Archives for posts with tag: Vanessa Redgrave

I saw Playing for Time on TV so long ago that I don’t remember exactly when it was. Decades, I’m sure. I wanted to see it again for all that time, but the nearly $70 price of the eventual DVD was way beyond affordable for even such an excellent movie. It recently became available on Blu Ray and I finally have it in my movie library.

When I first saw it, I hadn’t even really started having favorite actors yet, but I did notice extraordinary talent. The entire cast was outstanding. Yet, Vanessa Redgrave stood out as someone special. Her acting and singing we’re heart-rending and inspiring at the same time. The beautiful Aria from Madama Butterfly stands out as a glorious jewel, juxtaposed against the horrors of Auschwitz.

I had forgotten all but impressions, images, and sounds from the first time I saw it, but the full impact came back to me as I watched it so much later on Blu Ray. Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Fania Fenelon has an impact on viewers that screams with quiet dignity of courage, strength, and perseverance that will not be forgotten. 

Should never be forgotten. 

Playing for Time TV Promo

In my movie watching life this happens sometimes. I get one because of who’s in it, then they’re eclipsed by someone else. It’s hard to eclipse Vanessa Redgrave, but Peter O’Toole certainly did it in Venus.

I had tried to watch it before, but was so not in the mood to watch Peter O’Toole get a prostate exam. Time passed. My mood against that kind of thing didn’t change. That’s what the remote is for. I fast forwarded through that thankfully brief scene the second time around and watched the rest without incident.

Well, okay, I thought the euphemistically termed language was a bit over the top. Some of the stuff uttered by the geriatric set in the cast seemed strategically placed for shock value. I’m tempted to say the same about the sexuality between O’Toole’s Maurice and his Venus, but it was actually pretty subtle. Which left plenty of room for the charming, whimsical, even romantic, elements to creep up on me.

Maurice is an elderly actor, riddled with failing health, and exercising the remnants of a chivalrous nature and romantic soul. His best friend’s young great niece enters his life and brings him a last hurrah that affords adventure, nostalgia, and companionship tinged with something more.

Peter O’Toole shines as Maurice.
Forlorn, wistful, bold to the point of borderline lasciviousness, he navigates his elderly life as best he can, then better than he might have imagined possible. He calls his young friend Venus, as he comes to appreciate her rough edges, even as he smoothes them. The highlights of the entire movie come for me when he recites Shakespeare extensively. Here is a chance to see the great Peter O’Toole as few of us have. It’s a reminder of what a wonderful actor he was, as well as what a loss his talent now is to the world.

Vanessa Redgrave is not in the movie much, but she makes the most of her brief scenes. She plays Maurice’s wife. They are no longer together, but obviously care deeply for each other. Her character is in bad health and looks it. Part of what I love about Vanessa Redgrave’s skilled acting is her fearlessness and lack of vanity. Both are on display in Venus, and she shines any time she’s onscreen.

Venus is a bit unusual, with the central couple’s disparate ages and unlikely friendship that takes on a life of its own. It’s filled with eccentricities and wry humor, overlaid with a bittersweet knowledge that life is too short for regrets and excuses to not live it to its fullest.

Venus Trailer

Usually when I write about something I’ve watched because of someone connected, I put that in the post’s title. This time the TV series ended up having so much merit of its own that I’m as much about the whole series as who is in it.

As I’ve covered before, the stunningly talented Vanessa Redgrave is my favorite actress and I watch as much of her work as I can. Sometimes when I’m super busy, her projects escape my notice. That almost happened with Black Box. Fortunately, I saw a promo while watching ABC and set my DVR to record it.

To he honest I was a bit put off by the promo. It didn’t make clear what the show was about, and made it seem like a wild, sexed up story about some vague doctor. Or something. With a weird, unfathomable title. (This is the promo I wish I’d seen) Other than knowing I was going to keep watching it simply because Vanessa Redgrave is in it, I didn’t see much to encourage me, since it didn’t veer far from the promo hype early on. Except for one thing. It explained in the first episode that neuroscientists call the human brain the Black Box, because so little is still known about it. There it was at last. The hook that kept me from fast forwarding through everything except Vanessa Redgrave’s all too brief parts.

Viewers are overall a great deal more intelligent than many people in charge of feeding us our constant stream of entertainment seem aware of. Over the course of the 13 episodes of Black Box, I became a devoted fan. I had let episodes back up on my DVR, because I dreaded watching it after that promo and just one episode. When I finally started in earnest, I watched episode after episode to the tune of nine in a row.

What a deep, rich, intelligent, and fascinating series it turned out to be. As I came to understand what the bipolar main character was dealing with, I became sympathetic. Her life was fraught with problems most of us don’t even realize exist in the world around us. How lucky we are!

In addition to the more personal stories of the characters, viewers were treated to watching the amazing duet of neuroscience and neurosurgery. I’ve always liked medical dramas, but even greats like Chicago Hope and House didn’t fascinate me to the same extent as Black Box. Though I’ve long held a strong layman’s interest in all things medical, the cases Black Box paraded across my screen were unlike anything I’d ever heard of. I love no entertainment more than something that teaches me on a regular basis, in a way that’s enjoyable and memorable, as well as entertaining in the traditional sense.  Black Box has managed all of that.

