Sunday, April 16, 2006

Movies You Never Heard Of - Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night - isn't that a play by Shakespeare? Well, yes - and in 1996 director Trevor Nunn made a movie out of it which is great fun to watch, and even more fun to shake your head over. This is one of Shakespeare's "twin" comedies: it starts with a great shipwreck in which twin brother and sister Sebastian and Viola are separately cast ashore in "Illyria", and each thinks the other is dead. I won't go into the plot any deeper; you can always look it up in Cliff Notes if you haven't got time to read the play.

I owe them an apology about the shipwreck, though. When we were watching, I though, Oh, God, they've seen Titanic: but they hadn't. This movie came out the year before Titanic. Maybe James Cameron had seen this one...

The most delightful thing about it is how astoundingly alike Sebastian and Viola are. Because this is also a "breeches" comedy, Viola decides to survive after the shipwreck by gluing on a mustache and dressing as a young man, whom she calls Cesario. Late in the show, of course, Viola/Cesario and Sebastian meet again, dressed exactly alike, almost the same height, both wearing the little blond mustache, and while you can tell them apart if you've been watching, you really have to look twice. I wonder whom they found first, Sebastian or Viola?

didn't, of course, have to worry about these issues, because his "actresses" were young men; but I did wonder how Cesario managed, for three whole months, never to get caught where she had to explain why she couldn't pee into the bushes like all the guys. Especially since she becomes Duke Orsino's good buddy and drinking companion, spending most of her time listening to Orsino whine about why he's dying of love because Olivia won't have him, and how men's love is more important than women's because women aren't capable of passion.

Orsino is a Victorian (originally Elizabethan) male chauvinist ess-oh-bee; however, Viola falls for him, and is therefore pining for him while he pines for Olivia. Isn't chemistry great? It gets better when Olivia falls for Cesario/Viola. The poleaxed look on Olivia's face, late in the movie when she sees Sebastian and Cesario together, having
just married Sebastian thinking he was Cesario, is worth any price of admission - it's just wonderful. She can't tell them apart either. Helena Bonham Carter is a really fine Olivia.

It never seems to occur to anybody that Cesario's tight black
uniform pants are on a behind that isn't, well, shaped like a normal guy's - it's the one part of the female anatomy that you really can't hide when dressing like a man, especially a late Victorian military man. (Null has set it around 1885-1890.) She does have a very small tush, but still.

And in three months she has to have had three periods - how do you hide that when you're faking being a man? This is why you have to suspend your disbelief at the theater, I guess. I suppose if none of the servants ever notices that she peels her mustache off at night and sticks it on the mirror, they'll slide right past anything else. Actress Imogen Stubbs makes a wonderful Cesario, though - half the time you look at her and catch yourself thinking, what a handsome young man.

Shakespeare would have liked this, I think; it's the way he would have done it himself if he'd had the resources.


  1. Anonymous7:45 AM

    Missed this when it came out. Now I have to chase it down and watch it. Thanks for a damned well written review.

    Anonymous David

  2. Anonymous6:17 PM

    "Helena Bonham Carter is a really fine ..." anyone. Sorry, Ms. Ivy, she's always been a favorite of mine. I'll have to check this one out of the library; it sounds too high-brow for Blockbuster.

    BTW, how's the knee? My chiropractor and massage therapist have brought my leg back to about 85%. If I did more exercising, it may come all the way back. I'll let you know.

  3. You'll like it, David - it's entirely charming. I don't know about Blockbuster, cooper, but I rented it from NetFlix which has no issues about renting anything to anyone. Highbrow, lowbrow, if your credit card is good, it's in the mail.

    The knee is doing extremely well, cooper, thanks for asking. I'm back at work, which limits my ability to get the exercise I need; I'm thinking hard about that. Part of me isn't quite ready to retire, but part of me sees that the demands of my job make it impossible to do much more outside the job than eat, sleep, and essential chores. Do keep on exercising, though - it always pays off (unless you do something stupid...).

  4. Anonymous5:13 PM

    (unless you do something stupid...) - amen. Glad you're doing better.

  5. Anonymous11:18 PM

    Yes, the Trevor Nun performance is great fun. The swordfight may well have you in stitches. Furthermore, Blockbuster does carry it. Suspension of belief is what the theatre is all about. Sometimes, I think it is what government is all about, but I digress.

    If you want to watch a version of the play, also good, where Cesario, even with a covered tushie, looks less like a male than just about anyone you can imagine try the Stratford version. The costuming is set just before Cromwell, which gives extra meaning to Maria's comment about Malvolio being a "sort of a puritan."

    Then there is the Kenneth Branagh version. This is filmed, but really it is a stage set. The lighting starts off gloomy and brightens up as the play moves along from death and dispairing love to life and united couples. Somehow or other Andrew Aguecheek, as stupid and bumbling as ever, works his way into your heart in this one. At the end, you feel sorry for him as he wanders off, unnoticed and ignored by the rest of the happy cast.

