Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dr. Who Does Shakespeare

Note: the following is really just an excuse to show lots of photos of David Tennant.

ooo, shiney.
Perhaps it’s kind of geeky, but I’ve always liked Shakespeare. Well, pretty much always. I think I was unmoved by Romeo and Juliet when I first read it in junior high. I thought kids who killed themselves for love were super annoying. But sometime in high school we got this amazing new thing called cable TV, and it had this great arts channel (soon replaced by MTV) that broadcast a film version of a stage production of Hamlet, with Hamlet played by Ian McKellen. Oh. My. God. I watched it every time I could catch it (these being the years before home recording). Because of that single production, I never really experienced difficulty with the language. It wasn’t that I understood all the idioms and odd expressions of that time and place, but I got it, I was inside it.

Recently DramaQueen was studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream in school, and I began to feel that strange motherly compulsion to inject as much culture as possible into my offspring with the lest outlay of cash. Yea TV. So I went searching for free, streaming Shakespeare.

Dr. Who and Captain Picard share a moment.

It takes a bigger man than you to play on my pipe.
Imagine my delight when I ran across an RSC production of Hamlet on PBS. Hot. Dog. You can’t get anymore Shakespearey than the RSC. Then, much to my amazement, I found that Hamlet was played by the 12th incarnation of Dr. Who, and Claudius by Captain Picard. It was a pop-culture/high-culture bonanza! And no one was wearing a doublet. All the sets and costumes were contemporary, the surfaces sleek and reflective, surveillance cameras everywhere (it is a play with a lot of spying and snooping). And, my word, David Tennant owned Hamlet. I can’t say enough about his performance, and the other actors were exceptionally good as well. Every time a famous soliloquy approached, I wondered how he could possibly breathe new life into such familiar words, and each time I was mightily impressed.

 For example, here is the first soliloquey:

And the Am I a Coward bit:

And here is one of my favorite humorous moments with silly old Polonius:

Thing is, I now have this urge to watch Dr. Who.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brideshead Regurgitated

Hell to the No.
When the Brideshead Revisited movie came out, I told myself that I would never watch it. From what I could tell of how the writers had reshaped the script, it seemed like a horror. The BBC miniseries was one of the glorious discoveries of my youth, and I’ve read the book countless times, so I was going to be tough to win over.

Sometimes snap judgements are right on target. Man, did they ever botch it. It was impossible for me to see the movie with fresh eyes, because in every shot I glimpsed the ghost of the original BBC miniseries, and the ghost had a lot more flesh on it. To succeed the film should have made me forget the first series with a fresh vision.

Much Better

For those who don’t know the story, it goes like this: Charles Ryder, a disillusioned WWII Army captain, finds himself stationed at Brideshead estate, forcing him to think back on his youth at Oxford, where he met and befriended the beautiful and doomed Lord Sebastian Flyte and became embroiled in a family drama spanning decades. An aspiring artist, Charles finds inspiration in Sebastian’s family home, the very place were Sebastian feels most unhappy. What begins as a jubilant friendship quickly disintegrates as Sebastian spirals into alcoholic depression. Charles sets out on his own, much later meeting up with Sebastian’s sister, Julia. Both married, they begin a passionate love affair. Running throughout the story is the theme of religious faith, primarily Catholicism, which Charles at first rejects but later (it is implied) embraces.

What someone unfamiliar with the book could take from the new movie, I have no idea. The two halves were folded back in on themselves and stitched together to save time. In the novel and miniseries, Charles and Julia do not at first cross paths very often and they don’t pay much attention to each other. This movie turns the relationship into a love triangle, which transforms the friendship between Charles and Sebastian into a sordid little cliche. Other elements that are important in the novel and series are given a perfunctory mention and then the plot chugs along. Urgh. Consider:

Why does Sebastian drink?
Brideshead BBC: Sebastian drinks because he’s an alcoholic with suffocating, manipulative mother who keeps him on a short leash and stokes him regularly with religious guilt.
Brideshead movie: Sebastian drinks because his boyfriend wants to sleep with his sister.

