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Bücher, Filme, Technik und Benedict Cumberbatch – auf Deutsch and in English

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Hollow Crown, Shakespeare and Benedict Cumberbatch

No, I’m not a Shakespeare expert. Far from that. Although I can imagine that reading his works might be the same challenge for native English speakers as it is for me reading Goethe or Schiller, getting the meaning of Shakespearian English is indeed a challenge. And it doesn’t get easier watching a play live on stage or a film version.

Unless you have a production team and a broadcaster that have the courage to  throw two hours of a 400 years old play on their audience, including lots of artificial blood, mud, ancient buildings and a very fine crew of actors to bring William Shakespeare’s War of the Roses to life. The second series of BBC Two’s Hollow Crown has all this. And it has a Benedict Cumberbatch whose Richard (soon to be King in the third episode of this series) goes all the way from an awkward but still nice ish teenager – his first appearance is all cheerful – to a cruel villain ready to climb on England’s throne, killing everyone in his way. We watch a young man who loves and adores his father who considers himself as rightful heir to the throne, a young man who from the very first scene always stands a bit aside, limping with a stiff leg and a hunchback – and is mocked for this and the fact that his birth apparently wasn’t an easy one, leaving him disabled into a world full of warriors.

“This word ‘love’ (…) be resident in men like one another, and not in me.
I am myself alone.” Henry VI 3, V,6.

As if this isn’t enough to harm a man, Richard is an eye witness when his younger brother is killed. His shock and fear is the audience’s because it is all written in Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance and we know that this is the final reason that turns Richard into the monstrous villain.

“And am I then a man to be belov’d?
O monstrous fault to harbour such a thought.” Henry VI 3, III,2

But it is not a villain that is totally disgusting and appalling. Richard is scaring, thrilling, seductive and – surprisingly enough  – funny and you realise you care for a man who admits all he longs for in the end is his brother’s crown no matter how many men he has to kill to reach that aim. But Richard is not only just bad. He’s a man who feels utterly alone since early childhood, a man who knows that he will not find true love because of his deformities.

If it is true that “Richard III” is one of the most demanding roles for any actor, it’s not for Benedict Cumberbatch. Because he brings every tiny detail of that character to life without any visible effort, leaving his audience speechless in front of the telly (or where ever you have the good fortune to catch this film), realising that you haven’t moved since two hours – except for opening your mouth in disbelief, murmuring “Oh my God” every once in a while and totally forgotten that you are watching a Shakespeare play normally considered as difficult stuff.  We don’t know if  William Shakespeare thought of a special actor when writing his play. But maybe you need a Benedict Cumberbatch to make a villain sexy.

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time

Time. You will need time. Because when you start Ian McEwan’s “The Child in Time” it will hook you from the very beginning and will only release you to your real life after you have read the very last word.  At least that happened to me – and to be honest it always happens when I start a work of Ian McEwan I happily discover book by book both in English and in German (thanks to Diogenes who offers both brilliant translations and wonderful made copies).

In “The Child in Time” Ian McEwan tells the story of Stephen, author of children’s book,  member of a committee dealing with children’s education, happily married to Julie and father of three-year-old Kate. The perfect life is turned upside down when Kate vanishes in a supermarket literally in bright daylight and under the caring eyes of her father. Realising that the worst nightmare of parents has come true, Stephen’s existence is lost somewhere in between memories of his parents and childhood, his every day life duties and the desperate search for his daughter. It is only after a while and the separation from his wife, he learns that he has to struggle with time itself.

“It’s got something to do with time obviously, with seeing something out of time.”

Hopping between different plots and different  flashbacks could be confusing and boring for the reader who could be in danger to lose the plot if the author is unable to control all the lines. But it could be thrilling and exciting when it is done by a brilliant author that is Ian McEwan. He, being an amazing story teller, describes every single detail to create a world that seems both very familiar and very strange as things are unfolding for the thrilled and hooked reader. The only problem is that even brilliant books have an ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time, Vintage Books, £8,99.

You can find my latest blog entry on IanMcEwan here.

Jim Ottaviani: Alan Turing in a comic book

Welcome, reader! Or should I write: Welcome user? Either way, it may be possible that you won’t be able to read this at all: Without the help of Alan Turing the invention of modern computers may have been quite different. Even if you are not a mathematician you may have stumbled upon Alan Turing and you may connect his name  with the Enigma. A machine that Germans used to encrypt their messages during World War II. and nearly helped them win that war. Of course this is the story of the Comic book “Alan Turing Decoded” by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis which I think can be seen as a summary of Andrew Hodges’ “The Imitation Game” – at least this is what came to my mind when I enjoyed reading it and of course I thought of the film, too (sorry, fangirl here).

