selenak: (Servalan by Snowgrouse)
( Aug. 26th, 2016 05:03 pm)

The BBC is currently broadcasting a radio version of Night Watch, available on iplayer for us non-British folks, and I'm listening, enthralled, to the first episode.

Blake's 7:

If you're a B7 fan, chances are you've already read this, but if you have not: a great new essay, on B7, Blake, Gareth Thomas and Chris Boucher. It's passionate and highly enjoyable to read. (Minus a few unneccessary swipes at non-B7 topics such as John Crichton, Clara Oswald and David Tennant's performance as Richard II. But it would be a boring internet life if we agreed on everything with the people we agree on some things. :)

Stephen King:

Handy and amusing flowchart showing how all the novels and characters are connected.


The Lingering Reminders: hands down one of the best, most even handed post-Civil War stories, in which Tony Stark runs across one of Peggy Carter's old mates. No, not that one. The author's take on old Jack Thompson feels extremely plausible, and there's a hilarious inside gag if you're familiar with the Spider-man mythology. (If you're not, you'll still be amused.) Great mixture of humor and angst all around.


Sons of York: Great take on Shakespeare's version of the York family, specifically the two Richards, father and son.
Another result from my London trip: this miniseries from 1978, the existence of which had been unknown to me before. It stars a young Tim Curry as Shakespeare, a young Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe, and was written by John Mortimer of Rumpole of the Bailey fame.

Structure wise, it consists of six episodes covering the ca. 16 years Shakespeare spent in London, each episode putting one of the works in central focus. (Mostly plays, but episode 3 picks the Sonnets for plot obvious reasons.) As far as attempts to tackle the Bard in screen fiction are concerned, this works far better than the Rupert Graves starring movie I came back with last year. Not least because the Lord Chamberlain's Men players actually get to do more than cameos and are real characters - especially Jack Rice, who in this version plays most of the Shakespearean heroines (and btw, the staging of the Elizabethan theatre scenes does this without attempt at camp when he's playing them, as opposed to the brief excerpt from the A Midsummer Night's Dream mechanicals scene, which goes for the traditional broad comedy) -, and because the characterisation keeps the balance between sympathetic and flawed for Shakespeare himself. Which is to say: he's likeable and he's a lousy husband and father, which the series is aware of, not either/or, and there's no attempt made to blame Anne for either. (Anne and the kids don't show up before episode 4, but when they do, it's clear whose fault the situation is.)

Given the 1978 production date and the fact the miniseries does inevitably go the "the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady were real people" route, I was curious how they handle the sexuality question. Turns out that while we don't get as much as an m/m kiss, the Will/Southhampton relationship (the miniseries goes with Southhampton as Mr. W.H.) is unambigiously romantic. In fact, he solely beds the Dark Lady because he's jealous that Will's spending time with her, while Will partly goes into that affair because he wants something not-Hal (Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southhampton, goes by the "Hal" moniker here, and draw your Shakespearean conclusions) in his life. The narrative isn't very interested in the Dark Lady per se - here, she's a fictional character named Mary Fleminge, wife of a Judge - and she's far less on screen than Hal who shows up in episode 2 and remains in the series till the end. He's one of the more interesting Mr. W.H.'s, not just drop dead gorgeous to look at (actor: Nicholas Clay), which is a requirement given all the sonnet praise, but charming enough to make it clear why Will sticks around for more than patronage and aesthetics; reckless; also completely privileged and incapabable of seeing other povs, until the disaster of the Essex rebellion and his stint in the Tower give him a wake up call, at which point he belatedly grows up, but into self serving courtier ridding himself of his scandalous past. He doesn't exactly tell Will "I know thee not" when the later commits the faux pas of calling him "Hal" at court (in Will's defense, this is the first time they've seen each other since Southampton was released from the Tower), but he does pretend not to know him.

Curry, whom I've mostly seen in over the top roles, plays Will as mostly a low-key keen observer with something of a wild streak that Marlowe and Southampton bring out, a good friend and colleague to the players but also with a streak of selfishness re: anyone from Stratford. He adores his son but only as long as the kid doesn't make uncomfortable demands, and has zilch interest in his daughters. (This being a 70s series, you could of course argue whether or not this is intentional male chauvinism as a flaw, but given that we get a scene where Will makes up a story (a Midsummer Night's Dream, btw, which makes me wonder, since this predates Sandman, whether Neil Gaiman watched this) for Hamnet and then cut to Judith asking Anne whether her father will ever invent a story for her the way he does for her twin, I'm going with "intentional". (Seriously, though, there are a lot of echoes/foreshadowings/what not to the Sandman "Dream" story if you've read it - Hamnet is welcomed by the players in costume as Titania and Oberon and Jack Rice-as-Titania tells him he'll stay in their realm, for example.)

