Buzzed Books #15: Miami Bookfair International 2014

Buzzed Books #15 by Madison Bernath

2014 Miami Book Fair International Review

As I walked into the 2014 Miami Book Fair International, the scent of sweet corn, melted cheese, and grease blew slick in the air. Food trucks and carts littered the landscape. Children rushed about throwing bocce balls with no sense of the game, only a sense of play and blood. Passerby jumped over tables, skirting out of the way, and then flocked to stands of comic books, international books, classic books, independent books, and tiny books. Ladies in tight jeans and spike heels leaned over tables discussing the latest cookbook, the author only minutes away from a demonstration. I spotted many an old couple gripping each other’s arms, not the least bit phased by the chaos, but notably pleased. In my first forty-five minutes wandering this Miami sea of books and people, I saw Jason Segel (pushing his middle-grade thriller, Nightmares!), Ann Hood (killing an interview), and John Waters (promoting not a movie, but his new book about hitchhiking at age 68, Carsick). This, my friend, is a festival for the millions.

Press PassThat night, at a ritzy party for the authors (which I crashed thanks to my press pass and The Drunken Odyssey’s own John King), a friend of mine wondered aloud if this could be a happy alternative to AWP, that shit show of writers I look forward to every year. And perhaps it could be. There were book stalls, interesting readings, panels on craft and criticism, and heavy amounts of alcohol. But there were also art exhibits, live cooking shows, and an area strictly reserved for comics—not to mention Children’s Alley, complete with characters on stilts and a tiny tent theater.

Sure, John Waters was on-stage talking bad taste and making obscene gestures with his hands, an event that I believe AWP conference goers wish could be replicated this year in Minneapolis, but, to be honest, the Miami Book Fair International crowd didn’t seem to get it. There were some buckled over in laughter, but many who walked out, heads bowed and cheeks flaming (one of whom I may or may not have tripped and to whose rescue the fire department was deployed).

Miami Book Fair International isn’t only for those who adore Carolyn Forché and Joyce Carol Oates (both of whom made an appearance). This event panders to lovers of the literary scene, but also to those that love soul food and the visual arts. This, as I said before, is a festival for the millions, hence the $8 street fair admission compared to AWP’s $285 registration fee for nonmembers. Miami Book Fair International has mass appeal. It is not a writers’ conference, but rather, an event that celebrates them—and so many others.

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Madison BernathMadison Bernath (Episode 46 and 75) is a writer of both creative nonfiction and fiction. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Central Florida with a thesis of travel essays. She is currently a reader for Pithead Chapel and an adjunct professor at Valencia College and Seminole State College. In her free time she sucks the life out of cats and berates herself for failing to write/read something.

Areas of Fog #38: Frost Recidivous

Areas of Fog #38 by Will Dowd

Frost Recidivous

 This week, as New England endured a senseless, pre-winter cold snap, I drove (against all animal instinct) north, deep into what I call Frost country, that leafy swathe of Vermont and New Hampshire where the poet spent his life pin-balling between picturesque farmhouses—although I imagine, after a week like this, even Frost, poet laureate of visible breath, would have torched his rustic cabin and headed for a suburb of Orlando, where he could trade in the pen and paper racket, as he called it, and spend his last days dabbling in the rare orchid trade.

As I was the first member of the bachelor party to arrive at the rental house, which was perched on a rocky hillside overlooking a frothing Atlantic bay, the gentle and unblinking owner gave me a thorough tour, pointing out various features of the original home he had lovingly restored.

image(4)I felt sick to my stomach thinking of the potential destruction that lay ahead.

I remembered the news stories from a few years ago, when the local teens of Middlebury, Vermont held a midwinter bacchanal at the farmhouse where Frost spent his final twenty summers. For desecrating the historic home, they were sentenced to mandatory poetry class.

The case still bothers me. I hate the way the prosecutor wielded Frost’s poetry like a switch from a birch tree. Frost hated formal education. He was especially suspicious of learning poetry in a classroom. The best way to read it, he thought, is “to settle down like a revolving dog and make ourselves at home among the poems, completely at our ease as to how they should be taken.”

