Shakespearing #32.2: Even More Thoughts About Coriolanus

Shakespearing #32.2 by John King

Even More Thoughts About Coriolanus

Last week, I discussed how Coriolanus eludes me because I don’t feel any empathy for its characters, the minor character Menenius excepted.

Considering that my chief axiom about Shakespeare is that he is best known in performance rather than on the page, I thought it best to carry over how I experience this lack of empathy in performance. I have seen Coriolanus twice, once with the Ralph Fiennes film of 2011, and once with the 2013 stage production mounted by the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival.

Now I have seen Hamlets I felt nothing for, due to bad acting, but even a modest success at Hamlet lets the humanity of his character surprise me, despite having too many Hamlets in my life.

Can a superior performance make me feel empathy for characters whose chief attributes seems to be they have their heads up their asses? Can I think of Coriolanus as being other than the -anus play?

Coriolanus poster

The 2011 film is deeply impressive on numerous levels.

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The cinephile in me likes noticing that Fiennes, who played Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, is acting with Bryan Cox, who was the first Hannibal Lecter in the first film version of Red Dragon, Manhunter.

CORIOLANUS

Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain and Gerard Butler look intelligently cinematic, yet appropriate to this twentieth-first century adaptation of Shakespeare.

And to hear Fiennes deliver Shakespeare’s lines so majestically and ferociously is exquisite, like hearing a Stradivarius go at something that might have been composed by Paganini.

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Fiennes does not persuade me that Coriolanus’s pride (which rips apart both Rome and his sense of identity) is tragic, tragic precisely because it is morally necessary to give his very life meaning—although the delivery is compelling to hear, even if I don’t quite care.

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What Coriolanus does for me in such a performance is to dramatize how politics and rhetoric form a public mask that bears no true resemblance to the experiences as a soldier that has made Coriolanus a public figure to begin with. His relationship with his enemy, Tullus Aufidius, is more real to him that his relationship to his people, or to his wife. These experiences, these triumphs, are not translatable to those without such experiences. Hemingway wrote about this in “Soldiers Home,” from his story collection In Our Time.

I am not sure if it is a mark of boredom, or merely a different aesthetic experience, that my mind watches the tragic dramaturgy of Coriolanus from a vast emotional distance.

If I keep watching, it must be good, even if I cannot articulate why or how.

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When my friend, Kevin Crawford, performed this play in the summer of 2013, he made the spectacle even more abstract, a Rome sort of set in outer space. He and the other actors pantomimed the use of weapons, and when Coriolanus and his fellow soldiers lay siege Aufidius in Corioli—the conquest of which city the hero is granted the name of honor, Coriolanus—they banged the air, and the foleys boomed with their fury.

Kevin was beardless, and totally bald, thus removing one more mark of personality from the hero who was wrestling more with eternity than with Rome, its citizens, or Aufidius, for his sublime sensation of immaculate pride.

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The poster showed Kevin clutching his face, as if he were going insane.

Kevin was roughly my age, but had been acting since he was a teenager, and there were no huge challenges left for him in the great bard’s work. He wanted to mount a production of Cyrano, that dramedy about the distance between our public and private selves, about how complicated our need for companionship in essence is.

Sweating in a field in Jupiter, Florida, as Coriolanus raged to create a public self he could recognize, I felt more on his strange journey than ever before.

Most of the cast of the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival was now young, and had missed the twenty-two years of shows Kevin had experienced.

Coriolanus is a late Shakespeare play. Like The Tempest, it is weird. Perhaps this was Shakespeare sensing the end of his dramatic career. No one’s imagination in the history of letters had come close to his work—he was in an aesthetic isolation. He was trying to exist fully.

Kevin would churl at this psycho-biographic pass at Coriolanus, most likely, although he would have humored me.

That summer run of shows were Kevin’s last. He died quite suddenly on December 2nd, 2013.

I miss him more than I can say.

