H is for Highly Productive: Kevin Hawkes & Trina Schart Hyman

An illustrator whom I know personally is Kevin Hawkes. Like Trina Schart Hyman (below), he illustrates his own work, others' works, picture books and chapter books. Also like Hyman, his work covers multiples genres, many with a magical, sometimes otherworldly theme or aura. His illustrations are as warm and insightful as the man himself.

The book Me, All Alone, at the End of the World is dedicated to my parents. 

Trina Schart Hyman (1939-2004) illustrated everything from novels to picture books to magazines. She was one of the starting founders/directors of Cricket Magazine, which I adored as a child. The humorous ongoing conversations between the various insects, including Cricket and Ladybug, began as her work.

I will return to Trina Schart Hyman when I review fairy tales/folklore. I have to give her credit here for the number of books she illustrated in all genres, from American history to contemporary drama: Caddie Woodlawn, Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? Jane Wishing...

That's not a phone he's playing with--
the book was published in 1979.

Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman is about a family struggling financially. The events, including the father losing his job, are all seen from the viewpoint of the boy. He wants a dog. He gets a cat. He names it, "Dog." 

Perfect. And real. 

Impressive TOS Episode: Plato's Stepchildren

The amazing thing about "Plato's Stepchildren" is how Michael Dunn as Alexander inspires everyone to perform at their best.

And it is a good reminder that television, like theater, does involve others. In a particular Numb3rs episode commentary, Rob Morrow mutters a caustic remark about not-so-great directors who arrive on set and simply phone in the job. In an interview, Judi Dench comments that she has a hard time watching herself on television and in movies because the film performance is finished/done/static. In theater, every night is different. For the actors, performance is something that happens in the moment as part of a team/crew/cast.

In "Plato's Stepchildren," Shatner comes into his own as Kirk: he is diplomatic, gentle, wise, direct and never patronizing with Alexander. In one scene, he slumps beside Alexander on a bench and presents his case. It is quite effective.

Nimoy as Spock is a tightly wound mass of fury at his humiliation. Kelley combines McCoy's know-how with his inherent tenderheartedness.

The episode is also tightly scripted--and quite painful to watch. The "antics" of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy are not funny, in large part because of Alexander's horror. The audience takes its cues from him--

Because Michael Dunn does dominate that episode. And the others meet him more than half-way.

G is for Gaggles and Garlands in Children's Books

Speaking of cats...

(And a group of cats is called a clowder.)

Wanda Gag's book Millions of Cats, a Newbery Honor winner (that's correct: Newbery, not Caldecott), is unique. It fits quite nicely with previous Caldecott winners, however, as well as Gladwell's comments about "stickiness." That is, it has a rough, almost off-the-cuff feel, simple black and white pictures with hardly any color, and what appears to be handwritten text. The book has a folkloric, verbal quality.

Awesome image! Daunting text.
It's a great book, but it makes me wonder what happened between Millions of Cats (1962) and Keats' A Snowy Day (1963, possibly my favorite Caldecott winner of all time) and St. George and the Dragon (1985). Don't get me wrong: there have been good winners since the 1960s plus I am a huge fan of Trina Schart Hyman (and will discuss her next for "H"), but the last book should never have won a picture book awards thingamajiggy. No child would ever voluntarily read it. I won't read it, and I'm an adult (too much exposition--I look at the amazing illustrations instead).

When did slick productions with lots of words take the place of illustration/word combinations? 

And Then There's the Problem of Superheroes

It is a fantastic scene.
In the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series, the writers got incredibly lazy.

I don't just mean "Spock's Brain," which is totally giggle-worthy. I mean how often the writers solve a problem by having Spock step in.

He is the superhero of the third season.

If I were Shatner, I would have been understandably annoyed.

Someone needs to get the ship back from the far reaches of space--oh, Spock will mind meld with Kollos and make it happen; someone needs to figure out how to use the anti-asteroid machine on the planet--Spock will make a series of unbelievably intuitive leaps to fix the problem; someone needs to calm everybody's nerves so they don't get shot up by bullets--oooh, mind meld again!

In The Nitpicker's Guides, Phil Farrand begins to end summaries in Season 3 with the phrase "Thankfully, Spock..."

It's a great example of how giving viewers too much of what they think they want is not necessarily a good idea. People loved Spock--okay, in this episode Spock single-handedly saves Mrs. Jones's kitten from a tree while simultaneously mind-melding with terrorists during Pon Farr.

