Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, play and film


This video says about itself:

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Trailer

19 August 2014

An immersive cinematic record of director Julie Taymor’s (The Lion King) virtuosic stage production of Shakespeare’s immortal fantasy.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

24 June 2015

Directed by Julie Taymor; written by William Shakespeare

Julie Taymor’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was screened in a number of movie theaters in North America this week for one night only (on or about the summer solstice). The film was shot during a run of Taymor’s version of the play at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn in 2013-14.

Scholars theorize that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps for an aristocratic wedding, in the mid-1590s. The comic-magical play, one of the few whose basic outline the dramatist did not derive from another source, has several interconnected plot strands.

Duke Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, are making preparations for their wedding day; four young lovers—Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius—attempt to sort out their relationships, in the face of a host of external and internal pressures; Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Fairyland, are in the midst of a quarrel, with all sorts of implications for the natural world around them; a group of Athenian “mechanicals” (workmen) are rehearsing a play, the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe [a story that resembles Romeo and Juliet], to be performed at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Much of the play takes place in the moonlit woods presided over by Oberon and Titania. Angered at his queen, Oberon has his “sprite,” Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, locate a flower whose juice, smeared on the eyes, will make any creature fall in love with the next person—or animal—he or she sees. Puck changes the head of one of the workmen, Bottom the weaver, into a donkey’s, and Titania, on seeing him, falls madly in love.

Meanwhile, the four lovers are stumbling around the forest. At first, both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia, much to the unhappiness of Helena, who adores Demetrius. After Puck drops some of his potion in the wrong eyes, Lysander and Demetrius direct their affections and attentions toward Helena, who becomes convinced that the other three have conspired to play a cruel prank on her.

Bottom passes the time with Titania and her attendant fairies, until Oberon and Puck intervene and restore him more or less to his previous condition. In the end, Oberon and Titania are reconciled, the three other couples find their way to the altar, and Bottom and his fellow workmen stage their play successfully at the wedding reception.

Taymor (born 1952) is best known for spectacular theater stagings, especially of The Lion King (1997) and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (2010). She has directed a number of films, including Titus (1999, based on Shakespeare’s bloody Titus Andronicus), Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007) and The Tempest (2010). While visually intriguing, none of these films was an artistic success. Frida, about the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, was significantly misconceived.

Taymor’s work in general has seemed a triumph of style over substance. Fortunately, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream she has taken on a work that brings her considerable skill to the fore. Imaginatively staged and exuberantly performed, Taymor’s effort is largely a delight. If it does not explore the play or its themes deeply, and it does not, it certainly allows an audience to experience something of the work’s relentless beauty and poetry.

The play takes place on a stage deeply thrust into the audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. A central image is a giant silk bed-sheet that makes itself into a balloon, a sky, a sort of hammock, a projection screen and a good deal more. Taymor makes great use of lighting, harnesses, trapdoors and a variety of equipment, especially in the Titania-Oberon-Puck scenes.

Kathryn Hunter as an androgynous Puck, who twists herself into any number of poses, is thoroughly engaging, as are David Harewood as Oberon and Tina Benko as Titania. A crowd of small children charmingly represent the fairies. To her credit, Taymor has made the play accessible to contemporary audiences, without sacrificing the original play.

There is something genuinely breathtaking, almost “unbearable” (as I noted in a review of Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film version of the play), about the sweetness of the language in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is Oberon to Puck:

Thou rememb’rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea maid’s music?

And further:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and eglantine.

And that sweetness is powerfully brought out here, by Taymor, Harewood, Benko and Hunter in particular.

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps “the gentlest of Shakespeare’s works.” That review went on:

“Puck plays his pranks, and Oberon takes his relatively harmless revenge on Titania, but this is not a nightmare, it is a dream born of a warm summer night. Oberon takes pity on Helena, ‘a sweet Athenian lady … in love with a disdainful youth.’ Puck says, although mistakenly, of Hermia lying near Lysander: ‘Pretty soul, she durst not lie / Near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy.’ Later Oberon instructs Puck to prevent a fight between jealous Demetrius and Lysander, and declares his intention to release Titania from her spell, ‘and all things shall be peace.’ Or, as Puck puts it, even more suggestively, ‘Jack shall have Jill, / Naught shall go ill.’”

One of the remarkable themes of the play, bound up of course with great changes in social relations in Shakespeare’s time, is the extraordinary and novel malleability of human personality and emotions. Granted that Oberon and Puck intervene supernaturally from time to time, but the four young people, as well as Titania herself, demonstrate that love, for example, is hardly a sentiment fixed for eternity.

Demetrius observes that his love for Hermia—which he was only cured of the night before!—“seems to me now / As the remembrance of an idle gaud / Which in my childhood I did dote upon.”

Titania declares her undying love for Bottom at the beginning of one scene (“O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!”) and, only a few scant moments later, once having woken from her “visions,” exclaims, “How came these things to pass? / O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!”

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggests “a world of infinite possibility. After all, this is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays in which a man on the Bottom sleeps with (or by) a Queen, at her instigation no less. In the forest in the middle of the night in a dream all things pass into one another and are transformed, love and hate, man and animal, spirit and matter.”

