Posts Tagged ‘Tom Stoppard’

Tom Stoppard: “What Tolstoy is on about is that carnal love is not a good idea.”

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Do not, repeat, do not try this at home...

The incomparable patron saint of bloggers, Dave Lull, alerted me to a Guardian interview with one of Britain’s foremost playwrights, Tom Stoppard, who created the screenplay for the latest film version of Anna Karenina, which we wrote about yesterday.

I don’t think Tom Stoppard quite gets it.  “What Tolstoy is on about is that carnal love is not a good idea,” he says, although Tolstoy seemed to have a pretty good idea what it was about in Anna Karenina and War and Peace (before marrying the vivacious Natasha off to the rather inept Pierre, with whom she’s rather happy by the end).  Stoppard seems to miss the point that almost all societies except our own regarded unregulated passion as a kind of madness, and a destructive force in society.  After all, Anna’s young son is left motherless at the end of the novel, and a good many other lives are disfigured.  Tolstoy might have argued that there is no such thing as a personal life, and personal choice.  That’s why he has the Levin chapters.

There’s the additional problem that the Levin chapters of the novel contain many long discussions about local government, and estate management. “It’s as though,” Stoppard jokes, “Tolstoy took the big essay at the end of War and Peace and said to himself, ‘I’d better spread this through the whole story next time.'”

But Levin (modelled on Tolstoy himself) is important. The parallel, shy relationship between Levin and Kitty (superbly played by Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander) is used by Tolstoy to counterpoint Anna’s affair. “For a while,” Stoppard continues, “I thought we should ignore everything and just go hell for leather, and into, and through, and out of, this relentless love affair. I was going to make it like a very fast modern movie, which was all about being in lust.” In the end, he says, “wiser counsels prevailed, including my own”.

Apparently, the proscenium arch, stage device the film uses was not Stoppard’s idea at all, but rather director Joe Wright‘s, which comes rather as a relief.

“He called me up, and said, ‘Can I see you urgently?’ He came round with a big file and exhibited his idea – essentially that the Moscow and St Petersburg scenes should take place in a 19th-century theatre – on my kitchen table.”

Was this to do with budget problems? Stoppard shakes his head. “Joe needed a concept to get excited about doing the novel as a movie. I think he talked to Keira about it – Pride and Prejudice had worked out really well for them – and this was what he came up with.”

Once again the proscenium arch is hot news.  It sounds a lot like Ingmar Bergman‘s Magic Flute of 1975.  It was hot news way back then, too, and made for a charming production of Mozart.  Since we are speaking of happy marriages … Levin’s, anyway … I include a clip below of the sweet and magical reunion of Papageno and Papagena at the end of the opera. Hard to top that one for marital bliss.  Meanwhile … Jude Law. I’m now convinced he’d be a dynamite Alyosha (moving from Tolstoy to Dostoevsky). I don’t think his Karenin is “pinched and prim” at all (according to Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian review), given the total destruction of his life Karenin is facing – see what you think in the clip below, which includes a typically Tolstovian lecture on fidelity and love, although I don’t see why cattle have to be insulted.

“Banana Karenina” (a.k.a. Elif Batuman) weighs in on new Tolstoy film

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Elif's alter ego

The Telegraph seems to be going all-out for the new film of Leo Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina, which premiered in London today. David Gritten‘s article on the film yesterday linked to a range of video clips and earlier articles.

Here’s Gritten’s verdict:

“Whatever faults Tom Stoppard may possess as a screenwriter and Joe Wright as a director, timidity cannot be counted among them. Their collaboration in bringing Tolstoy’s imposing Anna Karenina to the big screen is one of real audacity: even on the rare occasions it falters, you have to applaud the ambition.

“Between them, Wright and Stoppard have filleted and condensed this doorstep of a novel into two hours of screen time, fashioning it into a swirling, swoony, achingly romantic tragedy. Stoppard’s witty conceit is to present the story of doomed heroine Anna literally as a piece of theatre, played out beneath a proscenium arch with its own backstage, curtain and audience. But magically and playfully, Wright’s cameras open up the confines of the stage to expansive, exterior vistas. It’s dazzling to watch.”