After a while, it loses its appeal--and makes one appreciate the willingness of Patrick Stewart to appear weak. "Q Who?" is often commended as one of the most powerful TNG episodes of all time, precisely because Captain Picard begs for help when he realizes the Enterprise is utterly out of its depth.

Give our heroes weaknesses--we will love them a little more.

Every Childhood has an Arnold

In Andy Griffith, Opie has a friend, Arnold. Arnold is that kid--the kid who, without being actually bad, always seems to cause chaos whenever he comes around. He also is the kid who brings up stressful topics, like where babies come from.

Important point: Arnold stresses out the adults in Opie's life. But Opie doesn't mind him at all. Arnold isn't a bully, and he may not be obviously disruptive--and yet--

In one episode, Andy says to Aunt Bee, "Isn't it a little early in the day for Arnold?"

Every mother and father seems to think that their child has an Arnold--which brings up the question: Does any parent think, "My child IS Arnold?"

The only living or fictional parent I can think of who admits to having an Arnold in the household is Tim Allen as Mike Baxter and Tim Taylor. In one episode, he states, "Don't let the kid next to you get you into trouble."

"Did that work for you?"

"I was the kid next to me," he replies.

Sheldon Golomb/Collins, who played Arnold, grew up to be a dentist. 

Discipline in the Genre of Choice and Another 80's Video

In an Andy Griffith episode "The Senior Play " Helen Crump allows the teens to plan their own production. Their play involves rock n' roll dancing. The principal of the school objects. He considers the dancing degenerate and cancels the senior play.

Helen Crump protests. She asks the principal to sit through another dress rehearsal. This time, the kids announce a dance from "your generation" (the principal's generation) or the "good old days." They then perform the Charleston complete with flappers and sheiks.

The point--an entirely valid point, by the way--is that the principal's parents saw his generation as degenerate (read Cheaper by the Dozen for the father's reactions to his daughters' bobbed hair, slimmer bathing suits, and panty-hose).

The episode then gets a little preachy as Helen Crump pleads that the teens--who planned the play in the first place--be allowed to express themselves. The speech falls into the "poor teens need to be pandered to during their troubled years!" category (the episode aired in 1966; the musical Grease--the ultimate celebration of teen self-indulgence--came out in 1971).

The speech barely works and only (sort of) because Aneta Corsaut, who plays Helen Crump, is a skilled actress and something of  a force of nature.

1920s dance--compare to the mish-mash in the first image.
Here's the problem (and I am speaking as a rock 'n roll fan): the rock 'n roll dance is far less disciplined and exhibits far less talent than the 1920s Charleston. The difference is huge. Although Andy and Howard apparently enjoy the rock 'n roll dance more, it is, frankly, boring while the 1920s production is not.

I'm a huge believer that one judges a thing by what it is--not by what it isn't. In this sense, I agree with Helen. Why shouldn't the teens do something contemporary (to them)?

I also believe that the thing being done should be done as well as its genre and style allow for. Rock 'n roll has produced amazing artists. I consider "You Can't Always Get What You Want" one of the finest artistic productions of the 20th century. And it was produced by people with talent, who worked hard (however stupidly they lived their lives).

Young people may wish to express themselves. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be held to standards of discipline and excellence in the genre/style of choice.

"Beat It" was respected--and still is--for a reason (as one commentator mentions, it's impressive when the lead singer is a better dancer than his "chorus line"--though all these guys are talented).

LEGOs and Why Twitter is Full of Unpleasant People

During the Republican Convention, Ivanka Trump spoke about her son building a replica of the White House out of Legos. 

In yet another example of how leftists pointlessly disparage conservative women, Twitter went nuts, proclaiming that since she once told a story about building Trump Towers out of Legos, she must be lying about her son building the White House out of Legos.

Althouse immediately and correctly calls them all idiots, and she posted the latest trending picture of Trump. I don't usually post political pictures on my blog, but I thought this was one of the nicer pictures I've seen of Trump, so here it is. (I am well-aware that posting such a picture signals support--I don't actually care for Trump all that much, but the picture suggests that I do. Well, guess what, leftists? Reasonable, intelligent, commonsensical independents are getting tired of you and your high school, petty-minded, cruel, negative, self-indulgent, sneering, absence-of-anything-constructive, can-only-tear-others-down, mean-spirited bullying. So if the picture signals support: GOOD!)

