people RAVED about the opening scene of the musical 

sunset boulevard

 on broadway. it ran in the mid 90’s (when i was having all those babies and singing more lullabies than broadway tomes) and so i never saw it live. sunset boulevard is based on a 1950‘s movie about a washed up silent film diva living alone in her crumbling mansion. a young reporter stumbles upon her mansion and she employs him to edit a script for her to use as a comeback vehicle. she falls in love with him (perhaps she is the original cougar). he falls in love with someone else (who is younger, poorer, cuter, and not so crazy). you see where this is going to end (or begin).

the show opened with the ending. in what appeared to be a swimming pool ON THE STAGE with a body floating in it (is it too late to say that this might be a spoiler? it was the opening scene. it that a spoiler?) audience members couldn’t believe their eyes. not about the body. dead bodies show up in broadway musicals all the time... but FULL SWIMMING POOLS? those are more rare on the broadway stage. one viewer’s review ... “It really was a phenomenal effect. It made the audience feel like they were at the bottom of the pool looking up at the body floating over them. Joe Gillis entered with a group of reporters and photographers snapping pictures like they just left OJ's crime scene, and Gillis was left alone onstage beginning the narrative.”

the play includes this great line (and great advice...) “Nothing's wrong with being 50 unless you're acting 20!” true dat.

the role was played by some of the GREATEST woman on broadway... glenn closepatti laponebetty buckley, elaine page. it was funny reading the reviews of each performer because there was always someone saying that that person was the BEST norma desmond EVER and everyone else was inferior. 

which brings me to something that my friend, dina, said yesterday when i was talking about how i thought there would be musicals in heaven and that we would star in them. she offered some Scriptural support with this verse...

Matthew 20:16  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

which she takes to mean that all the broadway greats will sit in the audience in heaven and watch US (the former audience members) take our turns on stage. they will clap and cheer, laugh and cry as we play the roles perfectly. yes, i am sure that is in the message version somewhere. 

and speaking of GREAT ROLES for women on stage... let’s revisit my favorite play, w;tr . which starred the incomparableemma thompson.  it was actually back off broadway earlier this year starring cynthia nixon. and i missed it again. it was written by a kindergarten teacher from atlanta, margaret edson. maybe that is one reason why i like it. no one expects a kindergarten teach to write a play merging the themes of cancer, the poetry of john donne, the ramifications of extreme chemotherapy, PLUS include a reading of “the runaway bunny” that ties it all together philosophically.

this is the scene that explains why the semicolon is used in the title...

in this scene, vivian bearing (the college professor of metaphysical poetry and the one with stage 4 ovarian, “there is no stage 5”, cancer) flashes back to her graduate school days...

PROFESSOR ASHFORD: Your essay on Holy Sonnet Six, Miss Bearing, is a melodrama, with a veneer of scholarship unworthy of you -- to say nothing of Donne. Do it again.
PROFESSOR: You must begin with a text, Miss Bearing, not with a feeling.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so.
You have entirely missed the point of the poem, because, I must tell you, you have used an edition of the text that is inauthentically punctuated. In the Gardner edition of the text -
VIVIAN: That edition was checked out of the library --
PROFESSOR: Miss Bearing!
VIVIAN: Sorry.
PROFESSOR: You take this too lightly, Miss Bearing. This is Metaphysical Poetry, not the Modern Novel. The standards of scholarship and critical reading which one would apply to any other text are simply insufficient. The effort must be total for the results to be meaningful. Do you think the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail?
The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with death, calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about life, death, and eternal life: overcoming these seemingly insuperable barriers.
In the edition you chose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation:
And Death -- capital D -- shall be no more -- semi-colon!
Death -- capital D -- comma -- thou shalt die -- exclamation point!
If you go in for this sort of thing, I suggest you take up Shakespeare.
Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript source of 1610 -- not for sentimental reasons, I assure you, but because Dame Helen Gardner was a scholar. It reads:
And death shall be no more, comma, Death thou shalt die.
Nothing but a breath -- a comma -- separates life from life everlasting. It is very simple really. With the original punctuation restored, death is no longer something to act out on a stage, with exclamation points. It's a comma, a pause. This way, the uncompromising way, one learns something from this poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death. Soul, God. Past, present. Not insuperable barriers, not semicolons, just a comma.
VIVIAN: Life, death . . . I see. It's a metaphysical conceit. It's wit! I'll go back to the library and rewrite the paper --
PROFESSOR: It is not wit, Miss Bearing. It is truth.
The paper's not the point.
VIVIAN: It isn't?
PROFESSOR: Vivian. You're a bright young woman. Use your intelligence. Don't go back to the library. Go out. Enjoy yourself with your friends. Hmm?
VIVIAN (to the audience): I, ah, went outside. The sun was very bright. I, ah, walked around, past the . . . There were students on the lawn, talking about nothing, laughing. The insuperable barrier between one thing and another is . . . just a comma? Simple human truth, uncompromising scholarly standards? They're connected? 

that professor would be the one who years later would visit vivian in the hospital (her only visitor that we ever see) at a time close to vivian’s death (i am full of spoilers today.) she came to cheer her up. to discuss poetry. vivian is so far gone that the professor ends up reading her the book she bought for her grandchild, the runaway bunny. and offers this commentary...

