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Stan Laurel

Happy Birthday Stan Laurel

conradbrunstrom

laurel

Stan Laurel probably wasn’t as funny as Oliver Hardy, or at least wasn’t as intuitively and naturally funny an actor.    What Stan Laurel was, was an auteur, in his own way as compete an auteur as Woody Allen.  And he was born on Bloomsday – June 16th (OK, fourteen years BEFORE Bloomsday, but still.)

Stan Laurel was that rarest of things, a perfectionist control freak who was NOT an egomaniac.  A bunch of people were given end credit recognition for stuff that Stan Laurel actually did.  Laurel and Hardy movies were never better than when Stan Laurel enjoyed complete creative control over every aspect of the production, but at no point did Stan Laurel require artistic or authorial credit for crafting such exquisite and controlled works of art .  Furthermore, he was well aware that people wanted to see Laurel and Hardy movies, not Stan Laurel movies.  In…

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The Greatest Marital Comedy Ever Made? Laurel and Hardy in “Sons of the Desert” (1933).

desert

A few days ago I watched this again for the umpteenth time.

I smiled throughout.

I laughed out loud (on my own) frequently.

I spent the next day and a half singing “Honolulu Baby” to myself.

Now THAT’S the definition of a truly great film.  In fact, I’d say that Sons of the Desert is the greatest marital comedy every made.  It’s a film that deals with marital confusion and betrayal, but not conventional marital betrayal.  At its heart is the question of where Stan’s ultimate loyalties lies, and whether or not there’s such a thing as an ultimate loyalty to the truth.  Yet, Stan’s moral dilemma is not some pious distraction from the comedy – Stan’s moral dilemma is just about the funniest thing in the film.  This is, I think, key to the greatness of Sons of the Desert – its most serious implications are also its most hilarious implications.

The “exhausted leader” of Stan and Ollie California branch lodge demands that everyone attend the convention in Chicago.  Ollie’s wife Lottie (Mae Busch – never better – except perhaps in Come Clean – 1931) forbids it, having organised a healthy trip to the mountains.  Stan and Ollie feign an illiness for Ollie and bribe a doctor (actually a vet) to say that Ollie needs a trip to Honolulu as a cover for their actual trip to Chicago.  In Chicago they meet a tedious prankster (Charles Chase – who pulls off the Ricky Gervais/David Brent trick of making someone who is annoyingly unfunny – funny), who turns out to be Lottie’s brother and who actually gets Ollie on the phone with Lottie for just enough to arouse her suspicions.  The liner that was supposed to be taking them home from Honolulu sinks.  Stan and Ollie have arrived home too soon, and hide from their wives in the attic.  Their wives, at first terrified for their spouses, learn of their betrayal while at the movies.  When the boys actually arrive at the front door, Ollie concocts a bizarre “ship-hiking” explanation which Stan initially endorses before breaking down and confessing everything.  “Honesty is the best policy” it turns out and Stan is caressed and treated by his wife while Ollie is soon surrounded by the shards of every single breakable object in the house.

The moment where the wives are in the cinema watching newsreel coverage of the convention and Stan and Ollie dance about and hog the camera still brings tears of hilarity to my eyes, just as it has done for decades, ever since I first saw it as a small boy.  The dialogue in this film still crackles.  The recurring notion that Stan may experience sudden shafts of genius that intermittently pierce the fogs of idiocy that habitually envelop him is well expressed.

Stan: I’ve certainly got to hand it to you, Ollie.

Oliver: For what?

Stan: Well for the meticulous care with which you have executed your finely formulated machinations in extricating us from this devastating dilemma.

Despite these moments of lucidity,  this is a film in which Stan will still eat wax fruit from a bowl and take its indigestibility as a challenge rather than as an insuperable objection.

Elements of the plot are recycled from We Faw Down (1928).  In all honesty, the elaborate miming that they had to perform in this silent short in order to reinforce Ollie’s lies is less effective than actual dialogue.  It owes even more to Be Big (1931), which is the one chiefly devoted to getting Ollie’s boots on).  Indeed, as Lottie urges Ollie to finally tell the truth, he is urged to “be big”.

Without ever being sentimental or moralistic, Sons of the Desert  has a soul.  It’s a film about redemption.  Betty is convinced that if Stanley is confronted directly enough, he will confess.  Arguably, Lottie’s rage at the end is as much about having been humiliated by Betty as anything else.

