Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Bad Movie and A Bad (Audio-) Book

So, on Friday we sent to see a movie the former English major in me had been hankering after for a while, although Janice had her doubts and had suspected we'd be better off waiting for it to reach the three-dollar theatre.

Lesson number one: listen to the wife.

ANONYMOUS scores points as a costume drama -- if you like the look of Elizabethean England, this film does a good job of conveying it. Also, it has Derek Jacobi in the modern-day frame story (a minute or two at the beginning and maybe a half-minute at the end). Other than that, there's not much to say in its favor. And here's where the spoilers start.

As an action film, it fails: it feels like events move in slow motion, and things aren't made easier by frequent extended flashbacks. It's pretty hard to keep straight when we're in the present day of the story (e.g., 1601 or thereabouts) or a few decades (a generation or two) earlier. And the fact that different actors play the characters at different ages, it takes a lot of attention and some guesswork to figure out who's supposed to be who and when. Also, it's talky, but not in a good way (as a film about Shakespeare might well be); this movie cd lose a half-hour or more and no one wd miss it. It's a bad sign that the brief snippets of Shakespeare soliloquies jump out from among the drab-by-comparison dialogue of the movie; these people only sound like 'Shakespeare' et al. when they're quoting the real Shakespeare.

As a historical drama it looked pretty but had the fatal flaw of having characters who have the name of historical figures but are unlike the actual person in every conceivable way. This is a pet peeve of mine: if I encounter a character in a story named 'Conan Doyle' or 'H. P. Lovecraft' or 'John Tolkien', I want that character to be more or less like the actual person, or at least recognizably so. In this case the movie's cast are utterly unlike what we know of the historical people they're supposed to be: Elizabeth, the Cecils, Ben Jonson, Essex, and (God knows) Shakespeare -- who in this movie didn't just not write the works of Shakespeare but is illiterate: he can read (even sophisticated love-poetry) but not write even a single letter, like 'i'. Moreover, he's a talentless ham actor, a blackmailer, and a murderer; the actor who plays him seems to be alternately channelling Weird Al Yankovich and Ya-hoo Serious. No, really.

Why? Well, because the movie's theme is that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. Why? Because Shakespeare was a nobody -- a working man's son rather than a rich nobleman by birth, a man who picked up how to write plays by acting in them rather than studying poetics at a prestigious university. Whereas adherents of the 'Baconian' and 'Oxfordian' theories argue, essentially, that only someone important -- a nobleman, a person of wealth in a position of power -- cd have written poetry and plays this good. This is particularly funny, because virtually all the great poetry and prose and plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobin eras* were written by commoners, people we'd never have heard of had they not been writers: Spenser and Marlowe and Jonson and all the other known playwrights (Kyd, Greene, Nashe, Dekker, Beaumost, Fletcher, &c), Donne, &c. &c.; about the only exception is Sir Philip Sydney (who died young) and perhaps Walter Raleigh (remembered for a poem or two).

Finally, as a conspiracy movie it's so far-fetched that it made my brain want to escape out my ears. I knew to lower expectations when I saw an interview with the director in which he explained about an illegitimate son of Elizabeth's being the rightful heir to the throne -- which just goes to show that he doesn't really know what the words 'rightful heir' and 'illegitimate' mean. Even worse is a line given to the nobleman portrayed in the film as having really written all the plays ascribed to Shakespeare that all writing is political; unless it has a direct political aim, what's it good for? Gah!

Basically this movie desperately needed Geoffrey Rush, and to not take itself so seriously.

And, as David Bratman observed on his own blog, the title shd really be 'Pseudonymous'

And, at the same time, I was listening to the audiobook version of THERE ARE THINGS I WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT STEIG LARSSON AND ME by Eva Gabrielsson

Lesson number two: a book about an interesting book might well not be interesting itself.

Basically, this book sets forth the claim by Larsson's longtime companion to be his Yoko Ono. She argues that she should control all the literary rights to Larsson's estate, as well as write the fourth book in his 'Millennium Trilogy' (despite the fact that she needed a co-author just to write this short memoir and manifesto) -- better known over here as 'The Girl Who . . . ' series [THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO; THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE; THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST], and decided who gets all the money from his books. Unfortunately for her during their thirty years together they never got around to getting married, and Larsson never bothered to draw up a will, which means that his nearest relatives (his father and brother) inherit the estate. She considers this monstrous, and rails against the unfairness of it all, without ever convincing the reader that (a) she's capable of writing the next book** or (b) has any more insight into Larsson than any other reader of his work -- she knows a lot more about him personally, of course, but that's not the same thing.

At least Gabrielsson's book is better, and more interesting, that ANON. But that's not a particularly high bar to make.

--John R.

*and most other eras, at that. Lord Dunsany is a rare exception for the twentieth century.

**and that's not even getting into the morality or otherwise of going the 'V. C. Andrews, TM' route.

No comments: