Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Merchant of Venice - Oooooh!

Shakespeares All:

I appreciate Randall's extended discussions of Shylock, whose character, as I say above, may really be the most noteworthy creation in this play. Portia is sweet. magical, racist, and able to deliver an extremely well-wrought set-piece on Mercy, but she lacks flesh and blood – ultimately. Most of the others as well.

But in Shylock, Shakespeare takes a hint from Marlowe, who begins his play by humanizing Barabas. (After this beginning, however, Barabas falls apart as a human and becomes a monster "overreacher"-in-bloody deeds. I have occasionally wondered whether or not either a deadline or his premature death got to Marlowe and the play was either hurried through to get to a crowd-pleasing production or finished by someone else.) But Shakespeare would seem to have poured considerable thought into the making and the psychology of Shylock.

I think we are waiting for Gilbert's weighty shoe to drop, and then, unless he sends us off in other directions, move on. I will conclude, however, by quoting a section from Manohla Dargis's review of Black Book, a film about a Dutch Jew who has an affair with a Nazi officer during the War AND a film, which, despite its apparent cynicism, many writers have praised:

"Despite the non-Hollywood genesis of the project, Black Book relies on the same formula that has fueled Mr. Verhoeven’s big-studio career, namely frenzied sex and violence, bodies thrashing with the ecstasy of coitus and thrashing into paroxysms of death, sometimes at the same time. The thrashing rarely lets up in Black Book, a film in which a Jewish woman’s body is saved from the off-camera death camps, gas chambers and ovens to become a site of negotiation, a means of survival and an erotic spectacle. Abused and misused, stripped and stripped again, Rachel — named, it’s worth noting, for the mother of Israel — survives by masking that body with a putatively Aryan disguise. She also falls for a Nazi.

"Not any old Nazi, but the head of the Gestapo in The Hague, where Rachel has landed after fleeing an ambush that claims her brother and parents. Now working for the resistance, Rachel signs up for the ultimate Mata Hari assignment and agrees to bed Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch) so she can uncover Gestapo secrets. She does that and more. After dyeing her hair a brassy blond, Rachel insinuates herself into the superdashing Nazi’s confidences and, soon enough, his bedroom. It takes just one glance at the top of her head with its creeping dark roots for Müntze to guess the truth. Grasping her naked breasts in her hands, Rachel pleads her case with Shakespearean gravitas, 'Hath not a Jew, er, eyes?'

"Yowza! In truth, Rachel — now called Ellis — asks of her breasts and then her hips, 'Are these Jewish?' Seduced by the pertness of her argument or perhaps that of her physicality, attractively framed by black garters and stockings, Müntze answers her question silently but firmly."

Yowza, yourselves.

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