Stan and Ollie live with their wives in adjacent houses.  Stan regularly gets confused as to which house is his.  The houses are legally separate but the attic is shared – which is perhaps key to the relationships in this film.  The film is unusual insofar as Stan affirms a marital loyalty which trumps male friendship.  (There is a vulgar expression that’s relevant that would sour any discussion involving Stan and Ollie.)  But more importantly, Stan makes a kind of decision for himself, which reinforces a general tendency I’ve noted throughout their later films that, at the end of the day, Ollie is more dependent on Stan than Stan is on Ollie.

I’ve thoughts about other Laurel and Hardy films.

Like

Dirty Work:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/06/06/you-can-always-drop-another-brick-laurel-and-hardy-in-dirty-work-1933-2/

Wild Poses:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/are-you-a-laurel-and-hardy-completist-of-course-you-are-thats-why-youll-watch-wild-poses-1933/

Busy Bodies:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/05/30/the-one-in-a-sawmill-laurel-and-hardy-in-busy-bodies-1933/

The Midnight Patrol:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/cold-blooded-murder-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-midnight-patrol-1933/

The Devil’s Brother

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/05/24/a-little-light-opera-a-little-gallows-humour-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-devils-brother-aka-fra-diavolo-1933/

Me and my Pal

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/05/19/how-to-wreck-a-high-profile-wedding-easier-than-you-think-laurel-and-hardy-in-me-and-my-pal-1933/

Twice Two:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/05/15/the-cakeman-always-rings-twice-laurel-and-hardy-in-twice-two-1933/

Towed in a Hole:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/03/22/perhaps-as-good-as-it-gets-laurel-and-hardy-in-towed-in-a-hole-1932/

Their First Mistake:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/oliver-she-says-i-think-more-of-you-than-i-do-of-her-stanley-well-you-do-dont-you-oliver-well-we-wont-go-into-that-laurel-and-hardy-in-their-first-mistake-1932/

Pack Up Your Troubles

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/labour-of-love-laurel-and-hardy-in-pack-up-your-troubles-1932/

Scram:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/see-what-a-little-kindness-will-do-laurel-and-hardy-in-scram-1932/

County Hospital:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/01/30/hasnt-he-suffered-enough-stan-visits-ollie-in-county-hospital-1932/

The Chimp:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/01/23/is-there-a-primatologist-in-the-house-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-chimp-1932/

The Music Box:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/stairway-to-heaven-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-music-box-1932/

Any Old Port:

https://wordpress.com/post/conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/33082

Helpmates:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/ollies-worst-and-finest-twenty-minutes-laurel-and-hardy-in-helpmates-1932/

“On the Loose”:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/on-the-loose-41-seconds-of-laurel-and-hardy-2/

Beau Hunks:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/29/no-time-for-levity-its-laurel-and-hardy-in-beau-hunks-1931/

One Good Turn:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/we-havent-eaten-for-three-whole-days-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-laurel-and-hardy-in-one-good-turn-1931/

Come Clean:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/well-tell-the-truth-about-this-woman-well-come-clean-now-you-go-in-and-tell-em-laurel-and-hardy-in-come-clean-1931/

Pardon Us:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/they-fought-the-law-and-the-law-won-laurel-and-hardy-in-pardon-us-1931/

Laughing Gravy:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/and-now-a-choice-of-endings-laurel-and-hardy-in-laughing-gravy-1931/

The Stolen Jools:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/the-stolen-jools-all-of-1931-hollywood-in-2-reels-part-of-why-laurel-and-hardy-is-great-2/

Chickens Come Home:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/everybody-has-a-past-laurel-and-hardy-in-chickens-come-home-1931/

Be Big:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/these-boots-arent-made-for-walking-laurel-and-hardy-in-be-big-1931/

Another Fine Mess:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-most-famous-misquoted-catchphrase-of-them-all-laurel-and-hardy-in-another-fine-mess-1930/

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/oh-the-grimacing-butler-the-laurel-and-hardy-murder-case-1930/

Hog Wild

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/what-price-decent-reception-laurel-and-hardy-in-hog-wild-1930/

Below Zero:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/what-have-they-done-to-deserve-this-laurel-and-hardy-in-below-zero-1930/

Brats:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/child-is-the-father-to-the-man-laurel-and-hardy-in-brats-1930/

Blotto:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/they-should-never-have-ended-prohibition-laurel-and-hardy-in-blotto-1930/

Here is Night Owls:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpres

Angora Love:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/angora-love-laurel-and-hardys-last-silent-comedy-the-one-with-the-goat/

The Hoose Gow:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/a-hard-time-had-by-all-laurel-and-hardy-in-the-hoose-gow-1929-reviewed/