Althouse points out that lots of people can build a White House out of Legos. It ain't that big a deal. "They sell kits." (She even has a link.)

What struck me, however, was the weird insistence that only one person in a family is allowed to build things with Legos. 

Ivanka Trump obviously likes Legos. In case anybody hasn't been paying attention, lots of people like Legos. The Netherlands likes Legos (see LegoLand above). Mythbusters liked Legos and built a big Lego ball.

Chance to say: RIP, Grant

My brothers like Legos. When I was growing up, my brothers played a game where they built planes out of Legos, then sent the planes down a string that stretched the length of our playroom. The planes that survived mostly intact at the bottom won.

And I built things out of Legos too!

Apparently, according to unpleasant people on Twitter, if one person in a family likes Legos and builds things out of Legos, nobody else in the family is allowed to. (Cancel culture, anyone?)

Doesn't it make more sense that Ivanka has a rather endearing hobby? She's 38, a decade younger than me. She is well within the generation of Lego obsession. I find it entirely believable that she would transfer her love of Legos to her child. It's the go-to gift! The go-to Christmas present! 

And if the kid enjoys it, all the better. 

Since I rarely post about politics (so this may be one of only a few I'll post before November 2020), I decided to clarify. I dislike petty humorlessness wherever it appears. I don't care for the mean-spiritedness of the left (and I heartily dislike its own lack of policing), but I also can't much stand the humorless how-dare-you-criticize-the-Great-Man posturing on the right (I mostly think that since Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang were hounded out of the primaries by their own party, the right at least has something constructive to offer, no matter how fluffy). In truth, I found these Tweets about Barron  fairly hilarious in a 1980s John Cusack way. 

However, generally speaking, I think it best to leave the kids alone (and that statement is aimed at everybody, and just so you know, when it comes to ethics, it doesn't matter what the other side did first or last). 

A New Edogawa Translation by Eugene Woodbury: Interview with a Translator, Part I

The Bronze Devil by Ranpo Edogawa, translated by Eugene Woodbury, is now gearing into action!

In longstanding tradition, Interview with a Translator returns:

1. As you mention in the introduction to The Bronze Devil, there are multiple clues in the novel that the events are taking place post-war (despite no direct references to the Occupation)—from the empty lots to the orphaned children to the backstory of some characters. What was Edogawa’s opinion of World War II? The Bronze Devil has a youthful, energetic, and optimistic feel. Is that attitude exclusive to Edogawa? In any way reflective of a general attitude at the time?

I haven’t studied Edogawa enough to know what he thought about the war itself. One of his stories was banned by government censors but he remained active in his local neighborhood organization (he wasn’t a rabble rouser). He mostly wrote under a pseudonym during the war years and set aside his franchise Boy Detectives Club and Detective Akechi series. He was obviously taking a wait-and-see attitude.

The years immediately following the war were hard ones. The economy had literally burned to the ground. The “Reverse Course” starting in 1947 put the idealistic objectives of the Occupation on hold and focused on the economy. This included fiscal austerity measures to counter skyrocketing inflation. The effects were brutal in the short term but laid the foundation for Japan’s future economic growth.

In 1948, Japanese voters rejected plans to continue down the planned economy route—inspired by socialist-leaning New Deal bureaucrats in the Occupation—and voted in a slate of free-market economic conservatives, who have pretty much remained in power ever since. By the end of the decade, Japan’s economy had returned positive growth, even before the outbreak of the Korean War gave it a huge boost.

So in 1949, the year The Bronze Devil was published, things were looking up. This change in attitude is reflected in the “Showa drama” genre. The Showa drama takes place during the reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926-1989), with a focus on the post-war years. I am a big sucker for feel-good Showa dramas, in which the upward arc of the story parallels the economic recovery of Japan after WWII.

The Bronze Devil: Interview with a Translator, Part II

The Bronze Devil

 2. A great many idioms in The Bronze Devil—as well as the antics of some of the characters—evoke magicians and the circus. Are magicians as popular in Japan as they are in America? Do some magicians get more attention than others? That is, does Japanese culture extol the David Copperfield approach (big elaborate tricks) or the classic stage magician (rabbits out of hats) or the sleight of hand magician (card tricks) or all of them? What about Penn & Teller—or are Penn & Teller a little too ironic/cynical?

