Walking home after rewatching The Winter Soldier, I check twitter and what do I find? Just a day or so after it was announced that Martin Freeman will play Richard III. , the BBC confirms that Benedict Cumberbatch will play Richard III on screen, the small screen, that is, in the It's Hard Out There For A York the follow up to their Hollow Crown filming of Shakespeare's histories, to wit, the Henry VI plays plus Richard III.

I must confess I had a moment of amusement. Not that either gentleman isn't a fine actor, but still. Also, I can just hear the BBC staff meeting where they wonder which actor to hire to replicate the Hiddleston-fans-go-Shakespeare effect, and of course they pick BC. Now can we hear who'll play Margaret of Anjou? *still hopes for Amanda Hale* Anyway, given the fannish tendency to pair up characters played by Cumberbatch with John Watson and/or characters played by Martin Freeman in crossover fanfiction, I await with bated breath CumberRichard's meeting with a doctor returned from the wars. Or a hobbit. Or himself from another universe.
Via [profile] angevin2, lots of great Shakespearean news. The Hollow Crown team will, as some of us have hoped, do the Henry VIs and Richard III, which means after "It's Hard Out There For A Lancaster", we'll get "It's Hard Out There For A York". Now, my first two thougths were: A) Who'll play Margaret/Marguerite d'Anjou? - because if you do the Henry VIs in addition to Richard III, this is surely one of the all time great female roles in Shakespeare, and it offers an actress the possibility to go from teenage princess to ancient crone, from vicious power player to nemesis and accuser - and B) Who'll play Richard? (because even a Ricardian like myself will admit unreservedly that Shakespeare's Richard III is one of the best villains ever. I also hope the Duchess of York, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne won't be cut into near non-existence a la Laurence Olivier but will get to have their impact. And speaking of female roles, I wonder what they'll do with Shakespeare's Joan of Arc (aka never mind Richard, THAT'S the most blatant truth distorting propaganda by playwright in the histories)? (I know what Shaw's suggestion would be. Replace the Joan scenes with some from his own St. Joan. :) Anyway, Margaret of Anjou. Spontanously, I would want Amanda Hale, who was one of the few good things in The White Queen as Margaret Beaufort and I could see playing both the young and the old Queen with full intense force.

I also saw in today's New York Times that they want to publish a Gone With The Wind prequel about Mammy called Ruth's Journey, which got me interested despite the fact the two sequels to GTW ("Scarlett" and "Rhett Butler's People") were dreadful, because certainly giving Mammy a name and a story of her own is long overdue... but then I saw that the book will be written by the same man who wrote Rhett Butler's People. Which killed my interest. (Two of the most objectionable things about Rhett Butler's People:a) retconning the entire Scarlett and Melanie relationship and Melanie's character by claiming Melanie never liked or trusted Scarlett and was secretly writing letters to Rhett's sister about how jealous she was, and b) making Rhett a quasi abolitionist who objects to slavery (and has a discussion about that with Ashley mid war). (This is not how you rectify the treatment of slavery in GWTW. Rhett grows more and more conservative as the novel - GTWT, that is - progresses, and even at the start, the reason why he predicts a Southern defeat isn't because he sees slavery as wrong but because he is aware the Northern states have the better industrial resources. Which Ashley, btw, agrees with.) I'm all for adding new perspectives to compelling yet deeply problematic sources - this is what fanfiction often DOES, after all - but if you're prone to do so via completely throwing out the original characterisation, then you've lost me.
Yesterday was actually a sunny day, and I met the St. James pelicans on my way through the park.

I always visit the National Portrait Gallery when I'm in London; it's less crowded than the National Gallery, and it appeals to the historical obsessive in me. This time, as it turned out I could also visit the exhibition showcasing David Bailey's work over the decades, Stardust. There is an undertone of "I didn't just photograph the 60s, you know" there, but then, it's true. Mind you, whether 60s, 80s or 2000 onwards, what's undeniable is that black and white is Bailey's metier; the occasional colour photograph simply isn't as effective. The title not withstanding, the exhibition doesn't solely consist of Bailey's celebrity photos; there is one room with showing his photos of New Guinea people and Australian Aborigines, neither of whom are treated condescendingly or in any different from the way he photographs Western people, and another with his contribution to Live Aid which was to go to Sudan and document the situation there without fee. But inevitably, this being David Bailey, two thirds of the exhibition show people which one does know. (Well, I did, anyway.) Two of the most interesting portraits to me which I hadn't seen before were photos Bailey did of fellow photographers, of Don McCullin (probably most famous for his Vietnam work and in this the antipode of Bailey in terms of subject matter in the 60s) in the 90s, looking craggy and sage and yet somewhat amused, and of Linda McCartney in 1985, the face unabashedly without make-up and showing every line of a woman in her mid forties, and strong in herself for it. Incidentally, in terms of self portraits, Bailey's are a mixture of unflinching sense-of-humor about himself - the more current day ones not only are as unflattering as possible but also tend to have him posing as a clown, all grimaces, puffed up cheeks and nose - and youthful showing off; there is one photo of the young David Bailey lounging in bed which is amazingly sexy and makes it understandably why supposedly two thirds of his models ended up having sex with him.

His favourite band, the Rolling Stones, get their own room (the notes informing us that David Bailey first met Mick Jagger when they were dating the Shrimpton sisters, Jean and Chrissie, in 1963, and that they're friends till this day), but in terms of his older work, the non-Stone photos are more memorable; another part of exhibition shows the "Pin-Box" collection he published in 1965 which had most of Swinging London (some of whom remained famous, and some folk who have since fallen into obscurity) in it, including the most notorious gangsters of the day, the Kray twins. Now I had seen Bailey's portrait shot of Ronnie and Reggie Kray before (and so have you, if you've seen photos of the Krays at all), but what I hadn't been aware of was that he took that photo in session with all three Kray brothers (yes, there was a third). Older brother Charlie was subsequently edited out of all the pictures (the exhibition has the originals, though), since no one cared about him. I sometimes wonder whether it's the awareness of who the Krays were that make me imagine you can see the cold brutality in the eyes, a certain psychopathic blankness, and whether I would read the photographsh differently if they were labeled "Ronald and Reginald Smith". But I think not; Bailey, at his best, can get across much character in his pictures.

Among the today obscure/forgotten people from the 1965 Pin-Box is for example Gordon Waller (of Peter & Gordon); among the still instantly recognizable one of the most famous pictures ever taken of John Lennon & Paul McCartney. So I knew that one, of course, but what I hadn't known was that Bailey also took portrait shots of Brian Epstein, three of which are included in the exhibition, two regular shots and a double exposure portrait, all excellent. It's worth noting that while the exhibition has several portraits of Jean Shrimpton, there are none from the photo shooting that made Bailey famous in 1962 (maybe Vogue still has the copy right?).

From photography to theatre: after visiting the National Portrait Gallery, I headed off to the other side of the river to see King Lear at the National Theatre, starring Simon Russell Beale in the title role, directed by Sam Mendes. Which was a very strong production, even if I'm still uncertain about some of the choices. Mendes went for a vaguely 1940s - general 20th century look, military dictatorship instead of traditional monarchy; interestingly, the French forces under Cordelia are clad in a brown guerilla look while the English ones both under Lear and later under Albany and Edmund are clad in a fascist black. Beale's Lear, as most good Lears do, starts very unsympathetic and gets more and more human and pitiable as the play proceeds. When he first says "let me not go mad" it's also the first time I felt any sympathy for him. Mind you, the autocratic behaviour in the opening scene of course means Lear comes off badly towards Cordelia and Kent however you play it, but in this production he also came off badly towards Goneril and Regan, with no warmth towards them yet expecting them to love (and proclaim their love for) him, plus the production had the hundred knights really rowdy (and, remember, in sinister black) at Goneril's, so Goneril feeling threatened and wanting to get rid of them in addition to having a strained relationship with her father was understandable. When Lear curses her, you can see how terrible this is for her. And then, like I said, the first human moment: "Let me not go mad". And suddenly Beale is projecting this fear, the moment of awareness, and it's so relatable - the fear of dementia, of Alzheimer's, of your own body and mind betraying you, of the helplessness when everything threatens to be taken away.

