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“Some of it was true”: a Whole Day of Thinking about The Clash – TCD October 21.

clash

This was a day all about imagining yourself in exactly the same space decades earlier.  The incongruous grandeur of TCD Exam Hall hosted The Clash on October 21 1977, and exactly forty years later, some rather older people assembled in precisely the same space to try to reconstruct the event.

In other words, we tried to squint away the decades, stare in front of us, and try to see this…

clash2

Some of the original Students’ Union execs from 1977 were with us to share their experiences.  All commented on the friendly and accommodating nature of The Clash – especially compared to the horribly smug and entitled Stranglers who showed up a few weeks later.  The original contract for the gig was circulated among the congregation.  We learned The Clash required 24 small cans of beer backstage, a bottle of tequila, but also plenty of Britvic Orange and fresh fruit.  A modest and feasible list of desiderata.  The Clash were to be paid £800 + 35% of the gate.  Since tickets sold at £1.50 each, this would have involved two fairly packed concerts if the SU was not to carry a loss – and the official capacity of the room would have to be breached.  Fortunately The Clash sold themselves instantly in the context of an excitedly emergent Dublin punk sensibility and it is impossible to calculate exactly how many people were crammed into the exam hall that day.  The set list consisted of the entire first album – with the edition of their new single – the immortal “Complete Control”.  Among the crowd in 1977 was a legendary character called “Anto” – whose punk regalia made extensive use of cow and sheep eyes.   Clearing up sheep eyes from the stage area was one of the main memories that organisers had of the original event.  We scanned the room for Anto – but nobody was able to give any account of his whereabouts since 1977.

However, we also learned about the gig in a larger context of staged contests between the Students Union and the TCD authorities.  The SU had already riled up various Deans by taking over a failing college bar and making a profit out of it.  The booking of punk bands was part of an an ongoing attempt to test the limits of student freedom.   In a brilliant move, when the college announced that the decibel level had been breached and the next gig was to be cancelled, the students announced that the next gig would have been The Chieftains.

The remainder of the day was devoted to film clips and story telling.  Don Letts walked among us.  Don Letts has told many of the same stories a great many times and enjoys telling them, and yet he preached a kind of frustration with dewy-eyed memorabilia and felt seduced yet frustrated by his own storied past.  “How or when or where can such urgent and loving anger be regenerated and refocused in the 21st century?” was the painfully obvious question he didn’t of course know the answer to.  Punk can’t allowed to just become a blanket to wrap the anecdotage of a bunch of old folks in Trinity College Dublin while Storm Brian blows and spits outside.  Perhaps an ability to feel love and anger within the same frantic instant is the best definition of anything that can cherishably called “punk”.

One thing that all the speakers had in common was that none of them claimed to “really” know Joe Strummer.  The small entourage that traveled with The Clash all remembered having had astonishing conversations with him, but the actual content of the conversations has not seemingly survived so well.  He made you feel special when he was with you in ways that mere testimony cannot adequately communicate.  Johnny Green, former Clash roadie, has a wonderfully relaxed yet arresting rhetorical style, and stressed over and over again the creative input from all four core (sorry Terry Chimes) members of the band.  At one point he started talking about some kind of gestalt formulation based on the many faces of Vishnu before hilariously breaking off with “… I’m losing you, aren’t I?”  Like many visitors to Ireland, he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to say mean things about Bob Geldorf of not.   He was instantly reassured on this point.  Be fully assured, all visitors to Ireland.  The answer to the question “am I allowed to make fun of Bob Geldorf?” is always “YESOHYESOHYESOHYES!”

I got to meet film maker Julian Temple yesterday.  He was a quiet and a shy and a serious man, but I got to shake his hand and thank him for his body of work (to date).  He told us a wonderful story of how he reconciled with Joe Strummer after decades of “exile” as a consequence of having been too close to Malcolm McLaren.  Apparently Strummer was a surprise guest at a party at Temple’s home, and Temple had been trying to construct small hot air balloon for the kids.  Strummer slowly became interested and involved in this difficult project which involved building a fire on the lawn.  The children were woken around dawn to witness the flight of this balloon which ascended briefly before plunging into flames.  The centrality of camp fires as a device within Temple’s Joe Strummer movie feels all the more poignant now.

The formal part of the symposium was now concluded.  It was never that formal.  Then it was off to a club, where Don Lett’s Westway to the World film was being broadcast against a backcloth.  This was interrupted by a Clash tribute band.  The band was tight, but I had problems with their lead singer.  This faux Joe Strummer seemed far more arrogant than the actual Joe Strummer.  My friend remarked that it was as though Jimmy Pursey had replaced Strummer as The Clash’s lead singer. Imagine that. But not for too long.

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And now a choice of endings… Laurel and Hardy in “Laughing Gravy” 1931.

gravy

You can enjoy this film as a two-reeler or as a three-reeler and I’m not sure which one is preferable.  The longer ending radically changes the character of the experience.

