Talking Movies

June 23, 2015

Orson Welles: Posing as Polymath, Playing the Fool

Orson Welles is being feted anew for the centenary of his birth, and he even projected his personality from beyond the grave with the 2013 publication of My Lunches with Orson. Peter Biskind edited long-neglected tapes of Welles’ weekly LA lunches with fellow director Henry Jaglom to produce a book of rip-roaring table talk. But having Welles captured on tape gives rise to an unsettling thought about his late career… Here’s a teaser for my HeadStuff piece on Welles.

tumblr_njq70o00Az1un8qm0o1_1280

Some academics are now stressing the performative aspect of interviews. When writers give interviews, what they say in them can’t be neatly filed with what they write in letters or diaries, because an interview is a public dialogue not a private monologue, and two self-conscious performances are colliding for the sake of publicity. Indeed Welles requested that Jaglom tape their conversations for posterity, so there is undoubtedly an added dimension of self-conscious showing off on his part. There is also the further understanding that a good raconteur is not hobbled unnecessarily by facts or consistency. So Humphrey Bogart is a coward who only starts fights in places where he knows the waiters will intervene in one story, and a man of true courage and admirable integrity in another story – for the sake of the story.

Click here to read the full article on how Welles’ areas of expertise multiply, how he indisputably talks nonsense about Verdi, and how this need to be feted as a renaissance man may have scuppered his chances of a HBO show.

November 19, 2013

Dracula

Dublin Castle marked their Hallowe’en weekend Bram Stoker Festival with a stripped down theatrical interpretation of Stoker’s original 1897 text in the Print Works space.

Bram Stoker Image

Jonathan Harker (Patrick Doyle) travels to Transylvania to make the final legal arrangements for Carfax Manor being signed over to Count Dracula (Karl Shiels). He is warned off by the superstitious locals, and his coachman even attempts to dash past the rendezvous, but Harker’s perseverance pays off … to his misfortune. The Count is initially welcoming, but soon Harker realises he is trapped in a Gothic nightmare. His attempts to escape leave him a broken man in the care of Dr Seward (Neil Fleming) back in England. However, the mysterious death of Seward’s fiancé Lucy Westenra, and the ravings of another patient Renfield (Gerard Adlum) lead Seward to confess the truth to Harker’s wife Mina (Nessa Matthews); Lucy was killed by a vampire, and her emasculated husband was the first English victim of that ancient evil intent on conquest – Dracula…

The Print Works is a difficult space to stage Dracula, as the audience sits in a horseshoe arrangement of rows of chairs around a long raised runway. This works well for the initial scenes as Harker brushes off the peasants and makes his way down the runway towards Castle Dracula, and it allows Dracula some nice scares when he stalks among the audience to make his way onstage, but it makes it hard to be truly scary when there’s no grand guignol supply of squibs. Director Keith Thompson instead concentrates on using Stoker’s text to hypnotic effect. Patrick Doyle is a very effective Harker. His crisp English accent overlays a subtly played decline of Victorian confidence as grudging respect for the natives’ sincere concern morphs into panicked desperation and impotence. Karl Shiels is an impressive Count. His over-elaborate courtesy is deliciously played, and a nervous tic with his hand betrays the immense bloodlust he is restraining. The weird sister (sic) makes a creepy appearance indebted to The Ring, but the true power lies in Harker and Dracula’s twisted relationship. Mark Curry’s lighting dims to two spotlights on the pair in the large dark room, to focus the impressive sound design by Jody Trehy and Cian Murphy onto Stoker’s language of sensuous rush as Dracula attacks both Harker’s blood and being.

Stephen King dubs Dracula’s vanishing act from his own story one of “English literature’s most remarkable and engaging tricks”, but it breaks the spell of this performance. Jumping from Harker’s escape attempt to Mina visiting Lucy’s grave is disconcerting enough, but then Van Helsing, Godalming and Morris are composited into Dr Seward; and Dracula without Van Helsing is like the Brat Pack without Judd Nelson. This may not disconcert people unfamiliar with the novel, and it works structurally in creating a lean tale, but it also makes Seward and Harker look quite dim. Mina deduces Dracula’s powers and weaknesses not by mastering the chaotic journals and notes of five disorganised men, unaware that they’re working the same case, but by pointing out the obvious to a doctor and his patient. This tragically undermines the character’s strength, despite Nessa Matthews’ commanding presence. Adlum is an unexpectedly restrained Renfield, who’s delusional enough to delightfully fix his hair before meeting Mina, while Fleming exudes decency and gravitas as Seward. Matthews provides the best scare, shrieking when Seward tries (too late) to spell her against Dracula using a communion wafer, but once Dracula fades from the story the power of this production steadily ebbs away as well.

Thompson coaxes fine performances as he delivers half of an impressive adaptation here, mounted with gorgeous costumes by Sarah Finlay, but the complications of Stoker’s novel ultimately defeat him.

2.75/5

Blog at WordPress.com.