Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Tempest

And in other cultural news...

Just saw a production of The Tempest, outdoors in the great metropolis of Nashua, NH. Two of the homeschoolers we've seen many times—they played Romeo & Juliet together—were in it. Much of the rest of the cast were older.

It was performed on stage in a park. A nice setting, but the acoustics were poor. We sat fairly close and could hear everything except when planes or motorcycles passed by. Midway thru the production some teenage girls collected in front. Some while later, as a scene ended, the three got up giggling, one said “Great job, everyone”, and they skittered off in teenage hilarity.

There was barely any set to speak of, and most of the cast dressed in ordinary modern clothes. Ariel wore a sprite-rated gown, Caliban was properly outré, and Trinculo, played by a female, inexplicably wore a flouncy, parti-coloured tutu. Most of the men wore shirts with ties. And guns were in the pockets of the murderous ones.

The play rollicked along, with no stops for acts. Players came in from the audience quite a bit, and Trinculo lay drunk near me at one point. It was a decent production.

I did not care for the woman who played Caliban, but I do not think I would care for anyone who played Caliban. I think of the Monty Python skit featuring the hospital for overacting. You see all these Richards lamenting excessively about their kingdom for a horse. I fear Caliban may be inextricably linked to that sort of performance, tho to be honest, I have never seen a performance of The Tempest before (not counting that scifi movie with Leslie Nielsen, in which Robbie the Robot played Caliban (and played the role well!)).

One of the players had a thick New England accent that verged on JFK's, tho it must be said that JFK's accent was some sort of concoction merely influenced by the New England tongue. Prospero was Brit, most the rest American, altho the girl who played Ariel, former Juliet, has a British mother and Canadian father, and speaks that way.

A nice touch came at the end when sailors arrived on the island to save everyone. They were dressed as Gilligan and the Skipper. Chortle.

The Tempest is a nifty play, especially reckoning Shakespeare himself as the magister Prospero. Vaunted Shakespeare has become a tiresome conceit. It is fair to reckon him within the sphere of entertainment as well as grand literature. I say this thinking of Prospero begging for applause at the end. I think we must concede his humanity. Winter's Tale (or whatever was) is kind of a crappy ending for his career, you ask me. That was, btw, the first homeschool production that we saw. A decent production, but the play is kind of crackers. To me it is Willie Mays with the Mets, flubbing a basket catch or falling down on his way to first after singling. Anyway, gee, a free performance of Shakespeare.


Erin and I just finished watching Watchmen. His review was succinct: "Well, that sucked." I do not exactly beg to differ, but I will throw more words at the thing.

It is based in the weird conceit of superheroes in a real sort of world. Just try. The chorus is: human all too human, ultra cynical version. Comix deserve this sort of attention and consideration, because so much of the malarkey of comix goes by without criticism. Like, Superboy once split 2 planets in half, because one had half destroyed by fire, so his cure was to merge the good half of another planet with the good half of the one he wanted to save. The scale of that is ridiculous, am I right?

I do not really want to recount the plot of Watchmen, it fetches far without a lot of cred. The story resides in an alternate history in which Nixon remains president for several terms, just imagine. We are offered a lot of squirrelly caricatures of Nixon and others of that era. On the plus side, the soundtrack has some nice artifacts from the 60s to the 80s (movie was set in 1985). This is all secondary to the convolutions of character interplay between the superheroes. In this, the story reminds me of Jonathan Lethem's “Super Goat Man”, except these heroes have clear powers. The recent Batman also comes to mind, too, even to the gruff whisper of Rorschach (a la the Dark Knight himself).

The movie is spectacularly, even lusciously, violent. It turns all that ka-pow of comix to its logical limit. Might as well admit the damage that superheroes could do.

Like Dark Knight, Watchmen revels in the possibilities of superpowers, that superheroes would be no more morally pristine than you or me. And the question of why Superman et al. would bother with bank robbers when the spectre of war, etc. Dr Manhattan, the glowing blue bundle of energy (he looks like a particularly buff (steroidal) Academy Award), ends the Vietnam War by grimly slaughtering everything in his path. Which is a logical endpoint to superpowers.

The movie is three hours long, owing to the tendency of many of the SHs to soliloquize. Dr Manhattan does it just standing there, whereas Rorschach at least is voiceover, with action going on. These speeches are staid exercises in cynical, nihilistic viewpoint, really just flouncy cries for attention. Watchmen wants some seriousness to survive thru the malarkey but chokes it with a reliance on comic book surface.

I never read the comic, tho I think I may have it around here. I like turning superheroes on their end, but this is a rough attempt. There is considerable backstory implied, some of it ridiculous. The central female, whose moniker I forget, turns out, we discover, to be the daughter of The Comedian, who raped her SH mother. The Comedian himself, he never does one clean superhero act, not even in his vaunted youth. He is hard to fit into the story. The others, even Rorschach, who is a psycho, seem to have managed some superheroism.

The result of all this, I feel, is over extended trash. I mean trash in the positive sense, but still. The stultifying speeches soften whatever edge that was possible, so that even the looniness of the characters is dried out. Alas. I suspect the comic would work better. I do not know if The Dark Knight could have been a source for this film, but there are similarities. Instead of the Joker at the center, tho, we have the two drippiest SHs, The Owl and that aforementioned 2nd generation SH.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Another Shadow by Tom Beckett (Precipitous Inklings)

Tom Beckett has a new e-book available called Another Shadow. You would do well to avail yourself.

As it happens, Ron Silliman recently adverted a review of Geoff Young's work by Terrence Winch, which, tangent to this tho it be, is worth a look. Winch writes, "In a universe of very needy and ambitious writers, these brave souls will be seen primarily in their role as servants to the needy." With both Young and Beckett, I knew them first as publishers, excellent ones. It is nice to see some sense of their worth as writers come to the fore. Anyway, the appearance of Tom's book engenders a few general thoughts.

First, his tendency to write in short lines, brief nuggets. Writers come to mind: Niedecker, Corman, Raworth, Zukofsky. The impulse behind each writer is different but there seems to be a coincidence of effect, as one reads these trimmed and salient works. I mean the metre of the short line, for one thing. Energy coalesces in the words hung nakedly in the white space.

As I read thru the works in Another Shadow, I am aware of the meaning in the white space that Tom carefully protects. Much resides in that white space. There is a time signature there, not strictly a matter of beats. Page as stanza, or measure.

The reader has to respect the beats, read carefully and slowly. Even tho there is much nervous energy involved in the writing.

Years ago, Peter Ganick remarked that his own work was philosophy. I take that to mean that not just aesthetic issues are at work (or play) but that a manner of thinking and discovery also occurs. Tom Beckett's work is implacable in its persistence to extend into if not resolve issues of body and mind. This is a constant in Tom's work. We read an involvement, set to a measure. The Internet has allowed Tom Beckett to blossom as a writer, to find a greater audience for his own work. It is about time.