Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Way To Happiness: A Minor Cult Classic

The Way To Happiness: A Common Sense Guide To Better Living is a small volume attributed to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. Who knows how many of these books were actually written by L. and how many were generated by his eager accountants?

Anyway, I have my friend Ryan to thank for contributing this little cult gem. Apparently I’m important for his survival, for on the first page, L. writes: “Choose someone whose actions, however remotely, may influence your own survival. Write the person’s name on the top line of the front cover of this book. Write or stamp your own name, as an individual, on the second line.” And that’s precisely what Ryan has done. L. also instructs: “Give the person several additional copies of this book but do not write your name on them: let the other person write his or hers. Have the person present these copies to others that are involved in his or her life.” Ryan neglected to do that. I have just the one copy. So, sorry folks, you won’t be receiving copies of this one from me. Instead, I present you with this review. I hope it will be enough to “greatly enhance your own survival potential” (p. 1).

Though this book is small, it contains much wisdom. For example, regarding happiness, L. writes, “If one does not survive, no joy and no happiness are obtainable” (p. 5). I hadn’t thought about it before, but this is true. Dead people are so bloody joyless. And for those with a limited vocabulary, L. is kind enough to define difficult words such as “happiness,” which he says is “a condition or state of well-being, contentment, pleasure; joyful, cheerful, untroubled existence; the reaction to having nice things happen to one” (p. 5).

L. includes a short chapter titled “Take Care Of Yourself.” In this chapter he writes: “When they are ill, even with communicable diseases, people often do not isolate themselves or seek proper treatment. This, as you can easily see, tends to put you at risk” (p. 7). Before reading this book, whenever I thought of sick people, I always hoped they’d feel better. But now I realize that their sickness is really an attack on me. Their illness is an attempt to put me at risk. L. is right: we need to isolate the sick and diseased, and keep them well away from me. L. also says, “You are well within your rights to insist that people bathe regularly and wash their hands” (p. 7). I agree, but some people at the library and on the subway got angry when I insisted they go take a bath. So obviously, in addition to the sick and diseased, we need to isolate the filthy and the stinky. Perhaps we should put them all in Salt Lake City. Or somewhere in Florida. Remind smelly people that “While clothes can be expensive, soap and other tools of self-care are not that hard to obtain” (p. 33). It’s better to be a clean, naked person than a fully dressed stinker.

Regarding sex, L. writes, “A ‘feeling of guilt’ is nowhere near as sharp as a knife in the back or ground glass in the soup” (p. 11). This might seem obvious, but I’ve never heard it expressed in so clear a manner before. Also, I think I’m going to avoid soup from now on. Especially if I’m ever invited to the Scientology Celebrity Center again.

Sometimes sex can lead to children. L. is there to help us tackle this problem as well. He writes, “Bringing a child into the world today is a little bit like dropping one into a tiger’s cage” (p. 13). This is true: both are briefly amusing and entertaining, but then require some serious clean-up and explanations. It’s best to avoid having children. But if you do have one, remember: “A child is a little like a blank slate. If you write the wrong things on it, it will say the wrong things” (p. 14). So be careful when scribbling on your child.

It’s a tough world out there, as L. well knows. He warns us: “The stupid, the evil and the insane seek to solve their real or imagined problems with murder. And they have been known to do it for no reason at all” (p. 23). That’s the really frightening aspect of it – when stupid people murder others without any good reason. Of course, it may simply be that the stupid people are unaware of the definition of murder. Fortunately for them, L. provides this definition: “the unlawful killing of one (or more) human being by another, especially with malice aforethought (intending to do so before the act)” (p. 23). So come on, stupid people, remember: If you’re going to murder, you need to have “malice aforethought.” That is, you need a reason. We’ll all be a lot safer when the stupid, the evil and the insane have reasons for the murders they commit. So be sure to pass on a copy of the book (or a link to this review) to them.

L. provides some sound legal information in this book as well. He writes: “An ‘illegal act’ is not disobedience to some casual order like ‘go to bed.’ It is an action, which if done, can result in punishment by the courts and state – being pilloried by the stage propaganda machine, fines and even imprisonment” (p. 25). It’s best to obey all laws. After all, no one wants to be pilloried by the state propaganda machine. I didn’t even know that pillories were still erected. It’s a good thing I read this book. And children, remember: if you get some casual order like “go to bed,” you can totally ignore it without fear of the pillory.

