Blog Status: (Updated 24 January 2016.) I now live in the US again. The move and everything surrounding it have all happened in the last several months, leaving no time for review-writing, but I haven’t forgotten the blog; I still check it and respond to comments, and still hope to review something new soon! Meanwhile, you can read my fanfiction – for Robin of Sherwood and Revolutionary Girl Utena – here at Archive of Our Own.
Convention News: (Updated 7 February 2017.) Tickets to the third Hooded Man Convention, set for May 2018, sold out less than 48 hours after they became available! If you want to be added to the waiting list, then head to the convention website and contact the organizers.
Moar News!: (Updated 7 February 2017.) The latest news in the Robin of Sherwood world is the opportunity to finally “see” a fourth season via audio drama! This project needs preorders to go ahead and closes for funding in just three weeks, so go here if you want to help them reach their goal!
If you enjoyed the wonderful audio drama Knights of the Apocalypse and are breathlessly hoping for more RoS radio goodness, you’re in luck!
Spiteful Puppet Productions aspires to create FOUR new episodes of Robin of Sherwood – a veritable fourth season of fun – and has engaged BOTH Robins to reprise their roles (in two episodes apiece). They’re taking preorders from now until the end of February; the only catch is that they require two thousand preorders for the project to go ahead. If they don’t reach that benchmark in time, then the planned series will be cancelled and all payers refunded.
I would really hate to see that happen, so I’m posting about it here. If you have both the funds (£40 for the whole shebang) and the inclination, please do head on over to Spiteful Puppet’s website and sign on!
For months, I’ve kept notes and screenshots for possible reviews, and I still read and answer all comments here.
But for now, I’m writing because I’m super-excited, after returning to writing fanfiction and posting something new for the first time in over a year. Both the process and the result have been very satisfying indeed. :)
If you don’t know the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena, but enjoy my writing and/or have curiosity about what I’ve been up to for the last month, then give this story a try. The first chapter, at least, requires no particular knowledge of the show to understand!
Inviolate Rose (15042 words) by Astrinde
Fandom: Shoujo Kakumei Utena | Revolutionary Girl Utena
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Professor Nemuro, Mikage Souji, Chida Mamiya, Chida Tokiko, Ohtori Akio, Himemiya Anthy
Additional Tags: Canon Compliant, Character Study, Dark Fairy Tale Elements, Dubious Science, Implied/Referenced Character Death, Impersonation, Implied Sexual Content, Manipulation, Mental Breakdown, Memories, Mythology References, Parallels, Pre-Series, Spoilers
Genius, like prince, is a role that can destroy the player.
From bud to bloom to blight, this is the story of a living computer, the man beneath that spiritless shell – and the shadow that shatters his brilliance.
“[After having read the novel] what struck me was that this story…wasn’t very good. Still, it captured the imagination of people. Why? What bothered me about [the previous dramatic] versions, what I thought they essentially missed, was that you never knew why the Phantom was in love with Christine.”
“Wearing a mask means you have to depend much more upon body language than eye language. Erik is a man steeped in theatricality; his whole wardrobe has come out of the Opera House costume department. I see him as a child, an innocent; I never think of him as being a murderous maniac. He’s alone in a world he’s created for himself – and into this world of music comes a girl with an exquisite voice.”
Release date: 18 March 1990.
Run time: 168 minutes, as a two-part miniseries.
Starring: Charles Dance as the Phantom, Teri Polo as Christine Daaé, Adam Storke as Philippe de Chagny, and Burt Lancaster as Gerard Carriere.
Relevance to the prior review: Like Royal Hunt, Phantom is a filmed version of a stage play, which tells the story of two kindred spirits who bind each other in a deep, ultimately lethal platonic love. The two movies/plays share some surprising similarities: (1) A thirty-year age difference separates the two main characters, and the younger character, who fascinates the older, is often dressed all in white. (2) The older protagonist abducts his younger counterpart and refuses to relent, despite heartfelt pleas from two other characters. (3) The younger main character sings a significant song to the older, who then returns the song as an apology and declaration of undying love. (4) The older protagonist reveals to a trusted friend that he’s dreamed of the younger for years. (5) Each main character sees a parent- or child-figure in the other. (6) One main character in each story identifies himself in relation to light; in both cases this man is the illegitimate son of a beautiful mother. (7) That character willingly goes to his death after changing his companion’s life. Maybe Shaffer’s play should be retitled The Phantom of Cajamarca.