This is a production that feels very fast paced, but not in a bad way, as things go from bad to worse in both the Lear and the Gloucester plot; the suspense never snaps. Two outstanding moments in the first half before the interval - Gloucester's blinding, with the servant's intervention given its dramatic due when most productions I've seen tend to get that moment over with very quickly. (I think it's a great touch of Shakespeare's, especially given the "even if the King's cause is wrong, our duty towards him absolves us from any blame" debate in Henry V, because here you have a character who is not a noble going against the rule of duty and obedience because he can't stand seeing a man tortured this way. Also, before the blinding there is waterboarding as Regan and Cornwall interrogate Gloucester. Obvious contemporary nod is obvious. And speaking of Regan and Cornwall, usually because Regan moves on quickly to Edmund and is the less present sister in any case she doesn't get more emotional range beyond sadistic sex kitten; here she's sadistic and enjoying sex, but she's also sincerely in love with her equally cruel husband and devasteted when he's killed, desperately trying to stop the bleeding and save him. (She's also played by Anna Maxwell Martin of Bletchley Circle fame.)

The other outstanding scene, and a production choice I'm not sure about, is the climax of Lear's mad scene just before the interval. In the text, he stages a mad mock trial of his daughters. "Is your name Goneril" etc. In Sam Mendes' production, he doesn't just mistake a stage prop for Goneril, though he starts out with that. No, he then does something spoilery and unique to this production ) Then again, madness. I just don't know.

Later Lear also acts kindly towards Edgar-as-Tom, and towards Gloucester, which shows why Cordelia and Kent love this man (which is important; if you play Lear as solely bad, which I've also seen - and Jane Smiley does it in her modern Lear, A Thousand Acres, where he's a daughter rapist to boot - then not only there's no tragedy but it doesn't make sense anyone would feel love and loyalty for such a man). And the reconciliaton scene with Cordelia is outstanding; I have never seen a production where not only there is a Lear reluctant because he's so ashamed at how he treated her but also Cordelia who on the one hand loves and pities him but on the other is scarred by what happened herself, and so there is physical distance and uncomfortableness and slow, slow getting closer, so that when they do at last embrace, it is incredibly moving.

Always a question for actors for Lear: are you on the one hand old enough not to need ghastly make up but on the other strong enough to carry your Cordelia on the stage? Beale is up to the job. I've seen Lears drag their Cordelia because carrying an adult woman in your arms is no mean feat, but he accomplishes it. He's also one of the Lears whose "look there, look there" isn't a comforting final delusion that Cordelia still lives and starts to breathe again,but a despair about her death. It's heartrendering.

I haven't said much about the Gloucester plot, which is partly because it contains another of those choices I'm not sure about. Now this production's Edmund (Sam Troughton - a relation, I wonder?) with his sleeked back blond hair is slick enough in the machinations early on but also presented as a cold fish, which, fair enough, it's just that you have a hard time seeing why Goneril and Regan (both played by charismatic and beautiful actresses conveying much emotion) would fall for him. And in the later half, Mendes cuts Edgar's narration of Gloucester's death (so while on the one hand he adds that spoilery thing from the big madness scene ) on the other he lets Gloucester survive), and thus also Edmund's moment of being moved by it and the following not exactly repentance but at least attempt to take his orders for Lear's and Cordelia's deaths back. Also cut is Edmund's possibly vain and/or possibly being moved remark re: Regan's and Goneril's demise, "so Edmund was beloved". In short, those slight touches which don't make Edmund less of a villain but do make him human.

These caveats not withstanding, it is an excellent Lear, and I'm glad to have watched it. Onwards to more London theatre!
selenak: (Default)
( Dec. 15th, 2013 11:36 am)
Today's meme post is about a DS9 subject and I'll probably ramble on at some length, but I also have two fanfic recs, hence the extra entry:

Breaking Bad:

The Cleaners
The first time and the last time Walt and Jesse clean up dead bodies together.

Showcases the changes they went through from who they were at the start and who they were near the end of the show in a poignant, intense way.

The Multitude of Thy Mercies (2266 words) by queenofthorns
Chapters: 1/5
Fandom: The Hollow Crown (2012), Richard II - Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1 - Shakespeare
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Henry IV of England, Henry V of England, John of Gaunt, Richard II of England
Additional Tags: Father-Son Relationship
Summary:

Fathers and sons, House of Lancaster style, complete with willful misunderstanding, and the ways people who love each other can be one another's "dearest enemies"



My favourite thing about this is that it has a sympathetic John of Gaunt (who nonetheless manages to screw up future relations of his son and grandson by observing on a similarity between Hal and Richard II), but even that aside, it's a good Bolingbroke/ future Henry IV exploration.
Having seduced abromeds into marathoning Breaking Bad in its entirety, I was delighted when she challenged me for meta around the subject of "Breaking Bad: Greek Tragedy? Shakespearean? Or WHAT?"

Now, I am a pedantic German who knows her Lessing who knew his Aristotle. Tragedy, as defined by the master of Greek meta: a tale wherein the main character is brought down by a combination of external circumstance and his/her own flaws. Which isn't how the word is mostly used today by the media - wherein "tragedy" usually means "calamity which befalls innocent people" - or in in pop culture understanding, where the hero of a tragedy is usually supposed to be character not only sympathetic but upstanding, with the flawed variety referred to as antiheroes. (Which would have been confusing to the Greeks, because their heroes, well, if they don't get mad and slaughter their families, or kill family members without any madness involved and instead good old fashioned revenge, they let their wives die for them, or cheat their comrades in arms out of armour and life, or, well, you get the picture. Mind you, I'm always a bit bewildered that Aristotle picked Sophocles' Oedipus, out of all Greek tragedies, as an example for a perfect combination of circumstance and internal flaws, because I can't see that. Oedipus, for a Greek hero, is actually among the more upstanding characters. His one genuine flaw is his hot temper and it contributes to his fate in as much as it's the cause why he gets into an argument with a stranger on the street which ends in him killing the stranger. This is not a habit with him, and he certainly didn't know that the stranger in question was actually his biological father. Otherwise, Oedipus' tragedy is all triggered by external circumstance and because the gods truly have it in for him. First his father gets the prophecy that Oedipus will one day kill his father and marry his mother and promptly has the baby exposed. (If that had not happened, nothing else would have.) Then Oedipus, when grown up after the usual myth elements of kind shepherds and friendly childless couples in adoption mode, , hears the same prophecy, naturally assumes this means his adopted parents, the only ones he knows, and leaves them in horror, determined to stay away so that he never, ever can fulfill that prophecy. (Oedipus, out of all the Greek mythological characters, did not have an Oedipus complex.) Cue stranger on the road, later encounter with the sphinx and marrying the widowed queen of Thebes, where he spends some happy years as a ruler with sons and daughters before the plague strikes and the whole truth is discovered. In conclusion: there is a reason why a French version of this is called The Infernal Machinery. Not nearly enough of these events are caused by Oedipus himself because of his own flaws. But then, a catastrophe out of all proportion as a net result is very Greek.

