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Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Charmed Life

I found a treasure the other day.
Miss Moneypenny?
I had heard many years ago about a CBC television production of MacBeth starring the world's most famous Scotsman, Sean Connery, in 1961. This would have been just before he became a huge international star as James Bond in Dr. No (1962). however, since it was a television production and I hadn't even seen so much as a production still with Connery in the role. In fact, for all I knew, he didn't even play the title role. After all, his most notable role up to this point had been as Michael McBride in Disney's fantasy-musical Darby O'Gill and The Little People. Also, there existed the possibility that he wasn't very good. Why else would it be so difficult to come by, right?
I dismissed it as one of those things that I would never get the chance to see unless someone who was a much bigger movie nerd than I had a recorded copy on VHS or something.
Well, recently I stumbled across a collection of old movies on DVD while I was at a Ross department store. (And when I say "stumbled," I mean it. Why does that store always look like it's been hit by a tornado?) These films are usually ones that have fallen into public domain, but are not necessarily bad films at all. In fact, this collection contained Of Human Bondage (1932), which, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend. Anyway, this collection also contained the elusive 1961 MacBeth starring a bearded Sean Connery as - if the packaging was to be trusted - Mackers himself. So, for a couple of dollars I had solved my dilemma of some years ago. There, in my hand, was the film I had resigned to obscurity.
I really have no idea what I'm doing.
However, my earlier concerns about the quality of Mr. Connery's performance arose again, and I did not watch it right away. Why had this been kept from public eyes for so long? Connery had a huge resurgence in popularity in the 90s. People were voraciously consuming his performances from other eras like Zardoz and Outland. How had the iconic notion of the famously Scottish Connery in the Scottish play not been immediately offered up to the new generation of Connery fans? Had a younger, less-experienced Connery struggled with the Bard's verse? Surely the CBC would not have cast him in the lead if that were so. It wasn't like he was a big name at that point.
Well, I am happy to report that Connery was more than up to the task. His approach is unexpected at times and even a bit jarring at points, but ultimately satisfying. During the dagger speech, I was baffled at first, but soon realized that he was approaching it very naturalistically, and I think it added another dimension to the scene. I found myself thinking that many of the elements that make Connery such a great action hero added to his performance as Mackers. Connery is a man of great passion and charisma and his heroes are led more by their hearts than their intellect. Let's face it, Bond wasn't exactly a planner. He usually got caught by the bad guy at some point, he seldom used the high-tech gadgetry as it was intended, and women in bikinis are his Achilles, um, heel. Also, James Bond is incredibly lucky. That's what makes Bond so much fun. The bad guys are smarter and more organized, but 007 still always manages to somehow get the better of them. So, portraying a man whose ambitions exceed his machinations winds up being near-perfect casting for Connery. Also, it's fun to hear those lines spoken in a true Scottish brogue.
But not stirred.
The production itself is a bit of a curiosity. I would describe the set and costume design as art-deco-meets-middle-ages. It suffers from some of the limitations of television in the 1960s (including the occasional visible boom mic), and yet it presses against the conventions of television as well. Murders occur out of frame, but the moments leading up to them are quite harrowing - particularly the murder of MacDuff's family. (Oh. Spoilers? If you've read this far, surely not.) Banquo's ghost is a bit gorier than one might expect from 1960s televison, too. With a running time of only 85 minutes, it is also curious that not the knocking scene nor either of the scenes with the the three murderers were excised for time.
I think the real treat here, however, is not even Connery's performance. It is the rare filmed performance of the legendary stage actress Zoe Caldwell as Lady MacBeth. The four-time Tony-award-winning actress has a long and varied career, but has made very few appearances on the silver screen, and she does not disappoint as the conniving Queen-to-be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back To It

I know. I know. I have been neglecting my blog lately. Well, that is not without some design. You see, updating my blog was beginning to feel like something of a chore, and I decided that I shouldn’t write anything else until it stopped feeling like a chore. I also needed to examine why it wasn’t much fun anymore.
Well, call it a confidence issue if you want, but I just wasn’t feeling like I was doing much with the blog. Posting videos of my favorite movies or of songs by music artists on their birthdays was starting to feel a little trite. As far as wildlife conservation and charities go, it’s as effective to just link to the cause in question with a few words of introduction – say, 140 characters or less. And on Twitter it’s a lot more likely to be seen and shared. I don’t know how many people read my blog – I mean honestly read my blog. I can see how many people visit it, but I don’t know if they were led there by a particular keyword or one of the many photos of Kristin Chenoweth and then went surfing on their merry way without pausing for my prose.