Except for Marlowe, no other writer shows up (so much for you, Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher), and Marlowe is only in the first episode (which is very much about him and called "Dead Shephard"), but young Ian McShane has predictable fun in the part; the series' interpretation of Marlowe is that he craved real life danger and excitement, not just the written variety, thus volunteered for spying, but made no bones of the fact he had equal distate for both Protestants and Catholics, which ended up getting him distrusted and killed. The "those who do not love boys or tobacco" quote is used, and the two scenes where Marlowe first gets young Will to write Henry VI, Part I for him since he's too bored by the premise ("baronnial bullies waring with each other, none better than the others") and later beta-reads/edits in his Marlowian way (where he gets Will to come up with a personal nightmare scenario to spice up the play, and Will's personal nightmare is, of course, a father killing a son) in their McShane/Curry combination are golden.

Other memorable scenes: the sequence where Jack Rice blackmails the other players into letting him play Lady Anne in Richard III, pulls off a good performance and then later tells Richard Burbage not to stand in a way that makes it impossible for the groundlings to see Rice-as-Anne's face; Will and Hal smouldering at each other; Anne making verbal mincemeat out of Will when he tries to pull the "at least I send money!" defense; Essex and Southampton persuading the players to stage Richard II (that entire episode works like a tense political thriller) in order to promote Essex' rebellion, and then the actual staging (Bolingbroke's player none too subtly costumed in a way that echoes Essex); Elizabeth I. in the fallout orders Shakespeare to play Falstaff scenes for her, and there is a lot of cross cutting from the Queen's face to Will's (that episode parallels Elizabeth/Essex with Will/Hal in that both Elizabeth and Will know the object of their affection is really not worth it but care, and in that scene there's the added layer that Will doesn't know yet whether the players are truly off the hook re: rebellion participation, plus he's worried that Southampton will follow Essex to the block, while the playwright in him is also fascinated by Elizabeth having ordered a man she loves to die, and how she deals with that - he's observing her all the tie); and the already mentioned scene where newly reformed and in King James' favour Hal snubs Will (who is at court because the Lord Chamberlain's men have just become the King's Men).

Faults: the series has so little interest in the Dark Lady/Mary Fleming that we open the relevant episode in medias res, i.e. she already knows Will, and her decision to have sex with Southampton basically happens between two eye blinks with no more motivation than "he's there, I might as well". And while Jack Rice is a fascinating character in the first half of the miniseries, he's reduced to minor supporting player in the second, which may not be a fault given what else is going on, but it irks me because I liked the character so much. Also, I'm still waiting for the Shakespeare bio tv or movie that uses Ben Jonson (and by use, I don't mean him just being name dropped but being his colorful self), and while we're at it, uses Will's younger brother Edmund who was a player, too, for a while.

In conclusion: worth watching, if you can get your hands on it. Oh, for youngsters: this being a 70s series, it also has a 70s pace.
I almost didn't make it to the Almeida on Friday night, which, given that the chance to watch Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in Richard III was one of the reasons why I picked this particular week when my APs gave me a week in London for Christmas, would have been a not so fun irony. The London Underground played one of its tricks, with the Northern Line temporarily breaking down. But thanks to a taxi driver who had a hysterical foreigner in the form of yours truly at hand, I did make it in time. It was an excellent production, with one caveat, and reminded me how much The Hollow Crown version cut. (For example: that terse monologue about Hastings getting framed post-execution which makes it very contemporary indeed.) Contemporary costumes, except for the final battle scenes, for which everyone was in armor and had swords.

The play opened and ended at the car park in Leicester where they found historical Richard III's remains, which I took as an attempt to tie in the revived interest, because otherwise of course the production was firmly Shakespeare, not history, and not just the usual habit of casting middle aged actors as the York brothers but also the women in very different ages to their historical counterparts helps seeing the play as its own 'verse. Fiennes' Richard does the usual "clever mastermind loses it as soon as he actually has power trajectory - come to think of it, I guess the only ursurper whom Shakeskpeare allows to remain subtle instead of ham fisted is Claudius in Hamlet -, with an undercurrent of "both power hunger and misanthropy are the result of being loathed from birth", and he does it well. I've seen a complaint that he doesn't seduce the audience by being charming, complete with trajectory that Fiennes isn't able to. Having recently watched his Monsieur Gustave, I beg to differ: he can be charming, if the role calls for it. His version of Shakespeare's Richard doesn't; he's very compelling, though, more like a clever cobra taking out lots of hapless bunnies before realising he's stuck with lots of dead bodies and no idea what do actually do with them.

I hadn't been sure whether Vanessa Redgrave was playing Queen Margaret or the Duchess of York when [personal profile] londonkds asked me about it; turns out she was Margaret, far less mad than clear-sighted here, though Margaret carrying a baby doll around (which she in her second scene bequeathed to Elizabeth Woodville) was presumably a signal that she's not all there after all. Seriously, though, what I loved about the performance was that this Margaret was both tragic and and vengeful without being over the top about it. There was a stillness in Redgrave when she watched her enemies fall, a slight smile, that reminded even an audience that didn't listen to the textual reminder of her killing of Rutland and York that Margaret is no nice woman wronged, but an aged monster rendered powerless herself. The way she and Richard keep an eye on each other through Margaret's first scene also comes across as two predators knowing each other by instinct, or maybe it's also the star quality both actors have.

