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If Hard Brexit impedes the easy transit of this stuff – how wedded are you really to Hard Brexit?

Milk_Bank_Poster_300px

Human milk, that can help save the lives of premature and low birth weight infants, currently speeds across all thirty-two counties of the island of Ireland.  It is logged, pasteurised and distributed from the milk bank in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh, and sent via a variety of means to infants in need on both sides of the (currently) invisible border.

As we speak (assuming we’re speaking), negotiations are taking place to try to figure out to what extent abandoning the principle of freedom of movement between the UK and the EU is compatible with a so-called “frictionless border” in Northern Ireland.

Shamefully, of course, Britain’s moral commitment to the Good Friday Agreement formed no substantive part of the EU referendum last year and no substantive part of political discussions as to the form that Britain’s leaving the EU might take.

EU negotiators have had to prod the British government into taking care of the peace and security of the UK, in other words.

But EU negotiators have also had to remind British negotiators that if they reject freedom of movement then something has to be done about a border between the EU and a place called the Rest of the World which has suddenly become Britain’s best friend.  If Britain continues to insist on the version of Brexit demanded by Theresa May’s backbenchers then some form of “checks” will be inevitable.

I’m very very biased.  My own perspective is over-determined by very specific personal circumstances.  I’m the parent of an infant, born prematurely in Canada, who died because of a condition (necrotising enterocolitis) that is rarely if ever seen among children with access to human donor milk.  I’m the parent of an infant, born equally prematurely in Ireland, who lived and lives and flourished and flourished and who was given donor milk from birth.  That milk crossed the border twice on its way to our son.  The donors (we’ve been told) were from the Republic, but the pasteurising was done in the North.

Even if there were a Milk Bank in the Republic, milk needs to defy lines on the map and get to where it’s needed.  A premature baby (preemie) in Letterkenny should not have to deal with Dublin rather than Irvinestown.  Anything which slows down traffic, anything which subjects vehicles to custom checks, anything that makes crossing the border more intimidating, or stressful, or prolonged, or unpleasant – erodes the good will and convenience that enables the distribution of human milk to the most vulnerable human beings in Ireland.

So I’m very biased when it comes to ongoing Brexit border talks.  I can’t help but think of the issue in terms of whether or not babies live or die.  I would not make for a cool or calm negotiator.

All Productions of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar are about Donald Trump.

caesar

Rewatching an old and very traditional looking TV production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar yesterday, I was of course reminded of the fact that it’s all about Donald Trump.

It’s about Donald Trump because I’m watching it now, in the year 2017.  And to watch it now, in the year 2017, is to watch a play about a global superpower with a republican constitution fretting over how to deal with an authoritarian personality cult and a man who seems to acknowledge no boundaries.  It is to watch a play about what to do about someone who has built devoted populist power base that challenges time-honoured assumptions regarding the division of power and constitutional precedents.  It’s also about a man afflicted with “illeism” who constantly needs applause and whose speeches are mainly about how great he is.

Anyone who can watch Julius Caesar in the year 2017 without thinking of Donald Trump is probably too dim to find their way to a theatre in the first place.  It doesn’t matter whether Caesar is wearing a toga, or renaissance era trunk-hose, or a shiny suit and an orange wig.  In the year 2017, Julius Caesar is about Donald Trump because there is no such thing as a “pure” period production.  No matter how much you try to recreate an original staging of a play, the audience is a “modern” audience and brings a contemporary context to a viewing of the play.

Of course, it’s well known that in 2012, a production was staged with Caesar as an Obama lookalike.  This did not provoke the same level of outrage as the recent Trump themed production.

Of course, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, it’s by no means clear whether the assassination of Caesar was “a good thing”.  Brutus, the “noblest Roman of them all” confesses to himself that the assassination is a pre-emptive rather than a retaliatory strike.  Has the Caesar/Trump destroyed the constitution yet – and if he hasn’t – what do we have to do to stop him before he does?  Brutus and his co-conspirators all wind up dead, of course, and the republic is never restored.  Following a civil war, a line of emperors is established that lasts for centuries?  Could Brutus and Cassius have predicted this?  Should they have?  Is chaos always preferable to tyranny?

