And It’s One, Two, Three… What Are We Fighting For?

June 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm (Coriolanus, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” by Country Joe McDonald

I’ll put it right out there to stem any confusion. I’m anti-war. I’ve had a little coincidental convergence of anti-war stuff going on this week. I’ve been reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop — a satire about the media creating news about a promising little war in Africa in the 1930s. Then, my dad, a WWII vet, mentioned watching a touching documentary on PBS on Memorial Day. This is Where We Take Our Stand is the story of Iraq Veterans Against the War. It was available on YouTube briefly this week and I was able to watch it. Amazing stories of patriotic young people who want to tell their truths about the wrongness of the Iraq war. Oh, and then this morning, I saw today is the 40th anniversary of the famous napalm girl photo. Sigh. And so my thoughts turn to Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock. Whoopee! We’re all gonna die. Really, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, where ever. What’s the point?

So, the Fates converged on my pessimistic mood by putting Ralph Fiennes’ film Coriolanus out on DVD this week and there I found it in my mailbox yesterday fresh from Netflix. Ahh. Well, here’s the thing. When the film came out earlier this year, I knew I’d see it eventually. Shakespeare didn’t shy away from tackling difficult topics, so I knew in the course of this blog project that I would have to eventually face the ugly stuff along with the fairies and ass-heads. War. Let’s put a face on it. Coriolanus.

So, I broke my basic movie-watching rules (I avoid blood and gore, violence, Mafia movies, and war movies, in general) and I watched Coriolanus. I’m glad I did.

I am not familiar with the play, have not read it, have not seen it staged, and honestly, I think I would not like it if I’d read it first without seeing this film. Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me a copy of Coriolanus: The Shooting Script… I got a lot of insight about the film and the play by reading the commentary from Fiennes and screenplay writer John Logan.

First, the film makes this play completely contemporary and accessible. The film was shot in Serbia, but it could be any modern city. From “The Shooting Script”:

It might be Mexico City. Or Chechnya. Or El Salvador. Or Detroit. Or Baghdad. Or London.

This Rome is a modern place. It is our world right now: immediately recognizable to us…. It is a volatile, dangerous world.

The story involves Coriolanus, a Roman, and his fight against the neighboring Volsces, headed by Aufidius (played by Gerard Butler). The film portrays them as modern guerrillas. Again, from “The Shooting Script”:

The Volsces are an insurgent force challenging the monolithic might of Rome: rebels that suggest to us Latin American revolutionaries or Hamas fighters or Chechnian separatists.

The war story is the backdrop in this film for Shakespeare’s amazing characters. I think of Mad Men, where none are likable, but their personalities and stories are irresistible in their awfulness. I feel like I understand the deep pride and inner pain that drive Fiennes’ Coriolanus, the killing machine, to such destruction of others, and finally himself.

Coriolanus is a tragic, bedeviled man, uncomfortable in his own damaged and flawed skin. Fiennes explains in “The Shooting Script”:

Coriolanus comes into the opening of the story and basically tells the people to go fuck themselves. I think we in the audience decide we don’t like this guy based on that simple fact. But then the audience experiences him as a soldier, an extremely brave, almost crazy kind of soldier. They come to see that he has a kind of integrity, which is manipulated and destroyed by the world around him, and by his own arrogance and pride. Coriolanus wants recognition and doesn’t want it at the same time. He is very riven. I think he’s happiest in the battlefield; that’s where he is at one with himself.

I have to say that reading that gave me a much deeper understanding of what Coriolanus was about… his motivations and his ambivalence. It’s very true.

This man, so brave and proud, so sure of himself and his decision to make Rome pay for their treatment of him… he’s really a mommy’s boy and a pleaser. As writer John Logan says in “The Shooting Script”:

What is Shakespeare’s genius in Coriolanus? To me it is this: in a play about so many things, and so deeply and murkily about them, the climax is a boy weeping into his mother’s arms. It’s dead simple. It’s not a political or military climax, it’s not a grand speech or battle; it’s not about the ostensible “issues” of the play. It’s a boy and his mom.

Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, and Harry Fenn in Coriolanus. Photo by Larry D. Horricks

I love watching Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Volumnia, the mother who creates the ultimate soldier and then asks for his mercy. Her profound complexity — a mix of pride and ambition and fear and mother’s love — it’s amazing and frightening. Redgrave, though she doubted her ability to play the part, is perfect for it.