A bit different

But the book also brings that brilliant man Alan Turing (of course he had lots of helping hands back in World War II in Bletchley Park) to life who always was a bit awkward and different compared to others. He ran miles on end, wore a gas mask as a prevention from hay fever, chained his mug to his heater in his office at Bletchley Park  – and he was a homosexual when this was illegal in Great Britain. Sadly enough he was prosecuted for that  – a treatment that may have been the reason why Alan took his own life. Though the circumstances are still unclear as Jim Ottaviani writes in his author’s note.

Of course this beautiful made comic book isn’t a documentary or biography on Alan Turing, so readers shouldn’t take any word or any picture as a historical fact. But it is a lovely way of getting the story of Alan Turing out to readers who don’t want to be bored by huge books with endless footage and bibliographical lists (although there are a few in this 232 page hardcopy, too) – but being entertained and touched by an intriguing life story with a tragic ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Jim Ottaviani, Leland Purvis (Illustrations): The Imitation Game, Alan Turing Decoded. Abrams, round 24$, £16, €16.

You may find more on Alan Turing on my blog – some of them are in German.

Dear Letters Live

The Internet, 17th March 2016
1.15pm ish, CET

 

First an apology: I’m typing this letter to post it on my blog rather than grabbing my pen and a piece of paper. It’s not that I can’t write any more in a traditional way. But on the one hand it would be a bit tricky to upload a handwritten letter to my blog (and I admit it has to be on my blog for anyone to read and of course I want clicks in my statistics). On the other hand it’s quite comfy typing in a foreign language and relying on the spell checker to mark typos whereever they appear (thanks Internet).  Of course this won’t turn my writing into a perfect English text – so don’t be too harsh.

LettersLive

I have no idea when I learnt about Letters Live but when I stared at your event in 2015 I was jealous and envy because I wasn’t able to be there. You know, sometimes real life is a bit bitchy when it comes to a fixed schedule that can’t be changed. So I decided I had to be there the next time, whatever it would take. Given the fact that London isn’t just a taxi drive away, I planned holidays around the event as soon as I knew the dates and bought tix the moment they went on sale – and blamed myself for torturing my credit card without knowing a single performer for the weeks to come.  When it was clear that my adored actor and beloved human being Benedict Cumberbatch would be there (after all he is to blame for my interest in Letters Live and so much more), I knew that I might have a chance to see him live on stage again after having the privilege to attend two of his Hamlets last year.

Now, that Letters Live is over, there is nothing to complain about. What a unique experience this was.  What a homage to the written word, to letters that gave insight looks into private lives that otherwise would have been hidden from the public ear. I laughed and cried and felt myself at the right place at the right time, taking unforgettable moments back home.

Hope to catch you again next year.
See you – all the best & take care

IMG_20160317_125832

 

 

James Rhodes “Der Klang der Wut” – A story like a fairy tale

The truth one might think is something you can’t suppress. But it looked highly unlikely that the book “Instrumental” (“The sound of rage” is it in German – my note) would never make it onto the shelves of the book stores. Not until the British Supreme Court allowed the publication of the book saying that the author is allowed to tell his story. The judges rejected Rhodes’ ex-wife try to prevent not only the publication of the book . She tried to prevent Rhodes from talking about his past publicly.

A different kind of pianist

The author is James Rhodes, a pianist who is exactly the opposite you expect a concert pianist to be. He appears on stage in Jeans, tee and trainers, seems to be hyperactive and calm, witty and serious and has no problem at all to get rid of his black, long sleeve tee with “Bach” written in capital letters on the front (“Sorry, I’m warm, have to get out of that shirt. Be envious, I was at the fitness centre.”). And creating worlds out of music on a very impressive huge and polished Steinway piano, fascinating his audience in London’s Barbican centre last autumn. And then this small, fragile 40 year old British guy who takes off his nerdy glasses when playing thousands of notes out of memory, seems like he has been happily playing this wonderful music, just himself and his piano, for all his life.

