world. ANCHOR: Thousands of demonstrators
demand that New York City do more to help those suffering from AIDS. L: Protests, societal upheaval, all those unpretty things
that were very much going on during the AIDS Crisis. They were not designed to make
the type of person with hundreds of dollars to drop on a Broadway show ticket comfortable. REPORTER: Do you think you’ve
really accomplished a great deal? PROTESTER: Yes, I think we do! What else can we do? L: But Les Mis does not position itself
in opposition to the culture it is trying to sell itself to. Neither does Hamilton. ALL: ♪ Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry ♪ ♪ And I’m not throwing away my shot! ♪ L: …but RENT does. ALL: ♪ We’re not gonna pay
last year’s rent! ♪ And if your musical spends its entirety
dressing down the phoney-baloney culture while at the same time kind of being its very embodiment… at the same time kind of being its very embodiment…
then we may need to have words. [silly kazoo rendition of “Rent”] L: RENT the Broadway Musical was met with much
more universal acclaim than Bohème a century prior. It wasn’t for another couple of years until we
started seeing pushback against RENT. The movie was what made society as a whole really
start to turn on RENT; so thank you for that, movie! 😀 ROGER: ♪ I rent! ♪ L: See, RENT’s heyday came and went,
and a few more years passed, and then another few more years passed, and then, uh… they threw another few years on for posterity,
and then they made the movie, with the original cast. So by the time the movie comes out, it’s like, yeah… Um, sure. Um, sure. Sure, you’re in your 20s. ◔_◔ ROGER: ♪ I should tell you,
I have always loved you ♪ L: And they went hard trying to keep the original cast,
y’know, which was just weird. Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms are the only people
who seemed happy to be here; everyone else is in their 30s, and you know
they’ve moved on with their careers, but here they are, pretending
to be in their early 20s, and it’s weird. Many of the songs are cut and turned into dialogue, which makes for an even draggier experience
than it might have been. Even with the opening number,
when they are asking themselves, “How we gonna pay?
How we gonna pay next year’s rent?” ALL: ♪ Rent, rent, rent, rent, rent! ♪ L: Rent-rent-rent-rent-rent-rent-rent. -_- The music is arranged similarly to the show’s,
which is a group number. But in the show, everyone in the neighborhood
doesn’t all collectively decide to stop paying rent at the same time; it’s more like a Greek Choir type thing,
unlike in the movie where it appears to be a riot. So, Benny turns off their heat, right? So they have to
burn their precious art creations for warmth. This is also lifted directly from La Bohème;
this is how that starts. “Burning our art for warmth”; it’s like an irony thing. But then they throw it out the window…? CHORUS: ♪ How can you connect in an age where… ♪ I mean, the whole thing is full of adaptive changes
that don’t really stand up to modest scrutiny. Joanne and Maureen’s relationship never gets resolved
in the movie; like, they break up and then… are together again at the end when they find Mimi;
I guess they get back together off screen somewhere…? This works better in the show because they break up
and get back together constantly, and that’s the joke. ALL: ♪ Five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand,
six-hundred minutes ♪ L: The movie starts with Seasons of Love,
which is an odd decision, as the whole point of that song is that it happens
*after* intermission to impart that a year has passed; so at the front of the movie,
it’s just, like, a song… that’s there… but people know it, so let’s start with that, I guess. Lots of 2005 vehicles here in 1989. Nobody has 80’s hair.
Mark’s camera has no sound-recording apparatus. Why are we taking a train to Life Support if everything’s
in Alphabet City, a neighborhood with no train access? Roger returns to Manhattan from Santa Fe
via the Williamsburg bridge. Some of the worst CGI cold-weather breath
in the history of moviedom. Lazy, uncreative use of your setting,
or just strange use of setting. ROGER, MARK [off-s]: ♪ You’re what you own! ♪ L: Is he about to try to sell me a really manly truck?? There are a lot of problems with RENT that are
movie-specific, but my interest is more comprehensive. And it starts with the fact that… [silly kazoo rendition of “La Vie Bohème”] MARK, MIMI: ♪ Why Dorothy and Toto went
Over the rainbow to ♪ Blow off Auntie Em! ♪ L: RENT is a musical about selfish, horrible people,
framed like freedom fighters. They show *profound* entitlement over
other people’s rights and property, but it is framed like romantic rebelliousness. A restaurant owner begs them,
“please don’t patronize our restaurant, please.” MANAGER: Please, no, no, not tonight. Please leave. They then ignore him when he asks them
not to move the tables around. – MANAGER: Please don’t move the tables…
– Hey Rosie, let’s put the tables together! MANAGER: No. No! No no no! L: Maureen is an emotionally abusive cheater
who gaslights all of her partners. Angel comes into wealth at the beginning
by killing a dog. ANGEL: But sure as I am here,
that dog is now in doggy hell. L: Mimi is a self-destructive, codependent enabler. Collins honors the memory of his dead lover
by hotwiring a local ATM to dispense cash for him and his friends
when you plug his name in. COLLINS: I rewired the ATM at the food emporium;
now all you need is the code: A-N-G-E-L. L: And Mark, sweet Mark… L: And Mark, sweet Mark…
you might be the worst thing to have ever happened. – LIFE SUPPORT COACH: And you are…?
– MARK: I’m just here to… L: “…to appropriate your tragedy for my art
without having obtained permission; I hope that’s cool.” RENT the Movie really has two stories that don’t mesh
when you give it more than a passing thought: the story of the tragic AIDS-havers, and
the love triangle between Joanne, Mark and Maureen. And these two things have nothing to do with each other besides that they know each other. But really, Mark and Maureen, while they feel bad for the AIDS-havers, I guess, their stories are more about their “poetry” and their “art”. MAUREEN: Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii Got to, got to, Got to, got to, got to, got to, Got to, got to, got to, got to,
Got to, got to, Got to, got to, got to, got to,
Got to, got to, got to, got to, L: Mark has his aimless documentary, and Maureen
her terrible performance art. Both have loving support structures and come from wealthy families, and none of these people have AIDS
or have really any reason not to pay the rent, other than the fact that they feel they shouldn’t have to,
because “art” and “selling out” or something. MARK: And I ask myself,
“Why the hell am I still living here?” L: FUUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOOOUUUUU You know that song “Common People”? Aw, look Mark, someone wrote a song about you. In the show, it’s more obvious that
Maureen is terrible and kind of a narcissist, and this is really a pastiche of bad performance art. MAUREEN: …to, got to, got to, MAUREEN: …to, got to, got to,
got to, got to, got to, got to, got– [stops to catch her breath] got– [stops to catch her breath] Got–! L: But in the movie, it is played *dead* f*cking straight. MAUREEN: *sluUuuUUuUuuUuUUurp* L: And the suits are in the audience,
blown away by how real she is. MAUREEN: Moo with me. – [Audience moos]
MAUREEN: Let ‘er rip!! MOOOOO!! L: “Th… th-they’re mooing with her!” Now, the fact that they are horrible
need not be a problem. ANGEL: ♪ I need your help to make
my neighbor’s yappy dog disappear! ♪ L: Or even that their horribleness
goes unexamined by the characters; that is, after all, a condition of human behavior.
But the problem, like the faux-revolutionary subtext, is with the framing; the show doesn’t really
go anywhere with this. This type of character is
