Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘women’s lives’ Category

EastwoodNorrisNrobinson
Kate Eastwood Norris as Mary with Nancy Robinette as Hannah Kennedy, her beloved nurse

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday Izzy and I were riveted into intense watching and listening at the latest production of Peter Oswald’s translation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart at the Folger. As I discover Izzy and I (with Jim) saw precisely this play done before, and here in DC, by the WSC company when it was in Arlington, I won’t go into detail but to say it’s praiseworthy for much the same reasons as the WSC and London productions before it. This translation and its director, Richard Clifford, has once again strangely, considering that Mary Stuart was no rebel against state power, and as to her political machinations anything but virtuous, well-meaning, selfless, and Elizabeth the admirable controlled person genuinely seeking the interest of the people in her state as her best support, turned this famous execution into a parable where Mary stands for framed victims of ruthless state power, while Elizabeth, however sympathized with, a tortured jealous female tyrant. When in January 2013, we three saw the HD Met production of Maria Stuarda, Joyce Didonato became this poignant figure with whom the audience is urged to identify, the emphasis focused on worlds of prisons, and executions deliberately turned into savage spectacles. I was then moved further to point out how since Schiller, Scott’s Kenilworth and Abbot and Monastery, and a series of movies since were moving into new distortions so that Elizabeth is now becoming the compensatory glamorous victim by virtue of her love for Leicester and Essex and their betrayal of her and I wrote about the Cate Blanchett films with Joseph Fiennes as the young Leicester, and for part two, Barbara Flynn as an aging evil Mary.

Is it probably true to say the modern audience which might care that what happened between Martin Luther King and President Johnson at Selma is misrepresented by the recent otherwise good (if pious) movie, does not care that what these two women were in life? If a feminist complained that once again women are ultimately being judged as sexual creatures, and that is the source of the antagonism to Elizabeth and refusal to see her as the powerful effective ruler, the reply could or would be, but see how central are the women, how respected and treated with dignity and concern and allowed to be moving psychological portraits. The performances of just about all the actors was stunningly good, and as the women have been praised elsewhere strongly, I’ll single out Louis Butelli as Sir Amias Poulet who was Cassius in this company’s recent Julius Caesar, and Paul-Emile Cendron as the utterly untrustworthy, half-crazed religious fanatic, Mortimer. It is curious how other types from this era seem to re-fit our own. Why hold out? Two people on my Under the Sign of Sylvia I blog said they had and regretted it.

MaryStuartElizAndAdvisorsHollyTwyford
Holly Twyford as Elizabeth with her advisors

I think perhaps because of the quieter costumes and complete lack of distraction at the Folger (just a somber background prison, little furniture, lights used to suggest the wood) this time though I also found myself wondering how the audience felt watching it; they were an intelligent group; how did they take it? If we want to have plays about our modern militarist security states, surely we could write more directly about them? Surely many were watching this drama to watch this female rivalry. It’s known that Eastwood Noris and Twyford are partners in life and are planning a wedding this summer and I heard audience members discussing that. For me it was also an opportunity to watch 18th century dramaturgy because the play clearly descends from the she-tragedies of the 18th century and Dryden’s formulation that admiration should be part of the tragic emotion. As Izzy and I were walking away, we talked of the biographies of Mary Stuart we’d read and she said that the recent one by Fraser showed that Mary had to marry, that once she was forced out of France, she found herself surrounded by in effect gangs of male thugs in Scotland, and it was her regent, John Murray who handed her over to Elizabeth and was ultimately her triumphant enemy. She was thinking of the real Mary Stuart’s life, failed alliances and political military contexts.

Probably I was also led to think this way this time because recently I’d read a fine essay by Sabrina Baron in Leggott and Taddeo’s Upstairs and Downstairs: British Costume Drama from The Forsyte Saga to Downton Abbey. In Baron’s “Desacralizing the icon: Elizabeth I on Television,” she surveys the large number of films featuring the character or figure of Elizabeth I throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. Baron suggests her icon in in the Renaissance era was manipulated to present an transcendent female figure effectively doing what men did, a kind of male in hieratic female dress; in the 20th century she is “a sexualized female stereotype who failed at love and motherhood and did little of consequence.” If you look at her time, you see to many Elizabeth was a mystery, a curiosity, an anomaly, not an abomination. What she proceeded to do gradually was showcase her virginity, insist on it as what wedded her to England. In 1596 an order was issued that all unflattering portraits of the queen should be destroyed. As a consequence a very few depictions of Elizabeth for real in her later years have survived. What was one to do with this unmarrying, unreproducing, later undesirable woman. Her relationships with Leicester and Essex (and others) so romanticized were in the real era about their desire for financial favor, and political preferment. So you did not present her as a woman once she got older. Baron sees both ploys as erasure, and the modern reversals as revenge.

theyhadwittyexchanges
They had witty exchanges

Baron’s essay is so chock-a-block with so many films (she also covers some cinema) and details I can just offer a few. She covers US films, especially the influential Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. I was startled to discover the second BBC film about this queen was an adaptation of Kenilworth and starred a very young Jeremy Irons as Leicester and Gemma Jones as Elizabeth. Scott was first adapted in in 1956 and then 1967. Both videos were alas wiped out. Irons returned in the same role on HBO in 2005 in a wildly popular version of Elizabeth the Queen, with Helen Mirren (Hugh Dancy the Essex). A sad fall away from Jane Tennison. Alessandra Stanley (who wrote a sequel to GWTW) was a rare critic to dare to show how it wallowed in painful pity for this aging woman — none of her public successes made much of, hardly mentioned.

Blackadder’s rendition of Elizabeth had an actress dressed up absurdly as a kind of wooden doll with wig, but to me this parody is no improvement.

I never have seen a drama of her earlier years when as a young woman she overcame a number of attempts to kill or assassinate her, remarkably came to power (to Catholics, the illegitimate Protestant daughter of Anne Boleyn) and then stayed there, effectively, with few wars, none on her soil. For this you must read good biographies, and the one I remember best is the older Elizabeth Jenkins’s Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth_I_when_a_Princess
Said to be a portrait of Elizabeth when a princess, well before her sister, Mary came to power

YoungMaryStuart
Known to be a portrait of Mary when age 12 by Francois Clouet

Ellen

Read Full Post »

LadySatdinner

Violetappreciatesit
Lady Sinderby (Penny Downie) winning the first round against Lady Flincher (Phoebe Nicholls), with Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) alone registering appreciation

Lady Flincher: ‘Tell me, do you find it difficult these days to get staff’
Lady Sinderby: (observant of the Flincher’s desperate state): Not really but then we’re Jewish, so we pay well
Violet, Lady Grantham smiles in enjoyment

Dear friends and readers,

It’s unfair and inaccurate to declare the fifth season of Downton Abbey was so much treading water, even if the experience often felt that way; but if so, it’s fitting that this season’s penultimate episode is Rasselas-like in that we have Resolutions, in which little is resolved. How did Fellowes manage this? By making important not what the principals in each drama said or did, but how what had just happened was brought about by other people enigmaticallyas the curtain went down on all left standing or walking towards Downton Abbey.