Are the conspirators really libertarian patriots or are they liberal elitists, with an aristocratic disdain for the plebs who love Caesar/Trump?

These questions can never be resolved by a reading of the text, but they can be answered to some extent by particular stagings which necessarily stress some aspects of the play at the expense of others.  Staging the assassination of an Obama lookalike in 2012 makes for a play radically different from the staging of an assassination of a Trump lookalike in 2017.  But even if both 2012 Caesar and 2017 Caesar had been played by balding white guys wearing togas – the plays would have been experienced very differently.  Because 2017 is not 2012.

Can the staging of a play lead to violence?  Well, I suppose the clearest case might be John Wilkes Booth.  There can be no doubt that this rather histrionic actor thought of himself as Brutus.  Indeed the assassination of Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre can be theorised as a kind of melodramatic “final performance”.  There was no need to stage a production of Julius Caesar in 1865 in which Caesar wore a stovepipe hat and a beard.  For those predisposed to see Lincoln as a tyrant – Lincoln was Caesar already.

Like Brutus,  Booth succeeded and failed.  Lincoln was killed, but Booth and his co-conspirators also wound up dead and the South still lost.

Booth was a southern sympathising racial supremacist who hated Lincoln.  He was also an actor.  Shakespeare did not make Booth kill Lincoln.  Shakespeare, very selectively quoted, merely gave Booth a rhetoric and a mood.

Regime-changing tyrannicide is a policy with unintended consequences.  All sorts of tyrannical leaders have been toppled – some comparatively recently, leading to chaos followed by worse tyranny.  Shakespeare seems to be aware of this, but he still allows the strength of Brutus’ republicanism its rhetorical appeal.  Of course, the most intelligent reading of the play is to reject all forms of directive intentionalism and merely assume that Shakespeare wanted to create a compelling piece of theatre – one that involved giving various opposed characters wonderful dialogue.

The other thing to remember about Julius Caesar is that it’s not a story that Shakespeare made up.  It’s an actual historical event that really and truly happened, an event that has variously inspired, shocked, and fascinated generations of people.  To censor a story that might provoke political assassination effectively, you’d need to outlaw history as well as theatre.  Put Plutarch in the dock.

Either you confront the central dynamics of the story – a republic in a state of constitutional crisis – conspirators traumatised by a populist demagogue who threatens the entire political order etc. etc. etc. or you try to prevent people from making historical analogies and comparisons.

I’d always claim that the best antidote to bad history is more history.  If theatre provokes, as it should, then let it provoke in complex and thoughtful way.  There is no staging of Julius Caesar that retains any percentage of Shakespeare’s original text that can be regarded as crude propaganda.  In 2017, the play is about Donald Trump.  But it’s not a play that tells anyone to kill anyone else.

Plays don’t kill people.  Neither do movies.  Neither does gangsta rap.  People kill People.  Usually with guns.

Homo Ludens. R.I.P. Brian Cant.

cant

When my generation grieves for Brian Cant or John Noakes, what we’re sad about, in many ways, is the loss of people we can’t remember the world without – people who have been famous for as long as we’ve been aware that certain people are famous at all.  Such people have not only been famous for the duration of our lives, but famous in a way that the littlest of lives comprehended.

I cannot remember a time when I did not know the name or the face or the voice of Brian Cant.

His was the voice, of course, behind Gordon Murray’s imagined worlds of  Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley.  Trumpton had its litany of firefighters (“Pugh, Pugh, Barney-McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub”), a litany which I will probably recite on my deathbed to bewildered onlookers.  When I think of Camberwick Green I think of the elegance of the music box and the way in which the segments of the lid opened and closed.  And Chigley was notable for the rather Owenite biscuit factory wherein a six o’ clock whistle inaugurated compulsory dancing for the entire workforce.

He also appeared in two Doctor Who adventures I was too young to see him in first time around.  He played a patrician representative of the peace-loving Dulcians and was thereby squeezed into one of the most ludicrous costumes in the history of the franchise.

But of course, it was in Play School and Play Away that we best remember him.  I have fonder memories of Play Away than Play School – perhaps because it didn’t have “school” in the title.  Play School always carried with it the notion of play as something instrumental – something with a hidden pedagogic agenda.  Play Away felt like pure play – it felt like holiday.  Play Away was Brian Cant’s purest domain.

