Early Music Now, The Mystical Arts of Tibet

On Saturday, April 13, we went to the Tripoli Shrine Center to experience the program, “The Mystical Arts of Tibet,” presented by monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, re-established in India in 1969 after having been driven out of Tibet by the Chinese invasion of 1959. This group follows the Dalai Lama and his teachings. I’m copying the program descriptions, since they give a sense of what it was like better than I could, although I’m adding comments:

Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing

Nyensen: Invocation of the Forces of Goodness

The monks invoke creative awareness within themselves and the audience. They enhance a positive environment as a prelude to the performance of Sacred Music Sacred Dance. (The instrumentation includes drums, cymbals, chimes, “high horns:, which resemble conch shells, and “long horns,” which are a kind of telescoping brass alpenhorn. I can imagine that the sound of these echoing in the mountains would be quite scalp-tingling.)

Tentru Yultra: Purifying the Environment and its Inhabitants

Chanting in multiphonic tradition, the monks hold up a mirror and draw into it the reflection of the world and its living beings. They then purify these through sound and meditation, as symbolized by the act of pouring water from a sacred vase over the mirror. (The monks have great lungs. Three singers easily filled the hall with LOUD singing. They also know the art of throat-singing, which adds a most profound effect to the singing.)

Shanak Garcham: Dance of the Black Hat Masters

This ancient dance for the elimination of negative energies is in the style known as drakpo, or “wrathful.” The implements held by the dancers symbolize the transcendence of false ego-identification. The movements symbolize the joy and freedom of seeing reality in its truth. (The implements include ritual daggers and skull cups. These sorts of rituals gave the Tibetan Buddhism an unjustified sinister cast to Western viewers. I have seen ignorant pulp fiction from the 1930’s that used Tibetan “black hat priests” as devil-worshipping bad guys--.)

Taksal: Intense Encounters of the Third Degree

A demonstration of the tradition of Tibetan monastic inquiry. Two monks engage one another in a process leading to the deeper levels of spiritual experience, enhancing the mind of enlightenment. (This was quite amusing to watch: The challengers in the debate stand and move around, using a ritual hand-clap when they have made a point. The ‘defenders’ remain seated and respond verbally. Georgie and I both agreed that debates would be more entertaining if the participants had to dance--.)

 Senggey Garcham: The Snow Lion Dance

The Tibet snow lion symbolizes the fearless and elegant quality of the enlightened mind. Sacred activities are believed to create a healthy and harmonious environment where all beings, including animals, rejoice. (The Tibetan Snow Lion has white fur with green spots. It is a two-person version of the Chinese Lion Dance. Impressive, since the dancers have to manipulate the creature’s eyes, mouth, tongue and tail while keeping up with pretty fast music.)


Durdak Garcham: Dance of the Skelton Lords

To remind the world of the ephemeral nature of all things, two monks appear as the forces of good manifested by Cemetery Lords.  (The white of skeletal bone stands for wisdom. Another sinister-appearing dance that’s actually quite jolly.)

Dakzin Tsarchord: A Melody to Sever the Ego Syndrome

Drawn from the 11thcentury female mystic Machik Labdon, this traditional meditative music is considered among the most hauntingly beautiful from the Land of the Snows. Its purpose is to free the mind from ego-clinging habits. (The most melodious sounding piece, to the Western ear.)

Khadro Tenshug Garcham: Dance of the Celestial Travelers

Five dancers symbolize the five elements and five wisdoms. With three musicians, they invoke the sounds and movements of the Celestial Travelers, mystic beings from another world. These spirits visit our world in times of stress and danger, bringing with them the creative energy that inspires harmony and peace. (Our performance had only four dancers, since one monk did not get a visa. If pacifist Buddhist monks can’t get visas, things are getting ridiculous.)

Sangso Shijo: Auspicious Song for World Healing

The monks send forth smoke, which the wind carries to the ten directions as a force invoking peace, harmony and the ways of creative living.

As part of their stay in Milwaukee, the monks also created a sand mandala at City Hall. Georgie and I went to see it on Friday morning the 12th. We got there before the monks, so viewing of the not-yet completed mandala was good. Only a portion of the borders remained to be done, so the most intricate and colorful portions were finished. The design was about four feet across, for scale.

