Archive for June, 2012

At the risk of ruining my carefully crafted knuckle-dragger image, I have a dark confession to make: I like me some Shakespeare. Can’t help it. Forsooth, there it is. And I’m a total geek about it. I have a very worn hardback copy of The Collected Works of William Shakespeare — every play he wrote — that I used to carry with me on long flights. And for the two years I spent flying back and forth across the Pacific, that thing came in handy. Anon.

This confession was sparked my discovery last weekend of an upcoming production of one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, “The Tempest.” FathomEvents is unveiling, for one night only, a nationwide viewing of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production, starring Christopher Plummer. The date is 14 June, and it just so happens that there’s a showing in Fredericksburg. I’m probably going to check it out. “The Tempest” is, to me, one of Shakespeare’s more digestible plays, like “The Taming of the Shrew” or “Julius Caesar.”

My appreciation for Shakespeare started, totally against my will, during my senior year at New Hope High School. Like all American high school students, I’d already suffered through the stifling courses on “Julius Caesar” and “Romeo and Juliet” as a freshman. I could at least follow the story of JC, but R&J … you could have it.

My senior year, though, was a test of wills between my Senior English teacher, Mrs. Coffey, and me. She was determined, for some odd reason, to make sure that I didn’t take one single step out of line in her class. So, I sat front and center. And still found a way to be bored, fall asleep or get distracted. Sitting close to Kim Rushing might have had a little to do with the latter.

Anyway, Mrs. Coffey Shakespeared us up pretty good throughout the year. We read “Macbeth” to death, though I will admit I enjoyed it (a little). It had witches, conniving, killing, wily dames, everything a 17-year-old male could get into. We even had to recite portions. You know, the part about life being but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Not that I remember it or anything.

Come the second semester, she handed out the assignment we’d all been dreading — the Senior English Term Paper. Alack. She had a list of topics that we could pick from, and I instantly devised my strategy: find and pick the easiest, most general, vaguest topic on the list (my reasoning being it would be far easier to ramble on for the required 10 pages on something like that rather than, say, “Metaphors and their meaning in Romeo and Juliet.”

But when I strode to her desk to make my selection, she stopped me short and told me
she’d already picked out my topic. What? I knew better than to argue with her directly, but I was taken aback — no, I was aghast — that her topic for me was “The character of Iago in ‘Othello.'”

OTHELLO? “Is that even a real name?” I protested. She smiled. I said — and, yes, I actually uttered the following words: “You give me some character nobody’s ever heard of an obscure Shakespeare play?” Yes, I called “Othello” obscure. Mrs. Coffey just smiled and went back to grading whatever it is English teachers grade. Gerunds or something.

I trooped off to the library (the county one, not the New Hope High School library). To my utter amazement, I found not only information about this Iago guy, but books about him. In fact, in the library of a nearby university which shall not be named in this blog, there was an entire shelf dedicated to books on Iago.

Ok, now I was in deep trouble, and I knew it.

Weeks later — books later — I knew everything there was to know about Iago, whether I wanted to know it or not. And talk about an evil dude. The more I read, the more fascinated I became. This “Othello” was a hell of a play. I read the whole thing twice. It was full of murder and mayhem and bawdy language and double entendres: “they are making the beast with two backs” and “I fear another man has leapt into your saddle,” for example (not that I remember any of it). Great stuff!

I ended up drafting 25 pages, and agonized over every edit to get it down to 10. But, in the end, I walked away with an “A” (take that, Mrs. Coffey), and a still-continuing appreciation for the works of Shakespeare. It’s not all forsooth and anon (well, it is, but still), it’s really the same conflicts and stories and intrigue you’ll find in any good piece of writing today. It’s also some of the best poetry our language has produced.

And that’s why I still read it today. For fun, of course. On really long flights. When a Bruce Willis movie isn’t showing.

Out, out brief candle!

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Whenever I write about movies, a theme develops. This time, the theme is “Movies connected to Michael Biehn.” Some of these are no-brainers, others are ones that may interest only me, always on the lookout for the odd movie few have ever heard of. So, check these out this summer, or let me know if there’s any I missed that should be on the list.