I’ve observed that Japanese don’t do the whole “dripping with irony” thing. It’s sand in the gears of a culture that depends so much on going with the flow. So I’d say the Penn & Teller approach is probably a bit too knowing and cynical. I do recall an episode of a police procedural in which the murder victim is a magician who had the audacity to reveal the secrets of other magicians.

Cyril Takayama: Japanese-American
magician: American background
meets cultural Japan. Kate thinks he'd
make a good Fiend in the movies!

In my limited Japanese television-watching experience, I haven’t seen many David Copperfield types. More old-school vaudeville-style magicians. Rabbits out of hats and simple sleight of hand and lots of banter. But the performances always seem to me as more variety show material than the main event.

That said, Edogawa’s stories very often center around elaborate David Copperfield tricks rather than “traditional” crimes. Stage and circus magic acts figure into many of his novels, where the crime is solved by figuring out the trick, not whodunit. A big part of Doctor Magic (1956), for example, consists of Edogawa explaining several stage magic and circus acts. I was familiar with the “tricks.” Though his readers probably were not.

Cyril Takayama reminds me of a certain personality type you see a lot on NHK World. The foreign hosts (varying in Japanese extraction from zero to one hundred percent) walk that fine line between being extroverted enough to attract a crowd and stand out in it but not so much that they become intimidating. It's the art of being comfortably foreign. If you can master it, it's a good gig to have.

The Bronze Devil: Interview with a Translator, Part III

The Bronze Devil

3. Edogawa often breaks the fourth wall (Dear Reader). This is common to a great deal of manga, in which even a somewhat self-contained story will include a tiny note from the mangaka, off to the side in a panel, about how the character feels about being a character in a manga. Of course, these types of asides are also fairly typical of a certain era and genre, such as E. Nesbit’s children’s fiction. Do Japanese authors break the fourth wall more often than western authors? Is it an ongoing staple of the fiction? Or does its popularity rise and fall as it does in the West?

Serialized fiction like manga and light novels are still popular in Japan. By its very nature, serialized fiction creates an ongoing relationship between the writer and the reader. In the manga and anime Bakuman, about the creation and publication of a manga series, the manga artists constantly receive feedback from their readers, on whom their careers depend. I think this encourages the manga artist to engage in ongoing interactions with the audience. Social media long before the Internet.

Though in terms of Japanese authors in general, I don’t know if they break the fourth wall more often than western authors. 

 4. The chapter title for Chapter 6 is “Strange, Weird, and Bizarre.” The words have similar meanings in English but different connotations. That is, each word evokes different emotions and imagery. How important is connotation in Japanese? Connotation can rely heavily on cultural “insider” status, so a word like “slob” can mean something very different (and negative) to Greg’s mother in Dharma and Greg as opposed to Dharma’s parents. Does connotation carry such impact in Japanese fiction? Non-fiction? 

The Japanese expression in the chapter title is kiki-kaikai (愇々æ€Ș々), which is defined in the dictionary as: “very strange, fantastic, amazing, bizarre, freakish.” I covered all the bases. Though I think “strange, weird, and bizarre” is a good way of summing up the sense of the phrase.

Broadly speaking, I’d say there is more denotation in English and more connotation in Japanese (although there’s plenty of both in both). So much meaning in Japanese rides on the social context and the social status of the speaker relative to the setting and to the audience. 

Consider all the consternation that occurs in romances about whether to attach an honorific to a name. Or to address someone using a first or a last name. And when it comes to expletives, the same exact word can be translated quite differently depending on whether a child or adult is speaking and who they are speaking to and whether honorifics are involved. 

5. Is another Edogawa translation coming? 

For now, I’m working on Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon. At over 1600 pages, it’s going to take a while. I may return to Edogawa after that. 

Thanks for the interview! Explore The Bronze Devil more here and here 

Culture Comes From Individuals

Graphs I created for my thesis--I argue
against the middle view.

Despite some current political thought, culture is the product of individuals. That isn't a political position. It is reality. Whether we like it or not, we are born into individual bodies with individual minds (in fact, in a perfect world with lots of funding, every individual would receive an individual health work-up since even our bacteria is not all the same).

Shows, genres, movies, franchises attract particular and specific writers and directors, crew members and cast members. Together, they create a work with a certain aura/theme/look. 

Interestingly enough, sometimes those writers, directors, etc. move on to other shows but rarely en masse; no matter how many of them move together, the new arrangement of people will result in a show with a different aura/theme/look than the previous show.