The rapid, dramatic changes of Taymor’s set and design have the advantage of suggesting something of this transmutability.

The weakest point here is Max Casella’s Bottom, or rather, not the actor, but Taymor’s direction. Casella is far too broad, with his clichéd New York-New Jersey accent, and works far too hard for broad and rather cheap laughs.

Shakespeare was not writing his play principally for “mechanicals,” for laborers, although they formed a section of his audience. And certainly there is a degree to which the playwright laughs along with Duke Theseus and the rest of the Athenian elite at the artistic-theatrical pretensions of the weaver (Nick Bottom), carpenter (Peter Quince), bellows-mender (Francis Flute), tinker (Tom Snout), joiner (simply “Snug”) and tailor (Robin Starveling).

As occasionally foolish as the “mechanical” actors are, however, their essential geniality, solidarity and sincerity come through. Is there a genuinely warmer moment in Shakespeare than that in which Bottom makes his reappearance, after losing his asses’ head, among his fellow artisans?

BOTTOM

Where are these lads? where are these hearts?

QUINCE [and the others]

Bottom! O most courageous day! O most happy hour!

BOTTOM

Masters, I am to discourse wonders: but ask me not what; for if I tell you, I am no true Athenian. I will tell you every thing, right as it fell out.

QUINCE

Let us hear, sweet Bottom.

Essential to the success of the “mechanical” scenes is the workers’ spirit of togetherness. Despite their various idiosyncrasies, they stick up for and stand by one another. In Taymor’s version, Brendan Averett as Snug, Joe Grifasi as Quince, William Youmans as Starveling, Jacob Ming-Trent as Snout and Zachary Infante as Flute all do well, even memorably. Infante’s “death scene” as Thisbe is quite remarkable. On the other hand, portraying Bottom as something of a scene-stealer and “ham,” and not simply an enthusiast, is a mistake and detracts from the work.

Whatever intentions he had in his head to begin with, Shakespeare was Shakespeare, and once he began to work through a character’s situation, he generally got to the heart of things. We recently noted the comment by Orson Welles that Shakespeare’s Falstaff (who appears in a number of the history plays) was “the most completely good man, in all drama.” Then Bottom is certainly one of the kindest and most endearing.

He is the favorite of the artisans; during the time he spends away from them in Titania’s company, they are at a loss. He has, according to Flute, “the best wit of any handicraftman in Athens,” and he is “the best person, too,” adds Quince. “O sweet bully Bottom,” cries Flute, sadly.

We noted in 1999: “The weaver is unfailingly thoughtful and considerate, and apparently unfazed by any of the astonishing things that befall him. When Titania unexpectedly proclaims that she loves him, he replies, ‘Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that.’ Nonetheless, it is not unthinkable, for ‘to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.’

“Offered the part of a lover in the workmen’s theatrical, Bottom expresses the desire to play a ‘tyrant’ instead. No one is less fit for such a part. So concerned is he about the ladies in the audience becoming frightened, because a lion appears in the piece, he explains that were he to play the part, ‘I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you an ‘twere any nightingale.’

“Worried as well about the impact on the female spectators of his character killing himself, Bottom suggests adding a prologue in which he will explain that ‘we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus [his character] is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. That will put them out of fear.’ I think Harold Bloom is entitled to assert in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human that Bottom is ‘a sublime clown … a great visionary … and a very good man, as benign as any in Shakespeare.’”

In any event, despite the missteps in this regard, Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is enjoyable and absorbing. It will open more widely later in the year.

Film Jurassic World’s depiction of dinosaurs criticized


This video says about itself:

Jurassic Park was ahead of its time. Jurassic World is not.

10 June 2015

A lot has changed in paleontology since Jurassic Park first came out in 1993.

For more information about this topic:

National Geographic: A Velociraptor Without Feathers Isn’t a Velociraptor

The Guardian: Siberian dinosaur spreads feathers around the dinosaur tree

Science Mag: Earliest dinosaurs may have sported feathers

See also here.

Chagos islanders want to return home


This video says about itself:

John PilgerStealing A Nation [2004]

‘Stealing A Nation’ (2004) is an extraordinary film about the plight of the Chagos Islands, whose indigenous population was secretly and brutally expelled by British Governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make way for an American military base. The tragedy, which falls within the remit of the International Criminal Court as “a crime against humanity”, is told by Islanders who were dumped in the slums of Mauritius and by British officials who left behind a damning trail of Foreign Office documents.

Before the Americans came, more than 2,000 people lived on the islands in the Indian Ocean, many with roots back to the late 18th century. There were thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a railway and an undisturbed way of life. The islands were, and still are, a British crown colony. In the 1960s, the government of Harold Wilson struck a secret deal with the United States to hand over the main island of Diego Garcia. The Americans demanded that the surrounding islands be “swept” and “sanitized”. Unknown to Parliament and to the US Congress and in breach of the United Nations Charter, the British Government plotted with Washington to expel the entire population.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Chagossians resume battle for their Indian Ocean home

Monday 22nd June 2015

FORMER Chagos Islands residents, forcibly removed from their homeland more than 40 years ago, will take their long legal battle to Britain’s highest court today.