Keira Knightley imitating Banana Karenina

A few days ago we suggested Jude Law for Alyosha Karamazov.  Apparently, he’s more of a Tolstoy man; according to Gritten:  “Jude Law pleasingly reins himself in as her husband Karenin – a dull, virtuous public man.”

After reading it, I contacted Twitter’s “Banana Karenina,” a.k.a. Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, who is currently a writer-in-residence in Istanbul, for her views.  She got back to us this morning.

Says the Top Banana: “I think Jude Law as Karenin is casting genius! I’m curious if they chose him for his ears, and also if they did anything special to make them stick out more. I kept trying to freeze the trailer to get a better look, but the ears always got away! Maybe I need a new video card.”

“I also appreciate how, according to the Telegraph review, Wright and Stoppard ‘filleted and condensed this doorstep of a novel into two hours of screen time.’ I think filleting a doorstep must have been an artistically exhilarating project. I hope very much that this phrase will soon be adopted into wider circulation.”

Read all about the doorstep here.

Poetry jumps species: Koko the Gorilla turns 40, announces and judges a poetry contest

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Will cats be next? Can a poem incorporate a purr?

Haiku as a poetry form has become international. Now it’s taken a step beyond that – it’s jumping species altogether.

Today marks the 40th birthday of Koko the Gorilla. To celebrate, she announced a twitter-based poetry contest.

She also judged it.

The winning poem was announced today:

Gentle lady ape
Nimble fingers share her thoughts
Teaching us to love

The winner, in this case the twitter-user met314, gets an “fine art reproduction” of an original painting – also by Koko – titled “Love.”

Second prize for TanyaOsterman:

When I was little
Koko showed me that humans
Did not really know

Third prize for KokoLove40:

Art by Koko

Signing love polite
Koko’s gifts of heart and mind
Change the world for good

Honorable mention for coda1229:

Koko is our own
Example of life’s beauty
She shows we are one

The contest defined the haiku form as 17 syllables total, with three lines of 5-7-5 syllables, “expressing your birthday wishes to Koko,” and submitted via a tweet @kokotweets account with the hashtag #kokohaiku in the message. “Each line of the Haiku poem must be separated by period, comma or slash mark.”

Third prize

Well, that’s a minimalist understanding of haiku, which was as exactingly rule-bound as chess – in fact, more so.  And the rule about punctuation is a new one on me – presumably they meant to preempt mindless enjambment.

I recently spoke with a Japanese scholar, Steven Carter, who expressed the cheering, disconcerting, and dispiriting effect of the universality of haiku. We now have baseball haiku, pregnancy haiku, redneck haiku – you get the picture.

As Tom Stoppard, whose birthday was yesterday, by the way, claimed:  ‎”Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”  Somehow haiku has become the self-esteem form to assign to elementary classes, which is both a good and bad thing.  In any case, Koko’s haiku-writing fans had to be 18 to participate in the contest.

Second prize

Animals reading and critiquing poetry, of course, sends us into a whole new arena.  I wonder if they’ll be better than some of the current lot.  It’s possible.  Like haiku, the bar isn’t high.

Koko not only speaks American sign language, she is able to share jokes, create and name works of art, and even read written words – not bad, for a gorilla purchased more or less at random from the San Francisco Zoo.  The mind boggles, really, at the implications.

Whatever. Picture of Koko and birthday here.  Picture of Koko enjoying a book on the same link.  Send a birthday message to Koko here: Subscribe to Koko’s email newsletter here. And donate to the Gorilla Foundation here, to “help Koko save her species” – because Koko is, as well as writer, reader, connoisseur, critic, and artist, a humanitarian … or should we say gorillarian?

Happy birthday, Koko.

Perhaps I ought to send a reputable translation of Bashō?

Postscript on 7/6:  My interview with Steve Carter on “haikumania” is online today, here.