The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #68: Hamlet (1948)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film

68. Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948)

Olivier Hamlet poster

I first saw Olivier’s Hamlet sometime in 1988 or 1989 in my English class as a senior in high school.

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The film was Shakespearean kryptonite for teenagers: a shaky black and white print of a study of melancholia expressed with exaggerated erudition. The very notion that I should flatter such work with some kind of class or cultural worship was repulsive. I doubt my wonderful teacher fully grasped how much damage this did to my appetite for the bard, and how jaded it made me towards Olivier.

Years would pass before I gave Olivier a mature, second chance.

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My appreciation of Shakespeare was eventually repaired by James Joyce’s Ulysses, and several fine films. My actor friend Kevin Crawford insisted I not dismiss Olivier, and his Richard III (1955) is technically brilliant. The meta-historical framing device of his Henry V (1944) is fascinating and lively. Belatedly, Olivier entered my canon—yet somehow, I haven’t yet reviewed his Hamlet here despite the fact that the Criterion Collection DVD has been in my film library for a decade. I am terrified of feeling 17 again, I know it.

Olivier’s Hamlet is almost a masterpiece. If a restored version of the film should come to pass, perhaps it already is a masterpiece. More on that later.

The film opens with a crane shot passing through clouds to arrive at the mazelike geometry of Elsinore keep. This cinematography is suggestive of a Freudian investigation into dreaming (and mysterious shots of the royal bedroom seem to corroborate this acute state of dreaming). There are Oedipal overtones as well, tying into Freud’s thoughts about Hamlet that were systematically applied by Ernest Jones in “The Oedipus-complex as an Explanation of Hamlet’s Mystery: A Study in Motive.” (While this is the first film of Hamlet in the era of sound motion pictures, and the setting is perfectly traditional, Olivier was exploring what was then some recent theoretical approaches to Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy.)

Then Olivier (in a voice-over) delivers part of Hamlet’s speech to Horatio in observing his uncle’s reveling as they await his father’s ghost:

So oft it chances in particular men
That, for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth,- wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin,-
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o’erleavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,
Their virtues else—be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo—
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault.

Before he is told that his uncle is a murderer, Hamlet is already suffering from melancholia, and feels too much in common with those he hates. The person Hamlet is most suspicious of is, of course, himself.

The speech is followed with a pan towards a parapet where a procession has brought Hamlet’s corpse, and Olivier (again in voice-over) offers an explicit thesis for the film: “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”

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Is Hamlet’s mole of nature his indecision, or is it his own sense of lust, of paranoia, of violent urges that he is trying to control?

He and his mother kiss on the lips rather more often than seems appropriate, and the length of those kisses makes one wonder.

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I should point out that beginning a film that may seem painfully academic with a thesis statement further enhances the sense that the movie is going to be a chore, so thankfully the incestuous overtones actually livens up this ponderousness.

If Freud and Ernest Jones seem to be the theoretical godfathers of this Hamlet, the thesis would seem to indicate that Emerson Venable is the other (his The Hamlet Problem and Its Solution appeared as a book in 1912). Frankly, I prefer the Venable text to its treatment in this film. But a film of Hamlet is of course a tricky proposition, since there is no normal sense of action until late in the third act. Hamlet delays his revenge, and thinks about his delays, and thinks about his thinking about his delays. In Olivier’s conception of this problem, indecisiveness is Hamlet’s hamartia. But in Venable’s conception, if memory serves, the problem is that Hamlet distrusts himself to enact revenge for his father’s murder because he identifies too closely with Claudius, and his loathing of Claudius is something that he himself suspects. Hamlet’s struggle is not so much that he cannot make up his mind, but that he is trying to be the master of his own will. He wants to be the dispassionate executioner rather than someone who derives personal satisfaction from violence.

Olivier depicts Hamlet as someone suffering from profound melancholia. He slouches on his princely throne. His mind may seem muddled from this depression, perhaps. He should be in bed. He should be sleeping, if only he did not have bad dreams.