Brian Cant was an actor and more than an actor.  He tapped the wellsprings of “play” itself.  He was himself, the living, walking, hopping, smiling semantic link between “play” – the thing with a script and a stage and lights etc. etc. – and the activity of “play” that all children engage in.  He was an ur-actor.

Play Away may have been the making of Jeremy Irons, but I do not think of Jeremy Irons as playful in quite the same way.  Ah, but Toni Arthur and Floella Benjamin though….

Brian Cant was the embodiment of “let’s be this” and “let’s be that”.  And everything he played, he played with complete conviction, because nothing is more truthful than joy.  Little sketches would be played out with rudimentary costumes for a few minutes at a time, and then everyone would change roles.  Central to this ludic consciousness was a random element.  Lets allow the first item pulled out of the hamper to suggest the remainder of the narrative.  Whether or not these shows were tightly scripted is not the point.  The idea of improvisation was preserved.  As I attempt to retrieve the youngest possible version of myself – I think of Brian Cant as one of us.

Back in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth-centuries – “actor” was not the most popular word to describe someone who strutted on a stage.   The most popular word was “player”.  Nobody played happier or more influentially than Brian Cant.

 

Rich people are different… Laurel and Hardy in “Wrong Again”.

horse

No Thomas Gainsborough masterpieces were harmed in the making of this picture.

Stan and Ollie are stable-hands who overhear two separate bits of news and who join them together logically but erroneously.  They determine that a local millionaire will pay $5000 for the safe return of “Blue Boy” – which is the name of a horse in their care.  (The millionaire will in fact pay this sum for the safe return of the Gainsborough masterpiece.)

They show up at the house with the horse but the millionaire just espies Stan from him balcony.  On learning that “Blue Boy” is with them, he delightedly throws down the keys and tells them to bring “Blue Boy” into the house.

Stan finds this odd.  Indeed, in many ways Stan remains wedded to a version of “common-sense” throughout this two reeler, while Ollie insists that the mega-rich are inherently eccentric and that their bizarre instructions should be followed to the letter.  Ollie accidentally reinforces this doctrine when he accidentally knocks over a very ugly nude statue and breaks it into three pieces.  Such is his natural modesty that he avoids looking at it while piecing it back together – resulting in a creature whose breasts and buttocks are facing in the same direction.  Stan treats this disconcerting statue as evidence of the truth of Ollie’s thesis.   Thorstein Veblen could not have theorised to Stan regarding the Leisure Class more powerfully than Ollie.   A twisty-turny hand gesture is deployed again and again in order to describe the essential “difference” of those to the manor born.

However, when the millionaire tells Stan to put “Blue Boy” on the piano where it’s always kept (rather odd – I would never keep a Gainsborough masterpiece propped up on a grand piano) – Stan needs a while to process this command before reporting it to Ollie.

The whole purpose of the film is the scene with a horse on a piano, the leg of the piano breaking, and Ollie trapped underneath the piano bearing the weight of both grand piano and horse while they try to refit the piano leg.  Eventually, Ollie’s face is trapped between the piano and the piano leg.  Stan’s attempts to help are constantly interrupted as he repeatedly leaves Ollie to his agony in order to admonish the horse for continually knocking his hat off.  In the twenty-first century, it’s odd to see how wedded people used to be to their hats.  The idea that you could forget about your hat until the whole horse-piano situation is sorted out would never occur to Stan.

Meanwhile, the actual painting is safely delivered.  For now.

When millionaire discovers that the boys have brought a horse into his house, he determines to shoot them both dead with a big gun.  This seems to me an overreaction. Fortunately, like most guns from silent comedies, this firearm is only capable of wrecking a policeman’s trousers.  in the kerfuffle,  the painting itself is irreparably damaged with an underlings face jutting out of it.  This is not the fault of Stan or Ollie.

I’ve always liked this film, which is really all about trying to put a horse on a piano and keep it there. There’s the build up to this absurdity, the duration of the absurdity, and a very rushed conclusion to the film afterwards.  This is not a film about wrecking a house.  Comparatively little is destroyed by Laurel and Hardy over the course of twenty minutes.  They rearrange an already ugly statue and perhaps the top of the piano will need to be revarnished.  It’s not “slapstick” comedy so much as comedy that tries to fulfill the logic of an absurd premise.  And there’s something peculiarly satisfying about seeing a horse on a piano.  It’s a bizarre but real accomplishment.  Before we mock them, we should ask ourselves – how well would you or I have done, charged with this (apparent) commission?

