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March 22, 2008

Tom Stoppard Looks Back on the "Revolutionary" Posturings of 1968 With Fondness Bemusement Revulsion

Ah, another turn to the right from world-class playwright and screenwriter (and script doctor -- often uncredited, but gets paid a ton of money to turn dreck stripts into not-so-drecky scripts, like, uhh, Revenge of the Sith... hey, don't blame him, he was acting under orders from Jar-Jar Lucas).

Although we actually already kind of knew about this one. Partly because the very fact he usually avoided politics was a pretty big clue as to has actual politics. (And partly because a recent article asking why there were no right-wing plays in Britain could offer only a single name of a righty working in the British theater at all: Tom Stoppard.)

Anyway, another very high draft pick of mine for the Creative Conservative Conference. But he'd already joined the team.

I was already conscious of a feeling in myself which detached me from the prevailing spirit of rebellion when bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was to be where it’s at.

The feeling I refer to was embarrassment. I was embarrassed by the slogans and postures of rebellion in a society which, in London as in Paris, had moved on since Wordsworth was young and which seemed to me to be the least worst system into which one might have been born – the open liberal democracy whose very essence was the toleration of dissent.

I had not been born into it. You don’t need to be a qualified psychologist to work out that in England in 1968, 22 years after I arrived, I was much more disposed to champion my adoptive country than to find fault with it. For all I knew to the contrary, if my father had survived the war (he was killed in the Far East) he would have taken his family back to my birthplace in Czechoslovakia in 1946 and I would have grown up under the communist dictatorship which followed two years later.

I was as aware as most people were that not everything in the gardens of the West was lovely and of course we didn’t know – one never knows – the half of it. But when in August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia, an act which was simply the ongoing occupation of eastern Europe writ bold, my embarrassment at our agit-prop mummers’ “revolution” turned to revulsion.

What repelled me was the implied conflation of two categorically different cases. The “free West”, God knew, was all too often disfigured by corruption and injustice but the abuses represented, and were acknowledged to represent, a failure of the model. In the East, though, the abuses represented the model in full working order.

It's odd: There are only a few modern playwrights I've had any interest in whatsoever, and whose plays I read on my own, without, you know, being assigned to do so in a class. Two of them are righties and I had no idea of that at the time (and in fact I wasn't even a righty at the time). Evidence, I guess, to a strong temperamental component to conservatism. (Chris Durang is another one, but he's definitely not a righty. But then, he was brutally filthy, so mystery solved on his appeal.)

Below a clip of Stoppard directing another righty I always liked for some reason. Plus Tim Roth. Who I also always liked. Say, you don't think...? Mr. Orange? Red-stater?

By the way, I have to be honest: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is good, cheeky fun, but it's a bit too cutesy and Pinteresque in its meta-ness, and, I have to say, a bit overrated. It's one part pure whimsy (Lewis Carroll does Hamlet) and one part intellectual airiness with a dollop of existentialism mixed in as a thickening agent. Good, but not great. Funny, but smile-funny and not laugh-funny. I like it, but I can't bullshit you and say it's the greatest movie ever made just because the author/director is on our side.

Stoppard views the world, like Elvis Costello, through the distancing lens of self-aware cleverness. I love both, but that does tend to make them less visceral and "real" than one might like.

It would help if you're queer for Hamlet. And wordplay. Which, personally, I'm not. It's in that class of fictions that I've always wanted to like more than I actually do. Still, I do like it. Just not as much as I'd like to.

Although chicks with intellectual or nerdish tendencies tend to be into this movie-- in which case, I love it!

That actually might be a pretty strong reason to rent it right there: If you're single guy with an interest in geeky girls, it could actually help you get laid.

And, to bring this all full circle: Isn't that what the spirit of 1968 was really about?

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