much more effectively explored in Trainspotting. In Trainspotting, you are meant to
relate to the characters, sure, but it makes no pretense of them being
idealists or good people; it much more successfully dresses down
the phoniness of the society that they reject. RENTON: Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.
Choose a fucking big television! Choose washing machines, cars,
compact disc players, and electrical tin openers! L: But at the same time, it doesn’t dress them up like they are legitimately too good for society;
they are very obviously not. So RENT presents us with a worldview that
validates the characters rather than challenges them. And romantic validation is part of what made RENT
so popular, y’know, similar to Bohème before it, but there are ways that this sort of thing
can be maybe a little contradictory. [silly kazoo rendition of “Another Day”] COLLINS: ♪ To marijuana! ♪ L: “Yes, we are *so* countercultural, like in this scene.” The nadir of the film, where they dance on the table while the pearl-clutching suits are scandalized
by the interests of the Bohemians. ANGEL, MIMI: ♪ To Huevos Rancheros,
to Maya Angelou! ♪ L: Like Huevos Rancheros. MIMI: ♪ Short careers, eating disorders! ♪ L: Yeah! Eating disorders! L: Yeah! Eating disorders! *Woo!* o/ RENT’s primary theme comes from the conflict between
Bohemian ideals and selling out… for financial security. – MARK: What rent?
– BENNY: This past year’s rent, which I let slide. L: Yeah, they don’t want to pay rent
because their friend who owns the building has reneged on a deal he made with them
that they can live there rent-free. But there is this underlying entitlement that
these guys have, that they shouldn’t have to pay rent, ’cause they’re artists, and they don’t sell out,
and GET OFF MY LAWN. MARK: Because working for a show like Buzzline
is completely selling out. L: Mark has among the worst resolution to his subplot, particularly frustrating for those of us
working in journalism today. INTERVIEWER: Start at… $3000? L: He works for a sort of proto-TMZ-style
news organization and makes bank doing it, but he doesn’t like having a job
in his chosen field of study because “selling out”. MARK: Sold my soul. L: Oh poor baby, you have to work your way up
from a job you don’t really like in your chosen field, that pays really well, as a
starting point for your career? MARK: If I need to finish my own film… I quit! Mark, you are the worst. There is a big homeless subplot,
much bigger in the stage show than the movie. ALL: ♪ No! Room! At the Holiday Inn! Oh no! ♪ L: But the big thing that is pointed out by this character,
but goes oddly unexamined, is the fact that none of these people
really care about the homeless. WOMAN: Who do you think you are? I don’t need no
goddamn help from some bleeding-heart cameraman; my life’s not for you to make a name for yourself for! ANGEL: Easy, sugar, easy, he was just trying– WOMAN: Just trying to *use* me to kill his guilt! L: Mark getting called out on it
doesn’t prompt any change in behavior. Maureen really doesn’t give a shit about their plight. She only cares about her performance space not
being taken from her; the tent city is just a backdrop. Problem with the theme of selling out for security vs. adhering to your precious ideals while living in poverty, with the backdrop of a massive homeless subplot
(which was not there in La Bohème, by-the-by) is that it infers that poverty is a choice,
and a noble one at that. Which, sure, Mark has a choice as to
whether or not to live in poverty; pretty much all of the characters do,
except Angel and Collins. But the homeless do not choose to live on the street
in order to uphold their Bohemian ideals. So right there we have Thematic Dissonance #1:
choosing to live in poverty and romanticizing it, while surrounded by those living in poverty
who do not have a choice and are repulsed by your
romanticizing their tragedy, Mark! WOMAN: Hey, artist! You got a dollar? Didn’t think so. L: Yeah, this prompts no change in him,
and is the last time it gets brought up. The second major theme is that of affliction. La Bohème is set against the backdrop of tuberculosis;
RENT, of AIDS, which afflicts far more characters in RENT
than TB did in Bohème. So when you have Theme #1 over here,
and Theme #2 over here… this is where we really start
kind of running into problems. Mark Cohen’s character arc, played up in the movie to the point where,
unlike in the show, he is the explicit protagonist, reminds me so much of Lelaina in Reality Bites; they both exploit their parents, neither want to sell out
their precious art or play by the rules of fucking society, *steal shit*, know they’ll get away with any rules broken because
they’re white kids who come from wealthy families, and their approach to documentary is just… [unintelligible “singing”] L: …shoot whatever and call it art,
because “it exists, and I made it.” MARK: From here on in, I shoot without a script. L: To quote Nathan Rabin, “Last time I checked those are called home f*cking movies
and nobody thinks that’s high art.” So we suffer in the cold and ignore our loving families,
because suffering equals art, and the homeless are suffering,
and we like them because suffering equals art, and as long as they don’t expect us to
recognize their needs as humans and, hey maybe they don’t think suffering is all that artistic, you assholes. So in RENT, poverty, despite being confronted on how shitty it is to
try to appropriate someone else’s suffering, despite being confronted on how shitty it is to
try to appropriate someone else’s suffering (Mark!), is always justified because “art”. And capitalist society is always out to consume you,
which is why you own nothing; you rent. Therefore you are always justified
in taking anything you can from society. COLLINS: I rewired the ATM at the food emporium. L: It’s not stealing, because you’re an artist,
and the rules don’t apply to you. You know, poverty is not romantic;
just throwing it out there. Anyway, let’s tie that back in with the theme of affliction. [silly kazoo rendition of “Another Day”] MIMI: ♪ No day but today! ♪ L: A big theme in RENT is presented in the
‘No Day But Today’ motif, with the central conflict of Mimi and Roger’s relationship being
planning for an uncertain future vs. living for the now. Problem here is, RENT doesn’t try to find a balance, but rather the planning for the future thing
tends to be painted in a more negative light, especially where Benny is concerned. BENNY: You make fun, yet I’m the one,
♪ attempting to do some good. ♪ ♪ Or do you really want a neighborhood
where people piss on your stoop every night? ♪ L: The ‘No Day But Today’ motif
is seen in the Life Support group… ALL: ♪ No day but today! ♪ L: …and in the interactions between Roger and Mimi,
a bad idea of a relationship that at least one of them gets some bad Juju about,
but here we go anyway. – ROGER: ♪ Your smile reminded me of… ♪
– MIMI: ♪ I always remind people of. ♪ L: ♪ It’s almost like I have a type
and I’m drawn to self-destructive addicts. ♪ See, Roger’s ex-girlfriend committed suicide
after finding out that both she and Roger have AIDS. The suicide part’s not clear in the movie, by-the-by. MARK: ♪ His girlfriend, April,
left a note saying “We’ve got AIDS”, ♪ ♪ before slitting her wrists in the bathroom. ♪ L: So the first time we see the ‘No Day But Today’ motif
is used at Angel’s Life Support meeting. In the very next scene, we see it again when
Mimi is trying to get Roger to do drugs with her. MIMI: ♪ Forget regret, or life is yours to miss ♪ L: There is an honesty here, like, that Roger
wants to be with her but isn’t allowing himself to because he’s afraid to live
and Mimi’s trying to get him to open up. However, this doesn’t really work
because of this very simple framing: the fact that Mimi is on the side of the
Life Support people, and therefore in the moral right, is undercut by the fact that she’s trying to enable