Who is Aloysius?
Brideshead BBC: Aloysius is Sebastian’s teddy bear, both an affectation that endears him to his Oxford classmates and a symbol of his dangerous desire to cling to childhood. Aloysius is the name of a Catholic saint who watches over youth.
Brideshead the movie: Huh? Oh, he’s that teddy bear you see mabye twice. His name is Aloysius?

Who is Anthony Blanche?
Brideshead BBC: Anthony is the flamboyant Tiresias figure in the novel, appearing periodically to deliver enigmatic warnings to Charles about the Flyte family. Turns out he is right about most things.
Brideshead movie: Where is the old bugger? He’s around here somewhere. Ooops, missed him.

Jeremy Irons, the original Charles Ryder
I could go on. The movie is a long exercise in missing the point. The movie doesn’t shy away from faith, but it doesn’t do the theme any favors, either. There are rosaries and religious pictures, and sometimes the gang chat vaguely about being heathens or atheists. It has all the heft of a bag of feathers. The role of art as a secular religion is nowhere to be found. Charles just starts sketching a bit, but that’s sort of lost in the headlong rush to tie up the loose ends that barely had time to flap about in the breeze in the first place. You arrive at the big deathbed conversion scene wondering what all the kerfuffle is about.

Has Charles been changed by any of this? Who knows - but he doesn’t snuff out the eternal flame in the chapel. Whoa.

Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder
When it comes to casting, you can’t could beat the original, though there are some notable actors in the new version, including Emma Thompson and Albus Dumbledore - I mean, Michael Gambon.

Matthew Goode makes a decent Charles Ryder. He even has some of Jeremy Irons’ mellifluous tones, but since this version has almost no voice-over narration, you don’t get to enjoy that.

Ben Whishaw as Sebastian Flyte. 
Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte
Ben Whishaw vs. Anthony Andrews. Oh, there’s no question here that Andrews wins. Whitshaw looks like he has consumption, and though that might be realistic for advanced alcoholism, Sebastian is supposed to be beautiful.

The start of it all.
So, how did I come to watch this mess that I knew from the start would be a disaster and that I never ever intended to watch? Well, it’s because SOMEONE has a crush on Matthew Goode. And it isn’t me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dopey Dopamine

I’ve been patiently waiting for my mood to shift a bit, and a horrid sort of aimlessness has settled over me. Options appear to my eyes with the same dull hues, nothing bright and obvious and appealing. I read to keep my mind occupied rather than circling like a vulture.

I was really hoping that the thyroid pills I’ve been prescribed would kick ennui’s butt. I'm always hoping there will be an a-ha moment that puts everything right

My therapist says I should cut myself some slack. Motivation is a gnawing problem for people with ADD. I’m low energy and that’s just a fact of my nature. I should rejoice that I’m functional. I have my kids and husband and they’re important to me. I think of my mom: her kids and family were important to her, too, but she still went around saying, “I just don’t know what to do with my life.” She was saying that in her 70s. Drove me mad. I used to think, Hell, by this time you’ve done what you were going to do with your life – suck it up. But it’s an awful feeling, that sense of directionless motion. You don’t feel like you’re the master of your own ship, or whatever that stupid expression is. I end up reacting to events, dithering over decisions. I feel foggy and uncertain. I’ve known from a young age that structure is essential if I’m to get anything done at all, and that I am incapable of creating that structure myself. I’ve needed schools and jobs to divide up my day, deadlines to force me to focus. The moment I try to set up any sort of routine for myself, I’m doomed. Set goals? Who’s going to hold me to it, after all? Myself? Hah. And routines are not foolproof. There are days when, for example, after years and years of putting out medicine for Firecracker to take, every morning at the same time, I forget it entirely. And you know what? The next day I’ll be more likely to forget it again. It’s as if the habit were unraveling. I finally set up automatic reminders to pop up on my phone. That’s not foolproof, either, because those sorts of things tend to become just so much white noise. The only thing I can be certain I won’t forget is to brush my teeth. I have immediate sensory feedback if that isn’t done.

