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Knowing where the bodies are buried: Laurel and Hardy in Habeas Corpus (1928)

L&H_Habeas_Corpus_1929

Some two reelers pretend to make a sort of sense and some don’t.  This one doesn’t.

There’s a mad scientist (who lives far more luxuriously than most mad scientists) who needs a brain and needs it now (as mad scientists will and do).  He’s musing with his butler about how to acquire a body that might have a brain in it when Stan and Ollie knock at the door, destitute, asking for the merest scrap of food.

Incidentally, there is nothing more delightful than the spectacle of Stan attempting to knock at the door, before being elegantly put in his place by Ollie’s far more eloquent and sprightly door knocking, replete with rococo flourishes.  Ollie had such delightful hands.  His hands could act “southern gentility” all on their own.

The audience’s  first thought is that the “scientist” will make an ill-advised attempt to harvest Stan and Ollie for brains but instead this amiable lunatic offers them the princely sum of $500 dollars to collect a fresh body from the graveyard.  Given their state of penury, they don’t feel they can refuse – or rathere (more accurately), Ollie doesn’t feel they can refuse.

The butler is actually a police informer, and is soon on the phone to inform local law enforcement that the Prof is off his head again.  The cops soon arrive to drag the scientist kicking and screaming to whatever secure unit for the criminally bewildered he is regularly despatched to,  while to butler is told to “take care” of Stan and Ollie who have set out with a torch and a shovel.

By “take care of” –  this butler-cop hybrid – seems to mean “scare the living bejaysus out of”.  Butler-cop makes no real effort to apprehend Laurel and Hardy and just plays Halloween pranks on them – pranks which forms the remainder of the film until one of those deep muddy holes that infest Culver City opens up to conclude the film.

There are some nice little routines along the way, some of which would be recycled and improved in later films.  Ollie shimmying up a signpost to get a sense of where they are only to discover a “wet paint” sign at the top is enjoyable.  Watching Stan or Ollie try to climb over a wall is always enjoyable, and the variety of ways in which Ollie can get hurt in the process seems inexhaustible.   (Ollie crashing straight through the wall is well timed.)  There are also some very elaborate “spooky” jokes on offer in this film which seem to rely on a very implausible concatenation of circumstances.  What are the chances that when Stan puts his lamp down on the ground, he’s actually putting it on top of a tortoise that will slowly proceed towards the white sheet that wrapped around butler-cop and set the sheet on fire?

At one point Ollie has his leg buried in soil and is scared by his own toe wriggling out of it.  He only recognises the toe as his own when he bashes it very hard with the shovel.  This is an anticipation of one of my most cherished of  later Laurel and Hardy scenes – the “not knowing” where one’s own body starts and ends.  Generally speaking, however, these later more successful examples of bodily estrangement involve not knowing where Stan ends and Ollie begins – and vice versa.

You get the feeling that this film only ends because the spools of film in the camera run out.   It’s enjoyable enough, but nobody I know would put it in any list of top ten, or top twenty of their most cherishable Laurel and Hardy efforts.

Thoughts regarding some other early Laurel and Hardy films…?

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/

 

 

Manchester. Murderous hatred of girls having fun.

 

This has been my earworm ever since I heard the hideous news from Manchester.  I have nothing very profound or “useful” to say in the face of atrocities that are, quite literally, “unspeakable”.  There’s no form of words that can be adequate, and nothing more offensive than a smug second-hand form of words that sounds as though it thinks it is adequate.

But silence is no good either.  Silence doesn’t comfort.  Better than silence and better than sententia are half-formed, inchoate, well-intentioned stuttered efforts to connect.

Instead of some biblical quote, or some postered nugget of wisdom from an acknowledged saint and martyr, I’ve just had Cyndi Lauper playing in my head.  Over and over again.   Presumably because last night was supposed to be just about girls having fun.  That’s all, that’s all, that’s all.

And these young people ran into the path of someone for whom the prospect of so many girls coming together to have fun had seemed so monstrous that he determined to kill himself just so that he could slaughter as many of them as possible.

He will not have stopped girls in general having fun.  He has destroyed life and ruined life but the breathtakingly simple chorus to this Cyndi Lauper song won’t be silenced.  Because it was playing in my head all the way as I took my kid to school and playing in my head on my way to the office, I found Cyndi Lauper’s 1984 Top of the Pops appearance on Youtube and played it in the office.  I was in the office early.  Nobody else was around.  And before long I found myself sobbing.  Lauper’s chorus managed to liberate tears that had been clogged inside me ever since I heard the vicious news early this morning.