The problem with defining something as "Shakespearean tragedy" is that Will S. himself by no means wrote all his tragedies following the same rules or categories. Romeo and Juliet, until Mercutio gets killed, might just as well be a comedy. The Merchant of Venice, which is supposed to be a comedy, almost never gets performed as one today, and that's not all due to the Holocaust having happened; even in the nineteenth century, Shylock was often called a tragic character caught in the wrong type of play. King Lear, otoh, admirably qualifies as far as Lear himself is concerned - his flaws lead directly to his fate, and this is more or less true of Gloucester as well - but what about Cordelia, and the Fool? Whose tragedy is Julius Caesar anyway - Brutus', Caesar's, Antony's? And while we're talking history: the two dramas about ursurpers, Richard III and Macbeth, have main characters who are heroes in the traditional dramatic sense (main characters), but not in the modern pop culture one. Shakespeare's Richard III laughs at all the current popular villains and their fans because he did that "ruthless villain charms audience by being smarter and more eloquent than anyone else, gets UST scene with good person and seduces same" centuries ago. Ditto Macbeth with the whole "character starts out heroic, gets darker and darker, is, however, capable of intense affection towards partner" arc. However, both Richard and the Macbeths live in a dramatic universe where their very act of ursurpation means they cannot, in the end, remain successful. Their eventual failure isn't solely due to inherent character flaws, bad planning or the efforts of their antagonists, who in another drama would be the protagonists: it is pre-ordained because their assumption of power goes directly against the divine right of kingship.

You can see why I'm hesitant to call Breaking Bad either Greek or Shakespearean, though it certainly has elements of both. One sense in which people today use the term "Shakesperean" is to signify dramatic events on an epic scale and the mixture of humor into the bloodshed instead of unrelentic gloom and doom. (My teacher, back when I was an impressionable teenager, used Shakespeare to illustrate what "comic relief" means in classic drama, because who else? This description certainly fits Breaking Bad, but it is awfully general.

Let me draw another show in. The Wire has its share of personal tragedies - has it ever! - and several of these certainly come about by a mixture of circumstance and personal flaws, but most of all it strikes me as a tragedy of systems. In fact, the very point of the show, hammered in again and again, in season after season, is that every single system that gets focused on is so inherently corrupted and destructive that failure of the individuals sooner or later is inevitable. The Game, to quote one character, is rigged. For everyone - criminals, cops, teachers, students, politicians, the media. The Wire is far more Shakesperean in that sense, only with reverse trajectory. Richard III and Macbeth cannot stay on top because they are ursurpers and live in a dramatic world where ursurpation is against nature and ALWAYS gets punished; the various attempts at reform in The Wire cannot prevail for long because all the systems are too inherently destructive. You can, at best, help some individuals and salvage a few friendships, and even that is by no means granted; you cannot beat the system you're in.

In Breaking Bad, the only system which doesn't work is the health care one - which is an initial plot point, granted, and then one in mid season 3 -; but capitalism itself works, and so does criminal enterprise. So, for that matter, does the police. Walter White goes from nobody in two ill paid jobs to drug kingpin by a combination of lucky (well, for him, not for anyone else) circumstance, hard work and skills. Jesse Pinkman goes from small time crook and (bad) meth cook to brilliant meth cook and multiple millionaire. Hank Schrader has his share of set backs, but he steadily rises through the DEA ranks because of, again, hard work and smarts. Of course, none of these career highs are the end of the show, but the fact of the matter remains: there is no system in the Breaking Bad verse that inherently is set up to bring you down. Not even the American health care system, sucking as it does; it's important that as of episode 4 in the first season, Walter White gets presented with an alternative to his meth producing scheme. He gets offered not only enough money to pay for all medical expenses he and his family will have in the course of his cancer treatment but also a job opportunity that would end his need to teach chemistry to apathetic students who don't care. He could do the chemistry he loves, legally, and without hurting anyone. All he has to do is swallow his pride, as the offer comes from his former partners whom he still feels betrayed by. But Walt, displaying for the first time in full force that all time favourite attribute of Greek heroes, hubris, is not capable of this and rather chooses crime.

From here on, it gets spoilerly for the rest of Breaking Bad, so newbies beware! )
selenak: (Berowne by Cheesygirl)
( Oct. 20th, 2013 07:31 am)
So the first reviews for Gregory Doran's production of Richard II, starring David Tennant, are in and they are glowing, both for the entire production and for DT in the title role, which makes me hope I'll manage to catch the performance when its broadcast to several cinemas, including one in Munich. One aspect in the reviews, however, made me sit up in a mixture of amusement and sympathy, because, what the critics are hinting here leaves me to conclude good old Doran is going for a shipping war with the Richard/Bolingbroke fandom. Also that he must have really liked The Hollow Crown, or rather, the Richard II part of same, not in their interpretation of Richard himself but, well, let's put this under a spoiler cut for anyone who doesn't want to get spoiled for a theatre production twist of a centuries old play based on English history.

Lancaster versus York, the prelude )
The other day I came across a delightful poem: Anchises, by [community profile] papersky, and it reminded me what an odd exception Anchises is in mythology, as far as human/god pairings are concerned. Especially in Greek mythology. If it's human woman (or man)/male god, and the god in question didn't use force anyway, there are other tragedies waiting, transformations, gruesome deaths by rivals, the lot. If it's godess/human man, well, either he gets her because a male god wants her punished/wants to avoid a prophecy (Thetis & Achilles' dad), or she makes the mistake of wishing him immortal while forgetting to also add eternal youth, leading to endless aging (hello, Eos & Tithonos), or his rivals have it in for him and he dies young and tragically (take a bow, Adonis).

But not Anchises. No, Anchises has mutually consenting (and presumably highly enjoyable) sex with the goddess Aphrodite, or Venus, if you want to use the Latin names which considering who made the most of that liason you might want to. And he gets to raise the kid resulting from this. (Anchises, first househusband of the ancient world?) And he lives into a ripe old age. Not without tragedies, but he lives to be rescued by his son from universal death and destruction, lives to seek a new home with said son and grandson, and dies surrounded by family and friends. Yes, he benefited from having a Roman instead of a Greek write the ending of his story (via including it in his son's), but still: Anchises, proof you can have romantic encounters with the divine and spawn legends without having to be a tragic hero yourself. Cheers!

****

The annual ficathon based on the Shakespearean histories has been posted, and because Darth Real Life is keeping me busy, I haven't had time to read many, but just one observation: I wonder where the fanon that John of Gaunt was a stern and unaffectionate father with Henry Bolingbroke eternally despairing of ever getting his approval comes from? Because I've seen it in more than one story, and well, I don't recall Shakespeare's John of Gaunt doing in his few scenes anything else but a) plead his son's case to Richard, and b) chew out Richard, in Richard II. As for the historical John, I'm not an expert and my own impression of him is admittedly coloured by Susan Howatch's splended modern Plantagenet AU, Wheel of Fortune, about which more here, where he has some hangups but definitely not a problem showing his oldest son affection, but I don't recall anything about historical John's paternal manners, either way. Since he had a lot of offspring, both legitimate and illegitimate, and was that rarity, an uncle/regent of a child king who did not take his nephew's crown and wasn't killed by said nephew once the kid grew up, either, one imagines at the very least he had some practice interacting with the underaged. Even keeping in mind medieval royalty had lots of servants to do the actual raising. Anyway: the only point in making John of Gaunt a father lacking in affections that I can see is to make the reader feel more sympathy for Henry, which I don't think is necessary - the stories I've read write him sympathetic anyway.

Sidenote: yes, as far as the Shakespeare versions are concerned, the screwed upness of the Henry and Hal relationship a generation later could reproduce a pattern Henry himself experienced. But it doesn't necessarily have to, is all I'm saying. How come no one ever writes a John of Gaunt pov (other than Susan Howatch)?
selenak: (Dragon by Roxicons)
( Jun. 12th, 2013 08:10 am)
Shakespeare:


There are many reviews of the Joss Whedon directed Much Ado About Nothing out by now - which we in Germany won't get to see for a while, hmph - but this is by far the most original and hilarious. In blank verse.