This was a very interesting and informative program about a culture we have had little exposure to. We enjoyed it very much and were very glad to have the opportunity to take it in.

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Bolshoi in Cinema, The Golden Age

Sunday afternoon, the 7th, we went to see the Bolshoi in Cinema presentation of The Golden Age (L’Age d’Or), a ballet to the music of Dimitri Shostakovich. This version had a libretto from 1982 by Yury Grigorovich and Isaak Glikman. The original version, from 1930,  about a Soviet soccer team being nobbled by evil capitalists, was censored and badly reviewed, which resulted in Shostakovich refusing to allow the ballet to be revived in his lifetime.

The current version, set in 1920, begins with a village festival. Rita, a local young woman (Nina Kaptsova), meets Boris, the leader of the “Agit-Prop Theatre for Working Youths” (Ruslan Skvortsov).  The clean-living Komsomol troup performs a skit/dance in which they sweep away clown versions of reactionary villains, a Jew, a Capitalist, and a Czarist.

Later on, they meet at “The Golden Age,” a nightclub where Rita, as “Mademoiselle Margot,” is featured in a tango-like dance number with Yashka, a.k.a. “Monseiur Jacques” (Mikhail Lobukhin). The nightclub is a louche place, reminiscent of the Kit-Kat Club from Cabaret, complete with dancing M.C. (Dmitry Dorokhov).  It is frequented by “NEPmen”, small scale capitalists tolerated under the Soviet New Economic Program, who are questionable sorts later to stamped out under Stalin. The flapper/vamp Lyuska (Maria Allash) allows herself to be “picked up” by a couple of aging Nepmen who fancy themselves boulevardiers, and takes them to the club.

After the Jacques and Margot dance number, Boris shows up and Rita goes to him, angering Yashka. Yashka goes to hang out with the criminal gang he is secretly the leader of. Lyuska leads her swains into the gang’s clutches, and they are beaten, robbed, and murdered. Emboldened, Yashka goes back to the club and tries to have Boris thrown out. Boris shrugs off the bouncers and cows the entire club with his righteous anger. Rita intervenes to prevent further violence, and the club’s denizens slink away.

In act two, Yashka tries to win back Rita, to no avail. He rallies his gang and hunt Boris and Rita down. Rita goes for help, while Boris is overcome and beaten. Boris’ friends arrive in time to save him.

Rita has to perform at the club that evening, not knowing that Yashka is the gang leader. After the number, she tells Yashka she is quitting. He tries to demand her love. Overcome with jealousy, Lyuska attacks Yashka with a knife, and is killed fighting him. Yashka tries to flee with Rita as hostage, but he is caught and captured by Boris and his friends. There is a general celebration by the “good guys.”

Shaostakovich’s music for this piece is wonderful, and the Bolshoi’s dancing frankly amazing. The four principals are as good as any dancers we have ever seen, and they astonish with the demanding choreography. The film noir libretto is just fun, and gives an excellent basis for the very stylish parti-colored costume theme (almost everyone except Rita and Boris is in half-black and half-white), and the Expressionist set design, where everything is looming and nothing is perpendicular, reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

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Milwaukee Opera Theatre/UWM: La Clemenza di Tito

Saturday evening, we went to the Zelazo Center on the UWM Campus for the joint production of Mozart’s opera, La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus). This late opera by Mozart is an opera seria in two acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to an Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, after Pietro Metastasio. It was commissioned in order to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, as King of Bohemia, and was first performed in Prague in the year 1791, and was the first Mozart opera to be performed in England, in 1806.

The story is built on some fragments from The Lives of the Caesars by the Roman writer Suetonius, and concerns the Emperor Titus Vespasian, who had inherited the crown of Rome from his father, Vespasian, who had deposed Vitellus during the Year of the Four Emperors.

Vitella (Nicole McCarty), daughter of Vitellus, has been in love with Tito, and had hoped to marry him and regain the crown her father had lost. “Tito” (sung by Emanuel Camacho) loves Queen Berenice of Jerusalem, but the Roman Senate will not countenance his marriage to her since she is a foreigner. Instead of coming back to Vitella, Tito determines that he will marry the virtuous Servilia (Megan McCarthy), as being the best and most deserving candidate. This enrages Vitella, who pushes her current lover, Sesto (Katie Gruell) to stage a coup and assassinate Tito.

