Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 114: “A source of innocent merriment...”

Truth of the matter is, that I don’t particularly want to blog today; my film career path is not working out the way that I have it mapped out in my mind, I got skittled from about three or four different angles this week, leaving me rolling around on the floor like a tenpin, ready to be raked up, only to be repositioned in the firing line of the bowling ball of life and skittled again.

This is not unfamilar territory, it’s nothing new, this is my life as a skittle.

Of all the healing balms that I reach for to repair me, time is the best, our forebears were right: time heals all wounds. I have a clutch of films that inspire me, selected pieces of music, the soft soothing sound of friends, a spiritual practice, but sooner of later I and my pain are left with time.

The wound is generally one form of professional rejection or another, just like that experienced by the character Dickie Temple in Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy. I’ve talked about this film here before but please humour me as I drag us all back there for just another little look.

Topsy-Turvy is about how Gilbert & Sullivan nearly split up - when Sullivan entertained exploring lofty musical aspirations - instead, making up to give us 'The Mikado'; but Topsy-Turvy is really about “all of us who suffer and strain to make other people laugh”. Those are the words of the film’s writer-director Mike Leigh.

Richard ‘Dickie’ Temple is the D’Oyly Carte company’s resident tenor and plays the ‘Mikado’ of the title. This titular character has a song, a particularly fine party piece that shows off Mr Temple’s fine comedic and light operatic skills and is his ‘moment’ in the show, referred to by Gilbert as “light burlesque performed on the banks of the Thames”. After the final dress rehearsal, on the eve of opening night, WS Gilbert announces to that cast and company that the Mikado’s song will be cut from the show, Gilbert fault’s himself for his “obtuse decision to write the thing in the first place”. Temple is devestated and consoled in his dressing room by Arthur Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte himself.

But, it is the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus, who the following day, approach Gilbert as one, to request that he review his decision to cut the Mikado’s song and re-instate it into the show. This meeting takes place on the backstage stairs of the Savoy Theatre, where the twenty or so chorus members lobby WS Gilbert without the knowledge of Dickie Temple; he arrives ignorant to what is taking place, only to be asked by Gilbert if he would be prepared to sing the song at the evening’s performance? Temple replies “Yes sir, I would”. What follows is a long tense pause whilst the curmudgeonly William Schwenk (WS) Gilbert (played with great affection by Jim Broadbent), takes in the faces of those beseeching performers around him, who have gone out on a provocative limb for their colleague and the good of the show. Gilbert eventually, and with great grace, says to Dickie Temple “Then please be so good as to do so.”

No matter how many times I watch this film, this poignant moment always moves me.

Day #114 Tip: Give time, time and just maybe, time will give........
There is another moment in Topsy-Turvy that stirs something deep within me: Gilbert (the writer in the G&S partnership), bereft of ideas and inspiration, does not know how to move forward in his partnership with the composer, Arthur Sullivan. He has endured a pillorying from his critics (know that one), had a tooth painfully extracted (that one too) and is at his wit’s end (oh, so familiar); maybe the successful collaboration with Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte is over, maybe he, as a writer, has nothing left to say?

Gilbert and his wife have been to a Japanese exhibition at London’s Olympia that day, at which he bought a samurai sword; I’ll let the screenplay’s stage directions tell the rest of the story:

Late at night. GILBERT, wearing his night-cap and dressing gown, is pacing restlessly round his study. Suddenly the Japanese sword falls off the wall, and lands on the floor with a clatter. He picks it up and looks at it; then he plays with it. First he does a bit of swashbuckling. Then follows a Japanese improvisation, echoing the kendo and kabuki performances at the exhibition.

GILBERT puts the sword down on his desk. He looks at it. He stops. Pause. He thinks...A gleam appears in his eye. He has a flash of inspiration. In the distance, we hear a fanfare, followed by a tune. A smile breaks out on GILBERT’s face. We are listening to the opening bars of Ko-Ko’s entrance in Act 1 of The Mikado.

The curtain crawl at the end of the film says this: “Gilbert & Sullivan wrote five more operas, including ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ and ‘The Gondoliers’. Sullivan only wrote one grand opera, ‘Ivanhoe’. Although moderately successful at the time, it is now mostly forgotten, and isn’t as much fun as ‘The Mikado’.”

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