 _______

1flip

John King (Episode, well, all of them) is a podcaster, writer, and ferret wrangler.

Episode 149: Chelsey Clammer!

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Episode 149 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to the memoirist, Chelsey Clammer,

Chelsey Clammer

plus Susan Brennan shares her poetry sequence, Chromoluminarism, based on the last days of the pointillist, George Seraut.

Susan Brennan

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Bodyhome

The Circus by Georges Seurat

“The Circus” by George Seraut, 1891.

NOTES

If you live in the city beautiful (Orlando, in case you don’t know), come out to see a great show and support a great cause on May 1st.

My Verse

Check out Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog, playing at Orlando Shakespeare Theater through May 3rd.

Ginger Lee McDermott as Molly in Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog (Photo by Tony Firriolo).

Ginger Lee McDermott as Molly in Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog (Photo by Tony Firriolo).

On May 8th, experience Poetry-O-Rama on the historic Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. Be sure to buy tickets in advance.

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Episode 149 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #85: Blade

The Curator of Schlock #85 by Jeff Shuster

Blade

All vampires must die!

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Batman & Robin killed the superhero movie. No one really mourned. We had all given up hope that Hollywood would ever get the genre right. I didn’t care. I still had the new Superman: The Animated Series to keep me entertained. Warner Bros. had even commissioned new Batman cartoons in the wake of Batman & Robin, no doubt in an effort keep the property from completely fading from public view. I was happy, but I knew that superhero movies would forever remain, as Roger Ebert said, “a disreputable genre.”

I think it was about a year later when one of my friends mentioned that they saw the trailer for Blade. I had never heard of Blade. I guess he was another one of these unknown Marvel characters that all of the Marvel fans knew intimately. I knew that Marvel movie adaptations of the past made Batman & Robin look like a cinematic masterpiece. I read horror stories about adaptations of The Fantastic Four and Captain America. I’ll have to get to those someday, if Marvel hasn’t sent mercenaries out to destroy every last VHS copy.

I didn’t have high hopes for Blade, but it had been getting enough buzz that I figured I’d give it a look. Sometimes you see a movie that’s a reminder of why they built movie theaters in the first place. Blade from director Stephen Norrington is one of those movies.

The movie starts out with Traci Lords luring some dork to a secret nightclub inside a meat packing plant.

Traci Lords Blade

She’s all hands on with him until they enter this secret dance hall complete with DJ and techno beats. The place is filled with club kids that look like Calvin Kline models and they’re fist pumping and grinding. Only problem is everyone is ignoring the dork. Tracy Lords shoves him away. He’s like the nerd who was invited to the cool kids party only to be made fun of later. Then blood rains from the sprinkler system, the club kids bare their fangs, and the dude realizes he’s in a club full of vampires.

I used to read those old Tales from the Crypt comics from the 1950s. I remember this one story where this guy arrives in his hometown and his sister warns him not go out into town after dark, but the guy ignores her because he’s hungry. He finds a restaurant where he partakes in a strange 7-course meal that includes tomato juice that’s too salty in addition to other dishes roast clots and blood sherbet. His sister shows up and reveals that she’s a vampire and that everyone in the restaurant are vampires and that he’s been eating blood based dishes the whole time. The last panel of the comic shows the guy strung upside down while vampires are filling their glasses with blood from a tap screwed into his neck. “Nothing like the real stuff,” says one.

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Like in that Tales from the Crypt story, the vampires take glee in tormenting the poor human that was lured into their club. They don’t take notice of the tough looking hombre with the black trench coat and sunglasses who grinning at them. A wave of fear and anger washes over the vampires. They whisper “It’s the Daywalker.” and I surmise that Blade(Wesley Snipes) has arrived on the scene. They all decide to charge him and that’s they’re first mistake. A shotgun blast turns vampire after vampire into fiery ash. Blade even has a katana blade and some ninja star boomerang thing that makes short work of every vampire that’s stupid enough not to run away.