But what he is writing in his book – that is now available in German – hasn’t anything to do with classical music, at least not for a start. Without whitewashing anything, Rhodes writes how he was abused by his boxing teacher over the range of five years. Yes, he doesn’t describe all the most devastating details but even without them, the book is shocking, stirring, disturbing and moving. That is because Rhodes writes the same way he communicates on Twitter with his followers or describes his audience why he is playing the piece of music he is playing, what it means to him – and he tells something about the life of the composer.

 “I started writing at 3.47 am. Something is wrong with me.”
(My translation)

Of course “Instrumental” is about classical music, pieces of great composers, even outsiders know their names, even if that sort of music isn’t their cup of tea. This music is more than just a way to earn money. It has saved his life because, Rhodes writes, music comforts him “when there is desperation, music gives pure energy in a very high doses when one feels empty, broken and exhausted.” (My translation). Music that a friend smuggled inside his mental hospital on an iPod where Rhodes tried to commit suicide several times after his marriage broke up and he stopped working in the City.
The fact that he now is married happily to his second wife, writes for British papers, had a show about music on British telly and has his own label – thanks to his manager he met in a café – reads like a fairy tale. Of course the book “Instrumental” isn’t a fairy tale at all even if the story could have come out of the mind of a screenwriter. But he would lack that direct, puzzling tone which comes with the swearing of the original in the German version where the reader is addressed as “Sie” (the polite way to talk to strangers – my note) – and which sounds a bit rough from time to time. The joy of reading is completed by a Spotify playlist of all of the pieces introducing every chapter.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Book & music
James Rhodes: Der Klang der Wut, Nagel & Klimche, 22,90 Euro.  [You can find my review of “Instrumental” here]
James Rhodes offers some of his pieces for free on https://sound-
cloud.com/jrhodespianist
His latest album is „Inside Tracks”.

[The German version of this article was first published in Fränkischer Tag, 10th February 2016 and online  (paid).  This blog entry is my translation and has a few notes to explain specific German expressions]

Shakespeare in the World

William Shakespeare is one of the best known author of plays. And even if one hasn’t read or seen any of them at all, some sentences seem to be familiar, written forever in the memory of mankind. But little is known about the man who was born in Stratford, went to London to write and perform his genius plays, retired to Stratford where he died. We can only imagine that he hat books important for his work, that he had friends to chat with and that he had some belongings dear to his heart. What remained of his life are property transactions, a marriage license bond or christening records.

Stephen Greenblatt gets behind these documents and brings the human being behind the genius  that was William Shakespeare to life. Though Shakespeare imagined worlds while creating his plays, he always was very aware of the real world: “Shakespeare understood his world in the way that we understand our world – his experiences, like ours, were mediated by whatever stories and images were available to him”, Greenblatt writes. Stories he may have read or heard while sitting in a pub, listening and watching the people around him, stories he needed for his plays, hints that are visible in his work as Greenblatt explains his reader.

“How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
seem to me all the uses of the world!” Hamlet, I,2.

But, according to Greenblatt, we find more of Shakespeare’s own feelings and his grief about the death of his boy, the 11 year old Hamnet. Although  it took him a few years (maybe he had to recover from the loss of his boy), Shakespeare managed to “respond with the deepest expression of his being” and gifted the world with “Hamlet” – playing the ghost himself.

“Will in the World” is an entertaining read filled with countless references to Shakespeare’s work but without any educative tone. Those who want to read more get pages of bibliographical notes for further studies.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Stephen Greenblatt: Will in the World, Norton, 14£/12€

Sherlock – The Abominable Bride

When learning about a Sherlock special to be aired round Christmas, the speculations where afoot. A special! Not only way ahead of series 4 that will be aired some when on 2017 but a sort of stand alone episode settled in Victorian London! How would this fit into the beloved Sherlock situated in our times in London, with the beloved sociopath using every new gadget including the internet of course to help him finding the solution of his cases?

To be honest: Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat not only created a good film that was entertainment. It was full of hints both to the original canon and the genius Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who created perhaps the most famous detective who has never lived and who will never die. It was also a bow to the fans offering them lots of hints to previous episodes. All in all “The Abominable Bride” was a fantastic ride, although settled in an area without modern day’s stress and hectic but with cabs instead of taxis or the tube, with letters and telegrams instead of text messages or emails, that didn’t lose the dynamic that is one of the defining parts of BBC’s modern Sherlock. Together with the brilliant cast and crew that put all their love and abilities into every single scene, this episode has everything the fandom wanted. And so much more.