Walkingback
Far shot of nearly (but not) everyone walking back to the Abbey

For example, did you imagine Lady Rose McClaren (Lily James)’s wedding to Atticus Aldritch (Matt Barber) was about hopeful youthful love, or showed how intolerance can be overcome (pace Mrs Hughes’s “Hurrah for intolerance on both sides”), or even about Lord Sinderby’s (Daniel Aldritch) apparent intransigence (a theme of the episode as heard in Violet telling Prince Kuragin “Don’t proclaim your intransigence as if it were a virtue”). No. What happened is Lady Sinderby won, but not just over Lady Flincher who at the last moment said publicly she and Lord Flincher (Peter Egan) are getting a divorce, just what Lord Sinderby said he would not tolerate, as divorce is a degradation, a confession of weakness, failure (he was intensely strong on that), but also over Sinderby himself:

TheBattlecompleted (2)

Lady Sinderby: Thank you, Lady Flintshire. Or may I call you Susan? We are forewarned and so now we will be forearmed.
Lord Sindeby: You can’t mean
Atticus: Father, I beg you …
Lady Sinderby to her husband: Do anything to stop this marriage, anything at all, I will leave you, and then you will have a scandal worthy of the name! (HUSHED CONVERSATION) …

TheBattlecompleted (1)

The camera focused on Lady Sinderby’s intense trembling satisfaction first and returned to shots of her during the ceremony. Mr Carson (Jim Carter) was not the only one to remark on something odd going on. Like others he focused on the lack of a veil: “it was a funny marriage. No proper service, no veil! You’d have thought one of them was divorced.” But that was not it. We have yet to see the 30 year old young woman brought to Alnwick Castle Christmas time with her young boy. She comes because by Thomas (Rob James-Collier, a kind of avenging angel in this latest phase) as a mode of getting Lord Sinderby to dislike his spiteful steward-butler for exposing Lord Sinderby. But how did Thomas know about her? Something wants explanation. Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) says she wishes the young couple “well.”

Anibundel was correct to suggest not the new characters introduced in the first episode of this season, but those on board towards the end are the most intriguing.

Surely it will be said we have a resolution for Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and the whole of Downton Abbey for closure for World War One. WW1 began the last episode of the first season went on through the second (WW1), and lingered past the third (Mrs Patmore’s nephew killed by the British army for not killing as ordered). The fourth season saw the disappearance of Michael Grigson. This fifth season there was the memorial committee and the widow in the village. Robert, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonnevile) despite all bumbling, disregard (called “Donk” by his grand-daughter with Lady Mary’s [Michelle Dockery] encouragement), has had a memorial plaque put up for Mrs Patmore’s nephew too. We watched the ceremony of all the characters (but our true heroine, Anna Smith Bates, Joanne Froggart) sitting and standing as group remembering those who died and the war.

EMBARGOED_UNTIL_3RD_NOVEMBER_DOWNTON_EP8_64.jpg

Mrs Patmore is closer to feeling a resolution than the others. But her tie is now to Daisy (Sophie McShera) as we see when she walks back after gazing at the plaque; here is her daily life and future. How it grieved her to think Daisy would be giving her notice in so she could remain in London with all its advantages. She could not stop crying.

Is Daisy going to stay? The farm and her all-wise (better than Fielding’s Allworthy who was not all-seeing too) guiding spirit, Mr Mason (Paul Copley), win out for the moment:

Mrs Patmore: ‘At her age, it’s right she should have a new adventure, isn’t it?’
Mr Mason: ‘Is this true, Daisy?’
Daisy: ‘No, she’s just teasing! At least, I did think about it, but I’ve decided I’m not going anywhere, or not until after I’ve passed my exams.’
Mr Mason: ‘I’m glad. I hate it when people who love each other must be far apart.’

Another beautiful moment occurred when Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle), Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Daisy walked back from the Wallace Collection together.

BackfromtheWallace

I know it’s absurd when Mr Moseley laments that he comes to London and never manages to see anything, as if he were not a full-time servant but a modern tourist; still it’s touching when he quotes an art book and shows he can respond as much to a reproduction (anachronistic again) as the pictures in the gallery. The point is Daisy with her Vanity Fair will not forget. Nor Miss Baxter who however rings in a new form of doubt about the future: “You’re never safe ’til the ring’s on your finger,”

Mr Moseley: ‘Do you want to be safe, Miss Baxter?’
Miss Baxter: ‘I might … ‘

To return to that last walk back to the Abbey after the Memorial ceremonies, Lord Grantham reveals he has guessed that that Marigold is Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) child by Michael Grigson, but is that the end of her story? (or his?). Tom (Allen Leech) tells Lady Edith that she should go back to London to run her publishing business and write; he’s going to take his Sybbie with him to Massachusetts. Why not take Marigold?

Does anyone believe he’s going for sure? Oh he’ll stay until Christmas, and then there are the houses he wants built on the estate. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) vows to stop him.

The worst is what has happened to Anna and Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle). She has held out against the Inspector Vyer’s (Louis Hilyer) bullying attempt to get her to admit she was raped by Mr Green, advised by Mr Bates to keep their secrets until they must reveal them. The upshot: she is arrested.

anna-is-arrested

Mr Bates says ominously to Lady Mary on the walk back to the abbey she won’t be convicted. In those words are a threat he’ll confess and prove himself guilty first.

Reversals too. Near the close it’s Mr Carson who tells Mrs Hughes as she reveals her intense anxiety about the Bateses’ future and for once her own:

Mrs Hughes: ‘Sorrow seems to shadow them both and in their wake, it shadows us.’
Mr Carson: ‘Come, Mrs Hughes. This isn’t like you. Take courage for their sake. We must always travel in hope.’

In previous episodes we’ve heard how hope is a treacherous distraction, hurting more when the illusion is done.