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The movie grabbed me at that point and wouldn’t let go. It managed to flip a classic Tales from the Crypt ending on its head, making the vampires the hunted instead of the hunters. One of the reasons I loved reading Tales from the Crypt comics when I was a kid is because I always found monsters more interesting than heroes, and Blade is a monster. He’s a half-vampire due to fact that his mom was bitten when she was pregnant. He needs to take a special serum to keep his vampire side at bay lest he become what he hates.

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And there’s no reason not to hate the vampires in this movie. They’re an array of pompous jerks, scumbags, and psychopaths. There’s no grey area here. Blade sees vampires as all evil and they all need to die because vampires are all evil and they all need to die! None of this True Blood, vampires deserve equal rights crap!

Blade even has his own Alfred in the form of a cantankerous hillbilly named Whistler (Kris Kristofferson).

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Blade’s arch nemesis is Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) a megalomaniac who wants to fulfill some dark prophecy about resurrecting the “Blood God.” Frost can only be described as a perfect asshole, but he is genuinely funny like when he sees one hears one of his vampire minions pleading for help after Blade catches him and Frost says, “Pearl, you’re history. Have the good grace to die with some fuckin’ dignity.”

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These days the superhero genre is as reputable as the western or gangster film. When you go to see Avengers: Age of Ultron keep in mind that the movie wouldn’t be possible if not for a little movie featuring Wesley Snipes slaying bloodsuckers with his trusty Katana.

Five Things I Learned from Blade

  1. Don’t go to raves in meat packing plants.
  2. Who needs the Batmobile when you’ve got a 1968 Dodge Charger?
  3. Morbidly obese vampires are very unpleasant.
  4. Actors can be very expressive while wearing sunglasses.
  5. Some movies actually live up to their trailers.

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Jeffrey Shuster 4

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

Heroes Never Rust #90: Skip the Door

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Heroes Never Rust #90 by Sean Ironman

Watchmen: When Not to Show

Watchmen, for the most part, is devoid of action. There are blips on the radar, but the comic is very much a bunch of talking heads.

But the eighth issue is the most action packed. We get Rorschach taking on Big Figure and his henchmen, Night Owl and Silk Spectre breaking Rorschach from prison, and the murder of Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl. The issue is bloody and violent, but upon re-reading it, I was in awe of how little Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons show the violence. Many beginner writers go overboard with action scenes, and they could do worse than studying the eighth issue in finding a way to be violent without showing too much. This goes for every aspect of a story, really. When does a writer cut away? What does a writer show to the reader?

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In the first action scene of the issue, Big Figure, a crime boss from the 1960s that Night Owl and Rorschach put in jail, uses the prison riot distracting guards to his benefit and goes to Rorchach’s cell with two henchmen. Rorschach pisses off one of the henchmen, who tries to grab Rorschach through the bars. Rorschach ties his hands so that Big Figure can’t open the cell. Wanting revenge, Big Figure has the second henchman cut the first henchman’s throat so they can get to the lock. In one panel, we see the second henchman with a shiv to the first henchman’s throat. But, we don’t see the throat cut. We get a shot of Rorschach with a stone cold look on his face as blood splashes onto his stomach.

Why change perspective there? Does it have something to do with the reader not being able to handle the grisly scene? Some might say so, but I wouldn’t. If someone didn’t want to read a comic with violence like this, they would not have advanced to the eighth issue. And if they miraculously did and still did not want to see violence, they still get a scene where a person’s throat is cut. They might not see the knife cut through skin, but they know what’s going on. The slitting of the throat is not shown because it does not matter. It’s unimportant. Skip the door and all that.

The henchman is barely a character. Readers are shown Rorschach’s response. He’s one of the main characters of the comic. And his response is that he has none. He doesn’t even acknowledge the man dying. The moment is used to support Rorschach’s characterization, not to give the audience a violent encounter. That’s the difference between violence being used gratuitously and violence serving the story.