As Hollywood has discovered, you can't simply recreate an aura/theme/look by pulling together all the supposedly similar elements. Recent Star Trek will never be able to recreate original Star Trek, no matter how many of the same elements are slotted into place. A group of individuals did something: it can never be done quite the same way again. 

I'm not going to argue here whether one is better than the other--merely, it is not the same.

Genres and shows and franchises gain auras, which extends to the types of scripts that get submitted, the actors who get hired, the ideas that get encouraged. Some of this can be deliberate--the sort of top-down determinations that get social alarmists all alarmed (mostly, as far as I can tell, because they aren't in charge of the top-down determinations)--but a lot of these decisions come from everyday decisions made by individuals involved in an artistic enterprise.

I saw this version of Corialanus live. Still don't 
get the plot but wow! these scenes were amazing.
Judi Dench famously dislikes watching herself on film (though she went to see herself in the Bond films since her husband and daughter were fans). The reason: film is static; it's one performance kept forever. On stage, every performance every night is different. The theater experience is not just the actors and crew but the audience: a unique experience each time.

I can attest to this: one of the best theater experiences I've ever had was seeing an off-Broadway production of Into the Woods as a college student. The audience was perfect. Everyone was excited but respectful. The energy was fantastic. People cheered, sighed, applauded, laughed... Afterwards, even the cast said, rather wonderingly--it was Utah--"This is one of the best audiences we've ever had."

The right people came together in the right way:

Even though film productions don't create the same individuals-joined-together experience as the theater--for one, film scenes are rarely filmed in order--it is useful to remember that the experience of filming a scene is also carried out by individuals. There's a reason that Christian Bale (inappropriately though understandably) lost his cool when a crew member traipsed across the set during filming. And there's a reason that Hugh Jackman stopped in the middle of a stage performance and instructed an audience member to shut off his or her cell phone. Over-the-top reactions maybe but they get to the heart of the matter:

Culture is about individuals. I am doing something here.


Best Lines About Cats

It's summer, so I watched That Darn Cat again--the real version with Dean Jones and Hayley Mills.

It has fantastic lines about cats:

1. "Oh, it's nothing," Agent Kelso says about being scratched. "It's probably just an artery."

2. "We shall proceed with the paw-printing!"

3. "How do you follow a cat? They go through fences and culverts. They climb trees and phone poles."
I love this line. The FBI agent who delivers it is so matter-of-fact. Not, "Are you crazy?!" Just a poetic description of cat behavior. It is followed by an equally poetic response: "Wither he goest, you will go."

4. Patty to Kelso, "You can save the hypocrisy. He knows you don't like him." 

5. To Kelso's protest, "He certainly can't understand what I'm  saying, can he?" Patty responds, "Not everything, of course. He's just a cat. Mostly everything."  

6. The hilarious scene where Kelso temporarily thinks DC is speaking to him through the radio. "Be patient...Say that again? Let's just try and pull ourselves together."

7.  "I'm sorry but the cat's going out now. I've got to follow."

8.  Irritated Ingrid: "That cat's about as helpless as the U.S. Marine Corps." (In the books, the older sister is DC's protector and apologist.)

9. Patty about DC: "He's really diabolically clever."

10. Villain: "The cat's bugged."

11. Kelso, trying to explain away the bug: "What is he going to be dragging home next?!"

12. And of course, DC trips the villain down the stairs. "That darn cat!"

Memory Lane: "Take on Me"

I absolutely adored A-ha's "Take on Me" MTV video when I was younger.

It is still fairly classic--for one, it's a great song and led me to discover that A-ha is still around--no longer technically together but the band lasted a surprisingly long time and the musicians are still doing musical stuff.

Two, the video has an actual story with an actual arc.

Three, the story--while a product of its time period (Tron meets the ubiquitous cafe of Back to the Future and Terminator plus the undying classical milieu of graphic novels)--is entirely comprehensible without inside knowledge.

In comparison, I also recently watched the  unchanging Cyndi Lauper in "Time after Time."

Fantastic song. Amazing artiste. But the video--which is a story--seems entirely dependent on character context, the kind of video about which  my friends (back in the day) would have said, "Oh, you've got to watch it over and over to get all the clues about their relationship!" (Keep in mind: these videos were very popular.)

Kind of like watching Meatloaf's videos (and I'm a HUGE Meatloaf fan) where I feel like I need cliff-notes. (Where exactly are they? Is this the same couple from "Dashboard Light"? When did they meet?)

