“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things”
– My Favorite Things, Rodgers & Hammerstein, 1959
I thought I’d lighten it up a little, and get back to the the sources of a lot of my passion for the visual arts. I’m first and foremost a film, television and theatre geek. Films of all kinds, any time, anywhere. Good television, especially intelligent long-form work from folks like Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin, along with a lot of the classics from the ’60s and ’70s, are always a good time. When it comes to the theatre, while I am a total fan of the Bard of Avon, George Bernard Shaw, Moliere, and a host of other dramatists, musical theatre is what really floats my boat.
So this will be the first in a recurring series of articles about my favorite Films, TV shows, and plays.
But first a bit of digression on the musical thing. Yes, Virginia, real men like musicals too … We also eat quiche and drink Perrier (but never with those little umbrellas in it.) I’ll blame my passion for musicals on genetics … My Great Grandpa Maurice Henrod, (who, by the way, made his silver-screen debut close to 100 years after his death in the 2007 Bill Guttentag-directed mockumentary, Live!, thanks to some serendipity and a dearth of period photos of folks who looked like they could be Jeffrey Dean Morgan‘s great-grandfather) moonlighted as an opera singer in the late 1800’s in Belgium, and made cigars by day to feed the family. My Uncle, Hank “Redwing” Riddering moonlighted as a Country Western & singer with his band, the Redwing Brothers, played all over the tri-state area in the ’60s. Hank’s son, my cousin Russell Riddering, Sr., is a Rock & Roll drummer, could have had a day job with, and has played with just about every pro musician who has passed through Jacksonville, FL, but decided the road wasn’t for him. Mom was a die-hard Opera fan, a form I never really got into in my youth, and I was into field percussion, playing with the Bayonne Bridgemen Junior Drum & Bugle Corps, and others, in the ’70s and ’80s.
All that, along with a Christmas time trip to the original off-Broadway production of Clark Gesner’s “You’ve a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in 1967 (starring a guy who we’d all come to know a few years down the road as “Radar O’Reilly” in the movie, and later the tv series, M*A*S*H*), sparked a life-long passion for music and musical theater.
Playing music was great, outside of the fact that I don’t have much natural ability in that area (although I do play a number of instruments, badly), but what I really wanted to do was direct, so I went to film and drama schools, and spent summers working at places like The Olde Globe Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, and Lawrence Welk Village Theaters in San Diego.
Anyway, I like a lot of different films and plays … When ever someone asks me about my all-time favorite film, for example, I have to preface it with “in what genre?” I have just too many favorites in different categories of films … and even within genre groupings it’s often hard to big a number-one, all-time favorite, in anything.
Well … Maybe not quite. If we go with the Highlander theory, “there can only be one”, so I’ll have to go with Branagh’s Henry V (1989).
In You’ve Got Mail (one of my all-time favorite Romantic Comedies), Tom Hanks’ character is always quoting from The Godfather, and at one point in the film, says “The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” What day of the week is it? “Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.”
To tell the truth, I would have been in 100% agreement with that until Kenneth Branagh directed Shakespeare’s Henry V. Well, to be firmer about the truth, by the time Branagh was done with Henry V, it really wasn’t Shakespeare’s anymore … It was the Henry V that Shakespeare would have wished he could have written, including a four-minute tracking shot of Henry carrying his dead brother through the field of Agincourt to lay him to rest on a cart bearing the bodies of other honored English Dead. Shakespeare would have also wish he’d had Patrick Doyle available to write “Non Nobis Domini” for scoring the aforementioned four-minute tracking shot because, at the end of the day, the scene was far more powerful than anything in Shakespeare’s original work (not to slight Will, as I’m sure had he been born in the 20th century, and been able to take advantage of modern entertainment technology, he would have probably derailed the careers of Norman Lear, Neil Simon, and put a serious dent into David Mamet’s box office as well.)
Aside from that, Henry V offers a treasure trove of the most elegant Shakespearean insults for everyday use (“Put thy face between his sheets and do the office of a warming pan” or “Whatsoever cunning fiend it was That wrought upon thee so preposterously Hath got the voice in hell for excellence” … It’s good stuff!)
There is kingly advice on how to handle affairs from real estate disputes (go start a war with France), to how to deal with deal with the subordinates of your enemies (send them back with kindness and an insult that will make the opposing king’s ears burns while not giving reasonable offense to kill the messenger), to how to deal with traitors (let them implicate themselves and then have them executed … Which I’m pretty sure is where Michael Corleone learned the trick, since that’s what he did with his no-good-for-nuttin’ brother-in-law, Calo.) Have a problem with a thieving subordinate, who you passed while moving up the ladder of success, but used to be an old drinking buddy, like poor old Sir John Falstaff? No problem … Henry says hang him.
There’s even a whole scene giving an impressive how-to on wooing the woman of your heart (although you have to, at least, minimally understand French to get the full gist of it.)
There is advice and guidance in Henry V for virtually every commonplace situation in life, that, to me at least, it surpasses The Godfather in the sum of all knowledge department. Sorry Tom, but at least you got to suck face with Meg Ryan in at least two movies, which if you can’t be right, doesn’t stink either.
Besides having worldly advice for everyday living, Branagh’s Henry V offers amazing performances from British performers who have since gone on to become household names in the united states: Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Dame Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, and even a young Christian Bale.
The film evolved out of a English stage production, so had been thoroughly workshopped before moving to the screen, and the result is a polished diamond of a show.
If you haven’t seen Henry V, check it out on on Amazon or Netflix. Even if you tend to be shy of Shakespeare because of the language, Branagh’s talent for presenting Shakespeare in a way modern audiences can understand it, while not dumbing it down or pandering, will make this an enjoyable film.