They put a horse on a piano, for the tragic and moving reason that they are in thrall to the authority of immense wealth.  If gaffer wants a horse on his piano, he’ll get it.  Who and what are we to argue?  Laurel and Hardy may be “wrong again” in this film, but they’ve been doing their best, darn it.

I have some thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy shorts…

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/

“A Near Run Thing”, OR, should the Duckworth-Lewis system have been applied to the Battle of Waterloo?

conradbrunstrom

waterloo

If the Battle of Waterloo really was won on the playing fields of Eton, then surely some sort of sporting agreement should have taken place whereby a rain-truncated day’s play resulted in a revision of the terms of victory?  What would a proper Duckworth-Lewis version of the Battle of Waterloo have looked like though?   If the overnight rain really did churn up the ground to the point where it was nearly noon before Napoleon’s artillery could be moved into position, then it’s clear that the loss of time could only have benefited Wellington, who was waiting all day for reinforcements from Blucher’s Prussians.  Perhaps Wellington and Napoleon could have met during the morning and agreed on how many people had to be killed on this, a shorter day’s battle.  Bloody the day certainly was, but not as bloody as Borodino and nowhere near as bloody as the extraordinary Battle…

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“Come Hither Hubert…”: The 1984 BBC Production of King John.

john

King John was not a good man.
He had his little ways.

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days

And days

And days….

(A.A. Milne)

This was Leonard Rossiter’s swan-song.  I don’t believe he lived to see it broadcast.

Shakespeare offers a puzzling and inconsistent take on (arguably) England’s least popular monarch.   He’s a usurper, he’s arrogant, he’s brutal, he’s foolish and his nerve fails him in a crisis.  It’s often been noted that Magna Carta is nowhere mentioned in this play.  It’s also been cited as Shakespeare’s most protestant play, in part because it seems to draw from John Bale’s much earlier and far more ritualised anti-catholic play on the same theme, but mainly because of the treatment of Cardinal Pandulph.  Pandulph is realised in this production by Richard Wordsworth – the great great grandson of William Wordsworth.  Wordsworth pronounces the will of the Holy Mother Church with the desiccated voice of humourless absolutism.  He’s a chilling presence and he has a hat like an arse.

David Giles, who directed the Richard II-Henry IV-Henry V tetralogy returns for King John and pushes the lush costuming to a point of satisfying parody.  It’s as though he’s learned from the far more innovative Brechtian history tetralogy offered by Jane Howell and nudged his own instincts into a more original staging as a result.  The sets look fake and wobbly – but appropriately so.  We never forget we’re in a theatrical space.  The music, by Colin Sell, but rather unforgivably, it strikes up during the final speech of the play – the celebrated “This England never did nor never shall…” speech.  No excuse for that.

This speech is spoken by Philip the Bastard (or Richard the Bastard) who has more lines than King John and is a far more engaging character – though not necessarily a more compelling one.  He’s played by with cheery aplomb by George Costigan whom you may remember as “Bob” in the 1980s “Thatcher’s Britain” sex romp Rita, Sue, and Bob Too (1987).  Or you may not.  It is the Bastard, rather than John, who enjoys the more effective patriotic rhetorical resistance to papal supremacy.

This production features not just one but two successful sitcom stars.  Behind an enormous beard is Gordon Kaye as the Duke of Austria.  Hang a calfskin on his recreant limbs.  Also note the always emotionally involving John Castle as Salisbury and the fascinatingly ruthless looking Mary Morris as Queen Eleanor.  The very wonderful Claire Bloom (who began her career co-starring with Charlie Chaplin), is Constance – perhaps the most consistently miserable character in the Shakespearean canon.  The monotony of grief – the literal monotone of monomania is communicated not just by Bloom’s performance, but by the fact that all the other characters find her a drag to be around and will avoid her if they can.