But has not Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) made up her mind not to remarry Lord Merton? we saw as she came away from one dinner table the hurt Lord Merton’s sons were able to inflict her on, the tension between Merton and her they could cause. It’s been reinforced by watching what has surrounded Lady Rose’s marriage. But she looks grim coming back to the Abbey. She had expressed surprise at Violet’s disappointment for her in an earlier walking scene between the two of them late one evening as they were off to bed befoe the others

Balcony

Mrs Crawley: ‘You’ve changed your tune.’
Dowager: ‘I’ve been reminded recently that one is not given many chances in life and if you miss them, they may not necessarily be repeated… ‘

Mrs Crawley was not been at yet another scene between Kuragin (Rade Serbedzija) and the Dowager where Violet wavered:

Kuragin (2)

Kuragin (1)

And on this final walk, it seems what is holding Violet back is the existence of the Prince’s wife. Lord Merton’s wife is dead. Yet there they are walking and talking the true companions.

Is there anyone who does not either waver or express doubt about the future or act enigmatically or suddenly change their tune? Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) has it in her to be an unscrupulous lapper-up of alcohol, and we begin to wonder if Spratt (Jeremy Swift) is not right about her, though unable to do anything about her but hide his mistress’s case under the bed to get her into trouble. The Dowager caught that.

Who believes Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) will be happy with Mabel Lane Fox (Catherine Steadman) who has returned to her supercilious self, so her thought about her wedding is her preference for the city over the country where there will be less mud, while he carries smoldering with resentment against Lady Mary Crawley.

Beyond “Uncle Thomas” (! he calls himself) rescuing another male footman so generously (in character that; he rescued Jimmy more than once), I found myself feeling for Lady Mary at the close of the episode because Mr Carson observed underneath her aloofness a bleakness. Carson may overrate her, but she is not a fool, and she will miss Tom.

MarynearStairs

Carson: ‘Is everything all right, m’lady?’
Lady Mary: ‘I thought I’d sneak away. I don’t think I’ll be missed.’
Carson: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.’
Lady Mary; ‘I feel as if our household is breaking up, Carson, but I suppose that’s what happens. People grow up and move away and things change.’

She showed much feeling when mourning Matthew, unable to turn to someone else. Now she may be left with Edith and (as she jokes) get sent away for murder.

This episode was more Thackeray than Trollope.

Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets for our play is played out.

After all since Lady Sinderby was introduced, she has been my favorite puppet this season.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

mrs-miniverGreerGarsonfamilyairraidshelter
Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon as Mr and Mrs Miniver with their children in a locally dug-out air raid shelter with their children, Toby and Judy (Christopher Severn and Clare Sandars)

Dear friends and readers,

If you read my other blog, Austen Reveries, you know I’ve been working on a paper on the importance of screenplays to be given this March at the ASECS, part of my larger project on Austen films, and just enjoyment of, interest in screenplays.

This week I’ve been reading great and powerful screenplays, chosen mostly as a result of what’s in print and well-prepared in two sets of what ought to be famous collections (John Gassner and Dudley Nicols, 10 Best Film Plays, 1942, and Best Film Plays [10] of 1943-44; and George Garrett, Jane Gelfman, and O. B. Hardison Jr’s Film Scripts 1, 2, 3, 4 (1970s). This to help me demonstrate the centrality and great power of them when well-prepated, and how they are a new changeable experimental genre, worthy reading and study in their own right. When I read Dashiell Hammet’s Watch on the Rhine adapted from Lillian Hellman’s stage play of the same name, the experience was gripping, almost as good as watching it. When I read Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man this week (once again), maybe it was better in some ways. To my surprise, and not meaning at all to have Downton Abbey in mind (though Fellowes has been smart enough to publish the screenplays of the first three seasons completely annotated, with omitted scenes, stills, the works), I discovered a real provable source for one of the striking episodes of the first season: The Flower Show. Here is a still from that in Mrs Miniver:

TheflowerShow
Probably not one of the more remembered scenes of the movie, though it leads into the tragic climax

First let me suggest just a few of the characteristics of screenplays that put them apart from other genres that I’m working on: The writer writes with camera visualization in mind, and an awareness of there will be a world created by the hallucinatory screen from production and costume designs: screenplays presuppose encompassing specific worlds constructed so the viewer shall suspend disbelief, and within this assumed imagined environment the scripts present bits of dialogue, descriptions of movements of setting, suggestions for actors and silent moments, and camera angles as a quick succession of fluid and suggestive experiences with movement involved, freed of the time and space of a literal stage. In recent contemporary films what happens in this film is conveyed through a continual movement back and forth between past and present time, with lingering voice-overs that spill voiced thoughts across the interwoven obsessively remembered past and present time in quick change montages. Studying film adaptations alongside the scripts has taught me the films are made of dislocated series of images which can be moved about; Sarah Cardwell demonstrated these are not in the present tense, but tenseless or timeless (in her essay “About Time”). The relation of the words, the dialogue and voice-over, crucially tell the relationships in time between the images. They are concentrated, the feel is intimate because of the close-ups, split seconds of visualization brings us close-up and magnifies the experience. From this comes fan groups for cults of stars. If you know who played the parts and have not seen the movie, you try to visualize the actors and actors; if you don’t know who played the parts, or the screenplay was never filmed, you try to cast it with favored actors and actresses.

In the second Gassner and Nicols volume the screenplays are accompanied by stills from the films dropped it (like illustrations for 19th century novels) at the spots in the screenplay they visualized. That’s also done in the New Market paperback shooting script series, and in many publications of screenplays — often the better ones will have essays by the writer, or a journal of the filming, or particulars about production design, costumes, houses …. Mrs Miniver is in the first volume so I went onto the Net to find stills. I was not surprised to discover I could not find shots for the most traumatic and best scenes — that’s typical. What one finds are stills where the people look beautiful. It’s also hard to find stills of landscape, and the encompassing world which is so central to films. I did find this one of her compassionating the German soldier after he terrified, threatened and was ready to kill her but then sat to eat and wait, and collapsed:

mrs-miniver-greer-garson-helmut-dantine-1942
Helmut Dantine played the part of the German pilot forced down

First the 1940s screenplay is extraordinary. It is not by Joyce Anstruther (also a poet) whose columns in the 1930s were a precursor of The Egg and I, or Bridget Jones, the self-deprecating woman, here quietly ironic about much of her life, but herself the cynosure of competence and complacent assured middle class life (discussed extraordinarily well by Alison Light in Forever England). I can see from just reading the screenplay, how it could have the effect on its viewership it did. It subscribes to the most appealing myths of what England is. Paradoxically at the same time like so many movies of the 1930s and 40s the central characters are upper middle class and as a matter of course have servants (This is true of the characters in Watch on the Rhine, it is not true of the characters in screenplays starting in the 1960s, then we are no longer in firm middle class households, no servants anywhere, e.g, Darling a 1965 screenplay and movie, The Apartment, same era). Mrs Miniver opens in an expensive men’s club in Pall Mall; they are going about their business undisturbed as yet. She is the wife of such a man; we see her first jumping off a bus and rushing back to an expensive shop to treat herself to an unnecessary concoction of a hat. Yet as the story went on, and we go home with her, are introduced to her servants (whom she treats well but keeps in good order by her benign orderly ways herself) I believed in her and these children. Her grown son home from Oxford. The girl he meets and falls in love with — but lacks her upper middle class rank (Orwell would find all the careful nuancing par for the course).