They Go Boom:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/they-go-boom-1929-they-really-do-this-laurel-and-hardy-title-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin/

Perfect Day:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/perfect-day-laurel-and-hardys-not-lou-reeds/

Men O’ War:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/men-owar-and-the-dawn-of-doh-laurel-and-hardy-in-1929/

Berthmarks:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/berth-marks-1929-laurel-and-hardy-and-the-comedy-of-confined-spaces/

Unaccustomed as We are Are:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/unaccustomed-as-we-are-laurel-and-hardys-first-sound-film-in-1929/

Bacon Grabbers:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/repo-men-original-and-best-laurel-and-hardy-in-bacon-grabbers-1929/

Double Whoopee:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/double-whoopee-the-laurel-and-hardy-film-set-entirely-in-a-hotel-lobby-and-in-the-street-just-outside-it/

Big Business:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/retributive-perfection-laurel-and-hardy-in-big-business-1929/

That’s My Wife:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/the-marriage-of-true-minds-laurel-and-hardys-thats-my-wife-1929/

Wrong Again:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/rich-people-are-different-laurel-and-hardy-in-wrong-again/

Liberty:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/laurel-and-hardy-nearly-plummeting-to-their-deaths-over-and-over-again-liberty-1929/

We Faw Down:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/secrets-and-lies-laurel-and-hardy-in-we-faw-down-1928/

Habeas Corpus:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/knowing-where-the-bodies-are-buried-laurel-and-hardy-in-habeas-corpus-1928/

Two Tars:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/appetite-for-autodestruction-two-tars-1928-reviewed/

Early to Bed:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/will-success-spoil-oliver-hardy-oh-you-betcha-early-to-bed-1928/

Should Married Men Go Home?:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/the-golfing-one-laurel-and-hardy-in-should-married-men-go-home-1928/

Their Purple Moment:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/their-purple-moment-1928-dont-you-just-love-it-when-stan-and-ollie-are-all-shy-and-flirty/

You’re Darn Tootin’:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/the-descent-to-trouser-fighting-youre-darn-tootin-1928/

From Soup to Nuts:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/laurel-and-hardy-embarrassing-rich-folk-satisfaction-guaranteed-from-soup-to-nuts-1928/

Leave em Laughing:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/leave-em-laughing-1928-gas-attack-in-culver-city/

Battle of the Century:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/battle-of-the-century-1927-the-pie-fight-is-sublimely-vindicated/

Putting Pants on Philip:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/putting-pants-on-philip-laurel-and-hardy-and-coming-to-america/

Hats Off:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/indiana-jones-why-dont-you-try-to-find-hats-off-the-lost-laurel-and-hardy-film/

Call of the Cuckoo:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/call-of-the-cuckoo-1927-laurel-and-hardy-are-bit-players-again-and-their-hair-hasnt-grown-back-yet/

The Second Hundred Years:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/laurel-and-hardy-in-the-second-hundred-years-1927-it-begins/

Flying Elephants:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/07/flying-elephants-laurel-and-hardy-were-never-faster-or-crazier/

Sugar Daddies:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/sugar-daddies-1927-laurel-and-hardy-and-finlayson-go-to-venice-beach/

Do Detectives Think?

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/watching-the-detectives-laurel-and-hardy-do-detectives-think-1927-this-one-is-the-real-thing/

Sailors Beware!:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/laurel-and-hardy-in-sailors-beware-1927-the-worlds-first-eisenstein-parody/

With Love and Hisses:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/with-love-and-hisses-1927-laurel-hardy-and-the-archaeology-of-kickdownism/

Love ‘Em and Weep:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/love-em-and-weep-still-not-a-laurel-and-hardy-film-but-say-hello-to-james-finlayson-and-mae-busch/

Slipping Wives:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/slipping-wives-1927-and-yes-i-am-going-to-blog-a-review-of-every-single-laurel-and-hardy-movie-i-genuinely-think-its-a-good-use-of-my-time/

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/45-minutes-from-hollywood-some-context-for-laurel-and-hardy/

Duck Soup:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/duck-soup-the-laurel-and-hardy-film-the-first-laurel-and-hardy-film-arguably/

The Lucky Dog:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/03/the-lucky-dog-laurel-and-hardy-first-meet-on-film/

Sheridans and Macklin at Smock Alley in Dublin. Love à la Mode. Are theatre reviewers allowed to drink before or during the show?

