Monday, March 09, 2009

When Harry Became Henry

Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" was playing at the student center at the best possible time. It was junior year, and I had switched to English as my major. I was in the obligatory Shakespeare course, focused on the tragedies and historicals. We had just finished our exams for Henry IV and Henry V where we had to identify text and write about it. So, watching this movie - we laughed loudly at the witty wordplay we now understood and quoted St Cripin's Day speech and other key parts along with the actors.

I've read and seen a number of his Shakespearean plays, but I love "Henry V" for its diverse content. When it begins, King Henry is just young Prince Harry who hangs out at the pub with the rowdy bunch, not interested in being King. His father's not sure what to make of him. He's sent to lead the English army into France. At the Battle of Agincourt, the English army is depleted and weary. Henry makes the most invigorating inspirational speech to strengthen the men's spirits. There's another act written in French between Katherine and her maid, who tries to teach her English. The final act is the most romantic scene ever as Henry woos her in clumsy French and English.

We watched this movie bring the war alive. This was 1989, and we hadn't really seen any actual blood and guts scenes on film like this before. Now we have "Braveheart", "Saving Private Ryan," and "Lord of the Rings" for comparison for battle scenes, and the slurpy sound of a sword plunging into a gut has become de rigeur for war films.

There are two absolutely memorable scene for me. The first is the St Crispin's Day speech. My God, a King comes down to his men right before a battle, and says that he who stands beside me will be my brother. Do you realize how huge that is? He says that we're all going to be legends, and and people will remember everyone's name. He refers to himself as "Harry the King," as if that's just a job to him. He reminds them of the importance of their mission and the value of their lives. He gives them hope that they will survive and grow to be old and talk about this day. (Do our leaders today do that?)

Branagh channels a truel leader as King Harry addressing his weak army; the way the music swells gives me chills to this day. Here's a site to watch the speech and read the full speech .

The second scene I love is the final scene between Katherine and Henry (Link1, Link2). He starts off being humble "Fair Katharine, and most fair, Will you vouchsafe to teach a soldier terms Such as will enter at a lady's ear And plead his love-suit to her gentle heart?" Then he starts referring to her as Kate, releasing any formality. He acknowledges the language barrier with his broken French.

I love his argument when she says no to his request for a kiss because it is not proper for a French lady. He reminds her "Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate." Had I dated royalty in college, would he have used this line?

This movie is sweaty, grimey, romantic, alive and explosive. And, it's Shakespeare on top of that!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Walking in Memphis

Last week I went to Memphis, TN for work. After a couple of days of meetings and conference calls, we did have the schedule open up in the afternoon. So we ran downtown. We have to see the mighty Mississippi!
First of all, I'm fascinated by the southern culture. I've been working with people from various parts of the country lately, and more are from the South. I find the South exotic. Waiters call me "sweetheart" when they refill my glass. An application developer replies to a client's questions with "Yes, Ma'am" and "No, Sir." Baked beans and overcooked greens are side dishes. And, if something can be fried, it will be. Cows are sacred in India. Pigs are sacred in the South, but for different reasons. Their cute faces adorn many barbecue joints. The tighter and greasier the dive, the better the ribs (or so I've been told).
We had lunch at Morgan Freeman's restaurant and blues club, Ground Zero. I saw fried green tomatoes on the menu and I knew we had to go. I've never eaten anything like this before - crispy cornmeal rounds and the tomatoes just melt when you bite into them! They had "Mississippi Cavier," which was a salsa of black eyed peas.
We made our way to the Peabody Hotel. Yes, we saw the famous Peabody ducks floating in the fountain. The hotel itself was exquisite. In the days of cookie-cutter Marriots and Hiltons, it was refreshing to step into a building of classic architecture and luxury. However, let me warn you about the gift shops. What started as a simple hotel attraction with some stray ducks in the fountain has bloomed into a thriving business. Any item with a duck on it is sold in the hotel. For example, beautiful hand blown wine glasses with a colorful mallard on the stem retails for $90. So tempting, but not this time.
We stopped by the Cotton Museum and the curator had lots of stories to share about local culture and events; they filmed "The Firm" in this building. After realizing we weren't going to take the short tour of the museum, he suggested we hop on the Riverfront trolley and take a ride through Memphis.
Overall, we have a mixed impression of Memphis. FedEx seems to own the city with the huge convention center, airport, and highways. University of Memphis Pyramid Arena in the middle of the city certainly does make you say, "Hmm.." The city is certainly coming up with all the hotels being built as well as the gorgeous homes along the riverfront. The trolley took us past the National Civil Rights Museum, which was built on the site of Martin Luther King's assassination.
We crossed the river into Arkansas, just so we could say we did. We took the first exit and came back to Memphis.
We wanted to go to Graceland, but we didn't have time. Later, I learned my father felt very strongly about Graceland, and thought every American should see it because of the historical nature of it. My father also happened to witness the Peabody Ducks march.