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Later, violence is used in a similar fashion when Night Owl and Silk Spectre proceed to rescue Rorschach from prison. At first, Rorschach refuses to leave until he settles the score with Big Figure, who has run into a bathroom. Big Figure’s death is not shown. Instead, readers stay with Night Owl and Silk Spectre as they wait in the hall. Again, Big Figure is not important. It might be “cool” to get a death scene, but the story does not require it. The story needs to keep the main characters front and center. So, while the reader can understand what is going on in the bathroom, the reader would not understand what Silk Spectre and Night Owl discuss while waiting. It’s more important for the reader to stay with those two and their conversation than to follow Rorschach. There is nothing surprising about what happens to Big Figure. Skip the door.

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Now, the final action scene of the issue—the death of Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl, is a bit different. No main character is present. One could argue that the scene does not affect the main plot of Watchmen, and one would be right in that assumption. Yet, it still is an important scene. It deals with the aftereffects of the main plot. It gives the story weight.

In Watchmen, much of the public dislikes superheroes. A gang blames Doctor Manhattan and the other vigilantes for the troubles of the world, for the world being on the verge of nuclear Armageddon. Hollis Mason released a book years earlier revealing he was Night Owl. The gang, not understanding there is a new Night Owl, go to kill Hollis because they think they are stopping a superhero. They break into his house and beat him to death.

Instead of seeing him die, the scene is cut up. Readers are given one panel of the fight, and then one of Hollis in the past as Night Owl fighting criminals. Due to the break in the scene, the sequence becomes about more than just the death of Hollis Mason. It becomes about consequences.

About the aftermath. Doctor Manhattan, Rorschach, Night Owl, and Silk Spectre can’t save everyone. Their existence, in itself, is capable of bringing pain to others. And what happens years later to these superheroes, when they’re old and forgotten?

Watchmen, at its very heart, is a study about superheroes in the real world. The consequences of their existence. The effect they have on the world. That’s what makes Watchmen so interesting. But, superheroes can’t just affect the world in a good way. That’s not interesting. That’s not real. Bad things will happen, like they do with Hollis Mason. No one can save the entire world.

_______

Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

Buzzed Books #25: Across a Green Ocean

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Buzzed Books #25 by Leslie Salas

Across a Green Ocean

Across a Green Ocean

Across a Green Ocean, by Wendy Lee, presents the intertwined stories of an immigrant mother and her two children living in the suburbs of New York City. When Ling can’t get a hold of her son, Michael, she sends his older sister, Emily, to check up on him.

Ling’s concern for her children resonates as authentically as her self-conscious speech patterns, offering a nuanced glimpse into her worries about her place in a society so different from the one she grew up in. Her daughter Emily struggles as a woman so dedicated to her work at a law firm representing immigrants like her parents that she neglects her husband’s eagerness to build a family. The son Michael, known for his quiet artistic talents and friendship with the girl next door, harbors a secret identity from his family and a curiosity that takes him half the world away to find answers.

The lives of this aging mother and her grown children unfurl–Michael is missing, Emily’s relationship with her husband is on the brink, and Ling must come to terms with moving nearly a year after the death of her spouse. This masterfully crafted novel weaves three simultaneous perspectives–of the mother, daughter, and son–with engaging and believable narrates in the unique voices of each character, reflecting their background, education, and temperament. Through the course of these pages, Lee’s brushstrokes paint a compelling portrait of an immigrant family’s struggles culminating in the unveiling of a horrible family secret, leaving hope for a solid foundation to rebuild their familial relationships, come to peace with their identities, and find their places in the world across the green ocean.

Pair with: Snow Beer, the most popular beer in the world, which you have to travel to China to try.

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Leslie Salas

Leslie Salas (episode 75, Gutter Space) writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.