It’s actually one of the great performances in TOTP’s history.  She mocks the fact that the performance isn’t really “live” in a variety of inventive but good humoured ways.  She’s all over the set and the camera has trouble keeping up with her.  She’s singing about girls who are older than the girls who came to Manchester Arena to have fun, but the girls around her, the girls she’s meeting and greeting, aren’t so very different in age.  Cyndi Lauper was the definitive statement of girls having fun when I was myself young.

Oddly enough, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was used as a sort off leitmotif by John Updike for his 1984 theological novel Roger’s Version.  The novel, which illustrates the challenge posed to a tired and jaded liberal theologian by an annoying young man who feels that he can proved the existence of God as an empirical certainty, is all about the search for absolutes and whether or not such a search is possible or desirable and whether or not trying to deter people from such a quest is possible or desirable.  And all through the novel, Lauper’s chorus floats, because in its repetitive simplicity it is a statement of something that is timelessly and unambiguously true.

I suppose there will be a “necessary” attempt to comprehend the demented processes of someone who worships a Moloch that delights in the blood of children.  There are people out there who hate girls, hate fun, and hate the confluence of girls and fun with a murderous rage that they think of as their version of righteousness.  Which is why right now, numbed by the horror, I have nothing more profound and nothing more certain than Cyndi Lauper in my head.

This is offensive.  This is in poor taste.  This is all I can think of.

Who’s better? Laurence Olivier or Roger Daltrey?

On Larry Olivier’s 110th birthday – reposting the classic Laurence Olivier versus Roger Daltrey debate…

conradbrunstrom

daltreyolivier

Or rather, who’s better – Peter Brook or Jonathan Miller.

(Not such an arresting question, now is it?)

Each year I have to consider which filmed version of The Beggar’s Opera I’m to recommend to my students.  The one directed by a young Peter Brook in the 1950s and starring Olivier and the one made by a not so young Jonathan Miller in the 1980s and starring Daltrey.  Each year, it’s no contest as I declare that “that deaf, dumb and blind kid – sure plays a mean eighteenth-century highwayman!”.

The truth is rather more complex.  Although the 1980s version is rather more accessible for pedagogic purposes, Brook’s film has much to recommend it.  Visually it is extraordinary.  It is stagy and cinematic at the same time.  Although Brook uses very few exterior shots and sticks to a very confined space (anything but an ’empty’ space) the camera moves constantly…

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Beating up Senator Sumner. An Anniversary.

conradbrunstrom

Southern_Chivalry

Today is the anniversary of one of the things that definitely helped start the American Civil War.  And Andrew Jackson wasn’t around to prevent it.  A beating.

Of course, slavery was all about savage beatings.  Enforcing a system of lifelong hereditary servitude demanded the regular exercise of theatrical terror.  Slaves were beaten on a regular basis wherever slavery was maintained.  But many in the North had become pretty immune to accounts (and there were very many) of dark skinned people having their skin removed and remained tolerant of the institution of slavery within their polity until one day when a very prominent white guy got beaten up by a slave owner.

The white guy was Massachusetts Senator Sumner, a man who could claim to be perhaps the most consistently anti-racist federally elected white guy elected in the USA in the nineteenth-century.  Now Sumner hated slavery, justifiably enough, and hated it with…

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Sleuth. Class War, Jumped Up Pantry Boys, and Threatening Rich Folk.

Re posting for Larry’s 110th birthday.

conradbrunstrom

sleuth

A few days ago, I realised that I was waking up on the morning of what would have been Anthony Shaffer’s 90th birthday.  (It was also, necessarily, the birthday of his twin brother Peter.)   Anthony Shaffer had a great screenplay-writing time of it in the early seventies, with Sleuth (1972, adapted from his own stage play) and The Wicker Man (1973) coming out in successive years.  It had been a long long while since I’d seen Sleuth, so I determined to watch it again.   On YouTube.  In bits.  With Greek subtitles.

Sleuth was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, whose masterpieces included All About Eve and Julius Caesar.  He also directed the studio-wrecking behemoth that was Cleopatra, and one fancies that working with a rather smaller cast on Sleuth may have come as something as a relief to him.

Now some people have described Sleuth as “stagy”…

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Appetite for Autodestruction. “Two Tars” (1928) reviewed.

two tars

Laurel and Hardy know how to show girls a good time.  At least, in this film they do.  This double date turns out to be just about the best day out ever as far as Stan and Ollie’s partners (Thelma Hill and Ruby Blaine) are concerned and they are screaming with energetic mirth for much of the film.  These girls are fond of retributive violence you see, and a road trip with Laurel and Hardy offers irresponsible hilarity on a grand scale.  Only when the Law (Edgar Dearing) shows up to they give up and go home.