So it’s Doctor Strange then

“I’m never bored”, John Watson says to Mycroft when asked what it is like living with his brother Sherlock. The same is true for Benedict Cumberbatch’s fans: When the actor isn’t busy solving crimes as the highly functioning sociopath who will be back in the special “The Abominable Bride” on New Year’s Day on BBC One he dives into all kind of topics – and takes the Cumbercollective on a fantastic trip into the unknown.

On that trip we  learned about Enigma and the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park when Benedict played Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”. In  “Black Mass” we found ourselves in Boston in the 1970s where Benedict as William Bulger is not only a senator but also the brother of the criminal Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp). We read William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (again) to prepare for Benedict’s performance at the Barbican earlier this year. Luckily this was not only a once in a lifetime experience but another step in the career of that amazing actor who will be Richard III in the second series of BBC Two’s “The Hollow Crown” to be aired some when in 2016. (Because it’s a three part series, better prepare for it and read Henry VI and Richard III.).

And so it’s Doctor Strange then. A fictional superhero who protects earth from mysterious villains with the help of his own magical abilities – at least that is what I have learned so far. But it’s still time for diving into the unknown world of Marvel, open a new door and proving the fact that Benedict is just fantastic.

Doctor Strange will be released in the UK on 28th October.

Prof Alan Turing decoded

What is the point in writing another biography of Alan Turing more than 60 years after his death? And what can be really new when you know Andrew Hodges’ “Enigma” which is both a thrilling approach to the professional life of the man who helped breaking the German Enigma code in the Second World War and an look inside the man who wasn’t allowed to live and love as a homosexual man in the UK of the 50s?

The point is that the author Dermot Turing, is Alan’s nephew and although he has never met his uncle, he takes the reader with “Prof – Alan Turing decoded” inside the Turing family, presenting not only pictures you may not have seen before but also letters and notes scribbled by Alan when thinking about his work (which makes me wonder how his third notebook which was sold at an auction earlier this year may look like. ) Although the book is – as always when it comes to very specific scientific topics – not always an easy read. But even if you don’t have the brain of a mathematician  or a computer expert, you’ll can’t help but to be in awe of a man who apparently was awkward and brilliant as a codebreaker in Bletchley Park and as the father of the computer age, somehow way ahead of his time and down to earth in a stunningly pragmatic way.

“He was a strange character, a very reserved sort, but he mixed in with everyone quite well.”

A way that wasn’t always an easy one to cope with. Imagine Alan at your door at any time of day without any notice to announce his visit or him walking away when he found a conversation boring. But he easily connected with children whom he met on equal levels and talked seriously about such things as if God could catch a cold when he sat on wet grass.

“Prof” is a biography about a man “who had something special which the rest of us do not”. It is worth reading.

 

Dermot Turing: Prof – Alan Turing decoded. A biography. The history press, about 20€/ 16£.

Further reading:
Alan Turing – his work and impact.

London and her tube

Honestly, there are lots of things that I find fascinating when it comes to London and I’m not sure where to start or to continue considering my previous blog entry . But what about London’s underground, the tube?  After all you may need it just at the beginning of your trip when you are heading to central London from one of the airports. Do yourself – and others – a favour and get yourself an oyster card. You can buy it at the airport or online when you are planning your trip and feel like a Londoner.  The card is rechargeable which will help you ease your London bug – the feeling to come back to the city. And recharging the card is very fast and easily done at lots of tube stations.

Have your oyster card ready

Make sure you have your oyster card at hand when approaching the entrance, so you just have to hold it on top of the yellow button and cause no delay. Remember: Londoners are busy, they normally are not on holiday as you are, so get out of their way and stand on the side when you need to check your way on your tube map. Hint: there are maps inside every station. Just make sure you know where you want to travel, head to the platform which fits your destination (south or eastbound for example) and: stand on the right when using the escalators! Londoners really do this no matter what and honestly it’s quite interesting looking around and reading ads while getting to your platform.

Once your train has arrived, do allow the passengers to get out of it before you get inside. All the passengers. Don’t stand directly in front of the door, nobody is able to leave if you silly tourist are blocking everything. And you will block everything especially when you have a suitcase or a large bag with you. Or both. Enter the train and really do move inside. Don’t block the doors by standing too near, try to find a place to stand quite comfy or get a seat. And: Mind the Gap!

 

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