Monday, October 25, 2010

Wow Review of Alan Watts review

This essay written by Alan Watts in 1958 for the Chicago Review is an attempt to explain the spiritual philosophy portrayed by him and other Beat Generation writers. Watts explains, “The point is simply that people who feel a profound need to justify themselves have difficulty in understanding the viewpoints of those who do not” (Charters). This is an idea foreign to most western thinkers. Watts writes that such thinkers may be characterized as “weak-kneed” concerning their lack of commitment to principle. “Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you're tired go and lie down” (Charters). This is a quote of the great T'ang master Lin-chi that Watts included in his article and here we can find the overall tone of his “Zen.”

Watts explains what is featured in his title as “Beat Zen.” He describes this as a kind of “digging of the universe” as found in some poetry, literature and art. Watts explains the theory of Beat Zen because he believes that being misunderstood, it is taking away from the pure thought of Zen and is being used by some writers to justify angry and violent behavioral responses. Watts also explained what was called, “Square Zen,” which was forcing Zen into a stiff and heartless belief system of discipline. Watts called it “a new form of stuffiness and respectability.” Although Watts sees a place for all three forms of Zen as part of the one, he reveals what the poet Ginsberg describes as living in the physical world, “moment to moment” (Charters).

In response to this argument, one could say that any form of Zen including the Beat Zen is following the same path. However to “justify” themselves, the Beat practitioners use this thought to explain their behavior. If there were a need for justification there would be no need for a traditional form of Zen. Square Zen is a constant striving and learning to obtain what would seem to be justification. So therefore both beat and square Zen practitioners are seeking a justification for their behavior and their existence. Traditional Zen reveals to us that the world is as it should be and all things are happening because they are supposed to. Understanding Zen is as difficult as explaining it. Watts is neither accepting nor rejecting these forms of Zen but he remains neutral. He seeks to understand the forms and even explains that they all fit into one. Watts states, “In the landscape of spring there is neither better nor worse; the flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.”

Watts needs no defense of his understanding of Eastern philosophy; however the purpose of this essay remains cloudy for me. If his intent was to correct mistaken interpretations of Zen Buddhism then he succeeded. The intent however is overshadowed by his willingness to accept Beat Zen as part of the entire system deserving of an equal part. Watts stated, “Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations” (Alan Watts Quotes).

Works Cited

"Alan Watts Quotes." Find the Famous Quotes You Need, Quotations. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. .

Charters, Ann. The Portable Beat Reader. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1992. Print.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Hamlets

      Hamlet is a 1990 film based on the Shakespearean play of that name. It was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Hamlet is also another film version of William Shakespeare's play, directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the title role as Prince Hamlet. It co-stars Derek Jacobi as King Claudius. Although both of the films are well done and entertaining, the Zeffirelli captures the true of the spirit of the Prince of Denmark. There are some similarities between the two creations such as star power including such names as Glen Close, Mel Gibson and the amazing Sir John Gielgud. The Branagh production includes cameos such as Charlton Heston, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. This is where the similarities end. These are radically different productions given the approach to the choice of text, staging, time period and characterization.
     The Zeffirelli production is more serious and Mel Gibson’s Hamlet is more introspective and thoughtful. The director has chosen to cut huge portion of text and place some of the elsewhere in the play. This allows Gibson to slow down and savor the emotional lines with more thought and less flair. The Kenneth Branagh, version approaches the text in a full frontal assault to all of the senses. Branaghs’ Hamlet is brash and brooding, but also seems to be chewing the scenery as if it was a race. The subject matter is handled word for word. This unabridged version can be followed from a text as the film is being watched. The problem with this is the four hour running time and even considering that, Branagh seems as though he cannot get the words out of his mouth fast enough.
     The staging of the two Hamlets could not be anymore varied. Branaghs’ version brings the viewer into an 18th century castle complete with ballrooms and mirrored doors. The soldiers have guns and modern uniforms. There is a large amount of color splashed on the screen. Zeffirellis’ version is dark and gray with very little color and light. The faces are shadow filled and drab. This seems to work better given the subject matter. The clothing is supposed actual time period clothing complete with long robes and sashes. The latter is subdued and the former is colorful and loud.
     The characterization from the text is somewhat questionable in the Branaghs’ film. Jack Lemmon appears as one of the royal guards and appears as though he has never acted before. The inclusion of Billy Crystal as the first gravedigger is dubious at best. The thick New Jersey accent can still be heard and unfortunately the character brings to mind Miracle Max from The Princess Bride. Robin Williams does a ridiculous Oric as only Mr. Williams can play, way over the top. The characterizations are believable but too much pomp and circumstance prevails in what should be a cerebral film. After all, are we not deciding “To be or not to be?” The characterizations in Zeffirelli’s film are believable and cerebral. One of the standouts in the film is Glen Close’ Gertrude, who is only slightly older that Mel Gibson, but movie magic and make up artists make it believable. Gibsons’ Hamlet is introspective and very physical in the way he hands out revenge. There is no question that those who needed to suffer indeed would. Gibson uses restraint with great skill and the viewer recognizes the undercurrent.
The differences in these two films show the depth of genius that can be found in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A version such as the Zeffirelli that plays it so close to the bone is preferable in this comparison. They are different productions in their approach to the choice of text, staging, time period and characterization, but both very entertaining.