Hobbit:

We have a first trailer for the Desolation of Smaug. Comes with a lot of elves (Lee Pace has lines this time) and partial Smaug (but not voice of same). As I am not a Tolkien purist and enjoyed the first Hobbit film muchly, I am delighted.

Once Upon A Time:


Now has a rewatch community, starting their rewatch this weekend. Alas I will go abroad at the end of next week, for three weeks, no less, but I'll be able to discuss the pilot at least and then rejoin in a month.


That Sixties band I'm fond of:


Listen to John Lennon doing a hilarious Bob Dylan parody. (Bob did a Lennon parody, too, so you don't have to feel bad for him.:)


Orphan Black:

Naturally, I checked out the AO3 for fanfic. In additon to canonical Cosima/Delphine there's fanonical Alison/Beth; these seem to be the main pairings. As with every fandom, little gen. Here are the two vignettes I liked best so far:

Nameless : short but dense moment between Helena, Sarah and Mrs. S. Breaks one's heart for Helena all over again.


of lending existence to nothing : Alison portrait. Very bleak, but well written.
selenak: (Money by Distempera)
( May. 30th, 2013 05:19 pm)
There is one cinema in Munich which occasionally shows those National Theatre productions from Britain which otherwise we continental Europeans are (legally) deprived of. Considering the RSC is getting into the transmission business with David Tennannt in Richard II, I was already hoping said Munich cinema gets a contract with the Stratford crowd as well, when, lo and behold, I stumbled across this great bit of news: The National Theatre will broadcast a Macbeth starrting Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston! This makes me exceedingly happy, not only because the NT as mentioned is an option here in Munich, but because this is dream casting. With one exception - Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in the 1970s - all the Macbeths, both on screen and on stage, which I've seen had the problem that either Lady M or Macbeth was great, but not both. However, Alex "River Song" Kingston as Lady M and Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth should ensure this problem is solved, and I'm a very happy theatre addict over here.

****

Elementary meta by [profile] abigail_n: Watson, I Need You: Thoughts on Elementary's First Season

And a couple of fanfic links:

Iron Man: Show me your true colors Amusing missing scenes Rhodey-centric friendship tale set around IM2 and IM3. The banter between Rhodey and Tony is dead on.


Once More Into The Fray: another good entry of Pepper dealing with the spoilery thing from IM3 subgenre which uses Natasha and the rest of the gang well.


Breaking Bad:


A matter of time: Future fic, terse and heartbreakingly to the point, featuring Skyler and Jesse.
Joss Whedon and the Much Ado About Nothing cast answer questions about the film. There are jokes (there would be with the Usual Suspects involved), but also serious discussion. I think the first time I came across the "Beatrice and Benedick had a brief fling in the past which ended badly and that's what Beatrice's cryptic line to Don Pedro refers to" was in the PR materiall for the 70s BBC production, though it's probably older, but I haven't seen a production using that theory since then, so I'm intrigued Joss goes with it. (So that you don't have to brush up your Shakespeare, here's the exchange that caused said theory:


DON PEDRO
(to BEATRICE) Lady, you have lost Signior Benedick’s heart.


BEATRICE
It’s true, my lord. He lent it to me once, and I paid him back with interest: a double heart for his single one. Really, he won it from me once before in a dishonest game of dice. So I suppose your grace can truly say that I have lost it.



Also, good point about Margaret and Borraccio.

*****

The Long Game is probably my least favourite episode of the first New Who season. (It's also my evidence a when people assume that if Christopher Ecclestone had agreed to more than one season, the Nine/Rose relationship would have developed differently - read: less cliquey - than the Ten/Rose did. Leaving aside the obvious Doylist rejoinder about the same writers involved either way, my Watsonian would be: Oh no, it wouldn't have, see: The Long Game.) However, I found this essay about it absolutely fascinating. Both for the background info - I didn't know it was based on a script the young RTD had presented in the 1980s to Andrew Cartmel! This means it was originally a story featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace! - and for the analysis, which manages that incredible rarity in current DW fandom:

1) It's critical without ever devolving into attack and hyperbole.

2) It analyzes an RTD era (and RTD written) episode without even once mentioning Stephen Moffat, either in a positive manner ( a la "....but how much better the Moff did such and such") or in a negative manner (a la "...since then, we have experienced the likes of Moffat misdeed #11333"). Since the complete inability of a great many fans to talk about one era/writer without slamming the other is something that regularly drives me crazy, I value and appreciate it all the more.

3.) It does something I've otherwise only seen [personal profile] zahrawithaz do in Merlin fandom: take a weaker episode and analyze what works and what doesn't in a way that also analyzes larger narratives of which this particular episode is a part of.

In conclusion, very much worth reading.
Now I already knew that the international BBC iplayer doesn't work in the US, but what I just found out via my ten days in Venice is that the tv shows and films said player shows in Germany are somewhat different than those it shows in Italy. (Basically: the Italians get Sherlock and Wallander, but only one season of New Tricks. In Germany we get neither of the former, but all six (currently, with more coming) of the later. Presumably the BBC figures it can sell more dvds of the former in Germany?

Yesterday was Shakespeare's death day which is traditionally celebrated as his birthday as well. Rather fittingly, I spotted this article about how James Franco fanboys Shakespeare, River Phoenix, Gus van Sant and Orson Welles by persuading Gus van Sant (when the later was shooting Milk with Franco) to hand over all the unused My Private Idaho footage so he could cut his own fan version of van Sant's modern take on the Henriad. (This article also reminded me that River Phoenix' character is the equivalent of Poins, and that I loved his character while I solidly dislike Ned Poins the fratboy. I think the difference is that Poins isn't tragic and also callous.) Which in turn was van Sant wanting to do a modern version of Chimes at Midnight back in the day, and Chimes at Midnight was Orson Welles cutting the Henriad, six months ago gracing your tv screens as The Hollow Crown, as The Tragedie of Sir John Falstaff.

Anyway, I am somewhere between awed and amused that the Franco version due to his River Phoenix crush comes in two editions, one of which is a twelve hours film. I kid you not. The late Erich von Stroheim would approve, of course, and so would Max von Mayerling. Orson would be somewhere amused, envious and suddenly fearing some Anthony Perkins fanboy would deliver a 12 hours version of The Trial...


m the original twenty-five hours, I cut one film that was twelve hours long and another that was 102 minutes.
I'm strill trying to work out whether there is any way I can blame this on Shakespeare. Or the Oxfordians. Or better yet, Edward de Vere. Somehow. Anyway: Monday night say me attending to the book presentations by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. The books in question were Shakespeare Beyond Doubt and A Year of Shakespeare. Joseph Fiennes was on the cover of the former, thought the authors actually wanted a Max Beerbohm caricature of the bard, but were told the younger Fiennes simply has more recognition value right now; the later documents all the productions that formed a part of the global Shakespeare festival last year, all 35 plays in dozens of languages.

It was a nice evening, though behind me sat a grim looking gentleman who muttered, while Edmondson was talking "I do not like this ironic style of presentation; there are SERIOUS scholars doubting the Stratford man". However, he didn't dare to speak up later on, perhaps intimidated by Edmondson & Wells joking they had a mole at the most recent Oxfordian conference who told them the Oxfordians were aghast that not only did Anonymous flop but was so ridiculous it actually damaged their cause instead of promoting it.

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt isn't solely about refuting the Oxford claim, there are essays why Bacon and Marlowe couldn't have written Will's plays as well, by experts on either. The Marlowe guy is none other than Charles Nicholls, whose The Reckoning about Marlowe's death some of you may have read. Incidentally, Stanley Wells mentioned that there is a new novel about how Marlowe faked his death and became Shakespeare about to be published, for which they have some awed admiration because it's written entirely in verse.

