Hadestown Album Comparison

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I first discovered the folk opera Hadestown a couple of years ago when I was researching the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, one of the favorites, and found that there was a concept album based on this story. The album was available for listening on YouTube and I was instantly obsessed. Unlike your typical concept album, there are different singers playing the different characters in the story. It feels like the cast recording of a musical and my first thought was that there should be a stage production. Sure enough, there was one in New York but it came and went before I had the chance to see it. So I looked up everything I could find of the production online which was tantalizingly little. Then it was announced a few months ago that a cast recording was to be released and I quickly pre-ordered it off of iTunes and waited for the whole thing to be available with a track released every few weeks to wet my appetite.  

For the purpose of comparison, I am going to go through each track on both of the albums, some of which overlap, and give my thoughts on the story and how it plays out in each version. The original concept album will be referred to as “H” while the cast recording will be referred to as “C”.

C begins with a song called Road to Hell which sets up the setting: a vaguely Great Depression era American south or midwest cum mythological Greece. It also introduces some of the divine players in the story about to unfold, Hermes, the messenger god who acts at the show’s narrator, the Fates, who control the destiny of mortals, and Persephone, queen of the underworld and goddess of spring, and how a young mortal named Orpheus will try to cheat death because of love. H gets right into introducing the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice (Anaïs Mitchell, the songwriter behind Hadestown and Justin Vernon of the band Bon Iver). It’s first track, aptly titled Wedding Song, tells of how Orpheus and Eurydice wish to get married. Eurydice is concerned about how they are going to support themselves but the happy-go-lucky Orpheus assures her that everything will work out for them.

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Road to Hell introduces the story’s themes such as fate and undying love while Wedding Song sets up the struggles that our sweethearts, Orpheus and Eurydice, will face. As Road to Hell says “It was hard times,” which is bad news for our romantic poet Orpheus, who seems like the kind of guy who is very good at wooing a girl but is perhaps not as good at being a husband and provider.

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The second tracks of H and C paint different pictures of the world up above. Livin’ It Up On Top presents the world outside of Hadestown as fruitful, summery, and idyllic. Persephone feels stifled by her marriage to Hades and her life in Hadestown and only feels like she can be herself during the six months of the year she is allowed to spend with the living, who appear to be enjoying themselves greatly and appreciate nature’s bounty.

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While Epic I, which features in both versions, portrays the mortal world in a much bleaker light. Like Road to Hell, it provides the imagery of a railroad line, acting as a River Styx bringing people to the underworld or Hadestown, built by the lost souls who have come under Hades’s sway. The only alternative to starvation and poverty is body crushing drudgery and soul-crushing conformity in Hadestown. We also see Orpheus’s idealism in Livin’ It Up On Top. He values independence over money and is distrustful of those who take more than their fair share and seek to enrich themselves at the expense of others, an attitude which will later put him in conflict with Hades. Way Down Hadestown, which also appears in each version, shows that the world that characters live in is a tough one, so tough that people are willing to sell their souls to Hades to be able to survive.  We also begin to see a disconnect between Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus wants nothing to do with Hadestown and see it as a literal hell-hole but Eurydice is intrigued by its promise of a better life. 

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An interesting adaptation change is that Eurydice’s verses about how great things must be in Hadestown are sung by the fates in the C version, and Eurydice sings her line “Kinda makes you wonder how it feels” in response as if the fates are influencing her later decisions.

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In All I’ve Ever Known, we see that Eurydice’s life has seen a lot of hardship and her love for Orpheus has made her feel more optimistic. Much like in Wedding Song, Orpheus assures his lover that they can face anything as long as they are together. The world around them may be bleak and tough but their love is one of its few bright spots.

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The song Chant in C tracks the passage of time from idyllic summer to harsh winter as well as the souring of the two relationships we see in the story: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone. Hades tries his hardest to please his wayward wife with elaborate gestures but Persephone misses the simpler times back when they were first married and Eurydice is frustrated with Orpheus’s inability to provide for them.