I also hate that the prosecutor subscribed to the image of Frost as Old Man Winter, as a folksy sage who drops chestnuts of wisdom and exhales bracing gusts of common sense. He clearly thought that forcing these vandals to read Frost would be like standing them by an open window in winter: it would make them a little more serious about their lives.

Frost wrote a haunting letter after his son, Carol, a failed farmer and poet, committed suicide with a deer-hunting rifle. “He thought too much,” Frost wrote. “I couldn’t make him ease up on himself and take life and farming off-hand.”

Later in the same letter, he concedes just how much of his life he spent, both as a father and as a roving lecturer, telling other people how to live. His son’s death humbled him. “I acknowledge myself disqualified from giving counsel,” he wrote.

image(5)To me, the teens did not receive poetic justice, as every headline declared. I would have sentenced them to clean up their mess and left them to discover Frost’s poems, which he called “momentary stays against confusion,” as adults. I think we forget just how regimented teenagers’ lives can be; we shake our heads at their momentary stays against boredom.

There’s not much to say about my weekend in Frost country. Funny things happened—but as Frost once said, to appreciate the jokes you made when you were drunk, you have to get drunk again. I’ll leave them up there, with the picturesque farmhouses and the ice-blue skies and the shining russet leaves and the security deposit.

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Will Dowd Author Photo AutumnWill Dowd (episode 91episode 104) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

Shakespearing #19.2: Another Interlude

Shakespearing #19.2 by David Foley

Another Interlude: Tamburlaine

Since it was Marlowe who first got me started on my Shakespeare project, I thought I’d pause and take in the wonderfully bloody and inventive production of Tamburlaine, Parts 1 and 2, at Theatre for a New Audience. I’d never read the plays before, but managed to do so last week, and that helped me follow the plot, though plot is not quite the word for what happens. It’s hard to have a plot when there’s only one cause and one effect. Tamburlaine conquers and the world submits. Over and over. Tamburlaine is his own cause; indeed as the play goes on he sets up himself up as rival to the First Cause, God himself.

It’s hard to see or read Marlowe without a renewed bewilderment at the folks who think Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s voice is multiple and various, where Marlowe’s is single and obsessive. But even that doesn’t get at the difference between the two. Marlowe is almost the anti-Shakespeare. Shakespeare reconciles. Even his bloodiest plays try to set the world back in balance. In Tamburlaine, Marlowe shows no such concern. He’s fascinated by will, and if people are guilty of anything in the play, it’s insufficient will, or rather will without the might or perhaps mana to back it up. As the evening winds towards its end, we think we may finally have found the one person willing to change the story, to oppose honor and dignity against Tamburlaine’s will. The defeated governor of Babylon defies him: “Do all thy worst. Nor death, nor Tamburlaine,/Torture, or pain, can daunt my dreadless mind.” But in his very next line, he begs and bargains for his life. Tamburlaine, true to form, accepts the bribe and kills him anyway. In this play, weakness is the only sin. Or to be more accurate, since none of the characters is actually weak, to be weaker is the only sin.

This gives enormous strength to the poetry. It plays much better than it reads. On the page, it lacks the surprise and mobility of Shakespeare, but spoken, particularly here in John Douglas Thompson’s magnificent performance, the lines sing.

19.2 TamburlaineYou can imagine how they intoxicated their Elizabethan audience. If the language starts to weary after a while, it’s because it hits the same note over and over, although with admirable versatility. Marlowe’s song is the song of will and reach. Even in Tamburlaine’s mourning for his wife Zenocrate (in which, intriguingly, Marlowe uses a ghazal-like refrain: “To entertain divine Zenocrate”), the language vaults towards the skies, not in spiritual longing but in a kind of ambition of grief.

But will is not the same as drama, and it’s certainly not the same as psychology, which seems to interest Marlowe not at all. People try to impose their wills on situations, and this requires some changing as situations change, but the emotional texture of the characters is largely diagrammatic: pride + imprisonment = helpless rage. This is particularly notable in the character of Zenocrate, who must be both in love with Tamburlaine and devastated at Tamburlaine’s destruction of her city and his murder of her friends. As a portrait of fate, it’s mysterious and terrible. As psychology, it’s nearly unplayable. Shakespeare would unfold a psychological bind for us. He’d make it not just believable, but harrowingly so. Marlowe is more interested in the fact itself. Like everyone else, Zenocrate must bow to power. The fact that she loves Tamburlaine in spite of his ruthlessness—his literal, constitutional lack of ruth—is the tribute love pays to power.

