Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Day of Joy and Sorrow

Maybe the title is a bit melodramatic; I'll leave that for you to decide!

My parents gave me some money for Christmas, so last week I decided to spend some of it on books (what else?). The order came yesterday while I was at work, and the result was both joyful and sorrowful.

First, the joy. For a while, I've been considering buying Liza Picard's Restoration London, a research resource with information about just about every facet of life during the late 17th-century London. I finally decided to go ahead and do it. After browsing through it last night, I'm glad I did! I saw information about dental health (people's teeth were apparently not as bad as I thought, thanks to fewer sugary foods leading to cavities), and about what women wore, and about the spread of the "pox" (syphilis) from the New World to Italy to France and beyond (the book muses that the "pox" was a fair exchange for the smallpox from the Old World that decimated the native populations of the Americas). Anyway, I'm really pleased to have this addition to my writer's resource bookshelf. I don't know that I will ever write any story based in that time period, but I just find it interesting to know how people lived.

Now for the sorrow. Some of the classes I teach are basic (definitely basic) introductions to some of the Adobe software, namely Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Several times students have requested that we add a class in Adobe Flash. I decided I would pick up the Flash volume of The Missing Manual series and see if I could teach myself enough to teach the basics to students. I debated on whether to buy it in paper or for Kindle; the Kindle version is cheaper, but it's pretty hard to flip around to different sections on the Kindle. I decided paper would be easier to learn with, so I ordered a copy.

When I pulled into the driveway yesterday afternoon, I saw a new pile of white and brown trash in the yard, and I knew at once what had happened. The mail carrier delivered the book, it was too big for the mailbox, he left it in the garage---and Dobby struck again. Yes, that @&%%#^ dog completely demolished my Flash textbook. He tore through the cardboard box and chewed the covers off. As if that's not bad enough, he had to drag it out into the yard on the day when we got three inches of rain. So not only is the book torn up, it is soaked. 700+ pages of tissue-thin paper glued together by rainwater and mud.

I'll admit, I lost it and yelled very unkind things at Dobby (and alarmed poor old Tracy) and wished him dead -- aloud. But in the end, none of that changes anything. I set the book over a vent in hopes it will dry out and I can gently pry those 700+ pages apart and still be able to teach myself some Flash. Or should I just admit defeat and buy it again (the Kindle version this time, which will not have to go through the garage, and thus will be safe from the Atomic Bomb of Dogs)? You don't know how that possibility hurts a cheapskate like me! Or maybe I'll just give up on learning Flash for the time being....

Friday, January 13, 2012

All's Well that Ends Well

Forgive me a second post on Shakespeare in Love. I watched the bonus materials the other day, and when I saw the deleted scene that would have been the ending of the movie, I knew I had to do a post about why the director made exactly the right choice by deleting that scene and using the one that actually ended up in the film.

First, a brief synopsis of each scene.

Deleted Ending: We see Will alone in the theatre, and Viola comes in to bring him the money he won in the bet with Lord Wessex. From across the room, she says, "The Queen bids me say goodbye," and tells him the queen also wants his next play to be a comedy, to which he replies, "I'm done with comedy." She then crosses the room and they have their brief, tearful goodbye kiss. She leaves and he starts after her, but Burbage stops him with a meaningful look. Burbage then looks at the money bag and says, "A hired player no longer. Welcome to the Chamberlain's Men" (which had been Shakespeare's goal at the beginning of the movie). Will looks after Viola, but then smiles ruefully at Burbage (as a sign he's accepted his fate, I suppose). The next scene shows the two of them walking down the street with Burbage telling Will the Queen wants a comedy for Twelfth Night, and then the scene changes to Will beginning the script for Twelfth Night, leading into the final scene in which Viola is walking across a beach (which is also in the final version of the movie in slightly shortened form).

Final Version of the Ending: The first thing I noticed is that the camera shots are closer and the lighting is more intimate, which immediately sets a different mood. Viola brings the money to the backstage area, and Will says, "My Lady Wessex," both as a greeting and a question. She acknowledges it without a word, then gives him the money and says, "A hired player no longer." They reflect a little on what happened between them, she encourages him to keep writing, and she tells him the Queen wants a comedy.  He replies, "A comedy? What would my hero be? The saddest wretch in all the kingdom, sick with love?" She says, "It's a beginning," and then together they begin to lay the foundation for a plot. She uses Henslowe's running gag from the movie ("It's a mystery...") and then they have their tearful goodbye. She pulls away and says, "Write me well." The scene then picks up the same basic ending as the deleted scene, to have Viola on the beach.

As a viewer of the movie, I know the second scene was infinitely more satisfying as a way to end the story. As a writer, I can look at the two scenes and see why. The version that made it into the movie allowed for the emotional threads to all be pulled together; the deleted scene, on the other hand, was a bit detached. Hey, you should find yourself tearing up at the end of the relationship between these two characters we've come to know and love. Introducing Burbage into the final scene takes us away from that.

I also thought the scene that was kept contributed to the development of these characters. What, at the end of the movie??? You wouldn't think there's anything else we need to know about them, especially since their story is over. But the scene added even more strength of character to Viola. She's now stuck with this pompous jerk of a husband, stuck going to an uncivilized country half a world away, and yet in the scene, she's not bitter or  despairing. Will actually seems more bitter and torn up about it. Viola reassures him, "all ends well," even though she doesn't know how. And she understands (and helps him understand) that even though their relationship is now ended physically, through the power of his writing, they can always be who they were, together forever.

Wow. The first scene brings the plot to a close; the one they kept brings a depth that really helps elevate this movie above being just another movie with a love affair and lots of kissing. Even at the end the characters are growing. The scene gives the story (which is pretty sad, basically) that element of hope that I believe is so important.

(And I love the fact that even in that scene, when he is an actor and a lover first, we can still see the inkstains on Shakespeare's fingers. He is always a writer.)

I couldn't find the entire scene as one piece, but here is the last part.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Getting My (Literature) Nerd On

I'm one of those annoying people who can't just sit still and watch TV. Normally, I'm doing something else at the same time - catching up on my blog reading, or checking Twitter, or (confession time here) grading papers. Today I sat down to watch Shakespeare in Love with intentions of working on the syllabi for my spring classes, which start next week (yikes!). But I didn't get a thing done. For two hours I sat and was completely entranced by this movie.

This movie has some of the same glaring errors as Elizabeth (which I watched last week, see previous post), most notably disregard for historical fact when it got in the way of the story.  The biggest error was having tobacco plantations in Virginia as a major point in the plot. The movie is set in 1594; I know from our family's vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this past summer that the English were struggling to get a colony established in the New World at that time. Actually, 1594 would be only a few years after John White found the English colony at Roanoke deserted. It would be another 10 years before the Jamestown colony was established. So the threat of having the heroine of the story about to be married off and shipped to Viriginia was completely bogus.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Body Natural" and "Body Politic," or, What I Thought about While Watching a Movie

One of the pleasures of these days when the family has gone back to school and I haven't yet is that I have control of the TV remote.   A few days ago, I found the movie Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett, and today I got the chance to watch it.  I wasn't completely thrilled with it, but I enjoyed the historical "spectacle" with all those great costumes, I learned something about British history (from going to read stuff after watching the movie), and I discovered Joseph Fiennes is a beautiful man, ha ha.

The movie seemed to jump around from one genre to another. Sometimes it was historical epic, sometimes it was spy flick, sometimes it was love story, sometimes it was philosophical drama.

As history, it's clear the movie took some license with events to improve the story, and especially that the timeline for events was collapsed. The broad strokes are accurate enough; the struggle between Mary I and Elizabeth over the succession to the throne was real, as was the constant pressure on Elizabeth to choose a marriage with political benefits. I admire the filmmakers for finding a way to make Elizabeth's efforts to create religious compromise interesting as a plot device, and I liked their portrayal of her initial ineptitude as a ruler, taking advice that led to a disastrous invasion of Scotland. On other important points, though, the movie definitely distorts history; there's no evidence Mary of Guise was assassinated, and Robert Dudley most certainly was not involved in a plot to remove Elizabeth from the throne. Dudley apparently remained as one of Elizabeth's favorites for the rest of his life.