21st Century Brontë #30: Holding on to Challenges

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21st Century Brontë #30 by Brontë Bettencourt

Holding on to Challenges

In my undergrad days, I directed several Murder Mystery Nights for the University of Central Florida’s anime club.

The event combines scripted scenes and improv. The characters are chosen from anime or anime-related content based on that evening’s theme.

With other writers, we created a script based off of how these pre-existing characters might react to each other, keeping true to the canon of our beloved material. There are challenges with writing a bunch of characters whose powers in their own world makes sense, but clash when set against others’ powers.

I was terrified of what I agreed to undertake when I became director. I hadn’t been given a chance to lead any major project until that point; I was unsure if I would be successful. But if no one had stepped up at that moment, the tradition that I joined as a college freshman would’ve been discontinued. I didn’t want the concept to be discontinued.

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My decision payed off. Through several shows I learned how to direct a major project, but also to accept help from other talented individuals. One of the oddest string of networking involved hunting a dude down who potentially knew how to sew clothes—because he was with another friend who had sewn cosplay as they bought food from my job, and that he (this friend of a friend) worked at Joann’s Fabrics. I reached out. It turns out that he did, in fact, make his own cosplay costumes, and even had the outfit already made for one of the characters in the show (made for a separate occasion entirely). I felt proud and a tad creepy.

I love directing Murder Mystery Night because of the high level of craft and creativity that goes into these shows. From cardboard boxes, we created vending machines with operational lights. Stagehands stood inside these boxes, where they engaged in transactions with the audience members. In another show, there was an entire subplot where the only goal of one of the characters was to enter the public swimming pool. This pool was represented by a round, inflatable kiddie pool, which wasn’t meant to be taken seriously at all. The audience definitely got a kick out of it.

All of that work was done for free.

Because of my experience, and due to this being Anime Spot’s tenth year as an official organization, the current board was ecstatic to have me direct. But I wonder if my fluctuating esteem as a creative mind has resulted in these mixed emotions. I knew how to direct this event well, so there was no challenge with directing this year’s show. I can’t tell if this is arrogance or complacency.

I’ve been out of undergrad for over a year. I am starting my MFA in Children and Young Adult Literature next January, but I still find myself contributing to these shows. Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Hannah, we’re performing this year’s show at a local anime convention, Holiday Matsuri. Hours of planning, rehearsals, and organizing have gone into a project that may result in connections and resume building. I did get a free weekend pass to attend the convention.

Maybe what adds to my complacency is that nowadays, I don’t need to Sherlock my way to finding connections. We wouldn’t have the awesome base of Death Parade as the foundation for this show, if not for my assistant director, Alexander. Most of the cast can sew and alter their cosplays, and help those who are less skilled. My other friends, Austin and Matt, have acquired and edited all the sounds and props. And we have not one, but two awesome flyers thanks to Imani and Hannah. And the Anime Spot officers also help with whatever funding we may need, as well as relations with the convention staff.

Over time, so many unique minds have gravitated to Murder Mystery Night. I’ve always been emotional with story endings, especially since I grow too attached and am vehemently against change. But I can’t hope to grow if I don’t accept new tasks that challenge me.

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I’ve heard Murder Mystery Night described as a “glorified fanfiction,” which I both loathe and love. The script is fan fiction because these stories take place outside the context of the characters’ respective series. We do distinguish what point the character is being written from in his or her respective show. We make educated guesses on how the characters will react to the synopsis. But the word glorified downplays everyone’s time, effort, and skill that goes into creating well-crafted stories. MMN is glorious fan fiction.

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My involvement with Murder Mystery Night may wane after this show. But the tools I’ve gained will help me tackle challenges that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise without such awesome experiences. And if you’re an Anime fan in the Orlando area December 16 through 18, definitely check out the show at Holiday Matsuri, if you can!

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21st Cen Bronté

Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.

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Buzzed Books #47: Thomas Vinciguerra’s Cast of Characters

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Buzzed Books #47 by Adelia Johnson

Thomas Vinciguerra’s Cast of Characters

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Thomas Vinciguerra’s Cast of Characters by  is a biography of the early days of The New Yorker. Though sometimes hard to follow due to the large quantity of “characters” mentioned, I found myself wanting to pick up my pen and start a journal of my own—and I never wanted to be a journalist. The New Yorker’s journey to success was an uncertain journey of trial, error, and willpower, a true hero’s journey.