Drinking game: I can’t adequately express just how much this splendiferous hamfest is improved by booze. Champagne and cognac both appear in the film, and wine is mentioned in the play. So choose one, and lift your glass every time:
(a) Erik sports a second mask over his primary mask, with two drinks if the top mask expresses his current degree of angst,
(b) One of the Choletis faints, falls, nearly falls, or almost swoons, and
(c) A Phantom trick succeeds only because somebody was looking away at just the right moment.
Finally, polish off your bottle if you agree that Christine is a bonehead for choosing Philippe.
Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston have the dubious distinction of writing “the other Phantom“: a lighter and more realistic take on Gaston Leroux’s novel, whose script had to be shelved when it coincided with the premiere (and subsequent wild success) of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Their Phantom was originally released as a two-part miniseries and only years later became the stage production it was always intended to be.
I saw this miniseries when it aired on NBC in 1990, and with its opulent sets, beautiful opera arias, engrossing story, and solid acting (with particular credit due Charles Dance’s complex and earnest Phantom), I loved it so much that it spoiled me for the Webber version, which I judged to be overhyped pablum by comparison. So if you’re a die-hard Phan, you might want to stop reading this now. For everyone else, let’s get started!
“To see the soul of a man is to be blinded by the sun.”
–Jean Genet, quoted in Shaffer’s original notes on the play.
“I started out with a history play. I hope I have ended up with a contemporary story which uses history only as a groundwork in the expression of its theme.”
–Sir Peter Levin Shaffer
Initial release date: 6 October 1969.
Run time: Originally 121 minutes, but only 96 minutes in most available releases.
Quotes: Quotations from the film are listed here; the play script is also widely available.
Trivia: Some interesting bits are posted here.
Starring: Robert Shaw as Francisco Pizarro, Christopher Plummer as Atahuallpa.
Relevance to Robin of Sherwood: Michael Craig (the Earl of Huntingdon) plays Miguel Estete, the Royal Overseer, while Robert Shaw (Pizarro) was the Sheriff of Nottingham in the film Robin and Marian (which I’ve mentioned on this blog before). Also, Oliver Cotton (Lord Owen of Clun) appeared as the soldier Diego de Trujillo in the original 1964 National Theatre production of the play and then played the priest Valverde in its 2006 revival.
Like RoS, this film depicts religious, political, and socioeconomic issues resulting from conquest. The two works share illegitimacy, power, and religion as important themes, and both feature a deeply troubled man who takes out his family issues on pagan “savages” and then tries to prove something by killing a god-man.
Drinking game: I’d suggest saving drinks for a convivial post-film discussion, but here are three rules to guide those who insist otherwise:
(a) Drink every time someone mispronounces a Spanish word, especially “Veedor” (Estete’s title of Overseer, which the actors rhyme with “Seymour”),
(b) any time illegitimacy is referenced and/or the word “bastard” used, and
(c) whenever Atahuallpa gestures or vocalizes like a non-human creature (with two shots if you can identify the particular bird or animal he’s mimicking).
For appropriate libations, either buy a Spanish wine of origin Ribera del Guadiana (i.e., from the Extremadura region, which includes Pizarro’s birthplace of Trujillo) or make your own chicha de jora, a fermented maize drink that receives brief mention in the play.
All of Sir Peter Shaffer’s theatrical works grapple with profound questions through the microcosm of human conflict, but none with more terrible allure than The Royal Hunt of the Sun. This epic work, penned by an excessively talented playwright, was picked up by the newly-formed National Theatre and premiered onstage in 1964. Much like George Bernard Shaw’s The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Royal Hunt uses historical characters and situations, but is not an accurate re-enactment of past events. Rather, it’s a reimagining of history, which maneuvers two powerful figures into a clash of opposing ideals.
The year was 1531, when the conquistador Francisco Pizarro – a bastard in every sense of the word, considered by some to rank among the most evil men in human history – landed with a force in Perú, seeking riches and reputation. His timing was all too fortuitous, as the Spaniards’ arrival coincided with the conclusion of a bloody civil war between two claimants to the Inca throne.