Smock Alley

The Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin has a picture of the wrong Thomas Sheridan displayed in the foyer.  I’ve pointed this out to whoever’s on the desk a couple of times and they’ve promised to let someone know about it.  Maybe something will get done this time.
I’m assuming that they think they’re showing off a portrait of Thomas Sheridan, who was celebrated actor-manager of Smock Alley Theatre in the mid-eighteenth-century.  Instead, they show a picture of the Rev. Dr Thomas Sheridan, friend of Swift and father of the actor-manager.  I’ve pointed out to them that the full-bottomed wig would not have been worn by Thomas Sheridan the Younger and that the clerical bands you can see in the portrait make it obvious that it’s Thomas Sheridan père not fils on display.  Well, we’ll see…

Charles Macklin and (the right) Thomas Sheridan did not always have the easiest of relationships.  But none of the heavy-weights of mid-eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish theatre were on continuously easy terms with one another.

Last night was our wedding anniversary and so we did dinner and a show.  I was disappointed to miss this production last year, so off we trooped to Love à la Mode, by Charles Macklin, re-tailored with the help of my friend David O’Shaughnessy.

I was thinking about the relationship between Macklin and (my) Sheridan on the way in and even more on the way out.

Macklin wrote a play called The True Born Irishman and Sheridan wrote a play called The Brave Irishman.  People sometimes got these two plays confused and always have done.  Now as it happens, Love à la Mode is rather more like The Brave Irishman than The True Born Irishman is like The Brave Irishman.  Co-incidence is impossible.  The central idea of Love à la Mode is lifted from Sheridan’s The Brave Irishman.  Both these plays, Sheridan’s and Macklin’s,  deal with a fish out of water Irishman in London who pays court to a wealthy cit’s daughter, who is assumed to be an easy mark and mocked for his accent and manners, and who ends up reversing a hostile stereotype by revealing himself as a fortune donor, not a fortune hunter.  In short, Macklin looked at Sheridan’s play and decided he could make it funnier.

Watching a modern reinterpretation of Macklin’s reinterpretation of Sheridan’s play in Sheridan’s theatre is a fascinating experience.  Fittingly enough, this space has itself has been reinterpreted so many times.  Built as a theatre, it’s been a church, then a Viking museum, and now a theatre again – a theatre (appropriately enough) utterly unlike the theatre it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries.

In the meantime, David O’Shaughnessy, Colm Summers and the rest of the cast and crew have done something very important.  They have found a way of staging an eighteenth-century afterpiece for a twenty-first century audience.  Many of us feel that afterpieces contained some of the most vigorous and imaginative stage comedy of the eighteenth-century.  As the name suggests, “afterpieces” were performed after a hefty Five Act drama –  as a late night diversion.  They need to be understood in the context of a what we’d consider a very long night of varied entertainments.  Live theatre no longer has that kind of elongated context and the afterpieces are considered too short to charge a full ticket price for.  This is why the company is to be commended for coming up any amount of stage business in order to extend the afterpiece into a performable shape.

I sincerely hope this idea is tried with other plays.  Especially The Upholsterer by Arthur Murphy.

The play is extended with the help of a Preamble to a Prologue – a deliberately heavy-handed retardation of the main action.  This “whydon’twegetthingsstartedness” is so eighteenth-century as to be positively Shandean, but it also has the effect of drawing a twenty-first century audience into the artifice.  This production demonstrates the reality of staging any period play.  The only way you can fully communicate the fact that a play was considered daring and a bit over the top in the eighteenth-century is to construct a performance that can be considered daring and a bit over the top by twenty-first century standards.

And so it proves.  The delicious device of “the understudy” (an understudy to the elusive “Charlie McLaughlin” – ha ha think about it) shows someone very literally struggling with the text as it spills from his arms and litters the stage.  The understudy grows in confidence on stage just as Sir Callaghan grows in confidence in London.   A fight scene becomes a piece of extended pantomine that not only helps pad out the afterpiece, but also recalls the proper context of eighteenth-century in which acrobats, rope dancers and singers were part of the evening’s standard bill of fare.

Even the “inappropriateness” of the eighteenth-century stage is rendered somehow appropriate.  At one point, the very wonderful Stephen O’ Leary, playing the understudy playing Sir Callaghan, is trying to insult Fionnuala Gygax (who I saw a few months ago in an extraordinary adaptation of The Tempest) who is playing a Jewish fop called Mordecai.  He gives up and just says  “… that’s a bit anti-semitic”.