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The cinematographer, Desmond Dickinson, moves the camera lot around this wonderful set of Elsinore keep. It’s as if the camera cannot make up its mind sometimes, in determining whose story this is, in determining where in the castle it will go. I would love to see a remastered version of this film, if the print were sharper, and if the camerawork could be stabilized more than a hald-century after the fact, as the camera does wobble sometimes. Nothing as emetic as The Blair Witch Project, but still.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Laertes confronts Claudius. The scene begins with the dialogue far off, as Ophelia is walking down a long corridor to interrupt their business. It’s as if the camera cannot quite make up its mind whose story this is, which is the genius of Shakespearean drama—all the characters matter.

The cinematography makes this film better each time one watches it. For example, during the “Murder of Gonzago,” the camera keeps finding Horatio, who is watching the watchers of the play for their responses, as Hamlet’s other, perhaps better pair of eyes.

Ophelia’s death scene is also remarkably performed. Most productions have the good taste not to show it, and let the poetry of Gertrude’s speech announcing her death suffice. The harshness of her death would deny her the tenderness of the grief Gertrude and the court of Denmark will feel for her.

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Olivier and Dickinson, however, somehow recreate the fairy strangeness of John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia floating downriver in a very narrow, overgrown channel. The camera pans away from when her dress drags her down, leaving instead an empty landscape with a running river.

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I have often asserted that every production of Hamlet is made or broken by its Ophelia, which is the most challenging role. Jean Simmons is a remarkable Ophelia, conveying such intelligence, sensitivity, vulnerability, and a madness that is trying so strenuously to make the world make sense.

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Another fine performance comes from Normand Wooland, who plays Horatio with such an emotive force that counterbalances Olivier’s generally bland depressiveness as Hamlet.

Eileen Herlie plays Gertrude remarkably well, and the Freudian themes seem more plausible for her relative youth (she was actually significantly younger than Olivier).

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been trimmed from the play, removing some comic relief.

Peter Cushing, Grand Moff Tarkin for you Star Wars fans, plays the flamboyant courtier Osric with a fun gusto, however, that seems satirical without being grating.

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Basil Sydney as Claudius, Peter Cushing as Osric.

None of the performances are bad, although Felix Aylmer’s mutton-chopped Polonius seems a little generic and on-the-nose to me.

In the final analysis, the initial descent through the clouds seems to infect this film experience for me. Olivier could have used color film, but chose black and white “to achieve through depth of focus a more majestic, a more poetic image, in keeping with the stature of the verse” (151). Maybe that’s how the film looked in 1948, but on the Criterion edition DVD the overall effect is often of a slightly weak focus, and an unsteady camera. It’s reach exceeds its grasp. Great, but not as great as it could be, or perhaps was.


Source: Olivier, Laurence. Laurence Olivier: Confessions of an Actor. New York: Touchstone, 1982.


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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 294: Ben Blum!

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Episode 294 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Ben Blum with John King.png

In this week’s episode, I catch up with Ben Blum, who was my colleague in a Jonathan Lethem workshop circa 2009, and talk about finding room for earnestness in a postmodern outlook, finding room for pleasure in a world sick with stimulation, and writing a challenging project that changes who you are as a writer.

TEXT DISCUSSED

Ranger Games

NOTES

The music used in this episode was “Sweet Spot,” “Chase,” “Chaotica,” and “As the Dark Wave Swells” by The Bambi Molesters.

All hail Mistie Watkins, content editor of The Drunken Odyssey.

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Photo by Shawn McKee.

Have you reviewed us on iTunes yet?

What is some of your favorite literature dealing with the military? Leave comments below.

 

The Curator of Schlock #209: Three O’Clock High

The Curator of Schlock #209 by Jeff Shuster

Three O’clock High

No touchy! No touch!

Happy New Year from all of us here at The Museum of Schlock: I, you’re humble curator, John King, the leader of Drunken Odyssey, and Henry Silva, manager of The Museum of Schlock’s new casino, Schlocker’s Wild, set to open in May of next year. Be sure to try our slot machines. They have these new microchips in them that guarantee you a fair shot of winning the big one. Trust me!