In many obvious ways this is a remake of Angora Love (1929).  Two men, a pet, and a mean landlord.  The boys risk eviction from their room should their landlord discover a dog rather than, as previously, a goat.  Goats are funnier – dogs are cuter – a comparison which pretty much defines the difference between the two films.  The landlord is played by their perennial diminutive antagonist Charley Hall, who delivers one of his more histrionic performances as the mean mean little man who will toss an adorable little dog into the snow without a moment’s qualm.

This film is almost as cold as Below Zero, and Ollie’s plunge into the ice-capped water barrel is almost painful to watch.  More than once, Stan is charged with pulling Ollie up a wall.  He’s been asked to do this in other films, despite the obvious problems with basic strength to weight ratios.  It is notable that while Stan is far more obviously affectionate around Laughing Gravy, Ollie is incapable of deserting the dog either – even when the dog clearly threatens their only form of shelter – and possibly their lives.

In the shorter version, Hall is about to toss Stan and Ollie out into the snow when a cop arrives with a quarantine notice, confining all of them indoors for months.  This is more than Hall can bear so he grabs a shotgun and goes to blow his brains out.  Hats off everyone.

In the longer version, lost and rediscovered in 1985, Stan receives a telegram telling him that he will inherit a large fortune from his uncle, provided that he pledges to forever separate himself from one Oliver Hardy.  What follows is a masterclass from Ollie in extended moral blackmail.  Ollie sings at Stan in an effective effort to break Stan’s heart.  We are reminded that Ollie depends on Stan more than Stan does on Ollie.  Which of them is really “holding the other back”?  An interesting and perhaps a perennial question.  Stan eventually throws away his fortune, but only to stay with Laughing Gravy.

I find the longer more “sentimental” version harder to watch, because this is the most painfully manipulative version of sentimentality imaginable.  Part of you is shouting at the screen to tell Stan to take the money and run.  Sudden violent death is rather more mercifully decisive as a way of ending a film.  I’m actually happy to have both endings and I can oscillate between them according to my mood.

There is also a third sort of film which edits together Be Big with the shorter Laughing Gravy to give the impression that Stan and Ollie are living in this boarding house following expensive divorces from their wives at the end of the earlier film.

I’ve a few thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy films.

Even 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/

It’s not really about Henry. The 1979 BBC Henry VIII.

henry

The Cedric Messina era of BBC Shakespeares does not have a high reputation, and this Henry VIII illustrates some of the reasons why.   The motto of this particular production seems to have been: “We’ve only got Leeds Castle for the weekend so dammit, we’re going to make it count – can we see some more ceilings?”   The BBC were also able to get Hever Castle and Penshurst Place for strategic lengths of time as well.   What they weren’t able to get hold of were enough people to actually populate these settings.  A crowd that would have filled a stage set impressively enough look very meagre in the open air. Also cold.

This “filmic” realism has a predictable consequence.  Instead of feeling that you are watching a grand theatrical pageant, you feel that you are watching a low budget movie.  It looks like an undistinguished entry in a line of 60s and 70s Henrician romcoms.   The camera work is less impressive than Anne of a Thousand Days.

The glossy location shots also betray a sort of unconscious (or maybe conscious) insecurity with the source material, which is a pity.  For centuries Henry VIII was an extremely popular play.  Its falling out of favour towards the end of the nineteenth century is a result of two factors.  Firstly, grand on stage spectacle itself becomes dramaturgically suspect, as theatrical revolutions in Scandinavia and elsewhere start to inform London theatre.   Secondly, the growing scholarly consensus that the play was co-written with Fletcher starts to thin its appreciative audience.

Personally, I think Henry VIII would have done better had scholars managed to prove that it was entirely by Fletcher.  If it were known as a Fletcher play, it would be a highly regarded history play by one of Shakespeare’s most interesting younger contemporaries.  As it is, people watching the play are in the awkward position of worrying about which bits they are supposed to most enjoy?  Am I enjoying the wrong bit?  Can I intuitively detect the cadences of the Immortal bard?

Bah.  This is no way to enjoy a play.  And, incidentally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the work of John Fletcher.  There are some very fine speeches in this play and it offers some remarkable acting opportunities.

This drama, shot in winter, and with the breath of actors visible in drafty castles and upon endless crenelations sings meanwhile because of Timothy West and Claire Bloom as Wolsey and Katharine of Aragon respectively.  As Claire Bloom defends herself in her great trial (“it’s not really a trial dear”) scene, you can appreciate why Samuel Johnson thought that Katharine was the greatest role in the Shakespearean canon.  She offers experience and common sense in opposition to sophistry and self interest.

The play itself is a sequence of dignified falls from grace.  The wonderful Julian Glover, who has appeared in altogether more stuff than even well-informed readers of this blog can appreciate, plays the Duke of Buckingham, who is sent to the tower thanks to the false testimony of a very young David Troughton.  His speech to a sorry handful of sympathetic citizens survives even the bitter weather.  Then Wolsey falls, and Timothy West gives a remarkable portrayal of the liberating eloquence that’s unleashed when you really do have nothing left to lose.  Then Claire Bloom’s Katharine is translated and even hulking great John Rhys Davies gets teary.  The final fall is the fall averted – the near-fall and rescue of Ronald Pickup’s Cranmer.  Ronald Pickup is of course possessed of one of those voices that you’d pay good money to hear recite the phone book – and he it is, as Cranmer, who is charged with the prophetic baptism speech inspired by the gurgling infant Princess Elizabeth (of blessed recent memory as far as the original audience was concerned).