The Global Barfly’s Companion #4: The Sea Vista Tiki Bar

The Global Barfly’s Companion #4 by Sam Slaughter

Bar: The Sea Vista Tiki Bar

Location: 1701 S Atlantic Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL

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I’m going to go ahead and say that the Sea Vista Tiki Bar is the best place to people watch in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The bar, one of many beachside bars in the “Shark Attack Capital of the World,” features dirt-cheap drinks, a beachside pool, and more local color than seems possible.

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There has never been a beachside bar (that I’ve been to) that has epitomized the phrase “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor” more than Sea Vista. The moment you walk up to the bar—which is an outdoor deck with beach access—you’ll see why. There will be an abundance of “tramp stamps” that have long started to fade and sag, at least three bikers wearing only leather vests and shorts, and a gaggle of small children running to and from the pool as their parents get hammered. Your job as a patron is to order the strongest drink you can think of, sit back, and relax to late 90s ska/punk/beach jams by bands like 311 and No Doubt.

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You don’t go there expecting style or class. You go there for drinks like the Tiki Tea or the 386 Motherf*cker that, within minutes, start your buzz. Within a drink or two (and at Sea Vista’s prices, why not two?), you begin to forget that you may end up playing giant Jenga with an ex-con.

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This type of beachside perfection is only heightened by the fact that you can walk down onto the beach, dig a hole for your plastic cup, and pass out whenever you’re ready. A bloody Mary buzz under the Florida sun is a beautiful thing as the ocean breeze tickles your back and you slowly sweat out pure vodka.

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Photo by Oxley Photography 2014

Photo by Oxley Photography 2014

Sam Slaughter (Episodes 119126, and 129) is a writer, English professor, and beer brewer based in DeLand, Florida. He’s had fiction, book reviews, and other nonfiction published in a variety of places, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, South85, Drafthorse, The Southern Literary Review, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. He can be found on twitter @slaughterwrites and on his website.

Shakespearing 32.1: More thoughts on Coriolanus

Shakespearing 32.1 by John King

More thoughts on Coriolanus

I confess: I don’t get Coriolanus. Not on a gut level, anyway.

Coriolanus Folio

Perhaps one has to be a soldier to see into the hero’s spirit properly. A soldier before the modern epoch. Certainly before Ulysses S. Grant.

The idea that one’s identity can be granted stature and honor through killing on the field of battle seems like an atavistic ideal, when a soldier’s survival seemed less random, before bombs and IEDs and the fog of war would make survival seem miraculous, and reason to rejoice, and mourn, considering all of one’s comrades who did not survive.

Coriolanus has a hawkish worldview and was protective of empire, just like Dick Cheney, except that unlike Cheney, Coriolanus fought firsthand for his ideals rather than let other people risk their lives for his desire for desolation and violence.

And yet.

If valor is the chief virtue, then Coriolanus would have been named consul. Not dictator, like Caesar, but consul. But he didn’t love the common people.

The common people of an empire that he risked his life and honor for on the battlefield. The common people he has tacitly fought for. The common people who would rebel against the empire in times of peace, and let empire protect them in times of war. They are “dissentious rogues.” They are “curs that like not peace nor war.”

One has to wonder—as the mind (my mind anyway) drifts from the story, since I don’t quite care about Coriolanus, or his worthy adversary Aufidius—whom Shakespeare felt empathy for in this play. Both the citizens and Coriolanus seem to have too much pride, even if Coriolanus seems to have more legitimate cause for pride. As David Foley said last week, “Coriolanus is [Shakespeare’s] most problematic avatar of nobility yet.”

I don’t care, usually, about Macbeth either. In Othello and Hamlet and Twelfth Night, I care about all of the characters. In Macbeth I sort of like the porter. The rest are annoying, and it is a fine cast indeed that can entertain me. Coriolanus is much the same way.

Except that Coriolanus has a drinker in it: the Roman patrician Menenius.

Menenius is in the thick of Roman political life, but paradoxically strives to be above the hypocrisy of the capital by quipping his honest way like a classic Shakespearean clown, without the costume. When he encounters two tribunes of the people and anticipates their resistance to Coriolanus’s consulship, he becomes combative:

BRUTUS

Come, sir, come, we know you well enough.