As my loyal readers know, the moratorium on 80s movies came to an end back in January due to my elation at the awesome that is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. To celebrate, we’ll end this year with an 80s classic, Three O’clock High.

Three O'Clock High

Why do we like 80s movies? Because 80s movies are fun, and 80s comedies are second to none. 1987’s Three O’clock High from director Phil Joanou is no exception. It’s a zany story about a fistfight after school. The movie begins with a loveable loser named Jerry Mitchell (Casey Siemaszko) rushing to make it to school on time.

Three O'Clock High 2.pngHe even takes a wet shirt out of the laundry and shoves it the microwave to get it dry. I wonder if that would work. Whatever you do, do not stick aluminum foil in a microwave. Last night’s pizza will cook fine without it and you won’t have to worry about creating a lightning storm in your microwave. Don’t ask me how I know this.

I just do.

Three O'Clock High Detail

So Jerry may not be the most popular kid in school, but he keeps busy. He’s a student manager for their office supply store. He also writes for the school paper. This is where the trouble begins. There’s a new transfer student that just arrived named Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson). He transferred from a continuation high school and has a reputation for beating the life out of anyone who crosses him.

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Buddy also has haphephobia so you don’t dare touch him. The editor of the school newspaper sends Jerry down to interview Buddy Revell. Things don’t go well because Jerry pats Buddy’s shoulder. Then Buddy gives him a bath in one of the urinals and tells Jerry that they will fight at 3 PM and there’s nothing he can do to get out of it.

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Naturally, Jerry does everything in his power to get out of it. Jerry’s best friend plants a switchblade in Buddy’s locker in an attempt to get Buddy expelled. Jerry later finds the switchblade stuck in the steering wheel of his car with a note attached reminding him of their fight at 3 PM. He tries leaving campus, but Buddy wrecked his engine. Jerry then bribes a member of the football team to beat Buddy up for him, but Buddy breaks his finger and pops the guy in the mouth. Jerry tries getting detention by putting on his best Brando impression in an attempt to hit on his English teacher, but he actually manages to seduce his teacher so no detention for him.

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Jerry can’t get out of the fight, but his reputation gets a boost from each crazy stunt he pulls. By the time Jerry meets Buddy at 3 PM, the school parking lot has become a Roman Coliseum. Jerry will either make it out on top or get his life destroyed, and you don’t really know what his fate will be. This may not be as zany as Better Off Dead, but it’s up there, and well worth a look if you need an 80s fix.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

 

Buzzed Books #57: Bloodroot

Buzzed Books #57 by Amy Watkins

Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s Bloodroot

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As I pretty much devoured Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s Bloodroot, I felt a little embarrassed because American readers (like me) tend to romanticize Ireland. A small, foolish part of me expects both magic and grit from Irish writers. I can only rationalize my silliness by pointing out that I’m a writer from the American South, and we face similar expectations. Both Ireland and the South are romanticized, famous for suffering. Both are steeped in repressive religious traditions. Both are haunted by their own misremembered histories. The most magical thing about Bloodroot may be that Ní Churreáin meets such expectations while maintaining her own authentic voice.

The poems set in Ireland seem to breathe with history:

            Each night the room fills with the scent

            of damp, dark hide,     the blight-spread,

            the fed ill,

            hot       rank     and desperate.

            When I turn in my sleep, I don’t know who I am.

Evocative poems like this one sound like myth, or the scary old versions of fairy tales.

In the second section, many poems use Irish myths and legends as framework for stories about women and girls in women’s homes and reform schools:

            …who, having lain among waves, were dragged back up again

            by the hair and stripped of their names to pay for the wrongs

            in their bellies, as they stitched lace, pressed linen sheets,

            and each week bowed their heads to the post-partum girls…

 These are my favorite poems in the collection. The voice is hard-edged and unapologetic.

            They said little

            but within that little lay much;

            little was a gated field in which something extraordinary was buried.

As Ní Churreáin deftly maneuvers through a variety of inspirations and changes of poetic presentation, she reclaims the stories of shamed and abused women. Their voices are powerful, even defiant. The interweaving of recent and distant history with myth and family stories gives these poems surprising depth and immediacy.

