"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, June 18, 2012

Literature for the Fantasy-Prone, part 3: an online course in "Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, our Modern World

What he said... As a follow up to my previous posts here and here on what I've called (with a reference to a topic in psychology) literature for the fantasy-prone... I couldn't say it better than this fellow, Eric S. Rabkin. I would have killed for a course like this when I was in college; instead my reading in this area at the time was all beyond the pale, academically. It included many of the books in this curriculum.

Though (if I might be permitted a personal digression) when I returned to a different university to finish my degree and do some graduate studies several years later, I was finally allowed, in an advance course in Twentieth Century Experimental Literature, to do a paper on Joanna Russ's The Female Man instead of the suggested authors. That reminded me of the  wonderful Peter Brunette, who also taught me so much about film when I was at GMU. Come to think of it, he encouraged me to to submit my criticism in his film course to JumpCut and some other publications of the day, but I couldn't see in myself what he saw in me. We remember the good professors. Well, here I am, still writing in my small way, anyway, even about film sometimes--and remembering the prof who helped shape my talent for understanding what I was seeing in a film. The final quote in the post linked above seems to speak directly to the course, below:
"There is a place for films that challenge preconceptions … for films that explore the meaning of being human in an important way." - Peter Brunette
Books, too. Anyway, I saw this course referenced on the SFF Audio blog. Go there for details of the course, or here. It can be taken online, and most of the materials are free ebooks! To see the video embedded below on YouTube, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgNrVnjvjKo

If you like this literature, see past posts I've tagged science fiction: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/search/label/science%20fiction
And fantasy: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/search/label/fantasy

And with reference to the book cover above, Left Hand of Darkness,  click the next link for an interesting online discussion.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Updated review of OSF's M/M/C

RQN: After seeing OSF's wonderful Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella a second time I added quite a bit to my previous review. And then I added some tips to orient you if you're seeing it for the first time. See http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2012/04/osf-2012-medea-macbeth-cinderella-and.html for the post.

Monday, June 11, 2012

OSF 2012: As You Like It (review)

As You Like It, on the Elizabethan stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is worth seeing for its design alone. Its sumptuous, gorgeous set by Todd Rosenthal, reminiscent of the Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham (whom he credits for his inspiration), and its colorful, ornate costumes by Linda Roethke, which bring all the fantasies of children's books and faerie to life, are an entertainment in themselves. As if that weren't enough, there are hilarious goats and sheep who comment visually on the bucolic nature of country life (try to keep your eyes off them when they're onstage), wildlife lurking in the periphery, beautiful seasonal goddesses with headgear to die for (especially Autumn!), and the most amazing clock you've ever seen. There is lovely, haunting music by Andre Pleuess, and it's nicely sung by the cast, too. There is even a fun, clever story to back all this up--and some great lines!

This version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy is stunning, evoking dreams of Arden even as the characters remind us that by Shakespeare's time the noble savagery of life in the forest was already a myth of a golden age, and other fine customs were just a memory as well (if, indeed, they ever existed). These urban characters are cynics awash in nostalgia, but (as Chekhov's characters were still complaining centuries later) for them country life is a mindless bore, and nature a desert. Yet they do enter for a while into the dream of living in harmony with nature--until a trickster and a turn of fate return them to their rightful places in their modern world. 

The actors were charming; they all seemed to be having a grand time and made the story very easy to follow. Rosalind (Erica Sullivan) and Celia (Christine Albright) had terrific chemistry. Kathryn Meisle stole the show as a mixed-gender Jacques, and Howie Seago was sweetly noble as the Duke (while his sign language added some extra fun to the goings-on). Wayne T. Carr was just right as the smitten Orlando, and his handsome brothers... oh, I liked all of them--though the goats and the Autumn Spirit are the ones whose costumes I most covet.

This production plays the fantasy to the hilt, and I loved it for even being more of a midsummer night's dream than that other play; it has all the magic and less of the edge. Put it all together with Shakespeare's wit, and director Jessica Thebus and OSF have a grand entertainment on their hands, one that surely will be long remembered as an audience favorite.

Erica Sullivan as Rosalind, Peter Frechette as Touchstone, and Christine Albright as Celia.
OSF has posted more photos here: http://pinterest.com/pin/249668373062908822/

Sunday, June 10, 2012

OSF 2012: Henry V (review)


illo by Catherine Change
not official OSF but I like it a lot.
This fabulous production directed by Joseph Haj, has opened with the summer season on the Elizabethan Stage and I'll say it flat-out: this is the best version of the play that I've ever seen. And I've seen quite a few. I feel very fortunate to have seen Henry IV part 1 (reviewed here) and part 2 (reviewed here and here) -- and now this, all three with the wonderful John Tufts taking Hal through his many changes. 

The humanity and intelligence Tufts brings to the role has been the touchstone throughout the trilogy, through all the changes in directors and designers; Tufts somehow had the heart of Henry from the beginning and carried it throughout with clarity, depth, humor, and a degree of compassion that's at times, when he chooses (or his fate requires him?) to do terrible things, just short of too much for a viewer to bear. Magnificent!