L. is concerned for our safety. He writes: “Movie stuntmen who don’t practice first get hurt. So do housewives” (p. 53). Yes, it is best to practice setting aside all personal goals and aspirations before going ahead and doing your husband’s laundry. Otherwise, you’re likely to get hurt.

At the end of this short book, L. writes: “All you have to do is keep The Way to Happiness flowing in the society. Like gentle oil spread upon the raging sea, the calm will flow outward and outward” (p. 74). It's an interesting analogy, and I'm surprised that L. likens Scientology to an oil spill on the ocean, which damages the habitat and all life forms with which it comes in contact.

Thanks, Ryan. I hope that my writing this review has enhanced your survival potential.

Check out my reviews of other cult classics:
- Dianetics: The Original Thesis
- Scientology: The Fundamentals Of Thought

Monday, December 30, 2013

Were The World Mine (A Look At How Shakespeare Is Used In This Film)

Were The World Mine  (2008) stars Tanner Cohen, Wendy Robie, Judy McLane, Zelda Williams, Ricky Goldman, and Nathaniel David Becker. It was directed by Tom Gustafson. This delightful film has as its focus an all-male school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there are also other Shakespeare references throughout the movie, including references to As You Like It, Romeo And Juliet and, surprisingly, The First Part Of King Henry The Sixth. The film’s title comes from Helena’s line to Hermia in Act I Scene i of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After a dodge ball game, the boys are in the locker room. One of the boys teases, “Hey, you’re gonna be late for the Shakes-queer crap.” Another adds, “That crap’s like four hundred years old. It doesn’t make sense.” But another boy retorts, “It does to anyone with a brain.” In the classroom, several Shakespeare quotes are on the blackboard, including, “The course of true love never did run smooth” and “I have a device to make all well,” both of which are from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is also a bust of William Shakespeare. The teacher, Ms. Tebbit (Wendy Robie) challenges her students to write their feelings in verse, remembering William Shakespeare. She then quotes, “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?” And the students repeat it. She then quotes, “I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.” The students echo her. Both of those lines are ones Titania speaks when she meets Bottom. Ms. Tebbit then quotes Helena from Act I Scene i, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” The students repeat the line. She then continues with Helena’s next line: “And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” The students repeat the line, without much enthusiasm. At the end of class the teacher hands Timothy (Tanner Cohen) a flier about the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The flyer states, “All seniors required to participate.” She tells him auditions are Friday. Timothy says, “I’m not an actor,” to which Ms. Tebbit responds, “All the world’s a stage,” quoting Jaques from As You Like It. She then tells him, “Awaken and empower what’s within.”

We see a bit of the auditions. One boy reads Bottom’s part: “I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me, to fright me.” He then asks the teacher, “Is this a girl’s part?” Timothy shows up and reads Puck’s part from Act III: “And the youth, mistook by me,/Pleading for a lover’s fee.” He stops and says, “I don’t even know what I’m saying.” He then continues: “Shall we their fond pageant see?/Lord, what fools these mortals be!” The production is to be at least partially a musical version, as she then has him sing some of Puck’s lines from Act V: “We fairies that do run from the presence of the sun/We follow darkness like a dream” (a variation on the play’s lines: “And we fairies, that do run/By the triple Hecate’s team/From the presence of the sun,/Following darkness like a dream”). Ms. Tebbit holds out a copy of the play for Timothy. On the cover it says, “Foreword by Max Reinhardt.” That’s an edition from 1935.

There is a shot of the boys looking at the cast list. Timothy is cast as Puck, who interestingly is listed at the top of the sheet. One of the boys, looking at the sheet, asks: “What is Thisby? Is that a chick?” But of course Thisby is not listed on the sheet. The character is listed just as he should be – as Francis Flute. So that character’s question is a minor error in the film.

The physical education instructor is upset with the cast list, saying his athletes don’t have time for the play. Ms. Tebbit responds by quoting from the second act of The First Part Of King Henry The Sixth, “I will note you in my book of memory.” Timothy’s mom at first seems upset that Timothy is playing a fairy.