Redgrave aside, this was another production making it very clear that Tudor's appearance at the end not withstanding, Richard's true opponents in this play are the women. Hastings - who kept checking his twitter feed - was a bombastic, with non-malignant fool, Clarence naively blind, and Buckingham the not-so-faithful Lieutenant type considering himself somehow excempt from Richard's malignity out of sheer ego. Meanwhile, Joanna Vanderham was a very young (no idea how old the actress is, but she looked at least twenty, if not thirty years younger than Fiennes as Richard) but firm Lady Anne who only just starts to come around at the end of the wooing scene but mostly acts as she does because she doesn't want to become a killer, Susan Engel is the other matriarch, Cecily Nevill, Duchess of York (age wise looks a match with Redgrave, so that bit of internal verse-sense is kept) and her palpable loathing of her son remains, despite all that Richard does, as disturbing as ever. (The production closes with her reappearing on stage, standing at his grave in Leicester and enigmatically staring in it.) Aislin McGuckin was a great Elizabeth Woodville, but alas, her scenes include my one caveat/complaint about this production, though it's no fault of hers or Fiennes' but of the director's decision.

The Richard & Elizabeth scene pre battle of Bosworth goes the traditional way of him by now incapable of swaying his target and her not buying a word of - and then he proceeds to rape her. Now, the way the rape is played makes it clear it's not about hidden sexual attraction but about power and humiliation, and yet another example of Richard resorting to tyrannical power exertion because he can't get what he wants by his wits anymore. It's also in tandem with this Richard projecting his mother issues by misogyny. But still: the rest of the second half of the play makes that point already. And I'm just so tired of rape (the one thing not even Holinshed, More and Shakespeare thought to accuse Richard of, btw) being the default act to signal that a villain is really truly bad. So could have done without that.

Still on a Shakespeare note: the British Library currently has a "Shakespere in Ten Acts" exhibition which I visited with [personal profile] londonkds. Truly full of treasures, starting not just with the expected First Folio but copies of the Robert Greene book containing the "Johannes Factotum" crack about Shakespeare, and the 1602 collection of anecdotes - in hand writing, not in print, which was fascinating to me, since I've rarely seen handwritten bound books in the post Gutenberg era - that contains the "William the Conqueror arrived before Richard III" story about Shakespeare, Burbage and the female fan. There is a rough chronology of the exhibition, but also various of the plays as a central focus in different eras. In the mid 19th century, we get Othello and Ira Aldridge's entire career getting a wall to himself, which I can't help but suspect and hope was influenced by interest in Ira Aldridge being revived through the Adrian Lester starring play I watched the last time I was here. Seeing the posters both British and European was fascinating - and telling, what with the American born Ira billed as "a native of Senegal" in the early English ones. And speaking of black actors playing Othello, I had of course known that Paul Robeson had done so, but not that Laurence Olivier refused to join a Robeson supporting campaign in order to get him to play the role in Britain because, as Olivier openly declared, he wanted to have a go at Othello himself.

There are costumes and stage props of more recent productions, as the 1960s Peter Brook directed Midsummer Night's Dream, and interviews with surviving actors; I was amused to find a recording of the puppet play version of the early German version of Hamlet (hails from ye late 17th and early 19th century days when the Bard was more popular in our part of the world than at home, before Garrick helped him to a comeback). All in all, truly a satisfying anniversary exhibition to visit.
Back in my university days, I once took a class about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which meant watching a lot of productions, both filmed and on stage. That class had the worst possible placement – Friday afternoon – during the spring-to-summer term, and when I tell you that most of the 15 participants showed up regardless, you may gather we had fun. However, with that kind of overexposure to one particular drama, it took me a while to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream again.

It’s been long enough, I’ve found: the RTD version was eminently watchable to me, with occasional “oh, how Professor Götze would have loved this” asides. Wasn’t surprised my flist was divided, though: Russel T. is that kind of producer.

Read more... )
Aka the one with the inevitable compare and contrast. Not only did I watch various versions of the play throughout my life, but I had to write a paper on it decades ago in school, so.

I am determined to play the villain... )
In terms of actual plays part 3, of course. In which young Will Shakespeare gets to bloody business, and creates both a female and a male supervillain.

Spoilers for Shakespeare and altered history )
Or rather, part 1 and 2 mixed up, emphasis on part 2, since the producers made the York tetralogy into a trilogy. I haven't read the Henry VI plays more than once, and that was many years ago, but even my vague memories tell me the most obvious cut - the entire Jack Cade rebellion. Which means no scenes not involving the nobility, which fits with the entire production trying to lure the Game of Thrones audience in.

Cutting just in case someone minds being spoiled for Shakespeare and tv alterations of same )
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?
selenak: (Berowne by Cheesygirl)
( Jun. 15th, 2014 07:37 pm)
Watching the Tennant Richard II and rewatching some Hollow Crown stuff put me in the mood for Shakespearean Histories fanfiction. Chances are all the stories listed below are already known to anyone interested, but just in case they aren't, or you'd like to do some rereading:

Here is what I enjoyed reading most )
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! )


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