As the King of France, we’re favoured with the incomparable voice of Charles Kay, whose tremulous operatic stylings are extraordinary.  If you really want to hear Charles Kay chew scenery in a TV drama I’d recommend going straight from this performance in King John to an episode of I Claudius, where he plays a heroic and high-minded senator being brutally interrogated by Patrick Stewart’s Sejanus.

And then there’s John Thaw – having finished playing a cop with the Shakespearean name of Regan and not yet aware of his destiny as Morse.  John Thaw plays the hapless Hubert as one of life’s eternal losers – an “ill-favoured” man burdened with a conscience. He’s instructed by King John to kill the rightful heir – the cloyingly Christlike Arthur.  He finds he can’t kill Arthur… but Arthur dies anyway in an ill-conceived escape bid which demonstrates the young Plantagenet’s complete inability to judge distances.  You are small.  The ground is – far away.

Leonard Rossiter has some fine speeches.  His final dying speech, the performance of a man who had not long to live, actually sounds like someone dying.  And his “come hither Hubert” speech succeeds in normalising infanticide with terrifying plausibility.

When I was a student and did far too much acting.  King John was the last role I played while I was still something that could just about be called a student.  I played the role within a week or two of submitting my PhD.  It was also a successful role for Thomas Sheridan the Younger (godson of Jonathan Swift, husband of novelist Frances Sheridan and father of dramatist R. B. Sheridan).  Thomas Sheridan played the role opposite Garrick as the Bastard (and Garrick really could be a bastard).  Sheridan seemed to get better press than Garrick for this production and it’s possible that Garrick never forgave Sheridan for this.

My Bastard was not a bastard but a thoroughly nice guy and I wonder where he is?

Years later I end up writing a book about Thomas Sheridan.  What goes around…

I’ve written about some other productions in this 1978-1985 sequence.

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/

Thanks to Hollywood, I now know what could have broken the stalemate of WWI Western Front trench warfare a lot sooner…

wonderwoman

As a sometimes shy and sometimes smug male liberal feminist ally,  I  ponder what the penalty for “mansplaining” Wonder Woman might be?  Perhaps I secretly fear that Diana Prince might show up in person to administer stern corrective measures.  Are these secret fears or secret hopes speaking to me?

There are some perplexing things about the new Wonder Woman movie that I’d welcome being corrected about.  Diana comes from a secret island of warrior Amazons.  Fair enough.  As a child, however, Diana gets schooled in a theogeny that little resembles Hesiod’s without offering anything resembling a feminist subversion of Hesiod.  All gods, male and female, are nameless apart from Zeus and Ares.  This is the most nakedly patriarchal theogeny I’ve heard of – one erases all goddesses and instead of a war between Titans and Olympians offers a condensed parricidal guyfest.  Conversations between Diana’s mother Connie Nielsen and her sister Robin Wright (long familiar as the central Lady Macbeth protagonist of House of Cards), lead you to suspect that this phallocentric theogeny may in fact be (appropriately enough) bollocks.   But it turns out to be (disappointingly) only slightly bollocks.

There are no female Deities for these Amazons to worship.  This seems odd, given the wide range of Mediterranean and New Eastern goddesses available to them.  Perhaps there is a point being made here about structural theological sexual exclusion, but if so the point needs to be made louder so that people like me can understand it.

Gal Gadot is a wonderful Wonder Woman.  At the beginning of the film, we see her in the present day in Paris.  She’s got a nice job at The Louvre.  The rest of the film is a flashback, reflecting on a World War One photograph she’s in that has puzzled Bruce Wayne.   We learn of her childhood and upbringing on the island prior to the arrival of Chris Pine.  Chris Pine plays Captain James T. Kirk Captain Steve Trevor, a roguishly charming American agent who doesn’t always play by the rules.

Kirk Trevor and Diana then both get dragged into World War One, with Diana (trapped by the confines of her theogeny) convinced that if she just kills the God Ares, then the whole bloody apocalypse will finally stop.

In order to really enjoy this film you have to forget absolutely everything you ever learned about World War One and the geopolitical situation in 1918.  Hollywood assumes that you are a complete historical ignoramus in any case.  I for one am finding the sheer effort of willing myself into unknowingness every time I buy a ticket for a “historically” themed movie somewhat tiresome.

