The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #75: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (2000)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

75. Paul Kafno’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (2005)

Normally, dear readers, cute middlebrow approaches to Shakespeare fill my heart with hate, so I was aggravated when a friend of mine just gave me a copy of The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Reduced Shakespeare Company

The good news is that the trio of performers—Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor—are actually wickedly funny, and surprisingly good actors when they stop joking, though they seldom stop joking. The play is a meta-theatrical presentation in which there is both a fairly decent sense of history as well as a sense of how the themes of the play seem timely now. These actors have clearly lived with Shakespeare’s texts awhile, and can treat them with loving familiarity and the odd doses of contempt.

There are 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, and thankfully Long, Martin, and Tichenor don’t plow through them one by one. There are a lot of very broad strokes. In some ways, they definitely cheat to get to all 37. I can’t offer more summary than that without spoiling the fun of this show, and—unlike the films of Baz Luhrman or Michael Almereyda—The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)is worth not spoiling.

Their costumes—vaguely Elizabethan clothes over Chuck Taylor All-Stars—convey the spirit of the show. There is a bouncy sense that knowledge and understanding are relative, even though they know and understand plenty.

My only complaint is that I want to see them also do Shakespeare straight, in a different show. They are that good. Though if I could stick them into a Shakespeare comedy, they might go insane, which would also be good. These gents have won over a jaded knave such as myself. They’d probably do the same for you, if you’re my friend.


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.


Episode 320: Bloomsday 2018!


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Episode 320 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 program, The Drunken Odyssey enjoys perhaps its final Bloomsday live show, and its perhaps final visit to The Gallery at Avalon Island.

Bloomsday 2018 Jeremy DaCruz

Jeremy DaCruz by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 Music!

Matthew Davis, Alisha Erao, and Sarah Morrison by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 Octavia Finch

Octavia Finch by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 Elise McKenna

Elise McKenna by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 Erik Branch

Erik Branch by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 John King

John King by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 Emmi Green

Emmi Green by Steve Erwin.

Bloomsday 2018 Pat Greene

Patrick Greene and Jeremy DaCruz by Steve Erwin.

Episode 320 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 #231: The Last Exorcism Part II

The Curator of Schlock #231 by Jeff Shuster

The Last Exorcism Part II

Nope. There’s no sequel when something is the last of anything!

I’m sorry, but if we can get The Last Exorcism Part II, we can get The Last Starfighter Part II. I’ve been waiting over three decades for a follow-up. I want see Alex Rogan face off against the maniacal Xur once and for all. Maybe we’ll even see a resurgence of the Ko-Dan Armada.

How about that? Looks like The Last Starfighter was turned into an off-Broadway musical back in 2004. I’d rather see that than Hamilton. I’m just saying.


Tonight’s movie is 2013’s The Last Exorcism Part II from Ed Gass-Donnelly. The enticing Amazon description states, “The evil force is back with horrific plans.” Huh? When did the evil force leave? The Last Exorcism ended with a satanic cult pulling a demon named Abalam out from a pregnant Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) and then tossing said baby demon into a bonfire where the flames caused it to grow into a GIANT DEMON. Reverend Marcus gets burned alive and the satanic cult butchers his camera crew.

I assumed that the demon then proceeded to create hell on Earth or maybe he got a cushy job over at Lucasfilm. Regardless, Abalam didn’t go anywhere. He was made flesh and doing damage out in the world.

The Last Exorcism Part II forgets all of that. Abalam is non-corporeal again and stalking an amnestic Nell. She ends up being taken in at a home for wayward girls run by Frank Merie (Muse Watson), a therapist who doesn’t believe in demons. He even convinces Nell to reconsider the whole religion thing. Nell is enjoying her new life with the other wayward girls, especially since the girl’s home is located right in the middle of New Orleans. Party time! Seriously, you can hear jazz music being played live at four in the morning in the Big Easy! I’ve been there.

I wish I could be a wayward girl living in New Orleans.


Things are going well until strange things start a brewing. While Nell is working at a chambermaid at a local hotel, she hears Reverend Marcus trying to warn her about Abalam through an old radio. A boy she’s interested in calls the house, but all she hears on the other line is a crying baby. She keeps seeing her dad, and I can’t tell if he’s real or a ghost.


He warns her that Abalam wants to join with her and then he’ll be unstoppable or some such doomsday mumbo jumbo. I think one of the other wayward girls, Gwen (Julia Garner), is also possessed by Abalam because her eyes keep going all black and she keeps smiling a wicked smile.


