Archive for Shakespeare

The Shrew Must Go On

Posted in Dance, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2016 by dcairns

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There’s a bronze statue of an orangutan holding its young at Edinburgh Zoo, and as a kid I was crazy about climbing on it. There should be more statues you can climb on, statues should be tactile, interactive things, to take advantage of their solid, three-dimensional nature. Anyway, I was unexpectedly reminded of this when Fiona and I went to see KISS ME KATE at Filmhouse in glorious 3D.

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Say, how dod you do a glass shot in 3D? And note the MGM product placement bottom right.

The movie, fluidly directed by George Sidney (a largely overlooked figure in the Freed Unit’s stable of filmmakers), throws lots of crap in the audience’s face, to be sure, but the most effective moments of depth are the close-ups and medium shots, where I was constantly wowed by the strange spectacle of huge, colour, moving, realistic heads and shoulders in living three dimensions. It was a bit like the outsize photorealist sculptures of Ron Mueck, come to life. I wanted to climb up there and clamber about on Howard Keel or his co-stars. It helps that Kathryn Grayson and Ann Miller both have balconies you could do Shakespeare off.

(It was also a bit like the sculpted dioramas in a ViewMaster, the people being so smoothly and pinkly complected that you suspect them of being plasticine.)

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The whole thing was most entertaining, and though some of Cole Porter’s naughtier lyrics were censored for the screen, some real eye-brow raisers made it through. The Breen Office’s failure to excise “Lisa, where are you Lisa? / You gave new meaning to the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” can perhaps be understood: the line is perfectly meaningful if interpreted in an innocuous way. And Howard Keel sings it while reclining, so that if you were to picture him naked with an erection (you filthy beast) it would be at the wrong angle to suggest the famous Pisan monument.

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But “If she says your behaviour is heinous / Kick her right in the Coriolanus” doesn’t even begin to make sense as anything other than a dirty joke, so I have to assume the censor was just plain dumb, or so ashamed of what they thought the line MIGHT mean that they hesitated to bring it up.

The reordering of songs from the stage show is much more harmful than the cuts, and seems at times pretty bloody random. I mean, I’ve never seen the show, but given that this was Cole Porter building on Kern & Hammerstein’s success with Showboat, where the songs were all germane to the plot, I couldn’t help but noticing that as performed in the movie, many of them aren’t. Brush Up Your Shakespeare is great fun, but why are the rude mechanicals singing it to the Shakespearian star, in an alley, after their role in the show is over?

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The other weird thing is the heroine’s return for a happy ending — several plot turns seem to be getting jumped out here. The Taming of the Shrew NEVER works for me. Despite Shakes’ usual genius for not committing himself too strongly to particular opinions, this and Merchant of Venice seem so infected by the bad attitudes of the day that, despite the additional complexities he adds which stop them working as straight up masculinist or anti-semitic propaganda, they tend to leave a bad taste (unless you edit Shrew to the point where its meaning is reversed, as in the Fairbanks-Pickford version). Porter’s metatextual backstage farce version comes close to resolving a lot of the problems, but somewhere along the way some injudicious cuts have problematized it all over again…

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But — great, great fun. Especially when Hermes Pan lets Bob Fosse take over the choreography for his big bit, and you get a glimpse of the wonderfully contorted body-shapes of things to come.

The Sunday Intertitle: Dying Is Easy

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2015 by dcairns

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KEAN (1924), directed by Volkoff, starring Mosjoukine. Very lavish, and with the stylish lighting effects and ripe symbolism I expected of its director. It’s a hopeless farrago of Edmund Kean’s real life, omitting or distorting or downright negating nearly every salient fact about its subject, but it does capture a vivid spirit of excess and debauchery. Regardless of willful historical inaccuracy, it’s a striking film.

Mosjoukine, a great actor, isn’t really able to suggest Edmund Kean the great actor, since all his Kean does on stage is strut about and flirt blatantly with female members of the audience. His poor Juliet never gets a look in, as he’s too busy making goog-goo eyes through a gauzy veil at the Danish ambassador’s wife. She’s played by Nathalie Lissenko, the real-life Mrs. Mosjoukine, who’s very good — less showy than her hubby. She clearly understood screen acting, whereas arguably he only understood, or was only interested in, Great Acting. It’s either ironic or extremely apt that his face was used by Lev Kuleshov to demonstrate that montage could create the effect of emotion on an actor’s face without any performance at all.

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It’s offstage that Mosjoukine/Kean comes alive, dancing the hornpipe in a furious montage sequence, knocking back rum and flaming punch, which forms a brazier ardente to create some of the aforementioned dramatic lighting.

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He never gets to collapse on stage while playing Othello with his son (he doesn’t even have a son in this), nor does he say “Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” but expires in the suburbs, quoting Shakespeare to the end. A brief special effect shows his hand skeletonizing as he experiences the early signs of death — like Mrs. Bates skull seeping through the skin of Norman’s face at the end of PSYCHO.

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It’s very subtle, because his hand is so pale. You may have to trust me on this one.

A further hideous irony — Mosjoukine’s stardom was handicapped by sound (truncating a possible Hollywood career) and by unsuccessful plastic surgery back in Europe which is said to have robbed his face of character and limited his expressivity. He ended up needing Comrade Kuleshov to help with his performances. He died of tuberculosis in 1939.

The Sunday Intertitle: Droogy Peggy

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by dcairns

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CAPTAIN JANUARY (1924) stars Baby Peggy, already a veteran at five years old. I can’t recommend highly enough the documentary BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, in which this survivor of the silent screen tells us about her remarkable career, as clear a case of child exploitation (and endangerment!) as you could wish to hear. Heart-warmingly — and I use the word without irony — Peggy-Jean Montgomery is today quite at peace with her movie career, able to enjoy the interest of fans and her position as former movie star, while still being quite clear-headed about the wrongs that were done her.

CAPTAIN JANUARY is a decent Peggy vehicle, in the sense that there’s lots of cuteness for us to enjoy — BP was unbelievably cute, and she has a dog, Skipper, and a pelican, Hamlet, to boot. The bird’s name is explained by the reading material Cap’n Daddy, her guardian, has selected for her education ~

Unfortunately, though ably directed by Buster Keaton associate Eddie Cline, the movie severely lacks plot and jeopardy. A villain is introduced, then dispensed with, having achieved nothing, and the happy ending remains clearly in sight through all the darkest moments, as if through a diaphanous veil. Ideally, you want the third act to throw up some situation so horrible and inescapable that the audience, despite knowing you must surely have a Happy Ever After tucked up your sleeve, can’t conceive of how you’re going to produce it. But maybe, Peggy being so cute, the scenarists didn’t have the heart to push things that far.

Astonishingly, this was remade (not so astonishingly, with Shirley Temple) — I assume it wasn’t so much the narrative they wanted as an excuse to feature a small child in oilskins, admittedly an adorable sight.But it’s Peggy’s long-johns and bowler ensemble that steals the show, transforming her for a few brief seconds into a proto-mini-droog.

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Being the adventures of a young girl whose principle interests are japes, lighthouse-keeping and Shakespeare.

Of course the inclusion in CLOCKWORK ORANGE of the novelty song “I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper” is tacit acknowledgement that Kubrick had seen this and stolen the look.