Meanwhile, Servilla and her beau, Annio (Kaisa Hermann), make known to Tito that they love one another, although they declare that they will set aside their love for the good of Rome if Tito requires it. Instead, Tito releases Servilla to marry Annio, and declares that he himself will officiate at their wedding.

Imperial representatives come to Vitella to let her know that the Emperor has decided to marry her. She is struck with horror, but has no way to call Sesto back. As the act ends, word comes that the Capitol is on fire, there is fighting in the streets, and Tito has been killed.

When the second act begins, Sesto, aghast at his crimes, seeks out Vitella. Publio (Cameron Hendrickson) arrives with the news that Tito is alive: the blow struck by Sesto in the rioting instead struck a co-conspirator, Lentulo, who survived and named Sesto. Publio arrests Sento, and takes him away for trial by the Senate. Vittella worries that Sento will name her as the instigator of the plot. However, Sesto takes all the blame, even before the devastated Tito himself. Sesto is found guilty. The Senate passes a sentence of death, which Tito must ratify. In anger at his false friend, Tito at first affirms the sentence, then withdraws it.

Meanwhile, Vitella is having a crisis of conscience, represented by four “shadow Vitellas” representing her good and bad side, who argue the situation out. Finally, believing Sesto still condemned, she rushes to Tito and confesses herself. Though shocked by this revelation, he pardons Vitella, Sesto, and the other conspirators. The opera ends with a chorus in which the citizens praise Tito’s goodness and mercy.

We enjoyed this performance very much, for all that it was done on a bare stage. There were colorful costumes allusive to a rather late Mediterranean medieval milieu more than Classical Rome (Titus became emperor in AD 79--), with the exception of Tito’s outfit which seemed to have come from a production of Turandot.

The singing was uniformly very good. Mr. Camacho has a light tenor voice that rode easily above the choruses. The outstanding voice of the evening was that of Ms. Hermann as Annio: her strong, sweet  tones well suited the purity of the character. Acting was generally one-note, but that’s what the libretto calls for and was suffcient: Vitella scheming, Sesto hangdog, Tito, Annio, and Servilla various values of virtuous, etc.

The UWM Orchestra was conducted by maestro Jun Kim, and did a flawless job with Mozart’s score.

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Marquette Theater, The Rivals

Friday evening, April 5th, we went to the Helfaer Theater on the Marquette University campus to see The Rivals, a Restoration comedy play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

The play is set in the spa city of Bath, where heiress Lydia Languish (Cambryelle Getter) is residing with her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (Brielle Richmond). In defiance of her aunt, Lydia, who is addicted to romantic novels, is receiving the suit of “Ensign Beverly” whom she fondly believes is a penniless orphan. She looks forward with great anticipation to an eventual dramatic elopement with the handsome soldier. (The audience laughed at some of the titles Lydia was reading, but those were all real books of the time, even The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett--). However, Beverly in reality is Captain Jack Absolute (Nick Parrott).  Jack is the son of Sir Anthony Absolute (Will Knox), who is both wealthy and very much alive. However, Jack is wooing Lydia by playing to her penchant for “Romance.”

Both young people are revolted when informed by their respective elders that advantageous marriages have been arranged for them. When Jack discovers that Lydia is his intended, he goes along with his father’s plan, subject to the covert consideration that he must try not to let on to Lydia who he really is—his own rival for her hand. In addition, there is the interference of Jack’s friend and neighbor, country squire Bob Acres (Brian Miller), who also fancies himself a rival for Lydia, and Sir Lucius O’Trigger (Dan O’Keefe), a fire-eating Irishman who thinks he’s been having a passionate correspondence with Lydia, no knowing that his letters have been redirected to her aunt by Lydia’s maid, Lucy (Agnes Connolly).

The play also has an entertaining second plot, involving Jack’s good hearted but thickheaded friend, Faulkland (Jackson Hoemann), who loves, and is loved by Sir Anthony’s ward, Julia (Emma Knott), but keeps sabotaging their relationship due to jealousy and self-doubt.