All is not lost. A secret society known as the Order of the Right Hand wants to kill Abalam by transferring his essence into a chicken and then killing the chicken. Sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo voodoo horseshit to me.

The ceremony goes awry.

Abalam joins with Nell and she goes on a killing spree.

The movie ends with New Orleans being torched by hellfire. Now you don’t have to watch the movie.

You’re welcome.

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.


Episode 319: Julian Chambliss!


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Episode 319 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 program, Julian Chambliss returns to the secret headquarters of TDO so we could share notes about the first season of the new television show of Black Lightning, and consider the context of the classic comic book from the 1970s.

Science Night Live, photo by Roberto Gonzalez


Black Lightning

Black Lightning Cover.png


Check out this hysterical assist from Superman!

Black Lightning & Superman

Compare Tobias Whale on the CW show (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III) and his considerably different look in the original comics.

Black-Lightning-Tobias-Whale-feature-2Black Lightning Tobias Whale comics

Episode 319 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 #230: The Last Exorcism

The Curator of Schlock #230 by Jeff Shuster

The Last Exorcism

The Citizen Kane of found footage demonic possession movies.

So I’m on the Interweb and take notice of an upcoming motion picture called Death Kiss? The title sounds familiar. It stars Daniel Baldwin and some actor I’ve never heard of, a Robert Bronzi. Still, the name Robert Bronzi reminds me of another actor celebrated at this establishment. And then I watch the trailer. Daniel Baldwin is playing some kind of shock jock radio host, keeps talking about how someone needs to deliver the “Kiss of Death” to the criminals terrorizing our society. Out from the shadows steps a man:


I am crying tears of joy. Everything’s come full circle now. We’ve come home, folks.

Anyway, back to Satan Month. This week’s feature is 2010’s The Last Exorcism from director Daniel Stamm. Now, the first thing you’ll notice is that this looks like a real documentary. It’s professionally shot. The camera doesn’t shake all over the place. There’s no zooming in and out unlike some other found footage movies that will never be mentioned on this blog again. The movie centers around a skeptical preacher named Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) and a teenage girl named Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) who may or may not have the devil inside her.


Here’s where I’m at with horror movies. I’m ecstatic when they’re great, but those are rare. Many are good and I’m fine with good. And even a bad horror movie is better than watching Young Adam or The English Patient. The Last Exorcism is a good horror movie and good is good enough.


What makes it good is the best horror movie protagonist I’ve seen since Ash from the Evil Dead films, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a preacher from the Louisiana Bible Belt. Reverend Marcus started preaching the good word when he was a boy, groomed by his father. Reverend Marcus is an exorcist, but there’s just one problem: he doesn’t believe in demons anymore. When he reads a news story about a young autistic boy who gets suffocated to death during an exorcism, he decides it’s time to expose exorcism for the fraud that it is.


With a documentary crew in tow, he heads to the backwoods of Louisiana, interviewing yokels about the Satanic cults and UFO sightings. We laugh at the rubes, but maybe we shouldn’t. Reverend Marcus has been summoned to the Sweetzer farm, where a teenage girl named Nell is supposedly possessed by a demon named Abalam. With his linen suit and Jimmy Swaggart swagger, he convinces her God-fearing father, Louis, to let him perform an exorcism on Nell, emphasis on perform since it is a performance.


Reverend Marcus has an exorcism kit complete with an MP3 player filled with demon sound effects, a crucifix that emits smoke with the press of a button, and other instruments of fakery. A shaky bed and an avalanche of quotes from The Exorcist, and presto, Reverend Marcus has convinced Nell and her family that she’s no longer possessed. But that isn’t where the movie ends. Nell starts to act really strange, drawing pictures of Reverend Marcus on fire and the camera crew hacked to pieces. Oh, and then Nell mutilates the family cat. The cameraman wants to leave, but not one listens to him. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that fire and brimstone may be involved.

Jeffrey Shuster 2

Photo by Leslie Salas.

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

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #74: Hamlet (2015)


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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

74. Margaret Williams’s film of Sarah Frankcom’s stage version of Hamlet (2015)

Hamlet poster

The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester’s gender-bending production film of its stage version Hamlet makes me dwell on this passage:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me.

