The Play’s The Thing

Some movie recommendations from the phantom memory:

Whirligig (in Comedy): Trudy and Claude (Kate Beckinsale and Jude Law) shimmy their way through Swingin’ London in this mod extravaganza. Initially a celebration of the miniskirted, moped-riding early sixties, the film morphs into something else entirely after the pair meet Professor Guildenstern (Sir Ian McKellan), an amateur chronophysicist who accidentally sends them to the grubby East End of the 1990s. Hilarity ensues as they try to find their way home in time.

Chaste as Ice (in Classics): This little-known screwball comedy was unseated at the box office by Billy Wilder’s Ball of Fire, which boasted both a very similar plot line and the star power of Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. In Preston Sturges’ Chaste as Ice, showgirl and one-time girlfriend of a mobster Shotzie O’Fealya (Billy Holiday) dons a wimple and gets her to a nunnery to escape threats from her former flame. Despite her numerous faux pas, the sisters fall for her smooth line of patter and take her in as one of their own.

Rogue and Peasant (in Foreign): An 18th century highwayman (Gérard Depardieu) goes to ground in a small hamlet, where he takes refuge in the home of a peasant farmer (Jean Reno). Despite their differences, the two forge a strong friendship which is tested when an official investigation brings close scrutiny upon the village.

Hawk Handsaw (in Action/Adventure): Bruce Willis toughs it out again in Renny Harlin’s 1999 action blockbuster. As fey and furious villain Count Voltimand, Alan Cumming exudes a twinkling, strangely chilling menace, and Julianne Moore brings a believable fragility to her scenes as Hawk’s oft-endangered fiancée.

Thrift! Thrift! (in Classics): One of his moneyed pals bets corporate bigwig and playboy Dane Prince (Jack Lemmon) that he cannot live on the income allotted to Dane’s own entry-level employees. Determined to keep to his shoestring budget without curtailing his antic love life, Dane resorts to more and more elaborate schemes of frugality, raising the comic stakes with every step.

A More Removéd Ground (in Drama): Emma Thompson stars as Elsinore, a newly divorced woman deeply affected by her estranged father’s death and mother’s hasty remarriage. Distancing herself, she moves to a ramshackle cottage in the Danish countryside, where she comes to terms with her grief and her future.

2B (Mystery/Thriller): Stodgy accountant Bernard Francis (Colin Firth) wonders if something dodgy is going on next door. Strange mechanical sounds in the night, comings and goings at all hours, and odd wailings from the seldom seen black-clad neighbor raise his suspicions, and Bernard steels himself to investigate, only to discover that opening the door to 2B sets loose a sea of troubles.

Rotten State (in Mystery/Thriller): In the wake of the President’s sudden death, a Washington reporter stumbles upon an unthinkable conspiracy — or does he? Gary Oldman is riveting as Frank Bacon, the journalist who suspects the President’s apparent heart attack was an assassination orchestrated by the First Lady and the Vice President. Bacon’s composure unravels as he gets swept up in the plot and starts to find himself tailed and troubled at every turn. But is the plot real, or only a phantom of Bacon’s fevered imagination?

If you are curiously unable to locate these films, may I instead suggest Hamlet (starring Laurence Olivier), Hamlet (starring Kenneth Brannagh), or even Hamlet (starring Ethan Hawke)?

Screw your courage to the sticking place

Shakespeare porn.

No, really: Shakespeare porn. Do you suppose they renamed Puck?

Also, I’m afraid, Shakespeare slash.

“Things I will not do when I direct a Shakespeare production, on stage or film,” part I, part II, and part III. Includes such wisdom as:

The ghost of Hamlet’s father will not be played by the entire ensemble underneath a giant piece of diaphanous black material.
Olivia probably should not say “Most wonderful!” as if she’s thinking “THREESOME!
I will not have my weird sisters hump each other.
I will also never use ACTUAL snakes. Ever.

Long overdue

I wrote this, whoa, five weeks ago, but circumstances prevented me from posting it then. I submit it now, without a review or an update. Mea culpa.

50-book challenge: Labor Day round-up

As I’ve said before, the biggest challenge in book-blogging is simply keeping track of the books. Here are a few titles that escaped me on previous posts.

Of course, there’s the Shakespeare:
68. Titus Andronicus.
Operatically violent. The pages seem to squelch with blood. If Quentin Tarantino were Shakespeare. And, uh, vice versa.

