November 28th, 2018

The Happy Prince

Monday evening, November 5th, we went to see the movie The Happy Prince, which tells the sad story of Oscar Wilde’s exile, decline and death following his release from prison.

(For those who might not be familiar with the author’s story, he unwisely sued the brutish and vengeful Marquis of Queensberry (he of the boxing rules), for libel, for having left an open card addressed to Wilde as a “posing sodomite” (i.e., a poseur and a homosexual). Not only did Wilde lose the libel suit, he was thereafter prosecuted for and convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years in prison. This is addressed in brief flashbacks in the film.)

Essentially, Wilde had gone from being arguably Britain’s most celebrated man of letters to its most notorious pervert and sex criminal overnight. That did much to break his spirit. The deliberately harsh and degrading prison regimen (such was the state of penology at the time) did the rest, as well as break his health.

The film starts by showing us Wilde (played by Rupert Everett) in his last days, essentially reduced to a state of beggary between scanty royalty payments, his only source of income. Then we go back to see him arriving in France after having left prison, and starting a new life as “Sebastian Melmoth.” (The pseudonym is a literary joke, as Melmoth the Wanderer was an 1820 Gothic novel by Irish playwright, novelist and clergyman Charles Maturin, Wilde’s great-uncle.) However, trouble arises when his disguise is penetrated. He garners further trouble for himself when he takes up again with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan), the Marquis of Queensberry’s errant son. It had been Wilde’s relationship with Bosie that touched off the ruinous libel suit, and it was a condition of the separation settlement with Wilde’s wife, Constance (Emily Watson) that they not see one another. Constance cut off Wilde’s allowance as a result, leaving him without funds except for royalties, a dire situation since he could no longer write. Under family pressure, the two parted, and Wilde took up his final residence in Paris, where he lived until his death in 1900, of meningitis.

The movie is quite sympathetic, showing the extent to which Wilde was loved by his friends, including Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), and even Bosie in his selfish and stupid way, but they could do little for him. Constance is shown as being grieved by his situation, but her own ill health and care for the moral upbringing of their two sons kept her from offering Wilde any aid, either.

The movie’s title is taken from one of Wilde’s bittersweet fantasy stories, about a gold and jewel bedecked statue that contrives to give away its valuable coatings to the poor: whereupon, the statue is dismounted and melted down because “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,”—which might have been said of Wilde himself, at least in his own opinion.

The movie was very well done, in our opinion. Everett made a very good Wilde, and the acting in general was sensitive and nuanced, with the script being unsparing of the characters’ flaws, although understanding of them. I particularly liked that Bosie (Wilde’s bad boy lover) and Robbie Ross (his considerate, sensible lover) each at different times rage “He (the other) cannot understand the way in which he (Wilde) loves me!"—which, given the story as presented was probably true for each of them.

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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

Sunday, November 10th, we went to see the new Disney live-action film, The Nutcracker and  the Four Realms. We enjoyed it.

The story is “suggested” by the E.T.A. Hoffman story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and by the ballet The Nutcracker, by choreographer Marius Petipa. I was pleased that Petipa was credited, since it is his “book” for the ballet that is probably known by far more people than Hoffman’s story.

The story is “suggested”, since, other than characters and setting, it is a new story, a kind of quasi-sequel, since we find that Clara’s mother, Marie (Anna Madeley), has been to the Four Realms before her, and was responsible for much that has happened there. (But, what happened before is also quite different from the ballet story, although one could see that the ballet might have been a prettified version of what supposedly actually happened--.)

In this story, Marie has recently died, leaving her family in various stages of grief. Clara (Mackenzie Foy, apparently no relation to the very busy Claire Foy--), the second daughter, is taking the loss hard, and not meshing with her equally grief-stricken father’s stiff-upper-lip soldier-on coping mechanism. At Christmas, her mother has left gifts for her children, and Clara’s is a mysterious box shaped like an egg, but lacking a key.

It appears that the key will be delivered to her by the marvelous Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), but complications ensue when it is stolen by a mouse. Clara’s quest for the key leads her to the Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight) and the Four Realms (Flowers, Snow, Sweets, and “Amusements”), where she finds that events put in motion by her mother have run off the rails and the Realm of Amusements, led by “Mother Ginger” (Helen Mirren) is essentially at war with the other three. Clara, of course, is the “key” to sorting things out.

I was a bit disappointed that Disney’s writer Ashleigh Powell could think of nothing better to do than to fall back on the “dead mother” trope that we find in so many other fairy tales, although it does give Clara a solid link to other Disney princesses such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Belle.

Very decent acting by Ms. Foy, and she’s well supported by Matthew Macfadyen as her father, and the other actors in principal roles, especially Keira Knightley as Sugar Plum. We got a chuckle out of some allusive bits, such as when, at the Four Realms gala welcoming Clara, orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel mounts the podium in silhouette, a nod to Leopold Stokowski doing the same thing in Fantasia, which of course includes a suite of Tschaikowski’s Nutcracker ballet music. We were pleased to see the exquisite ballerina Misty Copeland dancing in the film’s ballet sequence.