It’s impossible to forget that this play was written for a protestant audience at a time of European sectarian strife.  In this historical context it is impossible for Henry to be that bad of a guy.  This Henry is broadly well intentioned and only angry in what he sincerely believes to be a good cause.

But here’s here’s my controversial proposition… I don’t think Henry VIII is particularly interesting character.  It’s not Shakespeare or Fletcher’s fault that he isn’t.  Tyrants of course can be notoriously banal, as Hannah Arendt famously explained.  But Henry VIII (however faithfully reconstructed or reimagined)  is dull by even tyrant standards.  It can be fun to see a tyrant on the way up, scheming their way to power – and it’s entertaining to see them deposed and fleeing for their lives.  But Henry the VIII inherited his power and retained it until he died.  His life is a plateau of untroubled entitlement.

Even Henry’s recorded excesses are fairly tedious.  They are mere inflations of commonplaces vices.  Henry VIII did not dress up as penguin, and nor did he choreograph Satanic rituals or make his horse a senator.  Compared to the Emperor Elagabalus or Keith Moon, Henry’s party years are somewhat “meh”.

John Stride is a confident booming but benevolent Henry VIII, but he’s not a character we’re ultimately invested in.  Indeed this play is villain deficient.  Peter Vaughan’s overplayed Bishop Gardiner cackles as though to make up for a general cackle deficit in the first three quarters of the drama.  Since Anne Boleyn is mother to the blessed Elizabeth, she cannot be written as a seductress or a schemer and is instead an almost Biblical handmaiden, plucked out of obscurity by Divine grace to be the mother of a child of salvation.

There’s a lot to be enjoyed in this play, but you leave the theatre (or switch off the BBC DVD) unclear who or what the play was about.  It’s several tragedies in one.

Watching this production has the effect therefore of offering a commentary on the possibilities and limitations of Henrician drama and Henrician narrative more generally.  David Starkey has, apparently, denounced the constant fixation with Henry’s wives at the expense of Henry himself.  Starkey of course has “form” when it comes to reacting to feminized interventions, but he’s also wrong from a literary point of view.  There’s a reason why Ford Madox Ford, Robert Bolt and Hilary Mantel have all focused on characters who orbit Henry -not Henry himself.  Henry is a star with an immense gravitational pull, but you can’t live there.  You can only really inhabit one of the orbiting planets.  Henry simply doesn’t have the hopes and the fears needed to sustain interest, but the interest you feel for those swirling around him is extraordinary.

Good grief but this production looks chilly though…

 

I have some thoughts about some other 1978-1985 BBC Shakespeares…

Love’s Labours Lost:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/15/holofernes-goodman-dull-thou-hast-spoken-no-word-all-this-while-dull-nor-understood-none-neither-sir-the-1985-bbc-loves-labours-lost/

Romeo and Juliet:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/well-susan-is-with-god-the-1978-bbc-romeo-and-juliet/

The Scottish One:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/the-1983-bbc-scottish-play-much-thats-wrong-much-thats-interesting/

Much Ado About Nothing:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/hello-darkness-my-old-friend-the-1984-bbc-much-ado-about-nothing-also-the-origins-of-dads-army/

King Lear:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/bring-your-daughter-to-the-slaughter-the-1982-bbc-king-lear/

Here is Midsummer Night’s Dream:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/the-drugs-do-work-the-1981-bbc-a-midsummer-nights-dream/

Here’s Julius Caesar:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/unkind-cuts-richard-pasco-the-1979-bbc-shakespeare-version-of-julius-caesar/

King John:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/come-hither-hubert-the-1984-bbc-production-of-king-john/

Here’s Richard II:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/telling-sad-stories-of-the-death-of-kings-the-1978-bbc-richard-ii/

The BBC Richard III could not be more unlike the BBC Richard II…

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/all-this-and-no-horses-either-the-1980s-bbc-richard-iii/

Here is Henry VI Part III

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/20/it-just-gets-worse-or-better-the-1980s-bbc-henry-vi-part-iii/

Henry VI. Part Two:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/getting-better-all-the-time-and-incidentally-much-worse-the-1980s-bbc-henry-vi-part-ii/

Henry VI, Part One:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/verfremdungseffekt-at-the-beeb-the-bbc-henry-vi-part-one/

Here’s my review of the BBC Henry V:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/23/on-shakespeares-birthday-cry-god-for-harry-england-and-st-george-but-not-too-loudly-the-1979-bbc-henry-v/

Here are a few more blogs musing on this old BBC project…

BBC Henry IV, Part TWO:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/and-is-old-double-dead-the-1979-bbc-henry-iv-part-ii/

But here’s my review of the BBC Henry IV Part ONE:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/the-1979-bbc-version-of-henry-iv-part-i/

And the BBC Antony and Cleopatra:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/stagy-shakespeare-on-videotape-lots-and-lots-of-lying-down-acting-in-this-1981-bbc-antony-and-cleopatra/