a newly-clean person to do drugs with her. ROGER: ♪ Take your powder, take your candle
Your sweet whisper, I just can’t handle! ♪ L: The film frames it like Roger is refusing to live,
when in reality he has a very good reason not to want to spend any time with Mimi,
mainly that of staying clean, and in that regard has much more in common with the people
at the Life Support meeting than with Mimi. ROGER: ♪ Excuse me if I’m off track,
But if you’re so wise, then tell me ♪ ♪ Why do you need smack?! ♪ L: Their ‘No Day But Today’ accepts that
any day could be their last, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to
take care of themselves now. Mimi’s attitude is that you should live for today instead
of taking care of yourself and planning for the future, because you can die at any moment, so
you may as well live for the moment and do whatever. MIMI: ♪ I’ll live this moment as my last! ♪ L: The show does this too,
perhaps more pointedly, because rather than Roger’s buds plus Mimi being the chorus
(a choice which makes no logical sense by the way, since Mimi doesn’t really know any of these people
except Angel, but whatever), in the stage show, the chorus
is the entire Life Support group! – L.S. GROUP: ♪ No day but today! ♪
– ROGER: ♪ Take your powder, take your candle! ♪ L: So the show does the same thing
only, you know, more. Roger does eventually help Mimi get clean,
but that doesn’t last long and eventually contributes to Roger leaving New York altogether
(for like five minutes), before coming back and finding that Mimi has disappeared
and fallen down a deep addiction hole. But they find her, and Roger sings at her,
and love saves the day. ROGER: ♪ Mimi!! ♪ L: It should be noted that Mimi nearly dying
is not brought on by chance, like with Angel, but by her own decision to give up on life.
She goes back to doing drugs, stops paying her rent, lives on the street, stops taking her AIDS medication,
and nearly dies of exposure. And still — AND STILL! — she survives. MIMI: And she said… MIMI: And she said… “Turn around, girlfriend… MIMI: And she said… “Turn around, girlfriend…
…and listen to that boy’s song.” And I’m not gonna be a total cold-hearted monster
and say that there is no value in that. Y’know, only mostly. Because I realize that RENT was not meant to be
a cautionary tale. More than anything, it was intended to give hope to a portion of the
young population that felt like it had no voice, as well as to get a broader audience
to empathize with that population. RENT is not endeavoring to be realistic; it endeavors
to provide hope, which it did for many, many people, hence the ‘No Day But Today’ attitude
being encouraging to those in dire straits. Just because any day could be your last
does not mean life is not worth living. MIMI: ♪ I’ll live this moment as my last! ♪ However! However! However. Roger is doing the actual hard work of self-care,
on which Mimi is an unquestionable drain, which goes completely ignored once we’ve decided
that love is the most important thing. Love at all costs, love will save the day. And again, I’m not saying that all relationships
portrayed in things need to be healthy, but it’s kind of like Twilight; the work doesn’t exactly
frame it like it’s a no good, very bad idea. EDWARD: I like watching you sleep. BELLA: Do you do that a lot? EDWARD: Just the past couple of months. [silly kazoo rendition of “Rent”] L: RENT’s biggest departure from La Bohème
is the ending. See, Bohème ends like this: RODOLFO: ♪ Mimi!! ♪ [choked sob] L: …and RENT ends like this: ROGER: ♪ Mimi!! ♪ [Mimi coughs back to life] L: And yes, the play ends this way too. MOVIE MIMI: I was heading
towards this warm white light… STAGE SHOW MIMI: And I swear, Angel was there… MOVIE MIMI: And she looked good! L: And also, this one great song that
Roger’s been trying to write this whole show, and he finally writes it and sings it,
and it’s like the worst one. ROGER: ♪ How’d I let you slip away
when I’m longing so? ♪ L: [laughs] But it saves her from the AIDS.
Anyway, she’s fine. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ PARAMEDIC: Her fever’s breaking. L: And I have wrestled over this.
RENT changes fundamentally so little from La Bohème, such to the point that it hardly feels relevant
to the late 1980s. So why change this? Why does Mimi die in La Bohème, but miraculously gets
an AIDS reprieve because Roger sings a song at her? ROGER: ♪ I have always loved you ♪ L: Okay, in La Bohème, Mimi is
a symbol of innocence and purity, and she just can’t survive in this tough new
Bohemian world. That’s the price of… and she just can’t survive in this tough new
Bohemian world. That’s the price of… Bohemia, I guess. But she is not that innocent in RENT; she’s like a druggie
and a stripper, so killing her, I guess, doesn’t have that… meaning about, like, innocence lost or something
that they were so into in the Victorian Era, so might as well let her live and get some, like… empowerment out of her being a survivor, right? MIMI: Angel was there… and she looked good! L: But I don’t think that is really the end of it. I think in RENT, it’s Angel who is the Mimi
because Angel gets the angelic Mimi death. Angel gets to be the embodiment of goodness where,
in RENT, Mimi is not that at all; she is flawed, and therefore Angel dies instead of Mimi, which is noteworthy because Angel’s counterpart
Schaunard does not die in La Bohème. In the show, it does depend on the actor,
but there is a more fleshed out character. For instance, she’s a compulsive placater
who really does not like conflict. ANGEL: People! Is this any way to start a new year?
Oh, have compassion! L: And there’s a much bigger sense of active agency. But Chris Columbus’s interpretation does not exist
as a character in her own right; just to be inspiration for everyone else,
and act as like a spirit guide after she dies. MIMI: Angel was there… L: Chris Columbus’ embodiment
of goodness and humanity is more of a prop than
one of the main f*cking characters. You know, it’s like in Pocahontas,
where they were so obsessed with being respectful that she has literally no character flaws or… that she has literally no character flaws or…
character, period. And I think part of that is that
Chris Columbus never seems entirely comfortable with this character,
just from a cinematography standpoint. Take the curious decision to shoot
‘I’ll Cover You’ as boringly as they did. L: Eh, let’s just walk down the streets, good enough. I mean, look at this, it looks like it was shot by
an undercover P.I. from across the street. This is handled better in the show which,
since it’s more of an ensemble, Angel is more of a character
on equal footing with everyone else. And, uh, yeah, she does make money killing a dog,
and we are supposed to be charmed by this. ANGEL: But sure as I am here,
that dog is now in doggy hell. L: Well, this is actually an element from La Bohème,
where instead of a dog, it’s a parrot, so let’s ignore that. So rather than Mimi, who in Bohème is
the embodiment of goodness and innocence, in RENT, she is the waif who needs
to be saved from herself, in RENT, she is the waif who needs
to be saved from herself, with “luv”, and Angel, well… Angel becomes
the tragic figure of goodness and love dying, because the world is too cruel and corrupt for her. So Angel’s story is resolved with her becoming
(heh) an angel. And at the end of the day,
both in the stage show and in the movie, Angel is the character with the least of an arc,
and she just kind of goes quietly into that good night, nobly, not mad about it or anything;
no one is mad at the system that has failed them. And here’s the thing about the theme of affliction: in the 1840s, no system was going to
save you from Tuberculosis. So, while it was a problem that they romanticized it
the way they did back then, the same rules didn’t apply. So these two themes didn’t really conflict, as they do