And more, since watching Vanessa Redgrave is always such a pleasure in its own right. I’m doubly glad she was in Black Box, because otherwise I wouldn’t have given a chance to such a gem of a TV series.

After seeing a few bits of entertainment news covering Ralph Fiennes’ modernized adaptation of the Shakespeare play Coriolanus, I really wanted it for my Vanessa Redgrave movie collection. I was afraid it would be a difficult find, but recently snagged the only copy for sale in the only video store still around.

I sat down to watch it, and two hours later I’d been sucked in and held captive. It’s not really my kind of movie in a way and without it being Shakespeare and starring Vanessa Redgrave I wouldn’t have liked it. Fighting brutal, house to house warfare vicariously is not on my list of favorite passtimes. Oddly, it was Ralph Fiennes who pulled me in. Between Goethe and Voldemort, I sometimes forget what a deeply talented actor he is. His Coriolanus is heroic at times and also deeply flawed. His anger and arrogance coupled with his life under the crippling manipulation of his mother leave him nothing to be but explosively incapable of humility. She eventually manipulates him right into tragedy.

I’ve seen a lot of her movies, and this may be her finest performance yet. Power mad manipulative determination clothed in a mother’s deceptively soft words and gentle touch. Her expressions toward the end are so raw and ugly, yet beautiful in a way because of her ageless features and unlimited talent, that you feel pain and fear, and also a measure of compassion. Add the beauty of Shakespeare’s words, and the whole thing is almost literally mesmerizing.

As much as I love history, I really don’t enjoy reading about it in verse. Watching is another thing entirely, especially with actors whose work I really love. I think the way so many of the plays are set in quasi modern times for movies adds so much to the more traditional productions. It’s all there, but the different backdrop juxtaposed with the original verse is like experiencing it in sensory 3D. Coriolanus opened with the words A Place That Calls Itself Rome, and its Rome is dark and gritty. Dystopian, even. But there are Mercedes, odd looking tanks, and the costumes are contemporary, with quasi military uniforms for the soldiers just different enough to be different. Vanessa Redgrave wears a very utilitarian military uniform at ceremonial times. Stark and somehow adding to her gentle ruthlessness.

There is a scene where she repeatedly falls to her knees and rises in a sort of defiant supplication that elicits a push/pull of compassion and near revulsion, because of the inevitability of the outcome of her careful actions. Her son the battlescarred warrior, betrayed from every corner, is helpless in the hold of the gaze that pleads and demands simultaneously, as throughout his entire life. It is one of those film moments that as I watch it, I know it won’t be easily forgotten.

That can be said of the entirety of Coriolanus. It is a horrible, ugly, dark and brutal story, with a mirror reflection of beauty and grace in the contrast of Shakespeare’s glorious words and Vanessa Redgrave’s stunning performance. This is not a movie to be walked away from unthinking and unmoved.

Coriolanus trailer

I’ve loved Shakespeare since I first encountered his work in a high school textbook. I think I may be the only kid in my school to ever say that, but it’s true. Oddly, I didn’t learn to love poetry until much later. Since even Shakespeare’s plays are giant poems, it looks like I would have hated it at first sight. Then again, there’s little rhyme or reason to the whys and wherefores of first loves of any kind. I eventually discovered his sonnets and fell in love there too, but it was Romeo and Juliet that first captured my swoonprone young heart. Then Hamlet was my favorite for a time. Later it was Macbeth, and now it’s The Tempest. My taste can be fickle and fast moving at times, but stays true in its general direction. I’ve had the best intentions to read all of the plays eventually and randomly, and still do. It’s just taking a very long time. Poor Titus Andronicus has been waiting for me to rejoin his pages much longer than I’d intended to abandon him. Alas.

I’ve watched and enjoyed a number of film adaptions. First the old Romeo and Juliet starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey right in a high school English class, and later the modernized Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes version. The filmed Macbeth stageplay starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. Patrick Stewart as Prospero, in The Tempest. My favorite adaptation of them all is Julie Taymore’s extravagant Titus, with Anthony Hopkins’ riveting portrayal of the title character as its centerpiece. His “Crossroads” speech, as he lies prone speaking into the hard, unyielding stones is one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever seen.

When Anonymous first started gaining buzz a couple of years ago, I was torn. I knew I would eventually watch it, since Vanessa Redgrave plays Elizabeth I, but what of the controversy? Shakespeare lovers were immediately up in arms over this movie that dared to question the Bard’s authorship of that huge, renowned body of work. What if it tainted my near lifelong enjoyment of his work?

Well, I’ve watched it now, and my admiration for “my” Shakespeare remains intact, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed the movie. It is a very densely packed film, with many characters and enough plot threads to keep even the most eager viewer mentally on their toes. Since part of my brain stayed wary, it was a challenging two plus hours.

