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Thursday, January 2nd, 2020
10:18 pm - Collected Fanfiction Post
Links to all fanfiction I've written in various fandoms. That I'm admitting to.

Alias )

Angel the Series )

Babylon 5 )

Battlestar Galactica )

Breaking Bad )

Buffy the Vampire Slayer )

Citizen Kane )

Doctor Who )

Farscape )

Earth: Final Conflict )

Heroes )

Highlander: The Series )

Historical Fiction )

Lost )


Merlin )

Mythology )

Once upon a time )

Rome )

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine )

Star Trek: The Next Generation )

Star Wars )

Sunset Boulevard )

The Americans )

The Beatles )

The Borgias )
The Godfather )

Torchwood )

X-Men )

The West Wing )

Crossovers )

current mood: exhausted

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Saturday, August 27th, 2016
8:39 am - West Side Story (Salzburg Festival Production)
Starring Cecilia Bartoli as Maria; I saw it on Thursday and with one important caveat loved it. If you've read/heard about the production, you'll probably be familiar with the central gimmick; the critic of the Süddeutsche Zeitung suspected it's the result of the director anticipating cruel remarks re: the age difference between Cecilia Bartoli and the rest of the youthful cast, and preventing it by using that very age difference: the production is Maria, decades after Tony's death, remembering the events of her youth.

This I knew in advance, but what I hadn't known was that there's also a young Maria on stage, which works out surprisingly well. Young Maria does all the speaking and interacting, and the fact that older Maria (I can't write "old" Maria, because La Bartoli is a youthful looking 50 something) can't touch any of the characters (until the very end) contributes to the poignancy, though she sometimes acts as a mirror/contrast to her younger self in movements. Young Maria wears the traditional white dress until the last scene, older Maria the black dress from the last scene throughout. This concepts also changes the context/subtext of several songs: "I feel pretty", for example, is now older Maria looking back with amusement and a mixture of joy and longing to her young self, and "Tonight", in addition to being young Tony and Maria being passionately in love, is also older Maria with Cecilia Bartoli's mature mezzo soprano voice longing for what she's lost. The arrangement for "Somewhere" in this production isn't a duet between Tony and Maria, it's older Maria, having just relived the deaths of her brother and Riff and knowing what's to come for Tony, grieving and protesting fate. And so forth.

Unfortunately, where this is all working towards is my one big nitpick/caveat/complaint/what have you, the very end of the production: Which is spoilery even if you're familiar with West Side Story. )

Other thoughts: the production was firmly set in the late 50s (as indicated by the boys' hair cuts and girls' dresses), with no attempt to update, but the blatant racism shown towards the Puerto Ricans and all the "who asked you to come here?" had very present day resonance for the audience; you could tell. Which is why I regret the production uses the original arrangement for "America" (i.e. Anita and her friends), not the revised arrangement and lyrics from the movie version (all the Sharks), because I heretically happen to consider the later one better, especially in the current day situation, see also this old entry as to the reasons, complete with quotes. Otoh the production swayed me a bit on my other movie-caused perference, i.e. the switch of places between "Cool" and "Gee, Officer Kruppke". In its original place, as in this production, "Cool" contributes to working up the tension among the Jets that's about to become lethal none too much later.

About that, though: seeing how skillfully Tony shames/manipulates the Jets and Sharks earlier into a one on one fist fight instead of the big rumble, it's frustrating to see him go about stopping the fight incredibly clumsily and with apparantly no plan beyond "I'll just say stop". Here, good old Shakespeare made the relevant plot point more plausible (i.e. Tybalt challenges Romeo, Romeo, newly wed to Juliet, has no intention of accepting, Mercutio is angry on his behalf and starts to fight Tybalt instead, Romeo tries to stop it, Mercutio's death happens, etc. On the other hand, I agreed, once again, with Arthur Laurents' boast that he bettered Shakespeare on the final tragic twist; Romeo simply not getting Friar Laurents' letter because the plague hits Mantua is an accident, the Jets assaulting Anita, thereby causing her not to deliver Maria's message to Tony, is directly related to the hatred and feuding that's been going on through the play. And that assault scene remains shoking and yet one of those instances where I consider it dramatically necessary and justified to have been written. (BTW, it's always interesting to see what the individual productions do with Anybodys during that scene. Most I've seen let her back off - but not intervene - when she realises where this is going; this one, taking its cue from the fact she's taunting Anita verbally early on, lets her be one of the pack assaulting Anita, the ultimate consequence of her desire to be one of the boys, and then caught up the shame when Doc puts an end to it.)

Bernstein's music remains glorious no matter how often I listen to it, and it occured to me that the lyrics for "Officer Kruppke" with their wordplay and sarcasm are classic Sondheim already. I wish these two would have collaborated more often. Then again, who's to say that more masterpieces would have resulted - maybe the uniqueness of the situation contributed to it.

In conclusion: despite my objection to the ending, a great experience in the theatre. Definitely worth a trip to Salzburg for.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: impressed

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Friday, August 26th, 2016
5:03 pm - Multifandom recs

The BBC is currently broadcasting a radio version of Night Watch, available on iplayer for us non-British folks, and I'm listening, enthralled, to the first episode.

Blake's 7:

If you're a B7 fan, chances are you've already read this, but if you have not: a great new essay, on B7, Blake, Gareth Thomas and Chris Boucher. It's passionate and highly enjoyable to read. (Minus a few unneccessary swipes at non-B7 topics such as John Crichton, Clara Oswald and David Tennant's performance as Richard II. But it would be a boring internet life if we agreed on everything with the people we agree on some things. :)

Stephen King:

Handy and amusing flowchart showing how all the novels and characters are connected.


The Lingering Reminders: hands down one of the best, most even handed post-Civil War stories, in which Tony Stark runs across one of Peggy Carter's old mates. No, not that one. The author's take on old Jack Thompson feels extremely plausible, and there's a hilarious inside gag if you're familiar with the Spider-man mythology. (If you're not, you'll still be amused.) Great mixture of humor and angst all around.


Sons of York: Great take on Shakespeare's version of the York family, specifically the two Richards, father and son.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: pensive

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Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016
8:15 am - The Diary of River Song (Series One)
Aka Big Finish using the fact they finally got license for the New Who characters, big time. This audio series consists of six episodes, about an hour long, each written by a different writer and with an overreaching story arc, though each adventure is more or less self contained as well. Continuity-wise, this seems to be post-Demon's Run, pre-Library (obviously) in River's time line. It also was conceived and produced before The Husbands of River Song was broadcast, I'd wager, because this River on her own while still capable of ruthlessness has a much stronger commitment to ethics than the one from the most recent Christmas Special.

Overall impression: enjoyable, Alex Kingston is great, of course, the guest voice actors are good, and so far it navigates around the inherent prequel problem of us knowing River's ending and the way she can't come face to face with any pre-Ten Doctor in a memorable way pretty well. When I heard that the Eighth Doctor guest stars in one of the episodes, I assumed he'll get yet another case of amnesia (because this keeps happening to Eight), but no, the writer of the episode in question solves the continuity problem another way. Go him! The season also, like Doctor Who itself, uses the opportunity to try different types of tropes.

Individual episodes:

The Boundless Sea, written by Jenny T. Colgan: allows River to start out depressed and shaken, instead of being the unflappable-no-matter-the-trauma guest star she usually is on DW. This not being season 6 of Buffy, she gets over it in the course of the episode's adventure, which is essentially a classical Universal horror story with walking mummies in Egypt (if you've read my Penny Dreadful reviews, you know this part satisfied an urge), complete with clueless (OR ARE THEY?) archaelogists and civil servants. The episode's "monster" is more like a tragic antagonist and also an obvious reflection/counterpart of River herself (originally entombed for the sake of her husband), though I'm not sure I buy what the script seems to be getting at. Introduces Alexander "Mordred from Merlin" Vlahos' character Bertie Potts.

I went to a marvellous party, written by Justin Richards: introduces the season's true antagonists, the self-styled "Rulers", who are the classic type of rich privileged callous bastards you love to boo-hiss at. Also a Christie-homage paying murder mystery and a con story. Alexander Siddig's character is a bit of a let down in that he's not around for long and doesn't interact with River much, but River solving the mystery while also tricking the "Rulers" and screwing them over was very satisfying to listen to.

