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Social Disease

I've never actually seen West Side Story, but I've loved this song ever since a sociology professor played it for a 101 class I was taking. Mainly, I'm fond of the genuinely ambiguous stance it takes on "social ills" ca. 1957 and the failure of institutions -- legal, mental, social -- to either diagnose the root of a problem or constructively deal with it. These kids live their lives as full as they can, having been repeatedly failed by the system and marinated in pure vice from day one. What you're hearing is the ideological roots of punk rock.


I Should Repent

Inspired by Julie Taymor's 1999 film Titus, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, I entered a high school Shakespeare competition and recited the following monologue in front of roughly two hundred people in an auditorium meant for six thousand. Before that day I had no idea that I was cursed with horrible, horrible stagefright. Hell of a way to find out.


I Will Better The Instruction

Last night, I finally knocked off the Spring semester. Due to Circumstances, I was forced to take an Incomplete in an English course – the dreaded and eldritch Overview of Literature Part I – and didn't complete the term paper until around 11 PM last night. So, considering that I had to spend the better part of yesterday pontificating on The Merchant of Venice, I figured there may as well be some overlap here. Here are both Orson Welles and Al Pacino reciting Shylock's monologue:




Sir Patrick Stewart was knighted today. I really don't know which living actor deserves this honor more than Sir Patrick Stewart, but I may be saying this due to my deeply personal affinity for him. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation constantly while growing up; it was comforting sight when, as a kid, I would be left alone in the apartment for hours on end. To this day there are few things I enjoy more than kicking back with some TNG. Certainly Sir Patrick has much, much more to his name than Star Trek, but Jean Luc Picard was a constant presence during my formative years, and that is how I remember the actor best. We should all be lucky that, unlike Sir Alec Guiness – who could not have done more to distance himself from Obi Wan Kenobi – Sir Patrick has embraced his role in pop culture as much as “serious” acting. Now, I know you're going to see the following video on every blog mentioning this story, but I can't resist:

I've had the honor of seeing Sir Patrick as a stage actor, not doing Shakespeare, sadly, but that's in the works. About six years ago, I was lucky enough to see him on stage in a Broadway production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. I was a David Lynch fanboy at that point – well, a bigger one, anyway – and in the midst of slogging my way through the second season of Twin Peaks, and was thus more excited about seeing the show's co-headliner: Kyle MacLachlan. Sir Patrick stole the show, naturally, but it took me a few years to sincerely appreciate his performance. His character was a booming homeless man prone to swinging between grandeur and hopelessness. The fear and mental damage he projected was palpable, and yet the furor and strength it was covered up with seemed just as real. It's been years, so I have trouble recalling all but the emotions attached to the performances, but few stage actors have ever hit me on a gut level in the way he did that night.


Also, I hadn't realized until now, but that performance was a Dune mini-reunion! Sir Patrick and Kyle MacLachlan played Gurney Halleck and Paul Atreides/Muad'Dib in David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel:

Congratulations Sir Patrick Hewes Stewart, OBE.


His Glamour Increases

I started this week off with a musical, so I may as well conclude it with one. I was about seven years old when my mother took me to a Broadway performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. We'd only recently emigrated, and while the seats were quite far away from the stage – I barely remember a damn thing – I know she splurged to take us there. A year or so later, I encountered the film version on television. It blew my mind. I'd been familiar with the bible: Old Testament by way of children's books, New Testament by way of a Story of Jesus comic book my mother most likely got from some proselytizers. However, the idea that one could could tell a story in a different way that it was originally told and use anachronism to help barely registered in my young mind. I can honestly say that Herod's sunglasses blew my mind open that day.

A few years later, during my sophomore year of high school, I sold my Magic: The Gathering cards for twenty bucks to buy my mother a birthday present. I got her the album version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and ended up listening to it more often than she did. Caiphas' bass has been burned into my mind permanently since those days.


A Man of Genius Makes No Mistakes

I took three essay-based exams today, in a row. While waiting for the final one to begin, I sat through a number of English Majors discussing in detail the, sigh, “physics and metaphysics” of a certain TV show's series finale. I was wincing the entire time, mainly because I'm entirely sure I sounded exactly as they did the few days after the Sopranos came to its own inglorious end. To celebrate both the completion of my exams, here is something related both in content and pretentiousness:

For those interested, here's a collection of Joyce's love letters to Nora Barnacle. They read like a cross between glossolalia and a cybersex transcript. So, y'know, nothing new.


