Welcome to the second half of my penultimate “review” for Once Upon a Time IX, the internet-wide celebratory blogathon of Fairytale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythological fiction. The challenge was to watch one of the many incarnations of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but no-one said you had to suffer the whole thing in one go, and I was lucky enough to pick one with an interval in the middle…
I’m writing a viewing log rather than a straight review, and because I’m good that way here’s a recap:
Lysander (a woefully miscast Dick Powell) wants to marry Hermia (a perfectly adequate Olivia deHavilland) except he’s been poisoned by a malignant fairy (Mickey Rooney) into falling in love with Helena, the Lady Friend-Zone, who is in forlorn love with scathing Detritus, the man Hermia’s father wants her to marry but whom she hates. They’re currently chasing each other around the forest in an ever decreasing circle that will probably end with a daisy chain of hate sex. Got that?
Meanwhile, an amateur dramatics association practising in the woods flee when their lead man Bottom (James Cagney) is turned into a donkey version of the Minotaur, again by the malignant fairy Puck, only for Titania, Queen of the Fairies, to fall in love with his donkey-headed ass (if you’ll pardon the redundancy), also because of Puck and at the command of her husband Oberon, King of the Fairies, who wants to publicly shame her for not intimately sharing a child with him. Got that?
Oberon, by the way, looks like a horse dressed as a Disney Witch Queen, so you’d think Tatania would be all over his action. Also, there are ballerinas and cobwebs and screechy 1930s musical numbers aplenty. And a break-dancing kid with two afros who totally stole the show the moment he appeared on screen. Lysander is probably half out of the closet, and Mickey Rooney’s performance is the most hair-rendingly annoying experience of my entire life.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
with Joe “Nobody’s Perfect” Brown, et al
1:16:27 = Just at that very moment, a ten minute Intermission was announced…
1:16:42 = …but it wor a lie, apparently, because we’re already up and running again. My guess is they learned their lesson wasting nearly ten minutes at the start with “the Overture”.
1:16:50 = So, I must have blanked some things, because Hermia is with Detritus now, but he seems to be denying that he murdered Lysander… more’s the pity.
1:17:39 = “I know, I think I’ll just lie down here in the woods and fall asleep.” Dum-dum.
1:19:07 = I need some way of quickly and clearly expressing my feelings about Rooney’s performance of Puck in this thing. I know: Phuck.
1:20:00 = Well, they say comedy is all about the rule of threes. First Titania, then Lysander, and now Detritus wakes after having Oberon’s special love potion splashed across his sleeping face to fall for the first thing he sees. Most unfortunately he spots Lady Friend-Zone a split second before her newly panting lapdog Lysander (although I suspect Dick Powell might have been in the corner of his eye, if not the apple of it… there’s the odd spark flying in a same-sex direction here, I swear). Queue some lusty beseeching as both boys do a massive about-face and challenge Helena to a tug-of-love-not-war, only for Hermia to show up and discover she’s yesterday’s news. Catfight!
1:23:08 = Detritus (and possibly Phuck) unleashes a truly psychotic squall of grating laughter.
1:23:35 = Swordplay! The boys whip out their weapons and provoke what feels like ten minute of “comedy” over-talking when the girls intervene, during which absolutely nothing can be made out whatsoever. It was prefaced by a momentary good line delivery by Lysander, which was noteworthy for being his first.
1:25:05 = “Sooooooo… that way goes the game!” Hermia kicks ass in this. Imagine those words delivered in a “Bitch-oh-no-you-di-n’t” manner and you catch a fore-taste of the imminent burns. To be honest though, finally getting some attention from the cocksmen has stirred Helena up to good effect as well.
1:25:36 = Hermia is on the warpath, and the three little girls (Helena, Lysander and Detritus) are flinching every time she flutters an eyelid. The minutes to either side of this have been the highlight of the whole show, I think. Better even than Cagney.
1:27:31 = High homo-eroticism in the close, though, with Lys and Det all but spit-swapping as they tango off to “cross swords”. How did this make it past the censors? Filthy below the surface.
1:28:35 = Don’t you just love it when something prompts a word to mind, a word you’re not even sure is the right one, but when you look it up it’s perfect? Well, Oberon delivers a moribund speech instructing Phuck to have the lovers all sleep and wake up with their wannabe wife-swapping foreplay having been all a dream… and that might make sense for the plot of a comedy, but it’s a tragedy here because it’s only in this post-interval scene that Lysander, Detritus and Helena have even slightly come alive. Rooney on the other hand remains a screeching fucktard of the highest order.
1:29:03 = Mickey Rooney’s between-takes cigar break makes it to the final cut (convulsive puking omitted). We now see Phuck trickstering all four lovers separately, which is quite a good sequence, making them run around like toddlers in need of tiring out before their big nap.
1:31:18 = “I know, I think I’ll just lie down here in the woods and fall asleep.” Because that’s worked out so well so far…
1:32:12 = “I know, I think I’ll just lie down here in the woods and fall asleep.” Followed by an amusing Phuck moment, then another earth-scorching Phuck horror. He’s actually quite frightening, looming over your slumbering face to croak out his awful laugh like a screaming mule — yet you do not wake, you do not wake, you can’t stop him from doing– no, don’t ask what he will do, better to sleep and never know…
1:32:43 = “I know, I think I’ll just lie down here in the woods and fall asleep.” Yes, this is a bit repetitive, but the action in each case is quite good, with Phuck mocking and mimicking each drowsy victim, unheard and unseen.