Signs by James Goss: co-starring Samuel West, and essentially Gaslight in space. Very creepy for what is clear to the audience though not River (for plot reasons) from the start. Also inadvertendly supplying an additional explanation as to why River has trouble realising Twelve is the Doctor in The Husbands of River Song. West is good in a role that's spoilery, sweetie ). Not one to re-listen to, I don't think, though not because it's not good.

The Rulers of the Universe, written by Matt Fitton: in which the various plot threads from previous episodes come together, there's a showdown with two antagonists at once, both the "Rulers" and the ones introduced in "Signs", and River manages to work with the Eighth Doctor to save the day without actually meeting him, and yet they interact, sort of. (It's great team work, btw.) Both how River foils the Rulers and how the Doctor foils Those Other Guys are classic for the characters, and it's a good conclusion to this audio-season.

Wishes for season 2: has Big Finish the rights for Amy and Rory, too? Because I really truly want an episode long interaction between River and her parents post-reveal.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: contemplative

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Monday, August 22nd, 2016
12:06 pm - Two more Black Sails fanfic recs
Here we stand: missing scene between Silver and Max post s2 and pre s3, while Captains Flint, Vane and Rackham are busy negotiating. It shows how they've both changed since the pilot and what remains the same with them, and has their voices down perfectly.

They that sow the wind: plotty prequel AU in which James McGraw doesn't come back from that first trip to Nassau, and Miranda and Thomas have to rescue him. Fun take on my favourite Black Sails trio, and it uses the ensemble well to boot.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: calm

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Friday, August 19th, 2016
11:34 am - "Damaged Goods" and "All Consuming Fire" (Doctor Who, Big Finish Audios)
Big Finish has started doing dramatizations of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels that were published in the 1990s. Both audios I aquired in Britain feature the Seventh Doctor, but admittedly that was a minor reason for picking these two instead of others; I picked "All Consuming Fire" because it co-stars Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, and I picked "Damaged Goods" because the young Doctor Who fan turned writer responsible for the original novel was one Russell T. Davies.


Damaged Goods: [personal profile] londonkds told me that RTD hadn't wanted the novel to be republished once New Who hit the screens, which would have been an option, because he considered it too violent and dark for the kids. Having listened to the audio, which, googling a description of the novel tells me, Big Finish did brighten up a bit: no kidding. Even the Big Finish death score is still high, but that's actually the least of it (after all, both Old and New Who have the occasional episode where a lot of people die, if usually off screen - there was that time the Master wiped out a quarter of the galaxy back in Five's day, for example). It's the psychological and emotional darkness in one of the major plot threads.

Damaged Goods foreshadows a lot of later RTD, and not just because there's an estate family, last name Tyler, involved, joining Vince Tyler from Queer as Folk, Rose Tyler from DW and Johnny Tyler from The Second Coming. (I swear, if our Rusty ever writes a story set in the Stone Age, you can bet there will be a Neanderthal by the name of Ty-Ler.) The Doctor sends the TARDIS away early in the story because Reasons, and the action takes place entirely in late 80s Britain in a working class council estate. It's ensemble-tastic, and one of the major guest characters, David, is gay and after the male Companion, Chris. (The Companions, Chris and Roz, were from the New Adventures, I take it, not RTD original creations, but this is there debut in Big Finish; they're played by RTD veterans, Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman.) Chris' subplot allows for a very RTD subversion of a certain cliché; at first, when Chris seems to ignore David's various code-spoken hints about "one of us", "a friend of Dorothy" etc., it seems like the conventional joke of a straight character not getting that a gay one is making a pass, but then, when David says "you really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?", Chris impatiently retorts "yeah, I get that you're hitting on me, what I don't get is why you don't just ask instead of all this code talk" (because Chris isn't from the 1980s but from the future, where categories aren't relevant - hello, Jack). This, google tells me, in the novel leads to actual sex; Big Finish toned it down from a blow job to just snogging for the audio version (no blow job in Big Finish?), but either way, leave it to RTD to let the "Companion and guest character flirt" trope result in m/m for once.

(Otherwise, David is luckier than his novel counter part; spoilery fate comparisons ensue ))

The middle-aged mother figure is divided between the good one (working class Winnie Tyler) and the bad one (upper class Eva Jericho), though just how much Eva's actions are the result from her going bonkers for plot reasons and how much is character is up to debate. Because of a dialogue between Eva and her husband that reminded me a bit of the COBRA scene from Torchwood: Children of Earth where Denise Riley suggests statistics to deal with a certain selection (it's that type of class cruelty verbalized), I'm going with "character, with worst traits amplified due to plot" myself. Anyway, the Mrs. Jericho subplot is the one I was referring to when saying I get why this one isn't for children. (Otoh Eva in the audio has a moment of redemption she doesn't have in the novel, according to google.)

Other than Eva and the British class system, the antagonist/threat/menace of Damaged Goods is an ancient Gallifreyan weapon reminding us that the Time Lords had a spectacularly nasty imagination when it comes to creating these things. Spoilery plot detail discussed that connects this with New Who and Old Who alike ) There's also the dastardly scientist conducting experiments who shows up not just in RTD written stories, granted, but, this being an RTD story, turns out to be working for - well, that differs from the novel (which tied him to an ongoing New Adventures subplot) and the audio (which instead has him working for another Rusty creation, give you three guesses which one.) And various drug dealers, drugs being one of the plot threats mingling the late 80s estate setting with the sci fi. (The drug in the audio is called "Smile"; in the novel, it's plain old cocaine. The function is the same, plot wise.)

Doctor and Companions characterisation: this is a post-Ace, melancholic Seven, though he does indulge in a magic trick in order to get one of the kids to trust him. Roz is a classic no-nonsense sensible and compassionate RTD female; Chris comes across as a bit more reckless and less sensible, but he also does the emotional bonding with locals (and not just because David hits on him). Neither of them looks like they are in danger of making the Doctor the center of their universe. That Roz is black while Chris is white is mentioned two times, but otherwise doesn't impact the plot.

Pace: after establishing "The Quadrant", the estate in which most of the action takes place, it's pretty rapid, but with enough room for character and comedy scenes (the cultural misunderstanding between David and Jack, the somewhat tense situation between Winnie Tyler and her daughter Bev) and the pitch black dysfunctional marriage scene where Eva Jericho crosses the moral horizon and which RTD later cribbed for his Second Coming. (I checked; it seems to be identical in the original novel and the audio, not changed via adaption.)

In conclusion: worth listening to, even if it leaves you reeling, because the story does make you care about its characters.

All Consuming Fire: original novel by Andy Lane, also a later veteran, and in fact at least in the audio adaption a bit more heavy on the Sherlock Holmes side than on the Doctor Who side of crossover-dom. The first half is narrated entirely by Watson, Bernice Summerfield (the original space archaelogist with ties to the Doctor long before River Song was a blink in Stephen Moffat's eye) doesn't show up until the second half of the story, and Ace, minus two very brief cameos, not until the last 15 minutes. Before that point, it's Holmes and Watson on the case, occasionally running into a mysterious stranger defying the Sherlock Scan because Holmes can't tell anything about his origins other than the mud on his shoes not being from earth.

Within this premise, the story is, as I said, great fun. The Doctor is suitably enigmatic and twinkly for the occasion, Watson has the good taste of flirting with Bennie even if he's a bit taken aback by her forwardness, and Holmes is somewhat irritated by the Doctor but far too logical and pragmatic not to take help when it comes in useful. In a postmodern twist on Doyle's imperialist tropes, the dastardly Indian cult involved is actually a dastardly British Empire cult (and while Holmes and Watson are faithful subjects, they definitely don't agree with murder, hence aren't deterred from pursuing). And there are cats! What the Doctor does re: the cats at the end is one of my favourite things about the story.

Now I could nitpick that I seem to recall Sherlock Holmes was said to be a fictional character in the Whoverse as early as the Second Doctor's era, but who cares? Not this listener. Highly enjoyable.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: content

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Wednesday, August 17th, 2016
6:30 pm - Reality beating Satire again: UK version
Can't decide whether I want this to be true or not. I mean, obviously I don't want Farage in my country: we've got our own blustery bigots, you can keep yours, Britain. But there's no danger of him actually getting German citizenship - married to a German or not, he'd have to prove several years of residency -, and the utter shamelessness of applying for it in order to keep the benefits of being an EU member after doing his best to ruin it for the rest of Britain makes for a good narrative. Also, I have fun imagining him trapped in endless bureaucracy, with every civil servant on whose desk his application for citizenship lands taking a special pleasure in flinging yet more red tape at Farage.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: giddy

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Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
5:45 am - Jennie (Lady Randolph Churchill) (TV Miniseries)
More obscure British 1970s bio miniseries tv not produced by the BBC. Or not so obscure, since this one won its leading lady a BAFTA, but it was certainly new to me.