Maxine Peake plays our Danish prince. I found her to be a prodigious fairy queen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but didn’t know what to make of much of her go as Hamlet. She performed with a surfeit of braying and squawking, which seems like an exaggerated sense of what men speak like (though if so, perhaps she is right). She also didn’t look her fellow actors in the eyes very much, as if she is escaping the male gaze, including her own as Hamlet. Her sense of re- or un-gendering might be a secret she is keeping, like Hamlet’s secret kept from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Peake seems furious, yet aloof, and distracted.

Hamlet 5

One great exception is when her Hamlet is taunting Polonia—the court advisor’s gender was also changed in this version, played by Gillian Bevan, who proves that women can be as pompous as a masculine courtly bureaucrat.

Hamlet 11.png

Before the action of Hamlet, the prince has been courting the advisor’s daughter. Polonia tries to draw out Hamlet’s secrets, and Peake, trying to throw her off the scent, makes Hamlet’s innuendos really adolescently grotesque. To another woman, Peake shows off her character’s misogyny.

Hamlet 9.png

But this was a performance in which one almost had to watch around Hamlet to appreciate the play. The music of the language seemed forever out of rhythm, and off key.

This is not a bad production, though. I am humble enough to consider that there is something to the performance that I am missing. Perhaps Hamlet has to be out of joint, if Denmark is so smooth on the surface and yet secretly so out of joint.

Hamlet 1

Katie West is this production’s Ophelia, and one of my touchstones for any version of Hamlet must be the quality of its Ophelia. West is impeccable. In being heartbroken by her incompatible loyalties, West seems to show every emotional wound.

Hamlet 2

One decision that has to be made in each production is whether or not she and the prince have been sexually intimate, or whether their sub rosa courtship has been more innocent. Most productions indicate that they probably have been intimate, since that would explain some of Hamlet’s self-loathing, as his own lust might incriminate him in sharing qualities with his uncle. West’s Ophelia seems innocent, even though she doesn’t seem like an especially young Ophelia.

Hamlet 6 (Ophelia)

Barbara Martin plays Gertrude, and this is perhaps the best performance in this Hamlet. She is thin, and old, yet conveys a ready intelligence and dignity that makes the queen a truly tragic figure.

Hamlet 8.png

Claire Benedict played the Chief Player, and makes the role seem like much more than a light diversionary detour from the tragedy.

Claire Hamlet

John Shrapnel is fine enough as Claudius.

This is a vaguely modern Hamlet, and Lee Curran’s light design uses dangling lightbulbs to tremendous effect, somewhere between surrealism and minimalism.

Hamlet 4

There is also a smart decision with the props: after Ophelia strips down to her underwear in her second mad scene, the stage will seem to multiply this shedding of raiment, so that loose clothing becomes the earth Ophelia will be buried in. This seems to be a pushing back against Ophelia’s drowning because her cumbersome gown becomes waterlogged, according to Gertrude’s narration. Later the loose clothes will be pushed to the edges of the stage to ring the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Ophelia leaves her sad trace in the final act of the play in this way.

I expect that crossing the gender line should make the viewer realize how little difference there is between the genders, really, as Virginia Woolf believed, or else make us realize how much of our feelings about gender come down to the quite fallible social construction of reality. Margaret Williams’s film of Sarah Frankcom’s stage version, however, is much more subtle. Perhaps too subtle.


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.

Episode 318: Condoms & Hot Tubs Don’t Mix!


Episode 318 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Condoms & Hot Tubs Table

Photo by Katherine J. Parker

On this week’s show, I present the readings from the book release party for Condoms and Hot Tubs Don’t Mix.

Condoms & Hot Tubs Readers

Photo by Katherine J. Parker


Condoms & Hot Tubs

Episode 318 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 #229: The Blackcoat’s Daughter


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The Curator of Schlock #229 by Jeff Shuster

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

We have a winner.

Maybe I was a little harsh on The Devil Inside. I mean, it had a great trailer. That possessed mother was reciting “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and it was all distorted and evil sounding. That’s what you do to get an audience hooked, take something innocent and make it all disturbing. If I were trying to sell one of these found footage horror movies, I’d have a Tickle Me Elmo doll start throwing up bile. Anyone would pay to see that. I’d call the movie Elmo’s Hellfire. Go ahead and call my agent, Hollywood!


