After a week of speculation, it's now official: the first Spider-Man movie from the partnership between Sony and Marvel will be titled Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's an evocative title, pointing in a metatextual manner towards the fact that Spider-Man is, finally, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But does it have some other explanation as well?
It's Probably Not an Adaptation of the Comic Book of the Same Name
There is an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man — 1984's No. 252, by Tom DeFalco, Roger Stern and Ron Frenz — titled "Homecoming!" It's likely best remembered amongst comic fans as the issue that introduced Spider-Man's black costume, which was later retconned into being an alien parasite who would go on to become Venom; the actual plot of the issue centered around Spider-Man returning to Earth from the original Secret Wars comic book miniseries set in outer space, and trying to settle back into his life once again. Lacking a villain, or even any true conflict, it's unlikely to be the source material for the new movie.
…or Is It?
Amazing Spider-Man No. 252 isn't the only Spider-Man related comic book with "Homecoming" in the title, however; there's also a 2005 spinoff miniseries Mary Jane: Homecoming, which notably takes place in the period where Peter Parker was still in high school, just as he'll be in his new Tom Holland incarnation. However, this series really centers around Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker's occasional love interest, with Spider-Man really little more than a background presence who occasionally fights crime. While it would be a different approach from Sony's last two attempts to build a Spider-Man movie franchise, it seems as if this series might be too unlikely a foundation to build the new series from.
(The Mary Jane series has that subtitle for a simple reason; the story centers around the Homecoming Dance at Mary Jane's school; it's not impossible — or, to be honest, even unlikely — that the movie won't follow similar logic to justify the metatextual meaning of its own title.)
Where Does Spider-Man Call Home?
Assuming that the "homecoming" of the title refers to something inside the narrative of the film, it's worth considering the places that Peter Parker, or Spider-Man, would consider "home." Three locations suggest themselves:
- The Queens, N.Y., residence of his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who raised Peter after the disappearance of his parents and the death of his Uncle Ben
- Midtown High, the school that Peter attends alongside fellow students Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson and others
- The Daily Bugle, where Peter has — depending on the comic book mythology you follow — a part-time job working on the paper's website, or a freelance relationship with it as a photographer.
More broadly, Spider-Man's home is New York City; he's as connected to that city as Superman is to Metropolis or Batman is to Gotham. Will something major happen to one of these locations in Homecoming?
So, Where Has Spider-Man Been All This Time?
More to the point, if Spider-Man has a homecoming, where is he returning from? The Amazing Spider-Man story offers a possible clue, in that the character came back after the Secret Wars. While the cinematic Spider-Man won't be jumping into Battleworld anytime soon — unless one of the upcoming Marvel movies before Homecoming's July 2017 release goes in a very different direction from what anyone was expecting — the movie is likely to be the first appearance of Spider-Man after the events of next month's Captain America: Civil War. Is it possible that something will happen to Peter during that movie that's so dramatic as to make his subsequent return home an experience worth recording in its own right …?
An answer to that final question will be forthcoming when Civil War is released May 6, giving audiences their first chance to meet the new Spider-Man. And who knows …? Perhaps during that film, he'll reveal that having some kind of special homecoming has always been his most desired dream during the movie, just to help everyone understand what's up with his new movie title. Isn't that kind of assistance what we should expect from a friendly neighborhood wall-crawler?
This is why “the Pinter pause” became such a famous weapon in this playwright’s armory. The pause was scarcely his invention, but he employed it powerfully to indicate those moments when significant things are not being said. Likewise he used the non sequitur, whereby one character evades another by changing the subject; nobody can miss this in his plays.
But he also used movement and precise blocking of characters within a specific space, and too little has been said about this. Many of his plays become works of choreography in the way that they are about the space in which they occur: from “The Room” (1957, his first play), “The Birthday Party” (1958) and “The Caretaker” (1960) on, conflict arises out of who occupies the space, and who invades it. And his dramas, more than those of any other recent playwright except Samuel Beckett, are almost as precise in their sense of rhythm as works of music or dance.
The texts of his plays include several lengthy passages of stage directions in which characters move without saying a word. “No Man’s Land” (1975) — which recently ran in the West End with Michael Gambon and David Bradley as Hirst and Spooner — is a case in point. At the end of the first scene with the two men, Hirst, who has been tensely listening to Spooner (he “grips the cabinet, rigid”), staggers across the room, holds onto a chair, waits, moves, falls, waits, gets to his feet, moves, falls, crawls toward the door, manages to open it, and crawls out.
