Archive for Shakespeare

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.

With a Bare Bodkin

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on September 4, 2014 by dcairns

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One admires Shakespeare, of course, but one does wish he’d chosen a less comical phrase for unsheathed dagger than “bare bodkin” to go at the end of a sombre and meaningful line about the urge to suicide. It lacks the required gravitas, somehow. Always makes me think he means a bare body, or even a bare bottom. Still, when you’re churning the stuff out like Will, you’re bound to muck it up on occasion. Look at King Lear: greatest tragedy ever written, and smack in the middle of it he mislays an entire character, giving work to generations of academics who try to explain what in buggeration happened to the Fool. And don’t get me started on the missing scene in Macbeth.

A fellow who treats Shakespeare with this same bracing lack of respect is Carmelo Bene, and you can read more here, at today’s Forgotten. Bare bodkins a-go-go.

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