ASHFORD: A little allegory of the soul. No matter where it hides. God will find it.

that might be my favorite scene. the most hopeful line of the movie. of any movie. souls hide in all kind of places. in all kinds of schemes. and dreams. even in studies of metaphysical poets. or blogs about broadway plays. but God finds them. and makes sense of them all. 

death be not proud... and death shall be no more, (comma), death thou shalt die. 

at least i stayed constant with this blog post. it started and ended with death. just like sunset boulevard. 


summer goal...

our summer goal (besides SLEEP ALL WE CAN) is to make millie cry. with a movie...

if our goal was to make her cry without a movie, we would just cut her hair. that always makes her cry. 

or cut her clothing budget. tears tears tears...

but she has NEVER cried in a movie.

and still hasn’t. even though we have been HARD at work on this mission. 

and i would like to recommend the two movies to you. easily available on netflix. or ask for them at your local movie rental store. they are both family friendly (i believe there is one curse word in the “taking chance” one). but they are both emotional and based on true stories. 

“taking chance” will make you so proud of our marines and the honor and respect that they show to every fallen marine. beautiful movie. very well made and well acted. and well, just wonderful.

“hachi” will make you run out and adopt a pet immediately after you see the movie. unless your husband’s name is adam and he didn’t watch the movie with you and he won’t let you run out and adopt a pet.

and then i also made her watch my favorite movie ever... based on my favorite play ever....

wit. starring emma thompson. sigh. i love this movie. maybe because i love john donne’s poetry also.

and maybe because it was written by a kindergarten teacher from atlanta, ga.

and maybe because it also features a reading from the book “the runaway bunny”.

i have recommended this movie to lots of people and wither people look at me like i am crazy for suggesting they watch a movie where a woman goes through chemotherapy and dies at the end or they watch it and say “that was okay”. no one has ever loved it quite the way that i love it. sigh. 

so since you have never seen it or most likely won’t see it, i walk you through one of my favorite scenes... where vivian relives a conference with her graduate professor, the brilliant e.m. ashford and prof. ashford instructs her on the proper punctuation for the last line of the poem, death be not proud...

E.M. Ashford: Do you think that the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail? The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with Death calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about overcoming the seemingly insuperable barriers separating life death and eternal life. In the edition you choose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation. 

And Death, Capital D, shall be no more, semi-colon. Death, Capital D comma, thou shalt die, exclamation mark! 

If you go in for this sort of thing I suggest you take up Shakespeare. 

Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript of 1610, not for sentimental reasons I assure you, but because Helen Gardner is a scholar. 

It reads, "And death shall be no more" comma "death, thou shalt die." Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting. 

Very simple, really. With the original punctuation restored Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It is a comma. A pause. 

In this way, the uncompromising way one learns something from the poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death, soul, God, past present. Not insuperable barriers. Not semi-colons. Just a comma. 

which is ironic (dare we say “WITty” because they are actually acting out death on a stage with exclamation marks... “a valiant struggle with Death calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy”. but the ending of the play has us seeing it more as the ending of that speech... “life, death, soul, God, past, present. not insuperable barriers. not semi-colons. just a comma.” it is brilliant. (are you running out to get this movie yet?)

the stage version of the play is actually named “W;T”, (a simi-colon as the “i”) referring the the semi-colon in the last line of the poem. since they are acting this out on the stage a bit more semi-colon than comma.

my other favorite scene involves this same professor coming to visit vivian in the hospital and it is one of the most beautiful moments of humanity that i have ever seen on the stage or in a movie. 

i cannot imagine the mind that wrote both of those scenes. a mind that can compare a john donne poem to treating cancer. and then throw in the runaway bunny and it make perfect sense.

and that makes me believe in God. a God who is an Author. a Creator. a StageCrafter. a Poet. a Dramatist. 

a God of Wit... it the definition that is presented by the play’s title ... vivian was fascinated by “wit”, a reference to the 17th century fascination with literary conceit, paradox and wordplay... during the renaissance, the term 'wit' referred to intelligence or wisdom. as applied to the metaphysical poets, it has the connotation of intellectual and verbal ingenuity ... this kind of wit always involves surprise, a desire to startle readers, to make them look at things in a new, unconventional way. 

