selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
( Apr. 4th, 2016 07:39 pm)
How long has it been since I was writing something set in a mega fandom? Years and years. The difference in terms of reader/comments/kudos numbers is truly stunning, she says, looking slightly dazed.

Seriously though. You write story set in, say, The Americans, you're lucky to get ca. 300 hits a year. You write a Star Wars story, you get over 400 hits in less than two days. And 57 kudos. Truly, the Force must have been with me. :)

Merlin at its height wasn't big enough to count as a mega fandom, so that probably wasn't the last time. Hm. As far back as when I wrote for Heroes during the s1 to s2 hiatus and in s2? I.e. the height of its popularity? Yes, it must have been as far back as that...

Well, I'll try to enjoy it while it lasts. Soon enough I'll be back to my small fandoms and desperately hoping to get double digit numbers in my hits at all...

On another note, here Ian McKellen lists his favourite performances in film versions of Shakespeare. (Ignore the stupid comments which don't seem to grasp this isn't a "best of Shakespeare on film" list, just his personal favourites. This being said, it warms my heart he lists his Lady MacBeth, Judi Dench, because she's my favourite as well (and also the Trever Nunn MacBeth staring McKellen and Judi Dench is the only one to date where I thought both M and Lady M were played by equally strong actors at their best - usually I'm only happy with one of them at a time). Unexpected but pleasing to me choice: Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus. Most baffling to me choice: Paul Scofield as the Ghost in Zeffirelli's Hamlet. (Maybe because I watched that one only once. Hamlet and Franco Zeffirelli really weren't made for each other.) Most-amusing-to-me description, when McKellen explains why he picked Orson Welles' Falstaff: "Orson Welles was a considerable man of the theatre and learned his trade assisting Micheál Mac Liammóir, the flamboyant Irish actor."

(To understand why this phrasing cracks me up, start by checking out an old post of mine on Orson Welles. If you don't want to, let's just say that Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards were indeed 16 years old Orson's Godfathers Of Theatre, so to speak, and proceded to have a decades long intense and tension filled friendship with him before alas it got wrecked in the 1960s, but that Orson being competitive Orson, he would have insisted on pointing out he never ASSISTED Micheál Mac Liammóir because he already played the second lead in his debut with them while the lead was played by Micheál's partner Hilton Edwards.) (Otoh Micheál Mac Liammoir would have gotten such a kick out of this description and would have quoted it to Orson Welles on the phone.)
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
( Nov. 1st, 2015 09:36 am)
No Doctor Who review this week, because it's another two parter, and in this case what I think of it REALLY depends on what the solution will be, because the allegory is really heavy handed and potentially disastrous.

However, last night I watched the latest cinematic version of the Scottish Play, aka the one with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Thoughts: overall, this strikes me as director Justin Kurzel's GrimDark Shakespeare fanfiction, err, vid. Not that Macbeth is a bundle of laughs in any case, and any screen Shakespeare ends up having lots of lines cut (unless it's Kenneth Branagh wanting to make a point about Hamlet), but not so coincidentally, this Macbeth is lacking any and all of what few lighter moments there are. Which means no porter scene at all, no precocious Macduff kids chattering away before doom arrives. Considering the porter scene in particular is always held up as evidence of Shakespeare being a genius (i.e. it's the most suspenseful, tense moment of the play, Macbeth has just committed regicide, there's KNOCKING, and suddenly! Drunk Comedy Scene!), this tells you something about Kurzel (and his scriptwriter team's) idea of how to do drama versus good old Will's.

Otoh team Kurzel even added to the body count, ways of execution and motivation. The opening scene is a funeral for the Macbeths' child (thereby solving ye olde contradiction between "I have given suck" and "he has no children" in ways that doesn't evoke actual history, where historical Lady Macbeth, Gruach, had a child by her first marriage), watched over by the witches who speak a few lines from the play's opening scene, and the implication that losing their child is partly what motivates the Macbeths and already started to unhinge them is there through the rest of the movie. The opening funeral scene later is doubled, and this one goes beneath a spoiler cut because it's in the last third, Kurzel-only, and maybe someone does care to be spoilered. How Kurzel explains Lady Macbeth losing it completely. )

Speaking of history, though, the movie attempts to go for a "primitive Scotland" atmosphere by excising any and all contemporary to Shakespeare stuff. Except for the royal castle in the second half of the movie, there aren't any castles at all, Macbeth while he's still a thane has a settlement of wooden huts/houses. (Lady M's reference to "my battlements" is duly gone as well.) No dialogue between the Doctor and the Not!Lady in waiting (who is reduced to a silent female companion of the queen's). Oh, and (entirely correctly) no kilts, in case you feared there were. Though everyone but Cotillard goes for a Scottish accent, which is wavering in Fassbender's case, though the rest is more steadfast.