MENENIUS

You know neither me, yourselves nor any thing.

He soon takes his leave by telling them, “more of your conversation would infect my brain.” Politics is folly.

Menenius’s abhorrence of cynical and hypocritical politics, his inability to serve officially and hold his tongue, puts him in the same category as Benjamin Franklin in this country.

Politics, for Menenius, is tragic folly. He cannot keep Coriolanus, having joined with Aufidius, from ravaging Rome. Menenius’s sense of identity, as a Roman, is annihilated by this.

The emotional gymnastics that bring about Coriolanus’s climactic change of heart are inexplicable to me.

If only the play had been called Menenius.

_______

1flip

John King (Episode, well, all of them) is a podcaster, writer, and ferret wrangler.

Episode 148: Jennifer Hoppe-House!

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Episode 148 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to the playwright Jennifer Hoppe-House, whose debut play is experiencing its world premiere at Orlando Shakespeare Theater,

Jennifer Hoppe-House

plus Lori D’Angelo writes about discovering The Scarlet Letter as a teenager, and reading it in a way probably not endorsed by her high school curriculum.

Lori

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Bad Dog PosterThe Scarlet LetterMirrorsThe Tin DrumSHOW NOTES

Ginger Lee McDermott as Molly in Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog (Photo by Tony Firriolo).

Ginger Lee McDermott as Molly in Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog (Photo by Tony Firriolo).

Check out Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog, playing at Orlando Shakespeare Theater through May 3rd.

Read my Portland Review essay about Sylvester Stallone here.


Episode 148 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #84: Batman & Robin

The Curator of Schlock #84 by Jeff Shuster

Batman & Robin

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When you’re young and foolish, you do foolish things. Like going to see Batman & Robin because you’ve seen every Batman movie in the theater including the animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and excluding that 1960s Batman movie since you technically hadn’t been born yet.

The movie starts. Robin makes a joke about “chicks digging the car.” A hearty chuckle ensues. Maybe this movie won’t be so bad.

You see George Clooney as Batman. Later in the fall, you’ll be in a film class where the professor will ask who is Superman’s arch nemesis. A student will then answer Lex Luthor. The professor will then ask who is Batman’s arch nemesis. Another student will reply George Clooney. But you’re not in that class yet. You’re still, alas, watching Batman & Robin for the first time.

Batman and Robin are fighting a new villain named Mr. Freeze and his hockey team from Hell/

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You hear the first bad one-liner from Ahhhnold and hear the first Hannah Barbara sound effect. One of your friends starts screaming, “This sucks! This sucks! This is stupid!” right in the middle of a crowded theater. He’ll continue doing this for the rest of the feature. You don’t bother to silence him for being rude. He’s right. No one else in the theater tries to silence him because he is so right.

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They’re really isn’t any part of this movie that doesn’t suck. Director Joel Schumacher will apologize for this travesty, but it won’t be enough. Every rubber suit in this movie has nipples. Even Mr. Freeze’s suit has nipples, and he’s impervious to the cold!

What is with all of these stupid one-liners from Ahhhnold.

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You are not sending me to the cooler? Cool Party? Stay cool, bird boy?

Other movies would come out that summer of ’97 to help you forget. Movies like Con Air, Air Force One, and Air Bud. And Face/Off! You’ll never forget Face/Off, the one where Nicholas Cage and John Travolta get their faces removed and stuck on each other. You’ll see that one three times in the theater because you’ll go with different groups and don’t want to be the party pooper. You’ll kind of only need to see Face/Off once because the whole face off and on thing will where thin on repeated viewings. In fact, the gimmick was plagiarized from Diamonds Are Forever.

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One day, you’ll be traveling to Dallas by train to visit a friend. You’ll have to catch a bus in Houston to make it the rest of the way to Dallas. While you wait in the bus station, a movie will be playing: Batman & Robin.

