i have always loved shakespeare. well, to be honest, i didn’t love reading shakespeare, but i loved the stories. let’s face it. we begin reading our very first bard epic in grade school. usually romeo and juliet, and with the help of a great english teacher we can make some sense out of all that iambic pentameter. i got through the plays in early life with the beloved cliff notes ensconced inside the pages of my actual play. but later on, as some of them became movies, my interest really began to pique. when ro & j became west side story, i said count me in. i loved that story. doomed star crossed lovers, lots of singing, jerome robbins choreography, with sharks vs. jets instead of montagues and capulets. it just drew me in and knocked me for a loop. (me, an emerging gay boy to be sure. i, naturally, would have been a jet ‘cause I’m white, but i thought bernardo was really the hot one, so i would have bitch slapped anita and stolen him away and made him my hot latino papi.)
later i discovered early incarnations from hollywood. kiss me kate was actually the taming of the shrew, (well it wasn’t exactly a secret, but it felt like one when i found out about it. and kathryn grayson, with her heart shaped mouth and her dulcet tones, was so pretty. she’s definitely part of what made me gay. more about that another time). later, woody allen did an amazing turn with a midsummer night’s dream (sex comedy). then there were julius caesar, othello, and hamlet, which were not made into happy, snappy musicals, (not exactly toe-tapping subjects), but had actors that i really liked, so i watched them and came away with more than than i would have, if i'd simply read them. (one note about the othello. shows you what bigots we really were back then, as opposed to now, when people hide it so much better......the role of othello was played by sir laurence olivier himself, larry, the very. (i know, clutch the pearls).....painted up all black as a moor. (I was never good at simile). imagine, painting up a white man like that? ok, the marx brothers, the three stooges, laurel and hardy. but in shakespeare? hmmmm... except for his inside lips which were crimson. (not sure why, but i was meserized.)
personally, i think that part should have gone to a black actor! but alas, sidney poitier wasn't up to the task (even if they would have hired him) and denzel was not around yet. nor was lawrence fishburne or forrest whittaker or morgan freeman. Those would have been some awesome othellos. not that sir larry wasn't great. he was. but it's a little like casting reese witherspoon to do a remake of the color purple and her playing miss celie. they could paint her up all black and stuff but i think she's just not the best choice for that role, these days.. But I digress.
the julius caesar, had brando as antony, a/k/a mumbles.
(oh that damned lee strassberg and his method).....but i loved brando too, even though he sucked in that role.......wasn't gonna be good again until godfather), and isn't THAT another story?
but it was still tough to love the plays by themselves, with all that wherefore, forsooth, hither and yon, and stuff like that. get thee to a nunnery! egads. zounds.
i don’t have kids, so i don’t really know about grade school curricula today. do they still force the bard on our youth? (by the way, we also read other crap in high school too. one that comes to mind is my antonia by willa cather. i don’t remember much about the book, but i can tell you this…......about every 10 weeks or so, she’s an answer on jeopardy. it’s either a question about my antonia or oh! pioneers. (seems those are the only two books of hers that alex trebek knows). so I’m glad I read that one. i get to impress people when jeopardy is on, and hey, that’s worth a little something.)
i just realized that some of this story is a little stream of consciousness-ish. i feel like i'm channeling somewhere between james joyce and rose nyland.
back to the bard.
romeo, romeo, wherefore art thou romeo?
in today’s parlance that would be
romeo, romeo, fuck thy family, romeo?
but soft, what light from yonder window breaks
the bitch up on the balcony is hot
friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
in p. diddy’s hands might be
wassup, heads up, tony's in the house
(i hope you’re paying attention that all of my alternatives are indeed iambic pentameter, just to keep us all in the mood.)
ok, while wer're all on iambic pentameter (and i'm not explaining what that is ...it's like diagramming a sentence.....if you missed it in your education.....well, sue your parents.....or your school board........'cause you ain't gittin' it here.)
how's this one, kids....
to be or not to be, that is the question
(ok, 5 beats, count 'em)
i ask you. to a little emerging fairy boy in grade school, isn't that just a tad too existential? how would an 11 year old know whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or not?
i didn't say this was easy.
ok, i'm coming to the good part now.
so, the other night, husband and i got a movie in the mail from netflix, which i ordered, called, titus. ok class, now how many characters can you identify with the name titus? yep, just the one....titus andronicus, by you-know-who.
i'd never read that one. heard of it but never read it. as i glanced at the netflix description, it starred anthony hopkins, jessica lange, and alan cummings, and directed by julie taymor (miss lion king, herself). good cast. good director
hopkins, you all remember did that silence of the lambs thing. great shit. academy award shit. hasn't done a bad film in years, and he's always a wonder to hehold.
jessica lange used to be a beauty, you know, back in the tootsie days. a really gorgeous creature with all those white caps. well, to be quite honest, she's a little long in the tooth now, as they say. that expression, in case you don't know, means old. and her teeth really got long as her gums receded. so she's not quite the beauty queen she once was. (but then, i should talk). but she can act up a storm now, better than when she was young. if you haven't seen grey gardens it's worth a watch. she's become a great actress. (if you can take your eyes off of the teeth).
alan cummings is a good actor as well. didn't figure him for shakespeare, but he soars. he gets to play the emperor of rome married to the lange character (who is the biggest monster since hopkins ate that liver with fava beans, in that other movie.) she plays a grotesque, and cummings plays his character so gay and demented it's a joy.
so here's this shakespeare play, made into this movie, titus, that is just over the top. murder, mayhem, orgies, treachery, rape, dismemberment, tongues ripped out, heads cut off, limbs lopped off, cannibalism, just the freakin' works!! (i don't mean to spoil the fun).
and here is the secret. we watch with the closed captions turned on. and line for line, iamb by iamb, the shakespearean dialogue flies by in in all it's splendid pentameter, and you get every word, every inside joke (and there are lots of them), everything, because you're reading and listening. suddenly it takes on another dimension. no joke. there's a reason we still love this stuff......and finally our modern ears can appreciate the bard on a higher plane.
next up for me is definitely the baz luhrman romeo and juliet.
who knows? if i watch enough of these, maybe i can do one blog entry in iambic pentameter. just a thought......