Acting: Fassbender does his thing of intense brooding with undercurrent of emotional turnmoil, which he does as easily as breathing, but because that's already how he STARTS, there isn't much of an emotional arc. Also the film is the type of Macbeth production which actually visualizes M's hallucinations. (I've seen productions where the dead Banquo actually shows up, and productions where he doesn't, and let me tell you, the later always worked better for me. And showing the dagger Macbeth imagines never is as good as relying on your leading man, not to mention it patronizes the audience.) Marion Cottillard isn't as hard as she could be early on, nor really insane and in pieces later. She doesn't sleepwalk, she returns to what used to be the Glamis estate and speaks all the lines of the sleepwalking scene awake as if musing about her past, until the camera reveals that spoiler cut just in case. ) In a movie that's GRIM with capital letters, it comes across as an odd restraint or maybe as the wish to keep your leading lady sympathetic.

Another thing: this is a movie with a fondness for male cheek touching, forehead touching, and men cradling each other. When the messengers arrive with news for Macbeth and Banquo, Macbeth is busy cradling a fellow warrior whom Banquo patches up. Duncan cradles Macbeth's cheek (and before that of the rebellious previous thane of Cawdor while pronouncing sentence on him), Macbeth and Banquo do it to each other, Macbeth holds the slain Duncan and so forth. You get the impression someone really really liked both the "I know it was you!" scene between Michael and Fredo from Godfather II and Craig!Bond's thing for cradling people ('Vesper, Mathis, M) a lot. Or, to put my highbrow hat on, Kurzel is going for a correlation between death and physical expression of affection. (Not surprisingly, the Macbeths end up having sex while conspiring Duncan's murder.)

Influences of previous film versions: Polanski for the final twist. No, it's not Ross as in Polanski, but Fleance, but the implication is the same. (And presumably Team Wurzel wanted to tie up the Witches' prophecy re: Banquo's issue, presumably correctly assuming that most of their target audience don't know Banquo's issue were meant to be the Stuart dynasty.) The famous 1970s Trevor Nunn production (that starred Judi Dench and Ian McKellen and still is my favourite of the play) for individualizing the Witches and going for mother-maiden-crone, though Wurzel also adds a silent child witch and a baby for good measure.

Unholy influence of Zack Snyder: slo mo and frozen battle scenes and key points intercut by fast moving ones.

Trivia: you know, Tolkien came up with the Ents because as a boy he was disappointed when the "when Birnham Wood comes up to Dunsinane" prophecy didn't get fulfilled by the trees literally moving towards Dunsinane? Tolkien would have been horrified by Wurzels innovation on how the prophecy gets fulfilled, but it makes for the showdown visual he wants. Spoilery explanation why. )

In conclusion: not a must among Shakespeare film versions, and I've watched both Fassbender and Cotillard doing better, but it should provide a lot of vid makers with material.
If you should happen to be in or near Los Angeles during the next week, if you're interested in a) German literature, b) exiles, c) Judaism, or d) all of the above, why not check out this conference? A great many of the presentations and debates will be in English. I'll be attending as well, which means I'll be in LA from Thursday till Sunday (then it's back to Europe).

Meanwhile, have some fanfic recs:

The Hobbit:

Three Adventures Belladonna Took Never Went On : great, endearing portrait of Bilbo's famous mother Belladonna. Her relationship with Gandalf reminds me a bit of Amy Pond and the Eleventh Doctor here. (You'll see what I mean when you read it.) And, something I haven't seen in fanfiction, there's a dead-on take on the narrator voice Tolkien employed in The Hobbit.

Richard III, Shakespeare version:

Under a Hog: darkly hilarious American politics AU of Shakespeare's play from the pov of Richard's campaign workers. Bonus point for not needing Henry Tudor at all and making Lizzie Woodville his rival instead, campaigning for her dead husband's seat.

York Tetralogy: and history:

The Daisy Queen: what formed Marguerite d'Anjou. The author superbly uses actual French history, most of all Marguerite's hardcore grandmother Queen Yolande.
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
( Oct. 2nd, 2014 02:07 pm)
....we've got our first glimpse at CumberRichard:

So far so good. Now give me photos of Sophie Okenodo and Judi Dench as Margeret of Anjou and Cecily Neville respectively, internet!
selenak: (Carl Denham by Grayrace)
( Sep. 5th, 2014 09:41 am)
Guardians of the Galaxy: funny, entertaining, and nothing else, which is what it aims for. I can see what [personal profile] londonkds meant about it being "dumbed down Farscape", and agree with [personal profile] trobadora's longer review. At the same time: given how many movies are out there who aim for funny and succeed only in "cringeworthy", maybe we're too harsh on it, with its success on the pure comedy/parody level. Anyway: wasn't bored, left with a smile, have no urge whatsoever to watch it again or read fanfiction.