It’s been pointed out that there’s no particular point to their being sailors in this film.  I disagree.  Quite apart from giving them the initial attraction of being men in uniform, the shore leave context of the film adds to the sense of carelessness that persists throughout.  These boys will be back on board ship tomorrow and nothing that happens today will have long-term consequences.  For them at least.  Their own homes and livelihoods are not being threatened, their car is a rental and their relationships with these two girls were obviously going to be equally temporary anyway.

Stan and Ollie have rented a small car for the day, which they are clearly incapable of driving.  After a couple of mishaps they spy a couple of young ladies having trouble with a gumball machine.  We pause for some priceless shy grinning and preening.  Such is Ollie’s ingrained southern gentility that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that he will not promise do to accommodate a lady in distress.  Whether or not he is remotely qualified to perform the task he promises to undertake is irrelevant.  He’d volunteer to perform open heart surgery if a lady fluttered her eyelids and requested it of him.

Predictably, his efforts with the gumball machine lead to gumballs spread all over the sidewalk – some of which he tries to pocket before the store owner (predictably, Charley Hall) takes issue with his behaviour.  Since Charley Hall is much smaller than Ollie, the girls assume that Ollie doesn’t want to hit him, so Stan is dispatched to deal with Shopkeeper.  Stan repeatedly slips, slides and falls on the gumballs before any such contest can take place so the girls have to beat up Charley Hall on their own.  They are spirited young ladies who like nothing more than a scrap so this task is soon accomplished.

With two couples happily squeezed into a small vehicle, spirits are high, as evidenced by the fact that Stan and Ollie are wearing their partners’ bonnets while the girls are the sporting the sailor caps.  This happy mood of high speed flirtatious intimacy is only briefly checked when roadworks and one stranded vehicle lead to a long tail-back of stationary traffic.  Needless to say our heroes are instrumental in some bashing of cars fore and aft leading to some classic tit for tat destruction, egged on by their temporary girlfriends, for whom no date is complete without a good fight and extensive destruction of property.

The vehicular devastation follows the central law of tit for tat: no defensive gesture is possible.  As my brother has pointed out to me, “tit for tat” is like a game of chess.  All you can do while someone is making their move is plot your retaliatory strategy.  There is no way of block, checking, evading, or mitigating your opponent’s move while it is in process.  People just stand there while headlights are smashed, fenders rearranged and clothing ruined.

One thing you learn from silent comedy is that you could apparently tear most cars apart with your bare hands.  These cars are not just crudely vandalised, they are mutated in bizarre and inventive ways.  There is artistry involved in the way in which they are reshaped.  Even after the boys have been arrested, they can’t help but laugh at the ludicrous procession of impossible vehicles that someone passes by after the motorcycle cop has taken charge.

The cop’s motorcycle having been flattened, he initiates a full scale mob pursuit of the two tars (now minus their girlfriends) which involves chasing them into a railway tunnel and then rapidly retreating out of it to avoid an oncoming train.  Stan and Ollie, having failed to avoid the train, find their car squeezed to impossible thinness.  There’s a recurring challenge in a number of these films, incidentally, to determine precisely how much violence can be done to a vehicle while still allowing it to somehow sort of move.

Two Tars is rightly considered a classic.  It’s Laurel and Hardy at their most ludicrous and carefree.  You don’t get the pathos and the sombre close ups of some of their other classics and nor is this film especially about the relationship between Stan and Ollie.  But a two reeler can’t do everything, and everything that this little film does – it does splendidly.  In the catalogue of Laurel and Hardy’s misadventures, Two Tars does what its title suggests – offers us a bit of shore leave.

Here are a few thoughts on some other Laurel and Hardy silent shorts…

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/

 

How are we to read “Disconsolate Ejaculations” by Alexander Pope?

On Alexander Pope’s birthday, it is good to revist the controversy surrounding his least characteristic work…

conradbrunstrom

Pope

The rhapsodical fragment  known as “Disconsolate Ejaculations” was (understandably) unpublished in Alexander Pope’s lifetime, and subsequent critics found difficulty even attributing it to the bard of Twickenham.  An uncharacteristic work, it was ascribed by Joseph Warton to the joint hands of Edward Young and Christopher Smart.

