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Jack Kirby is well known to comic book fans as the co-creator of Thor and X-men as well as the man who wrote and drew the Fourth World series for DC Comics. What you may not know is that he also designed costumes for a production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by University of California at Santa Cruz in 1960s.

Poster, Julius Caesar, 1969  designed by Jack Kirby

This awesome team up came about when the play’s director Sheldon Feldner wrote to Marvel Comics and asked if  one of their artists would want to design costumes for their college’s  play. He was answered by Stan Lee himself, who pointed Feldner in the direction of Kirby, and thus the great project began.

Julius Caesar: Military Dress

Octavius Caesar

Marcus Antonius

Julius Caesar: Civilian Dress

Flavius of Marullus, Tribune of People

I’m not sure why, but Flavius makes me think of Captain America. Maybe it’s because the colors are similar and he has the eagle on his chest.

Roman Garrison Soldier

Roman Field Soldier

Portia, Wife of Brutus

I love Portia’s costume. It reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley‘s work.

Poet

Calpurnia, wife of Caesar

This is another one of my favorites. Calpurnia looks a lot like another one of Kirby’s creations – Big Barda.

Sophist

I really love this one. Artemidorus the Sophist of Cnidos looks like he could be a C-grade superhero from some obscure 70s team up. The Green Question or Sir McMystery.

Roman citizens

If you think that these costumes look familiar, you are not wrong. Kirby used a very similar aethetic and style when he designed his New Gods for DC Comics in 1971.

Calpurnia and maid

Artemidorus – A Sophist

As these color photographs can testify, the costumes turned out amazing.  Made out of military surplus, plastic and vinyl, they give a hint of roman regalia, but also create a sense of a half-mythical, half-alien world. It’s an interesting choice for Julius Caesar, since the play has a very definite historical setting. The costumes do distance the play from its historical origins and give it a contemporary pop and comic book twist, which was probably more appealing to both the young actors and their young audience.

For more great art, check out Jack Kirby Museum.

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I finally managed to watch Henry IV, part I. And I have mixed feelings about the second installment of the BBC series The Hollow Crown. Maybe because Henry IV did not have the same visual poetry as Richard II or because the protagonist was not as appealing.

Tom Hiddleson as the charming prince Hal

Don’t get me wrong, I love Tom Hiddleson as much as the next Tumblr obsessed girl, but his Hal was too easy to like. Everything from his cute boyish smile to his leather jerkin clad body to his effortless charm just swept you away. He was just too likable to be a compelling character.  The morally ambigious Richard was more interesting to watch. Though it did feel that up until Hal got to the battlefield, he was not really enjoying himself. Whenever I saw him in the dingy little tavern or playing pranks on his bawdy friends, it all seemed rather forced. At times he almost looked bored. But the man on the battlefield was very different from the slightly detached young man in the taverns. This was a stern, brave Hal, ready to lead and command. There was also a shadow of sadness in him.  His victory over Hotspur was not all glory; we see Hal realize that war is an ugly, painful and bloody business.

Jeremy Irons is great as the perpetually disappointed King Henry IV

Jeremy Irons was, well, Jeremy Irons. Superb as usual. Though I found it difficult to believe that Rory Kinnear’s  Henry Bolingbroke grew up to be Jeremy Irons’ Henry IV, he gave a great performance of an aging king weighed down by his office and the knowledge of how he came to be there. This was a king whose body was giving out, but whose spirit was still strong.

They don’t call him ‘Hotspur’ for nothing

Henry Percy aka Hotspur, played by Joe Armstrong, I absolutely loved. He was great fun with his impetuous hotheaded speeches. I relished every scene he was in, especially those with Michelle Dockery as Kate, Lady Percy. The couple was constantly bickering and making out. Hotspur was flinging insults and Lady Percy was rolling her eyes (Ah, Michelle, no one rolls their eyes quite like you. And you have Downton Abbey to prove it). Fun fact: Hotspur’s father, Earl of Northumberland, is played by Armstrong’s real-life father, Alun Armstrong.

Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale) is a mix of hilarious, repulsive  and touching  

And finally, we get to Falstaff played by Simon Russell Beale. This particular character seems to be pretty polarizing. I saw a lot of comments that could be summed up as “Agh, he was horrible. That’s not how I imagine Falstaff.” Which is fair enough, but, never seeing this play before, I thought this was an interesting interpretation of the character. He was rowdy and uncouth and full of humor, but he was also tragic and pathetic. He clung to Hal with so much desperation that we could see how much he wanted his love. Beale’s Falstaff was dirty and unpleasant. He was not the merry mentor to an adolescent boy that looks up to him. It seems that what drew Hal to Falstaff was the opportunity to have a few laughs at his expense, but also Falstaff’s honest roguery. As King, Hal would have to deal with falsehood and deception all the time, and Falstaff’s lies are so over the top and transparent that for the future king they may seem cathartic.

Hal and Flastaff both foresee that their friendship and love will not last

Towards the middle of the film, Falstaff and Hal put on a mock play where Falstaff plays Hal and Hal plays his father. The scene goes from pageantry to raw emotion when the poor old man begs Hal, still in the role of Henry IV, not  to banish Falstaff. It is such an ardent plea for Hal’s love that you begin to understand why Hal keeps this company. It is very doubtful that he could ever find anyone so thoroughly and honestly attached to him. And he looks at Falstaff with mingled love and sadness, because he knows that this pure love could never last. One is a king and the other is a rogue. They have no future together.  Maybe in Falstaff’s pure love Hal finds that emotion that he could never get from his father.

Parent- child relationships is never been easy. Not even in medieval England

I did like how this installment played up the personal relationships rather than any metaphysical musings on the nature of kingship. It was very much a coming-of-age story that focused on a father and a son told in the bleak, medieval surroundings with blood, gore and dirt in abundance.  While I found Hal’s tavern life unconvincing, his relationship with his father, his desire to prove himself, his anger at his enemy and his pain at seeing his enemy vanquished, showed me a compelling Hal. A Hal I look forward to seeing in the next two episodes of the series. Can’t wait for Henry IV, Part II.

I just finished watching the first film, Richard II, in The Hollow Crown series. And it was magnificent! Directed by Rupert Goold with Ben Whishaw as Richard II and Patrick Stewart, Rory Kinnear, David Morrissey and David Suchet.

The visual style was mesmerizing to the point of being hypnotic. They took full advantage of film as a medium. The lavish beauty of some scenes and deep darkness of others was made possible by superb cinematography.

But the best part of the film is the acting. Ben Whishaw plays Richard II as a man out of his depth. The king is a delicate man, fretful and peevish, with graceful movements and a high voice. He struggles to maintain the appearance of authority, but it’s quite clear that no one really listens to him. And no wonder. He’s surrounded by the likes of the charismatic John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart) and the tough, masculine Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear). From the beginning it is clear that he cannot control these men, and when he tries, he bring about his own downfall.

Patrick Stewart looking gaunt as John of Gaunt

I don’t think I spoil anything by saying that in trying to resolve a dispute between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, King Richard ends up banishing them both, setting in motion a chain of events that would bring Bolingbroke back from banishment, deposit Richard and take his crown.

Rory Kinnear as the reluctant rebel Henry Bolingbroke

Rory Kinnear is a strong, loyal and passionate Henry Bolingbroke. He is dutiful subject to the king and a loving son to his father. It feels like he becomes a rebel despite himself. He comes back to claim his land after exile and realizes that he can be king. Of course, he has to live with the consequences of his actions – deposition of the rightful, if inadequate, king. His performance is subtle and understated, and when the script doesn’t give him lines, he still manages to carry the emotion.

Clémence Poésy as Queen Isabella

The rest of the cast is equally impressive. Patrick Stewart makes a great  John of Gaunt, going from a happy lord and father to a sick and angry old man. David Suchet plays the Duke of York who switches sides so often that his sense of loyalty overgrows to the point where he is willing to denounce his son for treason to a king who came to power through treason. Two wrongs do make a right, apparently.  Clémence Poésy is Queen Isabella and is given very little to do or say. For most of the movie she is either crying or looking despondent. But I suppose that’s all Shakespeare gave her. Though the last scene between her and the king is very touching.

