Sunday, August 28, 2011

That Special New Zealand Air

I was grocery shopping on Friday night to get some essential supplies in case I  lost power during Hurricane Irene here in the US. As I'm going through the store I go down the row to get some cleaning supplies and I spot an air freshener. It just comes into my line of vision unexpectedly - PoP - Wow-Zowie - NEW ZEALAND  AIR*! 

Suddenly the following image pops into in my mind:

Ah, those lovely New Zealand vistas!
There's a thin, green, can of air freshener starring back at me, with some artsy designs, and a photo of a  beautiful New Zealand waterfall. But as I stare at it my mind is conjuring up images that aren't there! I shake my head, and try to clear my vision, and blink several times, and look again at the air freshener, and I see:

I tear myself away from the shelf.  I hurriedly push my cart away, and start going around the store in circles.  The air freshner calls to me...New Zealand Air*...New Zealand Air*...New Zealand Air*...

I'm too weak, my willpower is going, I try to think of all that I really need to buy.  Batteries, water,  milk, bread, toilet paper...but my mind keeps going back to that alluring green can. I picture myself in my living room spraying New Zealand Air* and being transported across the sea. Again, my mind conjures up images of what it would be like to be transported to Middle-Earth by that special New Zealand Air* scent:

I turn my cart around and hurry to the Air Freshener aisle.  There in front of me is the air freshener with the waterfall.  My hand reaches out and I grab it like the Arkenstone. I put it in my cart and go happily to the checkout. Mission Accomplished! 

Today at home I'm enjoying the wonderfully fresh scent of New Zealand Air* and wondering if the makers of the air freshener know what an attractive product they could have if  only they would replace the photo of the waterfall with this one:

(*There really is a NZ air freshener, but with a slightly different name.)

Disclaimer: This post is all meant in fun and I hope it is taken that way by all who read it. New Zealand is a lovely country and maybe one day I'll be lucky to visit.  To Richard Armitage and  Aidan Turner all my affection and respect. I know they both have a sense of humor. Oh, in case you're wondering, I did buy the air freshener.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shakespeare's Richard III: History, Acting, and Popular Perception - King Richard Week 2011

It is believed that Shakespeare wrote Richard III between 1592-1594.  It was first printed as a quarto   in 1597.  It is believed that Shakespeare based the character of his Richard III on Sir Thomas More’s  historical work  about Richard III’s reign..  More was a small child during the Richard’s reign.  His negative view of Richard III’s  is believed to have been influenced  by Cardinal Morton, in whose household he lived. 

There’s quite a long and involved story of Morton’s roe in the War of the Roses.  In very brief summary, he was a supporter of the Lancastrian faction during the war, but eventually after the final Lancastrian defeat, made his peace with Edward IV.  When Edward died and his younger brother, Richard III, took the throne, he had Morton arrested and placed in the Tower of London.   Morton later escaped and eventually joined the court of Henry Tudor  (Henry VII) in Flanders, assisting the Tudors in their plan to usurp the throne from Richard. Henry VII (Tudor) just happened to be Elizabeth I’s (the monarch during Shakespeare’s life) grandfather.  The rest , as they say, is history.

Morton (Bishop of Ely)  appears in Shakespeare’s Richard III ( Duke of Gloucester) in a scene that is taken from Sir Thomas More’s biography.   Here’s  the  brief scene as it appears in the play:

Duke of Gloucester. My lord of Ely!
John Morton. My lord
Duke of Gloucester. When I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there
I do beseech you send for some of them.
John Morton. Marry, and will, my lord, with all my heart.
(stage directions). [Re-enter BISHOP OF ELY]
John Morton. Where is my lord protector? I have sent for these

Shakespeare of course was not writing history but a play.  He needed to create a character that would grab an audience. What better way to reel them in than to create an ultimate villain, a man who oozed evil from every pore and every soliloquy:

“In Richard III, Shakespeare invites us on a moral holiday. The early part of the play draws its readers to identify with Richard and thereby to participate in a fantasy of total control of self and domination of others. We begin to be pulled into the fantasy in the play's opening speech, where Richard presents himself as an enterprising, self-made villain and offers an elaborate justification for this self-renovation.”  (Folger Shakespeare Library Website)

 The Early Players – Actors and Richard III

Richard Burbage (1568-1619) was the first actor to play Richard III in Shakespeare’s play . By the age of 20 he was already considered one of the greatest actors of his generation.  A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he was the mega star of the Elizabethan era.  He was known for totally transforming himself into the roles he played on stage (reminds me of another Richard).  Burbage played the lead role in the first performance of many of Shakespeare’s plays.  He continued acting until his death in 1619.