Bloodroot also includes poems set in Florida, New York, India, and elsewhere. I’m impressed that Ní Churreáin is able to convey such a strong sense of place with so many places. The poems set in Cassadaga and the St. John’s River fit seamlessly with poems set in “Indian foothills”–a welcome reminder to an American reader like me that all places are exotic, magical or mythic, or can be. Ní Churreáin’s poetic voice brings magic to every setting she writes.


Amy Watkins

Amy Watkins (Episodes 124161164192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.

Episode 293: A Star Wars Roundtable (Happy Life Day!)

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Episode 293 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Episode 293

In this week’s episode, Tod Caviness, Julian Chambliss, Dianne Turgeon Richardson, and Jared Silvia join me in a roundtable discussion of the Star Wars Christmas Special of 1978 and maybe got a few other topics in there as well.

Star Wars roundtable


Episode 293 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 #208: I Come in Peace

The Curator of Schlock #208 by Jeff Shuster

I Come In Peace

And you go away in pieces!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night, especially if the “good night” is being uttered by an angry Dolph Lundgren as he spin kicks your face. That’s right. It’s time to cover my favorite Christmas movie, I Come in Peace.

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Hey, I don’t want to hear it! If Die Hard is now up for grabs as everyone’s favorite Christmas movie, mine can be about a drug dealing extra terrestrial and that guy from Dream On. You celebrate Christmas in your way, I’ll celebrate it in mine.

1990’s I Come in Peace from director Craig Baxley is dream come true for those of that like to see things blow up. The movie starts with this yuppie driving a $70,000,000 Cadillac while listening to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” He almost gets into a accident after complaining about the crappy CD player they installed in his car. Then an alien from outer space crashes into him. First thing out of this E.T.’s mouth is, “I come in peace.” He’s this big and tall blond dude in a trench coat, not the kind of man you’d want to mess with. His eyes are glazed over milky white. Super creepy.

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Next scene is a cat burglar of some kind, sneaking into a police evidence room, stealing a suitcase full of heroin, killing the officer on duty, sneaking out of the building dressed as a police officer, and then blowing up the entire police station as he and his men make a getaway. This is all before the intro credits are over with! Enter Dolf Lundgren as detective Jack Caine. He’s setting up a sting operation for a bunch of white-collar drug dealers known as the White Boys. While listening in on the heroin deal his partner is trying to orchestrate, Caine notices a nearby convenience store being robbed by a couple of dirt bags. He decides to intervene, killing the robbers all the while his partner is being gunned down by the White Boys. This is already a great setup, but I Come in Peace delivers so much more than a hard boiled detective hell bent on revenge against a bunch of high-class drug lords.

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This is Dolf Lundgren movie after all. The White Boys that stick around to retrieve the heroin get sliced and diced by that big, blond dude from earlier in the film. How does he kill them? He launches a flying compact disc at them that slits their collective throats. Now, this may seem strange to you younglings out there, but back in 1990, the CD was a mysterious object to many of us who didn’t live in a household that had a CD player. So the idea that a CD could be a deadly weapon was completely plausible to me.

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It turns out the blond guy is an extra terrestrial drug dealer who gets his victims high on heroin before extracting endorphins directly from their brains.  Endorphins are a rare drug on his planet, fetching a high price. Also, it would seem the only words he knows are “I come in peace.” Kind of an odd thing to say before sucking someone’s brain dry of endorphins. He also has a space gun that explodes anything he shoots at!

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The movie takes place at Christmas time so I think TBS should marathon this on Christmas day instead of A Christmas Story! Might make a nice change of pace!


Jeffrey Shuster 3

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Pensive Prowler #14: Nobody from Nowhere

Pensive Prowler #14 by Dmetri Kakmi

Nobody from Nowhere

 

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you Nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

 

How dreary to be Somebody!

How public, like a Frog

To tell one’s name the livelong June

To an admiring Bog!

