By Grabthar’s Hammer, my top five favorite Alan Rickman movies

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I had every intention of writing a post today about Shakespeare, but with the sad news of the passing of Alan Rickman, I thought I’d pay tribute to him instead. I cannot but help admire the man . He was one of those rare actors that made the craft look easy, yet there was always depth to what he did. Because of his voice and his subtle mannerisms, it was always hard to take my eyes off him when he was on screen. What can I say about the man who transitioned from the villainous Snape to the comically depressed Marvin the robot with such ease and grace? He will be missed & we shan’t see his like again.

Here are my top five favorite Alan Rickman’s movies in descending order:

Galaxy quest Dr. Lazarus

I didn’t get a chance to see Galaxy Quest on the big screen, in fact I don’t remember how I even found the movie. But I do remember it was one of my son’s favorite movies. The movie was released in 1999, which would’ve made my son four years old. This is the age in which children can sit and watch a movie over and over again. My son was no different; I cannot count how many times I’ve seen this movie or heard it as background noise. But it never got old. Ironically Rickman played an actor who was sick of being typecast and had little use for his fans.

Rickman could have easily played the role as an insufferable jerk, but instead you felt for him and understood his dislike of the box he found himself in. Though Galaxy Quest was a silly comedy, Rickman was able to induce pathos into his character. You couldn’t help but be moved when Dr. Lazarus finally found his humanity when he embraced his alien counterpart. By Grabthar’s Hammer you will be missed!

Die Hard Hans Gruber

I don’t usually pay attention to villains in movies; I find them one-dimensional and flat. But there was something about Gruber that mesmerized me. Was it is voice, his face, His mannerisms? It was all that and more. In the hands of Rickman, Gruber came to life; I believed him to be evil and I believed every damn word he said. To be honest I thought he was the best thing about that movie.

Sense and sensibility   Col. Brandon

Ahh, here’s a secret about me. Normally I dislike l what we term “chick flicks”. I find them to be stale and wholly on believable, yet turn on Sense and Sensibility and I’m quiet for two hours (okay, I don’t cry quietly). There is nothing about this movie I don’t love. It’s the movie that made me fall in love with Alan Rickman. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the movie came out about the same time I finally learned that it was better to fall in love with nice guys, and what better nice guy than Col. Brandon? Once again Rickman found himself playing a role that in any other hands could have been portrayed  flat and one-dimensional yet we can all agree Brandon’s smile at his wedding put a smile on our faces. We the audience felt for him and were happy for him.

Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy Marvin the depressed robot

I really, really wanted to love this film, but I also knew that it was going to disappoint me. I don’t think any director could have successfully pulled off adapting Adams’ wildly popular book into a movie to everyone’s satisfaction, but I think Garth Jennings really screwed it up for everyone. The only two things that make this movie worth watching are Martin Freeman and Alan Rickman. Rickman’s voice was perfect for the role of a depressed higher intelligent being. He was so good that now, anytime a robot of any mental state opens it’s mouth and speaks, I’m disappointed to hear it’s not Rickman. Whenever I find myself thinking or saying depressing thoughts I hear Rickman’s voice and it makes me giggle and my negative thoughts float away. Thank you sir for that gift.

Harry Potter Prof. Snape

I’m not sure I have the words to express just how perfectly Rickman embodied this role. It’s hard to believe Rowling didn’t write this character with Rickman in mind. It’s never easy to take up the challenge of bringing a much beloved (okay, loved to be hated) and popular book character to life, yet Rickman became Snape and quickly made us realize there is no one else on the earth that could have pulled this off. Why Rickman never won an Oscar for this role I’ll never understand. Shame on the Academy for not recognizing Rickman’s genius performance of Snape.

Thank you Mr. Rickman for all the wonderful role you have played and the countless gifts of entertainment. Your star shone bright and sadly went out far to quickly. I can only hope you are now at peace. As for me, like many of your fans, I will spend the day not mourning but celebrating your body of work. Well done sir, well done. Metatron, your work is now complete.