More recently, this fragment has been acknowledged as the product of a disturbed period in Pope’s life, most likely the mid 1720s, when the reality of the Whig hegemony began to establish itself in Pope’s gloomy imagination.  Pope saw his most talented colleagues oppressed and marginalised by the Walpole regime, with the national imagination crippled by an all-consuming “Jacobites under the Beds” scare.

Others have suggested that an uncharacteristic and otherwise undocumented period of opium addiction may inform these verses.  Joseph Spence’s Anecdotes (not an infallible source) records that Pope surprised his fellow Scriblerians by reciting lines from a poem referred to just as…

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It just gets worse. Or Better. The 1980s BBC Henry VI Part III.

father

The set is starting to look really shabby here.  The adventure playground (aka England) is actually falling apart and is no longer safe for children to play in.  Vandals have been at work – but these vandals are all titled nobility.

Jane Howell’s 1982 Brechtian Shakespeare Wars of the Roses sequence stands the test of time magnificently.  By Part III, not only is the set collapsing but the costumes are becoming faded and drab and colourless.  Howell took the sheer confusion of 15th century dynastic warfare not as a difficulty to be resolved but as a dramatic situation to be performed.  Who is better, who is worse?  Richard Duke of York?  Margaret of Anjou?  Warwick the Kingmaker?  Clifford?  Montague?  Edward, George, or Richard Crookback?  In these plays there are no heroes, only villains and victims and villains who become victims and victims who become villains.  If you think you know what’s going on all the time, then you have no visceral sense of what’s really going on any of the time.

In the meantime, insane vainglory drags a lot of innocent people down with it.

Henry VI Part III is freighted with important battles with significant political consequences.  Wakefield, Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury all demand stage time.  This means that although the play as published is by no means especially long (within the Shakespearean canon), it is much longer in performance as it has to accommodate a deal of steel on steel and grunting.  Some of the speeches are slow in delivery because the character concerned is bleeding to death.  The death of (one-headed) Mark Wing-Davey’s Warwick the Kingmaker is especially slow and nasty.

Margaret of Anjou (Julia Foster) is seen early on as a cold-blooded killer who mocks Bernard Hill’s Duke of York not just with a paper crown but with a cloth stained with his son’s own blood.  (This is the scene that provides the tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!” line parodied by Robert Greene to sneer at upstart crow Shakespeare. ) By the end of the play, Margaret lives (though begging for death) to see her own son killed by all three of York’s surviving sons and we weep for her.  It turns out that there is no cruelty perpetuated by anybody that remove someone from the pale of sympathy when grieving for their child?

Let there be no doubt – Margaret of Anjou is the real inspiration for George R.R. Martin’s Cersei Lannister.

The second half of the play might well be called “Richard III – Part One”, as the new Duke of Gloucester starts to offer more and more asides to the audience.  The audience realises that there’s no reason why anyone at the time (with the exception of Henry VI himself) should know that Richard Crookback is any better or worse than any other Plantagenet warlord.  But in the extraordinary speech he makes after killing Peter Benson’s deposed monarch, the “I am myself alone” speech, you realise that someone or something is emerging that will put the dynastic squabbles of the past into chastening perspective.

Ron Cook’s performance is terrifying and charismatic in equal measure.  It is notable that along with inheriting his father’s name, he is the only one of York’s offspring to inherit his accent.

If, as Shakespeare’s contemporaries were obligated to believe, monarchy really is a sacred institution, then the monarch who most resembles Christ should be the best king?  Yet Henry VI is plainly the most Christlike king imaginable and also the most disastrous.  As played by Peter Benson, Henry in Part III gains a new kind of authority – a prophetic authority – a sacrificial nobility that has nothing to do with governance and everything to do with a kind of other-worldly wisdom.  The paradox that Shakespeare develops and Peter Benson movingly portrays, is that Henry VI is nobler in deposition than in power and thereby resembles most the very monarch whom his grandfather deposed – Richard II.

And the two characters of Henry and Gloucester offer an indication of how this hopeless war will eventually resolve itself into a Tudor rose.  Henry becomes more and more saintly and Gloucester becomes more and more demonic, so that extremities of Good and Evil start to re-establish themselves as signposts enabling a reconciliatory path out of retributive chaos.

Roll on Richard III I say.

 

Here are my thoughts on a few other BBC Shakespeares.

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/

Donald Trump and the least frequent use of comparatives ever.

Trump must have skipped that primary school class we all went to where we create three columns, write an adjective in the left hand column and the comparative and superlative forms of that adjective in the other two columns.  Or, at least, he skipped the part about the middle column.