The Supreme Court will hear their challenge to a decision by the House of Lords which dashed hopes of a return home to the Indian Ocean islands, given over to a US air base.

In 2008, Law Lords overturned previous court decisions allowing islanders and their descendants to go back.

Olivier Bancoult, the Chagossian leader who has been fighting in the courts on behalf of the islanders, now argues that the three-to-two majority ruling in favour of the Foreign Secretary should be set aside.

Citizenfour, film on Edward Snowden, review


This video from the USA says about itself:

Bill Maher interviews filmmaker Laura Poitras about her Oscar-nominated documentary, CITIZENFOUR, in this clip from January 30, 2015. The film follows Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald as they travel to Hong Kong for a meeting with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

On 31 May 2015, I went to see the film Citizenfour.

A review of the film is here.

Before the film started, there was an introduction by Sasja Koetsier, of  Dutch movie magazine De Filmkrant.

According to Ms Koetsier, Citizenfour is in the tradition of French Cinema verité and United States Direct Cinema.

The film is about attacks of secret services, especially the United States NSA, on civil liberties, especially of people on the Internet.

There is an NSA blacklist of ‘public enemies’. On it, 1.2 million people from the USA, and many more from other countries. How do you land on that list? To become an ‘enemy of the state’ it suffices to download the Internet privacy program Tor.

Supporters of secret service spying on people use to say: ‘If you don’t have anything to hide, then you don’t need to be afraid of the NSA spies’. The reverse seems to be true, Sasja Koetsier said. ‘If you use Tor software, then that makes you a suspect to the spies’. Let us compare it to police in a street. If they see a home with curtains drawn, then police might, in a parallel to the NSA, immediately demand access to that home. It is like someone pointing a gun to your head, and then saying: ‘Don’t worry, I won’t shoot.’ What is the gun for then? one might ask. For making people practice self-censorship?

This is a 2008 satirical video by Mark Fiore from the USA; depicting privacy violations as disguising themselves as a harmless looking toy teddy bear. It says about itself:

Snuggly the Security Bear: Wiretapping is about love!

A review by Rejo Zenger in De Filmkrant points out that civil liberties violations are not limited to United States spies. The Dutch secret services would like to have the right to spy massively, including on people not suspect of any crime. Secret police of various countries exchange data. A secret service with few data will get few data in return from foreign spying organisations. So, secret services with comparatively few data will lobby in a race to the ‘top’ to be able to get as many data as the service which gets most data because they are the ‘best’ in violating civil liberties.

Laura Poitras starts the film with her own experiences. Her 2006 film My Country, My Country on the Iraq war causes her to be spied upon and her material being taken away during the making of a new film, The Oath, on Guantanamo Bay torture camp. She has to leave the USA and go to Germany.

She intended to make a third film in her series on ‘the war on terror’, this time about mass spying. In early 2013, Edward Snowden e-mailed her, at first under the pseudonym citizenfour. Later that year, Ms Poitras and Glenn Greenwald meet Snowden in Hong Kong and help him publish the files on mass privacy violations. They also help him to escape from NSA, or CIA, vengeance.

The film exposes the lies of NSA bosses to the United States Congress. When questioned about various massive spying practices, they answer ‘No. No. No’ to all questions about things which they do practice.

Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was arrested as a ‘terrorist’ at London airport. David Miranda’s sadness after this ordeal is a poignant highlight in the film.

Another ‘highlight’, or ‘lowlight’, is the destruction on the orders of British Prime Minister David Cameron and the United States ‘security’ establishment of a laptop computer with Edward Snowden’s files on the NSA spying on millions and millions of people all over the world.

An important film. Not just for people interested in Edward Snowden as an individual. Not just for people in the USA. For all people everywhere in the world who care about civil liberties.

USA: SENATE LETS PATRIOT ACT PROVISIONS EXPIRE “Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) succeeded Sunday in forcing certain controversial provisions of the Patriot Act to expire, including the NSA’s sweeping data collection program. But the lapse isn’t likely to last long. Running down the procedural clock in a sensational emergency session Sunday night, Paul left the Senate in a stalemate on the House-passed USA Freedom Act. The bill would have allowed the NSA’s controversial bulk data collection, justified under the expiring Section 215 of the Patriot Act, to continue while the intelligence community works with telecommunications companies to reform the program. The legislation failed in a last-minute vote in the Senate last week, leaving lawmakers with a mere eight hours in session before the Patriot Act provisions expired at the stroke of midnight.” [Ali Watkins & Jessica Schulberg, HuffPost]

The White House refused to reconsider its legal pursuit of Edward Snowden on Monday, while it sought to take credit for outlawing the bulk telephone surveillance programme he revealed: here.

THE US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is using a fleet of civilian aircraft registered with phoney front companies to snoop on citizens, it emerged on Monday. The powerful and shady agency was forced to admit to the domestic spying programme following a journalistic investigation by the Associated Press: here.

“USA Freedom Act”: A fig leaf for illegal spying: here.