And as we exited the cinema, I had to immediately take the two eleven year olds in our party aside and tell them that General Erich Ludendorff was not killed by Wonder Woman in 1918 but survived the war and was Hitler’s high-profile ally during the 1923 Munich putsch.  This the sort of fact that I used to think was far too common knowledge for filmmakers to discard without some sort of explanation – some sort of “alternate timeline” excuse.

From a political point of view, I am  troubled that Diana the Amazon seems to have no interest in forging any sort of friendship or alliance with any other woman in the course of the film.  With the exception of Chris Pine’s secretary, there are no signs of her empowering any other woman.  There is the villainous chemical weapons researcher played by Elena Anaya whom Wonder Woman decides not to kill.  But that’s it.  Her relationships are all with men.

Furthermore (and this is the English Lit. Prof emerging), she and the other Amazons make casual use of gender-exclusive language throughout the film.  It’s “mankind” not “humanity” that they refer to.  Initially I thought “mankind” might be a synonym for “patriarchy” or “humanity under destructive patriarchal government” – but no – when Diana decides not to give up on humans after all and to cherish their positive as well as negative qualities – they are still “mankind” it seems.

But what’s good about this film apart from the sheer presence of Gal Gadot (no small presence)?  Well, one thing that struck me about this film was its staging of the relationship between superherodom and technological warfare.  If you choose to believe (as you must if you are to relax and enjoy the film) that the war we’re watching is not really the 1914-1918 war but rather “Mechanised Warfare In General”, then what can emerge is a meditation on the limits of what any inflated super hero can really achieve.

The super hero is the creation of an age that is troubled by the obsolescence of individual physical strength and heroism in the modern world.  Where are the heroes in a world won or lost by people pressing buttons?  World War One contained many heroic actions, but none of them were game changing.  No individual serving on the Western Front could make a material difference to the outcome of the war by any spectacular feat of arms.  As the twentieth century progressed, negation of the heroic significance of any individual warrior spawned comic strip fantasies of men (nearly always men) who could reverse this technological impoverishment by restoring the idea that one person punching another person very hard could make a difference.

Oddly enough, the technology that destroyed the warrior mystique was perfected in the mid to late fourteenth century with the perfection of the longbow – that treacherously effective “killing from quite a long way away” weapon.  It is notable that Diana Prince restates classical antiquity’s objection to Ewen Bremner’s occupation of sniper – one who hides and kills from a distance.  A coward.

Wonder Woman is more about this discrepancy between a fantasy of individual superheroic strength and courage and the grim logistical reality of deliberately inflicted death in the modern world than any other superhero movie I’ve seen recently.  It dwells thoughtfully on the absurdity and the necessity of staging gladitorial combat in a nuclear age.  And it concludes on a sombre note as Diana reflects on the limitations of what she can actually hope to achieve.

It’s a shame she couldn’t have organised a wider resistance to patriarchy though….

Telling Sad Stories of the Death of Kings. The 1978 BBC Richard II.

jacobi

The costumes are gorgeous.  Medieval finery has rarely looked so fine.  Oh, and the horses are real.  David Giles directs a version of the play that never quite has the confidence to push the pageantry to the point of sinister self parody.  But still, it dazzles.

John Gielgud (no less) is John of Gaunt and he pulls of the astonishing feat of delivering the “sceptred isle” speech without it sounding like it’s been plucked from an anthology.  But he achieves this, not by making the speech more colloquial but rather by intoning every single line that’s set down for him – making everything sound like it’s anthologisable.  Richard II, incidentally, is written entirely in verse – which helps.

The wonderful Charles Gray plays Gaunt’s brother, the Duke of York.   There’s a strange bit of extended gallows humour towards the end of the play where the Duke and Duchess hold dissenting views as to whether or not their son should be executed for treason against the freshly crowned Bolinbroke.  Gray is a superb blusterer.

The fascinating thing about Bolinbroke, is that the play never actually gives us the exact point where he stops campaigning for the restoration of his Ducal title and becomes a usurper instead.   There is no speech where he announces this intent, no soliloquy that deals with the decision.  The usurpation is an event which is assumed to have been decided upon rather than an event that lives in a particular moment of decision.

