Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dilemma of the Hood (Jillian)

There are a few stories of which I am vehemently protective. These range from depictions of Joan of Arc (don't mess with her!) to George Lucas' mishandling of his Star Wars saga to the utter joy of watching Jane Eyre beautifully captured by Masterpiece Theatre. Inevitably, as the summer movie season draws ever nearer, I go into that guardian-mode, growling like a Twilight-vampire about to strike... in defense of Robin Hood.

One reason I love this story - and will always love this story - is that it is a legend that has vined up through the ages and has been passed from folk ballad to poem to theatre to film. People are still drawn to the subliminal magic of the outlaw in the woods standing up for the oppressed and defending his beloved England. There have been countless interpretations. Robin and Marian and the Merry Men have been captured in varying shades of light, color, texture and shadow. It is organic and uncontainable. It will continue to evolve, thrive and vine until the end of time, because it reflects the determination of the human spirit and the prevailing power of faith, loyalty and love in the midst of darkness.

I am, however, very, very skeptical of Ridley Scott's version, due to arrive in theatres this summer. As a general rule, I try to refrain from passing judgment on art until I have seen and experienced it; and I endeavor to be positive. But there are exceptions to this rule. I grow queasy when I see the trailers showing big, muscle-bound Russell Crowe leaping into battle on a horse - mud and blood flying everywhere. To paraphrase my sister, it looks way more like The Gladiator than a retelling of the spritely, elusive legend. Of course, because it's Scott, it is going to look that way. It is going to be wrought with war and shadow and grit and agony, etc. But that is not the story I know.

"A retelling! A retelling!" you might exclaim, pointing to a previous paragraph. Sometimes, I admit, there have to be new verses that don't necessarily reflect the original strain of the song we've heard before. But in this case, if the song, the ballad changes too much, is it the same story? Is Robin Hood still Robin Hood if Ridley Scott retells his story as a brutual, hopeless bloodbath?

I don't know. I can only say that previous retellings including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the BBC television series starring Jonas Armstrong are closer to my heart (particularly the latter). They achieve the right balance of wit, energy, cleverness and bravery. They are not devoid of blood, but they aren't saturated in it, either. Particularly when it comes to the BBC series, there is a brilliant balance of newness and traditional elements to make it fresh and exciting... and to keep me guessing, crying and laughing. It paints the picture of a legend of an outlaw sacrificing himself for the good of his people, his king and the woman he loves, rather than an epic on the scale of the Iliad.

That said, I dread Ridley Scott's Robin Hood as an excuse to create yet another money-grabbing blockbuster with big names and little semblence of the original spirit of the story. Quite frankly, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, while they are excellent actors, are a little too old and a little too well-known to make me comfortable. I see only Crowe and Blanchett, not Robin and Maid Marian.

I've heard other whispers that this film might "change" other things as well: that Robin isn't battling the Sheriff of Nottingham so much as the French, which may seem historically accurate, but in the grand scheme of things is more irrelevant. (Why? If we're looking Robin Hood from a more historical perspective, if it is set in the 1109s, France was still under control of England, and King Richard I spent most of his reign, when not crusading, in France.) So the Sheriff and Prince John aren't the primary villians, but the French are. Eh?

Thankfully we are spared Scott's experimental idea of making Robin and the Sheriff two sides of the same character. Bleh!

In conclusion to this long rant of disconcert, I am a proponent of retelling stories - of making them eternal and forever blooming with human hope. But stories deserve to be respected and preserved as well. Just because one can retell it a certain way, doesn't mean one should... just because one can envision Robin Hood as a solemn, dirty warrior, doesn't mean he reflects the heart of his story.

Perhaps I am blowing this out of proportion. But I worry when critics and film fans interpret such films as "the most accurate" or "the best version"... when every version of the story is inevitably (and thankfully) different.

For a nice article on the origins of the Robin Hood legend, read this Telegraph article. Ridley Scott thinks his film is the most realistic, but I wonder: "In what sense?"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Change of Hands (Jillian)

For those of you who don't know, Doctor Who has recently come under the creative direction of Steven Moffat. Series 5 begins with a fresh face, a new coat of paint and a redecorated TARDIS, and a offering of new stories.

Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor
At the end of "The End of Time", the tenth Doctor struggles toward the TARDIS, on the fringe of his regeneration, leaving an Ood to reassure us that "the story never ends." However, it was hard to believe when David Tennant disappeared and Matt Smith stood up in his suit that this could work. Of course it was hard! It's always hard! But two episodes in, I am beginning to breathe easier - Doctor Eleven is the same man as Doctor Ten. The story goes on. The story-teller changes. But that only adds to the richness that is Doctor Who.

As attached as I was to The Way Things Were, I am already quite fond of the newness. Steven Moffat is a writer with a very keen sense of suspense... of things hidden in the shadows. To paraphrase from last week's Confidential, Doctor Who is more fairy tale than science fiction... to which I (sitting eagerly on the floor in front of the television) did exclaim: "Yes! Yes!"

Moffat understands the poetry and suspense flowing through the veins of this endless story. He wrote in previous series of childhood nightmares and broken clocks, messages left behind on aging wallpaper and angel-statues ("Don't blink! Blink and you're dead!"), ravenous shadows and abandoned libraries. His stories show the dusty, underside of things... unveils the vibrant, unwordable undertones of the human psyche. That, I think, is why this is going to be a refreshing take on the beloved series; he is not a clone of Russell T. Davies. Granted, I have my reservations, too, but I'd prefer to be optimistic on this one!

Some images from Doctor Who Series 5:

* An ordinary crack in a wall is actually crack in time.

* A room hidden in the corner of your eye; you know it's there in the back of your mind, but you don't dare go near it.

* Amy Pond begins her journey as companion in her nightgown, like Wendy in Peter Pan.

* To get a feel for space, the Doctor anchors Amy by the ankle as she floats outside the doors of the TARDIS.

* A future where Great Britain is strapped to the back of a star-whale who cannot bear to see the children cry.

I look forward to more such images in the very near future!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jane, Emma and the Healing Magic of Writing (Jillian)

There has been another interesting article from Jojo Moyes this week in the Telegraph - the wonderful Emma Thompson has recently divulged how writing the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility helped her through the depression surrounding her divorce from Kenneth Branagh. From all I've read about this so far, Emma seems so very honest, very human about that struggle. (One little tidbit I never knew is that she would later marry Greg Wise, who played Willoughby in the film.)

“I used to crawl from the bedroom to the computer and just sit and write, and then I was all right, because I was not present... Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under, I think, in a very nasty way.”

The heart of Jojo's article highlights how literature is a place of refuge for those of us in need of healing... more than escapism but as a reassurance that that the sun will indeed come out at the end of life's storms. It's medicinial, remedial and good for the soul.

(Please, please read the article, too. It's lovely!)

"Austen, like Shakespeare, still resonates because she tells us modern truths: that decent people end up in impossible situations through no fault of their own. And that if they are good (Emma Woodhouse), honest (Lizzie Bennett), and true (Fanny Price) there is a good chance it will all come right in the end."

"But it’s not just about comfort and escapism. When Thompson was still shrouding herself in ex-husband Kenneth Branagh’s dressing gown, she was no doubt pondering literature’s other great gift: how to explain the inexplicable nature of human behaviour."

"And it’s a message that literature delivers far more effectively than most self-help books, or the velvety tones of Oprah Winfrey: you will endure this, just as other people have endured it. And you can survive."

Thank you, Jojo, for articulating this!


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