in a story about the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s. [Silly kazoo rendition of “Tango: Maureen”] ANDY: ♪ Man, I’m not gonna let you poison me
I threw it on the ground! ♪ So, I want to talk a little bit about, uh… ANDY: ♪ I ain’t gonna be part of your system! ♪ …that. ANDY: ♪ Put that garbage in another man’s face! ♪ L: There’s something kind of disingenuous
when we have a narrative about the AIDS crisis, and the machine we’re raging against isn’t the FDA, or pharmaceutical companies,
or an indifferent political machine, but gentrification; namely, gentrification that
affects the privileged white characters. And the face of the encroaching gentrifying class
is a black man who is pricing out the white boys, which is another issue altogether
that reflects basically zero of reality of living in New York to this day, and I don’t like it. Oh god… Oh god… Ugh, there’s just so much to hate. ANDY: ♪ So many things to throw on the ground
Like this, and this, and that and even this ♪ Anyway, this whole theme of, y’know,
‘poverty vs. selling out’ rings pretty hollow when you have
all these worried parents calling constantly. – ♪ Roger, where are you? ♪
– ♪ ¡Mimi, chica! ♪ (Mimi, girl!) – ♪ Roger, where are you? ♪
– ♪ ¿Dónde estás? ♪ (Where are you?) – ♪ Roger, where are you? ♪
– ♪ ¡Tu mamá… ♪ (Your mama…) – ♪ Roger, where are you? ♪
– ♪ …está llamando! ♪ (…is calling!) L: And honestly, the show is way worse for this, such to the point where I wonder if it isn’t trying
to highlight our heroes’ hypocrisy, as *everyone* but the two adora-gays
has family to go back to. And they’re also the only characters who really seem
to have anything to do with AIDS activism, Angel in the form of his support group,
but with Collins, the best we get is this: COLLINS: They expelled me for
my theory of actual reality. L: Which we can infer has something to do
with AIDS activism because of this: ALL: Actual reality! Act up! Fight AIDS! L: He also hints that this
is why he got expelled from MIT. And this is all just lines in subtext;
this isn’t really explicit. And this line in ‘La Vie Bohème’ is the last we see of it. And in the end, Collins honors Angel’s memory,
not by doing anything useful, but by robbing ATMs. COLLINS: I rewired the ATM at the food emporium;
now all you need is the code: A-N-G-E-L. L: Yeah, *that’ll* get those
extortionate drug prices down. ◔_◔ Hey, how are every single one of you able to afford AZT,
anyway? Wasn’t it, like, $8,000 a year in 1989? MIMI: AZT break. L: Do you Bohemians all just have
really good health insurance, and nobody’s talking about it because
you don’t want to admit you’re a part of the system? ANDY: ♪ I’m not a part of your system! ♪ L: Or that you’re getting government assistance, and you
don’t want to talk about *that*, because “system bad”? I know that shit didn’t just fall off the back of a truck. – BIGWIG: Sisters…?
– JOANNE, MAUREEN: We’re close. L: RENT’s idea of a revolution is a purely symbolic one. And that’s kind of the point; it’s built
to reinforce worldviews, not change anything. Because the reality of the AIDS epidemic was not a
romantic tragedy a la Mimi’s inevitable fate in Bohème. It was not Manic Pixie Dream Gays going quietly
into that good night, but it was *fighting*, and *scratching*, and *clawing*, and *quilting*,
and *demanding* that their humanity be recognized, and not devalued on basis of sexual orientation,
which it very much was in 1989. The reality of the AIDS epidemic
does not work as a “fuck the system” musical, because rejecting the system
was not what eventually changed it; what changed it was holding the system to account. TOM BRADEN: You have the FDA giving you a drug.
So far, you’ve got AZT. Why–? PETER STALEY: Which I can’t take,
because it’s far too toxic. TOM BRADEN: The FDA says
there is nothing else that is worth anything. L: That does not mean that there is no place for RENT, or that you’re a bad person for liking it,
or that the music isn’t catchy. But if you care about the subjects that it champions,
RENT is hardly representative. And that’s the real problem with RENT;
it and its narrative has overshadowed and sanitized a painful, terrible, uncomfortable history
that we still live in the shadow of. Go read ‘Stage Struck’ by Sarah Schulman
(it’s on Amazon), or go watch ‘How to Survive a Plague’ (it’s on Netflix),
or ‘Angels in America’ (it’s on HBO GO), or even f*cking ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ which, yes,
has its own problems, but actually acknowledges the criminal shortcomings of every power structure
in place during the height of the AIDS crisis. A light, user-friendly sort of anarchy does not work
in a narrative about the AIDS crisis, because there’s nothing noble in extolling the virtues
of quietly giving in to your disease when there is a system right there that *can* help
and is actively, even aggressively, failing you, but you reject it because “fuck the man,
I’m not a part of your system!” ANDY: ♪ And threw it on the ground! ♪ L: “I don’t need your protease inhibitors!” And that is what RENT the Movie ends up being: sympathetic to an underclass
that was violently screwed by the system, but ultimately the embodiment
of the voice of the ruling class. That is why a story about homelessness and
the AIDS crisis ends up being about not selling out. It advocates for no revolution, other than the revolution
of whatever makes *you*, as an individual, feel good. It reinforces a worldview in which the only way
to rebel against the system is to reject it. And it might feel good to throw it on the ground,
and throw the rest of the cake too. ANDY: ♪ Welcome to the real world, jackass! ♪ L: It gives you a sense of power
in a world that makes you feel powerless, but in reality the only thing it fosters is actual powerlessness, because in rejecting the system, you are not only failing to tear it down,
you are also forfeiting any voice within it. RENT takes an inherently political issue
and de-politicizes it to create something comforting and consumable. RENT looks pretty and does as little as possible. – CHORUS: ♪ La Vie Bohème! ♪
– MARK: ♪ To starving for attention ♪ ♪ Hating convention, hating pretension ♪ ♪ Not to mention of course,
Hating dear old Mom and Daaaaaaaaaad ♪ LARRY KRAMER: *PLAGUE!!* LARRY KRAMER: *PLAGUE!!*
We are in the middle of a fucking *plague!!* And you behave like this!! MARK, MIMI: ♪ Why Dorothy and Toto went
Over the rainbow to ♪ ♪ Blow off Auntie Em! ♪ *PLAGUE!!* *PLAGUE!!*
40 million infected people is a fucking *plague!!* RENT CAST: ♪ Bisexuals, trisexuals, homo sapiens,
Carcinogens, hallucinogens, ♪ All we can do is field
a couple hundred people in a demonstration?! That’s not going to make anybody pay attention! That’s not going to make anybody pay attention!
Not until we get *millions* out there! RENT CAST: ♪ You! To people living with,
Living with, living with ♪ – RENT CAST: ♪ Not dying from disease ♪
– CROWD: Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right! – ♪ Let he among us without sin ♪
– [Protesters chanting] – ♪ be the first to condemn ♪
– [Protesters chanting] LARRY KRAMER: And I say to you in Year Ten
the same thing I said to you in 1981, when there were 41 cases. when there were 41 cases.
– PROTESTERS: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! PROTESTERS: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! PROTESTERS: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! LARRY KRAMER: Until we get our acts together,
all of us… LARRY KRAMER: Until we get our acts together,
all of us… we are as good as dead. – RENT CAST: ♪ Viva! La Vie! Bohème! ♪ – RENT CAST: ♪ Viva! La Vie! Bohème! ♪
– CROWD: Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right! CROWD: Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right!
Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right! CROWD: Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right!
Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right!
Healthcare is a right! Healthcare is a right!