Within each chapter, there were chronological jumps that were hard to keep track of , but the overall timeline worked, from the start of The New Yorker to E. B. White’s departure from the magazine on October 1st, 1985 with the final note that

the cartoonist Brian Duffy of the Des Moines Register seized on the Garth Williams illustration of Charlotte’s Web that depicted Charlotte having spun out the words SOME PIG. Duffy rendered a mournful Wilbur poised beneath the silken epigraph SOME WRITER.

The book does a final jump to 2007 when Vinciguerra visited the ex-wife of Tony Gibbs, the son of The New Yorker’s editor/essayist/critic Wolcott Gibbs.

The book explores the relationships at the office, including all of the shenanigans they would pull like playing poker with the different-colored routing slips as chips. There were a central group of people that the stories revolved around: the editor-in-chief Howard Ross; and writers and editors E. B. White, James Thurber and Wolcott Gibbs. Other recurring figures included Katherine White, Lois Long, St. Clair McKelway, Alexander Woollcott, John O’Hara, and Ralph Ingersoll.

Cast of Characters starts out on Fire Island with Gibbs reading a copy of his manuscript, quoting on page 2 “[Being on Fire Island] was a state of wonderful irresponsibility, a time in which you belonged to nobody but yourself, on which there were no immediate claims from the world.” Most of chapter 8, “A Silly Occupation for a Grown Man,” was dedicated to his becoming of a renowned theater critic. However, Vinciguerra was also keen on the personal lives of Ross, White, and Thurber, making sure to discuss their marriages and views of women.

Vinciguerra mimics The New Yorker’s style with passages like this one on page 177: “Thurber was so tickled by this doggerel that he adorned it with a caricature of himself waving at four stern-faced men labeled ‘Gibbs, Maloney, O’hara etc.’ with the impish greeting ‘Hi, Fellas!’” This made the reading more entertaining as well as it giving the reader a taste of how the magazine sounds without ever having to pick up a copy — but I doubt a reader would not want to after reading this. The reader also gets a taste of Timestyle during the chapter discussing the feud between The New Yorker and Time, adding a new flavor.

This book is not only a good inspiration to writers; I found myself being inspired as an editor, as well. In a quote by William Maxwell about Gibbs teaching him how to edit, Maxwell noted, “In time I came to feel that real editing means changing as little as possible.” Gibbs had thrown Maxwell headfirst into editing, offering only constructive criticism after the edits had been made, and even the criticisms were slim. But they got their point across.

Cast of Characters is a good introduction to those new to The New Yorker, and a good history of the magazine for those already well acquainted with it.

I was inspired not only to start something, but to be diligent, to be better. The New Yorker was made out of relentless fingers to keys, sleepless nights, and years of experience. I should be able to create something that’s at least good.

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adelia-johnson

Adelia Johnson (Episode 226) is a graduate of Full Sail University.

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Episode 236: Bill Savage (A Repeal Day Special Interview)!

Episode 236 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to the literary historian Bill Savage about the re-release of George Ade’s 1931 classic, breezy history of drinking culture in America.

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George Ade

TEXT DISCUSSED

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NOTES

Watch and hear Bill’s rant against the term dive bar.

Should Prohibition be repealed? (illustration from The Old Time Saloon)

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My beloved Jetsetter Lounge, in Lake Worth, Florida, circa 2007.

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Mike Jones, Mixological Guru.

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Teege Braune, The Official Bartender of The Drunken Odyssey.


Episode 236 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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Episode 235: There Will Be Words and/or Doom!

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Episode 235 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 present an Election Day version Jesse Bradley’s prose reading series, There Will Be Words, or in this case, There Will Be Words and/or Doom. The readers included  myself

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Rachel Kolman,

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Glendaliz Camacho,

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And Whitney Hamrick.

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Thanks once again to our host, J. Bradley.

Flash Fiction Spooktacular Jesse Bradley


Episode 235 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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The Curator of Schlock #163: Dracula A.D. 1972

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The Curator of Schlock #163 by Jeff Shuster

Dracula A.D. 1972

Being a Curator of Schlock isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. Which is a shame because John King promised me sunshine and lollipops! Sometimes watching these flicks is a real burden. It’s like in that Batman Killing Superman movie that came out this year. Superman wasn’t having a good time rescuing people. Come to think of it, no one was having a good time in that movie save for the movie’s main villain, Mark Zuckerberg.  And I’ve never seen Batman so angry.