I’ve been intrigued and amused by Emily Dickinson’s poem since I was a fourteen-year-old high-school student. It’s funny and profound at the same time. Harold Bloom thinks it’s about the outsider in conflict with authority. For me it’s a lot more intimate and internalised.

Emily Dickenson

Balancing bleak satire and lyricism, it’s about the nullity of self, and the separation between public and private selves. When I read the poem, I picture schism and visibility crying out for invisibility. And perhaps the reversal of these ideas, too. That’s the poem’s genius. It works on many levels to create a loop which leads to an end that is also a beginning.

The poem forms an intimate three-way dialogue with two French films, La Moustache (Emmanuel Carrere, 2005) and Nobody from Nowhere (Matthieu Delaporte, 2014). You can find the former on You Tube; the latter streams on Stan.

La Moustache

Carrere’s existentialist drama is about Marc Thiriez, a man who is hurled into an identity crisis when he shaves his moustache and nobody, including his wife, notices. They claim he never had a moustache. Is it a plot or is Marc delusional? If he has lost his mind, how come he sports a moustache in the Bali holiday snaps taken five years earlier with his wife? Distressed, Marc flees to Hong Kong and then to Bali. From there the narrative take an oneiric turn, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in which Marc turns into the louche moustachioed man in the photographs. His wife mysteriously reappears with no foreknowledge of another life and together they plan to return to Paris to perhaps take up the life Marc recently abandoned, thus reactivating the cycle.

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In Nobody from Nowhere, Delaporte digs into the foundations of what constitutes mind and body. His tale is about realtor Sebastien Nicola. Sebastien is a cypher who gives out no visible signs of personality and who has no real life of his own. Instead, he takes on the personalities of men he encounters during his everyday dealings. Until he crosses paths with famed violinist Henri de Montalte, and life veers in unexpected directions for both. By the end, Sebastien Nicola becomes Henri de Montalte, and in the process he is more alive inside another man’s shoes, even as he extends and humanises the troubled host’s life.

I am as captivated by the films as I am by Dickinson’s poem. I’d even venture to say I’m a little bit obsessed with the three-way conversation they open up, partly because they deal with universal themes (Who hasn’t dreamed of being someone else or escaping one life and begin another?), and partly because I lived a portion of my life not knowing who I was*.

I distinctly recall an acquaintance in my mid-twenties saying I had no personality. That I was a blank he could not read no matter which way he looked at me. Although the remark hurt, I can see now that he was remarkably perceptive for a gym bunny. This of course mirrors what various characters say about Sebastien Nicola in Nobody from Nowhere. He has no personality. He is a blank. Mirroring Sebastien’s journey, I also tried on many personalities before settling on the one I wear now. And like Marc Thiriez in La Moustache, I also crossed water to become someone else in another country.

In the world of these films, to question is the only possible answer. The questions act as an oracle, spouting cryptic pronouncements that leave the viewer to find the answers for himself.

In La Moustache, Marc’s transformation questions the nature of truth and reality. Which of Marc’s two lives is real? Paris or Bali? Which Marc is the real Marc? The one with the moustache or the one without the moustache? Which life came first, moustache or sans moustache? Did one Marc dream the other Marc? If so, which Marc is the dreamer and which Marc is the dream? Finally, must he choose? Can both lives exist simultaneously?

The lack of clear resolution leaves the viewer with a profound sense of disquiet, which is elaborated by Sebastien Nicola, who could be Marc’s spiritual brother in existential crisis. Better yet, maybe Sebastien is The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) in a new guise, a nullity that absorbs one personality after another for survival sake? It’s only when he becomes Henri de Montalte and supplements the older man’s deficiencies with his own rich inner life and reserves of compassion that he flowers and becomes truly himself.

Transformation lies in terror and abjection. Extreme circumstances force Marc and Nicola to transcend themselves and become more than what they are. Like Dickinson in her poem, the two men shape malleable flesh to their own unique specifications and project a self-realised inner being onto the canvas we call a body. In the process, they obscure and reveal themselves to an admiring bog (the quagmire of personality?) and open themselves to life’s possibilities. That’s why Sebastien Nicola’s final pronouncement speaks for all of us:

“The body is illusory. We are not what we are. Reality is not truth… I’ve become someone else. I’ve become myself…”


*See my essay ‘A History of Violence’ in The Body Horror Book, edited by Claire Fitzpatrick.