Everything Trump claims has to be the greatest ever.  His (failed) hotels, steaks, whisky, airlines and his presidency.   And now his victimisation has to be to be the greatest ever… “no politician in history” has been “treated worse or more unfairly”.  History, of course, is not Trump’s strong suit, as his suggestion that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the Civil War and his suspicion that Frederick Douglass might still be alive indicate.  Those of us who have read a bit of history and understand the meaning of comparisons have all mentioned politicians who have suffered various forms of extended imprisonments, tortures, and grisly deaths.  We recall the third century Emperor Valerian who was captured, used as a footstool for a while before being killed, stuffed, and shown off as a curio.  Or we recall the story that in 1672, the Dutch minister Johan de Witt was not only torn to pieces by a mob but actually eaten by them.  You suspect that if Valerian or Johan de Witt had instead been told that they could avoid hideous and protracted death if they’d submit to being made fun of by Alec Baldwin, they might have accepted such a plea bargain.

Trump does not read history because he does not read and he does not read, because the exercise of reading entails that degree of humility that is required to actually learn something.  To read a book is to quietly absorb and reflect on the thoughts of others.  Trump has had every opportunity in the course of his seventy years on this planet to become less ignorant than he is, but his contempt for others prevents his pristine stupidity ever being seriously threatened.

When Trump describes himself (and he never really describes anything else), he leads from adjective to superlative in a single bound.  He is first of all “great” (sometimes “tremendous”, although Trump suffers from an imaginatively crippling paucity of adjectives) and is then “the greatest”.  He is a particular thing, and then the superlative version of that thing.  He is, himself, alone (as Shakespeare’s Richard III declares).  The comparative form of adjectives is vaulted over, because comparatives force you to consider the fact that you stand in relation to other things in the universe – some of which may be bigger and more important than you are.

Sane adults have a relational and comparative sense of themselves.  Take cycling.  Compared to someone who has never ridden a bike and who is terrified of pedals, I’m really good at cycling.  Compared to Bradley Wiggins I really am not.  Arrange the entire population of the world in a long line in order of cycling proficiency and I’m to be found somewhere in the middle.  I can ride a bike without claiming to be the greatest cyclist ever.

Trump can never see himself in the middle of anything, because he refuses to seem himself in any comparative relation to anything else.  It’s part of the reason why he’s incapable of patriotism or religious belief.  Everything about his has to be the biggest or the greatest of the worst  or the least or the mostest of the mostest because he himself is the norm of all value.  He fires the Director of the FBI, ultimately, because Comey was unable to make an oath of personal loyalty that transcends all other loyalties.  Comey retained a belief in a concept of “truth” that might mean something other than “that which enhances the power and prestige of Donald Trump and his immediate family at the present time”.

Trump’s supporters do seem to have at least a transient or tactical sense  of the value of comparatives.  Whenever, before the November election I found myself debating with Trump supporters, and I pointed out to them the ample evidence to suggest that their preferred candidate was a disgusting, delusional, race-baiting sex criminal, the most common response I received was “Hillary is worse”.  These three words were preferred to any sort of defence of Trump.   The comparative assertion – that Hillary is “worse” than a disgusting, delusional, race-baiting sex criminal soon became a superlative assertion.  Hillary is the most evil human being who has ever lived since the dawn of time, and you can tell just by looking at her.  When I asked for evidence other than “just looking at her”, my self evident moral turpitude became so overwhelming  that the discussion tended to be abruptly terminated.  The comparative was a mere transient device for leaping to the superlative as quickly as possible.

Perhaps Trump’s critics (i.e. most people) feed this culture of superlatives themselves.  It’s easy to suggest that Trump is the least impressive human being ever to be elected to the highest office of within a polity based on the representative principle.

But I for one am still willing to entertain comparisons.

 

Happy Birthday Joseph Butler

conradbrunstrom

Butler

Years and years and years and years ago, when I was constructing my PhD thesis, I devoted an entire first chapter to Joseph Butler (1692-1752).  The relevance of Butler to my overall thesis was probably a bit of a stretch even at the time.  I sort of didn’t care  – I just wanted to write about him.

Most students these days these days reference the philosophy of J. Butler in most of their essays.   Just not my J. Butler.

Although both Butlers were (are) committed to interrogating identity politics.

Even as a post-grad, I had some trouble joining up Butler with Cowper.  And when it cam to publishing my Cowper book, Butler pretty much bit the dust altogether.  In the decades since then, I’ve never managed to reapply Butler or publish anything about him.  Butler is on a back burner so far back he’s in a different kitchen altogether.

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