The production gets this tone exactly right. It bathes the stage in blood, blood being the sign of ruthlessness. Marlowe, too, continually reminds us of the cost in blood. The corpses pile up. There’s never any question of a humane side to his hero. And yet he remains a hero, a figure of fascination, even admiration. At times, Marlowe seems to fascinate himself, to ask himself how horrific he can make the man’s deeds and still set him up as a hero. Virgins begging for their lives are raped and slaughtered. Thousands of men, women, and children are put to the sword or, at Babylon, drowned in a lake. Like Zenocrate, Marlowe seems to ask himself how much horror he can face and still love. The fascinating villain, of course, is a staple of literature. In his final decadence, he becomes Hannibal Lecter. But here we’re still in the realm of Camus’s rebel: a man vying with God himself, defying God’s mercy as he embodies his mercilessness.

The back cover of my Penguin edition of Marlowe mentions a debate as to whether Marlowe was an “atheist rebel” or a “Christian traditionalist.” On the evidence of Tamburlaine, you’d have to plunk for the former. In a scene in which the Christian King of Hungary and the Muslim King of Natolia trade notes, Marlowe slyly draws an equivalence between the Virgin Birth and Mahomet’s coffin rising to Mecca’s roof when he died. Both, he seems to imply, are equally improbable legends. And this is before Tamburlaine burns the “superstitious books” in one of his last acts. It may be that to be religious you need to be able to imagine a place for pity in the world. Shakespeare’s world view is essentially compassionate. Marlowe’s is pitiless, and director Michael Boyd’s production reveals that such a vision has its own ravishing power.

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David FoleyDavid Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

The Curator of Schlock #66: C.H.U.D.

The Curator of Schlock #66 by Jeffrey Shuster

C.H.U.D.

The C stands for cannibalistic!

 Hey, it’s your Curator of Schlock once again wishing you a Happy Turkey Day! Another year has passed since my last Thanksgiving review, and cannibalism still has yet to enter the mainstream. Flesh eaters are still marginalized by our judgmental American society. You bunch of prudes can enjoy your turkey, but that’s not going to keep me from championing cannibal rights! If you don’t want to do it for the cannibals, do it for the planet. We’d solve overpopulation and food shortages in one fell swoop!

CHUD posterIn the meantime, I need to expose a bit of anti-cannibalistic propaganda in the form of 1984’s C.H.U.D. from director Douglas Cheek. C.H.U.D. is an acronym for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. The movie starts off promising enough. We get the hint that there are things living in the sewers that are attacking people on the streets of Manhattan. A woman walking her dog is dragged down screaming into a manhole. Then it seems to devolve into a domestic drama about John Heard and his girlfriend. Listen, when I watch a movie named Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, I want to see Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers! I don’t want to see a story about famous photographer and his fashion model girlfriend, and whether or not she’s going to going to have the baby.

MSDCHUD EC001The reporter’s name is George Cooper (John Heard) and he spends his time taking pictures of undergrounders, the homeless people who live underneath the city. One of these homeless undergrounders got a huge chunk bitten out of his leg by something lurking in the sewers. Okay. Now this movie is showing some promise. There’s a hippie street preacher named A.J. Shepherd (Daniel Stern) who feeds the homeless at his soup kitchen.

chud stillFewer and fewer homeless are showing up for free vittles. A police captain named Bosch (Christopher Curry) teams up with Shepherd to investigate the homeless disappearances. The cop’s own wife has been missing ever since she decided to walk their dog a few nights earlier. Dun dun dun!

Their investigations lead them to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The commission reveals that there are mutated humans that like to eat non-mutant humans and that they’re living underneath New York City. It might have something to do with all of the toxic nuclear chemicals that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided store down there. Anyway, the Chuds terrorize the streets of Manhattan.

Chud Still 2They eat a bunch of people including John Goodman.