Watching the scenes with the deposed Richard, as he tries to come to terms with his downfall, is heart-rending. Whishaw’s performance is flawless. His struggle and pain seem very real. And  even though most of us cannot imagine what it would feel like to be a deposed king, we still feel for him. Despite not being very likable, he is still very sympathetic, possibly because of his extreme vulnerability and loneliness.

Richard learns humanity the hard way

There is a lot of religious symbolism in the film. Richard is compared to both Christ (especially when he is taken to the new king’s court in white robes riding on a white horse) and to St Sebastian (when he is pierced by arrows). This is surprising, since Richard is no saint.  He is set up to be selfish, petulant and capricious. I suppose it could be a metaphor for his gaining humanity through suffering. He dies a better man than he ever was as a king.

If you haven’t seen The Hollow Crown: Richard II yet, go and do so now. The film is visually beautiful, the acting is superb and the language flows like a symphony of words.

The next installment, Henry IV part 1, comes out on Saturday, July 7th.

Hey, Shakespeare enthusiasts, have you heard? BBC Two has a new series just for you!  The Hollow Crown is an adaptation of  Shakespeare’s historical plays: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Now, maybe it’s just me but I feel like they’re trying to ride the Game of Thrones wave with this one.

The films are aired in chronological order starting with Richard II in 1399 and follow the chain of bloody events to the time of Henry V. The series was commissioned by BBC Two for their Shakespeare Unlocked season, which I haven’t had a chance to check out yet, but will certainly look into as soon as I can. King Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V are played by Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston  respectively.

I’m not surprised that they decided to make Shakespeare’s history plays into films. In my opinion they are very cinematic and work much better on screen than on stage. After all, a movie can show you a battlefield or a regal castle in a way that would be impossible in the theater. And judging by the trailer, there are some astonishingly magnificent set pieces in this one.

Don’t know about you, but this is what I’ll be watching for the next few Saturdays. The series started last night, June 30th, with Richard II.    

More info over at BBC Two.

Say what you will about the cinematic quality of Julie Taymor’s 2010 adaption of The Tempest, but it’s clear that the costumes created for the film were absolutely fantastic. Designed by the acclaimed Hollywood costumer Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and The Young Victoria) the look can be best described as Elizabethan Punk.

Taymor’s script called for a cape for Prospera (Helen Mirren) that would resemble shards of glass and light. Powell tried creating this effect with fiber optic and glass, but that turned out to be a bit impractical. So she settled on 3,000 pieces of vacuum-formed plastic, painted and sewn together.

“Poor Helen had to stand there with her arms up while she was yelling into the storm.”

The end result was a cape so heavy that it would take two people to lift it. To make it look like the cape flapping in the wind, crew members had to pull strings attached to it. But the end result is absolutely gorgeous – like pieces of polished lava or feathers of a monstrous bird.

The costume palette is dominated by dark, metallic hues; there’s plenty of zippers, studs and leather.

Allons-y, Alonso!

In an interview, Powell said that the budget was so small and resources so limited that when King Alonso (David Strathairn) walked into their workshop and asked if he could help, he was put to work sewing hundreds of metal studs onto his own costume.

Zippers were not just a really cool modern touch, but also a great way to save money. A real Elizabethan costume would have been embroidered with gold thread and lavish decorations.  Zippers were a cheap way to add some shine to the dark costumes.

Sebastian’s (Alan Cumming) Elizabethan collar was made by folding silver-metal zippers to create an accordion pleat. The use of zippers if quite ingenious. From far off those lines on Cumming’s doublet look like metallic embroidery, but up close you can see that they’re all zippers.

So many zippers!

Prince Ferdinand with his boy-band good looks, zipper jacket and biker boots looks more like a rock star than a young nobleman from an Elizabethan court.

A romantic hero must always be brooding

The feeling that he’s a modern heartthrob only increases when he strips down to that black tank top.

These two look like a Levi’s commercial

Miranda (Felicity Jones) looks pure and airy in all her costumes. The fabric is almost sheer, but at the same time well-worn as if the clothes have been in use for many years. The only person who looks less constrained by his costume is Ariel and that’s only because he’s naked throughout the movie.

