Thursday, May 30, 2013

Derek Jacobi was on Frasier!

I think I'm probably quite late to the party. But I'm re-watching Frasier this summer, and today, I came across "The Show Must Go Off" (exciting clip available here). In this episode, Derek Jacobi is a former Shakespearean actor turned sci-fi superstar, and Frasier tries to entice him to go back on stage. When he does, Frasier and Niles realize that he, um, can't act. And it's pretty funny to see Jacobi doing Hamlet 'badly.'

Except, the weird thing is... he does Hamlet badly well. I mean, there are asthmatic gasps every few seconds, and his poses are always overextended--but behind everything, you can hear Jacobi's fabulous intonation, and his sense of timing is precisely honed for the genre(s). And also, he's Derek Jacobi, and there's that ghosting thing going on, which would be a lot of fun to explore on a more critical level. For now, though: I saw Derek Jacobi on Frasier tonight! *geeks happily*

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shakespeare's Sonnet 44, on film

Okay--so I've solved my computer's seeming inability to stream video (or, um, my own actual inability to stream video), and I watched my first filmed sonnet today. It was #44, and it was filmed in front of (and, sometimes, "on") a giant globe called the Unisphere in Queens. I think I've got two levels of reaction to it: a specific reaction, to the filming choices of this particular sonnet-film, and a general reaction--slightly different than yesterday's--to the larger idea of filming the sonnets.

On the specific level: I'm embarrassed to say that I got a little distracted by the mood music, and the camera angles, and the lovely photography, and the movement, and trying to figure out what exactly was happening to the actors (were they being slowly glitter-painted?). So, I didn't recognize the sonnet until maybe the second quatrain, where the word "earth" came in, and I went aha--that's why they picked the big globe setting. On the one hand, it's great to be re-introduced to a sonnet in a totally new way, and to see it completely through someone else's interpretation first. On the other hand, I felt like the music and the lighting and the camera and the scenery choices were sometimes so dynamic, so overpowering, that the words themselves got subsumed. (It's difficult enough to listen to Shakespeare and make sense of his words without reading them, for me--but it's way harder to do that when you're trying to figure out why that actor is becoming a metal robot-villain.) But: I think it's a great exercise in visual rhetoric, and a great chance to talk to students about the impact of lighting/camera movements/words/other choices in a dramatic piece.

On the general level: I don't think the sonnet-film is my favorite medium, and I think it raises some interesting questions about what lyric should be in the age of YouTube. (Not drama, incidentally. I'm building on my argument that drama is conceptually different from lyric here.) If somebody adds moving pictures, sound effects, and grey paint to make a poem "marketable," or to give it mass appeal, that (to me) verges on implying that the poem on its own terms is somehow lacking. And it's not. Far from it. In fact, the poem is so rich that it could inspire ten or twelve different filmed variations. For me, those potential variations only emerge when I read the poem slowly and carefully, going back to check on syntax and shifts that I didn't understand, processing and reprocessing over the course of maybe five minutes. But, again, that's me. The person who spent two hours trying to figure out why her computer (i.e., herself) was incapable of streaming video. Mm-hmm....

Monday, May 20, 2013

Filming Shakespeare's... Sonnets?

When I heard about the new project to film Shakespeare's sonnets--all 154 of them--on the streets of New York, I had a mixed reaction. On one level, what a great idea: drawing attention to the sonnets in a completely different cultural context from the one that students usually expect; enlisting respected actors and actresses; using Kickstarter and the app format to get the public involved. On the other hand, the lyric poet in me went... well, are sonnets actually filmable? I mean, they're not plays, and they're mostly not written for explicit, embodied performance (unless you're writing them as a set of song lyrics, or unless you're Romeo and Juliet--in which case, have at it). But most sonnets aren't drama, after all, and part of their point is that they speak in a different generic mode; one of their voices, for better or for worse, is always the one that you hear in your own head. From that angle, I'm a little worried that the project mashes two distinct art forms together without interrogating their differences, or even pointing out to the public that the differences exist.

Now, I have to admit, I feel a little pedantic writing that. After all, anything that appifies the Bard is a fabulous idea, and it generates discussions like these in the first place. So, I've decided to sign up for the app. There's only one sonnet-film available at the moment, but (for some reason) I haven't been able to access it on this machine. I'll check back once I've figured out the difficulty, and I'll keep you updated on my reactions. For the moment, though, I'm thinking that the sonnet-films are going to be, at the very least, fabulous conversation starters about genre, drama, and inwardness--particularly in the Shakespeare classroom.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Picturing Richard III

I just ran across a picture of Richard III's skeleton, as displayed on (It was in the trendy "The Royals" gossip section, right near teasers for articles about Prince Harry in America! Which may or may not be how I found the picture.)

Anyway. The picture is a fascinating thing to analyze. Here's why: it shows a skeleton on a table, like the skeletons of murder victims on a show like Bones. Except this skeleton also has a visible curvature of the spine, and the bones look like they're being photographed through murk or fog. They look old--they're the color of coffee stains, and parts of the hip and skull are fragmented--but they're framed in a visibly modern context, like the horror shot of the victim's body after the first commercial break.

All of these elements make the picture a fascinating artifact to close-read in the classroom (maybe juxtaposed with a little Thomas More!) Why is People showing Richard in this particular way, instead of inserting a standard portrait mugshot? What cultural currency do we ascribe to bones--seeing them, evaluating them--and did people feel the same way in Richard's own period? (Or, even, Shakespeare's?) Finally, how is the idea of respect being defined in all of this: respect for the past, for victims/villains/new discoveries, for somebody's relative, for history?

I haven't got the answers, but I'd love to have the conversation.