This week’s movie is another demonic possession movie, a little arthouse flick titled The Blackcoat’s Daughter from director Oz Perkins. He’s the son of Anthony Perkins, who played Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. And it’s good. It’s actually good. So good that I want to chide you for reading this review when you could be watching it on Amazon Prime Streaming right now. And I want to say that Amazon in no way paid me to say that. Because I have no business sense. And no money for an exterminator. And I really have to pee, but the roaches make the men’s room their home between 11 PM and 7 AM. Where did I put that Mason jar?


The Blackcoat’s Daughter handles demonic possession in style, weaving a narrative between three female characters. Two of them are teenagers at a Catholic boarding school for girls. Rose is a senior played by Lucy Boynton whose credits involve 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express and this year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Kat is a weirdo freshman played by Kiernan Shipka of Mad Men fame. The other is Joan, an escapee from an mental asylum played by Emma Roberts. We’ve got a powerhouse of leading ladies for such a small horror movie.


The plot? Kind of tricky since the movie jumps around between characters and time periods. It all bleeds together at the end, but the journey is worth as much as the destination. The two high school students are stuck at the Catholic School during a February Winter Break. There may be some devil worshipping going on. There may be some demonic possession going on. There may be some stabbing and decapitation, but—I’ve said too much.


Let’s just say if you’re walking around an abandoned campus in the middle of winter and see someone chanting and bowing in front of a fiery furnace at 3 AM then get the hell out of there!


Speaking of things you don’t do, don’t go over to strange young women who look like Emma Roberts. I know you feel bad for them because they’re sitting on a bus stop bench on a cold winter’s night, but trust me, just ignore them. Do not offer said strange young women a ride to upstate New York with your impatient wife who doesn’t like the idea of giving a strange young woman a ride to upstate New York. And don’t offer up platitudes like “time heals all wounds” because it doesn’t heal repeated stab wounds in the back and in the belly.

Anyway, watch The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Make it a family night at the movies.

Jeffrey Shuster 3

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

Lost Chords & Serenades Divine #11: Machine Head Dialogue



Lost Chords & Serenades Divine #11 by Stephen McClurg and John King

Deep Purple: Machine Head (1972)

In my weekly blog post, I discussed the recent circumstances that led me to hearing Deep Purple’s classic album for the first time. John won’t shut up about it.

Deep Purple Machine Head

JOHN: Turns out a “machine head” is the part of an instrument for tuning strings. Hmmm.

STEPHEN: Yeah, it is a “machine head,” but I’ve never heard a musician call it that. Everyone calls it a “peg” or a “tuner,” though “machine head” may be more common in England. I just figured it was a not-so-subtle sexual reference like their name.

Is the cover supposed to represent the title? Heads reflected in a metal machine? It freaks me out, like they’re all standing behind me in an elevator and I’m looking at their reflections on the door desperate to get to my floor. Maybe they’re all staring at a metal sex doll trying to figure out how it works and wondering who will go first.

I had written about how I happened to hear the album. What about you? When did you first hear it?

I’d also be interested in what your experience of the record is as a non-musician—or do you play guitar? The song (you know which one) is so attached to guitar playing that it’s almost impossible for me to divorce my listening experience from my musical apprenticeship. [In my original post, I discussed how “Smoke on the Water” was verboten in most musical contexts.]

JOHN: I got the LP of Machine Head around ‘87 or ‘88 if memory serves. Vinyl was cheap then, a dying format, and I got it out of a pure dumb hunger for more music. The crudeness of the cover is exactly how I felt, and I was pretty sure it couldn’t be any worse than Quiet Riot, who invited us to bang our heads in 1983.

I don’t remember if I cared about “Smoke on the Water.” What I remember is that I was wowed by the organ and the drums on this record, much more than the guitars. One of my favorite records at the time was Long Player by the Small Faces, and I also had this 45 of theirs that had an instrumental called “Skewiff (Mind the Fuse)” that was a good jam. Deep Purple felt like a hard rock version of them. Side 1 of Machine Head grooves.

STEPHEN: I like that the criteria for the purchase was “this can’t be worse than Quiet Riot.” Well, that and a “pure dumb hunger for more music.” I can still relate to that sentiment.

The drums haven’t struck me one way or another. It’s possible I haven’t listened to the record enough. Paice is a crisp, tight player, but I love Jon Lord’s organ work on it and I quite like Blackmore’s guitar playing.

I think I like “Highway Star” much more than you do.

JOHN: “Highway Star” is an okay vamp, but it never quite goes euphoric. The lyric conceits seem to be that the inamorata of the rock singer is a car, or is like a car, or he is some sort of trans-dimensional god zooming over the highway trying to keep up with a nymphomaniac’s libido. The music is good, and the lyrics weird enough to be listenable, but it doesn’t really get over.

