sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey: passion)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2011-01-22 10:38 pm

And like this insubstantial pageant faded

My flight arrived at Logan a full forty-five minutes ahead of schedule, but then we sat on the runway for the same amount of time, so evidently there is some kind of law of conservation of airport inconvenience. At any rate, I am home. I had a fantastic time. There will be a post.

Written while waiting to board at BWI:

Why does no one seem to know about Derek Jarman's The Tempest (1979)? It is the best version of the play I've seen. Prospero's isle is an old manor house, cold, echoing, full of leaves and decayed furniture and candles burning down everywhere: it was filmed at Bamburgh Castle and Stoneleigh Abbey. Outside is blue-filtered, as if still undersea. You can always hear the waves breaking, or perhaps it is the slow, regular breathing of a sleeper, full fathom five in dreams. Heathcote Williams is Prospero, a Hermetic magician with a trickster's unsettling magnetism; his study is chalked walls and floor with zodiacal signs and equations, piled with mirrors and books. He carries Mercury's staff, a lens of crystal within its ring. He is not an old man. Toyah Willcox has a fearless, birdlike stare, her fine, short hair tied with string-ends and drops of pearl; she moves with the private language of an intelligent child who has grown up almost entirely alone. Their Caliban is a mooncalf from the north country, sucking eggs. I did not know until afterward that Jack Birkett was blind when he took the role. And Jarman's Ariel is Karl Johnson, whom I had seen previously as half of a startling Wittgenstein,1 and I cannot imagine him bettered. He has the kind of bone structure that occurs all the time in fiction and almost never in real life: from a distance, he looks boyish; close to, he's older than the world. He's frighteningly beautiful. He is not at all human. He laughs and you are not sure he knows what the sound means; it is no more unnatural to hear him give tongue like a scent-hound in the hunt of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban.2 And then he goes to open a locked door, worriedly twisting the knob before he remembers and disappears without even a fingersnap, or he speaks uncertainly to Prospero a line he has rehearsed flawlessly in a mirror—he is catching humanity, from being too long bound, by Sycorax, by Prospero, and it's wrong. He only looks like this, a thin wiry-haired man in a white boiler suit, with a mime's white gloves and a kind of tired intensity and that face like a classical statue too sharply turned, because he is not his own master. You cannot guess what he will be like when he's freed. But he will be magic, because the film is magic; and all without even the simplest Cocteau effects of slow-motion or mercury. The clowns are not annoying. The young lovers are real and interesting and well-matched.3 The goddess who presides over their wedding is truly a goddess. Yes, Jarman cuts and rearranges and sometimes outright replaces the text, but all within the parameters of a production, not a retelling like Prospero's Books (1991). I am only sorry there isn't more of it. But I wish that of Jarman in general.

My godchild is adorable.

1. [ profile] rushthatspeaks, B., and I watched The Tempest last night. Rush and I had tried to watch Wittgenstein (1993) the day before; the disc seized up about halfway through and refused to continue on either the Xbox, the PlayStation, or my computer. We are displeased with Netflix. Eventually we'll see the second half, I have no doubt of that, but we have no idea from the film as it stands—brightly colored, nonlinear, installation-like—where on earth it will go next.

2. Almost any scene is to choose from, but I found his eeriest moment to be when Miranda is alone in her old nursery (out of which she might have moved or where she might still sleep; the house seems full of endless abandoned rooms, receding like moments in time), and suddenly Ariel is there astride the old rocking horse, reciting in time with its its ship's-timber creaks, to Miranda to whom the words mean nothing as yet, Juno's benison from Act IV, Scene 1: "Honour, riches, marriage-blessing . . ." You wonder then what it must be like, to grow up with such a spirit as the companion of your childhood. There seems to be a fondness between them, but I would not swear to anything that Ariel is thinking or feeling, because I do not even know if he does. But her relationship with Caliban is also complicated. He leers at her bathing and we remember I had peopled else this isle with Calibans: she hits him with the sponge, boots him out the door as he blows her a raspberry; she laughs. They grew up together, too.

3. Ferdinand (David Meyer) wades naked out of the sea, a sword in his hand; he looks like something of sea-change himself, coming ashore. But he is not the usual hero; he is taken prisoner as he sleeps by Prospero's fire, exhausted, refusing to let go the sword like a child with a talismanic toy. This Miranda rescues him.

[identity profile] 2011-01-23 06:18 am (UTC)(link)
Welcome back!

(I'll try to say something more later, but I wanted to say that before I collapsed in an attempt to actually get a decent amount of sleep, beat this cold, et cetera.)

[identity profile] 2011-01-23 06:34 am (UTC)(link)
A relative of mine lived in Bamburgh Castle for a while, long ago--but he moved out in 1972, so before the film was made. (He is dead now. He was an actor.)

He is not at all human. He laughs and you are not sure he knows what the sound means; Very cool. This, and what you say about Miranda and Caliban, about Miranda and Ferdinand as lovers, and about Ferdinand looking like something of sea-change and clinging to his sword, makes me want to see it.

[identity profile] 2011-01-23 11:06 am (UTC)(link)
Mentally extending credit to [ profile] rushthatspeaks about the laughter ;-)

His name was Alexander Knox--I may have mentioned him before.

[identity profile] 2016-09-29 11:24 am (UTC)(link)
My sister would know the exact connection. He's on my mother's side, but that is not her maiden name, and he was about grandfather-level older than I am, so probably he was a cousin of my mother's father--that would be my guess. She, and consequently we, referred to him as "cousin," so that seems right. So yeah, I'm going to go with first cousin twice removed. I'll be helping out my sister early next week, and I can correct after that if I'm wrong.

I'm amazed that you can remember things like that I've said this and then come back and find the entry!
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