David Garrick as Richard III

David Garrick  (1716-1779) was an actor, playwright, and theatrical manager.  He wrote his first play in 1740 and made his acting debut as Richard III in Shakespeare’s play.  It was his portrayal of Richard III that made him a star.  Contemporary anecdotes about Garrick mention his mobility and his ability to transform himself at will.  But his most irresistible feature were his piercing eyes.  (Piercing eyes, wonder what other actor fits that description?).

Edmund Kean as Richard III

Edmund Kean (1789-1833) was considered the most electrifying actor on the English stage.  He was also known for his personal eccentricities, including having a tame lion he often played with in his living room.  In 1820 Kean appeared in New York for the first time as Richard III to great success.   Below is a video of Ben Kingsley in a one man play  based on Kean’s life and career:

Shakespeare’s Richard III goes from Drama to Reality:

The image of Richard III from Shakespeare’s play, the “deformed” and evil monarch, became the public image of this man.  There is no historical proof that Richard was a hunchback or had any physical impairment, yet that image from the stage survives today.   Several references date this universal public perception of Richard as a tyrant from the 16th century on. 

Below are two videos that I think illustrate how the theatrical King Richard has become the popular image.

In  1996 Al Pacino made a very interesting and fun documentary, “Looking for Richard”, about his preparation for playing Richard III on stage.  He interviews several generation of actors that have played the part on stage, but he also goes out into the streets and talks to New Yorkers about the king.   At one point in this clip he asks people on the street what they know about Richard III, and all answer they don’t know who he is (this is the US of course), until he uses a famous quote from the play, and of course, that they know! 

For anyone born after 1955 the image of Richard III is the image of Laurence Olivier.  Even for those that have never seen Olivier’s film of the play have seen a photo or a film clip sometime, somewhere.  Here’s an example of how that image has been used for comic effect.  In this video clip Peter Sellers performs a well known text as Olivier’s Richard III (and you might recognize a couple of other guys in the clip.)

William Shakespeare’s  Histories, the ten plays he wrote dealing with English history, have gone from dramatic fiction to historical truth in the public mind.  Shakespeare’s Richard III  has provided actors for centuries with  an opportunity to outshine each other in making the man more  and more physically impaired and spiritually malevolent, but now, in our time,  it is time to bring the real story and history of Richard to the screen.

Richard Armitage is turning 40!
What to get the man who insists he already has everything?

More work for our favorite workaholic.
Since watching his acting gives us so much delicious fantasy fulfillment, we thought we’d turn the tables with a fantasy present: the job that he’s most repeatedly expressed interest in doing — a retelling of the Richard III story.
We’re not agents or producers, and we can’t finance this project or cast him in it or write the scripts, so we’re doing the next best thing: a week of background, context, musings, and jokes about why we’re dying to see “our” Richard play “that” Richard.
Want to share the fantasy more actively? Sign the manifesto:
We hope you enjoy the week!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Richard Armitage Talks about Richard III - King Richard Week 2011

A historical drama series about the life and times of Richard III? The real story. Sounds like a wonderful idea doesn't it? All lovers of historical drama, or good television, would love this series. So why is it such a long and winding road from the idea, to the script, to the actual production? 

In several interviews in the last few years Richard Armitage has talked about his desire to play Richard III and his interest and work in a television series or film that would explore all facets of the man and the king.  The video below is an attempt to bring together some of what Armitage has said about Richard III through clips from some of his television and radio interviews. 

Instead of another remake based on a remake of an old  and not missed television series, why not a  sweeping historical drama about the true story of the last Plantagenet King of England!

Please come back  and visit again later this week for more about Richard III and Richard Armitage as part of 
King Richard Week.

