[Not about language. But not about gay life or Gayland, either.]
Following up on the splendid response my grand-daughter Opal had to a performance of the Mikado (see here), her mother and I have been surveying other possibilities in the line of grownup performances (including movies) that might appeal to her.
DVDs of the Mikado (I have an old D’Oyly Carte recording and the newer Eric Idle one) turn out to be a possibility, despite Opal’s apparent rejection of the idea originally; it seems she just didn’t want to watch one at the moment we made the suggestion.
More recently, she happened upon the (not to slight the other actors, the director, etc.) Kiefer Sutherland Three Musketeers and enjoyed it immensely. Yes, there’s a lot of violent action, but it’s stylized, and anyway she’s getting good at drawing the reality/fantasy line and using fantasy material to cope with doubts and fears. And there’s a lot of stirring swordplay, swinging from ropes, and all that good stuff.
This led Elizabeth and me to delighted recollections of the Michael York Three Musketeers, while Opal worked with intense focus on drawing a family tree for herself (her real family tree, not a fantasy one, so eventually Elizabeth and I had to tell family stories).
[Digression. At some point, after E and I were finished recalling the pleasures of Raquel Welch, Spike Milligan, and others in 3M, and we had agreed that Opal would probably enjoy this splendid version, I realized that Opal had a step-grandfather and wondered if she knew that. E replied that she surely didn't know the word (though after daughter-in-law elect, she'd probably enjoy it) but did know about Jacques.
This came from an occasion some months back when Opal was visiting at my house and for the first time paid close attention to one of the photographs in my living room. Who was that with her mother, she wondered. I told her that the man was my partner Jacques, who died before she was born, and that the baby was not in fact her, but the infant son of a friend of ours, who used to visit Jacques in the dementia care facility he lived in, to entertain him and the other residents. (Babies and dogs were big winners.) And I explained very briefly about Jacques's and my long life together. She took all this in very gravely.
Then recently she and her mother came across the Marriage Equality Lady at one of the local farmers' markets (she's a local fixture). The MEL engaged E in conversation, and was pleased that she already had a stock of literature, buttons, stickers, and the like, going on to say, of Opal, something like, "I guess she's too young to have political opinions."
And Opal, with no coaching and no explicit preparation in the matter, said fiercely, "My grandfather and his partner wanted to get married, but they weren't allowed to, AND THAT'S NOT FAIR." Yes, I teared up at the story.
Kids care passionately about fairness. And they catch more than you might think of what's going on with the grownups.]
At this point we had a list with more Mikado and the Michael York 3M on it, to which we quickly added the Errol Flynn (and Basil Rathbone and Olivia de Havilland) Adventures of Robin Hood — fabulous swordplay and more swinging on ropes! — and moved on to the Mickey Rooney Midsummer Night’s Dream (I was something of a MND devotee as a child, thanks to the movie and to the big complete set of Shakespeare that my dad had kept from college — which I still have). I also have the Peter Hall/Royal Shakespeare Company performance on DVD, but I think the Hollywood version is a lot more kid-friendly.
Plus the Taymor Magic Flute, in English and abridged (down to two hours), which arrived at my house just yesterday. I started this blog entry while watching it this morning, which explains why I took so long to finish the posting: I was transfixed by the dazzling spectacle, which also manages to balance the two sides of the work — “half mystery play, half street comedy”, as Alex Ross put it in his New Yorker rave review of the 2004 production — beautifully, without trying to resolve them. Schikaneder, the librettist and the very first Papageno, would have adored it. (And the Papageno on the performance recorded for the DVD, Nathan Gunn, is a hoot, and really cute as well.)
Of course I have Bergman’s wonderful movie of Zauberflöte, but it’s sung in Swedish, so even if you understand German and know the opera, you have to read the subtitles, which is a heavy burden for a six-year-old. And on my iTunes I have a von Karajan performance (in German) and a Mackerras performance (in English), but without the stage business they’d be hard work for a young child.
Still, there’s the question of explaining what goes on in the opera. The mystery play/street comedy part is easy, since fools, comic rustics, and the like are stock characters in Western art, but there’s the Act I vs. Act II problem, with some of the principal characters undergoing major shifts while the curtain is down. But, then, people have rolled with it for over two hundred years, so maybe Opal could just let it all wash over her the way most people do. And if she asks why the Queen of the Night turns into such a vindictive bitch in Act II, well, I can tell her that I’ve never really understood that myself, and I’ve been enjoying the opera for over fifty years.
On other fronts: everyone suggests musical comedies, but even the frivolous ones turn significantly on adult preoccupations. She’s seen the film of The Music Man and liked it well enough, but shows no particular enthusiasm for something else in the genre (Bye Bye Birdie?). If only there were a film of the original 1967 off-Broadway production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, or even of the 1999 revival, I’d go for that (and I could tell Opal that the man who wrote the book, the lyrics, and the music was a friend of mine in college); instead, we have the beloved tv specials. I have the first of these, in my box of DVDs for kids, but it’s not remotely the same thing.