Without having any real sense of who’s reading, writing on my blog was beginning to make me feel like I was one of those guys who tweets about what he’s having for dinner (picture attachment and all) or one of those women who posts twenty new pictures of herself to Facebook every week (all in the same pose).
Well, I don’t want that, so I decided to take a break. Now I’m back, and here’s how things are going to go forward. For now, the daily format is gone. Instead of hunting for topics to fill each day, I’ll write about whatever interests me that day – with the hope that it will be interesting to you, too. I’m still interested in theatre and movies and music and wildlife conservation and saving the world, so you’ll still see all of those topics, but just when I feel like it. I originally thought that the daily format would get me film buffs dropping in on Fridays, wildlife proponents dropping in on Wednesdays, etc., but I don’t have any evidence to suggest this happened, so I really see no need restrict myself to that format anymore.
Which brings us to Thursdays. Ah, yes, theatre – the whole reason this blog began in the first place. Well, that’s a bit of a sticky wicket. I’m still a big proponent of theatre, I still know an awful lot about it, and I still like to talk about it, but I have become a bit disenchanted with the Denver theatre scene. And, in all fairness, it with me as well.
Oh, I’m still involved in theatre here, in fact, I’ve got a staged reading of Coriolanus coming up in August, but I just don’t really feel as though I belong here anymore – if I ever did – and I haven’t felt that way in quite a while, which makes it a little difficult to write about theatre in this town.
Sometimes a project comes along that I get very excited about, like BREACH, and it was actually a lot of fun putting that podcast together for you. If something else like that comes along while I’m still in Denver, then I’ll see if I can’t do something like that again.
Oh, right. Yes, I have decided that I will be leaving Denver. I moved here in November of 2001, and, by coincidence, my apartment lease ends in November of this year. So that’ll be ten years, and I think it’s been a pretty good run. In a decade I’ve held two Artistic Directorships, directed and performed in dozens of shows, and, most importantly, a large number of very attractive actresses are inclined to hug me on sight.
I can’t complain.
To stretch an analogy, there are lots of round pegs to fit the many round holes here, and I’m really content with being a square peg. The few square holes that exist here are already adequately filled. So, it’s time I went looking for someplace with more square holes. This is not intended as a slam against the “round pegs,” it’s just not my thing.
Do I disagree with what some companies are doing here? Yes, and I’ve gone into that before, so I don’t see the need to do so again  . . . at the moment. However, that’s more of a philosophical issue, and has more to do with the way some companies are using their nonprofit status. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to get his or her art on, so to speak. (Though I still insist that we could do it a bit more cooperatively without disenfranchising the limited audience. But I’ll stop there.)
So, anyway, the blog is back again, with changes again. I do not expect that any future entries will be as long as this one, though. I did feel that I had some ‘splainin’ to do.

If you’ve made it this far, let me reward you with this video to celebrate the birthday of guitarist, songwriter, and astrophysicist Brian May of Queen.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: The Heart of Rock and Roll

Happy Birthday today to Huey Lewis . . . of the News.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday Money-Saver: Shop Smart

I'll give you a two-fer today since I skipped last week. Both of these tips involve your trips to the grocery store or even a superstore like Target or Wal-Mart.
Tip #1: Shop with a list.
Take a few minutes and make a list of the things you need before you head to the store. This will not only get you in and out of the store faster, but it will also focus your shopping. Unfocused shopping can lead to impulse buying. So make a list and stick to it.
Tip #2: What's in a name?
TV commercials may try to convince us that one brand is better than another. The question is: how important is it to you that it's better? For some items it matters significantly, and this will vary from person to person. maybe you only like one brand of catsup or you use a lot of paper towels and require the most absorbent brand. Fine. Buy that brand. However, when it comes to items that are less important, go ahead and get the generic, or store brand, or even just whatever happens to be on sale at the moment.
Brand loyalty is for times when you have more money than you can spend. I'm guessing that's not right now for most of you. It certainly isn't for me. With few exceptions, these brands aren't dropping their prices out of loyalty to you, so what exactly do you owe to them?

Monday Motivator: A Nation's Strength

On this day marking the 235th year of American Independence we will celebrate in ways both reverent and inconsiderate, grateful and thankless, cognizant and obtuse. All of these are our wont and our right as Americans, but I would encourage everyone to spend at least a little time today focusing on the former quality in each of the above pairings as it is perhaps the best way to ensure that this country can enjoy another two centuries of the same.

A Nation's Strength
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Film Buff: A Frayed Knot

Since today is Farley Granger's birthday, I thought I'd share one of my favorite Farley Granger movies. It's also one of my favorite Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Rope was shot in long,  up-to-ten-minute takes,  and cleverly edited to give the appearance that everything happened in one single shot. Some of this was accomplished by putting some of the set pieces - including the walls - on wheels, so that crews could roll them out of the way of the moving camera and then roll them back in time for them to be in the shot. This also meant that if somebody flubbed a line at minute nine, they had to do it all over again. It must have been a pretty arduous process, but it achieves a chilling effect.
Rope is based on a stage play itself inspired by the real-life case of Leopold and Loeb, two brilliant but disturbed young men who committed murder in an attempt to pull off "the perfect crime" and who held the belief that the notion of the Nietzche "Superman" made them above the law.