Reasons for watching: was scripted by Julian Mitchell (who due to "Another Country" and "Vincent and Theo" has a lot of good will on my part), stars a lot of classy actors in supporting parts (Jeremy Brett, THE Sherlock Holmes, as one of Jennie's lovers, Count Kinsky - really his name; Sian Philips, the Empress Livia herself, as Stella Patrick Campbell, the actress who makes off with Jennie's second husband; Patrick "The Second Doctor" Throughton as Benjamin Disraeli), and of course I was curious about a 70s take on the enterprising Jennie, the anti-Henry James heroine in that she was an American girl in Europe marrying into the aristocracy more often than not winning at sex and politics alike. Also, of course, she produced Winston Churchill who adored her ("'She shone for me like the evening star").

It's a seven parts miniseries covering Jennie's life from her meeting Randolph, younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, till her death. Jennie is played by Lee Remick, and remarkably for a female leading lady, she's actually allowed to age on screen, albeit only in the last two episodes, and the aging make-up, compared to ther 70s efforts, isn't bad, either. (Seriously: I'm still annoyed by the much more recent Queen of the Desert about Gertrude Bell, a film with which many things are wrong, and that Nicole Kidman, playing a woman travelling outdoors for years, looks the same - young - age for decades is but one.) The scripts are witty and Wildean, weaving the actual aphorisms (Jennie about husband No.3: "I have a past, he has a future, we should be fine") in effortlessly. Remarkakbly for a female main character who is the mother of a famous historical figure, Jennie, not unlikely for a woman in her class and age, isn't depicted as overflowing with motherhood during the childhood of her two sons but leaves much of the actual raising to servants and boarding schools, getting truly involved only once the boys are old enough to have challenging conversations with ("hm, Winnie, you're going to be interesting after all"), and that isn't something the narrative condems her for or presents as a disaster.

Mitchell, Google tells me, had access to the Churchills papers for this, including the Jennie-Randolph correspondence, but his depiction of Randolph dying of syphilis is nonetheless now outdated, the internet also tells me which says Randolph probably died of a brain tumor. Be that as it may, the Jennie-Randolph marriage of course takes up a great part of the first half of the show, with Jennie depicted as a "political wife" who thoroughly enjoys throwing herself into campaigning and who very much shares Randolph's ambitions to make it to the top, not just because she loves him (though she does), but because she wants to get to No.10 herself, and it's one of her life's frustrations she never does (and doesn't live long enough to see Winston there, either, she dies in 1921). The falling apart of the marriage is mostly blamed on the syphilis, with Jennie going from flirtation to actual affair with Count Kinsky only after Randolph has revealed it to her (which btw is a fantastic scene). (Jennie's non-Kinsky affairs are discreetly referenced in dialogue, leaving it open which are flirts and which are more, except those which end up in marriage. The only man other than Kinsky whom we see Jennie with and whom she doesn't end up marrying is the Prince of Wales, and there again the scene is ambigous enough to leave it open whether it's a friendship with benefits or not - they're having breakfast together - fully dressed - and chatting about her current younger lover whom she intends to marry, which he advises her against.)

The most enduring relatonship Jennie has with another woman is with her sister Leonie, which is a fun sibling relationship consisting equally of bickering and support; the family dynamics in general are fun with a touch of the dysfunctional that never gets really dark, with Jennie's two grown up sons, Winston and Jack, being less than thrilled about husband No.2, George, who is exactly as old as Winston (not least because Winston is afraid this will harm his election chances and cause public ridicule) but basically leaving it at eye rolling over George who is depicted as something of a brainless boytoy without malice. (Winston hides in his treehouse from having to interact with him at one point when George wants to go on a drive together, I kid you not. Bear in mind both men are in their late 20s. The treehouse keeps getting used.) They're also a family great at verbal sparring and general wit but Mitchell never lets them get truly hurtful against each other, except for Randolph when he's already deranged by syphilis. Oh, and there is this gem in the last episode in a post WWI party:

Supporting Character A: Everyone keeps saying "Freud says" or "according to Freud" - who IS Freud, do you know?
Supporting Character B: The chap who claims all men are really in love with their mothers.
Camera: pans to Winston, watching Jennie dance enchantedly
Supporting Character A: How ridiculous.

I see what you did there, Julian Mitchell. Seriously though, while both of Jennie's daughters-in-law are depicted as amiable ladies with whom she gets on much better than she did with her own mother-in-law, she's presented as THE woman in both her sons' lives, not just in the sense of being their confidant but also their political support.

Which brings me to one of the few frustrations I had with the show: the utter lack of actual political context. By which I mean: when Jennie is campaigning for Randolph or Randolph is making speeches in the House, there is no information given as to what the opposition thinks. When Winston changes parties from Tory to Liberal pre WWI, we find this out via a highly entertaining Winston and George passive aggressive taking pot shots at each other scene, which is all very well (and as I said highly entertaining) but gives absolutely no information as to why Winston did this, or what Jennie (a life long Tory) thinks of it. When Jennie is indignant about Winston losing his war time Lord of the Admiralty post and rails against PM Asquith's treachery and how Winston is made a scapegoat, it would have helped to get some information about just why Asquith had to sack Winston and why Churchill's performance in WWI was considered such a royal screw up, but no, we don't get any of this. The entire miniseries is so tunnel vision Tory-as-tied-to-Churchills pov that it's almost a miracle that during the Boer war, we get the closest thing it ever does to voicing what other people think. The scene: Jennie wants to organize a demonstration of US support for the British war effort. A friend, played by Zoe Wannamaker, points out that um, a lot of Americans are actually pro-Boer in this war, and "well, Jennie, I don't agree with what Britain is doing, either". Then Jennie who is excellent at winning people over does her Jennie thing and tells her friend that surely, supporting Jennie's effort to send a medical ship to the war which would also accept Boer patients is something her friend CAN do, the friend agrees, end of scene. Any information as to why "a lot of Americans" weren't Team Britain in the Boer war? Not given. The Boer war is important in this show because war correspondant Winston gets captured and escapes, not because, say, the concentration camp is invented, or patriotic hysteria prefigures the WWI climate; none of this is as much as hinted at.

(The contrast to the equally 70s miniseries about David Lloyd George I watched last year is especially starting in this regard, though of course Lloyd George taking an unpopular stand against the Boer war and nearly getting lynched as a result was a big event in his career so there had to be some depiction of context.)

All in all: entertaining, witty, also a feast for the eyes (Jennie being one of the heralded beauties of the age, Lee Remick gets to wear a lot of gorgeous dresses), but amazingly uncritical about the British Empire and its attitudes from the future author of Another Country.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: busy

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Sunday, August 14th, 2016
3:46 pm - Black Sails recs
Like I suspected, it's a loooong, long, year, waiting for the fourth (and final, alas) season. So it's fortunate that there's fanfiction to share.

Quid Pro Quo: a fantastic Madi pov which for once is about her, about growing into her leader role while interacting with her for-now allies; and the characterisation of our regular cast is also superb (special shout out for Anne Bonny's advice of how to deal with pirates).

Betsy in the Doldrums: in which the mystery of where Betsy the cat disappeared to after season 1 is cleared up; also, the Silver and Flint interaction is hilarous.

The Barlow Woman: A Lady, A Pirate-Maker, A Faithful Soul: in which Charles Vanes at a certain point in s3 tries to make awkward conversation with Flint about, of all the subjects, Miranda Barlow. Touching and amusing in turns.

This entry was originally posted at Comment there or here, as you wish.

current mood: busy

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Saturday, August 13th, 2016
8:38 am - Will Shakespeare (Miniseries)
Another result from my London trip: this miniseries from 1978, the existence of which had been unknown to me before. It stars a young Tim Curry as Shakespeare, a young Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe, and was written by John Mortimer of Rumpole of the Bailey fame.