Speaking of bats, I’ve got another Dracula movie to discuss with you. This one is 1972s Dracula A.D. 1972 from director Alan Gibson. The movie starts out with Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) fighting a duel to the death on an out of control horse and buggy. The carriage crashes, the two of them getting tossed off. I think Van Helsing manages to stab Dracula in the heart with one of the spokes from a broken wheel. Dracula turns to dust and Van Helsing dies from his injuries. 

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Fast forward to A.D. 1972, and we know it’s A.D. 1972 because of the huge jet airplane flying in the sky. Okay. I’m on board so far, but then the hippies show up. Yes, we in the audience are treated to the splendor of a swinging shindig, replete with hippies, folk singers, go-go dancers, and other counter culture nonsense. The whole affair is taking place at some rich kid named Charles’s penthouse apartment. His parents are not amused. The hippies are eating all of their food, breaking family heirlooms, and I won’t even tell you what they’re doing under the dining room table. 

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This is unacceptable! Charles’s parents and other associated high society people look on with disgust, as I’m sure most Millennials would. Charles is a good lad. He calls the police, what the hippies refer to as “the fuzz.” The cops show up and the hippies disperse, but not before their leader, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), taunts Charles’s mother by breaking one of her rare, Chinese, porcelain statues. If you were hoping the rest of the movie would be about Charles hunting down a replacement statue for his dear mum, I’m here to dash your hopes. This is a Dracula movie after all, or so the title says. 

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One of these young hippies is none other than Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham). How the great, great, great, great, great, granddaughter of Lawrence Van Helsing got caught up with this crew is beyond me? Especially, since Johnny Alucard wants to hold a “black mass” for their next party. I really don’t like this guy. He looks like he came right out of A Clockwork Orange. Jessica stops by her grandfather’s place because he’s an expert on the occult. His name is Lorrimer Van Helsing and is played by none other than Peter Cushing. He catches her reading a book on the black mass. Jessica tells him it’s just a “quiet bit of mind blowing.” He tells her the black mass is nothing to mess around with. Do you think she listens?

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So Jessica’s gang meets at an abandoned church that’s scheduled for demolition. Johnny Alucard calls out the names of several demons including that guy Astaroth. These damn hippies and their Satanism. They end up resurrecting Dracula!

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The count wants revenge on the Van Helsing family for turning him into dust one hundred years prior. Will Dracula succeed? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out. On major disappointment is that Dracula never bothers to leave the abandoned church at any point in the movie. It’s 1972. Doesn’t he like the nightlife? Doesn’t he like to boogie?

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Jeffrey Shuster 3

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

Pensive Prowler #1: Departing from Arrival

Pensive Prowler #1 by Dmetri Kakmi

Departing from Arrival

After watching Arrival, Dennis Villeneuve’s new sci-fi outing, my friend Cam and I wandered to an upscale pizza joint in Melbourne to propitiate the mother of tears with melted cheese and red wine. We were deeply affected by the film. Yet something about the narrative niggled and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It came to me, as these things often do, while basil-infused grease and a fulsome South Australian Shiraz lubricated my thoughts and throat.

Let’s be upfront. There’s a lot to like about Arrival — who wouldn’t enjoy a movie in which Cthulhu descends to earth in a giant spaceship to dispense good will to the tune of composer Johann Johannsson’s hypnotic bleeps and throbs? I was in heaven from start to finish.

Even so, I was bothered by the film’s narrow politics.

You see in the film’s troubling schema America is the good guy. China and Russia are the bad guys. The U.S. intervenes in the form of softly-spoken Amy Adams to avert disaster; and, through a largely intuitive process, she breaks the code for the aliens’ written language, which is a logogram.

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Up pops problem number one. I don’t mean to insult American friends, but America is not exactly known for docility. It is an aggressive, forthright nation. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has waged war across the globe and continues to do so to this day.

Given these undeniable facts, it makes sense that America would not be happy when aliens that resemble dried-up octopuses in a Greek restaurant drop into its backyard. They’d want a barbecue and who can blame them? Even I was tempted to start heating the charcoal grill. America’s love of the gun also attests to such a response.

But no, in Arrival, American might strangely opts for conciliation. While China, the current red under the bed, errs on the side of hostility towards the hectapods, as they’re called.