As played here by Jon Finch, Bolinbroke is compelling and tragic in the most elusive of ways.  It’s notable that there’s no scene where Bolinbroke lives to triumph in his successful enthronement.  No sooner does he achieve supreme power, than the guilt sets in.  Nor do we even get to see such moment, because Bolinbroke is never given to the kind of dramatic centrality that seems to entitle him to any moment of regret.  All the regret is belated.  Indeed Bolinbroke never lives in the moment – never lives in a moment that might give him any real agency.  Perhaps that’s his extended tragedy.

And Jacobi’s Richard.  Ah, Richard.  He (and the play) really is a game of two halves.  He is only truly regal after he’s been deposed.  At the beginning of the play, he is the most tiresome of absolute rulers, with a mannered and tremulous voice whose stage management of the non trial by combat is deliberately long-winded and tiresome.

Jacobi’s “hollow crown” speech is profoundly moving.  Only when completely stripped of practical authority, can he sound authoritative.   His final long Pomfret speech is separated into sections and filmed as though this interior monologue takes place over the course of weeks or months.  Not sure how I feel about that.

Shakespeare never mentions The Peasants’ Revolt (1381) in Richard II, but historically, it seems likely that Richard’s head was turned by it.  A teenage boy managed to quell a proletarian uprising with his sheer presence.   In some ways, Richard was born 300 years earlier.  He had fantasies of early modern absolute rule worthy of Louis XIV at a historical moment when  such fantasies could not be logistically realised.  The fourteenth-century he inhabited demanded that rulers keep faith with local magnates and ensure a national as well as international sense of “balance”.  Divine right of kings simply didn’t have the apparatus to support it.

Giles production hints something else associated with Richard’s downfall.

There’s a clear suggestion in the staging of Act One, Scene iv in a sort of bath-house sauna setting, that Richard’s relationship with his favorites is closer than that of a ruling monarch with his preferred politic advisers.   This scene then reinforces the accusation later made against young Bushy and Green by Bolinbroke prior to their peremptory death sentence.

You have misled a prince, a royal king,
A happy gentleman in blood and lineaments,
By you unhappied and disfigured clean:
You have in manner with your sinful hours
Made a divorce betwixt his queen and him,
Broke the possession of a royal bed
And stain’d the beauty of a fair queen’s cheeks
With tears drawn from her eyes by your foul wrongs.

The production can, therefore, either be read as a homophobic narrative which suggests the unfitness of a gay man to exercise executive authority, or as an angry protest against a world in which homophobia unjustly dispossesses a rightful ruler.

Richard II is all about dispossession and not just Richard’s.  No sooner has Gaunt died that Richard takes all his stuff.  And he takes all of Gaunt’s stuff just so that he can go to Ireland and take all of their stuff.  Richard is deposed because his sense of royal prerogative means that nobody’s stuff is safe.

Indeed, this play demonstrates that there’s no secure exercise of power without reciprocity.  No entitlement exists in isolation and one cannot assert one’s own rights without acknowledging those of others.

Shakespeare seems no particular fan of the Divine Right of Kings.  But he’s equally frightened of the anarchy that follows the logic of “might is right”.  If you can’t trust meritocracy and you can’t trust primogeniture, then what can you trust?  Shakespeare is too early for written constitutions and the sovereignty of the people.  All he really trusts is successful theatre.

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/

Laurel and Hardy nearly plummeting to their deaths, over and over again. Liberty (1929)

liberty2

This is a short film of two halves.  The first half offers trouser comedy, the second vertigo comedy.  We move from the familiar nightmare of being exposed in partially dressed in public, to the familiar nightmare of endless falling.

After a short montage of historical reminders of liberty as the noblest of human (specifically American) aspirations, the film shows jail-breaking Laurel and Hardy in full flight from a less than efficient pursuing prison guard.  They are picked up by friends who have brought them some of their clothes to wear.  But as they change in the close quarters of the back seat of a vehicle, while being pursued by the forces of law and order, they’re going to get somewhat and something confused.

So when they jump out of the car, Ollie’s circulation is being cut off by Stan’s pants and Stan is having trouble holding Ollie’s pants up.