This was a nicely mounted production, with set pieces shifting in and out to form the streets and parks of Bath, and Sir Anthony’s and Mrs. Malaprop’s houses. Costuming and wigs were all very well done. The acting got the story across and was quite funny. The company was very energetic—in fact, too much so at times. Ms. Getter never “languishes” although she should. In the speech where she is bidding farewell to her “most sentimental elopements! — so becoming a disguise! — so amiable a ladder of ropes! — Conscious Moon — four horses — Scotch parson — with such surprise to Mrs. Malaprop — and such paragraphs in the newspapers!” she is sitting bolt upright with indignation, whereas she should have been swooning and lamenting to the skies. Sheridan’s character of Mrs. Malaprop (a lineal descendent of Shakespeare’s Dogberry), with her tortured vocabulary, is one of his most famous creations, and needs to be handled more delicately than the broad comedy would suggest. Ms. Richmond’s unnecessary and rigidly declamatory style of speaking robbed her lines of nuance and quite a few of the gag lines were missed by the audience. On the other hand, her stage presence was wonderful, with her “I am the Queen of all I survey” manner.

This play is a favorite of ours, and we were very glad to see it. We thought the troupe did it justice.

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Dumbo (2019)

On Friday, March 29th, we went to see the new (mostly) live-action adaptation of Disney’s Dumbo, the latest of the Walt Disney animated films to get this treatment (next up: Aladdin--). With direction by Tim Burton, you expect it’s going to be a bit different, and expectations are not disappointed.

That isn’t to say that the movie is 100% successful. I have the feeling that, on the one hand, the movie may be too scary for children to enjoy, while on the other hand, being too “corny” for adults.

I say the movie is “mostly” live action, since the baby elephant, Dumbo, is totally CGI. This is the other area where the movie does not quite make it—CGI Dumbo does not quite get all the way over the “uncanny valley.” Of course Dumbo has to have the oversized ears which supposedly make it possible for him to fly, but this Dumbo has also been morphed to make him resemble the cartoon Dumbo. The CGI elephant has two big, blue, human-looking eyes, which are both on the front of his head, to make him more expressive. Resultantly, the head is an odd shape, and the elephant’s trunk seems disproportionately small. The term “mutant” was not in general use when the original Dumbo hit the screen, but now, Dumbo is an obvious mutant elephant, not just one with cutely large ears.

The original plot line, involving Dumbo’s separation from his mother (which Georgie recalled as being adequately dramatic when she saw it as a girl--), is preserved, but is hyped up by adding on the consequences of Dumbo’s fame, when the struggling Medici Brothers’ Circus is bought out by impresario V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who operates a 1920’s-ish, carny styled amusement park called “Wonderland,” a Burtonesque proto-Disneyland. The creepy Vandevere, who is on the hook for money to the even creepier banker, Remington (Alan Arkin), pushes too hard, too fast for a thrilling success, takes risks with Dumbo and his people, and orders the death of Dumbo’s mother to get her out of the way.  When the elephants’ escape is engineered, Vandevere has a “mad villain” moment that initiates the fiery destruction of the park.

A human-interest plot is also grafted on, semi-successfully. Colin Farrell plays Holt Farrier, a circus trick-riding star, who has come back from World War I minus an arm, to find that the circus has sold off the horses to make ends meet. His wife has died from the Spanish Influenza, leaving his two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to be looked after by the circus “family”. This is OK with Joe, but Milly, who wants to be a scientist, has other dreams. Since Holt has no other prospects, they have to stay with the circus, and he reluctantly accepts the job of keeper of the elephants, which ultimately makes him, and by extension the children, responsible for the newborn Dumbo. I initially had sympathy for Holt and Milly, and their issues do continue to be a part of the script, they just get short shrift once the action starts to roll.

Details of the circus life were researched at Wisconsin’s own Circus World Museum, whose pictorial archives informed much of the Medici Brothers Circus appearance, notably the circus people’s clothing on and off stage.  This made the cast look quite authentic. I wasn’t as taken by the appearance of the circus train. While the cars were decorated with what looked like authentic period art, it was presented as so weathered as to be barely visible, which I found not credible. Even for a down-at-heel circus, 1) Paint is relatively cheap; 2) The roustabouts and other workers have time to work on things like that during the winter; and 3) This was a main method of advertising, essential to the circus.