So home I went on a "Will forever!" high and promptly made a fatal mistake. I had planned a trip by train to Padua for Tuesday. Now I have two handbags with me, one tiny, black and small and to go out with, and one big and baggy and there to put tour guides, cameras, and other objects in it. The big handbag was for Padua, obviously, and I had been careful to put in it already said tour guide, and my train tickets, and the number which I had to present in order to get my ticket for Giotto's frescoes in the Capella degli Scrovegni, which was the main reason why I wanted to go to Padua in the first place. What I, thoughts still on matters Shakespearean, completely forgot was to remove my purse with money, credit card and ID from the small to the big handbag.

Come Tuesday, I happily wandered to the railway station, devalued my advance bought ticket and thus didn't have reason to check my purse, flopped down in the train, and 45 minutes later was in Padua, famous for its university, the Giotto paintings, and the tomb of St. Antony, patron of lost things.

Go figure.

By now, it has become very warm in Italy, so when I arrived in Padua, I thought, well, let's buy a small water bottle for the day. Which was when I discovered that I was in complete lack of a purse. Or any money whatsoever. Or a credit card. There were two possibilities: either I had forgotten the wretched thing in my other handbag, or it was stolen. I was pretty sure I simply had forgotten, but you can't be 100% sure, can you? So... what to do? Giotto was waiting. And that ticket had been paid in advance by credit card online, because you have to book tickets in advance, and they're not refundable. I decided to gamble, wandered to the Capella degli Scrovegni, presented my number, and did get my ticket, which however was not due until about four hours later. (I had wanted to play it safe when booking.) As it turns out, there are some churches you can visit in Padua without having to pay an entry fee (there are hardly any in Venice), though no other museums than the one already included in my Giotto ticket. And of course one can stroll through the streets at one's leisure. Padua isn't as striking a city as some other Italian towns, but some of the streets have cobblestones and arcades, which are charming to look at. The Duomo is one mighty baroque church, but not the standout attraction; nor is the basilica St. Guistiniano (also free of entry); that's the basilica of St. Antony, which has the remains of the titular saint in it. Also some beautiful frescoes on the ceilings, which you can hardly see because it's in the process of being restored, and a shrine over the actual tomb which is no holds barred every excess baroque could ever throw at it, sculpture wise. Photography is absolutely forbidden but I managed one shot nonetheless. Now, not all of Antony rests there. No, they keep his tongue and chin separately as relics. Here I was reminded of my hometown Bamberg, where they used to keep the skulls of the sainted Imperial couple buried in our cathedral on separate altars, and child!me always wondered who decapitated Heinrich and Kunigunde.
With Antonius, it's even worse. I mean, who pulled out his tongue from the body? Seriously. And currently a poster boasts that it's the 750th anniversary of Antony's tongue being discovered intact, even.

One of my grandmothers was an Antonia and always lit a candle to her patron saint when she was looking for lost things, but I felt split between two thoughts in that basilica: 1.) Who pulled out the tongue? and 2.) Please, St. Antony, let me find my purse in the black small handbag when I get back to Venice!

...and a third thought about the blessed water starting to look good. See, by the time I arrived at the basilica St. Antony I had been walking around for two and half hours, and did I mention it was HOT?

Anyway: I made it back to the Capella degli Scrovegni and surrounding museums, which were included in my ticket. The archaeological one surprised me by having various letters by Giovanni Belzoni (see last narrative post), some medals in his honour and a bust showing him as well as a Sekhmet statue which he donated to the city of Padua. The multimedia room, which usually I skip in museums but which now was cool and allowed me to sit a bit, had a short film about Enrico Scrovegni, who had hired Giotto to paint his chapel, and how one of his key motives for the whole chapel building and painting enterprise had been the fact that his father had been a moneylender and even had been mentioned by name by Dante in the Divine Comedy as being in hell. Basically, the film claimed Enrico's thought process had been that chapel + Giotto's paintings beats literature, as far as the postumous fate of his old man was concerned.

Be that as it may: they're really careful about keeping corrosion away from these frescoes. As mentioned, you have to book your tickets in advance, there are only a certain number of people allowed in the chapel, you first are let into a room where you sit for 15 minutes getting attuned to the cool air condition that prevails in the chapel, then the automatic door opens and you enter the chapel itself, and then you stay there for another 15 minutes precisely, after which you're kicked out through another exit. But, you know: so worth it.

Giotto is at the transition point between late middle ages and early Renaissance, and of course I had seen some post card size reproductions, but nothing like the real thing. Which is absolutely amazing. The chapel shows three narrative cycles - in almost comic strip form - one about Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, one about Mary, and one about Jesus. And there is passion and movement in these paintings: for example, the one about the murder of the children at Nazareth. I've seen many variations of this subject, but never one where the focus of the painting was on the women, the mothers, and where they were presented as an angry, crying, outraged and active crowd, tears on their cheeks, shaking fists, clutching the children, fighting back. Or: a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Mary is lying half on her side, half on her belly and holding her baby to look at him. I've never seen Mary depicted like this in a nativity scene, and I bet Giotto must have observed women playing with their babies this way. And the colours are so vivid and intense; it's breathtaking.

As I sat in the train back to Venice (at least I had bought the return ticket in advance as well - I'd have been so screwed otherwise) , the Giotto effect started to fade, and the slow nibbling sense of impending hysteria started. What if I HAD brought my purse with me, and it had been stolen on the train? What then? So, dehydrated as I was by then (and, err, with a somewhat growling stomach), I practically jumped out of the train car and raced back to the Fondamente Nuove, up the stairs, with no glance at the accusing Augustus bust, burst into my rooms, and there it was, my small black handbag. With my purse.

Today I was in Vincenza (also just an hour by train from Venice) and everything went well, plus it is full of gorgeous architecture, which means you'll get a pic spam tomorrow once I managed to upload all the photos. But the Padua tale had to get an entry of its own. Damm Edward de Vere anyway!
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
( Apr. 4th, 2013 10:06 am)
Some recent London aquisitions came in dvd form.

Being Shakespeare: This is a recording of Simon Callow's one man show, which was highly enjoyable. I had already seen Callow on stage do this kind of show for Oscar Wilde, but missed the Dickens one, and the Shakespeare one. Turns out the later exists on dvd. If you haven't seen it, either: it's Callow narrating a highly likely version of Shakespeare's life plus some aspects of the Elizabethan age and acting out several monologues and dialogues from the plays (plus two sonnets and a bit from Venus and Adonis) in between, managing to connect them with life or the age. Which he does very well, whether it's Falstaff's "honour" take down or highlights from the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet or William the schoolboy from Merry Wives of Windsor. It's not just the "greatest hits" thing, either; he includes a speech from Thomas More, an obscure play that Shakespeare contributed to (or so researches concluded in recent years). For me the renderings that made me go most "huh, I hadn't expected this" was the way he played the Antony's funeral speech - less mob stirring, more genuinenly emotionally shattered than I'm used to, but then of course Antony is both - and the way he used Hal's dismissal of Falstaff from Henry IV, Part II, "I know thee not, old man..." etc., the entire dismissal, not just the first sentence: he included it very near the end, talking about Shakespeare & old age, and made it into the self loathing of an aging man.

A Waste of Shame: this is a BBC film, script by William Boyd, about the story of the sonnets, starring Rupert Graves as Shakespeare, Tom Sturridge as William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (aka the Fair Youth in this version) and Indira Varma as Lucie (aka the Dark Lady in this version). For supporting roles, it has Zoe Wannamaker as the Countess of Pembroke (W.H.'s mother), Nicholas Rowe as Richard Burbage, and I thought that curly blonde guy with a moustache who played John Hall, doctor in Stratford (and later Shakespeare's son-in-law, but that's not mentioned in the film), looked vaguely familiar, but only when the credits ran did I realise he was Tom Hiddleston. This great cast is why I bought the dvd, but alas, Boyd's script isn't up to the cast, or rather: it does some interesting things but two thirds in loses its way.