And the Cymbeline:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/romans-in-britain-the-bbc-cymbeline-nope-doesnt-sort-out-how-i-feel-about-cymbeline/

Not to mention a somber but intensely homoerotic Coriolanus:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/i-banish-you-the-1980s-bbc-coriolanus/

Here’s Comedy of Errors:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/the-bbc-comedy-of-errors-with-roger-daltrey-you-will-get-fooled-again/

And… All’s Well That End’s Well:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/the-1980-bbc-adaptation-of-alls-well-that-ends-well/

Helen Mirren in the BBC As You Like It:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/how-could-i-have-forgotten-that-david-prowse-darth-vader-green-cross-man-played-charles-the-wrestler-in-the-1978-bbc-adaptation-of-as-you-like-it/

“And Swift expires a driveler and a show…” On this day in 1745.

swift death mask

Except that he didn’t.  Swift certainly died on this day in 1745 (OS), but there’s no record of his driveling especially, and nor was he a “show”.  People did not pay good money to line up outside the Deanery of St Patrick’s just to see a once great man in a state of incoherent decrepitude.

Still, it’s a good line in a great poem and Samuel Johnson was in the business of compiling examples of unhappy endings.  Swift was certainly very unhappy and incommunicative in his years, experiencing intense pain and no longer bothering to acknowledge any human kinship.

Samuel Johnson was not an unqualified fan of Swift’s. (Johnson, of course, was not an unqualified fan of anybody.)   Johnson admired Tale of a Tub, was indifferent to Gulliver’s Travels, approved of Swift’s Irish nationalism and generally preferred Swift’s prose to his verse.  As someone prone to intense fits of religious melancholy himself, Johnson would have seen Swift’s final years as something of a warning.  Swift, in many ways, was too close for comfort.

This year is all about Swift’s birth, because it’s the 350th anniversary of his nativity this year.   Many of the events that would have taken place in October (the month of his death), have been shifted forward a few weeks to November (the month of his birth).  I certainly won’t live to see a Swift 400 celebration, so I’m thinking that perhaps we should do something in ten years time called “Swift 360 – rotations and revolutions”.

The Irish eighteenth century is full of people who we have to tell our students were “patriots but not nationalists”.  There’s a sense in which Swift is the only major figure we can present as perhaps a nationalist but not a patriot.  As his godson Thomas Sheridan the Younger noted – Swift was noted in his own lifetime as “A Hypocrite Revers’d” – a phrase which David Nokes thought apposite enough to provide the subtitle of a biography.   Swift was determined to do good without ever being thanked for it.  He worked long and hard to avoid the reputation of being a nice guy.  His most famous legacy, a Dublin home for the deranged and bewildered, is at one and the same time, a deliberate insult, and something profoundly and permanently useful.

Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson both left us death masks.  These offer as accurate a literal impression of their facial features as point of death as can be imagined.  We know exactly how they looked in the moments after breath left their body.

After death, Swift was certainly a “show”.  He’s a show right now and his relics are much sought after.  I’ve been to events where his old snuffbox is passed around and caressed.  I have a friend, meanwhile, with a background in banking, who as studied Swift’s economic thinking, and possesses one of those Wood’s half pence that Swift claimed was a debasing attempt to wreck what was left of the Irish economy and organised a boycott of.  We’ve discussed trying to pass this coin around at symposia and have everyone pointedly refuse to touch it.

Swift achieved a blessed relief on this day in 1745.  During the course of his long death, he was far too beloved to be a driveler and show.  The construction of him as a despised lunatic was posthumous.  A more accurate if metrically sticky version of the line in “Vanity of Human Wishes” would therefore run

“And Swift expired’s a driveler and a show.”

John McCain is becoming Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt.

gielgud

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=John+of+Gaunt+speech

Donald Trump has said that his patience is wearing thin with John McCain and soon he’s going to fight back.  “It won’t be pretty” apparently.  Most fights involving septuagenarians who are battling brain cancer aren’t very pretty but Trump was concerned that the American people might in fact think such a contest would be pretty so he went out of his way to tell them that it wouldn’t be.

The truth is, of course, that John McCain is currently battling The Reaper.  The Reaper always wins, and McCain surely knows this.  And knowing this means that he can afford to laugh at whatever Trump thinks he can do to him.

John McCain has become Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt.

Shakespeare’s Richard II is a sort of seventeenth-century absolute monarch trapped in the fourteenth century.  He tries to rule by divine fiat – but divine fiat is not how feudal governance works.  In feudal Europe – baronial magnates and other established stake-holders needed to be appeased and rewarded.  Likewise Trump is a man who acknowledges no boundaries – who doesn’t understand or respect what a “republic” actually is or how a constitution predicated on rule of law actually  functions.

When Richard casually violates the inheritance of others, he’s actually undermining his own legitimacy.  As soon as Gaunt is dead, he announces that he’s taking all of Gaunt’s stuff.  And that he’s off to Ireland to take all their stuff. Once everybody realises that nobody’s stuff is safe – the path to deposition has been taken.  Richard cannot see any “state” beyond the advancement of his own person and he has no concept of “national interest” that could conflict with the theatrical restatement of his own personal authority. Trump… well, you get the point.