Brandon Wei

Aug 8, 2019, 6:59 pm Reply

Had to take a moment to mention that you used a clip of Les Miz that has Gaten Matarazzo in it. Stranger things hav happened.


Aug 8, 2019, 8:09 pm Reply

Rent was integral to my middle school lesbian awakening that eventually became me almost perfectly representing Maureen and the promiscuous bi/pansexual but still fuck Rent. Knowing what I do now and didn’t in middle school, fuck Rent. Still like the songs though.

Joshua Thompson

Aug 8, 2019, 3:32 am Reply

by not participating you are forfeiting any voice within it.

Pooper McScooper

Aug 8, 2019, 2:06 pm Reply

Rent is about selfish, horrible entitled people, framed like freedom fighters who walk over other peoples rights.

Bit of paraphrasing there but. Yes. This Is exactly why I fucking hate rent


Aug 8, 2019, 8:16 pm Reply

Rent 2: We Live in a Society


Aug 8, 2019, 10:14 pm Reply

If one wants to talk how the AIDS epidemic in the 80s is portrayed in film, then I would discuss "And the band played on" – not Rent.


Aug 8, 2019, 3:04 am Reply

You're not wrong about any of this, but I do think there's a "you had to be there" element to the "don't sell out" culture of late Generation X. It was a reaction to the 1950s-throwback cultural uniformity of the Reagan era and aimless consumerism of the Clinton era. It was misguided in the same way that the 1960s movement was misguided: they both produced little to no lasting impact.

However, the "don't be a sellout" mantra served the same purpose (in a much weaker manner) that the "coming out" process serves in the LGBT community: it ritualizes the embrace of a form of personal & cultural expression that was under threat at the time.

Toby Bartels

Aug 8, 2019, 5:07 am Reply

La Bohème may not have had the homeless subplot, but it had something similar right there in its title: romanticizing being a member of an oppressed race. The French word ‘bohème’ is short for ‘bohémien’, originally meaning Bohemian (Czech) but more often meaning Gypsy (Romani). None of the characters are Romani people, of course; they just live a ‘bohemian’ lifestyle, which they imagine is wild and free like that of those swarthy heathen nomads that the establishment is always trying to get rid of. Much as most of the characters in Rent simply choose not to pay rent and are in no real danger of homelessness, so the characters in La Bohème choose their lifestyle and are in no danger of being driven out for being Romani. I can see how it was problematic when Norman Mailer called hipsters The White Negro in 1957, and I imagine that it was just as problematic for Henri Burger (the author of the opera's source material) to call the lifestyle of unconventional artists from middle-class backgrounds ‘La Vie Bohème’ in 1845.

Roy Plisko

Aug 8, 2019, 1:21 pm Reply

Hating "RENT" because it is weak about AIDS and poverty is like hating "West Side Story" because it is weak on gang violence… or hating "Romeo and Juliette" because of teen suicide.. or hating "The Odyssey" because of your principled stance on ocean navigation. This video essay is a master class in belligerently missing the point.

Kenneth Wilson

Aug 8, 2019, 1:26 pm Reply


Apan Apandottír

Aug 8, 2019, 12:36 am Reply

NO time like today, live in the moment…that what I used to tell myself back in the day. Now I have a 10 years hole in my life and memory.

Jonathan Fox

Aug 8, 2019, 8:03 am Reply

This was an awesome take on the movie, but in 2005 as a closeted Mormon kid from Idaho who just got back from his mission in NYC (lived right off the Williamsburg Bridge next to a scary chicken hatchery) RENT made a huge impact on me. Not everyone is on the same level of woke, and you never know who your half assed narratives of justice and human decency will affect in a positive way 😉

Mark N.

Aug 8, 2019, 10:47 pm Reply

Stolichnaya is my fav.

Raechel Jackson-Ward

Aug 8, 2019, 2:15 pm Reply

Excellent points. And why every time I hear about the latest Broadway smash hit I think, "Yet another show I will never be able to afford to see, and really don't want to anyway." They're all cookie cutter button-pushing talent shows that really don't say anything new or impactful. Theater, like everything else that had the chance to be subversive, has been swallowed by investors – and thus, as you say, producers, directors, writers, aren't about to go biting hands.

Justin Porter

Aug 8, 2019, 10:01 pm Reply

Jesus, is there any way I can upvote this more than once.