Spooner, who remains still, coolly remarks: “I have known this before. The exit through the door, by way of belly and floor.” But nothing explains it, and those two falls are among the play’s mysterious masterstrokes.
“I do think choreographically, you know,” Pinter told me in 1996. He also said, “For a couple of years in the late 1940s, I was something of a balletomane.”
Probably we should emphasize the “something” in that sentence; I never felt he was someone I should consult about the relative merits of Margot Fonteyn and Moira Shearer.
But he told me of one ballet from that era that branded him, and he singled it out as late as 2005: Roland Petit’s one-act “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort” (1946), set to a libretto by Jean Cocteau, and seen in London in the sensational first appearances there of Mr. Petit’s company Les Ballets de Paris.
This made sense. Admittedly, no Pinter play has a hero committing suicide onstage, as does the Young Man of Mr. Petit’s ballet. But “Le Jeune Homme” — set to music by Bach, Pinter’s favorite composer — has something of the suspensefulness, the mixture of menace and eroticism, and the aura of the inexplicable that Pinter was to start putting into his plays more than 10 years later. (It also anticipates Cocteau’s 1950 film “Orphée.”)
Today “Le Jeune Homme” looks thin; most Pinter plays have greater impact. It seems unlikely to me that the choreography of Mr. Petit or any other dancemaker exerted any serious influence on Pinter’s work. If we look to the sources of his feeling for movement, they are more likely to be found in cinema, in the plays he loved, from Shakespeare to Beckett, and, not least, in cricket (which Pinter revered to the point of rating it somewhat higher than sex). In his plays, as in cricket, you often seem to wait and wait while the characters concerned stand still; then something happens fast, and everything has changed irreversibly. The movement, like the words, has an unmistakable rhythm.
In “The Lover” (1963) that movement is often sexy. Max taps his fingers on a drum; Sarah’s fingers scratch his; “his legs tauten.” They enact a teatime ritual in which she joins him under the tea table, out of view.
In “Ashes to Ashes” (1996), which I consider his greatest play, Rebecca and Devlin — a couple alone together indoors on a quiet summer evening — re-enact a more alarming ritual, one of a woman’s kissing a man’s fist and then asking him to put his hand on her throat. Rebecca recalls a man with whom this was, for her, an erotic experience. Devlin, in his need to control her, tries — unsuccessfully — to have the same effect with the same movements.
At the end of “The Homecoming” (1965), which was revived on Broadway in the 2007-8 season, the newcomer Ruth becomes the household’s dominant character; as it concludes, she is central but unspeaking. One man kneels and lays his head in her lap; another stands not far away, watching; her husband has left, shutting the front door; another man has fallen to the floor, apparently lifeless; and Max, the former patriarch, issues a series of increasingly desperate remarks about her, during which he falls to his knees. Nothing we hear registers more powerfully than what we see and what is left unsaid. Each stage direction comes like a musical chord building toward an inexorable climax.
Stillness matters in Pinter’s plays even more than in Beckett’s, and very often it is his ultimate expression of a character’s inscrutability. This is nowhere more beautiful or poignant than in his most perfect play, “Landscape” (1969). There are just two characters, Beth and Duff, seated on either side of a table. Duff talks to Beth, occasionally leaning forward; Beth never moves an inch, and talks. He never hears what she says, and it is possible that she does not hear what he says.
It works well as a radio drama, and one of Pinter’s last performances was his BBC Radio recording of this with Penelope Wilton, whom he had first directed in the play onstage in 1994. But “Landscape” works best when you see it: Duff’s least movement conveys his intense frustration and suppressed aggression, while Beth’s apparently calm though emotionally traumatized immobility (even the beats of Ms. Wilton’s eyelids were momentous in the 1994 production) is one of the great images of postwar drama.
“Old Times” (1971) ends in silence and stillness, with one frozen tableau after another. (One Faber edition of it is just 69 pages; the last two are nothing but stage directions.) It has shown Kate’s husband, Deeley, and her old friend Anna each vying for possession of her by claiming different aspects of her past; but at the end she shakes them both off. While she talks (her last speech occupies two pages), the drama lies in her personal liberation, which we feel as both thrilling and, in its effect on them, chilling, indeed ruthless. But then she ceases to speak or move.
Deeley and Anna change positions through seven successive tableaus. They are, it seems, re-enacting the past in which they have now forever marooned themselves. Kate, free of them now, does not budge or flinch. The choreography, ending the play, shows us its meaning more clearly than its words.