It was also very beautiful. Visually, historically, and emotionally. Framed within the brackets of a modernday stage play, Anonymous takes us back to Shakespeare’s own time, and draws us in to a web of what if that unspools like a romantic historical espionage thriller, with a dash of soap opera high almost over the top drama…bejeweled by the performances of Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson, as old  and young Elizabeth I.

Set aside all belief in the age old Virgin Queen thing, because Anonymous’ Elizabeth is anything but chaste. She is passionate, willful, demanding, regal, and beautiful, right through every breath until her last. Her court’s history changing aspirations and accompanying machinations take advantage of her fatal weakness…the Earl of Essex, to great and tragic effect. I was already familiar with that aspect from the marvelous old black and white more chaste version starring Bette Davis as Elizabeth I, but this version seemed to use the tragedy that was Elizabeth and Essex to stab straight to the heart.

So there is a lot more to this movie than the question of whether William Shakespeare really was our beloved bard. As for that question itself, I thought the way the prospect was framed in the modernday stageplay made it clear that the entire premise was an elaborate exercise in what if. A few “facts” (or were they?) lead to the age old sentence behind all of fiction…here’s what MIGHT have happened. Sort of like what happens when science fiction writers start with…I think there are other intelligent lifeforms out there…here’s what might happen if they come here.

My take on Anonymous is that it didn’t set out to prove that all those plays and sonnets were written by someone else. It just showed how that scenario might have looked all those misty centuries ago. Yes, it made a man named William Shakespeare look very unsavory. A character created by a 21st century imagination. I didn’t like that character, but the movie in no way made me lose literary faith in “my” Shakespeare. As someone who has strolled the gorgeous English garden of Anne Hathaway’s cottage near the famed river Avon, it’s going to take a lot more than a work of clever, charming…beguiling even…fiction to dislodge my still swoonprone heart from my romantic, idealized love of William Shakespeare and the words and words, and words that bear his name.

Anonymous Official Trailer 2

I watched Letters to Juliet in the wee hours last night when I couldn’t sleep. Extra movie watching is an actual perk of insomnia, and this movie is a perk of being a movie lover. It’s the kind of thing that thrills the heart of a romantic and may even stir the creaky heartstrings of an entrenched cynic.

It tells the story of a young woman who stumbles upon a band of women in Verona who answer letters written by the broken hearted to Shakespeare’s shattered heroine, Juliet. Enchanted, she become a temporary Juliet herself and answers a fifty year old letter.

Her own letter sets in motion a chain of events that changes lives and regenerates a passion that spans half a century. It’s a glorious story told against an Italian backdrop that looks as if it’s painted by a master’s hand. Which it is, with that master being nature and culture and the human heart.

Vanessa Redgrave plays the woman who wrote the fifty year old letter. Her chracter’s lost love is played by Franco Nero, her own love, lost and found. This People Magazine article tells the story of their meeting as Guinevere and Lancelot, in the movie Camelot (one that I’ve long loved) and on through their tale of decades spent apart followed by a reconnecting and rekindling of romance.

So when I watched this movie to see my favorite actress, I not only enjoyed the wonderful performance I expected. I also saw a movie that resonated as a beautiful story and on into real life through heartstrings connected to the past of not only film history but also the promise that love may indeed endure and it really is never too late for hope and dreams and love.

Letters to Juliet Official Trailer

Though I have had few opportunities to attend stage productions, I have long been fascinated with all things theater. Fortunately, avenues such as public television, stage to screen film productions, and the entertainment cornucopia known as YouTube can give anyone a taste of the very distinctive storytelling form of stage plays.

I’ve mentioned before that Vanessa Redgrave is my favorite actress. I have come over the years to recognize that my list of favorite actors of a certain generation is wallpapered with veterans of the British theater world. There is a certain resonance and authority among the men and an unmistakable bearing and luminosity among the women that makes the briefist performance unforgettable.

Vanessa Redgrave’s talent transcends anything else I have ever seen. The first time I remember noticing her was when I was very young, watching an airing of Playing for Time on late night TV. I’ve only seen it that once, but I never forgot the powerful story of concentration camp prisoners literally performing for their lives.  Ms. Redgrave was mesmerizing, shaven head covered only with passionate dignity.

Her brief scenes in Deep Impact sent me searching out anything I could find with her name in the credits. I learned of the cruelties of Victorian prisons and developed an interest in Oscar Wilde’s writing from Wilde, discovered the support pillar behind Winston Churchill’s greatness as I watched her play Clementine in The Gathering Storm, witnessed regal suffering in Mary Queen of Scots…and that masterpiece of a reveal as the aged Briony in Atonement was simply heartstopping. If I had not watched Mrs. Dalloway entirely because she starred, I might never have discovered how much I love the prose of Virginia Woolf or been so eager to read and watch The Hours, which I also fell in love with, book and movie. Wonderfully, the titles I’ve named are just a small cross section of a remarkable and enduring career.

I just read this New York Times article , where, with Jesse Eisenberg the playwright and her costar in The Revisionist, she discusses the play and gives insights into her thoughts and experiences. It is a rare treat to discover articles like this, where a person, a talent, and a legend come to light through the written word.

A moving trailer for Playing for Time

Mrs. Dalloway Trailer