Richard II was a boy king who grew to adulthood never knowing what it means to stand accountable to others.  Donald Trump has never grown up.

Of course, the real John of Gaunt was no saint and no prophet.  He was considered such a malign influence, such a notorious feudal oppressor, that his Thames-side palace (the Savoy) was one of the main targets of revolting peasants in 1381.  Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt is a man who gains moral authority at the expense of worldly authority.  As Richard rules more autocratically, Gaunt speaks more truthfully.  He is like a licensed fool who can speak Truth to Power, though Power is under no obligation to act on that Truth.

John McCain is no saint and no prophet.  He’s a right wing politician who has been complicit with many of the horrible things that have happened in the United States over the past few decades.  He’s an insider and his hands are dirty.  Only with the loss of power and influence has he gained a distinctive and prophetic voice.  Only by being marginalised by the new order has he found a way to speak Truth to Power.   Trump of course is as indifferent to McCain’s swansong eloquence as Richard was to Gaunt’s.

The forces of horribleness in the USA and the UK are often treated as attempts by The Old to thwart The Young.  In fact, some of the most eloquent and timely voices for hope in the world seem to emanate from those with a heroic sense of their own incipient mortality.  Such people have stopped trying to feather their own nests and are concerned with saying the most necessary things in the limited time available.

McCain is looking pretty gaunt these days.  In these strange and uncharted days, heroic voices emerge from among unexpected sources.  Aging politicians we used to dismiss as tired reactionaries and establishment magnates become John of Gaunts.   Ken Clarke is John of Gaunt and so is Michael Heseltine.

And here is the whole scene…

SCENE I. Ely House.

Enter JOHN OF GAUNT sick, with the DUKE OF YORK, & c

JOHN OF GAUNT

Will the king come, that I may breathe my last
In wholesome counsel to his unstaid youth?

DUKE OF YORK

Vex not yourself, nor strive not with your breath;
For all in vain comes counsel to his ear.

JOHN OF GAUNT

O, but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony:
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.
He that no more must say is listen’d more
Than they whom youth and ease have taught to glose;
More are men’s ends mark’d than their lives before:
The setting sun, and music at the close,
As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,
Writ in remembrance more than things long past:
Though Richard my life’s counsel would not hear,
My death’s sad tale may yet undeaf his ear.

DUKE OF YORK

No; it is stopp’d with other flattering sounds,
As praises, of whose taste the wise are fond,
Lascivious metres, to whose venom sound
The open ear of youth doth always listen;
Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Whose manners still our tardy apish nation
Limps after in base imitation.
Where doth the world thrust forth a vanity–
So it be new, there’s no respect how vile–
That is not quickly buzzed into his ears?
Then all too late comes counsel to be heard,
Where will doth mutiny with wit’s regard.
Direct not him whose way himself will choose:
‘Tis breath thou lack’st, and that breath wilt thou lose.

JOHN OF GAUNT

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired
And thus expiring do foretell of him:
His rash fierce blaze of riot cannot last,
For violent fires soon burn out themselves;
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short;
He tires betimes that spurs too fast betimes;
With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder:
Light vanity, insatiate cormorant,
Consuming means, soon preys upon itself.
This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear’d by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!
Enter KING RICHARD II and QUEEN, DUKE OF AUMERLE, BUSHY, GREEN, BAGOT, LORD ROSS, and LORD WILLOUGHBY

DUKE OF YORK

The king is come: deal mildly with his youth;
For young hot colts being raged do rage the more.

QUEEN

How fares our noble uncle, Lancaster?

KING RICHARD II

What comfort, man? how is’t with aged Gaunt?

JOHN OF GAUNT

O how that name befits my composition!
Old Gaunt indeed, and gaunt in being old:
Within me grief hath kept a tedious fast;
And who abstains from meat that is not gaunt?
For sleeping England long time have I watch’d;
Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt:
The pleasure that some fathers feed upon,
Is my strict fast; I mean, my children’s looks;
And therein fasting, hast thou made me gaunt:
Gaunt am I for the grave, gaunt as a grave,
Whose hollow womb inherits nought but bones.

KING RICHARD II

Can sick men play so nicely with their names?

JOHN OF GAUNT

No, misery makes sport to mock itself:
Since thou dost seek to kill my name in me,
I mock my name, great king, to flatter thee.

KING RICHARD II

Should dying men flatter with those that live?

JOHN OF GAUNT

No, no, men living flatter those that die.

KING RICHARD II

Thou, now a-dying, say’st thou flatterest me.

JOHN OF GAUNT

O, no! thou diest, though I the sicker be.

KING RICHARD II

I am in health, I breathe, and see thee ill.