STEPHEN: After “Highway Star,” “Maybe I’m a Leo” had some good lines, but didn’t strongly catch my ear.

JOHN: “Maybe I’m a Leo” is a funky groove that’s so desultory it’s beautiful. In 1972 when this record came out, being conversant in astrology was a prerequisite for getting laid—poor dumb bastards trying to walk in bell-bottoms—so the lyrics come off as really funny to me. Paice’s fills and the guitar and keyboard solos all seem to soar off the general sloppiness of the tune.

STEPHEN: I knew I would listen to the whole album when I got to the lines “I’m alone here/with emptiness, eagles, and snow” in “Pictures of Home.” That line works for me on multiple levels.

The first level was just how surprising it was. It caught me off guard with the connection of multiple levels of abstraction. Visually, it mentions mountains and such, too, and reminded me of Rush’s concept songs and albums—which I love. It’s a Dungeons and Dragons image.

But the lines are also interesting poetically. The repetition of the vowel sounds, especially how the “e” sounds are used, is nice. Also, that it sets up the long “o” early and comes back to it. In the full chorus, it plays off the assonance of “alone” and “snow” with “home”—a home that isn’t there. The words are connected by sound, but contrasted in terms of image. The syllables count down in an effective way: emptiness (3), eagles (2), snow (1).

This connected to my memory of Anglo-Saxon poetry with its ubi sunts, imagery, and alliteration. Making the literary connection, whether they intended it or not—really endeared me to the track. And it connects to both the outsider image, the Byronic aspect of rock’n’roll, and the warrior image of hard rock and metal.

Plus the bass solo! It’s kind of sloppy and raw, but punchy. I hear a lot of Mike Watt, or I should say that I think Roger Glover influenced Watt’s playing.

JOHN: “Pictures of Home” is bouncy like “Highway Star,” but really the song is an excuse to jam, and Ritchie Blackmore’s quivering guitars and that Jon Lord organ droning work well, and the singing is strong. I don’t listen to the lyrics too much, or else I’d probably have to stop listening to most rock music period. You’re a better listener than I am.

Perhaps it’s my tinnitus—SUPER FUCKING LOUD since seeing George Clinton earlier this month—but I can’t find the bass through the organ.

“Never Before” is a pulsing groove that sounds a lot more earnest than “Highway Star.” I am charmed by the chorus, “I’ve never felt soooooooo baaaaad … before” sung so prettily by Ian Gillan, the way no sad person could ever sing … unless one is a highway star.

Tracks 2-4 are truly great to drive through.

STEPHEN: That’s exactly what stands out to me on “Never Before.” I wish my heartbreak and sorrow sounded as sweet. Overall, it’s a groove and a chorus and not much else for me.

“Lazy” is the longest track on the album, but it’s ultimately a blues jam with vapid lyrics. It also gives them a chance, for maybe a minute, to almost play some “classical’ music. I would have liked more of that, especially the noisier possibilities, but I wonder if where the organ sounds novel to me, if it wasn’t something that people had gotten used to and were maybe tired of after the ‘60s. I’m sure a ton of psych-rock covered that territory.

JOHN: “Lazy” begins sounding like some live Doors vamp then veers into what could almost count as straightforward blues of that era, hints of Booker T and the MGs. Note: Ian Gillan is actually singing to himself, I think, as a lyric writer.

just stay in bed
You’re lazy just stay in bed
You don’t want no money
You don’t want no bread
If you’re drowning
you don’t clutch no straw, no
If you’re drowning
you don’t clutch no straw
You don’t want to live
you don’t want to cry no more
Well my trying ain’t done no good
I said my trying ain’t done no good
You don’t make no effort
no, not like you should
you just stay in bed
you just stay in bed
You don’t want no money
You don’t want no bread

That was one unmotivated cat. Good harmonica, though. They do have the good taste to wait 4 minutes into a 7 minute song to start the singing. A minute and a half later, the band returns to jamming.

Actually, “Lazy” is fucking superior to Mick Jagger’s variation on this theme, “Let’s Work,” which should count as exhibit A in why Mick isn’t cool—not primitive cool, either.

Clearly the director of this video thought, “Mick means every word of this ironically, doesn’t he? Let’s have clichés of workers trying to prance along with Mick in the middle of dangerous vehicular traffic.” My favorite part is when pallbearers drop a coffin on the highway.