See more posts by my fellow contributors  to King Richard Week 2011 by clicking on the link below:

Show your interest and support for a television/film  about the real Richard III by signing the petition at the link below:

Richard Armitage is turning 40!
What to get the man who insists he already has everything?
More work for our favorite workaholic.
Since watching his acting gives us so much delicious fantasy fulfillment, we thought we’d turn the tables with a fantasy present: the job that he’s most repeatedly expressed interest in doing — a retelling of the Richard III story.
We’re not agents or producers, and we can’t finance this project or cast him in it or write the scripts, so we’re doing the next best thing: a week of background, context, musings, and jokes about why we’re dying to see “our” Richard play “that” Richard.
Want to share the fantasy more actively? Sign the manifesto:
We hope you enjoy the week!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Celebration Continues - Happy Birthday Richard Armitage!

As I write this it is Monday, August 22, 2011 in my part of the world.  Happy  40th Birthday Richard Armitage!

Richard, your Horoscope for today:

If Your Birthday Is Today

You have a fine mind and a droll sense of humor. You're highly imaginative, but also a down-to-earth realist. And you're patient. Friendships are important to you, which is why you are a loyal friend to others. Many of you work at solving mysteries or making discoveries. In the year ahead, you have an opportunity to learn something that will be important to you.

Visit the King Richard Armitage website - 
King Richard Week 2011

August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday 

Today ...
People appreciate the way you're always willing to set a positive example and inspire others to try their very best.

Your Leo Horoscope:

You are in the midst of an internal battle, although it may play out now in the realm of relationships. The radiant Sun in your generous sign encourages you to express the love that's in your heart while its opposition to spiritual Neptune dissipates the boundaries that would normally prevent you from going further. Unfortunately, your friends won't be of much help now because they'll just tell you to throw caution to the wind. Being brave is admirable, but you could regret your actions if you act foolishly

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review of Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving in STC's Uncle Vanya

Dysfunctional families, sexual frustration, job burnout, existential angst, depression, environmentalism, vegetarianism, all the subjects of the play “Uncle Vanya”.  I have a conversation in the inevitable line to the Ladie’s room with two ladies I don’t know, about how this play,  first published in 1897, feels so contemporary.   But you see, Anton Chekhov wrote about the human condition, and whether you were in the Russian country side in the late 1890’s, or are in an American city in 2011, we still and always will love, hate, despair and rage.   

The wonderful Sydney Theatre Company’s production of “Uncle Vanya” showcases its two big movie stars, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, but they truly are only part of a talented ensemble of Australian actors.  We come in on a country estate and family owners and retainers whose routine has been disturbed by the arrival of their now retired family intellectual and success, Serebryakov (John Bell), and his second  and younger wife, glamorous Yelena (Cate Blanchett).  This disturbance stirs up all sorts of passions in the household that includes Sereryakov’s adult daughter by his first marriage, Sonya (Hayley McElthinney), annoying mother-in –law (Sandy Gore), and brother-in-law, depressed and lonely Uncle Vanya (Richard Roxburgh).  To this mix is added country doctor and environmentalist,  Astrov (Hugo Weaving).

There are also unseen characters in this play, the poor peasants and workers that are Astrov's patients, and the dead first wife of Serebryakov and beloved sister of Vanya's.  

There are very funny and very moving moments that often weave into each other, like it happens in real life.  Cate Blanchett channels the glamorous 1930’s Hollywood movie stars as a bored woman of privilege, stuck in a loveless marriage with an old man.  Her interactions with Vanya (Roxburgh) and Astrov (Weaving) as the two men who fall in love with her, with different measures of success, are powerful yet subtle. I can’t decide if Yelena is a master manipulator of the men in her life, or is a victim of a society’s expectations.  I especially liked Blanchett’s scenes with plain stepdaughter Sonya (McElthinney) and their reaching out for friendship and understanding in each other.  They are both frustrated with the selfish and egotistic husband and father Serebryakov .  Ultimately they can’t maintain a happy relationship. Hayley McElthinney’s performance as Sonya builds from quiet and almost unnoticed, to the heart and hope of the play. 