Well emotions are worked up as this orderly life begins to fall apart, but everyone is stout together. I found myself coming close to tears, especially when the family was in the bomb shelter under their house, intensely engaged when the German soldier broke into Mrs Miniver’s house (of course she dealt with him, a bit of luck too, which Mrs Miniver ever has). One of its authors was William Wyler, and apparently some of the lines he wrote for the screenplay were used by Roosevelt in one of his speeches. The sense of the characters are turned far away from Anstruther then.

What startled me though is here is an important story in the first season of Downton Abbey. Remember that Flower Show and how the dowager at the very end gave the prize for roses to Mr Moseley’s father. It had been assigned her as always. The way you can tell if something is a source is if the source has something idiosyncratic which is repeated. In Mrs Miniver the movie the prize is again award to the great dragon lady turned women-with-heart-of-gold, Lady Beldon and similarly when up there Lady Beldon lies and gives the prize to the man who deserves it.

DAME MAE WHITTY
Dame May Whitty as Lady Beldon

MaggieSmith
Maggie Smith as the Dowager doing precisely the same generous act — we might ask why we should be so charmed after she has been taking the prize for years (Miss Obrien [Siobhan Finneran does ask]

It was then I asked myself if Mrs Miniver had a first name. Had Anstruthers and now these writers gone so far as to imitate earlier novels and not give us a first name for this lady. I hunted and found that at night when they talk (in separate twin beds of course) Mr Miniver who is referred to as Clem often calls her Kay.

Much is left out by Fellowes from the original: Mr Ballard (Henry Travers) who grew the beautiful rose wanted to name it Mrs Miniver and that had angered Lady Beldon as no rose should be named after a non-aristocrat. She had learned to accept that, and was about to about to accept seeing her granddaughter become engaged to Mrs Miniver’s son; Fellowes instead has Mr Moseley’s father accepting that he will always win second place though it breaks his heart. But Lady Beldon has always gotten it the way the Dowager had. The moment is much stronger in Mrs Miniver because of this secondary story of love and because the sirens have begun to wail loudly that the German bombers had been seen on their way.

Mrs Miniver is an important source text for a significant Downton Abbey the first season, and the attitude towards war in the second. In Mrs Miniver we see how class barriers break down and how everyone is valued together as they fight — so too in Downton Abbey season 2. (Sigh … .). Flower shows and the beauty and science in Kensington Gardens (its world-wide reputation alongside the Bronx Botanical Gardens) remain important symbols for middle class English-speaking people today. Another story in the first season, about Carson’s past was modelled on a story about Hudson’s past from the 1970s Upstairs/Downstairs. But using Mrs Miniver exposes how Downton Abbey repeats all the myths of this movie — other images in the movie reappear in Downton Abbey.

Applauding
All applaud the Dowager for her tremendous act

Let me bring up another unlikely or unexpected collocation: Dora Bruder, the autobiographical meditation by Patrick Modiano who won the Nobel this year. One theme of his book is how Dora Bruder, this young girl was just thrown away, powerless flotsam and jetsam when things got at all rough — or when the establishment decreed. Well in Mrs Miniver at said Flower Show we see a group of working class children from London who have been parceled out to people like Mrs Miniver. Of course not quite living in the great houses, or put in an attic, but that is not mentioned. We are to look quite sentimentally at them and think what an opportunity to get into the country. When the reality is these children in this movie are Dora Bruders. Who cares what happens to them as individuals, who considers it? how they got back home? if they got back home? why these were sent?

****************************

I did come across two other more general sources for Cora, Lady Grantham: I’m following a Future Learn course on British imperialism (on which much more in another blog) and came across the name of Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon, the first American wife of a Viceroy of India during the Raj, and aspects of her life reminded me of Cora, Lady Grantham. I like reading memoirs, someone recommended to me Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan (1877-1964), who wrote a readable autobiography, The Glitter and the Gold.

(c) BRIDGEMAN; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mary Leiter, Lady Curzon in her famous super-expensive peacock feather dress — her expression reminds me of royal people in Goya’s paintings

Mary’s book is a slender volume of letters selected out of volumes and volumes by John Bradley. Once Mary Leiter marries and becomes the viceroy’s wife her life is endless showing of herself for spectacle, and having babies and caring for them. She becomes less open too, much less. The glimpses of a worthwhile person become rare. She begins to sound like Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide when she poses, and registers no sense at all of what she (as a symbol and to keep up in this life style) is costing everyone else. Mary Leiter died of disease, sick and ailing by her early 30s, probably childbirth at the age of 36-37. Her mother-in-law died young too, similarly.

A biography by Nigel Nicolson tell you that Mary Leiter had been the daughter of a man who was a partner in one of these huge luxury-serving department stores that opened in the 1880s in NYC, London, Chicago — a Mr Selfridge (!), and Nicolson’s book opens with the portrait of such a store. These are a dying breed; now we get these cavernous warehouses of mostly junk. There are still a couple of them around: Lord and Taylor’s on 37th and 5th was still practicing making the person shopping feel as if he or she were a rich guest and all the objects important art, the experience somehow home-y, comfortable — complete with coffee for free at 9:30 (this was only 3 years ago). Anyway all her life she lived in a privileged environment, a glass box — only her real body she could not escape nor diseases. She was thought Jewish or half-Jewish because some names in the family “seemed Jewish.” In fact they were Memnonites. So she fits Cora, Lady Grantham — a link between one costume drama and another.

consuelo
Consuelo and Jacques Balsan, her “commoner” husband

CVB reminds me of the Mitford sisters; she has that strong sense of what she deserves, who she is, and while she was wholly tyrannized over as a child (she was even whipped), and when a young adult could be coerced into making bad important decisions (like marrying the super-rich Duke of Marlborough), give her time and she gets out of it — and married a nobody Frenchman who she lived happily with in France until WW2 when they escaped to the US. Lady Carnavon, the turn of the century owner of Highclere Castle who wandered about the world as an anthropologist of sorts, was a strong independent individualist iconclastic too — none of them stayed home to obey any gongs for dinner ….

