Sad Stories of the Death of Kings

William Shakespeare, The Tragedie of King Richard II (Directed by Joe Hill-Gibbons, Almeida Theatre, live relay)

So more bard — I have a vague memory of a Nottingham Playhouse production and at least one War of the Roses cycle, and of course Ben Wishaw played a rather fey version on the telly… Simon Russell Beale in contrast has an air of camp in what is a stripped down, eight person, single set, hundred minute version.

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Faustus Must Be Damn’d

Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (Directed by Paulette Randal, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

img_7197I’d managed to forget that Pauline McLynn was in this as Mephistopheles — which is just as well as I would have been channelling Mrs Doyle. “Ah will you not sell your soul, Father Dougal? Ah, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on… Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on…” It does make sense in retrospect — she brings a grotesquery to the role, as well as a cat who has got the cream (with or without tea), as she knows what is to come. There is also a moment when she licks the knife Faustus has used to get blood to sign with — and I’m reminded of Gary Oldman’s Dracula licking Keannu Reeves’s Harker’s cut-throat razor. There is even a physical resemblance.

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Another Fine Mess

Stan & Ollie (Jon S. Baird, 2018)

8232d0ea-89fd-4b81-95e2-be5046d4dea3All comics end in tragedy, in one way or another. They either die in harness — Tommy Cooper on stage — or fade away to keep bees on the South Sussex Downs or can’t stay at the top. Those giants of silent film — Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin — transitioned awkwardly into the synchronised sound era, but production slowed or stopped. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were paired together by Hal Roach, with Laurel’s gift for dialogue pairing perfectly with their slapstick. But Laurel never had the financial control he craved and was unable to negotiate a better deal as his contract never ended at the same time as Hardy’s. Laurel left Hal Roach Studios and Hardy made a film with Harry Langdon; thirteen years later the two tour Britain and Ireland in 1953, rebuilding an audience as the has-beens, enjoyed more in reruns than live, and trying to out together one last film. But Hardy is dying.

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It Means Nothing to Me

Somewhat by accident, I stumbled upon a news story about a Pieter Bruegel exhibition in Vienna. I’d known his work with A Level English Literature — Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” features several and I’d been to see some of these in Brussels last year. I’d caught a few more at the Coultard, the three grisailles, and I’d seen his Adoration of the Magi in Bath, along with works by his sons and grandsons and so on. I think I saw The Massacre of the Innocents at the Queen’s Gallery. So seeing as many more in one place seemed like a good idea, although the available long weekends that don’t clash with Christmas were like finding hen’s teeth.

So, January in Vienna.

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Save All Your Kisses for Me

One of the most loved paintings in the world is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1907-8), aka The Lovers. Sometimes I’m in agreement with this — Edvard Munich’s Scream and Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. It was bought by the Austrian Gallery before it was completed, originally shown at the Lower Belvedere and in the Upper Belvedere since then.
7a077d20-eea5-4c50-8f6d-6288b2b8e1c2This canvas is nice, but it doesn’t quite do it for me. I saw a load of Klimt drawings alongside works by Egon Schiele at the Royal Academy of Arts, but Schiele won. He was, however, key to a generation of Viennese artists before the end of the First World War.

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History is Bunk

“Riding the New Wave,” in Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link, The Cambridge History of Science Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 2018)

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In Gardner Dozois’s history of SF after the Golden Age, there is a moment when he complains that “although it was easy enough even then to prove that the New Wave as such did not exist, the public insisted on reacting as if it did exist.” If this opinion were entirely true, the next few pages of this book would be blank – so I will assert that there is indeed such a thing as the New Wave, perhaps even several New Waves. The temptation is to assume a linear history to the genre, such as the parodic one offered by Barry Malzberg: “the primitive twenties, wondrous and colorful thirties, systematized and optimistic forties, quiet and despairing fifties, fragmented and chaotic sixties, expressionless seventies . . . ” This straw history claims that Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell created an optimistic genre that celebrated engineering and technology, in which characterization and style played a distant fourth or fifth place to ideas, the sense of wonder, and action. John Clute refers to this as “Agenda” or as “First” SF, which is “born to advocate and enthuse and teach”; “the result was an SF universe written in the shape of Man. Women and other aliens had visiting rights only.”

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Certain Histories Have Been Taken With the Liberty

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018)

Among the trailers before this film was one for a new Mary Queen of Scots/Elizabeth I movie, clearly framed around the sizzling moment when they met — accept, of course, in real life they didn’t and Mary spoke French and Scots as far as I recall. Sometimes this kind of historical accuracy bothers me, along with fluid geography, but don’t learn history from a film without a dollop of scepticism.

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