The men are equally strong, especially Roxburgh and Weaving.   Roxburgh as Vanya is funny, charming, and so very depressed.  He feels his life has been for nothing and his work has gone to support the empty shell that is his brother-in-law.  In the year’s I've watched Hugo Weaving on screen I can’t say I’ve ever thought of him as a leading man, but he’s magnetic on stage as Astrov.   The good doctor likes his vodka a little too much, and is also dissatisfied with his work and life. But his lectures on deforestation and the dangers to the environment are very contemporary.  Since Chekhov was a doctor, you do wonder in all this talk, if Astrov is the playwright's own voice.  Poor kind and gentle Sonya loves Astrov, but he claims he can love no one.  Both Vanya and Astrov are besotted with Blanchett’s Yelena with sad results for all.  

The Hungarian director of the play, Tamas Ascher is described in Playbill as “one of the foremost Chekhov interpreters of our time."  The play was adapted by Andrew Upton, co-artistic director of STC with his wife Cate Blanchett. This wonderful production has a seamless mix of humor and tragedy and all the characters felt to me like people I could encounter in my own life today.  

Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Uncle Vanya will be at the Kennedy Center’s  Eisenhower Theater in Washington DC until August 27.

Oh, and thank you Sir Ian McKellen for letting us know about the play coming to DC on your blog back in the spring. 


Monday, August 8, 2011

Of Poets and Poems and Il Postino

Sean Bean in Equilibrium

Once in a while I'm in the mood for poetry.  Nothing else will  satisfy the emptiness of the moment.  

I'm not one to go to poetry readings, or jot down verse in a notebook or iPad, or subscribe to some obscure literary magazine, but I do have my favorite poems and poets. Some I grew up around, an inheritance from my family's love of books, some I found during my school years, some I've been introduced to by others.  There is a certain common emotional theme to poems I like, even if I often deny it.  

Three of my favorite poets are Pablo Neruda,  Jose Angel Buesa, and Emily Dickinson,  Below three of my favorite poems...and a bit about one of my favorite films. 

Oh yes, this is a bilingual post. 

Pablo Neruda: Me Gustas Cuando Callas/I Like You When You Are Quiet

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician.  I know him best for his love poems, or as critics describe them, his  passionate and erotically charged love poems.  

 Like You When You Are Quiet
I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent, 
and you hear me from far away, and my voice does not touch you. 
It looks as though your eyes had flown away 
and it looks as if a kiss had sealed your mouth.

Like all things are full of my soul 
You emerge from the things, full of my soul. 
Dream butterfly, you look like my soul, 
and you look like a melancoly word.

I like you when you are quiet and it is as though you are distant. 
It is as though you are complaining, butterfly in lullaby. 
And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you: 
let me fall quiet with your own silence.

Let me also speak to you with your silence 
Clear like a lamp, simple like a ring. 
You are like the night, quiet and constellated.
Your silence is of a star, so far away and solitary.

I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent. 
Distant and painful as if you had died. 
A word then, a smile is enough. 
And I am happy, happy that it is not true.

Two of my favorite movies may have introduced many around the world to Neruda's poetry: Truly, Madly, Deeply(1990) and Il Postino (1994). 

Il Postino is a fictional story about a postman in a small Italian village who forms a friendship and is inspired by the famous poet, Neruda, who is in political exile from his country. The postman is in love and romances the love of his life and learns to love words because of Neruda. The great French actor Phillippe Noiret (Neruda) and Italian actor Massimo Troisi (the Postman) are wonderful in this lovely and moving film. 

Jose Angel Buesa:  Poema del Renunciamiento/Poem of Renunciation

Jose Angel Buesa (1910-1982)  was a Cuban poet, known for  his melancholic and romantic poetry, often about unrequited love.  The last years of his life he lived in exile, and he passed away in the Dominican Republic. In the video above, Buesa reads his own poem.

Poem of Renunciation
You will walk through my life without knowing you did,
You will walk in silence through my love and when you do
I will pretend with a smile, like a sweet contrast
of the pain for loving you… and you will never know.
I will dream with the virgin mother-of-pearl of your forehead
I will dream with your green sea emerald eyes,
I will dream with your lips, desperately,
I will dream with your kisses…and you will never know.
Maybe you will walk around with someone else that tells you
phrases that no one could ever tell you like I would do
And, drowning for ever my unnoticed love,
I will love you more than ever… and you will never know.
I will love you in silence… like someone inaccessible,
Like a dream that will never come true,
and the far perfume of my impossible love
will touch your hair… and you will never know.

