Friday, April 29; viewed online on The Royal Channel on YouTube.
Even as a little girl, I never imagined myself as a princess. My mother neither pushed nor discouraged fairy tale daydreams, but whatever effect Disney had on me was easily undone by my own contrary, suspicious nature and my early and abiding interest in historical drama and classical mythology, neither of which makes being a princess look like a dependable route to happily-ever-afters. My favorite Halloween costume was a pioneer girl dress that Mom made me during my Laura Ingalls Wilder phase. I remember laughing at a classmate who thought it was better to be a princess than a ruling queen, and I had nothing but contempt (an attitude I now consider rather unfair) for poor Sara Crewe of A Little Princess.
This is all to say that, if anything, I feel a bit sorry for Kate Middleton, with whom I wouldn’t trade places for anything in the world. I certainly had no inclination to wake up at 4 a.m. to watch her irrevocably consign herself to a life in a well-appointed glass prison as national symbol and tabloid fodder.
I do, however, have a nostalgic fondness for traditional, high church weddings. Back when I was an organist, I played for dozens of ceremonies and eventually planned my own, pillaging from the hymnals and liturgies of several denominations, and those experiences gave me both a love of religious music (ironic given my distrust of religion) and an appreciation for the subtleties with which one makes a formal service one’s own. Given that, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d eventually be sucked in to watching the royal wedding online, princess aversion notwithstanding. I might not be one to swoon over fairy tale weddings, but I’ll happily coo over a boys’ choir singing hymn descants. We all have our weaknesses.
Thursdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Twelve episodes into the second season.
One of the things animation does best is to minimize the shock of action that, if performed by flesh-and-blood characters, would be completely horrifying. You see that even in kids’ cartoons. The violence of classic Tom and Jerry shorts, for example, is dismaying if you think about it too hard—but you generally don’t. The animation softens even the harshest of blows.
Not by any stretch of the imagination is Archer appropriate for children, but even it benefits from its medium. The animation gives cover for it to indulge in crazy, sick-puppy humor—not so much dark as anarchic—without becoming unpalatable. Perhaps that sounds unflattering, but I don’t mean it that way. Shock humor for its own sake is tiresome, but Archer is far too clever and enthusiastically loopy to fall into that trap. It might not be a warm, but with its bravura voice acting and perversely endearing eccentricities, it finds humor in the most delightfully inappropriate places.
You could be forgiven for assuming that the supertitled introduction in the trailer for Hanna—“Once upon a time there was a very special girl who lived in the woods with her father”—was just a conceit of the marketing, but you would be wrong. The odd, dark thriller is packed with fairy tale motifs and themes, from the cottage deep in the woods, to the evil “stepmother,” to the feral predator stalking the naïve young girl. The visuals compound the effect (I’m only surprised that the heroine didn’t at some point don a red hoodie), eventually arriving—quite literally—at the supposed birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, with a closing image so audacious and evocative that I could only shake my head and grin.
The thing is, upon reflection, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Hanna, not completely convinced that all the once-upon-a-timing adds up to much beyond arty window dressing. But director Joe Wright has a lushly kinetic visual style, and the cast is terrifically game for the deranged little fairy tale. Hanna might not live up to whatever Grimm reinvention/deconstruction Wright was attempting, but it’s still a nervy art-pulp trip.
When I think of Western landscapes on film, I think first of Terrence Malick’s ravishingly beautiful Days of Heaven, the expansive prairie glowing with golden “magic hour” light. That luminous quality fits the dreamy tone of the film and its tale of an idyllic but doomed interlude in the lives of its characters. The light in Meek’s Cutoff, by contrast, could never be described as golden or magical. The sun has bleached and burned away virtually all color, leaving everything in its Western landscape a dingy yellow-brown. Parched heat practically radiates from the screen, which holds only an austere beauty, at best.
Nevertheless, Meek’s Cutoff constantly reminded me of Days of Heaven. In both, the cinematography is integral to the spirit of the film, giving texture and depth to a spare plot. The camerawork turns the wide Western plains into a fragile paradise in Heaven and a desiccated hell in Meek’s. Cinematography and storytelling are perfectly entwined.
National Theatre Live broadcast on Sunday, April 3.
Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and the modern myth it spawned are often interpreted as a simple jeremiad against the overreach of science and technology. The unsympathetic protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, is seen as a prototypical mad scientist, undertaking something unforgivably “unnatural,” attempting to usurp the role of God. To be perfectly frank, that reading of the story bores me. If Victor’s project is completely and inherently indefensible, both from a narrative and a thematic perspective, what else is there to say about it? What’s the point?
The thing is, there is more to say about Frankenstein, and Victor’s sins are far more extensive than heresy (which, as far I’m concerned, is a between-you-and-your-conscience thing anyway). The Royal National Theatre’s new stage adaption of the work understands that—and, not coincidentally, it hews relatively close to its source material. The result is a disturbing, emotionally fraught portrait of a man and his neglected progeny, a parable of grossly irresponsible stewardship and devastating generational conflict. Provocative and creepy, this Frankenstein transcends knee-jerk alarmism and theological pap. It’s a horror story worth being horrified by.