Overall, we enjoyed the movie, but I do not think it was entirely successful.

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Royal Shakespeare Company: Troilus and Cressida

On Tuesday evening, February 26th, we went to see the movie theater presentation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, in a new presentation by the Royal Shakespeare Company. We were interested since this is a rare Shakespeare. (We saw it when American Players Theater did it in 2012, but haven’t seen it go by since--.) Upon seeing it again, I was reminded that this is a really talky script—lots of great lines, but there are lots and LOTS of lines overall. The RSC production was another post-apocalyptic setting (“Mad Max” specifically referenced in the pre-show talks), which worked pretty well, and gave the producers the opportunity to cast women in a number of traditionally male roles, for example Agamemnon (Suzanne Bertish), Ulysses (Adjoa Andoh), Aeneas (Amanda Harris), and Thersites (Sheila Reid). In one of the most interesting bits of casting, the role of Cassandra, the prophetess cursed by Apollo so that no one believes her, was played by Charlotte Arrowsmith, an actress who is deaf and does not speak. The scenes in which she is frantically trying to warn the Trojans by signs and non-verbal sounds, were amazingly effective and affecting as they totally fail to appreciate what she is trying to tell them.

There were some interesting emphases in this production that I hadn’t recalled as much from prior shows, notably the scheming between Nestor (Jim Hooper) and Ulysses to get Achilles back in the fight. In the Illiad, and in the version of the play I am familiar with, Hector kills Patroclus believing him to be Achilles, which motivates Achilles to revenge. In this show, her plot to move Achilles to action by rigging a lottery so that the chance to duel Hector falls to his rival, Ajax, doesn’t work, and in the next day’s battle, Ulysses assassinates Patroclus, and blames his death on Hector. This takes Ulysses’ cunning and cynicism rather farther than I thought justified. Also, she kills him with a pistol, which was jarring since no other guns are used in the show.

The title characters, played by Gavin Fowler and Amber James, are fun to watch and carry their parts well, although the characters’ motivations are mercurial. Oliver Ford Davies as the voluble Pandarus, was almost too effective, as I got tired of listening to him almost immediately. In this case, the fault is with Shakespeare, not the actor. Every major character seems to have at least one notable rant, and those by Ulysses, Agamemnon, and Troilus are particularly wordy.

That said, this was an interesting production, and we were glad to have seen it. The play was further enlivened by a musical score by percussionist Evelyn Glennie, which helped develop a nicely barbarous atmosphere.

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Alita: Battle Angel

On Sunday, February 24th, we went to see Alita: Battle Angel, the latest CGI-enhanced live action movie to be adapted from a popular manga.

The world is a cyberpunk dystopia. Alita is a “total-replacement” cyborg, a human brain in an otherwise robotic body. Her comatose head and still-functioning life-support core are found in a junk pile by cybersurgeon Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) and reactivated after he attaches them to a new body—the body he had built for his young daughter who died before she could use it. The cyborg is amnesic, not remembering her name or background, so Ido calls her by his daughter’s name, Alita. If nothing else, Alita (Rosa Salazar) proves to have exceptional combat reflexes, and ingrained knowledge of a long-lost martial arts form. She establishes a friendship with Hugo (Keean Johnson) a cheerful hustler doing anything he can to get along in the post-apocalyptic slum that Earth has become three hundred years after an apparently mutually destructive war with its breakaway Martian colony.  Alita runs afoul of cyborg criminals, develops a rivalry with ruthless bounty hunters, and becomes targeted for what remains of her advanced technology.

Although there’s a lot of “battle” in the story, I was impressed by the complexity of the plot and the characterization. None of the main characters are only what they seem at first meeting, with hidden, usually, but not exclusively, darker sides.  I was also impressed with the visualization of the ruined world, and with the realization of cyborg combat, with its inhuman speed and power.  I had wondered if the CGI enlargement of Salazar’s eyes (what I call “anime eyes”) would make the movie too “uncanny valley”, but I got used to it quite rapidly, and I thought the effect worked well.