STEPHEN: I know the song preceded both of these films, but I was hoping “Space Truckin’” would be more Alien than Flash Gordon. But despite that silliness, it’s a rockin’ track. I’ve always liked that kind of Motown beat with the snare on all four, and in a rock situation it often gives the drummer space to do some interesting bass work.

I love how the gnarly, weaving chorus riff is an unexpected, but really cool, transition in and out of the verse, which has the same beat. That might be my favorite riff on the record.

The verses wouldn’t be as great if the band didn’t experiment with texture. The verse as it is isn’t that special, but right before the solos, Blackmore plays a choppy, muted rhythm against the verse, while Gillan goes shrieking full-on, like a Muppet in space on fire. For a verse! Of course, he brings it back and goes even higher for the conclusion of the song.

Also, that spacy chromatic transition from the solos seems out-of-place and perfect at the same time. There’s some string-bending like the beginning of “Iron Man.”

JOHN: The rollover riff to “Space Truckin’” is okay, I guess. Angus Young would speed up the tempo to that trick with “Who Made Who” and then more with “Thunderstruck” (which I always thought was an overblown copy of “Who Made Who”).

The lyrics of “Space Truckin’” are there maybe as part of the rhythm section, just to give Ian Gillan something to do. Clearly they could have taken more drugs, lyrically speaking. Really, this whole record belongs to Jon Lord and Ian Paice. If you think that Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars came out a year later, “Space Truckin’” is even more lyrically disappointing.

In 1996, there was a movie called Space Truckers starring Dennis Hopper. It didn’t use the Deep Purple song. Or special effects better than what MST3K was using at the time. Ash vs. Evil Dead used the song, though.

STEPHEN: I think part of the elevator pitch for Alien was that it was part Jaws and part truckers in space. It makes sense someone just ran with it.

How did you get into Small Faces/Faces? You mentioned them earlier, but even at the height of Rod Stewart’s fame I don’t remember hearing much about those groups. I think there was a lot of British rock that just didn’t make it over. I’m guessing anyway.

JOHN: I just had the one LP from The Faces (Small Faces), and it really came down to the randomness of what records I came across cheap in my teens. Rod Stewart confuses me in that he could be a hard rocker (“Hot Legs”) or disco trash (“Do You Think I’m Sexy?”) or treacly pop (“Forever Young”). Liberace had more musical integrity.

STEPHEN: There was a Zappa fan in our college orchestra. He was a percussionist who sat behind me and was a good-natured snob who was really into prog rock. I used to warm up every day with something like “Smoke on the Water” just to drive him crazy. “In a Gadda Da Vida” or even parts of “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”—etc. Sometimes I threw in some Police songs. I loved to see how much I could make him cringe.

Then again, he could have been cringing at my intonation on upright bass, but I like to think it was more about my skill of finding the most annoying riff at the right time.

JOHN: Yeah, out of context, the riff on “Smoke on the Water” sounds dumb. It doesn’t sound much better in context—like a satanic bowel movement. Come on cheese!—come on donuts!—get this evil—out o’ me!

I loved when the song was on season 2, episode 1 of The Sopranos. Tony is driving around in jersey and bopping awkwardly in his seat, and the CD glitches on Frank Zappa’s name, and goes Zap-Zap-Zap-Zap-Zap-Zap-Zap-Zap, and Tony blacks out crashing his goddamn SUV.

One of the reasons Deep Purple doesn’t get half the respect it deserves is because this one song is their legacy according to classic rock stations.

I fucking hate classic rock and all its two to five hundred song-lists set to replay and replay and replay and half of those were utterly fucking stupid the first time. No more “Hotel California” or “Paradise City” or anything by Bon Motherfucking Jovi. This isn’t the death of rock and roll. This is the zombie afterlife of actual rocks. It grinds my last fucking nerve, this bullshit.

STEPHEN: I think I used to know what “classic rock” is, but I don’t know anymore. It just so happens I’ve never been a fan of any of the bands you mention as “classic rock.” The Eagles just never caught my ear. I remember being a kid and being trapped in the car with my parents listening to the radio. My mom has always liked and still likes Top 40 music—-whatever happens to be Top 40. She heard Kanye before I did, though she’s never liked his stuff. When I was a kid she liked Devo, Talking Heads, and Blondie, so that’s what I heard growing up. But if I were in the car and “Hotel California” came on, I just hated how long and boring it seemed. I still don’t like the Eagles, but I’ve also never heard a whole album, which is the same situation I was in with Deep Purple which sparked this whole conversation to begin with—so I don’t know. Maybe I do like The Eagles and I just don’t know it yet.