1:34:10 = “I know, I think I’ll just lie down here in the woods and fall asleep.” Okay, done now. Though watching Mickey Rooney tea-bagging their unconscious bodies one after another is an image I’ll not soon forget. You’ve not known horror until you’ve heard snores so rudely interrupted.
1:37:48 = I feel the balance has shifted. Back with Cagney and Lacy (ie: Bottom and Titania — and let me assure you, that pun works), the comedy donkey-head has grown a little stale. The action drags on, the lines fall flat, and the slack is not picked up by the dum-da-diddly-dee orchestral backing at all.
1:39:47 = “I know, I think I’ll just lie down here in the woods and fall asleep.” It’s a good move on Cagney’s part, since Titania’s singing just broke every glass object in my house. I can no longer hear the voices of my children thanks to her (full disclosure: I don’t have kids, I was merely making a point).
1:40:45 = I’ve just remembered who Phuck reminds me of: the kid who played the young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, running around pointlessly shouting “yippee” instead of, I don’t know, being seen but not heard. Hear me now: Phuck is actually more annoying.
1:41:00 – 1:47:00 = Yet here’s the real tragedy: there are moments of visual brilliance amidst the clunking, of which Oberon and Phuck have been the prime culprits. Oberon lifts his midnight-black cape, which trails behind him infinitely as he rides and unleashes an army of his dark fairies to bear him on. It leads into a great sequence as the magics are erased and their consequences prepare to fall, starting with a solemn parading through the trees, then balletic dancing between the forces of Oberon and Titania that balances between the warlike and the romantic.
1:49:00 = And it’s funny, but just as I was about to remark on the questionable “shaming” theme in how Oberon manipulates his wife into embarrassing herself, the moment in which Titania realises what has happened is played really well — her response is not simplistic but shows an array of emotions, even including a fleeting degree of admiration. To treat fantasy for what it is, and not just as a narrative tool for exploring the real, I’m left with the impression that this is perhaps how a immortal might consider such a thing: one more experience adding depth to life, not a burden to be carried through her remaining days, tainting the memory of the past.
1:50:21 = And, again, this scene ends beautifully, with the royal fairies drifting away into the far distance (the set must have been huge).
1:51:30 = Cagney wakes, donkey-head gone. “Why, you dirdy Phuck…”
1:53:59 = The maniacal laughter comes good — Cagney just nailed it. Best moment of the movie.
1:56:06 = Wedding March begins.
1:57:00 = The four Athenians come to their senses, pointing and laughing at each other across a misty forest pond. So, the rigorous logic of the narrative demands that, as with Titania and Bottom, now they are woken from their night of midsummer dreams, all will return to normal: Detritus and Lysander will both be chasing Hermia like stags in rut, and Helena will be destined for spinsterhood. Right?
1:57:14 = There’s a lot of post-orgy awkwardness going on right now. Did we– Did we? No, I– Are those mine? Hah-hah, well, all friends in the morning, eh? Etc.
1:59:50 = Wedding March continues (plus screeching choir).
2:01:01 = Wedding March ends. Thank god.
2:01:52 = I can see why they all ran for the wilderness. Hippo-leeta’s new husband is giving one of the worst groom’s speeches in theatrical history. Also, I’m not sure, but I think Detritus is now married to Helena, so I guess that rigorous logic bled out on the cutting room floor…
2:03:55 = If this was Game of Thrones, these poor players would be performing the rest of their show over the punctured body of their troupe master, Joffrey having had him executed for nervous sweating and the display of a faltering attitude in the face of his betters.
2:04:36 = This guy must be the laughing uncle from Mary Poppins. Must be.
2:05:16 = Cagney wardrobe malfunction! Panty flash! And there was a Joe Brown nipple-slip a few minutes back too.
2:07:09 = Not to go all George R.R. Martin now, but Joe Brown is doing the most remarkable impersonation of Daenerys Targaryen you’ll see this side of a drunken frat-party.
2:13:11 = I can’t help but find this wedding play to be rather blunting the big finish.
2:14:25 = But then it goes and makes me laugh again… damnit.
2:15:59 = I sense frolic approaching. Here come the fairies (as the visiting Busby Berkeley was heard to crow, before choreographer Bronislava Njinska had him barred from the set (probably untrue, the “quote” at least, the rest did happen)).
2:19:50 = …and, in a true blessing, Rooney reins it in for the final lines. FINIS
2:20:08 = Here we go again: “Exit Music” — Wedding March begins. Again…
So, all sniping aside, this was actually quite fun overall. Rooney as Puck was a terrible error, enough so to almost break the film completely, and the two Athenian lords don’t hold a candle to their lady loves, but Olivia deHavilland was particularly good (in her first screen role, apparently, having previously played Hermia on the stage) and Cagney proved a decent comic actor — I’d only previously seen him in gangster flicks, that I recall, so my sneering expectations were fully trounced. I say, Bravo!
2:03:06 = Wedding March ends. Again. And my little play is at an end as well.
I hope it pleased you… friends.
And this brings us, quivering, to the very brink. Just one more review to come, of the final story from RETOLD – Six Fairytales Reimagined… three short days from now!