This breakdown acknowledges something else that’s truthful about the eighteenth-century stage.  Sometimes you’ll hear tedious old reactionaries railing against a thing they call “political correctness” claiming that “there used to be lots of ethnic comedy performed and nobody complained”.  To which the informed answer is YES and a resounding NO.  There used to be a lot of ethnic comedy on stage and LOTS of people complained.  In the wake of Love à la Mode‘s performance at Drury Lane a defiant pamphlet (A Scotsman’s Remarks etc. etc.) was published taking umbrage (for some reason) at the character of “Sir Archy MacSarcasm”.   The truth is, of course, that whenever any of London’s ethnic communities have had access to any medium, they have complained about prejudicial representation – on stage or anywhere else.  True now – and true back in 1759.  Was the stage racist?  Yes – frequently?  Did people calmly and quietly accept racist abuse?  No – never.

There is much I could say about the sheer fun of this production, but people should probably just go and see it while they can.  I have noticed, incidentally, that reviews from eighteenth-century academics have been rather more appreciative than those from professional theatre critics. I can think of two reasons for this.  One reason is that professional theatre critics are often concerned not to appear vulgar whereas academics are often concerned not to appear snooty and pedantic.  Another reason is that I suspect that professional theatre critics often have little or nothing to drink before seeing a play.  Trust me – this is not true of academic eighteenth-centuryists.

You can bring drinks in – albeit in plastic glasses.  The only thing I would change about this production would be its start and finish time.  I would have it start at 8.30pm.  This would enable more of the audience to have a few more drinks before the show starts while still having plenty of time to get a bus home.  This is about authenticity.  A critical mass of any eighteenth-century audience for an afterpiece would have been suitably “merry” by the time the show started.  (An audience that is too drunk can be a very nasty audience indeed of course – timing is everything.)

Hard nosed professional theatre critics – if any of you are reading this – I’ve a serious question to ask?  Are you allowed to drink before seeing a show?  Or in the interval?  Or does it depend on the kind of show you’re seeing?  I mean, I can imagine that having six pints of lager before seeing King Lear might well be unprofessional, but what about seeing a raucous eighteenth-century afterpiece?  Surely watching certain plays while stone cold sober is a sort of violation of the original intended context for the work?  I mean, I know that smoking bans have destroyed Brecht’s ideal audience, but drinking is another matter.  Is it fair to say “other people seemed to love the show but I didn’t” if a play was expressly written and designed to appeal to the sort of audience that has at least a couple of pints inside them before the curtain goes up?

So theatre critics – does your editor give you any rules or guidelines regarding how much alcohol you’re allowed to consume while reviewing different kinds of show?  If you have any charts, demonstrating the booze allocation for tragedies, comedies, and tragicomedies I’d be especially interested.

 

 

 

Did Frances Burney invent “shopping”?

conradbrunstrom

Burney

Today is Burney’s birthday. Think of her if you go shopping today.  Think of her if you somehow manage to avoid going shopping today.  Just think of her.

Because OED reference for the usage of “shopping” is from Frances Burney’s novel Evelina (1778).  Of course, “shops” have existed for millennia.  Once “shop” becomes a verb, however, something important has happened.  Instead of being a place where something specific is to be purchased, “shop” becomes a viable way of spending time, and an activity rather than the product is part of what is being purchased.  Burney uses scare quotes to describe “shopping”, indicating that Evelina herself (who is new to London)  isn’t sure if it’s a real word or not.  It’s something she’s heard and is trying to come to terms with.  Burney’s ear is very close to the ground.  Burney had the most interesting and varied of lives and was…

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What’s wrong with “Solo”? Maybe nothing. A (largely) spoiler-free review.

 

solo

By the time I took the boy to see this one, a vague yet pervasive sense of disappointment has clouded perceptions of this movie.  I was steeling myself to be disappointed myself.  Ron Howard is, after all, one of my least favourite directors.  But when I stumbled out at the end and started reading up reviews of Solo, I wondered if I’d seen a completely different movie to the movie that everyone else seemed to have seen.

It seems that other people were damning the movie with faint praise terminology such as “fun” and “entertaining”.  But I for one found it considerably bleaker than anything I’d been expecting.

Wondering what Han Solo’s life was like before he met Obi Wan and Luke?  Well, it was terrible.  Really really awful – if Solo is to be believed.  The world he grows up in is extraordinarily nasty.  And the world he escapes to extraordinarily nasty as well.  Oddly enough, this film offers a serious attempt to explain how the evil empire avoids over-reach.  When the thin white line of Palpatine’s authority looks as though it’s being stretched to its limits, then the job of keeping everyone miserable and subjugated becomes subcontracted to gangsters.  You feel this could work.  Solo shows it working pretty well.