Long ago at the close of Caleb Williams William Godwin had his imprisoned driven-insane servant hero, ask why are these people numinous (he had actually told the truth about his employer killing a man), why is are they so much more valued than others. The interest of Modiano’s book is how hard he tries to discover her life and what happened to her, and that he does find a trail. It’s much more than a detective story.

dora-bruder

Here is one of Joyce Anstruther’s poems — about whom I’ll write one of my foremother poet blogs next week, the first I’ve done in a couple of years:

Dedication to an Unknown Reader, from The Glass-Blower (1940)

Like rays shed
    By a spent star
The words of a dead
    Poet are,
That through bleak space
    Unchecked fly on,
Though heart, hand, face
    To dust are gone;
And you who read
    Shall only guess
What thorn-sharp need,
    What loneliness,
What love, lust, dream,
    Shudder or sigh
Lit the long beam
    That meets your eye:
Nor guess you never
    So well, so true,
Shall comfort ever
    Reach from you
To me, an old
    Black shrivelled sphere,
Who has been cold
    This million year.

She was nowhere as uncomplicatedly competent and cheerful as she made her Mrs Miniver to be. See my preliminary foremother poet blog: Joyce Anstruther.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MaggieSmithMichelledockery
Violet, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) explaining to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery why the prospect of Isobel Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) marriage to Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) hurts so

Mary: Granny, I know why you’re finding this difficult.
Dowager: Do you?
Mary: Yes, but you mustn’t give in to it.
Dowager: What? Give in to what?
Mary: Isobel has always been your protege. She looks up to you and you have kept her from harm in return.
Dowager: Have I?
Mary: Yes. So of course it’s difficult that she is to take her place ~ among the leaders of the county.
… you simply have to be bigger than that.
Dowager: Is that what you think of me? That I care about her change of rank?
Mary: Well, you’re not exactly pleased, are you?
Dowager: No. But that is not the reason … If you must know … I have got used to having a companion.
A friend. You know, someone to talk things over with … You have your own lives … Isobel and I had a lot in common. I shall miss her.
Mary: Granny, you’re quite dewy-eyed ….
Dowager: You’ve made me regret my confidence… And for your information I don’t think Isobel has EVER looked up to me.

Dear friends and readers,

Soap operas when they do their work right root their suggestive believable characters into the daily memories and feelings of their viewers. That Fellowes has achieved this may be seen in his continuing audience for a group of stories that he lacks any new material for; one never needed new material for As the World Turns. This week I found my face was wet, the tears had overflowed beyond my eyes over fleeting scenes of decently felt emotion most of us struggle against or want to feel. Some were less tenuously set-up than others. The finest and slowest-fully built up to is above: the Dowager explains to the obtuse Lady Mary that she will miss her friend.

Robert Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) close relationship with his dog, Isis, has been before us from the opening credits (much mocked) where we see the dog from the back, presumably walking alongside Robert back to Downton, to the incident where Thomas (Rob James-Collier) ruthlessly locked the dog out in the wet cold wild so he could gain Lord Grantham’s trust by rescuing her, to her just being there, with him. Even that quiet boss-lady, Cora, Lady Grantham, oblivious as she was to the twisting of Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), her second daughter’s character and pregnancy, and much else seemed to notice the dog’s decline, and opened her bed so the suffering creature need not be alone and feel unloved in her last hours:

Lossoffriend (2)

Daisy continues to gain in skills and self-respect from the time we first saw her when the series began and she was making the fires in the house, filthying herself in the cold. She’s now reading Vanity Fair under the tutelage of that thwarted teacher, Mr Moseley (Kevin Doyle). While I wish we didn’t each time have to re-assert the justification for learning for Daisy, and this time it was to enable Fellowes to take potshots at the labor gov’t, I enjoyed the visit to Mr Mason (Paul Copley) engineered by Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nichol) so as to keep Daisy’s spirits up. At his dinner table no one insults anyone. He wouldn’t allow it — all is generosity and decent social thought:

Miss Baxter: Are we all finished? How lovely, Daisy, to have such a beautiful place to come to.
Mr Mason: She’s always welcome is Daisy.
Daisy: I’ve not been here enough lately.
Mr Mason: You’ve been busy I know. With your books. That takes up time.
Daisy: I think I’ll stop it now. So I’ll be able to visit more.
Mr Moseley: Do you think she’s right to give up her studies, Mr Mason?
Mr Mason: I do NOT.
Daisy: Don’t you want to see more of me?
Mr Mason: You know I do. But education is power.

Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) had been startled to find herself invited, and once there, perked up, looked like she had some self-respect, enjoyed herself guiltlessly, and held Mr Moseley’s hand as they comfortably came home after a comfortable meal.

HomewardBound (2)


HomewardBound (1)

Things were quite otherwise in the dinner scene closely juxtaposed next. I felt for Isobel as those wretched sons of Merton made themselves obnoxious again (to Edith too).

isobelinsulted

I loved Tom Branson for getting up and calling one of them a “bastard.” They did throw a stink bomb at any coming happiness in marriage with them in the Merton house. I don’t know why anyone eats dinner at that place: it is a landmine.

dinner

Of course dinner tables have ever been places where you dramatize social agons, it’s inherently theatrical.

The ball of agon has not left the Bates’s residence either. I did love the scene of Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Mr Bates drinking tea so comfortably at home together.

Episode7

Here I just wish Fellowes didn’t think it necessary for me to suspect one of the pair is a murderer. I have realized (from reading one of the Downton Abbey facebook fan pages where they regularly take the most small-minded positions, siding with the worst people) that we are supposed suddenly to suspect Anna. This is surely out of character. What would she feel in a prison? horrified. so humiliated and mortified and filled with inculcated self-hatred she’d wither up with shame.

Alas I’ve covered the fine moments and have now to turn to the absurdities and offensive omissions. I omit the condescension enacted towards the Duchess’s adult servants, Spratt (Jeremy Swift) and Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) as children squabbling. To this is Fellowes driven for material you see. Mrs Drewe gets to have her say to Cora, Lady Grantham, but we are not allowed to see or hear her, and doubt we’ll ever be permitted to develop some sympathetic imaginings for the Drewes at home now.