isn’t that just like God? the God of Wit...

the one thing that bothered me about the play was that donne’s most famous work was not in there...  for whom the bell tolls. which would be a PERFECT description of this play. because vivian thinks of herself as an island. she is all alone. and she likes it that way... in the beginning. but by the end when the bell tolls, every character has been touched by her life. the bell tolls for all. all are diminished by her passing. now why wasn’t that poem mentioned in the movie... then as i was watching it with millie and maxx, it dawned on me that vivian says she is studying “devotions upon emergent occasions”. and so i googled that to see what she was working in... and lo and behold that is a fancy name for that poem that i so wanted to be in there.

John Donne
Meditation 17
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
"No man is an island, 
entire of itself; 
every man is a piece of the continent, 
a part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less, 
as well as if a promontory were, 
as well as if a manor of thy friend's 
or of thine own were. 
Any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind; 
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
it tolls for thee..." 

see how brilliant. and subtle. that is why i am not brilliant. i am not subtle.

Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better then thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more. death, thou shalt die.

let's go to the movies...

ok, i love to be entertained. this is not really a great thing. most likely i fit into the category of neil postman’s work amusing ourselves to death. But that is a discussion for another day...

well, i was answering one of those email question surveys (what was your favorite stuffed animal?, when was your first kiss?, was your first kiss WITH your favorite stuffed animal) and the question of “what is your favorite movie?” came up and i started to answer with “the last one i saw” because i always like the last movie that i saw the best, until i see a new one (kind of a “love the one you’re with” philosophy)...

but i do have a couple of movies that i will watch OVER and OVER again. and only a couple, i DO not like to read books over and over (except for about 5 of them, and i will cover those on another day) and it is the same ways with movies. i like NEW ones best, but there are the few that if i only had them, i would be fine (well, i am not all fine now, so i would be like i am now, slightly northwesteastsouth of fine)...

  1. What Dreams May Come- and by the way, i am the ONLY person in the world that liked this movie (i have checked with everyone in the world too). it is TOTALLY spiritual incorrect (a reincarnation kind of tone, but with heaven and hell), but when robin williams says to that old traveler guy while they are in hell (and by this i mean they are literally in hell)... “tell the children i love them and i wouldn’t leave their mother”, oh my gosh, i cry me a bucket. i swear that if i was in hell (literally or in this case figuratively) adam would be robin williams and would come and get me, i know he would. 

    2. Wit- this was not a movie theater movie but was made into a movie for HBO. it is an adaption of a pulitzer prize winning play (that was written by a kindergarten teacher) about a college professor dying of cancer who specializes in the poetry of John Donne. sounds exciting, huh? i can really sell these to ya, can’t i? anyway i have always loved the poem “death be not proud” but the way it is lived out in this movie and the way emma thompson plays this woman is INCREDIBLE and i want to die that well and have audra mcdonald be my popsicle pushing nurse. i will never read “the runaway bunny” again without crying. enough said. you just have to see this beautiful movie.

    3. Gladiator- not a line wasted in this movie, not a word that doesn’t need to be there (most unlike this blog). ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!?!? gives me chills...

    4) 300- LOVE IT and i am a girl. it was like watching the most beautiful ballet piece with blood as a prop. the use of red throughout the movie was quite interestingly done and in places i actually gasp out loud because it the scene is so gorgeously set up and directed and visually it is a FEAST.  i LOVED watching the director’s comments and seeing how he translated the author of the graphic comic’s vision SO completely. made me love the movie even more seeing the pages of the graphic novel and how the actual scene looks exactly like the author/illustrator’s vision. how do people have that much talent? and why don’t i have it...

notice that all of my list included movies with a LOT of death- hmmmm. i am a really depressing person, aren’t i? and i think they are all rated “R”, this says something else about me that i don’t quite wish to express in black and white, but i know that you are all thinking bad thoughts about me, so let me just complete the picture...

5) and for the new movie of the week... Atonement. LOVED IT, very depressing (and not just because Keira Knightly is SO skinny) but it is beautifully shot, every scene is visually stunning. i want to live in england (not during war times though) in a manor house (and not be a servant). loved the big surprise ending, hated the postmodern feel of the big surprise ending. want to be keira knightly or just look like her and star in pride and prejudice (a clue to my top re-readable books list) like her...

OK that is lea’s “movies to watch again” list, or lea’s “what the heck, she is really a funny person, why does she like all these depressing movies” list, or lea’s “totally rated R and not suitable for children, young adults, or anyone i know” list, take your pick....

and send me your top five list. they have gotten to be happier than my top 5 list.