I enjoyed the movie, and with its obvious sequel-hook ending, would go see a second installment, if there is one. It seems to have done better than Ghost in the Shell, interesting considering that the same “whitewashing” complaints leveled at Ghost could apply to this one: in manga, Alita sometimes has an Asian skin tone, and Asiatic eye-shapes, but not a peep about this film that I saw. (Although apparently there was some criticism to that effect.)

Of course, a lot of criticism needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and with context. Some of the early criticism I’ve seen poked at the scene in which, after Alita’s first, girlish, cyborg body is wrecked (the one built by Ido), and she is hooked into a salvaged higher-tech Martian chassis, its nanotech reconfigures itself into a more mature body shape. People who critique this are missing that the youthful body was not her body, and, when we finally see her in flashbacks, she looks then as she does later: so, you really have to know the full story to critique sensibly.

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Milwaukee Art Museum: Bouguereau & America

On Friday, February 22nd, we went to see the current exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Bouguereau & America. This exhibit explores the exceptional popularity of the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau with American patrons during the last half of the 19th century.

Bouguereau was one of the last great “classical” artists. As a member of the French Academy, he made his name creating “historical” paintings (which could include Biblical or mythological subjects), which was what the Academy approved. As he noted, his “frantic” paintings did not sell as well as “Venuses and Cupids,” so he painted a lot of pretty subjects that were very popular with purchasers who wanted works of art of obvious quality that would nevertheless not disturb their guests. I can somewhat understand this: Bouguereau’s Orestes,* which shows the title character being tormented by the Furies, is a great painting, but I wouldn’t want it in my dining room.

There’s no question that Bouguereau was a great painter. His composition, draughtsmanship, anatomy, polish, and color sense are all exceptional. He was a skillful portraitist. It’s really only in his subject matter that he falls at all short. Besides “Venuses and Cupids,” which, due the frequently nude subjects, did well with male collectors, being religious, he also painted many attractive Virgins with Child, and similar subjects. He also had an interesting line in what are referred to as “Little Beggars,” which feature pretty, well-fed, unlikelily well-dressed, and impossibly clean “poor” children as beggars or peasants. These were popular with female buyers who were interested in pieces showing compassion or sentiment.  (In fairness to Bougereau, can you recall ever seeing a painting where the subject’s feet were not clean? I mean, not even dusty, let alone muddy? I can’t--.) I had the impression that these were the 19th century equivalent of the “big-eyed children” of Margaret Keane in the mid-20th century.

By 1900, the end of the show’s period, new styles of painting, such as Impressionism and Realism, were making inroads with critics and collectors. However, Bougereau continued his impressive output until his death in 1905 at age 79. It is estimated that he finished more than 800 paintings in his lifetime. The notes at the exhibition show that his works were the foundation of many important private art collections, which went on to become public or academic gallery collections.

We were very glad to see this interesting exhibit. The exhibit continues through May 12th.

*Orestes, son of Agamemnon, gets one of the rawest deals in classical myth. Filial duty requires him to avenge his father’s murder. However, his mother, Clytemnestra, is guilty of it, and, when he kills her, he is punished by the Furies for the sin of matricide.

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Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

On Monday, February 4th, we went to see Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, a film from India about Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, who famously led her kingdom in rebellion against the British in the time of the Sepoy Mutiny. We were somewhat amused by the disclaimer at the beginning admitting that liberties were taken with dates, places, persons, and costumes (usually true of any historical film), but, based on Georgie’s research, she said that the movie was 75% true, and true to the spirit of Manikarnika’s story.

Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut) was the given name of the woman who would one day become Queen of Jhansi. As a revered freedom fighter in Indian history, she is given a saintly background. The soothsayer who reads her destiny lines shortly after birth says she is destined for great things. When we first see her as a young woman, she is fearlessly hunting a tiger with bow and arrow, and when the tiger falls over inches from reaching her, we learn that she has only drugged it, so the troublesome beast can be transported to the “deep jungle” rather than being killed. We also learn that she is a swordswoman who can take on her two foster-brothers AND their teacher with the sword and beat them to a standstill. Also, when she comes to Jhansi as the bride of the Maharajah (Jishu Sengupta ), she is the only one who can tame and ride the Maharaja’s fierce stallion.  She refuses to bow to the British agent, Captain Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) when he comes to call, and takes back livestock stolen by soldiers from poor villagers. (The British are the major evil guys in this film, and nastier about it than they were in real life.)