The only time Han Solo, the plausible and smiley Alden Ehrenreich, seems to be having fun as an outlaw is when he playing poker with Donald Glover’s Lando.  Other than that, even when he’s catching up with his girlfriend, there’s a sense of constant menace that collapses into an even more prevalent mood of despair.  Emilia Clarke plays Han’s lost girlfriend Qi-ra – and it’s striking how much she looks like Audrey Hepburn when she’s not bleached whiter than white.  Since we’ve never heard of her before, we know that this love affair cannot end well.  Thandie Newton is not in the film long enough.  Woody Harrelson is.  Paul Bettany is evil personified and never more wonderfully evil than when he’s at his most polite.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge voices my new favourite Star Wars droid ever.

But it’s really note a caper movie.  Despite some swashbuckling and quipping, each of these criminal ventures is in the context of massive mafia retaliation.  What awaits Han and his friends is not so much a “big score” as the chance to repay a debt and live for a bit longer.  Each little action sequence claims victims.  Indeed, perhaps the biggest mystery at the end of the film is precisely how Han learned to smile so much and retain his sense of humour.  Is being an outlaw ever “fun”?

Ehrenreich plays a Han who seems only slightly younger than Harrison Ford in 1977.  You’ll believe that you are indeed watching Han, the real Han, and not someone impersonating him, because Ehrenreich captures a naivety within the roguery that has always been key to the character.  In the meantime a few persistent questions are answered.  “Han Solo” (a name that sounds like a euphemism for masturbation) turns out to be a sort of Ellis Island name – a name imposed by an official who is offering Han a military identity as he struggles out the most hideous airport security you’ve ever seen (although Stansted comes a close second).  The whole “Kessel Run in twelve parsecs” is central to the film.  As is the idea of Han shooting first.

In this world, nobody should ever trust anyone else because it’s trust has been strategical drained from the galaxy by imperially sanctioned gangsterdom.  Ho hum.

So – everyone is to get their own movie now – just to pad out the franchise.  We’re soon to have a story that may just suggest that Obi Wan did something other than meditate for thirty years in between episodes III and IV.

Personally I’m looking forward the Chewbacca movie.  Chewbacca is already pretty old when he meets Han and has gone through various versions of hell while yearning to liberated his own once proud now subjugated people.

Think of it.   “NYEOUWGHHHHHWCCCCHHHGGHHHAH! – a Wookie Tale”.  All Wookie, only Wookie.  In Wookie.  No subtitles. Screenplay by David Mamet.

For anyone who really cares, James III (James VIII) was born in this day in 1688.

Largilliere-foll-Old-Pretender-as-a-Boy-3382-THUMB

If you are someone who really really believes in the hereditary principle, then King James III of England, Scotland, Ireland and France was born on this day in 1688.  He was king for 64 years, from the instant breath left his father’s body when he was thirteen years of age, until the moment of his death in 1766.  His was the longest reign in English/Scottish/Irish/British history and he died as the oldest king of England, Scotland or Ireland to have ever lived.

OR…  the so called prince born on this day was some convenient nearby infant smuggled into the bed of Mary of Modena in a warming pan as part of a huge catholic conspiracy.  That’s if you are an ultra Hanoverian monarchist – who is unhappy with the idea that all monarchs since William and Mary have depended on parliamentary approval.

Hanoverian Divine Right defenders of the hereditary principle are even rarer than Jacobite Divine Right defenders of the hereditary principle.  And in all honesty – the whole warming pan story really was a bit of a stretch, even of the time and smacked of desperation.

Exiled and/or deposed royalty is the most romantic royalty of all.  This is the great opportunity for monarchists in a republic, did they but know it.  When the last monarchies, including the most famous one, have finally gone – then those who love the Royal Family will still be able to fill their houses with images of their favourite family.  Indeed the love of ex royals is more poignant and more sincere than loving an official state-sanctioned Head of State.

Many years ago I was at a Jacobite banquet in Aberdeen.  That is to say – I thought (I was very young at the time) that I was at a banquet attached to a conference about Jacobitism and I also thought (very young I was, really), that Jacobitism was mainly of scholarly and historical interest.  I was wrong.

Modern Jacobites are a harmless bunch and they know how to have a good time.  As I’m not a monarchist, I can’t really be a Jacobite myself, but it seemed to me that Jacobite iconography, poetry, celebration and song is far more interesting, vibrant, and emotionally involving than Hanoverian (and the present British royal family is essentially Hanoverian) pageantry.   And this is not because Stuarts are inherently or genetically nobler or more interesting than Hanoverians. It’s because they’re gone gone gone.