In the 1980s world of story videos, A-ha's video still stands out.

I should mention: at least both these videos tell stories--they're not some artistic rendering of someone's soul (Oh, why don't you get me?), which renderings are supposedly valuable simply because of the artists' reputations. 

1980s artists worked really hard to be entertaining. 

F is for Fondness (and Kids are Freaky)

For "F," I chose Don Freeman of Corduroy fame.

I remembered Corduroy so vividly in my own head, I was a little surprised to discover (1) the story is incredibly simple; (2) the book did not win the Caldecott. (The book was voted into the Teachers' Top 100 and in the top 100 by a School Library Journal poll.)

Regarding simplicity, I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's comments on Sesame Street and Blue's Clues in his chapter about "stickiness" in The Tipping Point, which non-fiction book I recommend.

Gladwell makes the point that although adults like Sesame Street, little kids prefer Blue's Clues. Adults find Blue's Clues mind-numbing. But little kids will gravitate towards it, in part because it doesn't require constant attention, an observation that completely refutes the idea that kids who watch television are brain-dead automatons.

In other words, there is a difference between what attracts adults and what attracts kids.

In the universe of Venn diagrams, there is overlap, but the divide is important to remember. Many adults like Frozen (I'm one of those who prefers Tangled--not that the movies have to be compared but they came out at the same time and were compared). However, even adults who like the movie are often utterly bewildered by the fascination of their little girls.

Screeds have been written trying to explain that fascination. Eh. It just is. (The first time you witness two little girls arguing about which of their moms is Elsa--while wearing Elsa dresses and claiming the privilege of being Elsa--you confine the entire topic to the mind-heap of "kids are freaky" and move on.)

In any case, Corduroy is a lovely book--however, I wasn't initially able to recapture whatever it was about the book that utterly enchanted me when I was young.

The second time I went through it, I decided my fond memories were connected to the idea-- wonderfully captured in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--of being awake and mobile in a department store/place-with-stuff at night (weirdly enough, that is the one thing I remember about the strange, Greek myth-inspired 1980s movie Mannequin.) 

And I was fascinated by escalators.

Though--maybe it was something else. Kids are kids.

Corduroy is a lovely book.


The Worth of Taming of the Shrew

Re-post from 2005

* * *

In one of my undergrad classes, the issue of sexism in Shakespeare came up. We had just gone to see Taming of The Shrew, and the class was divided into those who thought it might be sexist but hey, women can be jerks too; those who thought it was totally sexist; and the professor who thought that it wasn't sexist at all. (He was a huge Shakespeare fan and basically saw Shakespeare as a modern, thoroughly unspoiled liberal writer who could do no wrong—no sexism, no racism, no "isms" at all!)

I thought everyone was nuts, which may be typical for an undergrad but not very helpful. I can articulate better now what I thought then, so I will.

What I thought was (1) the play we had seen stank; (2) so, it's sexist--so what are you going to do about it?

Concerning (2), I don't think anyone in the course (at that time) was gunning for censorship. I think, if the issue had been pressed, education would have been promoted as an answer. That is: every production of Taming of the Shrew should begin with an apology from the director and actors; it should end with a discussion led by a women's group, and the program should be embellished with essays by concerned professors who are afraid that the audience will, by watching the play, assume that wife-beating is okay.

I'm not particularly opposed to apologies, discussions or essays, but they all so miss the point.

The most classic version of Taming of the Shrew [not necessarily my favorite; my favorite is Shakespeare Retold's version with Henderson and Sewell] is Zeffirelli's Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor production, and it is magnificent. It is magnificent for several reasons. First, the play is allowed to speak for itself. I don't mean that interpretation isn't involved--Zeffirelli's hand is omnipresent--but there's no attempt to create an application to our modern day.

The play that I saw as an undergrad, the one that stank, made such an attempt. Instead of being a beer-guzzling, larger than life, obnoxious, funny and ultimately chauvinistic nutcase, Petruchio was portrayed as a mild-mannered, sweet, well-meaning bleeding heart. Yeah, right. The relationship between Petruchio and Catarina was mended when Catarina realized that Petruchio was just trying to save her cultural embarrassment; it's all a game, honey, play along.