That doesn’t make sense. Despite media efforts to paint China as the new bogeyman, the country does not have a modern history of open hostility towards other nations. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Chinese aggression has been largely confined to internal and border skirmishes. The United States on the other hand extends its influence far and wide.

China’s conception of the world differs from America’s. The country’s three major religions — Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism — are harmonious, syncretic teachings that offer a broad humane philosophic outlook that stresses the interdependence between all things. A country that has that outlook on life would be benevolent to the aliens. It would not come out shooting.

Buddhism also holds a non-linear conception of time. This is important because Arrival is all about time. The heptapod message to humanity is that there is no time. There is no past, present or future. There is only a universal now. All experience exists in the present moment, like a compressed capsule. An individual’s place in that circle depends on perspective and shifts in perception and consciousness, a vital component to understanding the film’s central dilemma.

Problem number two emerged when the heptapods first display their eerily beautiful, circular form of writing. They squirt it like squid ink on a barrier between themselves and the humans. As I say, this form of writing is called a logogram. A logogram is a written character that represents a word or a phrase. Egyptian hieroglyphs are early logograms. Chinese and Japanese characters are modern equivalents.

As an aside (and to show you I wasn’t merely being flip when I evoked Lovecraft earlier), R’lyehian, the language spoken by Cthulhu’s spawn in R’lyeh, is also a hieroglyphic lettering system. So who knows? Maybe Villeneuve’s heptapods are Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones come back? And maybe Arrival is the most intelligent film set in Lovecraft’s complex universe?

Where am I going with all this, I hear you say? I’ve avoided saying it for a long time, hoping you might catch on. But I can tell from the blank expression on your face that you won’t. So I’m going to say it aloud.

If we follow the film’s logic, it makes sense for the protagonist to be Chinese, instead of Caucasian. With her knowledge of Chinese characters and immersion in eastern philosophies, a Chinese linguist is better placed to engage with the aliens’ mindset and to crack their code than an American raised under the strict linear dictates of competitive capitalism and hierarchical monotheism.

Much as I enjoyed Arrival, I would have been happier if the film was set in China; and if Villeneuve had cast Gong Li or Michelle Yeow, let’s say, in the primary role. That’s not to say Amy Adams does not disport herself admirably. Her performance is perfectly pitched. Nevertheless, placing a Chinese woman at the centre of the narrative and forging an alliance between Russia and America to combat a perceived threat might have made for a more unexpected and surprising cinematic outing.

Casting a Chinese actor in a central role also acts as an indicator that intelligence, heroics and grand narratives are not the exclusive preserve of white people. A worthy message in these fearful times.

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dmetri-kakmi

Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

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Episode 234: Sayantani Dasgupta!

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Episode 234 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to the nonfiction writer Sayantani Dasgupta about creative nonfiction, the romance of reading, and the powerful appeal of the in-between.

View More: http://heatherwoolery.pass.us/sd_brick_1

TEXTS DISCUSSED

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Twenty-Thousand-Leagues-Under-the-Sea

NOTES

Listen to Sayantani’s essay about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea here.


Episode 234 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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The Curator of Schlock #162: Eaten Alive

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The Curator of Schlock #162 by Jeff Shuster

Eaten Alive

Thanksgiving Leftovers 

This year, we at The Museum of Schlock would like to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. Granted, it’s a day late, and I’m sure all of you are busy with your Black Friday shopping, pepper spray at the ready for your Fitbit Altas and your Ninja Coffee Bar Brewers.  And then you’ll be gorging yourselves on cranberry sauce and day-old turkey, but have you ever wondered what it might be like to be eaten yourself and by eaten yourself, I mean eaten alive by a giant crocodile? You have. Excellent. Keep reading. 

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Tonight’s selection is 1977s Eaten Alive from director Tobe Hooper. He’s the dude who directed 1974s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think I covered that movie last Black Friday because I didn’t want to bother watching Eaten Alive, but I’ve since watched this movie in ten-minute increments over the past twelve months so I’m good to go now. Does lightning strike twice? By “lightning striking twice,” I mean to say if it’s as good as TCM, and by TCM, I mean Texas Chainsaw Massacre not Turner Classic Movies. Uh. No. Lighting doesn’t strike twice, but there’s enough here to sort of keep your attention for 90 minutes. 