Or maybe there is a problem in the outset. Stories about writers frequently stumble against the part where writing isn't physically dramatic. There is a great satiric German film called Rossini where the writer character (based on Patrick Süskind) tells the waitress he's been crushing on for ages when she finally scares him by taking him up on the adoring looks and would be willing to meet with him outside work, "Scrivo, non vivo". So either you completely invent a story that bears some vague resemblance to their own best known plots (see also: Shakespeare in Love, or films with Jane Austen as a character) instead of their actual lives, or you have to do some contorting. Also, bringing in some kind of dramatic structure into the sonnets - always assuming they are indeed autobiographical instead of literary constructs - is bound to be headache. What Boyd comes up with for a plot is: Shakespeare's son Hamnet dies (on that occasion we're filled in to the fact he's practically never at home and his marriage with Anne is miserable), Shakespeare delivers some comissioned sonnets to the Countess of Pembroke to persuade her son to marry, actually meets the guy, is smitten by his androgynous beauty, meets a new whore in his favourite London brothel, who is French and half "moorish" (the film doesn't detail whether that means Arab, Indian or black, the Elizabethans used the term in all these senses), Lucie, pines after the first without daring to do more than hang out and gaze longingly, has sex with the second but sulks when fellow writer Ben Johnson also does that (and Johnson gets hang out with W.H. even more), gets the pox, gets the contemporary unpleasant mercury cure, has sex with Lucie who by now is hired by W.H. to be his mistress one last time, meets W.H. on the way out and delivers some sarcasms disguised as servility, gets sonnets into print, finds syphilis has come back, retires to Stratford. The end.

The good: Lucie manages to be a non slut-shaming version of the Dark Lady, which is really really rare; actually, come to think of it, have I seen one before? I don't think so. And it's not just Indira Varma having innate grace and dignity. The script manages to get across that Lucie has her own life - she has a son in France, for example - and being a prostitute is what she does to earn money. She's neither ashamed or proud of it, it's her job and she has no intention of starving. (There is a great bit when Shakespeare asks her why she is in London when she doesn't like the town and she shrugs and says "for the same reason you are - money", thus paralleling their professions, and he doesn't refute it.) This makes Shakespeare's reaction when she has sex with other men irrational - he never asks her for an exclusive contract or offers her any non-money based relationship, after all - but then sexual jealousy often is. Tom Sturridge looks suitably beautiful and androgynous (btw, while Pembroke is indeed the second most popular candidate for W.H. after Henry Wriothelsy, Earl of Southhampton, I don't think I've seen a story use him), and also is sincerely impressed by Shakespeare's poetry. The script leaves it open whether he ever is aware that Will S. is longing for something more than patronage. And Rupert Graves is doing his best, but here we come to...

The bad: Graves has an expressive face, but he can do only so much. There is understatement, and there is Shakespeare as a passive and not likeable main character throughout. When Lucie at one point tells him he's her favourite among her clients, you wonder why, because Graves!Shakespeare doesn't actually do anything to impress her - he's not charming, he doesn't woo her, he's not spectacularly generous or anything like that. He gets to show off a bit of verbal wit with William Herbert but not much, and also, bemusingly, none in his two or scenes with Johnson where there really would have been the opportunity. (If you make Ben the rival poet from the sonnets, which btw I don't think he was, then go for the big verbal sparring between two masters, for God's sake! Don't let just Shakespeare observe him with W.H. and the Dark Lady from a distance.) Also, early on, when Shakespeare is introducing William H. to the London low life, they pass three men beating up a prostitute (not Lucie). WH asks what that is about. WS replies it's probably because she has given them the pox. Neither of them cares a bit that a woman is getting brutally beaten right on front of them, they just walk on. This is probably supposed to be historic realism (and foreshadowing for Will eventually ending up infected as well), but it doesn't make me like Graves!Shakespeare and his Fair Youth.

Then there is the last encounter between Shakespeare and Lucie, and Shakespeare and W.H. He visits Lucie after doing the mercury "cure" (reliability of same wasn't that high, but it's what the Elizabethans did), not before, but John Hall has informed him the illness will probably be back even after the whole mercury business. The script is so dammed vague on Shakespeare's feelings, and Graves looks so enigmatic, that I can't tell whether or not this last visit is actually sentiment and love or a vicious sort of revenge (i.e. that he's hoping to infect Lucie who will infect W.H. in turn). I like ambiguity, but not this much of it.

In conclusion: could have been great, especially given the cast, but wasn't. Alas.
selenak: (Berowne by Cheesygirl)
( Jan. 23rd, 2013 07:06 pm)
Currently the weather is splendid, and the Aged Parent & self are using the opportunity to ski, which is great fun but alas means little online time. However, I checked the news, and what did I see, via [profile] angevin2? David Tennant will play Richard II. in the RSC's winter season. *eyes budget* I don't suppose they can also get Patrick Stewart again, to reprise his John of Gaunt? Never mind, it's great news, and I'm intrigued by the annoucement about plays based on Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies as well. Oddly enough, more so than by the plans for a tv series based on them, perhaps because theatre is such a different medium that one's inner "but what about *cut bit of novel x*?" is automatically silent anyway. Also, RSC.

...there is bound to be a dvd made of Richard II, right? After all, if Cameron isn't just posing the Brits might lose the European market soon and need to export their best products, read, actors playing Shakespeare, as often as they can. :)
Let's see. Bearing in mind that I'm a multifandom person, here's what comes to mind:

1) Being Human: Spoilers for season 4 ensue. )

2) The Avengers: The Big Damn Superhero Came, Saw And Conquered, managing to unite, as far as fandoms of mine are concerned, my fondness for the Marvelverse in its various incarnations with my interest in the works of Mr. Whedon. I loved every second of it, rewatched it multiple times, devoured a lot of fanfic, but nothing will beat the first, fine, careless rapture of watching it on screen the first time around. What a moment that was!

3) The Hollow Crown: or, the BBC does It's Hard Out There For A Lancaster Richard II, Henry IV 1 and Henry IV II. Verily, it was a good week or three to be a Shakespeare fan. Due to the popularity of Tom Hiddleston, one could even get the reaction of unspoiled fangirls, which, aw, bless. (Though I will admit to feeling, err, somewhat amused at hearing people feel "protective" about Hal, of all the people.) I mean. Hal. Mr. Übercalculating. Much as I cherish the memory of the scene where Hal gets slapped, though, my favourite Hollow Crown moment, and just about every Jeremy Irons scene ever, if I have to pick just one, it would be Patrick Stewart managing to take something which should be completely worn out and sound like nothing but a string of clichés - John of Gaunt's "This England..." speech - and making it sound fresh and alive in Richard II. But then, he is just that awesome.

4) Breaking Bad, season 5: 51. Spoilers for the most recent season of BB ensue. )

5) Merlin, show finale. Once and future spoilers abound. )
selenak: (Black Widow by Endlessdeep)
( Dec. 20th, 2012 09:34 am)
Meme stolen from [personal profile] likeadeuce.

Your main fandom of the year?

I remain a committed fandom polyamorist without a main fandom.

Your favorite film you watched this year?

The Avengers. Four times watched in the cinema and three times on dvd... yes, it's a pretty safe bet to say it was. :) I just loved it to bits.

Your favorite book read this year?

It's a tie between Her Majesty's Will by David Blixt (when I read the Yuletide prompts asking for Shakespeare/Marlowe adventures & relationship I thought every time "does the prompter know there is now an entire novel like that out there?) and Raphsody in Blood by Roz Kaveney, though I had the chance to read the later in manuscript last year, so I suppose it's a bit cheating to say "this year"? Anyway. Rereading it in printed form only heigtened the love.