And, like Tarantino’s oeuvre, there is more below the surface than one might first suspect. The staggering brutality — the many parts lopped, hacked, and hewn — contributes to the larger theme of the body politic.

69. Taming of the Shrew.
I had always read Katerina as an independent, fiery spirit — an Elizabethan Katherine Hepburn, who inexplicably cows herself to the demands of a swaggering alpha male. The play has irrevocably changed for me since a friend lent me a tape of a stunning BBC production. This Kate is defensive and lonely, cloaking fear in rage, and John Cleese’s Petruchio is peevish, weary, and — ultimately — tender. Rather than two strong forces clashing, this is a story of two wary, damaged characters tentatively seeking contentment, and finding it grows beyond their hopes.

This Kate poses some difficulties for a 21st century feminist, but finally the character makes sense to me, and that is a worthy trade.

70. As You Like It.
This was my favorite of the comedies when I was 16, probably because it was the favorite of my intense, funny, and very cute teacher, Mr. W.

Now, not so much. As luck would have it, this play was just added to my upcoming lit class, so we’ll see how I feel about it in November.

71. Emma, by Jane Austen.
Don’t worry, I needn’t burst once more into song over the joys of Jane Austen. To sum up: blah blah blah wit. Blah language blah blah measured and harmonious blah. Blah blah unintentionally revealing comment about romantic miscommunications and the nature of unrequited blah.

72. Banshee, by Margaret Millar.
Meandering, dated, and ultimately unsatisfying. And — lucky me! — I own it!

73. God Said “HA!” , by Julia Sweeney.
The translation from stage to page makes for stilted writing, but immerse yourself in her laughter and sorrow, and you will soon hear Sweeney’s voice as if she were in the room.

74. The King’s English, by Kingsley Amis.
This style guide is more opinionated than educated; in one characteristic entry, Amis recommends one usage over another because he believes anyone who disagrees sounds “like a berk.”

It’s Kingsley Amis; you perhaps expected it not to be steeped in vitriol? (Poor Martin. No wonder…)

75. Good To Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture, by Marvin Harris.

Anthropophagy! The dreaded filthy swine! Kuru! So happy, so so happy.

Harris appears to be unaware of the mechanism by which kuru is transmitted (brain-eating cannibals! hurray!), which causes me to wonder: was the cause unknown as recently as the 1980s, or is Harris just as careless as I’ve always thought?

The 50 book challenge

54. All’s Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare.
After reading Twelfth Night, I realized I have perhaps been giving the comedies short shrift, so I am revisiting them. All’s Well That Ends Well is not, to my mind, as charming, balanced, and rich as Twelfth Night, and [spoiler!] Helena’s determination to have and hold that schlumph of a man is puzzling. She’s charming, intelligent, loyal, and sweet-tempered; he is an ass. What a waste.

55. How To Keep Kosher, by Lisë Stern.
As the subtitle says, this is a comprehensive guide to kashering the home kitchen. Stern’s clear, step-by-step instructions make this potentially overwhelming task seem manageable. She does include surprisingly little discussion of kitniyot, which is a fascinating issue, and hotly contested.

For #56, I’m counting two as one, thinking that properly represents the proportion of each that made any damn sense to me. Faith and I agree: linguistics is hard.
56a. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, by George Lakoff.
I’ve been meaning to read this for years, enticed by its title, as who would not be? Despite the juicy title, this is one of the driest damn things I’ve ever read — and I’m an archaeology student, for cryin’ out loud. Lakoff (not unreasonably) expects the reader to have some very basic knowledge of both linguistics and cognitive science, and further expects his often quite abstract models and assertions to be transparent without the benefit of examples. Examples do bulk up a text, but often they are necessary. DO YOU HEAR ME, Lakoff?

56b. A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English, by Anthony Burgess.
This is both highly approachable and largely unreadable; Burgess fills the text with thrills, buzzes, and shudders. So contagious is his enthusiasm that the reader almost fails to notice how slippery and unsound his logic seems to be. Um, as far as I can tell. There are those better positioned to judge, of course.

57. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.
Gripping and lyrical, but its effect was evanescent. I spent a week fervently recommending this to family, then completely forgot its existence.

58. Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson.
Meandering, but more engrossing and less dreary than Behind The Scenes at the Museum. This is why so many friends have recommended her writing.