BodyHorror


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.

Episode 292: On the Road’s 60th Anniversary Show!

Episode 292 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, we return to September 5th, 2017, the 60th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This celebration included Tod Caviness, Janna Benge, Bob Kealing, Erik Deckers, Suleika Jaouad, Karen Price, Holly Kapherr, Jared Silvia, Chris Cortez and Mark Piszczek.

On the Road Party Music by Peter Lanzarone

Chris Cortez and Mark Piszczek by Peter Lanzarone.

On the Road 60th Steve Erwin Tod

Todd Caviness, Chris Cortez, and Mark Piszczek by Steve Erwin.

On the Road 60th Steve Erwin Kealing

Bob Kealing by Steve Erwin.

On the Road 60th Steve Erwin Erik

Erik Deckers by Steve Erwin.

On the Road Party Suleika by Peter Lanzarone

Suleika Jaouad and John King by Peter Lanzarone.

On the Road 60th Steve Erwin

Karen Price by Steve Erwin.

On the Road Party John by Vincent

John King by Vincent Crampton.

On the Road 60th Steve Erwin Jared

Jared Silvia by Steve Erwin.

NOTES

Check out The Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts!

Learn more about The Kerouac Project residency program.


Episode 292 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 #207: 2017 in Review Part 3D

The Curator of Schlock #207 by Jeff Shuster

2017 in Review Part 3D

I didn’t actually see any movies in 3D. Fail.

August

Wind-River

Wind River

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in a non-Avengers movie. I guess you would surmise that they’re playing different characters since this is a non-Marvel related movie and you’d be right. There’s a murder on an Indian reservation in a frozen wasteland in Wyoming and it’s up to a rookie FBI agent (Olsen) and a seasoned Wildlife Service Agent (Renner) to get to the bottom of this. Watch if like to see snow. Johnny Depp does not star.

September

It

It

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this was infinitely superior to the ’80s miniseries in that Will Wheaton didn’t star in it. And before you tell me that Will Wheaton didn’t star in the 80s miniseries, be aware that he could have starred in It. The movie version of It stars that kid from Stranger Things (Finn Wolfhard) and since Stranger Things > Star Trek: The Next Generation, the It remake is superior to 1980s version. Simple logic.

American_assasin

American Assassin

Okay, so there’s this guy (Dylan O’Brien) on a beach near a Mexican resort with his girlfriend. I think he’s going to propose to her so they can spend the rest of their lives together. All of the sudden, terrorists show up and shoot up the place. The guy watches his fiancé die. He survives and decides to infiltrate terrorist cells only to be kidnapped by the CIA in order to get special ops training so he can fight the terrorists on behalf of the CIA even though they’ll disavow knowledge of his existence should he get caught. Michael Keaton also stars. He gets his fingernails torn off at some point. Oh, and I think the Atlantic Ocean blows up at the end.

Mother

Mother!

I didn’t get it.

October

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Blade Runner 2049

This movie didn’t perform well at the box office. It’s the best movie of the decade, and it didn’t perform well at the box office. I guess I don’t have to worry about a sequel or a cinematic universe ruining the perfection that is Blade Runner 2049. How is it perfect? It is perfect in every detail. Fine. I’ll give you an example: costuming. Look at the t-shirt Harrison Ford is wearing. That is perfectly designed t-shirt, not some Haines or Fruit of the Loom rag.  I hear it will be auctioned off at starting bids somewhere in the six figures. John King will loan me the money.

November

Justice_League (1)

Justice League

Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Lupin the 3rd (Colin Hanks) join forces to stop some Baddy McBadnick named Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), something to do with three cubes that can destroy the world or enslave it, something dire like that.

December

The-Disaster-Artists

The Disaster Artist

This is a movie about the making of another movie called The Room. I watched The Room in preparation for this movie. There are days you look into the abyss and days the abyss looks back into you, and the day I watched The Room was one of those days. As for The Disaster Artist, it’s fine.