Structure wise, it consists of six episodes covering the ca. 16 years Shakespeare spent in London, each episode putting one of the works in central focus. (Mostly plays, but episode 3 picks the Sonnets for plot obvious reasons.) As far as attempts to tackle the Bard in screen fiction are concerned, this works far better than the Rupert Graves starring movie I came back with last year. Not least because the Lord Chamberlain's Men players actually get to do more than cameos and are real characters - especially Jack Rice, who in this version plays most of the Shakespearean heroines (and btw, the staging of the Elizabethan theatre scenes does this without attempt at camp when he's playing them, as opposed to the brief excerpt from the A Midsummer Night's Dream mechanicals scene, which goes for the traditional broad comedy) -, and because the characterisation keeps the balance between sympathetic and flawed for Shakespeare himself. Which is to say: he's likeable and he's a lousy husband and father, which the series is aware of, not either/or, and there's no attempt made to blame Anne for either. (Anne and the kids don't show up before episode 4, but when they do, it's clear whose fault the situation is.)

Given the 1978 production date and the fact the miniseries does inevitably go the "the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady were real people" route, I was curious how they handle the sexuality question. Turns out that while we don't get as much as an m/m kiss, the Will/Southhampton relationship (the miniseries goes with Southhampton as Mr. W.H.) is unambigiously romantic. In fact, he solely beds the Dark Lady because he's jealous that Will's spending time with her, while Will partly goes into that affair because he wants something not-Hal (Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southhampton, goes by the "Hal" moniker here, and draw your Shakespearean conclusions) in his life. The narrative isn't very interested in the Dark Lady per se - here, she's a fictional character named Mary Fleminge, wife of a Judge - and she's far less on screen than Hal who shows up in episode 2 and remains in the series till the end. He's one of the more interesting Mr. W.H.'s, not just drop dead gorgeous to look at (actor: Nicholas Clay), which is a requirement given all the sonnet praise, but charming enough to make it clear why Will sticks around for more than patronage and aesthetics; reckless; also completely privileged and incapabable of seeing other povs, until the disaster of the Essex rebellion and his stint in the Tower give him a wake up call, at which point he belatedly grows up, but into self serving courtier ridding himself of his scandalous past. He doesn't exactly tell Will "I know thee not" when the later commits the faux pas of calling him "Hal" at court (in Will's defense, this is the first time they've seen each other since Southampton was released from the Tower), but he does pretend not to know him.

Curry, whom I've mostly seen in over the top roles, plays Will as mostly a low-key keen observer with something of a wild streak that Marlowe and Southampton bring out, a good friend and colleague to the players but also with a streak of selfishness re: anyone from Stratford. He adores his son but only as long as the kid doesn't make uncomfortable demands, and has zilch interest in his daughters. (This being a 70s series, you could of course argue whether or not this is intentional male chauvinism as a flaw, but given that we get a scene where Will makes up a story (a Midsummer Night's Dream, btw, which makes me wonder, since this predates Sandman, whether Neil Gaiman watched this) for Hamnet and then cut to Judith asking Anne whether her father will ever invent a story for her the way he does for her twin, I'm going with "intentional". (Seriously, though, there are a lot of echoes/foreshadowings/what not to the Sandman "Dream" story if you've read it - Hamnet is welcomed by the players in costume as Titania and Oberon and Jack Rice-as-Titania tells him he'll stay in their realm, for example.)

Except for Marlowe, no other writer shows up (so much for you, Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher), and Marlowe is only in the first episode (which is very much about him and called "Dead Shephard"), but young Ian McShane has predictable fun in the part; the series' interpretation of Marlowe is that he craved real life danger and excitement, not just the written variety, thus volunteered for spying, but made no bones of the fact he had equal distate for both Protestants and Catholics, which ended up getting him distrusted and killed. The "those who do not love boys or tobacco" quote is used, and the two scenes where Marlowe first gets young Will to write Henry VI, Part I for him since he's too bored by the premise ("baronnial bullies waring with each other, none better than the others") and later beta-reads/edits in his Marlowian way (where he gets Will to come up with a personal nightmare scenario to spice up the play, and Will's personal nightmare is, of course, a father killing a son) in their McShane/Curry combination are golden.

Other memorable scenes: the sequence where Jack Rice blackmails the other players into letting him play Lady Anne in Richard III, pulls off a good performance and then later tells Richard Burbage not to stand in a way that makes it impossible for the groundlings to see Rice-as-Anne's face; Will and Hal smouldering at each other; Anne making verbal mincemeat out of Will when he tries to pull the "at least I send money!" defense; Essex and Southampton persuading the players to stage Richard II (that entire episode works like a tense political thriller) in order to promote Essex' rebellion, and then the actual staging (Bolingbroke's player none too subtly costumed in a way that echoes Essex); Elizabeth I. in the fallout orders Shakespeare to play Falstaff scenes for her, and there is a lot of cross cutting from the Queen's face to Will's (that episode parallels Elizabeth/Essex with Will/Hal in that both Elizabeth and Will know the object of their affection is really not worth it but care, and in that scene there's the added layer that Will doesn't know yet whether the players are truly off the hook re: rebellion participation, plus he's worried that Southampton will follow Essex to the block, while the playwright in him is also fascinated by Elizabeth having ordered a man she loves to die, and how she deals with that - he's observing her all the tie); and the already mentioned scene where newly reformed and in King James' favour Hal snubs Will (who is at court because the Lord Chamberlain's men have just become the King's Men).

Faults: the series has so little interest in the Dark Lady/Mary Fleming that we open the relevant episode in medias res, i.e. she already knows Will, and her decision to have sex with Southampton basically happens between two eye blinks with no more motivation than "he's there, I might as well". And while Jack Rice is a fascinating character in the first half of the miniseries, he's reduced to minor supporting player in the second, which may not be a fault given what else is going on, but it irks me because I liked the character so much. Also, I'm still waiting for the Shakespeare bio tv or movie that uses Ben Jonson (and by use, I don't mean him just being name dropped but being his colorful self), and while we're at it, uses Will's younger brother Edmund who was a player, too, for a while.

In conclusion: worth watching, if you can get your hands on it. Oh, for youngsters: this being a 70s series, it also has a 70s pace.

Some of the most memorable scenes:

- Will is lured

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current mood: cheerful

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Thursday, August 11th, 2016
12:45 pm - Watched: Vile Victorians
Some of the loot from my recent London trip:

Effie Gray, which I mostly wanted to watch because Emma Thompson wrote the script. She also plays a supporting role, but given her script for Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility was superb, I was looking forward to this other effort in the writing department. It's a cinematic take on a notoriously bad Victorian marriage, that between our title character, played by Dakota Fanning and John Ruskin, played by Emma Thompsons rl significant other, Greg Wise, in a far cry from his Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. Between ridiculed as a a pretentious fob in Mr. Turner and depicted as an occasionally pitiable and otherwise tyrannical creep here, Ruskin had a bad cinematic 2014, all the since what he was actually famous and beloved for - and the Ruskin-influenced people included artists as diverse as Tolstoy, Wilde and Shaw - is hard to get across in a movie that's not really about him: philosophy and art criticism are hard to dramatize, which means that when Ruskin's suffocatingly overprotective parents keep harping on his genius, an audience not versed in Victoriana is bound to wonder "genius in what?"

No matter. Effie, who, me being a German, inevitably reminded me of fictional Effie Briest, the heroine of Fontane's novel of the same name, marries Ruskin at age 16, has one of the weirdest documented wedding nights when the sight of her naked body ends any attempt at sexual relations before they really start (biographers' speculation as to what exactly put Ruskin off go from the sight of Effie's pubic hair - on the assumption that Ruskin's only familiarity with the female body before this event would have been via paintings, which tend to avoid said hair -, to speculating she was menunstruating to suspecting body odour, finds herself as an ornament in the Ruskin household without anything to do or any companionship to engage in, starts to develop depression and physical ailments and finally, after falling for painter John Millais, gets some legal advice and sues for divorce based on non-consummation and impotence (which is why we know about the wedding night), which is granted, to the scandal of the age. Thompson in her script puts the emphasis on Effie's disintegrating marriage to Ruskin and final escape, not on the romance with Millais (down to the ending, which isn't Effie rushing in Millais' arms but Effie in her getaway chaise at liberty at last -, and on the suffocating, life less atmosphere in the Ruskin household. All of which is depicted sensitively, but also at length, and hard to bear before Effie finally has had enough, good as the actors are. Reminds me of Henry James' novel Portrait of a Lady in that way. Not one that I'll rewatch.