Your favorite album or song to listen to this year?

Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney. Detailed review explaining why here.

Your favorite tv show of the year?

Breaking Bad. Which I started to marathon early in the year and thus was able to watch in real time when it began its final season.

Your best new fandom discovery of the year?

I would say Breaking Bad as well, except for the part that Breaking Bad fandom aside from fabulous people on lj also includes the people majorly into Skyler and Marie bashing on tumblr and elsewhere, so, no. But I was delighted to see one of my oldest fandoms, Babylon 5, still has an influx of new watchers and writers, and B5 never inflicted shipping wars and character bashings on me either then or now, so I declare the new B5 fans my best new fandom discovery of the year.

Your biggest fandom disappointment of the year?

Fringe's fourth season, after a promising start, cementing the show's decline. Alas.

Your fandom boyfriend of the year?

Jeremy Irons, for a) making Henry IV. for the first time ever the most captivating character in the two plays named after him to me in The Hollow Crown and b) continuing to do a fantastic job with Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI., in the second season of The Borgias. I've said it before, I'll say it again: the man is a walking, talking illustration that some actors dramatically increase both in acting skill and hotness in their middle age. Young Mr. Irons, playing Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited? Eh. Current Jeremy Irons as Henry and Rodrigo both? Gimme gimme gimme!

Your fandom girlfriend of the year?

Skyler White. Followed closely by the ladies from The Borgias, Judi Dench's M, Katniss Everdeen and my darling Guinevere from Merlin, always, but still, no question about it: Skyler. For being complicated and not easily likeable but layered and smart and above all able to accept responsibility for her own deeds as opposed to blaming everyone else. A longer love declaration to Skyler is here.


Your biggest squee moment of the year?

Natasha pwning Loki in The Avengers. That moment when she turns around and says "thank you for your cooperation". (Come to think of it, Katniss Everdeen's "Thank you for your consideration" in The Hunger Games was also a fantastic moment and almost identically phrased, but Natasha's turnaround was when I went from loving The Avengers to SQEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.)

The most missed of your old fandoms?

I go through moments of missing the BTVS and AtS fandom heydays fiercely. Then I check to see what's happening, and people are either obsessed with being upset with the comics (which I have no interest in) or are still fighting the Spike Wars (ditto), and I remember all the reasons not to miss said days. Until, that is, I come across unexpected splendid meta essays like the one about Chosen this year, or anything [personal profile] timetravellingbunny posts, and I'm full of BTVS and AtS fandom love again.

The fandom you haven't tried yet, but want to?

Once Upon A Time and maybe Teen Wolf. Also I really want to watch The Wire, but is there still a fandom?

Your biggest fan anticipations for the coming year?

The second half of Breaking Bad's final season; the SHIELD tv series; X-Men: Days of Future Past; Catching Fire; and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Since Much Ado About Nothing, the Joss Whedon version, premiered at a film festival two days ago, the first reviews have been dropping in, and they are glowing. Clearly, filming Shakespeare with his favourite actors in twelve days is how Joss W. should spent all his spare time between big projects from now on. I vote for Richard III next, because it's going to take the BBC far longer to follow up The Hollow Crown with the York tetralogy, and also he can cast Enver Gjokaj as Richard. (Can't let have Alexis Denisof have all the leading roles, although, on second thought, why not? He still gets my vote for best male actor - other than the obvious ASH - to work with Joss Whedon.) (Sorry, James Marsters fans. He isn't bad. Just not in the same versatility department.)

Still on a theme of didn't-the-90s-give-us-some-fabulous-tv, since DS9_Rewatch reached the season 4 episode Bar Association, I had a lovely discussion about Quark. The "which fandoms to nominate for Yuletide?" debate has already started, which reminds me that during the last two years DS9 had been an option, and since it's an easy fandom for me to volunteer, I ended up getting two DS9 prompts in a row, with the result that one story which was supposed to be about Dax, Worf and Bashir ended up also starring Quark with as much page time as Bashir, and the other the other was basically How I Met My Ferengi: Odo's Tale. I'm going out on a limb here in guessing that if DS9 again makes the Yuletide cut and I again put it up as one of the fandoms I can write, my next Yuletide story will also include Quark. What can I say? He's just that irresistable to me.
This is, hands down, one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. I had a silly grin on my face much of the time, I laughed, I whooped, I cheered. And I think I'd have done that even without a passionate interest in all things Shakespeare. Though of course that was an extra bonus. Because, fellow citizens of the virtual world, this is a swashbuckling romp starring young Will Shakespeare and Christopher "Kit" Marlowe.

The author uses one of the theories about what Shakespeare did between the time he got married and the time he starts writing plays and acting in London, for which we have no documentation whatsover, to wit: he's being bored and frustrated as a schoolmaster (under the nome de plume of Will Falstaff because of that run in with Sir Thomas Lucy and the law back in Warwickshire) in Lancastershire when what appears to be a gorgeous dark haired woman is getting molested by a couple of ruffians. Before you can say Dark Lady Will intervenes. Except the Dark Lady is actually not a woman at all but Christopher Marlowe in spying disguise, the ruffians aren't after "her" virtue but after a conspiracy-incriminating letter Kit Marlowe has stolen, and before you know it Will and Kit are on the run together, having managed to stumble across the Babington plot which means not only are Catholic spies after them but so is Sir Francis Walsingham, lest they uncover his double agent. Cue lots of witty dialogue, bawdy puns, hair-raising escapes, and lots and lots of flirting between our two heroes, and I don't mean in an annoying nudge-nudge, wink-wink subtextual way, I mean textual, with Will surprising Kit by being an excellent kisser.

It's the ideal book to have a good and glorious time with in an intelligent way, and there's even a bonus Oxfordian put-down for those of us who are Shakespeareans. Actually, there are two; when our lads have arrived in London someone brings up the Earl of Oxford and Will says "who?", and the other comes when Will and Kit have enlisted some other of the Elizabethan wits and playwrights to help decypher them the Very Very Secret Encrypted Code. Earlier, Will and Kit saw a performance of Kyd's Spanish Tragedy which Will loved but Kit did not, and now the other gents, all of whom, except for Will, attended university, are gleefully tearing Kyd and his play apart. Our hero listens and finds himself getting increasingly pissed off at the lot of them, for:

For ten minutes the three University men heaped coals upon the head of the absent Kyd and his play. It was hard to say which offended them more, the fact that Kyd had attempted the feat, or that he had pulled it off. Unable to fault the end result, they took turns abhorring and lamenting his audacity for daring to write one in the first place. (...) Will had never before dreamed of being a playwright. Actor? Yes, that profession had fascinated him since his first taste of the stage in his tender years. But never had he thought to set quill to paper and become a joiner of words. (...) Yet, hearing the litany of abuses hurled at a humble man of no formal education just because he had attempted to write a play, the force of Will's temper fashioned a new weapon. This time his anger was not hot, but cooly calm as he found himself with a new, all consuming desire. When this was all finished, when their lives were safe and the threat passed, he would spite these pompous, self-indulgent, self-congratulating men of high birth and low morals by bending his mind to do the very thing they were ridiculing. Will would write plays.