In fact every role seems fully rounded, each character the center of the story when that one speaks. There wasn't a moment when I wasn't totally caught up in the story. As always, OSF brings a wonderful clarity and passion to Shakespeare's astonishing plays. It just gets better and better, for me. These must be the best dramaturgs in the world.

John Tufts IS Henry V
This play, like this year's Troilus and Cressida (which is also amazing in its way; no excuse for not reviewing that yet, as I've seen it twice already) makes the realities of war clear and reaches right down into the conscience and moral centers of the viewer and gives a good shake. From reminders of inevitable atrocities upon civilians, to timeless examples of impossible choices, in both these productions war is seen as it is by the soldiers and civilians experiencing it, not by those comfortably profiting by it back home. Even as he tells the typical victor's version of the war--it was justified under law; the atrocities were begun by the other side; the conquered were shown mercy by the victor; no looting was done; God was on the victor's side; everyone lived happily ever after in a happy marriage of peace; the other side was silly, arrogant and degenerate; the winning side suffered few casualties--Shakespeare also shows, or hints at, the lie in those myths through examples of narrowly averted but plausible actions, contrary events and satirical language--and if you didn't hear all that, the final words of the play make it clear that the victory will prove to be hollow in the next generation. Again I marvel at how much Shakespeare crammed into his texts, that they can be interpreted in so many ways over the years - and at how uncannily OSF seems to find in them what is most meaningful to me

Besides fully conveying the shocking aspects of human behavior in war, and satirizing its causes even as he respects the stubborn honor of (some of) those who carry it out, Shakespeare also mixes in humor--and in this production, either it was toned down and much easier to take, or the lines that have come down to us just never got as out of hand as they did in Henry IV parts 1 and 2. In any case, I chuckled more in this production - and the set piece at the end, always an audience-pleaser, where Henry and Katherine get to know each other and he woos her, is in this production one of the finest comedy pieces I've ever seen. Beautifully played!
(note: seeing this play the second time from Row Q this scene was no less amusing - but I wouldn't have used the word "comedy;" I think that came from sitting very close the first time, and seeing all the subtle facial expressions. Either way, it works as the intended much-needed release and a sure-fire way to send the audience home happy, even given the final lines of the play--which underline the mixed messages Shakespeare has given us throughout, and which this director makes so heartrendingly clear.)

John Tufts as Henry and Brooke Parks as Katherine come to an understanding,
(Note the ensemble -- the lady has lovely taste.) 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dot: An Ordinary Life, an Extraordinary Person (film)

For one of our neighborhood documentary screenings this month, we'll be seeing a film about an Ashland resident, Dot Fisher-Smith. She and her husband John Fisher-Smith will be coming for Q&A. I thought I'd share the information about this here too, because Dot is a planetary citizen-activist and both films about her are really great.

This is the film we'll be showinghttp://www.dotthefilm.com/thefilm.html It's about 50 minutes long. A shorter film-festival version of Dot, named An Ordinary Life, played to a full house at this year’s AIFF and has been accepted at film festivals across the country. 

Filmed over a period of 20 years by Producer Willow Denker, a friend of Dot’s, the archive was then shaped into the documentaries with some new footage by Patricia Somers, Director.

Mail-Tribune photo
In one news photo that went viral worldwide, a sweet-looking elderly lady named Dot is seen risking her neck (literally) in an action to save old growth trees. We've seen this incident referenced in two very fine documentaries that we've screened earlier in our series (Butterfly, and If a Tree Falls). The film Dot gives a more in-depth view of this cheerful dynamo as a woman, artist, and Buddhist, and celebrates her lifetime of commitment to justice. 

Dot Fisher-Smith is an artist, counselor, group facilitator, community elder, long-time social (peace and justice) activist and forest defender, with a long proud record of civil disobedience beginning with attempting to stop the war in Vietnam in 1967. Thirty-five years a student/practicer of Soto Zen Buddhism.  Journal writer since 1968. Poetry is her present passion.

Dot's husband John Fisher-Smith will also be coming to our screening. From http://oregonpoeticvoices.org/poet/153/ :
Writer and poet John Fisher-Smith, father of three sons, retired architect and avid gardener, lives with his wife Dot in a passive solar home they designed in Ashland. He has written and read over a hundred "commentaries" on place and value, over Jefferson Public Radio. Forty of these are self-published as prose poems in Opening my Eyes; Old Fool Press; 2008.
Here's a short video of the solar home John designed:

Dot as artist: The interview linked below has some nice coverage of Dot's art. From her poem "Along Buckthorn Road" these lines caught my eye --

This arrangement of rocks is too perfect to be natural:/Lines you'd swear were etched by human hands
Those lines caught my eye because you could say the same thing about her art which you see in the documentary, but in reverse:  it feels so natural you'd swear it was not etched by human hands.

This is the 20-minute interviewhttp://vimeo.com/20215220 The interviewer introduces Dot with the comment that many seniors come here (to the Rogue Valley) not to retire but to become elders. I liked that! At about the 8-minute mark there is a nice section on her art, with music.

In the interview Dot quotes this poem by William Stafford, Oregon poet laureate:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford