Saw the Olivier Richard III on DVD. Couldn't really get into this one though. Kept losing track of the intrigue. I quite often watch DVDs with the subtitles on to keep things clear, but this disc didn't have any.
Also, I think my brain rejected the contrast between the attempt at realistic staging with big battles and men on horseback, and the stylised Shakespearianicity with accelerated plot development and messengers rushing around. And the ostentatious Fifties incidental music was a bit of a drag.
Good performances though: as well as Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud manage to speak the lines tremendously naturally.
Overall though, liked the Ian McKellan version more.
What I'm Reading
The Pirate Wars by Peter Earle. History book covering piracy from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Has a slightly different angle in that the author has studied naval records on piracy as well as the usual sources: it concentrates on the conflict between navy and pirates.
Ranges quite widely, not concentrating exclusively on the glamorous and well-documented Caribbean pirates. Also deals with the Barbary pirates, piracy in the Indian Ocean, the large pirate fleets operating from Ireland in the 1600s, and the resurgence of piracy in the 1820s. Some of this was new to me.
He criticizes the Admiralty somewhat for failing to deal with pirates effectively. Pirates favoured fast, shallow-draught vessels with oars; and found it generally easy to evade conventional naval vessels. In addition, the Admiralty penny-pinched on supplies and maintenance. Pirates careened (cleaned and de-barnacled) their hulls every two months for speed: naval ships were sometimes explicitly forbidden from careening too often, and from resupplying in (more expensive) foreign ports.
In addition, the cycles of war had a well-known impact. At wartime, large numbers of seamen were recruited and privateering was encouraged: whenever peace broke out they turned to piracy. Governments also tended to encourage privateering against their rivals, and privateers routinely crossed the nebulous line into piracy.
The primary causes of the end of the age of piracy was the rise of trade to the point where it was more valuable to protect your shipping than attack other people, and the increased power of nation-states to keep local nobles from sponsoring piracy. The practical means consisted of directing more resources at the problem, and gaining local knowledge. Some anti-pirate vessels were purpose built, though more were bought. The Navy developed a strategy of lowering cutters, (fast rowing boats) to pursue the pirates on long chases through the shallows.
While it's good to see a Navy-centred view on piracy, the book does have some weaknesses. It follows a very linear structure with a chapter for each period. Would have been nice to see some chapters devoted to the particular strategies and tactics in more detail: it feels like there are some frustrating omissions. For instance, I'm still not sure how the chasing cutters managed to avoid being blasted to oblivion by cannon in the sloops they were chasing. And if you're going to mention that a pirate ship was taken "by stratagem" I for one would really like to know what the stratagem was.
Overall, informative overview but a little on the dry side.
Popped into Tate Britain. Thought the Peter Doig exhibition was brilliant: best contemporary art I've seen in ages. He does eerily calm paintings: lots of landscapes, with almost ghostly figures hovering in them. Haven't seen much new art that's actually beautiful for a while.
He has careful compositions: mainly lots of horizontals and big expanses of faded colour; but liked the tree paintings with branches ramifying throughout the frame. Interesting if artificial pastel colours in some of them.
Also saw the Camden Town Group exhibition downstairs. Apart from the Sickerts, mostly interesting historically: strange to see how much and how little London has changed since the Edwardian era.
They've also got a neo-classical sculpture exhibition in the main hall. Some fairly twee Victoriana, but thought the boxer, with a classical body, classical hairdo and giant Victorian buttoned shorts, was interesting. Also they've moved the Three Graces there from the British Museum, and it's a chance to see the old girls in a much quieter environment. At the BM they're permanently surrounded by a swarm of shutterbugs, but here the tourists don't seem to realise they're seeing a bona fide Attraction. I think it's partly because at the Tate it's mixed in with other white marble so it doesn't stand out, but also because their guidebooks don't tell them to look out for it.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw No Country For Old Men at the cinema. Pretty good existential thriller by the Coen brothers. Various characters pursue the obligatory Bag of Money McGuffin after a drug deal goes wrong. Has a brilliantly creepy psychotic killer with a Beatle haircut and a boltgun. Also thought the 1980 setting was very well handled: had a period feel but didn't ram it down your throat with pop-culture references. And there are some brilliantly tense battles of wits as the characters stalk each other through deserts and cities.
However, the philosophical musings on Chance and Fate didn't really do a lot for me: seemed a bit like a teenager who's been let loose on the Sartre. Also the attempts at seriousness seemed to clash a bit with the genre clichés. Seemed to be a touch of the signal from Fred when characters sarcastically ask if Ultimate Badass Stereotype is supposed to be the Ultimate Badass.
Wanted to like the ending more. Quite liked the bleakness of it, but did ending up sitting there thinking 'Oh. Is that it? Is something going to happen after a few credits?'.
I think the main problem was with the Ed Tom Bell character played by Tommy Lee Jones: whether he wins or loses, you expect him to have some kind of conflict with Chigurh; it seems disappointing when he just retires instead.
I'm reminded of something I read by the screenwriter of the Bridge on the River Kwai movie. The book is told from the point of view of a minor officer, but he realised the movie just didn't need that kind of character. In film, the camera itself acts as the audience's point of view.
I haven't read the book, but I suspect the Ed Tom Bell character works better there. He's responsible for the philosophical voiceovers and might function in a call-him-Ishmael way there, but in a movie he just seems annoyingly passive in the end.
Overall, worth a look, but didn't see it as much better than "A History of Violence" or even "Road to Perdition". Probably a weak Oscar year.
Pics. Catfish cake.
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