Courtney Baltezor

Aug 8, 2019, 11:27 pm Reply

I just like the songs from musical rent and the moive. And being poor is not romantic and fun. Then when someone that has money comes into place where poor people gather to get food or something to help make ends meet they will look at what hell are doing here. Most people who poor and disabled don't like depending on system but have to live some what normal lives, so when they see someone that could get out or has means to get great insurance to pay for disability with out using the government it piss the ones that can't off.

Brandon Lee

Aug 8, 2019, 12:02 am Reply

I liked the dallas buyers club for the aids epidemic


Aug 8, 2019, 1:15 am Reply

My first ever audition my first week of college was for Rent and while I enjoy many of the songs and even the fact that there is a bisexual character at all (I am bi but was still in the closet then) I never could stand Maureen and could barely relate to her at all. She represents a lot of what I was terrified people would say if I came out. Her attention-seeking, lying, cheating, and on-again off-again unstable relationships just made me really scared to acknowledge we even had one thing in common.

Justine A.

Aug 8, 2019, 2:02 am Reply

This is such a good essay. SO so so good.


Aug 8, 2019, 2:57 am Reply

all presidents make mistakes. no one is perfect. they can't predict the future, but jesus christ………..

Michael Wright

Aug 8, 2019, 9:52 am Reply

Is that blond guy the teacher's assistant from Road Trip? The rapey one?

Really hard to imagine him as a bohemian

Scott Perry

Aug 8, 2019, 4:57 pm Reply

Lindsay, love your video essays. You've got a really "Janeane Garofalo" vibe going on. And you're totally right about RENT, but…the music is soo good. I love harmonic resonance. RENT's non activist activism is also true today with the sudo intellectuals and their "protest lite" actions. AIDS was the last real activist protest in America. People stood up because of deeply held ideals, urgency, and a belief that their actions could and would change a faulty system. not like now where it always seems to be because of "Reasons" the protesters themselves can't seem to explain and don't seem to understand.

Katherine Umno

Aug 8, 2019, 4:15 am Reply

20:40 uh


Aug 8, 2019, 8:13 pm Reply

For the record, Pat Buchanan became White House Communications Director two years after he wrote that column in the New York Times

Video Game Drummer Productions

Aug 8, 2019, 9:22 pm Reply

I think that Rent has amazing rock music with great harmonies and vocal performances. The original cast CD will probably be the best version to experience it. I think the show is worth seeing just because of the music. However, the movie suffers from a bad director, actors too old for their roles, and the typical stage to film problems. If another movie is attempted then there has to be much more effort than what we got a decade ago. Maybe the talking scenes should be expanded upon and improved as well.

You never actually analyzed the musical qualities and in my opinion, saying that the show is abysmal with no redeeming factors just because you don't like the characters isn't a good idea. You also never addressed why the show had critical acclaim when it came out.


Sep 9, 2019, 8:06 pm Reply

16:02 there's an interesting recent development on this point of Hamilton not going against the culture it's trying to sell itself to: since you made this video Hamilton opened in London and is doing really well.

Maria Kramer

Sep 9, 2019, 11:22 pm Reply

Man, my high school classmates loved Rent. I just always thought it was so… hollow

Zak Malins Bush

Sep 9, 2019, 12:31 am Reply

… Why the fuck do they make the woman who kills a dog the angelic beam of pure innocence?

Killing a dog is literally the most basic movie short-hand for "this person is pure irredeemable evil."

The fuck?


Sep 9, 2019, 10:41 pm Reply

Jesus I was looking forward to watching another funny video about how poorly written and produced this show was, I was not expecting should be crying by the end of it. Great work, Lindsay! This might be your most memorable video


Sep 9, 2019, 1:28 am Reply

so, since this video mentions trainspotting did anybody watch the sequel? I refused to on the basis that the idea of any of those characters being alive 21 years later stretched my suspension of disbelief way too far.


Sep 9, 2019, 5:28 pm Reply

Dustin from Stranger Things in Les Mis at 12:20!


Sep 9, 2019, 6:31 pm Reply

does the autotune in the movie adaptation bother anyone else? it's so obvious too.

Nick Schmidt

Sep 9, 2019, 10:22 pm Reply

1:53 "Don't do anything CDC" (Reagan administration 1985)

Sousy M

Sep 9, 2019, 2:46 am Reply

Thanks for the thoughtful and considered essay.

Rent always struck me as a series of musical “very special episodes”. An awkward series of hamfisted hot takes on the “issues”, that is ultimately fairly empty.

As a theatre obsessed kid/teen I wanted to like it so badly, but never got past my reservations. I really appreciate you getting this across in a far more articulate and nuanced way than I was ever able to.

Rebecca A.

Sep 9, 2019, 1:36 am Reply

100 agree. rent is trash. but what's wrong with Reality Bites??! i feel personally attacked.

Rocket to Friday Official

Sep 9, 2019, 3:56 am Reply

You make some good points. I think context is the key thing here
Taking random clips from songs will obviously be nonsensical when isolated. I think the idea that the main characters were refusing to pay rent for some sort of bohemian fantasy is massively overplayed by you here – you yourself pointed out the fact that Mark and Roger are refusing to pay the rent that they had been told they didn't have to. As far as I recall, the other characters never allude to a sense of entitlement of not having to pay rent. Also, their ages are never specified, except obviously mimis. However, Collins is a professor in MIT, and Roger and Mark clearly have an assortment of past items in their loft to burn. While they may not be as old as the actual actors, the sense of the actors being older then early twenties I believe contributes to the sense of a lack of fulfillment in their lives. All my opinion, I understand that the Aids crisis may have been less glitz and glamour than RENT, but the show is a musical, a very light form of theatre by nature, and it surely did raise massive awareness toward the issue


Sep 9, 2019, 4:55 pm Reply

@Lindsay You talk a lot in your videos about culture that Doesn'T challenge or bring down existing power structures. What are some examples of film and TV that does do a good job of challenging existing power structures?

Joey McDaniel

Sep 9, 2019, 9:27 pm Reply

This is wonderfully studied and articulated. I'm still gonna cry every time I hear "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" though.

Diamaudix Audio Ltd.

Sep 9, 2019, 9:08 am Reply

37:09 ahahahahahahaahah such a good call

Chantel Carter

Sep 9, 2019, 10:51 am Reply

Interestingly, Chris Columbus actually begged to direct this movie.

Daniel Brown

Sep 9, 2019, 5:32 pm Reply

If AIDS was only restricted to third world countries full of black people, nobody would care about it.


Sep 9, 2019, 1:46 am Reply

You see, I've always had such a huge difficulty finding out why RENT rubbed me the wrong way and you've been able to put the words into my mouth.

Abby Jones

Sep 9, 2019, 3:03 am Reply

I always thought the point of Rent was that all of their art was bad? And that they weren’t actually nearly as revolutionary as they thought they were? (At least, the white characters, Mark, Maureen, and Roger.) (also I do still love Mark, despite the everything about him.)