Chud stills 4The Chuds don’t look too much like people. They’ve got slimy skin, sharp teeth, and glowing yellow eyes. That doesn’t make them any less human in my opinion. Maybe they just wanted to be like any other New Yorker, see a Rockettes show. Sure, they might take a bite of a leg or two, but digestion is the sincerest form of flattery. C.H.U.D. would be followed by C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. Robert Vaughn starred in that one. He was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Acronyms are a pain to type!

Five Things I Learned from C.H.U.D.

  1.  John Heard is one of those actors who’s just kind of there, you know.
  2. Hippies make the best street preachers.
  3. Chuds eat everything but the head.
  4. Don’t stop for a cheeseburger while you’re on duty.
  5. If you try to unstop the bathroom drain only to get sprayed in the face with blood, consider leaving the city!

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Jeffrey Shuster 4

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

The Lists #8: An Index for Bi the Book: How to Become Bisexual In Less than a Month

The Lists #8 by Chelsey Clammer

An Index for Bi the Book: How to Become Bisexual In Less than a Month

Index for Bi the Book

 

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Chelsey Clammer

Chelsey Clammer (Episode 49) has been published in The RumpusEssay Daily, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. Clammer is also the Nonfiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Her first collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Winter 2014. Her second collection of essays, BodyHome, is forthcoming from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. You can read more of her writing here.

Heroes Never Rust #68: Lex Luthor: The Thin Line Between Good and Evil

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Heroes Never Rust #68 by Sean Ironman

Lex Luthor: The Thin Line Between Good and Evil

In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero.

 – Elijah Price, Unbreakable

Superman: For All Seasons #3 is from the point of view of Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. He opens with, “This is a love story. Not between a man and a woman. But between a man and a city.” Luthor is the smartest man in the world, and if Superman didn’t exist, he might have done amazing things for the world. “I poured my life into this city. I gave it a personality. A look. A kind of elegance. She was my fair lady. I’ve grown accustomed to her face. And yet…I was betrayed.” Luthor is not a crazy person like the Joker. He’s not above causing the deaths of others, but he has to gain something from it. He wants power. He built Metropolis. He gave his lift to building the city (Of course, not without becoming the unofficial ruler), and now Superman has stolen the attention Luthor feels he deserves.

Superman_for_All_Seasons_3In issue three, Luthor releases a virus into the air, a virus that knocks out the city, except for Superman (and a scientist who had been in a controlled atmosphere when the virus was released). But, he doesn’t kill the city. He could. If he made the virus deadly, Lois Lane and the rest of the city would be dead. Superman would have had to watch them die. But, Luthor just knocks everyone out, and he even creates a hero, a woman Superman saved in the last issue, who is a biochemist and has the antidote. Luthor gives the woman to Superman, who flies her around the city to release her antidote. Lois wakes up. The city is saved.

Luthor could have killed everyone. He could have built a giant robot or created a monster to fight Superman. Defeating Superman in a physical match is not enough. Killing everyone wouldn’t get Luthor what he wants. Luthor doesn’t care much about actually defeating Superman as much as he wants to prove that he is just as powerful as Superman, if not more so. Luthor wants to be thought of as great. When Superman comes along, Luthor needs to show that he and Superman are the same.

LuthorSuperman goes to Luthor to find a way to stop the virus, not to attack Luthor. He knows that if he strikes at Luthor, his hope for finding a cure will be lost. Luthor lords that fact over him and takes the time to accuse Superman of being the cause of the virus due to his alien origin, even though Luthor knows Superman had nothing to do with it. He just wants to make Superman alone. He wants Superman to need his help. And, after Luthor so kindly gives Superman a hero that will administer the cure, the hero dies. He wants Superman to watch someone die, to watch someone and not be able to help, as a way to put Superman in his place.

Luthor2As Superman kneels over the dead hero, Luthor approaches. He holds an umbrella keeping him dry while Superman soaks. “They say you can change the course of mighty rivers. But, you have so little understanding of how fragile the human condition is. How easily a life, all life, can be lost. Being the most powerful man in the world means nothing if you are all alone.” Luthor has a point. What can Superman understand about mankind? He can do whatever he wants. He’s invincible. And, of course, Luthor just has to get one more line in there to make him seem more powerful. “No one knows that better than I.” Once again, Luthor is trying to bring himself to Superman’s level.

