Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

The Shakespeare Project: Henry VI, Part I

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Wikipedia tells me that Henry VI, Part I was one of Shakespeare’s earliest histories. It shows. It lacks the verbal fireworks and beauty of his later works and there is little, if any comedy. It’s workmanlike and bases a lot more on action and more direct drama than his later works.

Of particular note is the character assassination Shakespeare renders on Joan of Arc. She starts out reasonable enough but then tries to sell her soul to demons for help, begs for her life and tries to lie and deceive her way out of the stake. Given what we know of Joan of Arc — even after hefty English rewriting of the historical record — this is pretty far from the truth. By all accounts, Joan was a smart woman who met her accusers effectively and died bravely. Had the French listened to her and protected her, the Hundred Years War might actually have finished in a hundred years. This one of the rare times when the Tudor propaganda aspects of the histories really jumps out (and possibly a bit of misogyny as well). I’m told that in some performances, Joan is more of a comic character, as are most of the French. I didn’t find them particularly funny.

Still, the play has its good parts. The action is easy to follow and the conflicts well-described. Henry VI is effectively portrayed as a bit too innocent, inadvertently dooming his house when he chooses to wear a red rose. It’s a tiny moment that is one of the most important moments in the Henry VI tetralogy. Talbot is the most developed character and the scene where he and his son beg each other to leave the doomed field of battle is one of the highlights of the play. And the theme of the histories — that England is weak when divided — shows most strongly in this play when the rivalries between the English lords destroys England’s occupation of France.

So definitely a worthwhile read. Hopefully, I’ll finish part II on a time scale of less than six months.

Next Up: Um, Henry the VI, Part II, of course.

Les Miserables Review

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I have never seen the musical Les Miserables. I’ve never actually seen any film or stage representation before. I have however read, and deeply loved, the book by Victor Hugo.*

(*I recently discovered, to my horror, that the version I read so long ago was, in fact, abridged. So I may have to read it again when I have a month to spare.)

So my expectations were medium to high going into the recent Les Miserables film. I can say that while I didn’t love it, I liked it quite a bit. There are times when it creaks. It has a very serious editing problem, with lots of rapid cuts that distract from the sumptuous visuals, the serviceable singing and the excellent acting.

But this is compensated for by the things the films gets right. The art direction is fantastic; 19th century Paris is recreated so well I felt like I needed antibiotics. The music is fine. I’m not as enamored of the score as most fan but it gets good when there is polyphony. The story, while stripped to its bare bones, retains the most important parts including the emotional wallop at the end. And the acting is uniformly good. Les Miserables has a great ensemble cast. One particular performance of note is that of Sacha Baron Cohen. His singing is OK, but his acting is a lot of fun. Between this and Hugo, he’s showing the makings of an excellent and versatile supporting actor. The more he does this and the less he does his characters, the happier I’ll be.

The thing I kept thinking as I watched it, however, was that I wished it weren’t a musical. I’m not slamming the music or anything. As I said, it works great sometimes. And Les Miserables is such a massive sprawling tale that perhaps musical numbers are the only way to advance the plot and the emotional threads fast enough to squeeze it into three hours. But I think the spectacle and the singing sort of take away from the excellent actors that populate the film. Many of the film’s flaws — Hooper’s preference for quick cuts and extreme closeups — are the result of doing it as pure musical rather than pure drama or drama punctuated by the occasional song. A distillation of this problem can be found in Russell Crowe. Many critics napalmed his singing. I found that he lacked dynamic range but was perfectly adequate. His flaws as a singer only stand out because the rest of the cast are better. But the complaints about his perfectly serviceable singing distract from his excellent acting. A little less singing and a little more acting and he would really have nailed Javert. The same can be said for many of the cast. Only Redmayne, Barks and perhaps Jackman are really able to pull off the singing and acting simultaneously.

One thing Hooper did right, however, was record the singing during filming. There is verisimilitude to the singing that is unique. Sometimes it’s distracting — Jackman in particular has a tendency to sing with a very open mouth. But I’m hoping the technique can be refined in the future because it really works much better than lip-synching.

Overall, I would probably give it a 8/10. I have to think about it a little bit. I love the story so dearly that the film redeems its sins with the occasional great moment.

Weekend Linkorama

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011
  • This video comparing Apollo footage to google maps, is soooo cool.
  • Lost books. I wish we could find them, as we recently found a lost Hitch movie.
  • A truly great expose of the corruption of college sports. I disagree with some of his conclusions, however.
  • Author Insults

    Saturday, June 25th, 2011

    I agree somewhat on Salinger, Faulkner and Joyce. And even when I disagree with Twain, he’s hilarious.

    Thought I’m stunned they didn’t include Mark Twain’s criticisms of James Fenimore Cooper which are both hilarious and deadly accurate.

    Friday Linkorama

    Saturday, April 9th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Was Travels with Charley a sham? Seems so.
  • Well, I’m glad to see that someone wants to take football concussions seriously.
  • Yes.
  • This piece by O’Rourke hits my reaction to Atlas Shrugged pretty accurately. It’s good. As a philosophy, it has its flaws. But it exposes the true villainy of collectivism and the virtue of self-determination.
  • Political links:

  • This is how conservatives should do justice.
  • No, no, no, no, no no, no. TARP did not turn a profit. No way. No how. They just moved money around to make it seem like they did.
  • The latest from the Obama conspiracy nuts: his knee was in NY while he was in Kenya.
  • It’s a good week: free trade is moving forward.
  • My political view are libertarian-conservative, not Republican. So I’m more than happy to praise a Democrat, even a Cuomo, when he’s doing the right thing.