Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Anonymous

In the introduction to this recent post about “Our Favorite Movies We Do Not Believe Anyone Else Has Ever Heard Of,” our fearless leader Patrick Bromley talks about “Opposite Day.” In that spirit, instead of shitting on a classic movie, this week I will let the movie do all the shitting for me. The recent movie Anonymous shits on Shakespeare, shits on its own audience, and shits on common sense. Go see it for Thanksgiving! (Remember, OPPOSITE DAY.)

I was required by state law to see Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous because I am a public high school English teacher and do not feel like serving a detention (and by “detention” I mean “lengthy prison term.”) I cannot remember the last time I felt such a strong confluence of confusion, boredom, and anger. Let me explain.

(Wait… do you guys smell something? Did Mom start the turkey?)

I was confused because this film is a mess: flashbacks. Flash forwards. Flash flooding. (Not really. It just rains a lot.) The whole movie is actually a PLAY narrated by Derek Jacoby who quickly exits (so he can cash his paycheck), allowing the stage to transform into a MOVIE SET representing Elizabethan England. That is Frame #1. Right away, Ben Johnson is captured by guards and beaten. But wait – that is the END of the movie! Why are they beating him – do they think he wrote this movie? That is Frame #2. The MOVIE (This movie, Anonymous. Are you paying attention? I see you nodding your head, but…) starts over, even further back in time, and presents a theory that does not have a single piece of credible evidence supporting it. That is Frame #3.

If you are unclear on the whole Shakespeare Conspiracy Theory, read this terrific article by Ron Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum is a scholar, a real scholar. He makes the point that all of this auxiliary conspiracy business serves only to draw the conversation away from the 37 wonderful plays and their timeless lessons about the human condition.

I was also confused because the film often uses different actors to play the same character at a different age. Because there are so few identifying clues offered by the hopelessly convoluted script, at first I believed that the young Edward De Vere (Jamie Campbell Bower) and the older Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans) were TWO DIFFERENT CHARACTERS. Given that De Vere is the movie’s main subject, you can see how confusing that could get. There were also at least two Queen Elizabeths, and at one point I swear the Duke of Oxford made love to himself!

(Mmmm… yes, that is definitely the smell of roasting turkey. Yum!)

I was bored because the film’s premise is so nonsensical, and its narrative so poorly told, that it forced me to look elsewhere on the screen for entertainment. The costumes were amazing, and (I’m guessing) accurate to the period(s), but the film took such pains to present Elizabethan England as a drab, ugly place that the costume designer’s palette consisted mainly of brown, tan, brown, grey, black, and brown. The CGI – usually a highlight in Emmerich’s films – seemed done on the cheap. Most of it looked like an oil painting, and during Elizabeth’s funeral procession (spoiler alert!), the peasants lining the frozen Thames looked like stick figures. I kept expecting the unseen hand of John Madden to draw circles around groups of them to indicate their defensive strategy.

(Sniff sniff – can you smell what The Rock is cooking? Sweet potatoes! I call my grammy The Rock.)

Finally, I was angry because the conceit that Shakespeare did not write his plays galls me. Shakespeare has transformed my life. I read Shakespeare, I study Shakespeare, I have directed Shakespeare, and I teach Shakespeare.

Not the fucking Earl of Oxford. Shakespeare.

Part of the “Oxfordian” theory goes that no member of the working class could have written those plays; it had to be a member of the upper class. There is something intensely ignorant and classist about this argument. People who proffer this weak tea do so because they don’t understand genius. Shakespeare was a genius—that is how he wrote those plays. I know my own kind.

Here is the real problem. The fact that anyone can doubt the plays’ parentage seems to be just one more symptom of a modern malaise: rampant contrarianism. Defining oneself against the mainstream just because it is the mainstream. Being “too hip for the room.”

(Did Mom make the good stuffing this year or that other stuffing I hate?)

As Patrick and I discussed during our last podcast, more and more people are stroking their own fevered egos by claiming they are “too smart” to fall for the truth. Comedian Dennis Miller once called this “the fascism of absolute freedom.” (Picture Patrick and Doug now both bobbing their heads and saying, “Kind of like the Ottoman Empire, babe.”) Miller notes that such people seem to be saying, “I have a right to my opinion, and I have a right to be unwavering in my opinion.”

But some opinions are wrong. Somewhere in this crazy caravan we began to think that the statement “all people have a right to their own opinion” means the SAME THING as the statement “all opinions are equal.” That is just crazy talk. If you believe the latter, try this experiment: the next time you get really sick—consult a plumber and ask for his opinion.

(I can’t wait to eat turkey, watch football, and fall asleep. Because America.)

I realize that art is subjective, but evidence is not. Both Anonymous and this crazy Earl of Oxford business are pure fiction – artless fiction that distracts us from the real art of Shakespeare’s plays. Hey, Emmerich: instead of shitting on more than 400 years of Shakespearean scholarship, find something you do believe in—passionately believe in—and make a movie about that. Like “Aliens are bad.” That worked for you before.

BETTER YET: F-Heads, if you have trouble snow-blowing all this incessant contrariness out of your life, may I suggest a cartoon? (I hope to God that this is in the public domain. I am not one of those “Copyright Deniers” who ignore the sanctity of intellectual property because it nets them free music.)

I refuse to “hate turkey” just because the majority “loves turkey.” Save me a drumstick.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers and listeners and their families!

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