We then see Timothy working on his lines from Act II Scene i: “I jest to Oberon, and make him smile…” Then at rehearsal, the cast works on that same scene, beginning with the Fairy’s first line. At home, Timothy’s friend Max (Ricky Goldman) helps him with his lines. Max says, “Demetrius says, ‘Yea, art thou there?’” Timothy responds with Puck’s line, “Follow my voice. We’ll try no manhood here.” At school, they rehearse the scene where Oberon tells Puck about the flower. When Timothy tells the teacher he still doesn’t understand half the text, she says: “Unite rhythm with words, and they will unlock to empower you. Like a midsummer night’s dream come true. Take pains; be perfect. Adieu” (the last lines being Bottom’s from Act I Scene ii).

That evening Timothy works on the verse of the speech, trying out the line, “I’ll put a girdle round about the earth/In forty minutes.” He then tries to create his own love juice, and sings some of Bottom’s lines (those about not being afraid, and this after having been taunted in school for being gay). He sings other lines from the play, such as Hermia’s “I know not by what power I am made bold,” Helena’s “But still you flout my insufficiency” (a variation on her “But you must flout my insufficiency?”), and “My tongue, your tongue, were the world mine” (from Helena’s lines, “My tongue should catch your tongue’s sweet melody/Were the world mine”). It becomes a musical dream-like sequence, incorporating several other lines from the play. At the end of the sequence his white flower is now purple. And when Max enters his room, some of the flower’s juice squirts into his eyes, causing him to fall instantly in love with Timothy. Timothy tells Max to leave, and Max quotes Romeo And Juliet: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Timothy takes the purple flower to school for rehearsal. When they rehearse the scene where Hermia and Lysander are going to sleep, Timothy enters as Puck with the flower and anoints Lysander’s eyes. He then squirts the boy playing Hermia too, and then several other boys, leading to a whole lot of kissing. It’s silly and delightful, and Ms. Tebbit seems pleased, or at least amused. Jonathon (the boy Timothy is actually interested in) falls in love with Timothy, and when his girlfriend shows up, asking if this is a joke, Jonathon tells her: “Don’t mock my love. Who would not change a raven for a dove?” (using Lysander’s line to Helena).

Max and Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker) both swear their love for Timothy because of the flower’s effects, just as Demetrius and Lysander do for Helena, leading to a fight. Jonathon tells Max, “Follow if you dare” (as Lysander tells Demetrius, “Now follow, if thou dar’st”). But Puck is not there to lead them astray and keep them from fighting. So in this film, Max and Jonathon actually do fight.

The flower has affected a large portion of the town’s population, and the physical education instructor, now in love with the principal, sings, “The course of true love never did run smooth” (Lysander’s line to Hermia in Act I). And we see several characters in various places sing that line (sort of like in Magnolia when all the characters sing that Aimee Mann song). Soon nearly the whole town is gay. And that leads to an emergency meeting at the school, where one concerned parents says, “Shakespeare was queer too.” Ms. Tebbit arrives and says Shakespeare has “never been proven to be a homosexual. Bisexual, perhaps.” She tells everyone that if they return that night for the play, they will make amends.

As Timothy’s mother and teacher go looking for Timothy, we hear voices singing the Fairy’s lines from Act II Scene i: “Over hill, over dale…” Ms. Tebbit finds Timothy and Jonathon cuddled together by a tree. She sings, “What have we done? We have mistaken quite and laid the love juice on some true love’s sight” (using Oberon’s words to Puck in Act III: “What hast thou done? Thou hast mistaken quite/And laid the love-juice on some true-love’s sight.” She then continues singing, “Thieves of love, we’ve come by night, and stolen lovers’ hearts away in spite” (using Hermia’s lines to Helena from Act III: “You thief of love! What, have you come by night/And stol’n my love’s heart from him?”). That leads to the company singing Oberon’s lines to Titania from Act IV: “Be as thou wast wont to be;/See as thou wast wont to see.”

And then we see some of the play’s production, starting with Puck’s “Follow my voice. We’ll try no manhood here.” Puck sings the lines, “On the ground/Sleep sound…” And he applies the remedy to all. Though it’s an all-boys school, Timothy’s female friend sings and plays guitar near the end. She sings the Prologue from the Mechanicals’ play: “Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show…” The song replaces the entire play. And it leads right to Puck’s famous final lines. And after the play, Jonathon is still in love with Timothy.