Dickensian: a witty Dickens/Dickens crossover show in 20 episodes, each episode only half an hour long. Basically glorious Dickens prequel fanfiction, with characters from various of his novels resettled to live all in roughly the same London area and crossing paths. This sometimes works perfectly and sometimes feels very forced, as such a premise is wont to do. The actors are clearly having a ball. The main plot threads holding the whole thing together: the "Who killed Jakob Marley?" murder mystery, with Inspector Bucket on the case, Miss Havisham (here given the first name of Amelia) taking on her father's heritage and being schemed against by her brother Arthur and dastardly future Great Expectations villain Compeyson, and the Barbary sisters, Frances and Honoria, whose tortured relationship with each other makes for one of the most compelling subplots. I thought Frances looked familiar in the pilot but not until the credits rolled on did I realise that she was played by Lucy Saxon herself, Alexandra Moen. Then there's the subplot involving Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sikes, which works, and the comic relief one of the Bumbles, which really doesn't (their scenes are easily the most obvious filler element of the show, but then, Dickens wrote lots of filler scenes due to the monthly installment format), not to mention cameo appearances from other worthies.

Like I said, there's some filler stuff, but I marathoned it these last days because it never ceased to hold my interest, and it certainly makes me want to check out Bleak House, the novel Honoria and Frances are from, which is a Dickens novel I haven't read yet. Plus I salute headwriter Tony Jordan and the actors for coming up with a take on Fagin which solves the eternal dilemma that otoh the Dickens original, an unambiguous villain, is hard to render because of the various antisemetic tropes used, but otoh the Oliver! musical version of Fagin as a lovable rogue is white washing and prettifying all the exploitation of children that Dickens was in a genuine rage about and misses the point of the character. Dickensian's Fagin is a hardcore villain and truly exploitative, but he does have some non-exploitative emotions, and is also clever and not be messed with. And the scene where he and pre-Reformation Scrooge encounter each other is a true delight.

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Monday, August 8th, 2016
9:01 am - London Pic Spam, 2016 Edition
Flying back to Munich this afternoon, I leave you with some visual impressions of my time in London, with a brief excursion to Winchester, and to Greenwich.

Museum vom Observatory aus photo image_zps906hv2ec.jpeg

More below the cut )

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current mood: calm

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Sunday, August 7th, 2016
10:35 am - Brushing up my Shakespeare in London
I almost didn't make it to the Almeida on Friday night, which, given that the chance to watch Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in Richard III was one of the reasons why I picked this particular week when my APs gave me a week in London for Christmas, would have been a not so fun irony. The London Underground played one of its tricks, with the Northern Line temporarily breaking down. But thanks to a taxi driver who had a hysterical foreigner in the form of yours truly at hand, I did make it in time. It was an excellent production, with one caveat, and reminded me how much The Hollow Crown version cut. (For example: that terse monologue about Hastings getting framed post-execution which makes it very contemporary indeed.) Contemporary costumes, except for the final battle scenes, for which everyone was in armor and had swords.

The play opened and ended at the car park in Leicester where they found historical Richard III's remains, which I took as an attempt to tie in the revived interest, because otherwise of course the production was firmly Shakespeare, not history, and not just the usual habit of casting middle aged actors as the York brothers but also the women in very different ages to their historical counterparts helps seeing the play as its own 'verse. Fiennes' Richard does the usual "clever mastermind loses it as soon as he actually has power trajectory - come to think of it, I guess the only ursurper whom Shakeskpeare allows to remain subtle instead of ham fisted is Claudius in Hamlet -, with an undercurrent of "both power hunger and misanthropy are the result of being loathed from birth", and he does it well. I've seen a complaint that he doesn't seduce the audience by being charming, complete with trajectory that Fiennes isn't able to. Having recently watched his Monsieur Gustave, I beg to differ: he can be charming, if the role calls for it. His version of Shakespeare's Richard doesn't; he's very compelling, though, more like a clever cobra taking out lots of hapless bunnies before realising he's stuck with lots of dead bodies and no idea what do actually do with them.

I hadn't been sure whether Vanessa Redgrave was playing Queen Margaret or the Duchess of York when [personal profile] londonkds asked me about it; turns out she was Margaret, far less mad than clear-sighted here, though Margaret carrying a baby doll around (which she in her second scene bequeathed to Elizabeth Woodville) was presumably a signal that she's not all there after all. Seriously, though, what I loved about the performance was that this Margaret was both tragic and and vengeful without being over the top about it. There was a stillness in Redgrave when she watched her enemies fall, a slight smile, that reminded even an audience that didn't listen to the textual reminder of her killing of Rutland and York that Margaret is no nice woman wronged, but an aged monster rendered powerless herself. The way she and Richard keep an eye on each other through Margaret's first scene also comes across as two predators knowing each other by instinct, or maybe it's also the star quality both actors have.

Redgrave aside, this was another production making it very clear that Tudor's appearance at the end not withstanding, Richard's true opponents in this play are the women. Hastings - who kept checking his twitter feed - was a bombastic, with non-malignant fool, Clarence naively blind, and Buckingham the not-so-faithful Lieutenant type considering himself somehow excempt from Richard's malignity out of sheer ego. Meanwhile, Joanna Vanderham was a very young (no idea how old the actress is, but she looked at least twenty, if not thirty years younger than Fiennes as Richard) but firm Lady Anne who only just starts to come around at the end of the wooing scene but mostly acts as she does because she doesn't want to become a killer, Susan Engel is the other matriarch, Cecily Nevill, Duchess of York (age wise looks a match with Redgrave, so that bit of internal verse-sense is kept) and her palpable loathing of her son remains, despite all that Richard does, as disturbing as ever. (The production closes with her reappearing on stage, standing at his grave in Leicester and enigmatically staring in it.) Aislin McGuckin was a great Elizabeth Woodville, but alas, her scenes include my one caveat/complaint about this production, though it's no fault of hers or Fiennes' but of the director's decision.

The Richard & Elizabeth scene pre battle of Bosworth goes the traditional way of him by now incapable of swaying his target and her not buying a word of - and then he proceeds to rape her. Now, the way the rape is played makes it clear it's not about hidden sexual attraction but about power and humiliation, and yet another example of Richard resorting to tyrannical power exertion because he can't get what he wants by his wits anymore. It's also in tandem with this Richard projecting his mother issues by misogyny. But still: the rest of the second half of the play makes that point already. And I'm just so tired of rape (the one thing not even Holinshed, More and Shakespeare thought to accuse Richard of, btw) being the default act to signal that a villain is really truly bad. So could have done without that.

Still on a Shakespeare note: the British Library currently has a "Shakespere in Ten Acts" exhibition which I visited with [personal profile] londonkds. Truly full of treasures, starting not just with the expected First Folio but copies of the Robert Greene book containing the "Johannes Factotum" crack about Shakespeare, and the 1602 collection of anecdotes - in hand writing, not in print, which was fascinating to me, since I've rarely seen handwritten bound books in the post Gutenberg era - that contains the "William the Conqueror arrived before Richard III" story about Shakespeare, Burbage and the female fan. There is a rough chronology of the exhibition, but also various of the plays as a central focus in different eras. In the mid 19th century, we get Othello and Ira Aldridge's entire career getting a wall to himself, which I can't help but suspect and hope was influenced by interest in Ira Aldridge being revived through the Adrian Lester starring play I watched the last time I was here. Seeing the posters both British and European was fascinating - and telling, what with the American born Ira billed as "a native of Senegal" in the early English ones. And speaking of black actors playing Othello, I had of course known that Paul Robeson had done so, but not that Laurence Olivier refused to join a Robeson supporting campaign in order to get him to play the role in Britain because, as Olivier openly declared, he wanted to have a go at Othello himself.

There are costumes and stage props of more recent productions, as the 1960s Peter Brook directed Midsummer Night's Dream, and interviews with surviving actors; I was amused to find a recording of the puppet play version of the early German version of Hamlet (hails from ye late 17th and early 19th century days when the Bard was more popular in our part of the world than at home, before Garrick helped him to a comeback). All in all, truly a satisfying anniversary exhibition to visit.

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current mood: contemplative

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Friday, August 5th, 2016
9:42 am - More London, more theatre
Meeting friends is always one of the pleasures of being in London; yesterday I visited the "Sunken Treasures of Egypt" exposition at the British Museum with [personal profile] kathyh and self were amazed at various wooden statues made of Sycamore tree surviving the millennia. (They, btw, looked more Greek than Egyptian and depicted Serapis. This led us to a sidetrack to the Serapeion in Tivoli and Hadrian versus Alexander in who immortalized his grief over his dead boyfriend more efficiently. K and self agreed it was Hadrian but that Alexander would have if he could have; he died too soon after Hephaistos.)

In the evening, after a quick chat with [personal profile] kangeiko, I saw the Kenneth Branagh directed Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick. This one stars Derek Jacobi as Mercutio, Meera Syal at the Nurse and his two leads from the live action Cinderella, Lily James and Richard Madden, as the lovers, only Richard Madden was down and out and thus I saw the understudy, Freddie Fox. Not being a Jon Snow fan, I didn't mind. Mostly I was curious how Derek Jacobi as Mercutio would work, given, well, the age difference between him and the rest of the cast, and was looking foward to Meera Syal.

Now I wasn't surprised Branagh cast Jacobi per se; he's worked with him so often and clearly loves the man, in the introduction printed in the program he credits DJ with inspiring him to act as a teenager, and he's cast Jacobi as Mercutio once already, in the radio production of Romeo and Juliet he directed back in the 90s (that one had Samantha Bond as Juliet if I recall correctly). I strongly suspect the wish of letting Jacobi do the Queen Mab speech on stage might have also featured into the choice. But of course casting a man Jacobi's age in this particular role alters the dynamics; his Mercutio is basically everybody's fabulous gay uncle, with him and Romeo more resembling a non emotionally violent light side Falstaff and Hal than the bffs (with and without strong homoerotic overtones) the same age they usually end up as. Where the casting almost hits a logical snag but is pulled off by the strongness of acting is Mercutio's duel with Tybalt. Because Fabulous Gay Uncle Mercutio should be wiser than and way past minding that Romeo doesn't challenge Tybalt back, or getting into a duel at all.

The way the production pulls it off: by being in the middle between the two interpretations of the Mercutio versus Tybalt duel I've seen; usually it's either that the duel isn't at first meant to be serious and both are still posturing until Romeo tries to intervene, or that they go at it violently straight away. Here, Mercutio revealing that his walking stick on which he sauntered and danced through the play so far has a hidden blade comes as a shock to everyone, including Tybalt, but it's also clear at this point Mercutio doesn't intend a duel, he just wants to humiliate Tybalt with this shock after Tybalt, in M's pov, has scored one off Romeo due to Romeo not answering the challenge. Mercutio then turns to Romeo as if to say "see, that's how it's done", and that's when Tybalt also draws, which again causes shock in the rest of both gangs. They then start to actually fence a bit, but still stylized; there's the danger of blood letting, and you can see why Romeo is worried and tries to separate them, yet at the same time, arguably both Tybalt and Mercutio are still more posturing than meaning it. Mercutio getting lethally hit is a complete accident due to Romeo's well intentioned separation attempt, not a deliberately meant deadly thrust on Tybalt's part, putting the guilt of it completely on Romeo. Mercutio actually follows stage directions and woundedly walks off stage, which I don't think I've seen before - all the productions, both stage and film, that I've encountered let him die on stage instead of Romeo having to wait for Benvolio's report to freak out and go after Tybalt.

Speaking of Tybalt, the production gives him and Juliet some interaction at the Montague ball, letting them goof around and hug, and he introduces her to the crowd, which I thought was a neat touch, though it also included something that annoyed me throughout - the characters sometimes get random lines in Italian. This presumably is meant to fit with everything being supposedly set in 1950s Italy, fashion wise, and taking its aesthetic cue from La Dolce Vita, but instead only helps making the characters feel like movie Italians, and not in a good way. The programm tells me that the 1950s Italy look is meant to evoke glamor on the surface but deep dysfunction underneath, with fascism but barely over and not talked about, but on stage, there's no sense of that, just of random "ciao, bella" type of interjections.

The one point where it really gets disturbingly dysfunctional is, not surprisingly, the Juliet versus her father scene late in the play, where Papa Capulet not just freaks out at his daughter and manhandles her, which I've seen before, but even slaps his wife and the Nurse around, and that feels like a brief excursion into a 'verse where the bonhommie old Capulet has shown before covers the brutal authoritarian, even fascist, underneath. But that's the only point where I felt what the program claimed was the reason for the setting actually was on stage.

In general, this was a fast paced, enjoyable production - Meera Syal wasn't just an earthy but highly attractive Nurse who wasn't too bothered by the young crowd & Mercutio's comments, and Lily James delivered the gallops pace speech in a way that made it clear even to the last row that this was Juliet looking forward to having sex and was a hormonal young teenager in general, with the big shift when the Nurse switches to Team Paris and Juliet realises she's alone and no longer confides in her coming across clear. Freddie Fox was a seasonably good Romeo, which is why I thought it was a shame his scene with the Apothocary was cut - to me, that scene says a lot about Romeo. I did miss some intensity in his relationship with Mercutio - the production does the by now usual thing where Mercutio gets carried away into his own rethoric in the last third of the Queen Mab speech, and Romeo has to talk him down again, but because of the age difference, this came across as a protegé calms suddenly fragile parental figure thing.

In conclusion: not a must, I've seen better, I've seen worse, but I enjoyed seeing this one.

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current mood: calm

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Thursday, August 4th, 2016
9:41 am - comedy, tragedy: two reviews
London for a week always means theatre time for me. My main treat will happen on Friday, but in the meantime, here are two I already managed to see.

Hobson's Choice: one of those British comedy classics which for some reason I never managed to catch before, including the David Lean film version starring Charles Laughton. This one has Martin Shaw (of The Professionals fame in his younger days) as the title character, but turns out one of those plays where the title character isn't the main character - that would be, without a question, Maggie, ably played by Naomi Frederick. As a pay, it also strikes me as a bit of a late 19th century middle and working class Lear from the daughters' pov, and done as a comedy. Which is to say: at the start of the pla, shoe shop owner Hobson is a petty tyrant to his three daughters, getting drunk in the pub and indulging in grandiose speeches while they do all the (unpaid) work both in the household and in the shop, above all the oldest, Maggie. Through the play, Maggie not only plots her and her sisters' escape but the complete overthrow of her father, establishes a rival business that soon takes away the trade, and by the end takes over the orginal shop while her father (having nearly drunk himself to death without her) concedes utter defeat and has to give complete power to her. If you think about it, there are any number of points where this could have gone into very dark territory, but the production never does - there is never any sense that Hobson's early insults and ongoing humiliations of his daughters have impaired, let alone destroyed their sense of self worth, and Maggie's triumph at the end comes without cruelty, just very matter-of-factly, and the narrative makes it clear she's saving her father's life while she's at it. Plus Maggie is such a force of nature throughout that one in the play is a match for her; that she enlists shy underpaid bootmaker Will for marriage (you could also say: bullies - he really doesn't want to marry her at the start) is one of those things that would look terribly with reversed genders, but again, the play not only goes for the comedy of shy trembling man versus strong no nonsense woman, but also makes it clear Will benefits from Maggie taking over his life; instead of an underpaid exploited worker, he ends up boss of two shops and with a much stronger sense of self worth, standing up for himself.

Everyone involved had great comic timing, and it's easy to see why this play keeps getting revived. It's also something that, like G.B. Shaw's plays, was written as a contemporary story and is now a costume play because you can't update it when its plot and problems are very much that of a specific setting, so late Victorian/early Edwardian costumes (not too grand, we're in Manchester shops, not in Ascot) are used. All in all, I felt greatly entertained, but don't have the urge to watch it again.

1984: adaption of George Orwell's novel by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. Adapting a novel (any novel) for the theatre always is tricky, let alone this one, but team Icke and Macmillan for my money did a superb job of it. One key angle for their angle is the appendix Orwell wrote about Newspeak, which implies that the Party fell after all - since it analyzes from a future perspective that's not totalitarian -, another the question of what makes reality and how to maintain a sense of past and present if you're completely taken over. And thus, you have structures within structures - Winston is remembering, or tries to, the events leading up to his arrest and torture even while he's being tortured and his past is being rewritten (O'Brien's "where do you think you are, Winston?" Question keeps returning through the play?), but at the same time, people from a post - Big Brother world are discussing his diary as a text (fictional? Historical?), and yet that reality, too, with the end of the play is called into question.

