Monday, April 21, 2008

Thank Setebos for YouTube

My Myths of Britain class is located in GW's Siberia, a building at the very edge of campus (you know, the place where they draw cynocephali and cannibals on mappaemundi). I don't mind the walk, not even on rainy days like this one, but my students do find it difficult to arrive on time. To quicken their gait, for the first five minutes of class I always show a short clip from a relevant DVD: The Fisher King as we did Marie de France, the Helm's Deep sequence from LotR as we examined crusader mythology in its relation to Mandeville, Sword of the Valiant (!) for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The class is quickly moving towards its close, and that means today's lecture is The Tempest. What better way to foreground the movement from Old World to New than to look at a play set upon an island 'twixt Italy and Africa, but really Bermuda and Virginia?

I realized last night that I had no relevant DVDs. Luckily someone has placed a scene from the nude extravaganza Prospero's Books on YouTube. Perfect: an excellent scene to discuss.

I also found this really weird mash-up there. New Agey chanteuse Loreena McKennitt sings the play's epilogue in a sparse, ethereal arrangement. The song is visually overlaid with footage from an old BBC documentary on Pompeii. Such an odd juxtaposition -- but the frailty, contingency, possibility of sorrow in the Shakespeare portion echo hauntingly in the scenes of ruin and death. I might use it next week as we conclude the course.

5 comments:

Adam Roberts said...

That version of the epilogue is strangely beautiful, isn't it? I'm glad to have seen it.

Matt said...

I too enjoyed this video of the epilogue and your interpretation--thank you.

I think you once stated that you're using the new Armitage translation of SGGK for the class. Very curious to know: how did that go?

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

It was my intention to use the translation, but two things conspired against me: (1) the slowness of Norton in getting it to the bookstore, and (2) the price when it did arrive ($35). Now that it is out in cheap paperback (I see Amazon lists it for about $15), I will use it the next time around.

The Marie Boroff translation is not unpoetic -- in fact it has many well rendered passages. But I had been looking forward to something new.

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: I love Peter Greenaway's films [I may be one of the only people to have seen "The Tulse Luper Suitcases" when it premiered in Europe, but I found "Prospero's Books" maddening to watch, mainly because of Greenaway's decision to have the entire text of the play read as an interior/voice-over/whispered monologue of Propsero's/Gielgud's. It almost made me lose my mind. What did you think of it? Was the point that the Prospero dreamed it all up?

Jeffrey J Cohen said...

Eileen, sorry to let your comment go unremarked for so long. I love Prospero's Books, but I love it in the way that I love really good dark chocolate or really good red wine: I am most pleased by a small portion; too much and I start to feel glutted; eventually I'm nauseous.

I can't watch the whole thing through, but in stretches of ten or so minutes it can be incredibly moving -- like that YouTube excerpt. The choice to have Gielgud voice every line accompanied by the Michael Nyman soundtrack (really an intrusive and sometimes emotionally abusive aural commentary) works well for short stretches ... but again, there is only so much I can take. After a while it weighs too heavily. Still, you can't beat it provoking discussion in class. And chuckles at its archness.

Then again I am easily give to museum fatigue -- and watching Prospero's Books is like spending a long afternoon in a sumptuous art museum.