I was already into Jane’s Addiction and Metallica when I heard Guns N’ Roses. Overall, I just wasn’t interested, I think I peaked in hard rock around White Lion and Def Leppard and just wasn’t interested anymore. It’s good that I’ve always been ready to hear something new, but bad in a sense that I think I understand something more than I do based on genre. Sometimes I’m just wrong. I’m willing to admit that. I think a lot of us do this. It’s partially survival—-otherwise the world is overwhelming, but there is something about getting into the details. They almost always subvert our shorthands.

I never liked Bon Jovi either, though “Runaway” cracks me up and that talk box effect on “Living on a Prayer” I always liked, but I always turned it off when the verse started.

But I actually like a lot of classic rock. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, etc. I still love “White Rabbit” or “Barracuda” or….Is Lou Reed classic rock? Velvet Underground? I guess sometimes.

JOHN: I saw both Aerosmith and AC/DC in 1988, and White Lion was the opening act for both of them. GNR was the opener for Aerosmith for half of their tour, but nope, not for the Hollywood Sportatorium date. Wait? Wait? Why, White Lion, will you fucking get better if I wait? How about you wait, you skinny bitches.

Everything about Bon Jovi fills my heart with hate. They make White Lion sound like Slayer.

STEPHEN: I love “Wait.” That would have been an exciting time to see GNR.

I admire your ability to be angry about these things. I think for many years I felt poisoned by music around me and felt physically affected by music I didn’t like. These days I just say “not for me” and move on. I can be moved to tears by music, but I rarely react negatively to it.

I do not like that almost every public place I go to pipes in music.

JOHN: Now I lock myself into my iPod as much as possible when in public, which keeps me saner. I mean Taylor Swift’s music is purely anti-human and Katy Perry is a triumph of cliché, but I have mostly avoided them, whereas Bon Jovi and Poison and Van Hagar and a lot of other shit got their toxic tentacles into my ears as a teenager because iPods didn’t exist and I had to rely on the radio and (shudder) MTV.

Wait, you think I’m angry? What the fuck makes you say that?

Technically, the machine head is the peg, plus the gear and housing. The back of the LP featured the whole back neck of a … bass?

Deep Purple Machine Head back
I guess they thought that out of context “machine head” sounded really cool. They were kind of right.

STEPHEN: The digital age allowed me to call this album up and listen to it, but one of the things I don’t like, and maybe this is a “get off my lawn” moment, is the lack of artwork, lyrics, and notes. I’ve never seen the back cover, even after all those years of shuffling around used copies.

I agree. It’s a cool name! It cracks me up that they put the bass headstock on the back of the album. It’s so obvious that I find it as confusing as the cover. That looks like a Fender bass, but someone more eagle-eyed would be able to tell if it’s a Precision or Jazz bass.


Stephen McClurg (Episode 24) writes and teaches in Birmingham, Alabama. He co-hosts The Outrider Podcast, writes at Eunoia Solstice, and infrequently blogs. He has contributed music as a solo artist and with the group Necronomikids to past episodes of The Drunken Odyssey.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #73: King Lear (2008)

Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

73. Trevor Nunn’s King Lear (2008)

I’ve taken a few months off my Shakespeariation, dear readers. I presume if you are reading this blog, you want to know which films to seek out, which to avoid due to being fatally boring, and which ones are weird enough to huff some glue to watch. Well, the winter of my discontent has lasted longer than normal—chronic pain, and marathoning one’s way through tragedies gets on one’s nerves—but I think I have the equanimity to offer some rulings once again.

King Lear? Damn it. I recently interviewed the poet Gerald Stern, who prefers Lear, and I wish I had more time with him to get to the bottom of this. I suspect the adoration comes as a reader more than as a viewer, though I do not dare speak for Mr. Stern.

There’s a lot of crying in Lear. A lot of screaming. Not a small amount of whining.

King Lear

Photo & cocktail (The Vile Jelly) by Susan Lilley.

In his autobiography, Mark Twain wrote,“I have seen and greatly enjoyed the first act of everything Wagner created, but the effect on me has always been so powerful that one act was quite sufficient; after two acts I have gone away physically exhausted.” That’s how I feel about Lear, or Curb Your Enthusiasm.