Elizabeth Taylor was criticized for not
being a true Shakespearan actor. Whatever.
She turns this scene into a demand rather than
supplication through sheer force of personality.
In the Zeffirelli version, Petruchio and Catarina have got so much chutzpah, sexual come hitherness and physical energy, they would probably kill anybody else they married (this was also true of Burton and Taylor). This Petruchio, unlike the (ironically) appallingly chauvinistic Petruchio of the "modern interpretation," is never sure of Catarina. They will keep fighting until the day they die, and they will love every minute of it. And yeah, it freaks out most of us but as Joan Armatrading pointed out (possibly also ironically), some people are into that sort of thing.

The second reason Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew is amazing is the last scene. I'm not a huge Elizabeth Taylor fan, but when she sweeps into the banquet hall, hauling her sister by one ear and the newly married widow by the other, she takes the room and the screen by storm. And then she gives the speech—THE speech—the chauvinistic speech about a woman's place. And it is a thing of beauty. It is gorgeous. You sit there, thinking, "An ordinary, mortal, money-making playwright wrote this." Not a word wrong. The speech flows.

Which is the final wonderful thing about Zeffirelli's production: it lets Shakespeare sing. The cinematography is plush and colorful; the scenes are full of extras; the pace is hyperactive and alongside all this are the words, those stunning words that explain Shakespeare's reputation down the ages. Yeah, the man could descend to bad writing, but when his verse was good, oh my.

[2020 tangent:] What is so sad about all the social justice people who kill art--even my readily offended classmates from many years ago--is that they are so busy focusing on message, they miss not only content but the sheer exuberance of caring about something for the sake of its beauty or wittiness or poetry. I recently watched Ford v. Ferrari. It was way too long for me and seemed a tad uneven though it was totally worth watching for Damon and Bale. The thing that struck me most was the power of hobby. It's the element that underscores Last Man Standing and makes it more than about politics--and it is the element that literal-minded "let's expurgate everything!" types will never understand as they embroil themselves more and more in the mindset of petty politics.

Car guys have fun.

Another Reason I Detest Doomsdaying

Perhaps the magnitude of the [degrading claims] gave the [leaders] second thoughts...One man, for one, concluded that, despite all the flaws of the court's procedures, which he always acknowledged, the sheer volume of [degrading claims] demonstrated just how important the...task was. As [he] explained in print and [on Twitter], those [claims] showed the [corrupt party] was laying a plot for "rotting out the [correct way of thinking] in this country." In its place, [the corrupt party] could substitute "perhaps a more gross [outrage] than ever the world saw before." Given the scale of the immediate crisis, it scarcely mattered that, by the man's interpretation [of expert opinions], which he was sharing at the time, the [end of the world] would probably begin in five years.
So who is being described here--who is the passage about? Is it Trump going after the woke generation? Is the woke generation going after, well, everybody? Is it someone from the right? From the left? Is it the news?

It's Cotton Mather, getting upset about witches.


It gets trotted out pretty much all the time. I grew up hearing it (not at home) from religious people and secular people. It was a kind of tepid, upstate New York, middle-class bourgeois "I'm going to college next year" version of how bad everything was and subsequently easily disregarded.

It can become more passionate and determined. Interestingly enough, it tends to build up not necessarily at the height of a culture's dominance but as that dominance begins to disintegrate.

In Hot Protestants, Michael Winship makes an argument that is echoed in other books about Salem but is especially well-stated in his fascinating analysis:
The Salem disaster is often treated as the defining expression of American puritanism. But it was an expression of American puritanism in its fevered death throes, after it had been thrown in to a disastrous terrifying imperial war and the old brakes on witch-hunts had been removed, both by powers beyond puritanism's control. 
With Salem, the conviction rate of witches in New England rose from 25 percent to 100 percent. The magistrates were not true believers. They were political animals.

Of course, Cotton Mather was a true believer.

The end of everything did not arrive 5 years later.

Bloopers of Bloopers and Red Hair

Sometimes I'm reading bloopers on Amazon videos, and I think, "But that's not a mistake."

Sure, there's stuff like, "You can see the cameramen reflected in the window" or "Obviously, the 'yard' in the sit-com is a carpet."

But occasionally, the "mistakes" are either poetic license or not mistakes at all.

In one Last Man Standing episode, Mike gets on Ed's case about his treatment of employees. He says something along the lines of, "You had employees work that day."

"It was a Thursday."

"It was Thanksgiving!"

This was supposedly a blooper because the episode aired before Thanksgiving. But the first time I saw the episode, I never assumed that Mike was referring to that year's Thanksgiving. I thought he was calling on some past year's Thanksgiving to make his point.