Idk. Rent has a lot of flaws, and I think a lot of them are because it was the first show Jonathan Larson got produced. And that’s the tragedy of Rent, because Larson died before we could see him continue to grow as a writer.

Tattooed Gaymer Girl

Sep 9, 2019, 4:37 pm Reply

Stating that people are going to try flirting with her does not make her a slut. Good job slut shaming and acting like using "ungood" is acceptable.

José María Fernández Álvarez

Sep 9, 2019, 8:47 pm Reply

"Get out of my lawn!"

Kaveighleen Jacaster

Sep 9, 2019, 11:58 pm Reply

Of course the BIG FEELZ moment is the bit with Roger screaming "MEEE MEEEEEEEEEEE"

I know it's Mimi but the whole musical is basically selfish dicks sucking their own dicks

Ryan Jones

Sep 9, 2019, 6:00 am Reply

With some respect nothing was going to save you from AIDs back then either. It would have expanded peoples lives, but that's not really the same thing as a cure. (Not really a reason not to treat it as the epidemic it was of course but there is a parallel there to an extent.)
That's not a support of RENT, to be clear, never liked any part of it. I don't even like that seasons song that got popular. Its just a parallel that I did notice.

Rafaela Martinelli

Sep 9, 2019, 11:30 pm Reply

This video is a masterpiece of cultural criticism. I can't remember how many times I watched it. I actually watch it everytime I want to feel good and less lonely in this fucking alienated world of being a worker in the arts.

I surely hope I could have some beer with you any day and talk about Boal. Hahahaha

Sean MacSweeney

Sep 9, 2019, 5:37 am Reply

I see what you mean about RENT ??


Sep 9, 2019, 8:50 am Reply

I hate this movie but I LOVE the soundtrack. One Song Glory, Another Day and Out Tonight are bops.

beril şevval bekret

Sep 9, 2019, 2:00 pm Reply

Not to mention AIDS gave the conservative an excuse to criminalize being gay , bisexual transgender etc.

Joseph Abrams

Sep 9, 2019, 5:29 am Reply

I saw Dusty from stranger things in that les mis clip.


Sep 9, 2019, 11:53 pm Reply

I had zero expectations when I saw it on tv, so I was surprised to see that I didn't mind it when I saw it. lol

Chantel Carter

Sep 9, 2019, 9:03 pm Reply

After having watched this musical over a dozen times and seeing the movie, I think there are some things the movie does improve upon like turning the songs that are just conversations into actual conversations. I hate sing-talking and the movie got rid of that for the most part, which I like, and the movie scenes for "The Tango Maureen" and "Will I" are very well done. The play is still better overall though.

Also, Collins is completely insane.


Sep 9, 2019, 8:50 pm Reply

This not-deconstruction of Rent is more empowering than Rent.

Rhyannon Ashford

Sep 9, 2019, 12:08 pm Reply

Rich kids living in the city and refusing their allowance aren't poor, they're camping.


Sep 9, 2019, 6:04 am Reply

I think a lot of Rent critics might be missing the point of Rent and La Boheme before it. It's a melodrama about Bohemians. It's not about them being good activists or great role models or revolutionaries, it's just about a group of young people living their lives in the fringes and loving who they want, without being useful or productive in the capitalist sense, with some good songs

Brady Postma

Sep 9, 2019, 8:50 am Reply

Lindsey Ellis, this is the best call for responsibility I've seen in decades of following politics. A movie review, and you managed to make it a persuasive essay about who and how we should be as people and as a system. You are too good at this. You are better than where you are.

Hungry Hedgehog

Sep 9, 2019, 10:34 am Reply

Oh so the movie is called RENT and it's about aids victims not wanting to pay rent? So is this movie supporting the socialist idea of free housing and trying to fight a corrupt system where people can jsut leech of other people work by the simple virtue of owning land? No? So is it about how the system stigmatised aids victems as deserving of their death because they "offended god" in a move akin to genocide? No?

Then what is it about?
Watches review
Oh… nothing really.

Brianna E.

Sep 9, 2019, 4:51 pm Reply

Rent holds a special place in my heart, despite it being problematic at best. My mom actually was a gay struggling artist, and in the rural area I grew up in, most of the artists had money either from their families or from more stable jobs that they used as a cushion to fall back on. My friends didn't understand why my life was the way it was. Rent romanticized it for them so that they didn't question it, so even though we had to get creative with things like buying new clothes and meals and all that, at least they thought my mom was cool instead of being confused about it.

Christopher Naze

Sep 9, 2019, 11:27 pm Reply

Genius. Thank you for articulating every one of my misgivings over Rent.


Sep 9, 2019, 11:29 pm Reply

I loved your talk in Vegas and it was fantastic to meet you. Thank you for signing my Rent DVD!!

Jenelle Peterson

Oct 10, 2019, 12:42 am Reply

I've just realized that the only reason I liked Rent was because pre-significant-life-realization me thought "man I really identify with the straight-laced lesbian lawyer. Wish I had a fun girlfriend who kept me on my toes… As a friend. Because I'm straight, of course."


Oct 10, 2019, 11:02 am Reply

I needed this so bad. I've been trying to figure out my issues with Rent for y e a r s but I just couldn't organize my thoughts in a concise enough manner to do the proper research and thus feel my opinion was fully formed. Also hell yes Angels In America is a masterpiece.


Oct 10, 2019, 6:39 pm Reply

I avoided RENT all my life because the disingenuousness was really obvious to me. Also, I hate most musicals.

Becky G.

Oct 10, 2019, 2:32 am Reply

ya fuck rent. and all other musicals while you're at it

Ashmay Comics

Oct 10, 2019, 4:17 pm Reply

So, if the system isn’t working for you, instead of rejecting the system, one must force that system to do its damn job.

Rensie Niltiac

Oct 10, 2019, 6:03 pm Reply

In high school I had friends who were obsessed with the film, and I still can't figure out why. Can anyone tell me?


Oct 10, 2019, 11:10 am Reply

Do you want to marry a broke English man??

Vixx Celacea

Oct 10, 2019, 1:19 pm Reply

You perfectly encapsulated why I hate the movie and could never feel much for the characters. It also insists upon itself. Having these ballads that pull on your heartstrings ("Measure in love") that tell you how you should feel, but then I didn't.
These are all dumpster fire people who don't even have the courtesy to be used as heat for the actual starving and destitute on the street.
It also says something super unsettling if the good guy/trans woman who killed a dog for cold hard cash is the most sympathetic protagonist.