But, even though Luthor has a point about Superman being too powerful to understand mankind, he doesn’t know that Superman grew up in Smallville. This series is about the effect Smallville, Kansas has had on Superman. Luthor’s final words to Superman are “Go back to wherever you came from before you fail us all…” and Superman returns to Smallville at the end. Ma and Pa Kent wonder what brought him home, and he says, “I think I need to stay here. In Smallville. For a while…” Smallville is why Superman does understand mankind. The town grounds Superman, gives him humanity. Superman isn’t a god. Yes, he’s more powerful than a human being, in the physical sense, but he has his limits. He can’t help everyone, but he’ll do whatever he can.

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102earned 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.

Areas of Fog #37: Paper Allegories

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AREAS OF FOG #37 by Will Dowd

Paper Allegories

The nights were cold this week, and so were the days; the sun, when it appeared, flashed like a coin at the bottom of a well, and the rain fell whenever it felt like it. It was really and truly November, though I couldn’t quite accept it. I walked down my street kicking acorns and attempting to reattach fallen leaves.

imageI kept thinking of the opening of Moby-Dick, when Ishmael declares it “a damp, drizzly November” in his soul.

I have never properly read Moby-Dick—it is the white whale of my reading life, the rippling shadow that glides under the surface of American literature and will someday swallow me.

All I really know of Melville’s novel is that the albino sperm whale of the title is a symbol for, among other things, an unknowable God.

(Maybe that’s why the book is filed, in my mind, next to the theory that the Earth stands on the back of a turtle, which stands on the back of a another turtle, and that it’s turtles all the way down.)

When Moby-Dick was published, most critics considered the book unfathomable trash. Melville was not surprised. “Not one man in five cycles, who is wise, will expect appreciative recognition from his fellows,” he wrote. He resigned himself to a career of being misunderstood.

Then he met Nathaniel Hawthorne on a hike in the Berkshires.

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Herman Melville / Nathaniel Hawthorne

Within weeks he had purchased a farmhouse down the road from his new friend and literary mentor. They exchanged letters. When Hawthorne praised Moby-Dick (I imagine you have to praise a novel that is dedicated to you), Melville was beyond touched. On November 17, 1851, he took up his pen and wrote perhaps the most zealous thank-you letter ever composed in English.

image(1) “A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment, on account of your having understood the book,” he wrote to neighbor. “Your heart beat[s] in my ribs and mine in yours…”

Then Melville, whose father had died from pneumonia after a winter ride in an open horse carriage, paid Hawthorne the most potent compliment his life history could offer. “Ah! it’s a long stage,” he wrote of life, “and no inn in sight, and night coming, and the body cold. But with you for a passenger, I am content and can be happy.”

Perhaps Melville came on too strong. In a postscript, he promised to establish a paper-mill at one end of his house—that way he would have an endless ribbon of foolscap rolling across his desk, upon which he would write “a thousand—a million—a billion thoughts,” all in the form of a letter to Hawthorne.

Hawthorne promptly moved away.

I hate to think of Melville treading in the wake of this rejection, especially when Moby-Dick proved a critical and commercial failure. His next book, Pierre, fared even worse; one newspaper’s review bore the headline “Herman Melville Crazy”—a sentiment shared by his in-laws, who exhorted his wife Lizzie to leave him, even offering to stage her fake kidnapping. When Lizzie decided to stay, the family used their influence to secure Melville a position as a Customs Inspector at the New York docks, which he described as “worse than driving geese.” He held the post for 19 years, all the while hoping for an “autumnal masterpiece” that never quite materialized.

Strangely, I don’t believe Melville regretted that November letter. He knew it sounded desperate and mad—like a “flame in the mouth.” But he would have written it again. And again. And again. “In me divine maganimities are spontaneous and instantaneous—catch them while you can.”

If there’s an allegory to be found in Melville’s life, it’s this: shed your divine magnanimities while you can, for tomorrow could be a November in your soul, and a November can last twenty years.

You never know.

It could be Novembers all the way down.

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Will Dowd Author Photo AutumnWill Dowd (episode 91episode 104) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

Episode 126: A Craft Discussion About Horace’s Ars Poetica, with Vanessa Blakeslee!