Much Ado about Nothing, Whedonian version: FINALLY I had the chance to watch this one, which Joss shot with a couple of his favourite actors as a way to relax from wrapping up Avengers two years ago. (And some of his former scriptwriters from BTVS, as it turns out; I spotted David Fury, Drew Goddard and Drew Greenberg in the credits for the wedding scene(s) crowd.) A great way to unwind, I must say. Sean Maher makes a surprisingly good villain - and his character usually feels like a vague pre study for Iago without the genius yet, so that was new. Not surprisingly, Amy Ackerand Alexis Denisof were great as everyone's favourite sparring lovers. Any Benedick and Beatrice pairing stands or falls whether they can make the transition from the admission of love to "kill Claudio" , and they can. This is also a production that goes with the "Beatrice and Benedick had a short fling before the play" interpretation caused by such lines like "you always end with a jade's trick, I know you of old" - "You have lost the heart of Signior Benedick" - "Indeed, for he lend it me a while, and I gave him use for mine, a double heart for his single one" etc., so much so that it starts with a silent "morning after" scene, which means the actual first scene between Beatrice and Benedick feels like the two are compensating for not wanting to admit it had actually meant something to them because it didn't seem to mean anything to the respective other. (And then it hit me: Joss made it into anothe post coital morning after disaster scene, his specialty!) It also means them getting convinced that the other does care later on feels less like a revelation and more like a release.

My favourite Much Ado remains the Branagh one but all the Dogberry and Watch portions in it make me cringe. (Michael Keaton, argggh.) Not helped by the fact I don't find the Watch scenes funny when reading the play, either. (Don't care for embarrasment humor generally.) But Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk - and Whedonian editing, I suppose - made them somehow not cringeworthy for me. Understanding the Miami Vice parody sunglasses probably dates me. :)

The general endless cocktail party conceit with everyone getting more and more sloshed worked for me. There was no getting around the one big clash between modern day dress and content - Hero's virginity being a big deal to everyone -, but at that point I had suspended my disbelief long ago, plus Clark Gregg managed to make Leonato, whom I always disliked for his turning against his daughter in the first wedding scene, come across as torn between love and rage with love winning out physically if not verbally even before the Friar manages to calm him down.

And lastly: seems Fritz Lang's masterpiece M is re-released in Britain right now, and the Guardian thinks you should watch it. I think so, too - it's my favourite Lang movie by far -, but I found myself grumbling at the Guardian critic and the commenters that a) the police isn't presented as "incompetent" and an allegory for Weimar polticians just because they can't catch a serial killer until the grand finale (the leading inspector became such a favourite that Lang brought the character back in his second Dr. Mabuse movie), and b) no, it's not "foreshadowing the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and the Nazis". The Nazis were already very present on the streets in 1931 when Lang shot the film, having almost daily clashes with the Communists, and neither party is present in this movie. (If you think the criminals organizing into a hunt for the pedophile killer are meant to be Nazis because some are a) wearing trench coats, and b) speaking German, pray remember neither would have been unusual for a German audience in 1931, who hadn't gone through Hollywood aesthetizing the Third Reich into certain images.) I strongly suspect somewhere some editor dictated you can't sell a German movie to an audience if it's not about Nazis somehow.

What I agree about with the Guardian is that Lang's direction (and use of sound - this was his first sound movie, and as opposed to many a silent movie director he really embraced and used the new medium in very creative ways) is outstanding, and that Peter Lorre gives a fantastic performance. Incidentally, while the daring turnaround in audience sympathy during Lorre's monologue at the trial is justly mentioned as the movie's standout scene by not just this but every critic writing about "M" ever - and btw something I can't imagine in any current day movie about a serial killer of children -, no one seems to remember the actual final scene of the movie (a silent sequence showing us the grieving mothers of the dead children), which is a shame, because through it Lang achieves balance and ensures Lorre's big scene is earned by not forgetting the victims and their families.
I must say, this It's hard out there for a York tv version of the Henry VI plays plus Richard III , aka the Hollow Crown sequel for Shakespeare newbies, sounds better and better, casting wise. In addition to Sophie Okenodo as Margaret of Anjou, we also get Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville and Judi Dench as Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.

...which makes me imagine she'll pulverize B. Cumberbatch in the scene where Richard gets chewed out by his mother, but maybe he'll be able to hold his own. Also, given what the Hiddleston-as-Hal/Henry V. casting wrought in fanfic, when can we expect the historical Sherlock AUs where he's M's kid?
The RSC Richard II. with David Tennant is out on dvd, and since I couldn't see it in the theatre last year, naturally I pounced.

Some thoughts under the cut )
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

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)

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.


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:

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

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.


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