In “The Shooting Script,” Fiennes also explains his choice of Jessica Chastain for the innocent, sweet, and nearly silent wife Virgilia (what a breakout year for Chastain… with her performances in Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help). It’s a quiet part, but she serves as witness to the chaos in Coriolanus’ mind.

In the end, I got a lot out of this difficult film, enriched by The Shooting Script. I had never heard of The Shooting Script series, and will definitely keep it in mind when I want to learn more about a film.

I think I’ve had enough war for the week. Now I’ll return to my regularly-scheduled programming.

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Anonymous

November 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , , )

The authorship debate is not my thing. At all. I believe in my man, Will. Will wrote the plays, people. Got that?

So, when I heard rumblings about this film, Anonymous, I was not interested, not even thinking about going to see it. I thought I might watch it on video some day when I had nothing better to do. I thought it was going to be just so much more noise. I heard it compared to Oliver Stone’s JFK. Conspiracy theory extraordinaire! The real inside scoop! Someone finally put all the pieces together!

I am so glad I left all THAT NOISE behind and actually went out to watch this film! It is wonderful! Splendid! I loved it!

And no, I have not suddenly turned Oxfordian! Have no fear. That will not happen!

Let’s get the truth out right now, okay? It’s Fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N.

I hate to break the news, but the historical accuracies in this film are by far outweighed by the fun fiction. Hello? Do people really believe that Queen Elizabeth had multiple bastards? Hello? Do people really believe… okay, I’ll let it go.

It’s fiction. So is Shakespeare in Love, and you know I love Shakespeare in Love. I think I may love Anonymous even more.

This film is luscious! Beautiful cinematography. Absolutely breathtaking! Wonderful acting! Fantastic sets and costumes. A feast. I mean, wow! And smart. And entertaining! There’s romance, tragedy, intrigue, farce… even a miracle at the end that saves the plays from destruction.

This film is truly Shakespearean to the core (a seemingly impossible feat since the film is set on portraying Oxford as the Bard!). We revel in the beauty of the words here. The plays are beloved and treated with reverence in this film. Many are partially staged and it’s just lovely to see.

Shakespeare loved the play within the play. This whole film is a play within a play… and so much more! Here when the Mousetrap in Hamlet is staged, we have the play within the play within the play within the play within the movie. Bravo! (Let’s go over that… we have the Mousetrap which is Shakespeare’s play within Hamlet and it’s all happening in the play which is the story of Oxford’s authorship which is set within the framework of a modern play about the authorship question in the movie Anonymous. Yes, there will be a quiz!) It reminds me of the scene in Mad Men where Sally Draper talks to the neighbor boy about the infinity of little Land O’ Lakes Indians on the butter box (the Indian is holding the butter box with the picture of the Indian holding the butter box with the picture of the Indian holding the butter box…).

I think Shakespearean scholars (which I’m not) would catch all kinds of allusions in this film that go over my head. I think Shakespeare/Tudor film/TV buffs (which I’m not… keep your eye on BardFilm) will see all sorts of allusions to shows that go over my head (for example, I noticed Elizabeth’s finger sucking in her dotage, which I just happened to see Glenda Jackson do in the old BBC series Elizabeth R).

Love this film. Love it! I was so happy watching it! I was smiling through much of it and smiling on my way home! Oh my goodness, Rafe Spall playing Shakespeare does such a fully fantastic performance of this farcical jackass… I literally laughed out loud every time he appeared on screen. And can I say, thank you Rafe, for redeeming yourself in my eyes after that truly godawful film One Day… one of the few movies I would have walked out on, but my friend kept telling me it HAD to get better (it didn’t). Rafe Spall, you are redeemed. (I just want to point out that Rafe is the son of Timothy Spall who played the trippy Don Armado in Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost).

Rafe Spall’s Shakespeare is a relatively minor character in Anonymous. The film belongs to the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans who has been a fave of mine since the quirky Danny Deckchair). Oxford is also played well in his youth by Jamie Campbell Bower and  by Luke Thomas Taylor as a boy. Other fine characters here are Queen Elizabeth (played convincingly at different ages by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson), Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), and then there are the Cecils, Southampton, Essex, etc.

It’s a great story… and amazingly loose ends are tied, i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed! It makes perfect sense!

Just one more reminder, repeat after me: It’s fiction. It’s wonderful Shakespearean fiction! Enjoy!

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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