Implications: When told by Robert that Isis has “cancer,” and Cora replied: “Poor old thing … Oh, how I hate that word,” she for a moment redeemed herself, but like Anibundel whose recap is again worth reading, I cannot grasp how Fellowes expects us to take seriously her indignation at her mother- and sister-in-law, Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond) at having not told her what she should not have needed telling to know. She will never forgive them, never trust them for not having informed her her daughter had a baby while away on a suddenly “mysterious” 10 month trip to Switzerland:

corabigbosslady

Yet worse there was Edith, since Episode 6 closed, set up at last, running a business she owns (left her by Mr Grigson), a job to do, writing she does well, a place to live, a nanny on the spot, with money to pay her:

edithatwork

And what does she do? return to the Abbey where she hides from Mary and her maid at the station giving up her baby once again to the conveniently there Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough)

DependentEdith

in the library again overridden by Mary (coolly despising Edith’s generous impulses to take “an orphan child”), look like some rabbit or deer staring at headlights lest daddy say no to adopting this strange child until mummy declares it is right. The family obtuseness passes to Edith’s father. There’s more than a hint that Tom (Allen Leech) suspects (he asks her more than once to be open with him about her troubles over many episodes). Mary of course couldn’t be bothered to figure anything out about anyone, least of all Edith. Psychologically for Edith it does fit: she is the bullied, over-sheltered, super-ego driven ugly daughter. I hope she never marries, because surely she’ll end up abused — and we saw in the fourth season that Grigson saw this and refrained.

Is there any more to add? I fear Fellowes enjoys inflicting pain on Edith because he likes Mary’s meanness, identifies, triumphs with it. So more obnoxiousness from Lady Mary supported by the complacent Charles Blake (what ever happened Julian Overdeen as the man who worried about the average person’s housing in Britain): if it was so little trouble for Mary to get rid of Gillingham (Tom Cullen) by a kiss in public of Overdeen, why did we have that scene in the park? Fellowes gives away how he manipulates shallowly to milk scenes.

Lady Rose’s (Lily James) continuing charitable impulses and her hurt and fear she will lose her suitor, the good-natured bright Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber), are a decent note and rightly rewarded by Lady Sinderby’s (Penny Downe) generous liking of her despite her being a non-Jew; Lady Sinderby and her husband showed real awareness of the prejudice against them, he that he needs to fight to maintain respected space to thrive in, and thus is not eager for a daughter-in-law who will not be Jewish (conversion never mentioned), but their son’s total lack of any consciousness of what it was to be a Jew in England in the 1920s brings us back to the incredible. Someone on a Jewish news on-line page suggested he is modeled on Prince William (Charles’s son); so when he kneels to this princess, far from an intermarriage, we have a simulacrum of revered English royalty:

acceptingprposal

(Jim was one of those who wanted to see their huge fortunes taken from them, lamented when again the Queen was no longer to pay taxes.)

I suggest Fellowes is moving time so slowly because he does not want to reach the 1930s. He frequently gives Violet quips which are designed to obscure hard truths, this time it was “My dear, men have no rights.” In the real world of 1924 or so the men were in charge, servants were beginning to flee these places for work for money and freedom. There was a general strike in 1926.

But allow me to end on another of the good moments: Tom leaning over a bridge in the green landscape of the Abbey (one of its attractions for him, one he is at work on as steward in his fine office daily), with his daughter, trying to get her used to the idea they will perhaps leave for another country where he will fit in, be able to maintain his identity (and hers) better:

vlcsnap-2015-02-15-19h43m18s53

Now if we could just get a message to Miss Bunting (the show is a continual fantasizing so why not?) to meet him at the New York docks.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

VivienLeigh
Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois (1951 Kazan/Williams Streetcar Named Desire)

Dear friends and readers,

Another announcement of a publication. (Rest assured very soon this will stop and I will return to our regularly scheduled programming mostly about films and books.) I’m happy to say my review of Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films and the Benefits of Censorship is now published on-line in Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone

Better Left Unsaid, reviewed by Ellen Moody

Those who read this blog more than occasionally may recognize a few of the films I’ve written blog reviews of: Preston Sturges’s Miracle of Morgan’s Street, Cukor’s Philadelphia Story and Gaslight, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been enjoying myself mightily watching (and re-watching) a selection of the films covered by this book and also reading for the first time (Thackeray’s Catherine: A Story) and rereading (Bronte’s Villette) a selection of its Victorian novels, not to omit material on actresses and other people centrally involved in film-making.

The book is significant because aspects of its thesis, its assumptions may be found in many recent and older publications. Perhaps among the more interesting of the secondary books I read was the collection by Kucich and Sadoff called Victorian Afterlife (about historical fiction too), and some of the individual screenplays and books on these films; also James Chandler’s The Archeaology of Sympathy comparing 18th century sentimental novels with (among other film-makers) Capra.

I would not have thought comparable Austen’s Mansfield Park with Cukor’s Gaslight:

BergmanGaslight
Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist readying herself virtuously for bed (1944 Cukor/John Van Druten Gaslight).

I also liked following trails away from the main movies and books under consideration; one of these I’ve seen before included a commentary on the famous scene between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront where in the make-believe cab seat we and Charlie Malloy (Steiger) are made to feel Charlie’s terrible betrayal of Terry Malloy (Brando)

onthewaterfront\
(Kazan/Schulberg, 1954 On the Waterfront)

I wish I had made more time to develop separate blogs on these books and films but do urge my readers to read and to watch or re-watch these books & films.

itsaWonderfulifeforblog
See some Christmas commentary coming out of It’s a Wonderful Life this year – Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey pleading with the inexorable banker to give him more time (it’s the banker who has been able to steal the money George had been saving to pay his debt).

Ellen

Read Full Post »

TilerPeckMarievanGoethem
Tiler Peck enacting the famous Degas statue: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

Dear friends and readers,

I did not realize I was going to see a mainstream Broadway musical circa 1950s when I bought my ticket to go to The Little Dancer this past Sunday. A man I had talked to a couple of times at the Film Club at Cinemart had recommended it, saying it was having its “world premiere” here in DC rather than NYC. I thought only of the famous statue, and did not foresee there’d be Ethel Merman like numbers sung by Marie’s mother, Martine (Karen Ziema), played as your robust but downtrodden and heavy-drinking laundress who does a little prostituting on the side.

Balletdancing

But as the musical began and I heard some of the corny language – at its climax Degas (Boyd Gaines) actually cries more than once: “My God! what have I done?” and runs about — and saw what was supposed to be desperate poverty and maginalized aspiration sung about in this super-cheerful way, with choral numbers of men dressed as abonnés (exploitative upper class men who hung around these theaters, sometimes supporting them for a time) and girls alternatively dressed as ballerinas and laundresses gyrating rhythmically or in parallel formation, I knew what I was in for. (The director and choreographer is Susan Strohman.) Still I was a little surprised at the standing ovation and strong cheering the full auditorium gave the people on stage since at no point were there shouts of bravo or high sudden applause of the type showing spontaneous deep accord or pleasure or emotion. I had heard a couple of people during intermission saying this was an “old-fashioned musical” in a way that showed approval, but in fact it lacked the stand-still kind of singing and full crew dancing numbers that characterized Oscar and Hammerstein or My Fair Lady. And the story was implicitly much darker than these mid-century vehicles (Carousel let us recall makes up for misery by asserting one never walks alone and then showing us heaven watching out for Julie).