Sometimes it seems that there’s nowhere in Culver City you can change your trousers.  And in one of their many attempts to change, a crab slips into Ollie’s pants (now Stan’s pants). Stan Laurel’s skills as a double take artist come into play at this point.   Having paused to destroy much of a store owner’s (James Finlayson) stock as a consequence of the constant nipping Stan suffers but does not think to investigate, our heroes, espying again an understandably suspicious cop, find themselves running into an elevator that sends them to the top of a skyscraper still under construction.  High above the city, they change trousers once more, with the crab being transferred to Ollie’s hindquarters.

I am not sure how this skyscraper sequence was filmed.  It is enough of a tribute to say that it looks real.  In terms of its compounding of successive near death experiences, Liberty is a masterful exercise in credible terror.  Ladders swing back – ropes run out – girders are lifted out of place – and our heroes are always a fraction of an inch a way from plummeting to their doom. Liberty deserves, therefore, to be seen alongside the legendary Safety Last (1923) by Harold Lloyd as an example of high-wire ballet.

And just when we think we’re done with the crab – it reappears.

Stan and Ollie eventually find their way back to the elevator, crushing their persecuting cop as it descends upon his head, and leaving him a midget.

Perhaps this sort of vertigo comedy is the opposite of slapstick violence.  Instead of escalating and improbable destruction, we’re watching the escalating implausibility of staying alive.  As these two cling to girders and each other, every second of screen time in which they’re NOT splattered all over the pavements of Culver City seems hilariously bizarre.  Vertigo comedy is about the elaboration of that which doesn’t happen (but which surely ought to).

It’s the kind of film in which the concept of “Liberty” becomes synonymous with “Life” itself.  And at the end of the film, they’re both somehow still alive and still running.  Hooray for life and liberty.

 

There are a few other silent Laurel and Hardy film’s I’ve been thinking about…

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/

 

 

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

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 sanctioned by any director on stage or screen.

My personal favourite was Victor Buono as King Tut – in “reality”, a bewildered professor of archaeology who suffers a recurrent delusion that he is a 3000 year old pharaoh and who periodically threatens the city with Egyptian-themed apocalypse.  After the every adventure, he would be blipped on the head, restored to penitent sanity, and ask politely if he needed to be escorted back to that special hospital.

Yet this wealth of talent dashed itself upon Adam West.  Hollywood threw everything at him, and yet he stood his ground.  You could not help staring at him (whether or not you saw half of Batman’s face or all of Bruce Wayne’s).  It was his hilarious and perfect seriousness that made him so hilarious and so compelling.  It wasn’t that his Batman never smiled – it was that his rare smiles were so deliberate and mannered.  I saw him cry once, and that tear was an isolated thing of slow wonder worthy of paragraphs of description from the pen of Laurence Sterne.  Every thing Adam West did was deliberate.

Adam West knew that if the show is not to be taken seriously, then Batman must be played with uttermost seriousness.  He was also a man of mystery, who was wearing a mask as much when playing Bruce Wayne as when he played the caped crusader.  Maybe 1960s Batman had a painful back story, but unlike Michael Keaton or Christian Bale – we were never going to hear about it.  Incidentally, the fact that nobody in Gotham City figures out that there’s only one person in the county that could possibly afford to construct all of Batman’s toys, is a reminder that “Gotham” is a name famous in fokelore for its denizens’ real or feigned idiocy.

Gotham City itself was New York.  There was little effort to disguise this obviousness. At once point Commissioner Gordon referred to “Mayor Linseed” and at another point the Batmobile crosses the “West River” to get to “New Guernsey”.  But this 1960s New York was also a fantasy kingdom, a place of “COLOR” at a time when to be “IN COLOR” was a circumstance worth capitalising.

So strange and magical and uncorpsable Adam West has passed.  The talent of spouting ludicrous dialogue while wearing a silly costume and keeping your face uncreased with involuntary mirth is a rare and specialised one.  He was serious so that we could be silly.  And his infuriating po-faced high-mindedness had a kind of irritating fascination for all those wonderful wonderful villains.

Perhaps that was why none of them ever shot him through the head with a gun when they had him tied up, instead of leaving him unattended at the mercy of Heath-Robinson style killing machines replete with egg timers and conveyor belts.  (The principle of “Occam’s Razor” was unknown in 1960s Gotham.)  Perhaps all those villains knew that only an anchored presence like Adam West’s Batman made any sense of their own absurdity.

He was… some kind of… a man!