You’re In Every Song I Know

If you’ve ever seen a cartoon or film parody of a giant, elaborate dance sequence you were watching an homage to one of the greatest musical film directors, Busby Berkeley. The Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be” is a great example. Mel Brooks, too, was particularly fond of his work, devoting the ending of Blazing Saddles to the production of a flamboyant director named Buddy Bizarre and inserting this dead-on and beautifully sardonic sequence – featuring Jackie Mason! – into History of the World Part 1:

His films, hitting their peak during the Great Depression, parallel the current love pop culture has for Las Vegas. Shitty economic climes lead to a desire for escapism to an opulence we can’t have in our daily lives. So, Depression audiences escaped to Fred Astaire doing a two-step on the ceiling and Busby’s girls. I used to have a DVD rip of his greatest hits which I unfortunately lost in a hard drive crash. Luckily, BluDirect has thrown the entirety of it on YouTube. So, if you’re ever feeling down, escape to the wonderful world of giant geometric patterns composed of beautiful women dancing in sync. Someone was awesome enough to create a video for the Magnetic Fields song "Busby Berkeley Dreams" (the source of this post's title) with some of this Berkeley material, creating a nice little sampler:

My favorite of his pieces is “Honeymoon Hotel” from Footlight Parade. It is a little different than his usual faire, having a plot. Everything about it (outside of the creepy little person playing a lecherous child) is grand and wonderful. The best section, in my opinion, is the good portion of it devoted to the Honeymoon Hotel’s resident not-so-newlyweds schooling the new girl in the art of love in the most innocent 1930s musical way possible: innuendo-laced singin’!

Apparently this sequence was so popular, it spawned a Merrie Melodies parody the very next year:


Push Me Again

When the days get hard and the nights get short, you can always depend on a melange of televangelism and nu metal to make the bad go away. As an added bonus, it also looks like Mr. Hinn is fighting zombies.


Der 90. Geburtstag

A 1963 British recording of a 1920s comedy sketch has become a New Year's Eve tradition in Germany and Denmark, and a cult favorite all over Europe. Entitled Dinner for One, it is the tale of a old dowager's birthday party with her four closest friends: Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr. Pommeroy, and Mr. Winterbottom. Also present is her her long-suffering (or maybe not!) butler, James.

Image co. of AnalogueSat.

Slate has the full story on it and the full script may be found here. The references section of the Wikipedia entry will provide more fun, including a lego version.

Happy New Year, friends.


The Unlucky Ones

Unfortunately, due to my status as a scholar, I will not be always able to provide you with well-researched posts tempered in the furnace of my wit and even, on the rarest of occasions, proofread. I've spent this weekend avoiding writing papers on Samuel "Slick" Beckett and John "Peanuts" Donne. Having finished the latter, I am now in the process of avoiding the former, while catching up on all the reading I neglected avoiding both.

I was going to provide you with a clip of Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw, which is a sexual revolution-era British farce. It is, honestly, one of the funniest things I've ever read. Beats out Oscar Wilde in every conceivable manner, beginning with Orton's realization that writing every line as a shining example of wit is tiresome and off-putting. I've never finished The Importance of Being Earnest, but I am devouring Orton's. Unfortunately, every clip I've found on YouTube completely misses the point of this being an English play, meant to be performed dead-pan (think John Cleese in Fawlty Towers) and not like an overblown Alfred Jarry revival. On the other hand, I might be completely wrong. Either way, I don't like it and I'm not going to subject you to something I don't like.

Anyhow, in lieu of that, but keeping theater in mind, here is an excerpt from a filmed production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The scene is Lucky's speech, performed with the manic calmness one would hope was the playwright's intent. I've been lucky enough to see the play performed live twice, the second time revived on Broadway. I can honestly say I was excited: Nathan Lane was playing the part of Estragon. I've seen him in several (or maybe just one other) stage production and he is more impressive in person than I've ever seen him on the screen. When you watch him, he makes sure you know that he is Nathan Fucking Lane, Actor!, without chewing the scenery or taking away from the performance of the other actors or the workings of the play itself. Imagine my surprise when the role of the sadistic Pozzo was being performed by one of my favorite actors ever, John Goodman. Goodman, who has mastered the role of terrifying-nice-guy, is a pleasure to watch doing anything at all; I'd love to see him make breakfast in the same way I'd love to hear Patrick Stewart read the phonebook. The contrast between his intimidating heft and pleasant face and tone is absolutely ominous. For those of you who have only experienced him in, say, Roseanne, go rent Barton Fink to see, to straight-up feel what I am talking about. He won't scare the shit out of you, but build up a wall of dread like a mason. Hell, go rent it anyway. It's a fantastic movie.

Anyhow, here's the clip (unfortunately featuring neither Lane nor Goodman):

(...and here's a higher quality version that, unfortunately, does not allow for embedding.)

Oh, and for shits and giggles, here is Sesame Street's take on Beckett and Godot. (Which is not all that different from the Onion's opinion.)


(Fawlty Towers photo thanks to the Age)


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