Okay, that wraps up 2017. I’ll have a special Christmas surprise in store for you next week.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Buzzed Books #56: All I Want to Do is Live

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Buzzed Books #56 by Justin T. Brozanski

All I Want to Do is Live

Trace Ramsey’s All I Want to Do is Live, a collection of creative nonfiction and poetry, is an unmistakably great book. Ramsey’s writing is brave against the noise of daily life as he struggles against his “desire to not live,” and seeks strength in the people who love him: his grandparents, wife, and daughter.     

Nonfiction, in general, tends to be loud. Like Philip Robertson’s account of surviving Iraq during ever-increasing violence with In the Mosque of Imam Ali, nonfiction is immediate and suffused with the charge of every experience and choice. It carries infinite possibility, which—according to David Foster Wallace in his introduction from The Best American Essays: 2007—expresses the feelings of “how to order, represent, connect, and why.” Ramsey’s choice, though quiet against the clamor, is not a romanticized musing or meditation. Instead, he delivers a fractured personal mythology stapled together with copied images, drawings, and photographs, which act as a sort of thematic connective tissue or glue.

The hybrid nature of Ramsey’s collection is a textured and fragmented experience which is aesthetically necessary. Like the cover of his zine Quitter #9—four images of the human humerus, in order: cracked, broken, split, shattered—Ramsey’s book is segmented in four parts: nonfiction chapbooks and zines, essays, poems, and interviews. Those sections are, in turn, further divided, either into separate sections or vignettes, enhancing the collection’s solitary and quiet nature.

This multifaceted approach matches Trace’s anarchistic and off-grid leanings, which we learn about through interviews by author and publisher J. David Osbourne (By The Time We Live Here, We’ll Be Friends), and essays detailing times when Ramsey and his wife, Kristin, lived on farm land with hopes of being self-sustainable. The inclusion of the zine form—its modern origins stemming from the punk scene of the 70’s and 80’s—convey a DIY quality and aesthetic, often found in anti-establishment sensibilities, which although broken, identifies as one. The fragments of this book are as much a community as they are splintered. Lines and sections can repeat themselves elsewhere. Farthing Street, for example, is adapted from Quitter #7.  Still, these reprisals are not editorial oversight. They are reflective, deliberate, and above the skin—as a scar. In one instance we see the cut, the other the scab.

Yet, Ramsey’s nonlinear structure is not merely a political construction. It is built out of mental illness and inherited family tragedy.  His essays and poetry—which are lush, stimulating, and deeply personal—are fraught with bouts of debilitating depression, physical abuse, and addiction which only lend to the collection’s cracked composition.   

In another interview from Gut Feelings Zine, Ramsey states that his “whole style of writing is based on relating my past with my current life.” Like a “ghost unsure of my method of haunting” Ramsey teleports between personal vignettes as if he is unstuck in time. The narrative feels scattered, a day-after artifact tossed about in a storm “like a leaf caught in the bushes.” The months which divide Quitter #7 are out of order, July follows November. In Quitter/Ten, separated by Ramsey’s age at the time, nine follows forty. There is uncertainty of station—one minute we are sharing a tender moment with his daughter, Trace teaching her the names of birds and edible plants, and in another, he eats in tense silence built by his physically abusive stepfather after hunting and skinning a rabbit. Each turnabout implacable, like his depression, “unpredictable, furious, disappointing” leaving us uncertain as to whether or not Ramsey will choose life out of this lonely odyssey.

Strikingly heartbreaking and genuinely honest, Trace Ramsey’s All I Want to Do is Live is a deftly constructed hybrid masterwork.


Justin T. BrozanskiJustin Brozanski is an MFA Candidate for Fiction at the University of Central Florida. He loves collecting books regardless of his wife’s chagrin of having to continually buy more bookcases. When he’s not immersed in reading or writing, he can be found volunteering, teaching, and watching Frasier. He also adores playing with his fluffy white cat and sneaking midnight snacks.