But as I grow older, your rogue tries to be humble, and remain open to the possibility that maybe Shakespeare knew what he was doing when he wrote Lear.

King Lear cover

Trevor Nunn can be a fine director, as shown in his unparalleled Twelfth Night. And Ian McKellan is an extraordinary actor. If you’re not a Shakespeare addict, then you probably have seen him as Gandolf or Magneto. If Ian McKellan played Village Idiot #17 in a film called The Fart in the Heart of the Screaming Hole, I would watch it once. At least once.

Great Performances

The plot of King Lear is that the titular king plans to divide his kingdom between his three daughters so he could retire to his dotage and let them rule securely. Before distributing the rule of these lands, he holds a flattery contest, and the youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to play, understanding the deconstructionist principle that what we say bears no essential relationship to what is. She is banished, yet is swooped up in marriage with the king of France. Her older two sisters demonstrate to their father that he is no longer king, and he goes insane. Then the sisters plot against one another while defending their kingdom from France. I am missing a subplot about the bastard Edmund and his machinations to usurp his brother’s noble place in society.

King Lear Edmund

One of my contentions that I made when speaking to Gerald Stern was that the clown in King Lear is not funny. Sylvester McCoy proves me wrong. He has a funny, yet intelligent face, and he is stuck in the dialectic of despairing at Lear’s decisions and delighting at the comic opportunities such wild behavior offers him.

King Lear Sylvester McCoy

Speaking of the clown, one fascinating choice made with the script was to address one of the ambiguities of the play: when was the fool hung? Lear announces that his clown was hung in Act V, sort of like the proclamation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s death at the end of Hamlet—but the character disappears from the play, and the announcement seems tacked on considering how important the fool is to this play. So Nunn has the clown hung in Act III, and McCoy delivers his soliloquy from III.2 as the soldiers prepare the noose:

King Lear Fool's Hanging

This is a brave night to cool a courtezan.
I’ll speak a prophecy ere I go:
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailors’ tutors;
No heretics burn’d, but wenches’ suitors;
When every case in law is right;
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues;
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold i’ the field;
And bawds and whores do churches build;
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion:
Then comes the time, who lives to see’t,
That going shall be used with feet.
This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.

Directors, please hire Sylvester McCoy to do more work!

Ian McKellan’s performance modulates well between Lear’s self-indulgent nobility and his deteriorating mental state when confronted by the stressors of becoming disowned and homeless and betrayed. At times, he speechifies beneath a bare tree, which reminds one of Waiting for Godot. McKellan is so alive with the role.

King Lear Every Inch

Lear: “Ay, every inch a king.”

One interesting wrinkle comes from Frances Barbera’s Goneril, who weeps when Lear rails against her when exiling himself from her portion of the kingdom. The lust for power and psychodynamics of the play are not completely straightforward.

King Lear Almost Cracking

Of course, the behavior of Lear’s oldest daughters probably has some origin in knowing Cordelia, the youngest, was his favorite (“our joy”). The queen is never mentioned. Lear was probably desperatefor a male heir. Lear is really only an interesting play if we see that some of the terrible things that happen in the play were a long time coming—that what the play, as long as it is, represents is the tipping point for a wounded family.

King Lear Cordelia

Romola Garai shines as Cordelia, which is to say, she manages not to seem to Pollyannaesque. When she refuses her father’s demand for blandishments, she seems tough enough to face her father, yet frightened enough once his wrath is awakened.

King Lear Act 1

The costumes for this production are adequate, but Cordelia’s dress in Act 1 is tremendous: a cream-colored, corseted gown. With her chignon and necklace strands, Garai looks simultaneously regal and vulnerable. I don’t know if Andrew Joslin, Lorna Carmichael, or Rachel Farrimond was responsible for the dress.

I am not a cross-dresser, but I make no case for it.

However, this is still King Lear. Our clown is hung in Act III, which makes the last two acts a grind, as the two sisters plot against one another, and Edmund plots against the entire world, it seems.

This was a film adaptation of a stage version mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company. From the cheap-looking sets and occasionally awkward cinematography, this Lear probably should have been a film of the theatrical performance instead. Is it cheating to just watch the first three acts? Can Mark Twain give us absolution?

The BBC will release a film version with Anthony Hopkins soon. I am not sure how many Lears I can stomach. At least one more, I am sure.

If you think you see what I am missing in Lear, please do try to correct me below.


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.