Time: 95 minutes

(The DVD includes a commentary track and the film’s trailer.)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream (2005) DVD Review

This 2005 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stars Bill Paterson, Imelda Staunton, Lennie James, Sharon Small, Dean Lennox Kelly, William Ash, Rupert Evans, Zoe Tapper, Michelle Bonnard, and Johnny Vegas. It was written by Peter Bowker, and directed by Ed Fraiman. It's part of the Shakespeare Retold series, and is a modern adaptation, taking place at a resort called Dream Park.

Act I

It opens with shots of trees, with the sound of a man and woman arguing. He says he has two days to save a marriage. We’re then introduced to Puck (Dean Lennox Kelly), who is up a tree and addresses the camera directly. He tells us, “Never leave home without your love juice” and “Things aren’t always what they appear to be” (the second being a cliché). He allows one drop of love juice to fall into the camera lens, so that we will be enamored of the film, I suppose. It doesn’t quite work, though there are lots of things to like about this production. Anyway, we then see that it is Oberon (Lennie James) and Titania (Sharon Small) who are arguing.

Dream Park is a place to which Puck and the others bring couples who are in trouble, to put them back on the right track. Theo (Bill Paterson) and Polly (Imelda Staunton) arrive with their daughter Hermia (Zoe Tapper) to celebrate Hermia’s engagement to James Demetrius (William Ash). (Theo and Polly are the film’s Theseus and Hippolyta, though in this version they are already married and are Hermia’s parents.) Zander (Rupert Evans) sneaks into the park to stop the engagement party. He and Hermia tell Theo that they’re in love, that Hermia can’t marry James.

Meanwhile, two security guards (including Bottom) talk about how they want to work as entertainers at the park, doing coin and card tricks and impressions. Soon we meet the other three, with Quince explaining what is needed for the party. In this version, Bottom (Johnny Vegas) isn’t given the respect he usually gets from the others.

Hermia and Helena talk, Helena upset because Hermia had never mentioned Zander before. Zander has found an empty villa in the woods, and he and Hermia are going to break in to be together. Hermia tells Helena this. By the way, Hermia is blond and Helena has dark hair, though they both are approximately the same height.

Act II

Theo and Polly seem to be having a bit of stress in their marriage as well. And Oberon and Titania recognize this, and Oberon wants to save their marriage. But Oberon and Titania continue to argue. He does say, “Ill met by moonlight, Titania,” though it is daylight and they’ve already met. Oberon talks to Theo at the bar, and is visible only to Theo. Oberon and Puck had been at Theo and Polly’s wedding, and Oberon reminds Theo of that. Oberon mentions to Theo that he and Titania have troubles, which is why the weather is so weird these days.

Oberon tells Puck he needs him to get some love juice to use on Titania. Oberon speaks a few lines from the play: “In maiden meditation, fancy free./Yet mark’d where the bolt of Cupid fell:/It fell upon a little western flower/Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wounds/And maidens called it Love-in-idleness.” Puck then responds with words decidedly unlike those from the text: “Do you want the bleedin’ love juice or what?”

Helena chases after James to get him to stay. She tells him where Zander and Hermia have run off to. And then we see Zander and Hermia in the woods. They reach the building and break in, then lie together in front of a fire (rather than on the ground, separate, as in the play). Helena and James walk through the woods after them. Oberon watches them as they nearly kiss. But then James turns on her, accusing her of tricking him into going to the woods so she could throw herself at him. James says to her: “Don’t come anywhere near me. I feel sick just to look at you.” And he leaves.

Puck arrives with the love juice, and Oberon points out Helena and tells Puck of her love for a man who doesn’t return her affections. But because Helena is right there and Puck sees her, he can’t later mistake Hermia for Helena. But somehow he still does just that, which just isn’t believable. He finds Zander and Hermia lying next to each other in the building, and puts the drops in his eyes. Interestingly, Puck says a variation of Oberon’s lines from the play: “What you see when you wake/You will for your true love take.” Zander then wakes, and though he’s lying right next to Hermia, he doesn’t look at her, but gets dressed and steps outside to find Helena seated there. Again, that’s not quite believable. In fact, it’s pretty fucking ridiculous. And so he kisses Helena and says, “Why should I settle for second best?” Helena tells him: “You have got some serious commitment issues. Get some help.” Then Oberon puts the love juice in Titania’s eyes. (But there is no changeling boy in this version, so there’s nothing specific that Oberon wants from Titania.)