But the corseted dress with handpainted face is my absolute favorite. Powell said that she had borrowed it from a designer friend and to her it looked like it was made from a painting that got washed up on the shore. It reminds me very much of Vivienne Westwood’s  ‘Boucher’ corset.

Speaking of inspiration, the zipper obsession was in full swing around that time. Balmain had a serious zippers fixation in the fall of 2008. 

The Tempest (2010) Zipper Fix

This film was not as well-received as it could have been. It’s hard to say why, but I think I will talk about my own impressions in another post.

This past weekend I took part in a very cool project called House of Democracy. It was one of the events at the Helsinki World Village Festival, an annual festival that brings together performers, musicians, activists and other involved individuals from all over the world. This year’s theme was democracy. Something that is always in short supply.

House of Democracy was set up to show people  how democracy works. It was a simple tent with a voting poll inside, where you could vote for the theme of the next year’s World Village Festival. Now, you may say, what does this have to do with theater?  The House of Democracy was, in fact, a piece of performance art. The theme for the next year’s festival has already been set (it’s going to be Human Rights) and so the whole voting poll was a show we put on to illustrate a point.

The set up was pretty elaborate and there were a number of stages, but the gist of it was as follows. Outside the tent stood a clown who with cheerily ushered people in, promising them an opportunity to see democracy in action. Inside perspective voters were greeted by two grim individuals in booths and two queues (Men vs Women; Poor vs Rich; Foreigners vs Finns, etc.). The booth people were hostile and demanding, pelting voters with arbitrary question, forcing them to switch lines and generally acting unpleasant.

Vintage Vote poster from Obey

Even though there appeared to be two queues, only one actually led to the to the voting area. The other one just sent you outside where you got a leaflet stating that you had just experienced democracy as the majority of the world experiences it, i.e. you didn’t get any of it.

Those who despite all obstacles got inside were treated like royalty. There were comfy couches, drinks, and polite staff. Voters were encouraged to vote for human rights and there were plenty of subtle and not so subtle prompts.  Those who chose to vote for something else would see their ballot torn to pieces right in front of them. As the would-be voters, either disgruntled or content, left the tent, they got a flier explaining that though they did vote, it didn’t mean anything since the elections were fixed. And the staff, the clown and the bureaucrats were all actors putting on a show.

This project was really interesting and challenging. It was imporv from start to finish and keeping in character wasn’t always easy. Especially when you had to be incredibly hostile to people. It was terrifying to see how few people protested or got angry with you for asking personal questions. I was truly glad when someone would stand up for themselves and call me out. But it was disheartening to see how many went along with it and voted for the very thing we suggested.

Caption: “I vote for people’s happiness!” Soviet poster.

This performance art piece really made me think about ways of combining theater and activism. We often think of theater as one-way – the audience is passive, soaking up what’s going on on stage. The play can have a message and the audience is invited to consume this message and possibly internalize it, but they’re not expected to experience the message firsthand.

If Shakespeare was right and all the world’s a stage, then we are all indeed actors. You’d be surprised to see how easily people fall into expected roles. As any sociologist will tell you, people start following unwritten scripts the moment they recognize the situation and very rarely deviate from these scripts. The goal of such a performance (and of many experiments conducted by social scientists) is to see how far you can push the script before people feel compelled to break it. And many of these scripts need to be broken if we want to build a better world.

Whatever you feel about democracy as a political system and it’s obvious shortcomings, I’ve always believed that art exists to help people think about the world around them. Theater can do much more than just entertain. It can be a catalyst for change.

The House of Democracy was the brainchild of Kepa and Political Parties of Finland for Democracy, Demo Finland, who promote international cooperation on democracy. The project was brought to life by artist Jani Leinonen,who is known for his somewhat controversial art (he once kidnapped a statue of Ronald MacDonald and held it for ransom).

Fun fact, both theater and democracy were invented by the Greeks.

It is my firm belief that any work can be improved if it’s given the Shakespeare treatment. It’s true; rewrite anything in iambic pentameter and it will instaly sound more intelligent.

