Monday, March 21, 2011

A serpent's tooth

Because I've had it out from Netflix since before legislative session started, I finally got around to watching Confetti, a mockumentary about three couples vying for "Most Original Wedding" and fame and fortune on the cover of a wedding magazine.

The problem from the start was that two of the three couples didn't seem to work as couples. And the couple that did had the most gender-stereotyped nostalgic wedding (a Top Hat-esque musical number), and (spoiler alert) of course they won the contest. Ironically, I thought the really annoying couple (super-competitive tennis players) had the most original wedding, and the nudist couple were just there for shock value.

I think the film was trying to mimic Christopher Guest's hilarious faux-documentaries, but it in my mind it fell far short.

In a similar vein, I found myself a little disappointed with Fool, Christopher Moore's retelling of King Lear from the fool's point of view. It took great liberties with the plot, which was to be expected.

The concept was great - since the fool appears so little in Shakespeare's play (plays if you count the quarto and folio as two), his off-stage activities leave a lot to be imagined. It turns out, in Moore's story, that he is secretly directing the flow of events by both accident and design. It's an old theme: the fool as wise man, the caste-less as the most noble or powerful, the public funny face contrasting with the private personal struggles, the acerbic wit a biting social commentary.

As the author's postscript notes, the play was performed for centuries with a rewritten happier ending, so this particular new revision is nothing new. I was intrigued for the first half of the book, when it largely paralleled the original, but then by the end got tired of the obvious deviation from it. Honestly, most of it was the numerous incestuous plot twists - though true to both the time and the rank of the characters themselves, this modern reader was really grossed out and disturbed by it all.

There were, however, several clever aspects that I loved. For starters, chapters were peppered with casual quotes (and characters!) from Shakespeare's other works, which were great little inside jokes. Turning Shakespeare's greatest tragedy into a partially irreverent sex romp was also subversively laudable.

In the end, I appreciate all Shakespeare retellings, remakes, reiterations, and reduxes. I don't always love them all (like this one), but I love the creativity that goes into re-imagining a well-known and well-regarded classic.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In sunshine or in shadow

As someone who can sing "Danny Boy" by heart (in various harmonies), I lovelovelove the Muppets' version:

Thanks to the FG for posting on FB!

In related news, in support of a rally in Olympia today, we sent out an email alert from a staff member named Erin. Totally went over our heads that that made sense on St. Patrick's Day until a member replied, "Erin Go Bragh!"

Love that too.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart

I am admittedly biased because Mi Hermana is a linguist, but the short documentary (56 minutes!) about two American linguists documenting dying languages around the world is a must-see for anyone who cares about language, communication, and knowledge in general.

Two linguists visit Siberia, India, Bolivia, and Arizona to find native speakers of dying languages. In doing so, they address some of the reasons languages become extinct: no writing system, colonization, economic opportunities associated with speaking a dominant language, social pressure to stop speaking a language.

But the most compelling reason to try and document dying languages: that language is the complex expression of human knowledge itself, and unique ways of seeing the world will die with the language's last speaker. In India, for instance, they found a numerical system based in both 12 and 20; in Bolivia, a moribund language taught to only male healers contains generations of medicinal knowledge; in Siberia, one-word sentences include subjects, verbs, and objects.

For me, the most powerful takeaway from the film was something one of the linguists said, in a call to action for fellow linguists: "I don't see how you can justify devoting your research career to the syntax of French - a language with millions of speakers - when the skills that you possess could help document a language that is going to go extinct in your lifetime."

I know not everyone (in any field) feels called to be an activist, and that linguists who do study the syntax of dominant languages are also doing good work and contributing to the body of human knowledge. But that statement was one of the many poignant moments from the film. Another would be the last speaker of a vanishing language in Arizona admitting that he talks to himself in it because there's no one left with whom he can carry on a fluent conversation.

Again, I'm admittedly biased because my own mother didn't teach me or my sisters Tagalog (and we resisted the few lessons she sent us to anyway - children choosing not to speak languages is another reason they die). Tagalog is by no means a vanishing language, but passing on a language to children can be incredibly difficult if it's not spoken in the home or elsewhere in their lives. Mi Hermana is having problems teaching the ping├╝initos Spanish while living in Michigan, and La Otra Hermana is trying to teach the kiddos Samoan completely separate from any regularly spoken exposure to it.

Since St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner and all things Irish are everywhere in America, I'm reminded of some of the classes I took comparing the Welsh and Irish efforts at reviving the respective languages that English eventually replaced. Some were successful, some were not; elsewhere in the world, resources are not necessarily available to resurrect a linguistic identity and culture.

At any rate, The Linguists is definitely on my list of highly recommended films.

Chess on ice

New in the "2011 is the sportiest year ever" saga: curling!

Two friends' joint birthday celebrations started off with a visit to the open house for Seattle's curling club, where non-members get a quick lesson and some time on the ice.

Fun fun!

Sweeping was equally as fun as actually throwing the stone across the ice.

And what with the many Cross of St. Andrew emblems and the club's excellent scotch selection, I felt right at home.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Le singe est sur la branche, every inch a king

Because my brain has been a little fried lately, I watched Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill. I think I've seen snippets somewhere before - the last half of the show was very familiar.

Nothing like watching an intelligent stand-up comedian whose routines draw on history and language to restore a vestige of my sanity.

One thing that did not help with restoring sanity: re-reading King Lear, which is currently overdue at the library and accruing fines.

It remains, undoubtedly, a masterfully told tragedy about family, betrayal, loyalty, duty, power, and nature. But it is a rather depressing tale after dealing with budget cuts and union busting for two straight weeks.

Oh, and La Otra (Loca) Hermana is moving to New Zealand in a month. She's quitting her teaching job and moving to Wellington with the children so that her husband can possibly find a better job in his hometown. It all came about very last-minute, and it is an understatement to say that Mi Hermana is incredibly hurt that they won't wait until she'll be in Seattle in June (for La Madre's surprise birthday party) so she can say goodbye to the little ones. I'll also miss the kids something fierce.

Maybe King Lear was close to home after all...