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You’ll suffer through all 125 minutes again (That’s over two hours!). When the movie is over, the bus station attendant sticks another movie into the videocassette recorder. It’s Wild Wild West!

Your bus arrives just in time.

Five Things I Learned from Batman & Robin

  1. Plastic ice looks exactly like plastic ice.
  2. Jessie Ventura was in a Batman movie.
  3. You can judge a movie within the first two minutes.
  4. Summer blockbusters of 1997 are a reminder of why I got into independent movies.
  5. This movie really needed Jim Carrey.

Photo by Leslie Salas.
Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

Heroes Never Rust #89: Dream Sequences

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Heroes Never Rust #89 by Sean Ironman

Watchmen: Dream Sequences

When I took Introduction to Creative Writing as an undergraduate student, I was given a list of things that I could not use in my writing. I was told that my stories would be stronger if I did not include certain things, at least as a beginning writer. I have forgotten most of the list, but a few of the items were: flashbacks, drug-addicted protagonists, and dream sequences. After reading the list, I was pissed off, as many undergraduate students seem to be when given constraints for their writing. But, as I get older and more experienced as both a writer and a teacher, I believe my instructor was right in restricting the content of our work. Yes, those items I listed are used in many stories, but as a student it was important to limit the playing field so that I could learn certain craft elements before moving on to more complicated elements. I still have a habit of trying to avoid elements such as dream sequences in my own work, but when used well, they can strengthen a story in unique ways.

Watchmen VII

Issue seven of Watchmen is focused on Dan Drieberg (Night Owl II) and Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre II). Up until this issue, the two have mainly reacted to the story’s events, staying on the sidelines. But, now, they are reinvigorated and put on their costumes that have gathered dust over the years since their retirement and they go out into the night and rescue tenants from a burning building. And, in the end, Dan decides that they need to break Rorschach out of prison. Watchmen has entered its second half and it is time for the characters’ stories to come together.

The difficulty in this issue lies in getting Dan and Laurie to put their costumes back on. They have been retired for years. In a comic, at least in this one, there is no interiority, no thought bubbles. And while that may be different in prose, point of view could prove limiting at times, and it may be more interesting to show something than to tell. Here, Dan falls asleep and the reader is given a one-page dream sequence (although there are two panels of the dream sequence on the next page). In the dream, he runs to a woman dressed in a black vigilante costume. She removes his skin from head to toe to reveal that he is Night Owl, and he in turn removes her skin, revealing Laurie. They go to kiss, but a nuclear explosion behind them obliterates the two lovers. The dream itself is very obvious in its metaphor. Deep down, Dan is a superhero. So is Laurie. He was not Dan Drieberg pretending to be Night Owl. He was Night Owl pretending to be Dan Drieberg. And now that he has found happiness with Laurie, it is too late. The world will be destroyed. Finding happiness does not really mean anything. He has to protect the world or else his happiness will be destroyed. Because of this dream, he decides to suit up, and along with Laurie in her Silk Spectre costume, they head out into the night to protect the city.

WatchmenDream

The dream sequence works on a technical level because the sequence changes style from the rest of the comic. Most of the comic is told in a nine-panel grid (3×3). But, the dream sequence is told is many more panels, which are thinner. There are two rows of six panels, and the final row has four dream panels and one panel (the size of two dream panels) of Dan waking up from the dream. The reader should not be tricked. The reader should not turn the page and think what they are seeing is really happening in the story. By changing the structure and the style of the panels, the comic signals the reader that there is a change. The pacing picks up. It takes a shorter amount of time for the reader to absorb smaller panels than larger ones. Then, in that final panel of the page of Dan waking, the reader stops, hit with the same intensity that Dan is. There is no other page in the issue that is set up like this dream sequence. And it works because of just that. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons makes the dream crucial to the story, stylistically different so that readers know it’s a dream, and a combination of easy to understand and weird to take advantage of a dream state without losing the reader.

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

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