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So there’s this prostitute named Clara (Roberta Collins) who refuses service to some townie named Buck (Robert Englund) because he wants her to do something she doesn’t normally do for customers, but we won’t speculate as to what that is here. The brothel Madame, Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones), fires Clara on the spot, turning out into the hot, muggy Texas night. She makes her way to the Starlight Hotel, run by a redneck named Judd (Neville Brand). He’s happy to give her a room for the night until he recognizes her as one of “Hattie’s girls.” Judd starts manhandling Carol. When she fights back, Judd hacks her up a bit with a rake before feeding her to his pet crocodile while she’s still alive.

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The next night, a family decides to stay the night at the Starlight Hotel. The crocodile eats the family dog. The dad gets sliced up a bit with a scythe before being fed alive to the aforementioned crocodile. Judd wraps the mother up in a shower curtain while their little girl runs away and hides under the hotel for the rest of the movie, trying to evade capture by Judd and/or the crocodile. You know, call me a nitpicker, but I’ve stayed at Days Inns more posh than this place. If the hotel you’re looking at features a moat out front with a live crocodile as well as a scythe-wielding redneck named Judd, you’d probably do best to look for accommodations elsewhere.

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Crocodiles are nothing to mess with. I was at Silver Springs one year and they had these crocodile pits, these plastic tubes in the ground that you could peer down in and take a gander at the park’s crocodiles. I looked down and the crocodile took notice of me. It stretched up as far as it could, gazed up at me, and opened it’s mouth. The hiss that came forth still haunts me to this day. I know what that crocodile was trying to tell me: “I’m going to eat you alive!”

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Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

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

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #42: Discovering Hamlet (1990)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

42. Mark Olshaker’s Discovering Hamlet (1990)

Documentaries about Shakespeare tend to bore me, as they must. I may be a rogue, but I do have some bona fide academic credentials, and most documentaries cannot gracefully bridge the needs of the novice Shakespeare viewer and the not-novice. If there was an A&E Biography of Richard Burbage, I confess I would watch the shit out of that. It is one of my steadfast articles of faith that a good production of a Shakespeare play does not need interpreting from some intermediary cockalorum in order for the average viewer to get it.

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And this is more or less how I felt watching Discovering Hamlet, which chronicles Derek Jacobi’s Renaissance Theatre Company’s stage production of Hamlet starring a rather young Kenneth Branagh.

discovering-hamlet-3The documentary follows the week-by-week rehearsal process, showing how Jacobi’s direction is so intensely collaborative—since he is himself such a great, veteran Shakespearean actor—that he wants his direction to fuse with the actors in performance. Nothing goes wrong with this 5 week rehearsal process; the lessons to be learned, the entertainment to be gained, is from watching the process itself just work. To make sure people who have never read or heard of Hamlet could keep up (I mean you, Trevor), the play’s plot is often summarized.

discovering-shakespeare-2Patrick Stewart narrates, and his voice is, of course, immensely enchanting, so much so that the broad nature of Discovering Hamlet’s observations almost sound interesting. One almost expects Stewart to remind us that Shakespeare was not only an Englishman, but a mammal.

Some of what is seen in Discovering Hamlet looks so exciting that one wishes Discovering Hamlet would have just been a film of, you know, Hamlet. For example, Jacobi has Hamlet perform his “to be or not to be” speech not as a soliloquy, but with Ophelia as his audience, which deepens his emotional turn in their dialogue shortly later.

discovering-hamletWatching Jacobi and his actors block out scenes and rehearse was sometimes rather fun to watch, to see how unpretentious the work of rehearsing is despite the complexity of the play. Sometimes the actors struggle to remember their lines precisely. When Jacobi gives notes to his actors, including “Ken,” he chastises him for not listening properly to his fellow actors, so that he was not reacting sufficiently to them.

I wonder if perhaps this documentary in part gave Branagh his idea for A Midwinter’s Tale, a comic story about a sort of doomed production of Hamlet.

I really do wish I could have seen a film of Jacobi’s stage version of Hamlet, for that is the most tantalizing thing of all in this rather basic documentary that treats Hamlet and even the theatre itself as almost unimaginable entities.

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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

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Episode 233: A Craft Discussion About David Foster Wallace’s “E Unibus Plurim: Television and U.S. Fiction” with Vanessa Blakeslee!

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Episode 233 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 with Vanessa Blakeslee about David Foster Wallace’s “E Unibus Plurim: Television and U.S. Fiction.”

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

Journal of Contemporary Literature

Read David Foster Wallace’s 1993 essay “E Unibus Plurim: Television and U.S. Fiction” here.


Episode 233 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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