Archive for October 20th, 2008

by Sam Juliano

     The worship of the god Dionysus was at the center of Greek theatre, and virtually all citizens in that ancient idiom attended annual festivals, where these works were not presented for any kind of intellectual enlightenment or entertainment, but rather for spiritual veneration.  Of course this ardent devotion was more of a kind of ecstasy that bordered on madness, and as it centered around sexuality and drunkenness, it’s now interpreted as a period of decadence.  The Sophocles plays, as well as others of the period, were staged at the advent of spring, “the season of Dionyses,” often for as many as 15,000 spectators at once.  These productions managed to bedazzle the audience with acutely beautiful language, special effects and singing and dancing.  It is widely believed that this propensity pertained to the seven Sophocles plays that survived, of the 123 he purportedly has written.    

     Of these seven, the three plays that compromise The Oedipus Cycle, are widely considered among the greatest works ever created in the history of Western civilization, for their artistic unity, thematic richness and as a venerable time capsule of life in ancient Greece and the ‘hero worship’ that obsessed the population.  In the course of the iconic first play in the triptych (arguably the most famous) Oedipus The King, we ascertain that the very last king of Thebes, Laius, would die by the hand of a son born to him and his wife Jocasta.  To escape this terrible fate, they cast their newborn son out into the wilderness to die.  The subsequent events that lead to the doom of Oedipus and his famous self-blinding when the horrifying facts are known to him, are forever the subjects of literary properties over thousands of years.  The poet/playright Sophocles never revealed any reason for the curse upon King Laius, yet history tells us that he raped a teenage boy, thus his ‘sentence’ is at least somewhat justified.  Speculation through history has always pointed to this as the reason Laius was cursed, a point taken up by the Father of Greek tragedy, Aeschylus in his own trilogy, of which only Seven Against Thebes has survived.  The fate of Oedipus and his warring sons is linked to Laius’ originating sin and the curse that follows his house down through the generations.  Sophocles of course altered the focus, and Oedipus is not portrayed as a victim of someone else’s fate, but one who is bound up only in his own “journey.”  Antigone, as well, doesn’t tie her actions to any curse on her tainted family house but claims them: “I did the deed and I do not deny it.”  Their struggles are their own–and it could rightly be judged that they are more powerful–and personal–for it. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

continuing the top 25 series, no.23

(USA 1934 70m) DVD1/2

California, here we come

p  William le Baron  d  Norman Z.McLeod  w  Jack Cunningham  story  W.C.Fields, J.P.McEvoy  ph  Henry Sharp  art  Hans Dreier, John B.Goodman 

W.C.Fields (Harold Bissonette), Jean Rouverol (Mildred Bissonette), Julian Madison (John Durston), Kathleen Howard (Amelia Bissonette), Tommy Bupp (Norman Bissonette), Baby le Roy (Baby Ellwood Dunk), Charles Sellon (Mr Muckle), Tammany Young (Everett Hicks), Morgan Wallace (Jasper Fitchmueller), Josephine Whittell (Mrs Dunk), T.Roy Barnes (salesman), Spencer Charters (guard), Del Henderson (Abernathy),

Paging Carl LaFong!  It’s a Gift is one of the undisputed masterpieces of American screen comedy and W.C.Fields’ greatest film.  No other film has got close to its surreal humour, its irreverence and its lopsided view of family life as a purgatory to be endured.  At one point Fields threatens to hit his small son, reasoning the act away with a “he’s not going to tell me I don’t love him.”  He used the same line in The Bank Dick a few years later, so it was obviously a favourite, but never was it better used (or more appropriate as the brat really is an advert for infanticide). 

            Harold Bissonette (pronounced Bis-On-Ay, surely an influence on TV’s Hyacinth Bouquet) is a small town grocer with a hapless braindead assistant and a family from hell, lead by a wife who is surely an advert for euthanasia.  He dreams of buying an orange grove when their sick relative dies and his wife won’t hear of such irresponsibility, but Harold sells up his store and buys a ranch anyway from his prospective son-in-law.  Yet even when it turns out that the ranch is a dud and the company try and refund him he refuses, thinking them to just want it back because it’s actually worth something. (more…)

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