JOHN OF GAUNT

Now He that made me knows I see thee ill;
Ill in myself to see, and in thee seeing ill.
Thy death-bed is no lesser than thy land
Wherein thou liest in reputation sick;
And thou, too careless patient as thou art,
Commit’st thy anointed body to the cure
Of those physicians that first wounded thee:
A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown,
Whose compass is no bigger than thy head;
And yet, incaged in so small a verge,
The waste is no whit lesser than thy land.
O, had thy grandsire with a prophet’s eye
Seen how his son’s son should destroy his sons,
From forth thy reach he would have laid thy shame,
Deposing thee before thou wert possess’d,
Which art possess’d now to depose thyself.
Why, cousin, wert thou regent of the world,
It were a shame to let this land by lease;
But for thy world enjoying but this land,
Is it not more than shame to shame it so?
Landlord of England art thou now, not king:
Thy state of law is bondslave to the law; And thou–

KING RICHARD II

A lunatic lean-witted fool,
Presuming on an ague’s privilege,
Darest with thy frozen admonition
Make pale our cheek, chasing the royal blood
With fury from his native residence.
Now, by my seat’s right royal majesty,
Wert thou not brother to great Edward’s son,
This tongue that runs so roundly in thy head
Should run thy head from thy unreverent shoulders.

JOHN OF GAUNT

O, spare me not, my brother Edward’s son,
For that I was his father Edward’s son;
That blood already, like the pelican,
Hast thou tapp’d out and drunkenly caroused:
My brother Gloucester, plain well-meaning soul,
Whom fair befal in heaven ‘mongst happy souls!
May be a precedent and witness good
That thou respect’st not spilling Edward’s blood:
Join with the present sickness that I have;
And thy unkindness be like crooked age,
To crop at once a too long wither’d flower.
Live in thy shame, but die not shame with thee!
These words hereafter thy tormentors be!
Convey me to my bed, then to my grave:
Love they to live that love and honour have.
Exit, borne off by his Attendants

KING RICHARD II

And let them die that age and sullens have;
For both hast thou, and both become the grave.

DUKE OF YORK

I do beseech your majesty, impute his words
To wayward sickliness and age in him:
He loves you, on my life, and holds you dear
As Harry Duke of Hereford, were he here.

KING RICHARD II

Right, you say true: as Hereford’s love, so his;
As theirs, so mine; and all be as it is.
Enter NORTHUMBERLAND

NORTHUMBERLAND

My liege, old Gaunt commends him to your majesty.

KING RICHARD II

What says he?

NORTHUMBERLAND

Nay, nothing; all is said
His tongue is now a stringless instrument;
Words, life and all, old Lancaster hath spent.

DUKE OF YORK

Be York the next that must be bankrupt so!
Though death be poor, it ends a mortal woe.

KING RICHARD II

The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he;
His time is spent, our pilgrimage must be.
So much for that. Now for our Irish wars:
We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns,
Which live like venom where no venom else
But only they have privilege to live.
And for these great affairs do ask some charge,
Towards our assistance we do seize to us
The plate, corn, revenues and moveables,
Whereof our uncle Gaunt did stand possess’d.

 

Anne Finch’s Hurricane

conradbrunstrom

Anne Finch’s Hurricane.

The recent storm puts me in mind of Anne Finch’s poem in response to the far greater and more destructive hurricane of 1703.

It is a rather wonderful example of the Pindaric form which flourished in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  Dryden and to a lesser extent Prior was masters of the Pindaric which would lie dormant for several decades before being revived in the middle of the eighteenth-century by Thomas Gray.

Finch’s Pindaric is equal to the best of these Pindarics and is one of the more theologically interesting poems written in English in the eighteenth century.

Its interest lies in the fact that it is determined to interpret the hurricane as a manifestation of Divine judgement, but is equally unable or unwilling to interpret the nature of that judgment.  In short, the hurricane must be made to mean something – but precisely what…

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The Stolen Jools. All of 1931 Hollywood in 2 Reels. Part of why Laurel and Hardy is great.

conradbrunstrom

stolen-jools

The only reason why anyone would find themselves watching The Stolen Jools (1931) is if, like me, they are a Laurel and Hardy completist and want to ensure that no precious moments of Stan and Ollie screen time are allowed to go unseen.  This bizarre two-reel comedy features Laurel and Hardy in a cameo in which they play “two guys” attached to the police department.  Their car falls apart.  That’s the full extent of their involvement in this picture.   Incidentally, if there’s one thing that Laurel and Hardy movies can teach us about the Model T. is that you could basically tear it apart with your bare hands if you had a mind to it.

The “plot” of The Stolen Jools is as follows. Norma Shearer’s jewels are stolen at a swanky party and Eddie Kane has to get them back.   This review comedy features just about every…

View original post 358 more words

Everybody has a Past. Laurel and Hardy in “Chickens Come Home” (1931).

chickens_come_home__icon2_

Does anyone else remember when political careers could be destroyed by a sex scandal?  It does seem a long time ago I admit.

In this film, a remake of the silent Laurel-Hardy-Finlayson comedy Love ‘Em and Weep (1927), Oliver Hardy is on the brink of actual political office.  The progression from dealer in fertilizer to politician seems logical enough (indeed Stan reports that this fertilizer dealership has a sample room).  Ollie is so far ahead in the polls that he’s dictating his victory speech to Stan, although they are continually being interrupted by a musical pencil sharpener.

In bursts Ollie’s Past, played by the very wonderful Mae Busch (just as she had in 1927).  Past is brandishing a beach photo (see above) which could apparently destroy Ollie’s political aspirations in an instant.