59. Tales of the Night, by Peter Høeg.
Feh, I give up.

60. Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene, by Niles Eldredge.
The entire work is based on a series of fallacies: that altruism presents a “Darwinian conundrum” (pg. 176), which Dawkins, Blaffer Hrdy, and others have repeatedly shown it does not; that an adaptive trait is an innately good or desirable trait; that evolutionarily devised impulses dictate (rather than influence) behavior. Sloppy thinking is infuriating, particularly from a scientist, and Eldredge compounds his sins by writing abominably.
61. Life Before Man, by Margaret Atwood.
A 1970s Margaret Atwood novel about open marriage? I deserve everything I got.

62. Women and Ghosts, by Alison Lurie.
Great fun to read; Lurie seems to have had great fun writing it as well.

63. Love and Friendship, by Alison Lurie.
This, on the other hand, not so much. Atwood’s and Lurie’s wry views of marriage and love only serve to remind me of Edith Wharton’s quiet genius. It might be time to revisit Middlemarch, as well.

This entry brought to you by the letter O and by the iced Americano

I’m on vacation.

Picture me doing a klutzy stomping dance in my platform sandals, wiggling my hands in the air, and intermittently slurping down cool cool beverages with elaborate garnishes*, and you’re not far off.

Several things that have brightened my vacation so far:
1. party ice. Thanks to the recent guests who brought a 5 lb. bag of ice — not just ice, party ice! — I am one cool kitten despite record high temperatures.

Is it just me, or is the party ice polar bear looking morose?

2. The iced Americano. Instead of planning ahead (Planning ahead? Engaging my brain? Feh! I’m on vacation, people.) and making coffee to chill overnight, I make one stern shot of scalding coffee slurry in the morning and pour it over lots of ice.
Not just ice — party ice! [See #1.]

3. Dear Catastrophe Waitress, a recent arrival from the isogloss. Thanks ever so!

4. limoncello, in a tall glass with a big lemon wedge and a whole lot of seltzer.

And possibly some ice. [See #1.] Ooooh, cooooling.

Sister C. gave me a bottle of homemade limoncello for Christmas, and I have not shared it, not at all, because I am a horrid greedy girl, but very grateful. Please give me your recipe, C.

5. Twelfth Night. I reread this for the first time in 20 years, and am amazed at how beautifully the language leaps off the page, how charming and lively it is, and how the vivacity of the action melds with complexity of theme. Kudos to the friend who mentioned, to my raised eyebrow and general skepticism, that it is his favorite of Shakespeare’s plays.

* The drinks have elaborate garnishes, not me** or the slurping.
** Come to think of it, I’m sporting some elaborate sartorial garnishes myself lately.

The 50 book challenge

First, a raft of Shakespeare:
46. Macbeth.
Murder, treason, witchcraft, and marital squabbling. These are a few of my favorite things.

47. King Lear.
No matter how often I read this or see it performed, no matter how intellectually and analytically I approach it, Regan shocks and horrifies me every single time. That bad, bad daughter. Why Regan and not Goneril? Er, um, I could not say. Regan seems more thoughtful in her betrayal, perhaps.

I reread Lear after seeing Laurence Olivier’s deeply touching BBC portrayal, but a friend recently lent me a 1970s Shakespeare in the Park version. I recommend it highly, not only for the towering wall of sound that is James Earl Jones as the enraged and maddened Lear, but also for Raul Julia: so young, so evil, and in leather pants. Mmm-hmm.

48. Twelfth Night. I described the delights of “Twelfth Night” here.
49. Richard III. A fun contrast to, say, Othello, where we see the gradual development of the villain and his plot, Richard announces himself a villain right from the get-go. Relish it.

50. Hamlet.
I have nothing useful to say about The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark except: Read it. Reread it. See it performed. See it again. Then see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and laugh yourself sick. God, I love Tom Stoppard. (Well, not everything.)

51. Othello.
My favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. Always worth rereading; I have a slim and sturdy Victorian reprint to carry in my handbag.

And a few others:

52. Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg. Whoa — two hundred pages of lyrical writing, with complex characters and an promisingly elaborate plot. Two hundred pages of total enthrallment.

But the whole book is 499 pages. Too bad, that.

53. In the Shadow of No Towers, by Art Spiegelman.
[moment of silence] [/end moment of silence]


I broke a tooth over the weekend, and my dreamy dentist whom I adore cannot see me until Thursday. Feh, it could be worse. However, the simple, stupid pain of being human and inhabiting meat and bone immeasurably compounds the already confounding work in my philosophy class. For a few minutes, I was quite tickled with the notion that toothache so effectively trumps philosophy.

Then I realized that someone else figured this out a while ago.