Everything doesn’t go her way, though. Her newborn son dies, and her husband soon after. They have adopted the son of the Maharaja’s poorer cousin as substitute heir, which upsets his other cousin, who thinks he has a better claim, and goes to connive with the British. After Maharaja Gangadar’s death, the British troops surprise the palace, evict Lakshmi and her adopted son, and burn her library out of spite. (See, I said, evil--.)

She is able to reclaim her palace once the Mutiny breaks out, and her nemesis, Captain Gordon, is killed by mutineers. The movie is honest in that British women and children are murdered by the mutineers and other rebels, but shows that this is in part done by Lakshmi Bai’s enemies in order to discredit her.

Manikarnika raises a militia, including women, to defend Jhansi against the much bigger British force, and does well until treachery exposes a weakness in the fortress defenses. In order to escape, she leaps from the battlements on her horse, carrying her foster son. (This did, in fact happen. Unlike in the movie, however, the horse did not survive it. She and the boy were picked up by loyalists who spirited them away.)

She continues to rally resistance, until Indian and British troops meet in pitched battle at Kotah-ki-Serai.  Wounded and surrounded, Lakshmi Bai steps into a fire in order to deny the British their goal of displaying her head on a pike. (Again, loosely based on history: she is reputed to have lit her own funeral pyre, so that the enemy could not desecrate her body.) The movie ends with a quotation from the memoires of her foe, General Sir Hugh Rose (Richard Keep), who wrote that she was “the bravest and best military leader of the rebels. A man among mutineers."

This epic movie was very grand and beautiful to watch, with great spectacle, handsome settings, and beautiful costuming and makeup. The acting is very good as well.  Ms. Ranaut in particular makes an excellent action hero, and I was impressed with her willingness to growl and glower in battle (Western actresses do not seem to like making “ugly” faces, no matter the situation--.)

The film is not without its flaws. Scripted in Hindi, the dialog given to the English speakers is very stilted, and extra points to actors like Mr. Keep for being straight-faced. The cannon in the battle scenes do not recoil--. Oh, well--.

The subject matter was of interest to us as Georgie had researched Lakshmi Bai for a presentation at TeslaCon, and we found the film interesting and entertaining.

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Stan & Ollie

On Sunday, February 3rd, we went to see Stan & Ollie, which is a film about the great comedians Laurel and Hardy, and their last performances in a tour of English, Scottish, and Irish music halls and theatres. As happened (and still happens) with a lot of artists and entertainers, the two were not in good financial shape. Unlike some of their contemporaries, they had not had an ownership share in the movies they made, and their contracts with the notoriously stingy Hal Roach, which covered a majority of their career, paid no royalties. This continues to be a source of tension between the two. Add to that previous unsuccessful marriages and expensive divorces, and other Hollywood lifestyle issues such as Hardy’s gambling habit, and problems result. The tour deal they hope will be the start of a comeback that will launch their pet project, a Laurel and Hardy “Robin Hood” movie.

The tour does not initially start with a bang, which gives the two plenty of time and reason to hash over old times and old grievances. Although a clever marketing campaign turns the tour into a success, the stresses eventually result in what may turn out to be a complete fracture of the relationship.

While overall rather poignant, the movie does make you laugh, particularly in the restagings of some of the duo’s routines. Steve Carell as Laurel and John O’Reilly as Hardy recreate the comedian’s comic timing and execution perfectly, as well as looking uncannily like the originals through the miracles of modern makeup (and possibly CGI--). Seeing them in action reminded me how good Laurel and Hardy were: the subtle skill that could make Laurel peeling a hard-boiled egg while Hardy looked on, be funny.  Their comedy was based on situations, movement, expression, and timing, but was never vulgar, crude, or mean. I was very glad to have seen the movie, since it brought it all back to me.

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