Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

Took a break from writing a paper on Census data on ethnic residential trends, and watched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I'd seen snippets in high school, but never the whole feature; and I know it was originally a Tom Stoppard play, but I'd never read it. Of course, I generally tend to like weird dialogue-heavy films with pseudo-existential undertones. S I also have a soft spot for alternate and/or parallel storylines. o I liked R&G. It helped that Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play.

The two minor characters from the play are the main characters in this film, and it's great to see them having their own odd stories that occasionally overlap with the Hamlet storyline, whenever they have dialogues. (Weird analogy: it's kind of like a Jasper Fforde tale, where characters in books can have their own lives, until their scenes in books...) The banter between the two main characters, as well as others, alternated between nonsense and macabre. It's brilliant. Tim Roth and Gary Oldman were great as the title characters, and Richard Dreyfuss was excellent as the leader of the theatre troupe that performs "The Murder of Gonzago" in Hamlet. (The theatre troupe has an odd role in this film -- they're kind of a band of marauding philosophers/angels of death/instruments of fate.)

My favorite scene was the Questions game, played on a tennis court (or badminton?) That was incredible, as was later applying the same rules and analysis to Hamlet's conversation and behavior in an attempt to determine his malady. Great film, with some great maze-like sequences and shots to parallel the maze-like dialogue.

Then I decided to make it a hats-off-to-Shakespeare night, and watched Kiss Me Kate (based on Taming of the Shrew, which I read when I was 15 because a friend said I'd hate it, and it turned out he was right). It happened to be available on the Netflix online viewing list. So in one night I watched spinoffs of my favorite and my least favorite works of the Bard!

I love musicals, and Cole Porter's words and music were typically witty. (One song lyric goes "[I'll marry] any Tom Dick, or Harry, any Tom, Harry, or Dick! I said a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick....!" Yes, the term was around back them, and yup, Cole Porter was gay, and I dare anyone to pretend those lyrics were an accident. But maybe I should have suggested the song for a certain wedding I was in in May.) At any rate, Cole Porter wrote great songs, and the ones in Kiss Me Kate have dazzlingly clever lyrics.

Like the play it's based on, the movie does the play-within-a-play thing: the main idea is that two feuding exes, who you can tell from the first scene are pretending they don't still have the hots for each other, star in a modern take on Taming. Naturally their story parallels the Taming production being played out on the stage. But except for the CP songs, I didn't like the rest of the film. It got bogged down by cheesiness: New Yawk gangstas, loyal servants, the working class couple subplot. The two main characters are haughty and egotistical, and I didn't actually care if they got back together in the end, though it was obvious they would, despite having significant others in the way. And of course, the end of Kiss Me Kate has the same offensive monologue I resented in Taming of the Shrew, though thankfully not in its entirety. The whole time, I was a little creeped out by the 1950s gender roles, and what a horribly propagandistic message it sent. I say propagandistic because it wasn't just innocently and passively reflecting the values of its time, as many people too simply believe cultural products do: it was pretty blatantly transmitting a manual on how wives are not worthy of husbands and should basically be their slaves. And the whole idea that women, whether in a play written 400 years ago, or in a film made half a century ago, need to be "tamed" to submit to marriage and men is horrid. Arrrrrrgggggh. But the Cole Porter songs redeemed it.

Reason not to run out and read something someone tells you you'll probably hate: years later you might watch the movie and then not be able to stop ranting. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead I should've just gone back to the paper, to cold hard Census data and demographic patterns, but nooooo....


Torgo said...

R and G are Dead is one of my favorites. I'd read the play, never seen it performed, then loved the movie. That questions scene is great.

I only saw it once years and years ago. Your post makes me want to watch it again.

Rainster said...

I mean hey, we could play Questions instead of trivia on Tuesday....