Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wikipedia on "Brigadoon"

"A 1954 film version starred Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. A 1966 television version starred Robert Goulet and Peter Falk."

I think we can all agree that Cyd Charisse had better legs.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Now You Know

I wrote a letter to Stephen Sondheim, asking him about the subject of this post. And today I heard back from him! He wrote that the date in the book is wrong, and it would be corrected for subsequent printings. He said he and James Lapine did meet with Jim Henson about the project in 1989.

In my mind, a meeting of Sondheim and Henson could only occur on Mount Olympus. But I'm very glad to know, as I suspected, that the meeting actually happened.

3/26/12: UPDATE here!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Animator's pickup line

"Would you like to come up to my room and see my animated shorts?"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hopkins vs. Hoskins

This week we watched the Anthony Hopkins/Bob Hoskins "Othello" as the latest in our BBC Shakespeare marathon. Bob Hoskins makes a sensational, giggling, Cockney Iago, delighting in the havoc he wreaks in the lives of Othello and "Desdemoner".

Anthony Hopkins has some terrific moments as Othello; his passionate outbursts, especially leading up to the epileptic fit, were particularly well-executed and riveting. (I'm sure director Jonathan Miller was able to offer some medical insight there!) But despite Othello uttering the phrase "I am black", Miller decided race was irrelevant to the story and that a "Moor" needn't really be all that dark. So while Hopkins is made up darker than normal — arguably darker than James Earl Jones (who was initially sought to play the role for the BBC) — he's nowhere near as dark as Olivier was in the role.

I don't have a problem with that choice, but unfortunately, when combined with his pale blue eyes and a wild wig, Hopkins's Othello looks decidedly weird, unlike any other human being I've ever seen walking the earth. He is also not especially imposing physically, and ultimately any effectiveness he achieves comes after he's first made you forget his essential unsuitedness for the role.

Likewise, Penelope Wilton hardly fits the typical mold for Desdemona, but she's a marvelous actress and quite moving. Rosemary Leach does wonderfully as Emilia, as well.

Overall, quite a powerful version, and not to be missed for Hoskins — the "only first-rate Iago" Harold Bloom says he's ever seen!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A poem

When writing haiku
I tend to give the last line
Too many syllables

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Halfway across the Avon

For the 2010 holidays, Laura and I bought ourselves the complete works of William Shakespeare on DVD. As you may or may not recall, from 1978-1985, the BBC set about producing all of Shakespeare's plays, using some of the finest British actors of the time. That's 37 plays in all; they unfortunately chose not to include "The Two Noble Kinsmen", even though it seems that dually-authored play is as much "by Shakespeare" as some of the ones they did produce. Anyway, I remember the series being on while I was in high school (and college), but don't think I ever caught a play in its entirety.

Perhaps it was our 2010 trip to London and visit to the recreation of the Globe Theatre, but we felt we wanted to know more Shakespeare than we did. Once I looked into the BBC series, and saw the incredible actors who were in it (John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Ben Kingsley...), it seemed like a great way to become thoroughly acquainted with The Bard.

The cost for the series on NTSC DVD is a whopping $750. But Amazon had the PAL version much cheaper — it's now $137 there as I write this — and a region-free DVD player can easily be found for under $50. So that's what we did.

You'll find a lot of negative opinions about the BBC series if you prowl around on the web. But on the whole, we've been quite pleased with the productions, and have had a great time watching them. We're currently halfway through the set, and I wanted to take a moment and write just a few words about each play. We're watching them in original broadcast order, so here goes:

Romeo and Juliet
A young Alan Rickman as Tybalt, in his film/video debut! Great idea to start the whole series off with Gielgud. But Anthony Andrews's Mercutio was tough going.

Richard II
Lovely performance by Derek Jacobi. Gielgud's John of Gaunt was very moving, one of the very best performances in the series so far.

As You Like It
Helen Mirren is a delightful Rosalind, despite being plagued with insects in the real forest in which the play was shot.

Julius Caesar
Having just played Jaques in "As You Like It", Richard Pasco gets to show off by turning around and playing Brutus here. Nicely done, and good to see Keith Michell as Marc Antony.

Measure for Measure
A strange play. Smashing performance by Tim Pigott-Smith as Angelo. And fan of the RSC's "Nicholas Nickleby" that I am, it was great to see two veterans here, Alun Armstrong and John McEnery.

Henry VIII
Laura and I began to feel this about the history plays: The play begins, "things happen", and then the play ends. Often not the most dramatic experience. But great to see Claire Bloom here as Katharine.

Henry IV, Part 1
Wonderful performance by Anthony Quayle as Falstaff.

Henry IV, Part 2
Wonderful performance by Anthony Quayle as Falstaff. (Oh, I just said that.)

Henry V
David Gwillim is an immensely appealing actor, and built up a lot of good will as Hal during the preceding two plays. But this overall production didn't have the impact of Olivier's or Branagh's. (Of course, their budgets helped...)

Twelfth Night
A thoroughly delightful and hilarious performance by Alec McCowen as Malvolio. Also nice to see Robert Lindsay in his first of several roles in the series.