The film follows the plot of Love ‘Em and Weep, pretty closely.  It’s a three reeler, not a two reeler, which accommodates dialogue but does not alter the sequence of events very significantly.  The most important  difference between these two films is of course the fact that the central role is played by Oliver Hardy rather than by James Finlayson, who is demoted to the role of butler.  Finlayson responds to this demotion seemingly with poor grace and the maxim “no man is a hero to his valet” has rarely seemed more apposite.  As Ollie fears for the imminent arrival of Past at his swanky and tactical pre-election dinner party, Finlayson has to be continually bribed.

At the conclusion of the film, Finlayson indulges a double take that is extravagant even by his standards.  In all fairness, this double take is in response to the appearance of the bizarre hybrid creature made of Ollie and Unconscious Past that Stan is passing off as Mrs Laurel.

The story is in fact vastly improved by this rearranged casting, because nobody does embarrassment better than Oliver Hardy.  Mrs Hardy (Thelma Todd) knows that something is up and her murderous glances of bitter suspicion are priceless.  Ollie’s rendition of “Somebody’s Coming to My House” (an old Irving Berlin classic that is hilariously appropriate) counts as my highlight of the film.  Indeed, all commentary on Chickens Come Home is liable to focus on Ollie’s performance, since Stan’s role and performance is essentially the same as in the earlier film – a film in which Ollie only had a tiny role as “Dinner Guest who resembles Teddy Roosevelt”.

Nowadays, audiences are desperate for closure and would want to know if, after all this absurdity, Ollie still won the mayoral election.  But as Laurel and Hardy fans, we know that the story always ends at a point of absurd crisis… the future is irrelevant and the next film will see the boys in a totally different situation altogether.

I’ve a few thoughts about some other Laurel and Hardy films.

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/

“HOLOFERNES: …Goodman Dull – Thou hast spoken no word all this while. DULL Nor understood none neither, sir.” The 1985 BBC “Love’s Labour’s Lost

LLL

Elijah Moshinsky is certainly a very painterly director.   Other Moshinsky dramas in this series are defined by seventeenth-century Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, but with Love’s Labours Lost Moshinsky takes a very bold leap into the first half of the eighteenth century and his artistic inspiration is Watteau.  A play that is all about combative and esoteric wit is staged in a golden age of witty banter.  Moshinsky retains his habitual love of fabric and the play of light upon fabric.  Indeed, many of the scenes involving the ladies of France involve all the women jumbled up together in a great heap of delightfully expensive fabric.

This is the only play in the series that is very precisely and specifically located in a historical era long after Shakespeare’s death, using costumes, sets and props that Shakespeare himself could not have recognised.  There are a few difficulties here.  The text refers to Don Armado having a moustache – and so this Armado becomes the only eighteenth-century aristocrat in Europe to still have a moustache.  Holofernes and Dull are given full bottomed wigs that seem to elevate them from their petty and parochial offices and make them look like heavyweight judicial and academic figures.

More seriously, and more strangely, Moth is played by a middle aged man (John Kane) despite endless and repeated references to the character being a small boy.

Love’s Labours Lost is the most one-sided battle of the sexes in the Shakespearean canon.  Girls rule.  The play ends with the harsh surrender terms being dictated.  Women never put a foot wrong and men never put a foot right.  Indeed, much of the play is about the amusing and versatile idiocy of the whole “bros before hos” (I hate even typing this phrase) mentality.  The play is also about hubris of the intellect and about the nonsensical aspiration of transcending the body.  In its own way it’s a profoundly anti-Cartesian play – it’s an organic-materialist play – and this alone vindicates the Augustan setting of this production.  The (male)  characters of this staging have (unlike Shakespeare) read Descartes – when they should have been reading Spinoza and Toland.  Slowly and painfully, they learn to admit the flesh and to see flesh and spirit as part of a continuum.

The most accomplished idiot in Navarre is Berowne, played with some sardonic jaggedness by Mike Gwilym.  As the acknowledged leader of the pack (titles be damned!), he will, twelve months after the curtain call, be rewarded with Rosaline – as played by Jenny Agutter.   I am sorry for the generation(s) that did not grow up yearning for Jenny Agutter.  They are wretches to be pitied.  Twelve months being Robin Williams in a leper hospital is a small price to pay for a lifetime with Jenny Agutter.

Rank has its obligations as well as its privileges.  Maureen Lipman, who is as deliciously arch and teasing as you’d expect as the Princess of France will be stuck with Jonathan Kent’s rather cloddish King of Navarre.  She will be marrying beneath her.

Frank Williams, most famous as the querulous vicar in Dad’s Army, plays the bewildered Dull, at the receiving end of a tour de force John Bird performance as Holofernes.  John Bird has played versions of Holofernes on countless occasions, and the flawless confidence of his erudite pomposity is a joy to watch.  His Holofernes is almost detachable from the rest of the play – a party piece inserted into an ensemble drama.  Oddly enough, this does not matter since Holofernes – the character as written – is himself barely cognizant of what’s going around him.