Emily Dickinson: Hope is the thing with Feathers

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)  was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. Though she lived a reclusive life, she must have had a fascinating inner life. 

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune--without the words, 
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.


Do you have a favorite poet or poem? Do you write poetry? 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Support and Sign Richard III Petition for Film Project

If you are a fan of Richard Armitage, or have an interest in history and Richard III of  England, or in historical drama,  I hope you will take a few minutes to sign a petition to help support the making of a film or television series on a more historically accurate portrayal of Richard III's life and times.  

For several years Richard Armitage has had an interest in making this project a reality. Please support this worthwhile production  by signing this petition and encouraging potential financiers and production investors to support the “Richard III” project.

Click on the link below for more information and to sign the petition. Thank you for your support!

And if you are in London or traveling there soon, the National Portrait Gallery in London has a new display that includes portraits of Richard III:

Picturing History: A portrait set of early kings and queens.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Voices VII - More Middle-Earth Dwarves: Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori) and John Callen (Oin)...and Thorin (Richard Armitage) of Course

Continuing my series on actor's Voices and also my hope of finding examples of work by The Hobbit cast, especially those that I don't know well, in this post I'm featuring three Kiwi's:  Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, and John Callen.

Jed Brophy:

I had read that Jed Brophy had been in the Lord of the Rings films, and I wondered who he had played since I didn't remember his face.  But doing a bit more research, now I know why:

Jed Brophy as Sharku in The Lord of The Rings 

He played two roles in The Lord of the Rings movies, Sharku and Snaga.  In case you are wondering, Snaga is just as "lovely" as Sharku.   He is one of a group of  New Zealand actors that seem to be part of Peter Jackson's regular "repertory acting company", having also worked on King Kong and District 9 and now as Nori in The Hobbit. 

I found many video clips of Brophy in what seems to be a cult horror film, Dead Alive (1992), but the film is not quite one I want to see, though I could tell from the clips there is some black humor and not just horror involved.  

I did find this interesting interview of Brophy talking about his roles in the LOTR films and about the LOTR fan conventions:

Mark Hadlow:

We've seen Mark Hadlow now in The Hobbit video blogs and in interviews about the films, and he comes across as a very good natured man.  He's also one of Peter Jackson's "acting repertory company"  of  New Zealand actors having played the role of Harry in King Kong.  His bio describes him as an actor and comedian and in addition to his many movie and television roles, he has a distinguished career in the theater.  He's been actor, producer, director, for many plays in Christchurch's Court Theatre  (founded 1971).  

In The Hobbit, Mark Hadlow plays the dwarf Dori (brother of  Nori).  The question I couldn't find an answer for is why does he wear a naval uniform in many of the interviews for The Hobbit? 

Below is a dramatic turn for Hadlow performing the famous soliloquy from Macbeth, "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow".  He has quite a commanding voice, though not particularly deep, and his interpretation is a quite energetic Macbeth. 

John Callen:

An award winning actor and director, New Zealand's John Callen has performed in over 100 theater plays. He's also acted in and directed many television shows in New Zealand.  In addition he's a noted voiceover artist.  His Shakespearean repertoire includes Macbeth, Claudius, Shylock and Polonius.  In The Hobbit he plays Oin. 

Below is a voiceover narration he did for the World Petroleum Congress in Madrid (2008),  Resources of the Past: Dutch Contribution in the Petroleum Industry. He has the deep voice with the resonance of  a stage and Shakespearean actor. I'm looking forward to his creation of Oin:


WPC2008 part 1: Resources of the past from Asteroids on Vimeo.

A bonus video of John Callen and Mark Hadlow talking about the Auckland Theatre Company's production,  "Who Needs Sleep Anyway?"

King Under the Mountain:

I couldn't feature Dori, Nori, and Oin without their leader Thorin now, could I?  

Richard Armitage reading another poem as only he can, "Memories of the Mine" by Roger Woddis (1917-1993) from BBC Radio's A War Less Ordinary (2007):

Go to The Hollywood Spy to vote for your favorite 
The Hobbit film star:

Thanks to,,,, Google Images, Wikipedia

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