Oh yeah. But mainly the book is, as mentioned, a romp, with Kit M. being the charming, loyalties-not-quite-certain flamboyant trickster character and Will his straight man (err, bi man?) who, however, is the more intelligent of the two, especially when it comes to puzzle-solving. They make a fantastic Elizabethan duo, and I hope for more of their adventures, but if this remains their only foray, it's a glorious one. The only complaint I could make is that the author does something which I consider cheating, though your mileage may differ. No matter how much you fictionalize his life, there's no getting around the fact Shakespeare was an often absent, cheating and probably not that stellar husband. In the past, male biographers often went the "blame the wife" route (she's older! She trapped him by getting pregnant! She probably was a Puritan and didn't understand his plays!). Brixt comes up with a new version: They did marry because Anne was pregnant, but not by Will, by her father's groom whom her family wouldn't let her marry, and the Shakespeareas needed the money from her dowry because John Shakespeare had drunken so much of their own away, so basically the marriage is a beard-type marriage and the children are the groom's. Now Brixt is firm on the subject of Anne not being a slut, just in love with a man she can't marry, and I suppose it's nicer to imagine her happy in Will's absence, but somehow I suspect the main purpose for this bit of backstory which comes to light half way through is so Will can hit on women and flirt with Kit without the reader having to wonder, um, what about the wife and children back at home? And I don't think that was necessary; he'd still have been likeable as someone who simply wasn't cut out to be husband material and wanted more of life than Stratford.

But that is really the only nitpick I have, and it's a minor one, in the face of all the other good qualities the book has. It made me happy, it'll make you happy if you read it, and I want it to be a Yuletide fandom so badly I can't tell you. Not just for more adventures of these particular versions of Will and Kit, but also for the many other colourful characters, from the Elizabethan underworld to sardonic via actors, playwrights and fools (err, the professional type) to ruthless Walsingham and Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting Helena of Snakenborg, Marchionness of Southampton, who in my mind is played by Cate Blanchett as a 40 something no nonsense Elizabethan lady. And now excuse me while I must read it again!
selenak: (Dragon by Roxicons)
( Aug. 11th, 2012 09:10 am)
And in today's variation of lamenting the blueness of the sky:  I don't get the current passion for pairing up characters from different fandoms simply because their actors played a popular slash pairing elsewhere. This post is brought to you by the coincidence of yours truly recently stumbling across the following:

1) Prince Hal, aka Henry V./ Huntsman from Snowhite and....  Here I was, hoping the success of The Hollow Crown would result in more Shakespeare fanfic, which it did, but so far the dominating genre seems to be pairing Hal with a fairy tale character which confused me for the second it took me to remember who plays the Huntsman in the recent film. Okay then.  Personally, I'd have thought Hal was more the type to go for Rumpelstilzchen (until he dumps the guy when getting respectable), but have it your way. And where, I ask you, is my Henry IV./ Marquise de Merteuil fic, based on the fact Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close played husband and wife elsewhere?

2) Charles Xavier/David 8. Not exactly what I was looking for when checking out the Prometheus section  at the AO3. Look, if you want an X-Man famous for falling for doppelgangers of his beloved, Scott Summers is your man. Also, fond as I am of the McAvoy and Fassbender incarnations, nothing will ever surpass Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and I now post facto am most aggrieved the true passion of Picard and Gandalf was denied. Clearly.

3) Bane/John Blake. Given Selina Kyle was the best thing about the new Batman by almost universal agreement, I checked out the Batman section to see whether there was more Selina, and there was (thanks, fandom!), but there was also the pairing of two characters who never meet on screen in the fine tradition of Hawkeye/Coulson, I'd say, except it was obviously based on That Guy/The Other Guy from Inception, played by the same actors.  What the Trekker in me wants to know: if you can get over Bane's mask and utter lack of interest in cops as anything but canon fodder as an impediment, when is it time for Tom Hardy's Picard clone from Nemesis getting it on with Loki? They sound like soulmates, what with being into mindwiping and non-con, and I think Hiddleston and Hardy were in some BBC costume drama together.

All this being said, I must admit I await the Bilbo/Smaug slash as soon as The Hobbit hits the screen (or rather, earlier, since fandom today doesn't even need interaction as inspiration) based on the actors with some glee. Let's hear it for the true love of a Hobbit and his dragon!
No Hollow Crown anymore, and thus I get my Shakespeare kicks from Ralf Fiennes' film version of Corialanus, which I hadn't seen before. He directs as well as stars in the title role, and the supporting cast is fantasic - Vanessa Redgrave as his mother Volumnia, Brian Cox as the wily and affable politician Menenius, James Nesbitt as a demagogic tribune, Jessica Chastain as Coriolanus' wife Virgilia and Gerald Butler, being not bad, not bad at all (and who'd thought it after his Phantom) as the arch nemisis Tullus Aufidius. The film, like the Ian McKellen/Richard Loncraine Richard III and the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet, adapts the play for the present, ruthlessly slashes, edits and changes pace. It was shot in Serbia, around Belgrad, so the fictional Rome is basically a Balkan country of today.

Now Corialanus, the play, is a tough nut to crack. It's the anti-identification play out of which no one, with the possible exception of Menenius, comes out looking well. Gaius Martius (he gets the honorofic "Coriolanus" mid play) is a soldier barely able to function in civilian life, with nothing but contempt for the people and both unable and unwilling to play the political game of disguising it and to shmooze, which is how he gets himself banished. The people in turn are presented as easily stirred up this way or that way (not news if you know Shakespeare's Julius Caesar), the tribunes are egotastic demagogues, Menenius means well, but has the really dumb idea of getting Gaius Martius into politics to begin with, and Volumnia, who in her fierceness is one of the best Shakespeare roles for women, is very much where Gaius Martius Coriolanus got his contempt for the people and stiff necked pride from. Tullus Aufidius, his best enemy, both admires and resents him but in the end is willing to scheme where Corialanus is not. It's like a Robert Altman movie. Only faster paced in this version. Fiennes as a director has a real visual flair, and he is great at coaxing excellent performances out of his fellow actors. Having seen Brian Cox mainly in villain roles before, it was great to see him as wily yet virtuous for a change. Vanessa Redgrave is stunning as Volumnia, who is basically Angela Petrelli without a sense of humour but with the same sharp tongue, iron-clad ambiton, willingness to sacrifice her child/children if needs be yet loving them all the same. Since this version is contemporary, Volumnia is transformed into an old soldier and career military herself (at official functions, she's still in uniform), and we get the kind of scenes with her and Gaius Martius mostly reserved for father and sons on American tv and filmdom.

As for Ralf Fiennes' own performance, if actors like Tom Hiddleston and Sebastian Stan are the masters of the teary eyed rebellious stare, Fiennes is the master of the demonic stare; it's fiercely physical performance, with Gaius Martius in battle transforming himself into something mythic and barely human, yet clumsy and ill at ease as soon as you put him in an every day context, though no less glaring. In his big scene with Volumnia, when his big revenge scheme clashes with his mother's demand, the moment when he realises he can't continue the war and will give in to her (and that this simultanously condemns him to death) is an amazing shattering and melting of all that self forged rage embodiment into something nakedly human (and when he then cries, it's devastating because of how he was before).

As a director, Fiennes is amazingly blatant with the homoerotic dimension of war. Not just in terms of, say, canon as phallic symbols and the soldiers, with their shaved heads, transforming themselves into those as well but via the entire relationship between Coriolanus and Aufidius. The two are obsessed with each other, the first time they meet mid-battle (not the first time they meet at all, we're informed this is just the culmination of a long feud, just the first ime in the film), their hand-to-hand combat isn't just violent but also soon indistiguishable from sex, and this is echoed at the end when Aufidius finally (after some of his soldiers already had a go at his command, just as they earlier emulated and forged themselves into the image of Coriolanus) does kill Corialanus, in a tight embrance and via a knife, tenderly cradling his head during and after. The desire to kill and desire are hopelessly entertwined and yet another symptom of how and why Coriolanus as well as Aufidius and his soldiers are unable to fit into civilian life anymore. Early in the play Gaius Martius calls himself a sword made for Rome to use, and that is all he can be (either for or against Rome). Which is his tragedy.
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