Following clues of a vast empire glittering with gold, Pizarro and his men crossed the Andes and made their way towards the alleged location of this treasure; at the same time, the new Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, was proceeding with his triumphant army towards the Inca capital of Cuzco. The Inca forces stopped to rest just outside the town of Cajamarca, and there they encountered the Spanish newcomers. Atahuallpa agreed to meet Pizarro, and the next day entered Cajamarca’s plaza, accompanied by a large procession. The Spanish army answered with an ambush, slaughtering the unarmed Incas and capturing their ruler.
John Everett Millais, Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, 1846.
The imprisoned Atahuallpa, on learning how greedily greatly the Spaniards esteemed shiny metals, offered a huge ransom to his captors: treasure enough to fill a vast room once with gold and twice over with silver. This astonishing price was duly paid, but it purchased neither clemency for the subjugated Incas nor freedom for Atahuallpa. And despite the affection that some developed for the Inca Emperor, his presence was a constant threat to the greatly outnumbered Spaniards, who knew that a single command from the Sapa Inca (1) could raise a huge force against them.
So when word came that one of Atahuallpa’s generals approached Cajamarca with an army, intending to fight for the Emperor’s freedom, Pizarro assembled a tribunal and charged Atahuallpa with various crimes – including fomenting revolt against the Spanish authorities, practicing idolatry and adultery, and committing fratricide – then delivered a guilty verdict and condemned the ruler to death by immolation. Because the Inca faith held that burning the body would destroy any chance for an afterlife, Atahuallpa reeled from this sentence and agreed to Christian conversion in exchange for a more merciful execution. He was baptized, given a Christian name (recorded alternately as “Juan” for John the Baptist or “Francisco” after Pizarro), and then garrotted the same night, 26 July 1533 (though some sources – as well as this play and film – use an erroneous alternative date of 29 August).
Alonzo Chappel, Execution of the Inca of Peru by Pizarro.
Later, Pizarro’s page Pedro reported that the threat of attack had been a false rumour, and that Pizarro suffered greatly after discovering that Atahuallpa’s execution had been prompted by a mistake (2). However, the page may have written a deliberately sympathetic defense of Pizarro – his own relative – because Atahuallpa’s fate had set a dangerous precedent of regicide, an example that understandably displeased the Spanish King.
Shaffer’s play follows this sequence of events, but it grants the ultimate victory in this sorry saga to Atahuallpa, who in death achieves a transcendent triumph that Shaffer compares deliberately to Christ’s crucifixion. The Royal Hunt of the Sun presents Pizarro and Atahuallpa as foils to each other, as two great men who face each other across opposite sides of history and morality. The story told is not one of a ruthless conqueror exploiting and murdering a hostage, but of a bond forged between two kindred spirits and the grim redemption it grants. The protagonist Pizarro is a vigorous, restless tragic hero, a mercenary fleeing his own inner emptiness by pushing himself ever-onward, chasing conflict after conflict with the telling exclamation of “forward!” And that conquering spirit is utterly broken when Pizarro unwittingly maneuvers himself into slaughtering the object of his love – arguably the first such affection he has known in an otherwise wretched and loveless life – only to find, through his loss, the very mystery he has always sought.
Shaffer crafted this work as an experience of “total theatre,” combining mask work, pantomime, dance, song, costume, setting, and verse to draw the viewer into a highly symbolic clash between worlds. Although the play’s most stylized scenes (like the infamous Mime of the Great Ascent, in which the actors “climb the Andes” on stage) are replaced on film with realistic settings (with many scenes filmed on location in Spain and Perú), the movie is no more an action-packed adventure than the stage version. Rather, The Royal Hunt of the Sun presents a dramatic meditation upon faith, death, and love, with some mountains and swordfights thrown in along the way. And I can only imagine the disappointment in theatres, when moviegoers – probably led by really! dramatic! advertising! into expecting a sort of Peruvian Gone With the Wind – saw this non-epic epic. Even the film’s press book seemed dutifully but wanly enthused, describing the story with unappealing taglines like “a mental duel with no winners” – hardly high praise, since the same phrase could apply to a Senate debate on C-SPAN.
Given such lukewarm endorsements – which imply that viewers will find the film plodding, ponderous, and probably disappointing – I decided that someone who loved the movie should review it, and write something more compelling than “it was indeed a series of images captured by cameras.” So let’s dive right in to Shaffer’s wistful historical revision, otherwise known as: