1. AOTW: Not really anyone qualified this week--nothing beyond the usual annoyances of drivers who need a refresher in Driver's Ed--or should be in prison.
2. We saw Wonder Woman Saturday night at the Kent Cinema (about half full--or half empty ... depends, you know?), and we both kind of enjoyed it. I liked her--and have always been a fan of Chris Pine. Of course, the irony (?) was not lost on me--of an anti-war film that chockablock with violence that's clearly supposed to be enjoyable. Countless people died. But, you know, they're just minor characters in a comic, right? Still ... I enjoyed watching it, recalling boyhood days of reading DC comics while my parents were despairing for my future ... (film trailer) ...
3. This week we also finished--at last!--this year's Oscar-winner for Best Documentary, the multi-part OJ: Made in America, which has been streaming on Hulu. It is painful to watch for all sorts of reasons--the brutal murders, of course, of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman but also the racial/racist context in which the filmmakers place OJ's wonderful/horrible story. Loved the interviews with some of the principals--from F. Lee Bailey to some of the cops involved to Marcia Clark. It was wonderfully done--but so intense I could take only about a half-hour or so at a time, a few days a week. So it took a while ... ! I have clear memories of learning the verdict during the day at Harmon School, October 3, 1995, a little after 1 pm. Some teachers (I?) had TVs on ... (link to film trailer)
4. I finished three books this week.
- The first was Michael Chabon's 2007 adventure novel, Gentlemen of the Road, a novel I really enjoyed--though it's a bit lighter fare than some of the other items on his menu. It's about 950 A.D. in the Caucasus Mountains--a novel about royal conflicts, about revenge and restoration, and, ultimately, about the variety of people who must "get along" in order for anything to work. Our questing heroes are a motley crew, including the last survivor, a young teenage boy, of a family who should be ruling but are embroiled in war and revolution. And we learn a surprising secret about him later on. In his Afterword, Chabon writes:
All adventure happens in that damned and magical space, wherever it may be found or chanced upon, which least resembles one's home. As soon as you have crossed your doorstop or the county line, into that place where the structures, laws, and conventions of your upbringing no longer apply, where the support and approval (but also the disapproval and repression) of your family and neighbors are not to be had, then you have entered into adventure, a place of sorrow, marvels, and regret (201-02).
I love Chabon's work, and as followers know, I'm slowly reading my way through those books of his that I somehow missed over the years--in the order he published them.
- The second was a fine account of the recent world-wide tour of Hamlet, a tour by players from Shakespeare's Globe in London--Hamlet Globe to Globe: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play, by Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director at the Globe from 2006-2016. The tour was part of the celebration (?) of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616. Dromgoole saw some (not all, not most, not many) of the productions in about as wide an assortment of settings (and audiences) as you can imagine.
The book is a mixture of several things--an account of the journey (and the experiences in far-flung places), some insights into the play itself, some ruminations about why Shakespeare continues to endure, geopolitics. And more. Several times he talks about their (failed) attempts to take the show to North Korea. One of his conclusions: "Hamlet fitted in everywhere" (250).
I taught the play the final ten years of my career at Western Reserve Academy (2001-2011), and I know the text pretty well--but Dromgoole made me think about some things I'd not thought much about before--e.g., I n the play "everyone is telling a version of the truth" (93). He also talks about the excitement of the company players when they got to perform some of it for Pres. Obama at the site of the new Globe.
- Finally, a book that disappointed me, the latest entry by the Hogarth Press in their presentation of contemporary novels based on Shakespeare's plays. (Link to Hogarth's Shakespeare site.) I've read them all as they've come out--contemporary versions of A Winter's Tale, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, and The Merchant of Venice. I've enjoyed some more than others. But I was kind of looking forward to this newest one, an adaption by Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring, etc.) of Othello. She calls it New Boy.
She does do some things I understood and liked. She compressed the story into a single day. She divided her text into five parts (the Bard's plays, remember, all have five acts, thanks to that 1623 posthumous publication, the First Folio, which contained thirty-six of his plays).
But the time and setting she chose gave her problems she couldn't surmount. 1974. A group of sixth graders in an elementary school in Washington, DC, a school that has no black students at all--until the new boy arrives. Osei. (He tells people to call him "O.") He's a boy from Ghana; his father's a diplomat.
Chevalier sets virtually all her key scenes on the playground: before school, morning recess, lunch, afternoon recess, after school. Ian is the Iago figure, and he's a schemer no one really likes--but the younger kids, especially, fear him. He's a creep.
Daniela ("Dee") is the Desdemona figure--and so on.
A problem. Sixth graders are eleven years old. And for the homicidal passions to rise--in a single day--to the height (or depth) that Othello requires was a bit of a stretch for me (and, remember, I taught in a middle school for thirty years--I saw a lot!). And would she really include the murder and suicide of Othello? (Ain't tellin' you!)
I also felt Chevalier was too obtrusive in her attempts to "date" the piece--inserting allusions to popular culture in fairly blunt, unsubtle ways--as if she were telling herself "Time to remember to let people know it's 1974." Joe Namath comes up in a lunch conversation.
Also, a prominent teacher, Mr. Brabant (based on Brabantio, Desdemona's father; Dee is Mr. Brabant's favorite), is, natch, a racist, and Chevalier shows this, again, in some unsubtle ways. For example, he sometimes breaks off in the middle of a word he knows he should not be saying. In an emotional exchange with the principal (Miss Lode, based on Lodovico), he says this: "I didn't expect much from a bl--" he glanced at Miss Lode.
So ... I just didn't care for it--though I understood what she was endeavoring to do. In my view, it's the weakest of the series so far. Which disappointed me. I really wanted to like it.
5. Final Word--a word I liked this week from my various online word-of-the-day providers ...
- from wordsmith.org
verb intr.: To pry.
noun: A prying person.
After Prodnose, a pedantic and nosy character, who appeared in the columns of J B Morton in the Daily Express. Earliest documented use: 1954.
J B Morton wrote under the pen name Beachcomber. Twenty years before the word appeared in his column, the poet Dylan Thomas wrote in a letter to someone in 1934:
“I want you to think of me today ... singing as loudly as Beachcomber in a world rid of Prodnose.”
“The lines between government prodnosing and charitable work become ever more blurred.”
Libby Purves; Charities Must Get Back to Doing Good Works; The Times (London, UK); Dec 23, 2008.
“Now Wallace wants to take this gang of Minnesota prodnoses to the national level.”
Alexander Cockburn; Leave the Press to the Court of Public Opinion; Los Angeles Times; Dec 27, 1996.