    Then, just when you are about Twelfth Nighted out, albeit perhaps amazed and delighted with how the various interpretations highlight various aspects of the play, try Stratford's the Mikado. It isn't Shakespeare, but what fun! By the way, I'm talking Stratford, Ontario. They do a great job up there.

  6. Anonymous6:10 AM

    Boggart, you certainly seem to know something on this subject. Thanks for the comments.

    hedera, here's one that may catch your interest - Farewell, My Lovely - with Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling. I saw it in the movie theatre back in 1975 and it still strikes me as one of Mitchum's finest. The story is based on one of Raymond Chandler's books, which may or may not put you off right there. I found it to be quite gritty and memorable.

  7. Anonymous6:42 PM

    hedera, how about an author you never heard of - Boris Akunin: "The Death of Achilles". He is a Russian author & was on the Diane Rhem Show today. He has a series of books about a gentleman sleuth in the 19th century. If he writes anything like he talks, these should be entertaining, enlightening and thought provoking adventures. Bon apetit!

  8. Thanks for the author, cooper, I'll look for him. I don't know about the Raymond Chandler movie, though - I don't really like Raymond Chandler although I read a couple of his books to see what the fuss was about. In fact, I think I read Farewell My Lovely.

    The trouble is, after Chandler, nobody wanted to write the "old" way, where the puzzle was the main thing; all they wanted to do was get the detective drunk, laid, and beaten up in an alley, not necessarily in that order. Waay too much realism.

    To my mind the absolute best of the "tough detective" class isn't Chandler at all, it's Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse, a much better read than the Maltese Falcon.

  9. Anonymous5:17 PM

    Typing of books, try S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire. Okay, it is ScFi, which may turn some of you off at the start. The author explores technology. Is it a crutch, the solid platform of our lives, or do we have reserves within should we ever be forced back on our own resources? What worldview allows us to move on with life when the unforseen occurs? What exactley are our wellsprings of faith?

    Basically, there are no ray guns, no space ships, no telepathic wonders. There are people in a world suddenly devoid of electrical power. Engines don't work, steam power is suddenly a fizzle, phones don't work - you get the idea. Just how would the people you know respond? S.M. Stirling has some interesting views of what technology has done to many people's resourcefulness.

    Then, if you survive that one, try C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner. After reading Foreigner, I went around for months thinking about how our vocabualry and grammar structures delineated our culture, or the other way around. Fun.

  10. The one that got me thinking was Larry Niven's Ringworld. If you haven't read it, the back story is a ring of impermeable metal around a sun - a partial implementation of a Dyson sphere - inhabited by stone age subsistence farmers living in the ruins of cities.

    Louis Wu, Niven's hero, gradually realized that the inhabitants had towering civilization based on a room temperature semiconductor, and from somewhere, a yeast evolved that ate it. Because they had built the Ring of metal which you could only work using tools based on the semiconductor, they couldn't mine it to build a new civilization. As Wu realized, "Civilization would fall and never rise."

    Ever since I read that, I've wondered what we're depending on that will someday be destroyed by a mold or a yeast; or maybe it's just an influenza strain. Or a drug that we could cure with antibiotics before we developed resistant strains, like TB.

    Read Ringworld if you haven't. It's one of the truly great sci-fi classics, and what I've told you is just a tiny fraction of what goes on. I haven't come NEAR the plot.

  11. Anonymous1:01 PM

    When you gonna post another rant, hedera. I've enjoyed everything I've read so far. And they aren't really rants, at least not in the pejorative sense.

    What does the immigrant uprising look like from your vantage point?

    The knee is an amazing thing, even if not as amazing as those most incredible appendage termini, the hand and the foot. Get yours back to 100%, whatever it takes.

    What's the little handicap symbol for, your knee or Bush's brain?

    Anonymous David

  12. David, how can I fail to respond to a question like that?

    I'm amazed to see it's been 2 weeks since I posted anything. Actually, the Oakland Symphony Chorus (of which I'm a humble second alto and sometime tenor) did two performances last weekend: Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus and Regina Coeli, Haydn's late Te Deum, and Kodaly's magnificent Te Deum, all with the Oakland Civic Orchestra, a local volunteer group. This is tough music, and I was working hard to get it up to performance standard, so I didn't get to do much but comment on the blog site; but we knocked the audience's socks off.

    I'm working on a couple of items. Watch this space.

    My knee is great, actually - got through both concerts without the stool I've been using since 2000. My major gripe right now is that the people who own the gym I belong to have sold the building to a developer so they can retire; so I have to find a new gym. Grump. But I agree, knees are astounding - the human body is astounding; and we never appreciate it unti something goes wrong...

    I'm not sure what you mean by "the handicap symbol" - if it's that little flower thingie that marks off each comment, I don't know, it's just what Blogger uses. It ain't necessarily what I'd use if I had my druthers.

  13. Anonymous8:22 PM

    Would love to have been at those performances.

    The handicap symbol is beside the word verification box.

    Will check back.

    Anonymous David

  14. Oh. Now I see the handicap symbol. Now, why IS it there? Oh, if you click on it, you get somebody reading you numbers that you can type in - it's for the visually impaired. But - how do they see the... oh well.