This is equally true for Battleship, a recent fluff action flick based on, of all things, a Hasbro board game of the same name. It’s official, we’ve run out things to make movies about.

Hey, was that the plot?

Luckily, Yoni Brenner was kind enough to write this Shakespeare-inspired scene for Battleship, which also doubles as a review of the movie.

SCENE I
A Battleship, sailing majestically. Enter a common SAILOR.

SAILOR
Ahoy ye sailors!—friends and noblemen—
Riding ‘twixt glist’ring waves so bright and blue
That one cannot help but stand and marvel
At the resplendence of Neptune’s kingdom
And the miracle of color correction!
A Band of Brothers we are not, but rather,
A jambalaya of studs and starlets,
Drawn from ev’ry creed and ev’ry hair-type,
Selected, as if by algorithm,
To inflame the hearts and body issues
Of the prize’d target demographic.
Anon, we join this ship—this Battleship!—
With spirits high and cheekbones higher still,
Our sextants fix’d upon the one truly
Bankable star aboard this o’erstuffed vessel.
He whose sapphire eyes and manly shoulders,
Doth evoke the simple ethos of the
Heartland; belied only slightly by the
Rich Irish brogue that doth cling to ev’ry
Consonant like so many barnacles.

Liam Neeson enters, dressed as a CAPTAIN.

SAILOR
Hark! He comes! Pray don’t mention what I said
About his accent.

The CAPTAIN addresses the CREW with a barely concealed Irish accent.

CAPTAIN
Friends! Gaffers! Hang’rs-on!
‘Tis I, thy totally American captain,
Proud son of one of those states in the middle
That definitely hath a name, although
I cannot recall it at the moment.

SAILOR
Forsooth Captain, canst thou at least name the
First letter o’ the state?

The CAPTAIN shakes his head.

CAPTAIN
Alas, I cannot.

The CREW grumbles in disappointment.

CAPTAIN
But stay, friends! I come bearing sweet tidings:
For my accountant hath called and confirmeth
Beyond all doubt that mine check hath clear’ed!
And so I am honor-bound to maintain
A straight face for the next ninety minutes,
Even whilst barking generic orders,
Like “Hard to Starboard!” and “Full speed ahead!”
All of which hath been trademarked by Hasbro.
‘Tis indeed an honor to serve amongst
Such distinguish’d mariners as the guy
From True Blood, Riggins from Friday Night Lights,
And th’ pop star Rihanna—all of whom
Seem to be coated in a thin layer
Of Neoprene.

SAILOR
Er, Captain, excuse the interruption,
But art thou going anywhere with this?

CAPTAIN
Nay, my good man, not really. Just riffing.

Enter RIHANNA, THE GUY FROM TRUE BLOOD, andRIGGINS, FROM FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

CAPTAIN
How now, Rihanna? What ho, guy from True Blood?
What news dost thou bring from the radar thingie?

RIHANNA
Ay me, dear captain! Most grievous fortune!
For we are invaded by space robots!

The CAPTAIN is confused.

CAPTAIN
Space robots? Art thou sure sweet Rihanna?
For yea, I cannot recall any such
Robots in the original board game.
Only a grid of numbers and letters,
And cheap plastic pegs with which for keeping score.

THE GUY FROM TRUE BLOOD
Thou rememberest correctly O Captain
But the gods at Hasbro hath recognized
Long ago that the Battleship brand
Couldst not survive on grids and pegs alone.
Hence the space robots.

CAPTAIN
I see thy logic.
What say’st thou Riggins from Friday Night Lights?

RIGGINS
Pray let me defer to the True Blood Guy,
For alas, I have forgotten my lines.

The CAPTAIN nods, resolved.

CAPTAIN
If Riggins concurs then it is settled!
We shall attack the space robots at once!

The CREW cheers.

CAPTAIN
Hard to starboard! Full speed ahead! Ready
The doubles! For if we are true of heart
And straight of face there is no way this thing
Cannot gross a bajillion dollars!

Exeunt. End of scene.

The Bard would be proud!

Source: Timothy McSweeney’s Only Desire Is For Your Happiness