Monday, November 7, 2011

Anonymous, all right

So I went to see Anonymous (Roland Emmerich, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow). Finally, someone – had the gall? – to put this simmering conspiracy theory questioning whether the man we recognize as William Shakespeare really authored his works, on the screen. And several well known actors have signed-up to be in it, including Derek Jacobi (a noted Shakespearean) and Vanessa Redgrave, which makes you wonder if they also believe it and therefore might be tainted (probably not, eh?) by the huge scepticism if not outright condemnation that has met the movie. Nevertheless, I went to see it because I found the topic interesting, not that I necessarily agree with it. I highly doubt anyone wrote Shakespeare’s plays but the Bard himself. But I came away thinking this was a stinker. Not because of its theory that an aristocrat and lover of Queen Elizabeth I actually wrote Shakespeare’s 38 plays and 154 sonnets and that a comical and rather incompetent actor named “Shakespeare” was the front man for them. But because 1) the fact the movie only tangentially delves into this subject when it was supposed to be the heart of the film, and 2) the back story about the intrigue and plotting of who would replace the aged queen was horrendously convoluted. The film, based on a decades-old theory, argues that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), was the inveterate famous storyteller. Despite my scepticism the film still would have been vastly interesting if it stayed on topic. The film does tell us why de Vere couldn’t reveal his true identity. But it tells us nothing of what made the unknown great man tick. What informed his talent, his philosophy of human nature, his indelible turns of phrase, and his life lessons, that more than teemed forth from every play? Second, the infighting about who will succeed the queen seems irrelevant – even though it was taking part around the main characters – to the central story. And even this part of the movie wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so incredibly convoluted. Please - who’s on first, second and third throughout this more than two hour flick? The picture had beautiful computer-generated images recreating London of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. And Rhys Ifans is superb in his role as de Vere though I want to take the compliment back after learning he was the narrator of the vile Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010; see my post July 3, 2010). So, if you really want, go see this movie for some good acting and some terrific period re-creations. But don’t expect to find much at all about what this is supposed to be about. And if you can figure out the plot more power to you.

On Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) I took in a rather unique event – a showing of mostly home movies chronicling Detroit over the past century. The Lost Landscapes of Detroit shows family-made movies, newsreels and even films from companies like Ford. They depict everyday scenes of Detroiters at work and play, of once thriving neighbourhoods, and of some seminal events such as the little known race riots of 1943, and the opening of the then world’s largest shopping mall, Northland Center, in 1954. Film collector and historian Richard Prelinger brought a similar collection to Detroit last year, a presentation that was a hit. And so too was this one. Many of his collected films can be viewed at

Apparently coming to a Windsor Cineplex theatre, of all places, if a coming attraction movie poster at the Devonshire Mall cinemas is to be believed, is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland. The film is scheduled to open generally Nov. 11 but no word yet when in Windsor.

Finally, perhaps the most fascinating film critic of the last 50 years was The New Yorker magazine’s Pauline Kael. There’s a new biography just out, with a cute title, Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, by Brian Kellow. Hmm, wonder if he also means the critic was clueless.

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