The Tempest
A strong Prospero from Michael Hordern. Fascinating play.

Derek Jacobi -- the definitive Cyrano -- doesn't disappoint as the Melancholy Dane. And Patrick Stewart! Someone should compile a list of famous actors who show up in this series. It would be surprising, and boost sales!

The Taming of the Shrew
This is where Jonathan Miller takes over the reigns of producing the whole series. A very good production with some very funny actors, John Cleese not least among them.

The Merchant of Venice
Terrifically powerful performance by Warren Mitchell as Shylock. I loved how he danced along the edge of caricature, but never fell over. But as a side note, this is the first time we noticed how totally haphazardly the DVD menu screens and cases are composed. The actor pictured on the menu screen looks like he might be playing Shylock in some production of the play, but is definitely not Warren Mitchell! There have been similar goofs. Both the DVD case and menu screens for "Antony and Cleopatra" show the actors playing Octavius Caesar and Cleopatra!

All's Well That Ends Well
This was the first production that I would give an actual "thumbs down". Director Elijah Moshinsky seems much more interested in recreating Vermeer paintings than in finding the drama in the play. That said, it is a very strange and unsatisfying play, not helped by an unappealing Angela Down as Helena, and a totally bizarre kiss between Helena and the King! What was that all about?

The Winter's Tale
Wow, the first 30 minutes of this were as good as anything has been in the entire series. Riveting and upsetting. Not that the rest was bad, either. Extremely well acted and directed. Yay Jane Howell! And man, were we happy when Margaret Tyzack arrived on the scene to try to set things right!

Timon of Athens
Jonathan Miller took over the direction of this play when Michael Bogdanov left during pre-production. But it feels like the switch transpired the morning taping began. This production is heavily marred by technical issues, primarily audio. It is often difficult to hear the actors when Miller has them delivering lines from the far end of the studio. And the crunching gravel underfoot drowns the voices out like the pearls in "Singin' in the Rain"! And, an entire soliloquy where we have to watch Jonathan Pryce upside-down? Really? Pryce did his best, but this is a truly weird, implausible play in a shaky production.

Antony and Cleopatra
It's said Miller was going for "unheroic" main characters, and that's what he got. Jane Lapotaire, if not a natural born Cleopatra, was still quite effective. This is a much smoother production than "Timon", but there were still a few technical issues.

Rather than cutting from different angles, Miller has a tendency to capture long expanses of the play in one take, no doubt due to his background in the theatre. (I tend to do the same thing in my films, and for the same reason.) There were many instances where this worked terrifically well, as Miller was able to recompose his shots and shift focus simply by having the actors turn their heads. But cutting has its benefits too. Did we really need to see backlit snot dripping off a sobbing Jane Lapotaire's nose? A cut there would have been welcome. (Or at least, couldn't Charmian or Iras have had a hanky for her?) Distracting and a bit gross.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

If you can't say something nice(ly)...

After an awkward exchange on Facebook a few months back (which at least ended gracefully), I had resolved to never say anything negative about any person or any thing, anywhere on the Internet. Well, I'm about to blow that resolution in full cranky-Andy-Rooney fashion, because I just have to say this: I find Manohla Dargis's movie reviews in the New York Times all but impossible to read. If I want to read a review and it's by A.O. Scott, I read it, but if it's by Dargis, I don't bother.

I feel she often uses her reviews not to address the movie in question, but as an excuse to write about some tangentially-related topic she finds more interesting. But even when her relevant opinions are in there — somewhere — I find coaxing them out to be exhausting, and ultimately not worth the bother.

Consider these sentences from her Thursday review of Daniel Radcliffe in "The Woman in Black". The first one is awkward enough, but it's the second one I really have a problem with:
It will take time before many of us will be able to see the actor instead of his famous character, and time for him to shake that role off too, though it helps that Mr. Radcliffe is no longer encumbered by Harry's mop and especially his glasses. A movie actor's eyes can be his most expressive tool, one that Mr. Radcliffe, who has a pretty blue pair framed by thick brows — the eyes suggest watery lightness while the brows convey a heavy weight — wasn't able to make full use of as Harry.
Okay, I understand what she's saying, but does she have to say it like that? Isn't there an editor at the Times who can rewrite that for her? How about:
A movie actor's eyes can be his most expressive tool, and the role of Harry didn't allow Mr. Radcliffe to make full use of his; Radcliffe's pretty blue pair suggests watery lightness, while his thick brows convey a heavy weight.
Or cut the semicolon and make it two sentences. You get the idea.

But this is nothing compared to this incomprehensible mess from her review of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", directed by Rupert Wyatt. Again, I'll give you a lead-in sentence for context:
Mr. Franco maintains a straight face, selling his relationships with Charles and Caesar. Mr. Wyatt, meanwhile, toggles between the large-scale, special-effects-assisted action — there's a nice moment when leaves fall like rain as the chimps take to the trees canopying a suburban street — and the cinema's greatest special effect: the face, some digital.
Wow. Will someone please diagram that one for me? I mean, when you have a spare weekend.