So this extraordinary birthday – that caused so much panic and dismay back in 1688, makes me feel that the end of monarchy in Britain will prove the dawn of a new age of monarchism – imaginative, poetic, heartfelt and elective.

 

 

“The first time… I ever saw half… your face…” R.I.P Adam West.

Adam West died a year ago today

conradbrunstrom

batman

Actually I don’t remember the first time I saw either half or all of Adam West’s face, because Adam West’s was one of a dwindling band of famous faces that I cannot remember ever not knowing.

He was Batman.  You may have heard.  Made in the 60s and repeated throughout the 70s, Batman was a show I never had to wait too long to see an episode of.

Adam West’s antagonists were many.  Not just Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether, but countless others.  The range of Hollywood talent that was excavated in order to provide bizarrely specialised villainy for Gotham City was breathtaking. George Sanders, Otto Preminger, Eli Wallach, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Vincent Price, Milton Berle, Joan Collins, and Tallulah Bankhead all donned extraordinary garb and were given licence to chew Gotham’s scenery with some of the diabolically camp excess ever…

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Why it matters that it doesn’t matter whether or not the new Premier of Ontario used to be a drug dealer.

doug

I should say, of course, that I have no proof one way or the other.  I only know what I’ve read in the papers.  Doug Ford has never been put on trial for drug trafficking and he never will be.  What I do know is that whether or not he started his business life as weed  dealer doesn’t matter, and that it matters a great deal that it doesn’t matter, because the fact that it doesn’t bother his core supporters seems tremendously important.

Here is the Globe and Mail’s completely irrelevant yet very relevant report.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/globe-investigation-the-ford-familys-history-with-drug-dealing/article12153014/

If Doug Ford was ever a drug dealer, he was – after all – the right sort of drug dealer.  He was (and still is) white.  He grew up in a prosperous suburb full of people who found (and find) central Toronto too diverse and cosmopolitan.  He was (and is) “one of us”, from the perspective of so-called “Ford Nation”.  It is notable that Ford’s Progressive Conservative party (and it is so Canadian to name a party after an oxymoron) was the only party not to offer any proper costings of its policies.  This was tactically a good move in some ways.  If you don’t offer costings, then your opponents can’t tear them apart.  Ford has promised to tackle the deficit (Conservatives are terrible at this incidentally), invest in infrastructure, cut taxes and even reduce the price of beer.  Presenting the costings behind such a programme might indeed be tricky.  Ultimately, if you’re going the “vague” route, then attention focuses back to the candidate.  Is Ford “the right stuff” – regardless of what he’s promising?  Is he the sort of person who can get a reasonably amount of what he’s promising done?  A critical mass of Ontario voters have just decided that he is.

Which means, of course, that a critical mass of Ontario voters either don’t believe the allegations that his rise to power was fueled and funded by a previous career as a drugs kingpin or, more likely, they really do not mind.  He has the skills set and experience that a lot of people admire.

You see,  I would go a bit further.  I would contend that core supporters of Doug Ford, like the core supporters of Rob Ford, are actually quite keen on the idea of certain kinds of lawbreaking.  Doug Ford is a man who “gets things done” in their imagination.  For all those successful “strong men” who infect our world, from Trump to Orban,  a shady criminal past actually adds to their appeal. The “strong man” who “gets things done” doesn’t let a little thing like “Rule of Law” get in the way.  Indeed “Rule of Law” feels like just so much annoying red tape that the truly enterprising individual should be praised for ignoring.

Many people don’t really like the idea of rule of law these days.  These same people often claim to support a version “Law and Order” which is really “Order and Order” (imagine a Dick Wolf crime and punishment drama punctuated with just one DUM rather than two).  Rule of Law implies that Law is a universal framework and arbiter to which everyone has recourse and to which everyone is subject.  Rule of Law suggests that nobody is beyond the protection as well as the reach of the Law and that Law offers a common standard of judgement.  Those who are attracted to “strong men” who “get things done” hate this rule of law idea.  For them ,”Law” should be about protecting people like “us” from people like “them”.  Of course wealthy white people should be allowed to break the law, because the higher law of Kickdownism dictates that everyone should fear what’s clutching at one’s heels.  The Law should serve to protect particular people who’ve always felt privileged but are now feeling insecure, from those who might seek to share such privileges on the same terms.  The police are not there to “enforce the Law” according to some overarching civic principle, but they are essentially bouncers – hired to remove certain undesirable people from the premises.  People like the “wrong” sort of drug dealers.