Did you know that there’s a connection between dopamine and motivation? Low dopamine, low motivation. I take medications in an attempt to counter what I can only think is a full-out dopamine drought. Sometimes it works sort of okay, at least for a while. But then I just have to leave the boring behind and do something I like. Tedium is my enemy. And unfortunately this often happens in the middle of a work day. It’s almost guaranteed to happen when it’s time to deal with household chores. This is not just the afternoon slump. A few wisps of mist float through, and then the full-on fog of dreamy inattention. There are no rewards great enough to tempt me, so I rely on fear. I need a job, and I need to keep Dear Husband’s ire at bay. Some people think that the contentment and peacefulness of a clean house or a job well done would be reward enough, but no way. I have no work ethic. Never cared about working my way to the top of the dung heap. Left to myself I’d never do anything. I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t born into wealth.

It sure makes me feel out of sync with cultural expectations. All these books on Get It Done, how to be an entrepreneur, how to get ahead, little tricks and bits and bobs on productivity. Seth Godin. Just visiting his website makes me tired. Do I care if I’m the linchpin? Hell no. (By the way, why are there all these blogs and books about leadership? What about books on being an astute and useful follower, assistant, or whatever?) Ambition, goals, productivity – I can understand these intellectually, but my physical self has no understanding at all. They are a foreign substance I keep trying to ingest and integrate and my system keeps pushing them out as foreign bodies.

You know, I was just on Seth Godin’s blog, and he mentioned the characteristics of losers. And I thought, No one wants to be a loser, but someone always is.

Which brings me to the last episode of Glee, with the fabulous song Loser Like Me, which expresses a sense of optimism I don’t feel.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Life is, to some extent, an extended dialogue with your future self about how exactly you are going to let yourself down over the coming years.

“The base model TM-31 runs on state-of-the-art chronodiegetical technology: a six-cylinder grammar drive built n a quad-core physics engine, which features an applied temporalinguistics architecture allowing for free-form navigation within a rendered environment, such as, for instance, a story space and, in particular, a science fictional universe.

Or, as Mom used to say: it’s a box.”

I picked out this book because of the title. How could I resist? I happened across reviews of it here and there, nice buzzy happy reviews. It seemed to be much in demand. I was on a waiting list at the library so long that I almost forgot about it. In fact, when I finally got notice that it was available, I was really into reading a clockwork man.

From the start Charles Yu’s writing filled me with delight. Charles (who is also the narrator), is a time machine repairman. The book is written as a manual, interlaced with the narrator’s personal story. Yu creates elaborate technological and pseudotechnological constructs, real physics mixed with fantasy. And lest that sound drearily dull, the story is well padded with humor, from the holographic dog rescued from a space western to Phil, the dispatcher, a Windows program who thinks he is a real person with a wife and children. I think of Douglass Adams meets Italo Calvino, with a bit of Ecco thrown in.

You probably can guess from the title as well as that excerpt from the opening pages, that this is metafiction. Metaphysical metafiction. It’s so self-referential I’m surprised it’s still book-shaped. If you reduced the story to plot, it is about the narrator’s search for his missing father, a brilliant but defeated scientist. Together they had worked on a prototype time machine, one that never quite came together. Every memory is laced with regret and loss. In the course of his search, the narrator ends up stuck in a time loop after shooting his future self, who hands him a book, telling him that the answer is in it, in the book we are reading and which the present/future narrator is writing.

The theme of the story is memory, our very own personal time travel machine. We travel forward and backward at the same time. Also, the book is itself a time travel device, a little box transporting both reader and author from present to past to future. But more importantly, the story focuses on the potential danger of memory, how it can become a trap, an endless, obsessive loop.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011