The star performance is, however, from that very remarkable actor David Warner as Armado.  Warner has always had an other worldly quality to him, which is why Peter Davison astutely suggested him as a possible Doctor Who.  His Armado is a posturing idiot to be sure, but a posturing idiot with a rich and romantic inner life.  Armado is more in love, and more capable of love, than Berowne and the pack.  His is a love, furthermore, which is actually consummated.

Warner’s yearning Armado is far from his homeland and profoundly displaced.  He is clearly an aristocrat yet he hangs out with the help.  And in eighteenth-century dress I am reminded of Pamela by Samuel Richardson.  Armado’s love transcends and transgresses class barriers.

All in all, this anachronistic eighteenth-century staging reminds me of the very great French film Ridicule (dir, Lacomte, 1996), which co-starred Jean Rochefort who died last week.  Ridicule explains how in order to lobby to drain a swamp and save human lives, you need to deliver the perfect witticism at the right salon.   Love’s Labours Lost also reminds us that amid all the competitive erudite idiocy, the fate of nations are in play and that the Princess of France represents the state interests of a global superpower.  Lives are at stake.  Masks, witticisms, put downs, and ludicrous Russian accents all impact upon the peace of Europe.  The toffs titter – the serfs suffer.

Final nagging note – I’m not sure the wonderful winter poem with its description of Greasy Joan keeling the pot survives when delivered as a trilly bit of Italianate recitative.  I’m not sure.  Really not sure.

 

I have a few thoughts about some other plays in the 1978-1985 BBC Shakespeare series…

Romeo and Juliet:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/well-susan-is-with-god-the-1978-bbc-romeo-and-juliet/

The Scottish One:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/the-1983-bbc-scottish-play-much-thats-wrong-much-thats-interesting/

Much Ado About Nothing:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/hello-darkness-my-old-friend-the-1984-bbc-much-ado-about-nothing-also-the-origins-of-dads-army/

King Lear:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/bring-your-daughter-to-the-slaughter-the-1982-bbc-king-lear/

Here is Midsummer Night’s Dream:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/the-drugs-do-work-the-1981-bbc-a-midsummer-nights-dream/

Here’s Julius Caesar:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/unkind-cuts-richard-pasco-the-1979-bbc-shakespeare-version-of-julius-caesar/

King John:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/come-hither-hubert-the-1984-bbc-production-of-king-john/

Here’s Richard II:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/telling-sad-stories-of-the-death-of-kings-the-1978-bbc-richard-ii/

The BBC Richard III could not be more unlike the BBC Richard II…

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/all-this-and-no-horses-either-the-1980s-bbc-richard-iii/

Here is Henry VI Part III

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/20/it-just-gets-worse-or-better-the-1980s-bbc-henry-vi-part-iii/

Henry VI. Part Two:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/getting-better-all-the-time-and-incidentally-much-worse-the-1980s-bbc-henry-vi-part-ii/

Henry VI, Part One:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/verfremdungseffekt-at-the-beeb-the-bbc-henry-vi-part-one/

Here’s my review of the BBC Henry V:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/23/on-shakespeares-birthday-cry-god-for-harry-england-and-st-george-but-not-too-loudly-the-1979-bbc-henry-v/

Here are a few more blogs musing on this old BBC project…

BBC Henry IV, Part TWO:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/and-is-old-double-dead-the-1979-bbc-henry-iv-part-ii/

But here’s my review of the BBC Henry IV Part ONE:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/the-1979-bbc-version-of-henry-iv-part-i/

And the BBC Antony and Cleopatra:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/stagy-shakespeare-on-videotape-lots-and-lots-of-lying-down-acting-in-this-1981-bbc-antony-and-cleopatra/

And the Cymbeline:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/romans-in-britain-the-bbc-cymbeline-nope-doesnt-sort-out-how-i-feel-about-cymbeline/

Not to mention a somber but intensely homoerotic Coriolanus:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/i-banish-you-the-1980s-bbc-coriolanus/

Here’s Comedy of Errors:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/the-bbc-comedy-of-errors-with-roger-daltrey-you-will-get-fooled-again/

And… All’s Well That End’s Well:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/the-1980-bbc-adaptation-of-alls-well-that-ends-well/

Helen Mirren in the BBC As You Like It:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/how-could-i-have-forgotten-that-david-prowse-darth-vader-green-cross-man-played-charles-the-wrestler-in-the-1978-bbc-adaptation-of-as-you-like-it/

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan

On the anniversary of a decision that sparked on or two animated conversations.

conradbrunstrom

bob

This has been debated for a long long time.  I used to insert the issue into one of my lectures, ten years ago and more (more).  “Should Bob Dylan get the Nobel Prize for Literature?”

I didn’t really answer the question then and I won’t know.  (What sort of worthwhile question gets “answered”?)   As far as Dylan is concerned, I am a fan and I’m biased.   His songs mean more to me than most poems and the poetry inside his songs means more to me than most poems.   His songs are full of poetry and he has distributed playful and expressive rhymes far and wide.  At the same time, I’ve always been worried by the condescension and structural snobbery implied by the idea of elevating Bob to the pantheon of “Literature”.   It’s as though the stuffed shirts are thinking “you know, this unkempt mumbling minstrel does…

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