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Episode 126 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 about Horace’s Ars Poetica with Vanessa Blakeslee,

Vanessa Blakesleeplus Sam Slaughter talks about the ignominious beginning of Two Drunken Writers Brewery.

Photo by Oxley Photography 2014

Photo by Oxley Photography 2014

 NOTES

At 3 P.M., on Tuesday, November 18, the memoirist and novelist Marya Hornbacher will read at the University of Central Florida. Get info here.

Hornbacher event

Book Fair

Repeal Day 2014Congrats to Tiffany Razzano, on the successful launch of Florida Bookstore day!

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Episode 126 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Shakespearing #19.1: More on Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespearing #19.1 by John King

More on Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado PosterOnce again, I am rudely commandeering David Foley’s excellent blog about Shakespeare’s plays, this time because his latest post reminded me of Joss Whedon’s remarkable follow up to The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing.

If a superhero movie demands that characterization needs to be squeezed in with in eye-dropper between pyrotechnical explosions and sublime, seizure-inducing battles between IMPOSSIBLE BEINGS, Whedon squeezes in characterization about as well as anyone. Yet his work adapting Shakespeare demonstrates a capacity to let characters think and feel and act in recognizable ways that are precisely as rich and complex as Shakespeare intended.

Much Ado 3Whedon’s contemporary setting offers us a relatively tasteful world, yet it is filmed in black and white that both semiotically nods to the sense of the oldness of the source material and also—and this is huge—places the comedy in a neutral context.

So many film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work are too eager to pour on the opulence, as if material luxury was necessary to match the exquisite language of the bard, a habit that I have privately nicknamed architecture porn. Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film of Romeo and Juliet is egregious in this regard.

Whedon’s film is serious about Shakespeare without ever being pretentious, or using Will’s cultural cachet as a form of self-aggrandizement. All of Whedon’s choices are meant to serve the drama.

Amy Acker as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

To people unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s comedies, the chief difference between a comedy and a tragedy might be anticipated in extreme levels of humor or seriousness, but such an emotional binary is seldom demonstrated by Shakespeare’s plays. Hamlet happens to be wickedly funny, and Romeo and Juliet, with Mercutio’s wit, has its hysterical moments. Some Victorian productions of that play uncrossed the stars for those lovers with a happy ending. (Repulsive, no?)

The real difference between comedy and tragedy in Shakespeare’s plays is almost entirely what happens in the last act. Comedies end in marriages, and tragedies end in piles of corpses. Until then, the stories could go either way.

Much Ado 4Much Ado About Nothing is a paradoxical title, because in one sense what is considered nothing is really the destruction of a woman. To be publicly jilted and shamed for a scandal on her wedding day in Shakespeare’s time is about as bad as it would be today. Shakespeare makes us feel that, and so does Whedon and his excellent cast.

Much Ado 6This Much Ado is also distinctly American, which in this case is not a detriment.

Much Ado 2

As a director Whedon’s focus make us feel this world so powerfully. I suspect the film was shot in sequence, for the acting begins fairly well and grows better, more comfortable with Shakespeare’s words, as the story progresses.

Kenneth Branagh filmed this play in 1993, and while watching his Benedict verbally spar with Emma Thompson’s Beatrice is dishy, most of the actors don’t even  seem to be in the same movie. The acting styles clash. Keanu Reaves out-acts Denzel Washington. Michael Keaton stole the movie as the zany comic relief Dogberry, sort of a Dickensian recycling of Beetlejuice cartoonishness. (That isn’t a slam.)

One impressive side-note about Joss Whedon’s film is that the score is by Whedon himself. The music never resorts to the pomp that is too often heaped onto Shakespeare films (I am looking at you Patrick Doyle). Instead, the music skirts melodrama without ever being trite or clichéd or flimsy. The music is beautiful, and never quite predictable. The touch is light, but suggestive of darkness.

Much Ado 5The year before The Avengers came out, Kenneth Branagh directed Thor. Perhaps Whedon directed Much Ado over territorial spite. Or maybe he happens to love Shakespeare. Having seen this film a few times, I would have to guess is the latter.

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1flipJohn King (Episode, well, all of them) is a podcaster, writer, and ferret wrangler.

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