The weirdest so-called blooper was the critic who got snarky about when The Andy Griffith Show went from black & white to color and, wow, look, red-haired Opie has a dark-haired father!

Uh, hullo, dark-haired parents do have red-headed kids--and red-headed parents have dark-haired children. I checked my mundane knowledge (my mother's mom had red-hair; my parents have dark hair; one of my brothers is sandy-blond but grows a red beard). Here is what I discovered from "The Big Question: Will You Have a Red-Headed Baby?"
If only one parent has the locks but the other is a carrier, the baby’s chances are 50/50. If neither of you are red but you both are carriers, you have a one in four chance of a fiery-haired child. And, sorry to say, if only one parent is not a carrier (even though the other is), you’ve got no shot...Even though you might not be a redhead yourself, studies estimate that 25 percent of Caucasian Americans carry the ginger gene, so if you fall into this category you might end up with a redheaded baby when you’re least expecting it.
By the way, we never see Opie's mom.

My main thought when I read that "blooper": Didn't the critic know any families with redheads? 

Back to bloopers, I do a kick out of all the car guys who make corrections to dialog in Home Improvement--it seems to be out of love for the discipline rather than a desire to "show up" the writers.

Shatner as Kirk Deserves Applause

I'm not going to discuss which captain is best. Hey, I like them all!

I do think William Shatner as Kirk doesn't always get the recognition he deserves.

I'm not referring to the type of captain he represents. So many arguments about the "best captain" seem to revolve around Picard's diplomatic style versus Kirk's in-the-action style. Again, I feel no need to rank them.

I'm referring, rather, to Shatner's understanding of Kirk. There is a great scene in "Mirror, Mirror," The Original Series, Season 2. Kirk and several members of the original Enterprise have transported onto an alternate "mirror" Enterprise. This mirror Enterprise is about to eradicate the population of a planet. The course of action is, of course, repulsive to Kirk, but he can't simply declare his disgust. He has to protect himself and his fellow crew members--to get them back to their Enterprise.

He goes to the bridge. Mirror Sulu asks if he wants to fire on the planet. Mirror Spock, looking very dapper in a goatee, is standing nearby.

"No," Kirk says very, very quietly.

It is such an impressive choice. He doesn't bellow or strut his stuff. He doesn't wave his arms about. In terms of sheer angry bombast, he can't really win; this is a practically piratical crew that will take him to pieces at the slightest hint of weakness.

"No," he says, and his emphatic quiet tone carries far more weight than any argument. In the context, it is very nearly a threat.

Shatner as Kirk made a lot of choices along these lines. He deserves credit for all of them. 

E is for Eastman and Eccentricity

Or, rather, caprice.

I had a difficult time with "E" because all the authors that came to mind were chapter-book authors, as opposed to picture book authors/illustrators.

P.D. Eastman, who published from the 1950s through the 1970s, deserves to be commended for his work--and here is his website. He was in fact a protege of Dr. Seuss and a cartoonist in his own right.

And yet, I cannot remember being drawn to a single one of his books as a child.

I recognize them. And I probably read them. But they interested me not a whit.

It brings up an interesting possibility: that children already have intensely personal, non-socially-induced likes and dislikes from the get-go. And that is rather astonishing!

I was drawn to Elizabeth Enright's drawings as early as I can remember. I became a fan of Trina Schart Hyman as soon as I figured out who she was. I adored Mercer Mayer's monster/magical books--so much so that I tracked down Mrs. Beggs and the Wizard years later. I didn't care for Maurice Sendak despite my mother being a tremendous fan. However, I greatly admire Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Dr. Seuss books were in our house (and I will discuss them in a later post) but eh...

Okay, it is lovely.
I was a huge fan of Cicely Mary Barker--and still have a couple of Flower Fairies books--which kind of surprises me now.  I didn't really get Quentin Blake or Edward Gorey completely but they stuck in my head, and I find them drop-dead hilarious as an adult. I was over the moon in love with the cover of Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three and frankly read the book for its cover the first time (I went on to collect the series). This was my Luke Skywalker phase.

I didn't much like the 1970s covers for the Narnia books, but I like them now, and the collection I own is the 1970s collection. I always adored Pauline Baynes' illustrations and still consider them to be without compare.

Charles Mikolaycak, Jan Pienkowski--there's a reason I'm doing a separate list for fairy tale illustrators/writers!