There is nothing of value to find in suffering. The only value is reflecting on how terrible it is and what we can do to stop it. Not musing about how there is beauty in the darkest times. Sometimes, those times just were dark. No one turned on the light because they were too busy pretending that they could see a silver lining somewhere, which lead and leads millions to die in silence, alone and cold, in that same dark.
And when we finally do shed light on it, we just see it littered with bodies of those whom desperately needed for there to be an actual light turned on, not people saying that think they saw a little glimmer in order to console themselves with how horrific pitch black actually is.

Protesting, taking a stand and trying to do what you can to change a system, not buck against it is turning on that light. Education is one of many candles in the dark. But sure, continue to insist that you see a light in the dark never ending tunnel because "This will work out" or worse "Life isn't fair" excuses.


Oct 10, 2019, 12:39 am Reply

I know someone who adores this stageshow/movie and it explains so much.

Jason V.

Oct 10, 2019, 4:31 am Reply

"Is he about to sell me a really manly truck?" made me spit soda out of my nose. Thanks for that.


Oct 10, 2019, 7:56 am Reply

Thank you for making this video. The movie of rent came out while I was still in highschool and ohh boy did all my friends love it and for the life of me I could not put my finger on why. I went along with it though because as an LGBTQ+ person I felt I just had to, even though I found the gay and bi characters in the show are like… the worst fucking people. I didnt even think about how bad the camera guy was till now fuck this whole thing is just awful.


Oct 10, 2019, 11:20 pm Reply

The Trail of Tears, Japanese internment camps, and the HIV crisis are just some of the many horrific crimes our imperialist government committed. If these can happen then in America they can certainly happen now in one form or another.

Skol Rooster

Oct 10, 2019, 7:49 am Reply

I have a new hatred for RENT

Paula Stiles

Oct 10, 2019, 3:27 am Reply

Eh…I think Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell were actual classics. Stuff like The Mod Squad? Hasn't aged nearly as well.

Bryan Joon

Oct 10, 2019, 3:38 am Reply

Looking back I think part of the problem with RENT is that it was through the eyes of Jonathan Larson (RIP). He was friends with folks who died of the plague but as a cis white straight male with parents who had a decent income, he wasn't actually being affected by the devastation within himself. So the musical tries to paint itself as sociological when it's really somewhat an anthropologist looking in. Basically, Larson was Mark, so therein lies the flaw(s).

theodore salmon

Oct 10, 2019, 6:14 am Reply

oh my gawd…does ..rent suck?…good songs tho

Daniel TheDannyDanMan

Oct 10, 2019, 9:35 pm Reply

Mot only just a black man, A black man who got ahead from being in poverty. I agree, fuck capitalism. But when you steal, you steal from Walmart not the bodega down the street. You hurt the poor people and their family, not corporate people making all of our lives hell.

I love Rent tho

2013 Chevy Volt

Oct 10, 2019, 3:41 am Reply

that intro is one of the reasons I start fuming when people say "You can survive trump, you survived Reagan." no. we didnt.

Heather Gillen

Oct 10, 2019, 12:16 am Reply

You are adorable.


Oct 10, 2019, 4:43 am Reply

I still love Rent ??‍♀️

bee pot

Oct 10, 2019, 3:36 pm Reply

The ending really punched me in the heart.

Meme Thief

Oct 10, 2019, 5:58 pm Reply

14:35 is that Holden Ford?

Ozzy King

Oct 10, 2019, 6:05 pm Reply

I’m a closeted not rent fan at my school that did it my freshman year of high school

peter burczyk

Oct 10, 2019, 6:30 pm Reply

After watching the actual play and loving it, this movie is a complete and utter piece of shit that has no business calling itself rent


Oct 10, 2019, 12:05 am Reply

i don't even know why im watching this episode, i hate musicals!!


Oct 10, 2019, 1:08 pm Reply

I've watched countless video essays from many different people and I would absolutely say this is the best one I've ever seen. I love how well you analyse movies and give the broader context as well as being an entertaining personality. No other critic matches your quality.

Sarah Jane

Oct 10, 2019, 5:09 am Reply

I wish I could do this with Ad Astra. All 45 minutes and 53 seconds of this rocks.


Oct 10, 2019, 2:27 pm Reply

Hmm…I’ve never seen Rent (i’m glad). It sounds a like an “dark and gritty™️” version of Friends.


Oct 10, 2019, 8:58 pm Reply

Sounds like White Privilege the Musical, using minorities or the disenfranchised and their stories and struggles to highlight the "heroism" of middle-class white people whose only financial problems are self-inflicted for their own fun….

Daniel Andrade

Oct 10, 2019, 2:11 pm Reply

But do they pay rent at the end or not?

Sara Bellin

Oct 10, 2019, 6:11 pm Reply

I watched this movie all the time when I was 12 and you tearing into Mark was like you tearing into the embarrassingly pretentious teenager I grew into and I loved every minute of it. I saw no faults in any of these characters when I was younger and it's hilarious to me now. Great work!

isis odonis

Oct 10, 2019, 8:32 pm Reply

Sure your in your twenties ?????

Jaden Phillips

Oct 10, 2019, 11:37 pm Reply

i'm a couple years late to this video but an actual good piece of theatre that is about the aids crisis is 'falsettos'. has amazing lgbt representation (both gay men/lesbian relationships are present), was written decades before rent, and is overall better in terms of characters/story flow/oh you know the gay men actually being mad that no one's doing anything. recently had a broadway revival. it's amazing!

Abhishek Mondal

Oct 10, 2019, 6:07 pm Reply

…rent the film is the most accurate depiction of artists ever…entitled idiots…

Samuel Lowery

Oct 10, 2019, 7:13 pm Reply

You deserve an award for your videos, but THIS is my favorite video you have ever done. Bless you, Granny Ellis. Shake that walker, girl.

zaria Ironstand

Oct 10, 2019, 1:06 am Reply

I love ‘take me or leave me’, it’s such a goooood song, but damn Maureen seems so toxic in it, she makes valid points but she’s also being hella immature and acts like it’s ridiculous and impossible for her to not flirt with everyone right in front of her girlfriend, also she mocks her and calls her names 🙁

idina is still hella hot during it tho lmao

Matthew Fodell

Oct 10, 2019, 1:52 am Reply

Very interesting that a Brazilian theorist created the term “Theater of the Oppressed.” This reflects another brilliant Brazilian radical theorist, liberation theologist Paulo Freire, who wrote a very famous book on education (specifically his theory of critical pedagogy) which he called Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I wonder if Freire inspired Boal’s term or vice versa. Certainly Freire was extremely influential (and that book is very much worth reading— I couldn’t agree more with his argument and conclusions)… He was influential to the point that Brazil’s various past and present fascist governments saw him as quite a threat and criminalized his work.

Fabiano Backup

Oct 10, 2019, 2:05 am Reply

Wow! That was powerful down to the last minute.

By the way, I sincerely hope Ronald Reagan is burning in Hell for eternity.

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