The real star of the film is the CGI world of the Four Realms, with its fantastic Steampunk castle at its heart.  The ruinous Realm of Amusements is wonderfully scary, to the extent that the movie might not be suitable for younger children, particularly if they are prone to be afraid of mice, or of creepy clowns.

The plot is a fun action-adventure, with a surprising twist. All in all, we enjoyed this quite a bit. I don’t think it will ever be one of the major Disney films, but it is a very good fantasy film.

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Cirque de Soleil: KURIOS

On Tuesday night, we went to see the Fathom Events filmcast of Cirque de Soleil’s show, KURIOS (The Cabinet of Curiosities). This one has a heavily Steampunk setting. The show starts off with a very jazzy opening number. Then, the protagonist, an inventor who is experimenting with time, activates his apparatus. Instead of travelling in time, time is warped, so that he experiences all sorts of strange phenomena, such as a woman on a flying bicycle; chair balancers who build a stack of furniture up from the stage to meet themselves coming down from the ceiling; an eruption of mermen; and other apparitions incorporating stylish circus acts. At the end of the show, the clock, which has stood still at 11:11, clicks over to 11:12, showing that it has all taken place in the space of a minute.

Cirque de Soleil consistently astonishes us with what can be done using only the human body, minimal equipment, and maximal invention and creativity. This show is no exception. While not as flashy as some of the bigger shows, it was still fascinating and amazing.

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TeslaCon 2018

On Thursday, November 15th, we drove over to Middleton for TeslaCon 9, “The Battle of Britain.”

The immersion plot this time starts with the evil Dr. Proctocus and S.W.A.R.M. in the ascendant, having conquered most of Europe and Asia, with the embattled freedom fighters fallen back on the islands of Britain as their last redoubt. The events climaxed Saturday afternoon, with a climactic battle, in which S.W.A.R.M.’s aerial armada is destroyed by Lord Bobbins’ secret weapon. This was creatively presented: the audience was ushered into the “air raid shelter,” where we could “overhear” the radio transmissions of the combatants, augmented as the crisis by animation of the final combat as “visual pickup.”

We had a particularly good time at this TeslaCon. Most things ran very smoothly. We got dinner on Thursday night at the “Wurst Dinner,” which was quite good and fun. Although attendance was slightly down this year, the people in attendance seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the people-watching in particular was excellent. The wartime theme brought out a lot of colorful military and paramilitary outfits, and it was fascinating to see the creativity expressed. (On Friday, I wore an outfit with a “Home Guard” helmet and medical kit. On Saturday, I sported my 1880’s U.S. Army Medical Officer’s uniform. On Sunday, I dressed as a dirigible crewman, which was thematic with my presentation on Historical Airships in Combat.)

All the presentations we attended were informative and interesting, if not all flawless. “Women in Early Aviation, 1784-1944” gave us a lot of history we hadn’t known before. So did “Alphonse Mucha, the life of a Victorian Occultist and Artist.” While I thought that the presenter’s finding of supposed occult symbolism in Mucha’s graphics work might have been a bit overstated, his involvement in Spiritualism and other occult movements was undoubted. She had a good set of graphics as well, including some examples of Mucha’s prodigious output that I (who consider myself a fan of Mucha) had not seen before.

Since 1888 was “the year of the Ripper,” there was a series of panels on Jack the Ripper, which broke the history down into “the victims,” “the suspects,” and “the competion” (other notorious characters of the time). These looked interesting and I approved the detail taken on this voluminous subject, but we found other things conflicting that interested us more.

Friday night, we went to see Eric Larson and “Airship Ambassador” Kevin Steil talk about the year in Steampunk, the good and the bad, dealing with the collapse of a couple of well-known conventions on the bad side, but a continuance of interest and an outcropping of small events was on the good side.

Following that, I went to Thomas Willeford’s talk on “Steampunk Illegitimate Children,” which was a very lively, humorous, and rather chaotic talk arguing that Steampunk could be revitalized by integrating its offshoots, Dieselpunk and Atompunk.

Georgie went to “Ghost Stories by Candlelight”, which was very creatively presented and enjoyable.

On Friday morning, we went to “The History of Street Organ Entertainers,” which had a lot of interesting history on the development of the instrument and its evolution into part of the “organ grinder and monkey” cliché.

We took a break from panels and plunged into the depths of the dealers’ room, which was pretty dangerous. It seemed the goods on display this year were exceptionally nice. Georgie bought a skirt from “As They Sew in Paris,” and I acquired a new piece for my pocket watch collection.

After that, we went to the first of three presentations Gail Carriger was doing. Ms. Carriger, always an excellent guest, really extended herself for this convention, putting on interview/talks (supported bv Kevin Stine) on each of her three book series, plus hosting two sold-out tea events. Plus, she showed up at the Saturday night ball. The first talk was about the “Parasol Protectorate” books, and was very interesting and entertaining.