So I don’t know and I don’t really care whether Doug Ford really was a drug dealer, but I care a great deal that there’s a constituency out there that not only doesn’t care if he was, but actually sort of likes that he was.

Fascism is rather popular these days.  Of course, most people aren’t fascists.  Some people are a bit fascist for some of the time and an alarming number of people are very fascist for all of the time.  The point is that popular twenty-first century fascism admires a certain sort of criminality – the fetishised criminality of the kind of strong character who doesn’t mind breaking a few rules.

At the same time that criminality is tolerated and secretly applauded on the part of the “right sort” of character – “criminality” is invoked and condemned when applied to whole classes and categories and races of people.  Crime is no longer about individual agency but about loyalty and identity.  Rule of Law becomes an anachronistic inhibitor when it comes to “dealing” with “those people” (“we all know who they are”) with “a firm hand”.

The fact that the illegal drug that Doug Ford may have profited from is now no longer illegal in Canada, only illustrates how strong the case for decriminalising marijuana actually was.  Look at the sort of person who stood to become wealthy and powerful whil marijuana could only be sold by criminals.  Just look at him.

The Ambassador’s Reception… It’s all about the milk.

ambassador

So, we got the US ambassador’s place early yesterday evening.  The US Ambassador to Ireland lives in a truly delightful white house.  It’s a much nicer, more elegant building than the White House in Washington (if smaller), and it’s in a far far more beautiful setting.

When you get to the middle of Phoenix Park you’ll find a roundabout. One exit takes you to see President Michael D. Higgins.  The opposite exit takes you to the US embassy.  Of course, you have to wait at a gate while someone looks at your passports and checks your names against a list and there’s also someone with a mirror on a long stick once you’ve cleared that initial check.  But after that it’s all very friendly.  The palatial ground floor (at least I think it’s palatial) displays some remarkable photographs of prominent US politicians visiting Ireland.  I for one knew little about Richard Nixon’s visit to Limerick in October 1970.

The back lawn offers a clear view of the entire park, the city of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains beyond.  After the security checks imposed at the front of the mansion, it seems strange to see a perimeter seemingly so unsecured – before you realise that the view that looks so unimpeded is disguises a haha – which effectively protects the ambassador and his staff from curious deer and any nasty humans who are unprovided with a pole or who aren’t very good at jumping.

I was just a plus one.  Probably a plus two given that the boy was there as well.  Yes, the evening was about herself, my better half, my helium-injected ball and chain, the love of my life, Dr Tanya M. Cassidy, who along with a few other people was being formally announced as a Fulbright Research Fellow.  She’ll be spending part of next year (around this time) at M.I.T in Boston extending her human milk bank research.

Yes, Tanya is already completing a book about UK human milk banking – and now she’s going transatlantic.  (Tanya’s early work was on alcohol – which is why I call her Dr Feelgood.)

Everyone there was made to feel special.  Research topics varied considerably – from Irish diasporic AIDS support networks in the USA in the 1980s to the toxicity of Hawaiian jellyfish.  Tanya’s work on human milk donation will now have “Fulbright funded” on its acknowledgement pages – to the credit both of the work and the Fulbright Foundation.

Tanya will soon be perhaps the global go-to academic expert on the practice of donor human milk banking and the variety of ways in which women help to provide health and sustenance to neonates not their own.

So as we sat out on the ambassador’s lawn, being photographed and being offered bits of delicious but profoundly unnecessary food on sticks on what was unquestionably a beautiful evening, we found time to talk about the important stuff – the stuff of life – the milk that saves and sustains tiny and precious lives.

Wanna know more?  Course you do.  But not from me.

Here’s is Tanya’s academia.edu page.  Take it from her.

https://nuim.academia.edu/TanyaCassidy

Fifty years without Bobby. 5 June 1968.

conradbrunstrom

Bobby

There’s a plausible case to be made that the assassination of RFK was a more decisive political event than the assassination of JFK.  JFK was not replaced by some reactionary who sought to overturn his political legacy but by LBJ who expanded and develop the more progressive elements of JFK’s administration arguably more effectively than JFK himself could have done.  Conspiracy theorists who suggest that JFK was on the point of ending the Vietnam War before it escalated too far are clutching at rhetorical straws.

We are fixated by imagined forks in the historical road and therefore by roads not taken.  With RFK lying bloodied on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel pantry we see an alternative future curtailed and the destiny of Nixon is assured.  (Nobody ever refers to Nixon as RMN, now do they?).

Of course, there is never just one fork in the road.  If we imagine…

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