I’ve been spoilt. What Jim did was buy half-price tickets to see unusual plays, original musicals (and or operas) in local repertory theaters around the area, so the conventionalism of the 3 hours blared out at me. I don’t watch the Net, pay attention to what’s on everywhere, and haven’t the intuition to recognize what will be worth the time as he did — though once I get there I recognize what’s in front of me. I’m not the only one. Charles Isherwood was less than overwhelmed. The Washington Post article by Philip Kennicott is more about the genuinely relevant material to us today that makes up the circumstances of the story than the musical itself.

DegasWork
One of the replicas of this statue now in the National Gallery in DC

I don’t mean to be too hard on this musical. It was as much a ballet as a musical.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

There was effective expressive dancing by Peck continually and with Harris and the chorus, and male and female ballet and ballroom dancing ensembles. The books and lyrics were clearly by a woman, Lynn Ahrens; the structure was cyclical and empathetic to central female figures — Mary Cassatt (Janet Dickinson) was represented as Degas’s great friend. Central female figures, the issue of abonnés show the women-authored nature of the piece. There was a woman voiceover-narrator, the adult Marie who has come to visit Cassatt after the death of Degas. I didn’t realize that the actress-singer, Rebecca Luker, was a known favorite of this audience until I read in the playbook Luker is famous for her performance on Broadway of Mary Poppins: I fear a benignly strong saccharine version of Julie Andrews’ role, and then heard the applause for her at the musical’s end and recognized she was dressed to recall her previous role.

MaryPoppins
Luker is to the left and Mary Cassatt as old to the right, with Degas and the devastated young Marie (he’s ruined her career by his daring statue!) at center

Nonetheless, the music (by Stephen Flaherty) was disappointing — maybe the apparently necessary continual rhythmic background for the dancing numbers precluded individuation, the way one could not ask Peck and the other ballerinas also to be a nuanced actress (they were not, it was soft caricature all the way). It was a kind of cross between a weak version of lyricism of The Secret Garden (book, lyrics, screenplay, all by women) where what is being remembered criss-crosses with what is happening now, an interlace; and a weak version of Sondheim’s self-reflexive wittiness. You could feel Sondheim in the talk rhythms and staging, as well obviously in the bringing forth from actors on the stage simulacrums of works of art. But to remind one of Sondheim had the unfortunate effect of comparison and the lines were so utterly banal, and to remind one of The Secret Garden is to invoke music more like The Pearl Fishermen: The Secret Garden has dual tenor duets, a strong mezzo-soprano singing with bell-like barritone, quirky rhythms as well as melancholy lingering. None of that here.

I was very moved at moments, and tears came to my eyes (not hard to do with me nowadays) at some of the trials and disappointments of Marie. The refrains of a couple of songs were about how one’s future is sometimes determined on the chance of a single event. I got caught up intensely when in the second act it seemed as if Marie was going to be raped by the abonné, who kept Antoinette (Jenny Powers) her sister, though this being a musical which ultimately doesn’t question or disturb, she is saved by poor but honest loving musician, appropriately named Christian (Kyle Harris), just in the nick of time.

Little Dancer  Susan Stroman: Director and Choreographer Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik studio@paulkolnik.com nyc 212-362-7778

Since nothing disquieting here, our Marie does not experience much conflict over not eloping with the poor violinist when he is fired for saving her: she is ever prudent, looking out for her career, supporting her feckless mother (made violent towards Marie doubtless to match the men of course). The real ballerina Degas sculpted did not go on to a successful career and that is here explained by showing that Degas offended the contemporary audience, something that one must not do (according to the thrust of this piece) or one will be punished. Marie becomes a pariah and the theater manager fears being made a laughing stock by a statue not made of bronze but of material and wax, and real or simulated hair: he told her (manager scolds) “to stay away from Degas.” Musical as warning lesson to any Bohemians out there. While the book and vignettes include the types of the commercial world of art (patrons, “rats” — cattle call, workmen, cataloguers, patrons), it is very naively invoked. (The Kennedy Center audience included mother-daughter pairs with the daughters in dancing or ballet outfits!) The dialogue did at least show an awareness of what Jim used to say about Degas: that his paintings of downtrodden hard-worked women were cold and distanced, somehow voyeuristic and that was reflected in the treatment of the abonnés.

But hey you didn’t have to go all the way to NYC, pay extravagant hotel fees and the price was less than it would have been in NYC. It had its moments, real talented people on the stage giving it their all, seemingly engaged by this simple material about art.

MarieChristian

Ellen

Read Full Post »

john-lithgow-shares-the-stage-with-lindsay-duncan
Tobias (John Lithgow) with his sister-in-law and occasional lover, Claire (A Delicate Balance, directed by Pam MacKinnon)

MaggieGEwanMcGregor
Henry (Ewan McGregor) with Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), at first his mistress and then his wife (The Real Thing, directed by Sam Gold, David Zinn set design)

I am so much accustomed to be alone — Madame Max, in Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn

Dear friends and readers,

While in NYC I went to two great plays performed greatly. Well, maybe the actors playing The Real Thing needed to project depths of emotions much more, only the highly verbal intellectual continually witty script was in the way while in A Delicate Balance Glenn Close played Agnes with such balance, discretion, strength that one was almost as fooled as she pretended half to be so that I didn’t quite realize their topic was the same thing: deep betrayals and treacheries (only one aspect of which is adultery).

A DELICATE BALANCE
Agnes (Glenn Close) with Tobias, apparently all serenity if you don’t listen to her words: she opens and closes the play with how she’s about to go mad

Similarconfidentialmoment
A similar confidential moment between Henry and Annie (The Real Thing)

Happily the plot-summaries and character sketches for both plays are on-line so I need not retell the matter. Both are plays you should read before you go.

I had unexpected experiences in both theaters. I never expected to find Albee Jamesian (all I had seen before was the film of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Burton, Taylor and Sandy ) but Glenn Close or her director brought this out and a strong unexpected unusual form of feminism: an ambivalent portrayal of the woman who keeps it all in, who will not openly admit to the pain, adultery, betrayal, so she becomes “luminous.” James often emits such solemn and vague or not explicit terms for something some character does we are to admire — at the cost of everything real in her; that darkness is stronger in James than it felt in this production-play. Until now just about all the plays by Stoppard I’ve seen, have had as their central focus, play-acting itself and the theater, or there is a great poet or literary person whose life he is exploring; I’ve also seen farces and he does like to avail himself of a previous work which he rewrites from another angle (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is no aberration).