We went to see “A Commodore’s Briefing: The Evolution of Aerial Warfare,” which was well done, and then to yet another Carriger/Steil presentation, on “Dining in the 1800’s,” which concerned adventures in trying to reproduce 19th century recipes.

We met our friends Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden for dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was rather swamped due to being short-staffed. It took a while to get our food, and Bill and Tracy’s orders went astray for a time, but the food was good, and we were pleased when “Lord Bobbins” dropped in and joined us at our table.

We skipped most of the opening ceremonies, getting to the main hall in good time for the now traditional “Steerage Ball” with band Dublin O’Shea. The music was loud, lively, and fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

On Saturday morning, we went to a rare solo presentation by Eric Larson on “The Costumes of Downton Abbey.” Eric did a really good job with the research, digging up a lot of hard-to-find images.

At 11:00AM, Georgie did her presentation on “Ripping Good Reads of 1888!” in which she gave excerpts from some of the notable works published in English in that year. The audience seemed to enjoy it, and we got a lot of good feedback about it.

After that, we got in line and signed up for next year’s TeslaCon, “Murder on the Orient Express.” Next, we went in for the second session of the “Battle of Britain” presentation, which we found quite enjoyable (except for one detail: the sound effects had the exact same double static burst at the end of every incoming radio transmission, which got annoying after a while).

Then, we went to “Humbug! Hoaxes, Charlatans, and Pseudoscience of the 19th Century,” which had some interesting fresh information in these fields.

The 3:30PM, we went to Carriger presentation 2, on the “Finishing School” books, Georgie’s favorites. This was amusing and interesting, too. Ms. Carriger was approached by the publisher, asking if she would do a Young Adult series. She replied, yes, and sent them her proposal. I asked: what was their reaction when you pitched them a school for assassins, one of whom has ambitions to become a serial killer? She replied, “They were OK with it.” I guess when you consider that The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner are all Young Adult fiction, the bar for violence has become rather high. Plus, Carriger’s books are funny, which the others are not--.

We then retired for Georgie to change for dinner (I was already in dress uniform), and proceeded to the Bobbins dinner. We were seated a good table, with Herr Grossadmiral Krieger, and two very nice people we’d not met before, even though they’ve also been at TeslaCons for some time, Elliott and Gale James from the Twin Cities. The dinner was good as usual, starting with a nice lentil soup, salad with bleu cheese, a sorbet, beef tenderloin en croute (a kind of individual Yorkshire pudding), and a very tasty (but very dense!) bread pudding for dessert. Conversation at dinner was delightful, jeering at the representatives from SWARM fun, and we got to hear the news that Lord Bobbins had been acclaimed King of England first. (How does this happen, you ask? You may well ask! SWARM had succeeded in killing the English royal family, and also most of the House of Lords and other Peers, leaving Bobbins the seniormost surviving Peer and a cousin to Queen Victoria, the heir to the throne--.)

After dinner, we went to the “Ascot Ball.” Georgie hadn’t felt like wearing black and white, ala the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady, nor did many others, so it was a colorful affair. Nevertheless there were a couple of ladies in excellent reproductions of Audrey Hepburn’s costume from that scene. The people-watching was truly wonderful, and we admired the beauty and creativity on display in the clothing and accessories.

The music by Vardo was not as successful, in my opinion. The first set, which is what we stayed through, just was loud, blaring, and percussive. Those who could dance to anything, danced, other people watched. At the set break, more danceable music, including the Merry Widow waltz was on, so Georgie and I got in our obligatory dance, and then, honor satisfied, retired from the field and for the night.

Sunday, we got an early start with my presentation on Historical Airships in Combat, 1914-45. I had a decent turnout for 9AM Sunday, an attentive audience, and good questions.

Between presentations, we went to look at the Teapot Racing. There were some generally amazing machines present, including a cubical one with four wheels that could move directly sideways by contra-rotating the “front” and “back” wheels.

At 12:30PM, Georgie closed out her program slot with How Women of the Empire Went to War, which discussed the adventures of women of the British Empire of the 19th Century who went to war with their menfolk (Lady Sale and Fannie Duberly), succored the Empire’s wounded (Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole), and even made war against it (Lakshmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal). Georgie had a sizable and appreciative audience.

So, we finished the con by staying for the closing ceremonies, which had two big reveals: Number one, that Bobbins has been appointed regent for the destroyed royal houses of Europe, and as such is effectively ruler of all Europe, and Two, that Bobbin’s trusted assistant is, in reality, the Shyam—the evil spirit that controls SWARM and apparently exerts a hypnotic control over Bobbins.

Well! Where will this lead? In the short run (next TeslaCon) we know that the “Orient Express” will be going to China, where Bobbins has also been invited to become ruler. But, will he make it, or, will there indeed be “Murder on the Orient Express”? (Smart money says there will be--.) Tune in next time!

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