The Mechanicals rehearse – practicing juggling, singing and card tricks. Bottom tells a joke and wants to do some impressions. They’re on a porch, not off in the woods. Puck is in a tree while Bottom rehearses an impression of Michael Caine. He gives Bottom donkey ears. The others aren’t frightened, assuming the ears are fake, that they’re part of some odd impression. But they leave anyway.

Hermia wakes alone and returns to the resort and slaps James, accusing him of doing something to Zander.

Bottom whistles “Strangers In The Night,” which wakes Titania. She calls for her fairies to lead Bottom to her love palace. Puck tells Oberon about Titania falling in love with a donkey comedian. Then they see James and Hermia. Oberon, upset with Puck over his mistake, says, “Give me some more love juice, or I will give you a midsummer night’s dream where the moon doesn’t shine.” What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Helena and Zander are talking, and Hermia shows up, and so we have the scene of the four lovers, with Puck commenting to us. And we do get mention of some prior thing between James and Helena. James mentions “That time we kissed.” Helena says, “That was twelve years ago.” James and Zander begin fighting. Hermia and Helena fight too, but without those great lines written by Shakespeare.

Act IV

Act IV begins with Bottom and Titania having just finished making love. She asks, “Where did you learn to make love like that?” Bottom asks Peaseblossom to massage his neck. He also asks for “a nice carrot” rather than hay. Titania suggests they go to sleep, but in this version Bottom doesn’t want to sleep. Titania uses a bit of magic, and off to sleep he goes.

Theo and Polly have an argument. (Imelda Staunton is excellent, as always.) But they soon have it talked out. Oberon, now regretting his anger, has Puck change Bottom’s features back, but before Titania wakes (an odd choice). Titania, when she wakes, tells Oberon: “I dreamt I was in love with an ass. And then I woke up. And what do you know, I still am.” An interesting variation. Oberon apologizes. He says, “No more jealousy.” He then goes into a Shakespeare medley, first reciting the first two lines of Sonnet 39: “O, how thy worth with manners may I sing/When thou art all the better part of me?” He then recites the first two lines of Sonnet 56: “Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said/Thy edge should blunter be than appetite.” Then he quotes Juliet’s lines from Act II of Romeo And Juliet: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea/My love as deep – the more I give to thee,/The more I have, for both are infinite.” Titania then responds: “How I love thee. How I dote on thee.” An interesting choice, for in the play these are lines she speaks to Bottom.

When Bottom wakes he finds Titania’s underwear in his pocket, so he knows it wasn’t a dream, which of course is quite different from the play. So much for Bottom’s dream.

Helena and Hermia wake before the boys, so they have a moment together. Zander then wakes, but Hermia shies away from his kiss. She remembers him loving Helena, but he doesn’t. Odd. As James wakes, Theo and Polly come upon them in the woods. Theo tells Hermia to be happy. Theo says he and Polly are going to renew their vows (so that will be like the wedding ceremony of Theseus and Hippolyta).

Meanwhile, the Mechanicals are deciding how to proceed without Bottom. Quince admits he’d already received pay for the gig, but hasn’t shared it.

One change I really like in this version is that Helena and James have a more realistic conversation about their relationship. It’s interesting, because in the play Helena does just blindly accept Demetrius’ newfound love for her. Here Helena says, “So I’m, what, the consolation prize.” And she tells him he humiliated her – “And now you’re talking to me like it never even happened.” She’s not easily won, telling him she has stopped being a pushover.

Act V

Everyone (except James) arrives for the celebration, and we see Theo and Polly renew their vows. Theo reads a poem he’s written. Puck, Oberon and Titania are there, watching. The Mechanicals are preparing, and Bottom shows up and tells them he’s had the night of his life (Act IV Scene ii). The entertainment begins. But rather than one play they do together, each does his own bit, starting with Snug doing some magic. Puck helps him out. James shows up to woo Helena while the entertainment continues. Bottom is introduced, and there’s a nice reaction shot of Titania, with Oberon looking at her. Bottom is dying on stage, but Titania blows some magic over the audience, who then respond favorably to his act.

This version ends with Puck back up his tree, giving a variation of the play’s final speech. He says: “I wasn’t born offensive. I had to practice…If you did get offended…pretend it were a dream.” He then drops the love juice into the camera lens.

Time: 86 minutes