The Real Thing is directly about the emotional life of a marriage, of two marriages or three depending on how you reconfigure the characters (Henry and Charlotte, Max and Charlotte, Max and Annie, Henry and Annie), and it was done through intellectual battles of wits — it’s hard to see how it becomes popular, but the theater was full and I expect some of that was the name of the playwright and the stellar cast (all young stars, and I heard people recite where they had seen the actor/actress before). People were listening and laughed at the right spots; perhaps it was a more intelligent audience than usual who could see themselves in these characters. I read half-way through the text last night and it is singularly bare of any indication of how the actor should play the part or stage setting. At any rate the characters were continually half-discussing their adulteries, acting them out, judging them, singing about them through 50s pop songs (said to be Henry-as-Stoppard’s favorite music)

RealThingCynthiaNixonEwan
Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon), Henry’s wife at the opening of the play (Real Thing)

RealThingJoshHamilton
Max (Josh Hamilton), sometimes a “real” betrayed husband and sometimes a character in a play by Henry who is a betrayed husband (Real Thing)

The Real Thing had fine actors: you had to be to convey the complexities of language of the material. Ewan McGregor had the lead role, a surrogate for Stoppard. At first I was thinking as I watched and left the theater, the problem with this The Real Thing about the intense pain one can know in marriage or through the dependencies of love is what is shown is not common, at least among those few people whose marriages I have known something for real about while A Delicate Balance is the more universal.

But then I realized A Delicate Balance also had at its center adulteries casual and long-term and emotional disloyalties about other thing as important (one’s writing and politics in Stoppard’s play, one’s life career and friendships hard to sustain in A Delicate Balance). And I thought about how many couples I know and my own experience of sexual and other unfaithfulness. The real difference is Stoppard treats adultery and bitterness so frankly while Albee keeps them contained (that balance Close maintains — like a Henry James character). I dare say the commoner thing is to pretend in the way of Albee’s characters, not to look or act upon hurt.

At first I had a hard time in Stoppard’s play figuring out what was happening: sometimes the characters were characters in a Stoppard play, sometimes a bad play (of course not by Stoppard); sometimes characters in the reality of the play. But in a tiny first break in the first act I whipped out my trusty cell phone (a handheld computer) and read wikipedia’s summary just as I had in the first full intermission of A Delicate Balance: then for both I could get immersed. Many are the uses of our World Wide Web with its shared worlds. Oh how the loss of net neutrality threatens us in “small” and large ways.

glenn-close-returns-to-broadway-for-the-first-time-in-twoyears.jpog

What was remarkable about A Delicate Balance and made it a comment on The Real Thing is how Glenn Close played the lead heroine deeply sympathetically — as in a Henry James story, we were to admire her as “beautiful” and “tremendous” without being explicitly told that she was holding the whole household together by her magnficient hypocrisy, her act. Agnes as Maggie Verver (I hope my reader has read The Golden Bowl) whose father, Adam, marries Maggie’s prince-husband’s lover, Charlotte (the same name as Stoppard’s heroine) in order to remove Charlotte from Maggie’s prince husband though he likes neither Charlotte nor that prince.

If you read the criticism of the play (and wikipedia) you get a diatribe on Agnes as all repression, and (surely a sign something is seriously wrong) the moralistic rigid Edna who with her husband, Harry has fled her apparent in fear and shows up in Close’s apartment and proceeds to blame and carp and blurt out corrosive rebarbative descriptions of the others (especially Julia, Tobias and Agnes’s many-times divorced daughter, come home once again and wanting her room in which Edna and Harry have taken up temporary residence). Close’s clothes were of peaceful colors (as the guy, majoring in theater who sat next to me and talked to me said), signalling how she was holding the best emotions to the fore in all the scenes luminously (as James might have said), with intense bravery and pain.

glenn-close-and-lindsay-duncan-play-sisters
Agnes (Glenn Close) in a rare moment showing how betrayed and bitter and hurt she is, her sister, Claire, having fallen down (she drinks heavily, but maintains she is not an alcoholic, or no more than the others)

Were it not for her fake act, her sister, Claire would be out on the streets, Tobias incapacitated by fear and his own need to support others he calls his friends in order to believe in some good emotion somewhere.

I had chosen to see A Delicate Balance because I so admire Lindsay Duncan in all the roles I’ve seen her in, and I gather she played Claire utterly differently from Elaine Stritch (who did it caustically, a hard caricature of a drunk) and Maggie Smith who was wry, insouciant, amoral. This Claire was warm, witty, appealing, the only one in the room who could comfort Julia.

Julia
Julia (Martha Plimpton), on her fourth break-up (A Delicate Balance)

The “thing” is that it doesn’t help to tell the truth, it doesn’t help to verbalize or articulate in The Real Thing. Similarly there is (seemingly mysteriously) Tobias and Agnes don’t demand that Edna and Harry tell them what has so terrified Edna and Harry that they must retreat to one of Tobias’ and Agnes’s bedrooms, namely Julia’s:

Frigthened
Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins) (A Delicate Balance)

The characters in The Real Thing achieve their best relief when they put records on of familiar 50s songs — creating a kind of nostalgia in the audience for a comfort that never was. I did find the performance too brittle and the transitions into song awkward. The play is of course about Stoppard (his marriages, his “low” tastes in music, his playwriting) and Henry had the funniest undercutting lines. The characters in A Delicate Balance do once in a while lose it, and we get this great emotional outpouring, but it does not seem to provide much release. The funniest moments were Clare’s (playing an accordion) and Harry’s (Bob Balaban is a remarkable actor, he was inimitable in Gosford Park)

It has been for me a deep treat to go to the theater and really have a deep or thoughtful or exhilarating or grief-striken or funny experience — it was with Jim I first went and he who taught me to go, and where. London has great theater too (and we went when we were there to the National Theater, Old Vic, and RSC especially) — both London and NYC attract the best as best paid and respected; in other cities English speaking you can have greatness too — here in DC sometimes, in London often. (There is a lot of junk in NYC too). Jim would have enjoyed both plays; had he been alive, both are the sort of play we’d have seen together and talked about over drinks afterward.

Groupscenedelicatebalance

RealThingallfour
Group scenes

I’m aware that readers coming to this blog have wondered why I write the way I do, why I often go on at length, why so many. It’s always been out of loneliness, even with Jim, but when he was here, my blog was prompted by our talk, and after I’d write it, we’d talk about what I’d written. Now I write out to try not to feel so alone in the silence. I trust I am talking to someone who comes here and reads these even if mine are imagined sounds and more than 99% of the time I’ve no idea what the reader is thinking or how responding.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 207 other followers