Orwell's depiction of a totalitarian state remains as disturbing as ever. (Being German, I didn't read it in school as part of the curriculum, I read it while still at school as part of my spare time reading, and was freaked out in a "wow" way.) And absolutely not dated, au contraire, sad to say. The "hate" rallies and the blaming of Goldstein as a traitor figure for all the misery could be Turkey (and Gülen as Goldstein) now, but you don't have to go East, going West will do, too (see "Lock her up!" Chants at the recent RNC or rallies last autumn in Germany where effigies of Angela Merkel were hanged). The constant recreation of reality to fit the Party's current position, the way blatant lies are accepted no matter or ridiculous they are, and then reversed into new lies again: yes, hello, Brexit campain and aftermath, we don't even have to go to Russia for this.

One element that as a teenager didn't resonate for me the way it does now: when O'Brien, pretending to be a resistance member, gets Winston and Julia to volunteer for any number of criminal acts which sound as if they're taken from the current news but really are in the novel: kill themselves and kill any number of innocent people for the cause, throw acid in a child's face. The recording of this agreement is what O'Brien later uses to demonstrate to Winston that he can't claim moral superiority, and when I read that as a teenager, it didn't seem as effective as later things O'Brien did to me because after all Winston and Julia did none of those things, and it was all a trick. But here, on stage, in an age where people do kill lots of innocents (and themselves) for what they perceive to be a world saving cause against an evil state, it was a devastating moment.

Still not as bad as what followed, though. The way they handle the problem of torture on stage: every time it happens, the white clad goons close in on Winston so the audience can't see him, and when they go back to their position, he's got bloody finger tips, or bleeds out of the mouth etc. And then the rats. Which you don't see at all, but the imagination works overtime at this point and Winston's panicked scream that finally breaks him inwardly as well as outwardly is so harrowing because you couldn't bear it anymore as an audience member as well, even in the tv age of torture torture all the time.

If I have one complaint, than that one of the most disturbing elements of the novel, the strange, perverse intimacy between inquisitor and victim that is there between O'Brien and Winston does not come across. The film version starring Richard Burton (in his last screen role) as O'Brien and John Hurt as Winston Smith managed that, but here between Angus Wright as O'Brien and Andrew Gower as Winston it's not there, and earlier it's also not clear why Winston trusts O'Brien enough to approach him in the first place. Angus Wright is just too obviously chilling a bureaucrat from the start.

The audience isn't left off the hook at any point. One of the most effective uses of modern day technology is that when Winston and Julia are in the room they believe to be without surveillance, cherishing this little bit of privacy, they're not on stage but the audience sees them on screen, being in the position of the surveilling Big Brother in the post Orwell sense themselves. And while the appendix-inspired frame of treating Winston's diary as a historical text (or a historical fiction), complete with debate of mobile phone using contemporaries, could offer some emotional relief (the Party does fall after all, Winston wrote his plea to the future for us), it's called into question again by the end (did the Party fall, or did it just find a different method of controlling and shaping reality?), and the very end isn't the appendix inspired frame but, as in the novel, Winston's last moment of complete emotional capitulation.

I hadn't been sure the dramatic form would be able to get the power of Orwell's fiction across, but did it ever. No intermission, either, it just builds and builds and builds; the emotional effect isn't "now I've seen an adaption of a dystopian classic" but "through a mirror - into the hear and now - darkly".

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Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
8:39 am - Star Trek Beyond (Film Review)
Icon in honor of the other Dr. McCoy, for reasons soon apparant. Overall: benefited from the change of script writing team and director (disclaimer: I actually like J.J. Abrams, mostly due to Alias, and for the same reason, I like Kurtz & Orci, too, but Into Darkness demonstrated they had already reached a dead end). A fun popcorn summer movie on neither end of the bad to great scale as far as Trek movies are concerned.

Virtues: this is finally when Reboot!Bones get stuff to do. The two previous movies arguably had him at No.4 to new the Kirk-Spock-Uhura triad, which since I love Reboot!Uhura (original Uhura, too, of course) wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but also in no way corresponded to the importance of the character in TOS. Here, in addition to his friendship with Kirk getting some good scenes, we finally get the treasured McCoy/Spock relationship as a key feature in the rebootverse as well. Karl Urban takes all the screentime and runs with it.

(Corresponding flaw: otoh, Uhura has less to do than in the two previous reboot movies and what little she has is exposition. Say about Into Darkness what you want - and it does deserve a lot of criticism - but Uhura had some great scenes in it. It seems the Rebootverse can't have both McCoy and Uhura be prominent. Sigh.)

Also, Kirk has finally grown up. In fact, the movie in general doesn't pretend no time has passed since the last one but is set three years into the five years mission, and not only is there not a single Horndog!Kirk scene, but he doesn't indulge in rebel-without-a-cause antics, either. Instead, he's going through almost an early midlife crisis, or rather: questioning where to move with his life next, but in an adult, not in a overgrown teenager manner.

All of the ensemble gets stuff to do, though some more prominently than others, see above; our two prominent new characters are Jaylah (female, alien, has the majority of her scenes with Scotty, but not romantic in nature, falls into the tough and scarred by past female warrior category), and the villain, Krall (Idris Elba, for the majority of the movie about as recognizable as Christpher Ecclestone was in Thor: The Dark World, which is to say, buried under make-up and Evil McEvil - we do find out he's got a backstory and motive in the last reel, but, as I've often said, the ST movies do not live from their villains). The general theme of "better together" and the crew saving the deay through their belief in each other and cooperation with each other is a pleasingly optimistic theme for an anniversary movie, though I have to point out the innate hypocrisy in juxtaposing this to the villain's "conflict is where it's at! Yay fighting!" ethos, because one big problem of the ST movies in genera (i.e. of all Trek casts)l is that they try to fit something that's made for the TV format where you can explore character interaction and do a different type of story - sometimes comedy, sometimes big drama - every week - into the action movie format demanding big fight scenes and a clear cut villain to have a big showdown with, and this is true of this one as well. It feels a bit like Russell Crowe screaming at the Roman audience "is this what you like?" about the bloody spectacle of gladiators when directly Ridley Scott is indulging the movie audiences' fondness for same with this very movie.

Most touching scenes for long time Trekkers: inevitably, not just the tribute to Spock Prime but the entire TOS ensemble. Also, in the credits post movie there are the double dedications to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, which come without any music whatsoever, just as a moment of silence, and it's impossible not to feel the rl sadness there.

Random example of "doing what the last one did, but doing it better": is spoilery. )

All in all: not a must, but enjoyable enough. Now I'm ready for the new tv show!

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current mood: good

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Friday, July 29th, 2016
8:25 am - Reine Mère (Fanfiction for History_Exchange)
Reveal time: this is the story I wrote for this year's [community profile] history_exchange. I swear I meant to write a short one this time, but while it's nowhere as long as my previous effort, Catherine de' Medici and her daughters still demanded a tale in three chapters.

Reine Mère (10908 words) by Selena
Chapters: 3/3
Fandom: Historical RPF, 16th Century CE RPF
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Catherine de' Medici & Elisabeth de Valois, Catherine de' Medici & Claude de France, Catherine de' Medici & Marguerite de Valois, Claude de France & Marguerite de Valois, Henri II de France/Catherine de' Medici, Catherine de' Medici & Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de' Medici & Francis I. of France, Henri II de France/Diane de Poitiers
Characters: Catherine de' Medici, Élisabeth de Valois | Elisabetta di Valois, Claude de France (1547-1575), Marguerite de Valois, Mary I of Scotland | Mary Queen of Scots, Diane de Poitiers, Francis I. of France, Felipe II de España | Philip II of Spain, Henri II de France, Gaspard de Coligny, Henri IV de France, Henri III de France, Clarice Strozzi de' Medici
Additional Tags/: Mother-Daughter Relationship, Motherhood, Power Dynamics, Character Study, Female-Centric, Parent-Child Relationship, Parenthood, Daughters

Catherine de' Medici and her daughters: what forms a woman, a mother, a queen?