David Garrick & the fall of bombastic acting

Garrick as Richard III
Garrick as Richard III

When you think of great Shakespearean actors, who comes to mind? I think of Kenneth Branagh, James Earl Jones (is there a better Lear?), Lawrence Olivier, Helen Mirren and Tom Huddleston. Each of these actors, when on stage, becomes the character they play. We are pulled into the drama precisely because of this. Modern audiences are accustomed to players who bring fiction to life; we would be disappointed by actors who just recited lines. There a term for this type of acting, “phoning it in”. “Hamming it up” is a derogatory term we use for those who do the opposite by overacting with exaggerated body language and lines. But, would you be surprised to learn this wasn’t always the case? Prior to 1740, this type of acting was the norm.

Jack Lynch, author of Becoming Shakespeare, offers readers a look into the history of how Shakespeare came to be regarded as the world’s greatest playwright. Lynch introduces us to the people behind the making of Shakespeare into the Bard we know and love today.

An interesting part of this story is the history of the theater and those who acted in it. We are introduced to several colorful characters whose popularity helped fuel the desire for Shakespeare’s work long after he created them.

One of these colorful characters was David Garrick, the first Shakespearean superstar. Garrick’s rise to fame was a result of his break with contemporary acting. Garrick would change audience expectations, and forever change what would be considered “acting”.

Before Garrick, actors were bombastic and flamboyant in both speech and mannerism. Acting was nothing more than reciting lines as loudly as possible with exaggerated body language. This was due in part because they had to carry their voices across the theater, and partly because being bombastic was considered “acting”. It never occurred to anyone to do anything else.

 

Garrick as Hamlet
Garrick as Hamlet

Garrick arrived on the London stage scene in 1740, having failed in his family’s wine trade. Garrick knew he was no businessman, and had always fantasized about acting. The Goodman’s Fields Theater in London gave him a chance; what we would term an “off-Broadway” theater company today. Garrick was given the star role in Richard III and was an instant hit, or at least, an instant sensation, as his unconventional methods would prove to be controversial.

Garrick abandoned traditional acting methods mentioned above. Instead, he appeared to feel the emotions he was portraying. One contemporary said of his style. “He is the only man on any stage where I have been, who speaks tragedy true and natural”. This “natural” approach to acting would revolutionize London’s theaters forever.

Not all audience members however appreciated this new style. Many felt Garrick was no “actor” and thought him a disservice to the theater. Henry Fielding satirized the uproar in a very funny scene in he novel Tom Jones. In the scene, Jones takes his servant Partridge to see Hamlet. Partridge having never been to the theater, mistakes Hamlet’s reaction to his father’s ghost as a real emotion. Later, when asked about the actor playing Hamlet, Partridge replies, “He’s the best player?! Why I could act as well as he myself. I am sure if I had seen a ghost, I should have looked in the same manner, and done just as he did”. Partridge points out that the King, a more bombastic player was the real actor on stage.

Thankfully the majority of theatergoers did not agree with Partridge’s sentiments. Garrick won over audiences and because of him we expect our actors to be natural. Garrick and his successors would bring new life into Shakespeare and helped created the emotional Shakespearean tone we know today.

 

For the fun of it.

In the course of a conversation this week with Professor Rosenblum, a noted Shakespearean scholar at the University of North Carolina, the subject of bombastic acting came up. Professor Rosenblum asked me if I had seen an episode of the Blackadder, in which two Shakespearean actors give the prince “acting “lessons. I had not, but eagerly sought it out after being told the episode makes fun of the bombastic style of acting and mentions Garrick. I found this clip, though the sound quality is poor, headphones may be required, so that you my dear readers can see just how far we have come thanks to Garrick and his “natural” style of acting.

 

 

 

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

Jack Lynch, Becoming Shakespeare