Prometheus — Ridley Scott’s guaranteed-to-be-badass prequel to the “Alien trilogy.” I don’t care how many you see that first one, it’s still scary as hell. And the sequel was one of the very few that could be argued is actually better than the original. This one doesn’t have Queen Badass Sigourney Weaver (too bad), but it does have the very easy-on-the-eyes Charlize Theron (too good). And this one may be the best of the bunch. May be. No, Michael Biehn’s not in it, but he was in the second installment of the trilogy, Aliens.

Men in Black III — Of course I’m going to see this one. I saw the first two and loved them both. The Thing To See in this one, of course, is if Josh Brolin can actually pull off playing a young version of Tommy Lee Jones. Rumor is he nails it. Incidentally, Josh Brolin had a part in the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez “Grindhouse” double-feature. Brolin played the doctor in Planet Terror, which had a small part for Michael Biehn. Just sayin’.

The Divide — OK, Biehn stars in this one. Saw the trailer while watching another movie this week. A post-apocalpytic survival story, this one looks like it could easily be retitled, “Kyle Reese: The First Chapter.” The verdict on this one is of course still out — it went straight to DVD a few weeks ago. But as a friend said, an R-rating and Rosanna Arquette makes it at least worth a look. ‘Nuff said.

Rampage — This one may be even iffier than The Divide. Found this 1987 Biehn flick while searching for The Divide. He plays a liberal district attorney out to hang the death penalty on a convicted serial killer who escapes from the authorities. Rampage ensues. We’ll see. Not the usual role for Biehn, and it’s probably the softest role he’s had since his debut film, The Lords of Discipline (which was a massive disappointment to anyone who read the book by Pat Conroy).

The Dark Knight Rises — Damn right it’s Batman. That’s all it takes to get my butt in that seat for this one, even though there’s no Joker. There is, however, a new Catwoman, in the form of Anne Hathaway, who starred in a decidedly un-princess-like role in 2005’s Havoc, which also starred … Michael Biehn. This is supposedly the last of this generation of Batman movies and it’s rumored to have a couple of twists in it. Maybe so, but they’ll be hard-pressed to outdo the last one.

The Bourne Legacy — Let’s see … this stars Jeremy Renner, who starred in The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who was once married to James Cameron, who directed The Terminator and Aliens, both starring … Michael Biehn. See what I did there?

Should be a good summer. Come with me if you want to live …

Chances are, if you’re of a certain age and from Mississippi, you know the rest of that line to one of the most iconic songs of the late 1960s, “Ode to Billie Joe.”

Bobbie Gentry was practically unknown in 1967 when she released her first single, “Mississippi Delta.” That single barely made a mark, but the B-side, a very simple song named “Ode to Billie Joe” took off like a bullet. Partly because of Gentry’s husky voice and partly because the song posed a lot of questions (Exactly who was Billy Joe? And why did he jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge? What were he and Bobbie Lee throwing off the bridge?). The song became a massive hit — Bobbie Gentry even had her TV show for a short period.

In the ’70s, Max Baer, Jr. — yes, Jethro Bodine — directed the film version, which answered some of those questions, but raised even more controversy than the song originally did.

I remember hearing the song for the first time on a record player at my Granny’s house in Artesia, when I was about 5 or 6. The single was scratched in a couple of places, but I loved the song. Even then, to a small child’s ears, it had a ring of authenticity. Still does. Her lines of her chopping cotton while her brother was baling hay, her “momma hollered out the back door,” every word in the song sounded like the real thing.

I couldn’t wait to see the movie (which starred Glynnis O’Connor and Robby Benson as Bobbie Lee and Billie Joe). I remember enjoying it a great deal, even if, upon further review, it’s not that great a film and, oddly, changed the spelling of “Billie.” It was, however, shot on location in Mississippi — in the summer, no less, so that must have been fun. The movie gave the song a sort of revival that lasted a few months before it faded away again.

Still, the song — at least as far I’m concerned — occupies some room in the modern Southern folklore. We still aren’t totally sure why Billy Joe jumped off that bridge, but we’re still talking about it.

And the rest of the line is “… another sleepy, dusty Delta day.”