In completely unrelated news, last night just before I fell asleep I saw that Jerry Doyle, Mr. Garibaldi from Babylon 5 had died, at only 60 years of age. The B5 ensemble really looks increasingly cursed. Garibaldi was never my favourite character, but he was a firm entry in what I tend to think of my "secondary faves" category, i.e characters who are never my best beloved but whom I always remain fond off, instead of going hot and cold on them. And not just because he played off beautifully to both my favourites, Londo and G'Kar. I found him interesting in his own right, his scenes with Bester were always riveting (and sometimes darkly hilarious), and his was one of the character voices that are very easy to find for fanfiction. For all that Garibaldi was an immensely talkative character, I find that quiet moments are the ones that touched me most, and that was very much due to Jerry Doyle's acting - Garibaldi's face when hearing that Sinclair had been on B5 and left again without seeing him in "War without End", both the big reveal scene in "Face of the Enemy" in s4 - where you see the horror in his eyes - and the confrontation with Bester in s5 when Bester casually says "how stupid do you think I am anyway?" - and his final scene with Londo in the s2 episode where both Garibaldi and the audience know that Londo crossed a moral threshhold and their relationship has irrevocably changed, but Garibaldi has one last drink with his no-more-friend. I did not know Jerry Doyle as a person. But as an actor, he contributed to creating something that means so much to me.

Here is what JMS wrote about him.

2016: get better, please. You've taken so much already, year.

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current mood: creative

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Monday, July 25th, 2016
8:50 am - Grand Budapest Hotel and Rush
Two movies which for some reasons I never caught in the cinema but happened to watch this last week:

Grand Budapest Hotel: is as great as both audience reaction and critics promised. Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedy (well, tragicomedy) role is fabulous and clearly has great fun as the metrosexual Monsieur Gustave, the young actor playing young Zero Mustafa is the perfect deadpan straight man (well, boy) to him, lots of famous actors (sometimes behind tons of make up) in cameos, and I bet Adrien Brody whom I've mostly seen playing soulful sensitive types enjoyed hamming it up as Dimitri the evil nephew. Director Wes Anderson delivers a visual feast, of course, and goes for a novel-istic narrative structure that's almost a parody of same (girl brings classic book to statue of author who in second flashback is shown writing the book narrating how in the third flashback he met the man who told him the story which in the fourth flashback within a flashback turns out to be the gist of the movie - but that structure works with the artificiality/enhanced realism/what have you the movie exudes. It also gleefully ticks of tropes - murder mystery! Caper! Escape from prison! - and between the stylish madness throws in some nostalgia for a lost past that never was, as is verbally acknowledged, and none too subtle arrival of fascism as the not too background threat in the end.

The credits claim this was inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, but to me - and I love some of Zweig's books - this had more of an Ernst Lubitsch feeling, even To be or not to be, honestly. (The writer in the second and third flashback level is made up to look a lot like Zweig, though.) Which is a compliment.

Rush: I'm not a Formula 1 or car racing in general fan, and so I knew only the bare minimum of the incidents portrayed in the movie - to wit, I knew that Niki Lauda - rl spoiler!  ), but no more, and I'd never heard of James Hunt. Otoh I saw that this one was written by Peter Morgan, he of the Blair trilogy and Frost/Nixon fame, specializing in two character stories, and it was starring Chris "Thor" Hemsworth and our own Daniel Brühl, so I thought, why not?

(BTW, this is another movie where the German - or maybe European, I wouldn't know - poster is notably different from the international/US one. The US one I saw online has Hemsworthin the foreground and a blurred version of Brühl in the background. The German one has them both equally clear on the same level. Given that the movie itself treats them both as main characters, with neither being put in the antagonist position, and that Brühl-as-Lauda opens and closes the movie with his narration, so if anyone is a bit more equal than equal, it's him, the prominence of Hemsworth in the international posters is clearly marketing of name value over actual story content.)

Morgan's talent for writing entertaining flawed duos does indeed come through and makes the movie accessible for non-car racing fans like yours truly, together with the acting - Brühl does a great job as Lauda, all focus and disdain for politeness, and Hemsworth does the hedonistic playboy with self destructive streak thing well -, the 1970s setting means 1970s fashion (though thankfully neither main character ever tries that very 70s thing, a Pornstache), and lo and behold, everyone who speaks German actually is a native user of the language, so no weird accent attempts and weirder pronounciation. (If you want to be really nitpicky, Brühl isn't Austrian which Niki Lauda very much is, but I think Brühl does a great job speaking English with an Austrian, not German accent - yes, there's a big difference to our ears! -, and his few lines in German do sound Austrian.) I also can't help but make comparisons to Morgan's earlier efforts in scripting real life duos:

The Deal: Gordon Brown and Tony Blair: both get about the same screentime, but the narrative sympathy is a bit more with Brown, and I'd say he's the pov character, if there's one.

The Queen: Tony Blair and, well, the Queen: same screentime, narrative sympathy given to both main characters, both are also pov characters.

The Special Relationship: Tony Blair and Bill Clinton: Blair gets more screen time and also the main pov, but he's also moving into self deluded character territory by the end of that one, with the narrative giving Clinton, not Blair, the final accurate message.

Frost/Nixon: actually, this one starts with multiple povs - of Frost's staff more than of Frost, because "is tv gadfly Frost up to handling Nixon?" Is part of the suspense, and that works better with Frost as well as Nixon is seen from the outside - but as the story moves on, we're narrowing into Frost's own pov. While Nixon gets ample screentime, I don't think the narrative ever positions us into his pov. Again, "will Frost get Nixon to crack?" Being part of the suspense wouldn't allow that.

Rush: equal screen time and pov to Lauda and Hunt - Hunt gets a few voice overs within the movie as well, just not the opening and closing ones. Neither man is painted as the better racer or person (they're both prone to refer to the other as "asshole", and the audience can see why every time), though I will say in terms of movie heroics, spoiler for aftermath of famous incident ). Since there are no politics involved, the stakes are our characters' lives which they wilfully endanger on a regular basis, so of course the movie asks what type of a person chooses this type of job, and manages to make the audience care for the two results of that question, warts and all.

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current mood: amused

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Saturday, July 23rd, 2016
6:57 am - That is given us
You've probably heard by now what happened in Munich last night. I wasn't anywhere near the Olympiazentrum, I'm in the mountains an hour form Munich right now and in another part of Germany tomorrow, so I did what most people outside Munich did - follow the news and social media in between texting friends to check on them.

Incidentally: re: social media, the people managing the twitter account for the Munich police did a great job (as they've done last year when the refugees from Hungary arrived), reporting what happened, explaining as far as they knew, providing people with landlines and coordinating efforts from helpers. (Not just in German but also in English and French, and Turkish.) Also, the press officer, Marcus da Gloria Martins, who had to do the press conferences, became everyone's instant hero for refusing to be drawn into baiting and insinuating questions, staying calm, and projecting gravitas. (This is him.) Given that wild rumors had several shootings happen all over Munich (not true), and that for hours it wasn't clear whether it was one shooter or several, up to three (it was one), having someone providing information who refused to speculate and stuck to the facts while also communicating, not shutting people's questions down, was really a good thing.

Still: people are dead, killed in the city where I live. Within a week of the axe murderer in the train from Würzburg (which I often take). And a friend of mine, who is working in an organization devoted to helping underage refugees, says they're getting vile hatemail now. (Which has also been reported in the news.) These are terrible times we live in. Which reminds me of something Tolkien wrote:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

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current mood: indescribable

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Friday, July 22nd, 2016
9:10 am - History Exchange
The History Exchange 2016 has gone live!

I received an intense, vivid poem on Artemsia Gentileschi, portrayed, as is only fit, through her paintings. I think it's accessible even if you're not familiar with Artemsia's work and history: In the days of Jael

This is a small exchange - 15 works all in all, so I hastily started to devour it. Here are two stories I found outstanding so far:

What dreams may come: Akhenaten, the Heretic Pharao, grows into himself. Poetic and terse at the same time, drawing a great portrait in short space.

i have cut a ribbon of skin from another man's body: Olympias encounters Zeus four times throughout her life. Olympias in historical fiction tends to be invariably described through her son's or her son's companions' eyes, and with the son in question being Alexander the Great, that's not so surprising. But it makes it all the more welcome to see a take on her from her own pov, in the centre of her own story, and one that uses the myth of Zeus as Alexander's father in a really creative way.

As for my own story, I think, as always, it's a bit obvious, but have a guess anyway!

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current mood: pleased

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