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The desperate and vulnerable Eurydice is easy prey for Hades who is compared to rattlesnake going after a songbird. The imagery of a songbird paints Eurydice as flighty and unable to handle hardship since birds tend to fly away to a warmer climate during the winter.  Hey, Little Song Bird shows Hades luring Eurydice away from Orpheus and her hand to mouth existence. 

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When the Chips are Down is sung by the fates who are trying to convince Eurydice to accept Hades’s offer. In H they come across as mean girls who are mocking Eurydice for her bad life decisions whereas, in C, they are older and more cynical figures influencing the young and naive Eurydice to put her own survival ahead of everything else.

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The C version of Wait for Me features Orpheus looking for Eurydice and being chastised by Hermes for losing track of her. Orpheus convinces Hermes to give him directions on how to get to Hadestown and rescue Eurydice. Despite the hiccups in their relationship, Orpheus’s love for Eurydice is strong enough to see him through to Hell and back.

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Why We Build the Wall gives a closer look at how things operate in Hadestown. The lost souls who end up there are put to work building a wall that they are made to believe will keep out poverty and hardship. This song is in a call and response format with Hades drilling his followers in the tenants of his ideology: that they must build a wall around Hadestown to keep out those who wish to come in and take what they have. Sounds familiar?  The C version shows Eurydice going into Hades’s office and giving him her soul and possibly more. 

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In Our Lady of the Underground, Persephone undermines her husband’s operation by providing his employees with things that will help them forget about their drab existence at a secret speakeasy. This is set up earlier in Way Down Hadestown when Persephone mentions that she is bringing drugs and alcohol back with her to help her get through the winter. The crack in the wall mentioned by Persephone in Our Lady of the Underground is a representation of the flaws in the system that Persephone and Orpheus try to exploit.

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Eurydice begins to regret her decision to come to Hadestown and describes her journey there in Flowers (Eurydice’s Song), which features in H, using imagery suggestive of drug intoxication and being sexually assaulted. The vague nature of her memories of her previous life with Orpheus shows that they have begun to fade. C shows Eurydice’s realization that things in Hadestown are not all she expected in Way Down Hadestown II. Persephone and the fates mock her for her naivety and for getting conned by Hades out of her freedom and her life.

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The fates similarly mock Orpheus in Nothing Changes in H, by saying that he is foolish for believing he can cheat death and rescue Eurydice. This plays out differently in C, with Chant II, where Hades tells the recently arrived Orpheus that he was once an idealistic and romantic young man like him but learned that women are fickle and need to be placated with expensive things.

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Persephone has a similar talk with Eurydice about how she was once a young girl hungry for wealth but learned that love was more important. Hades asks Orpheus to sing him one last song before he destroys him. In H, this song is called If Its True, where Orpheus tries to gain Hades’s pity by singing of how hopeless he feels without Eurydice. C has him use a different tactic: reminding Hades of how he fell in love with Persephone and how all the wealth he has cannot compare with that love in Epic II, which appears later on in H.

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Each version gives us a scene where Hades pounders what do in the situation: either keep Eurydice and feel bad about it or let her go and look weak and undermine his power. H has a song called How Long where Persephone tries to persuade her husband to free Eurydice and let her be with Orpheus but he fears that doing so will make him lose his authority. In the C version, Word to the Wise, the fates get Hades to come to this conclusion, making them arguably the true villains of the story. Hades has one more trick left to play. He allows Orpheus to leave with Eurydice under the condition that he is not allowed to look back.

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Orpheus and Eurydice get a duet in C called Promises where they decide that despite everything that has happened, they still love each other and want to be together. The frequent use of the phrases “I do” and “I will” are reminiscent of wedding vows. Wait for Me has a reprise in C where Persephone is about to leave again for her spring and summer sojourn outside of Hadestown. She and Hades decide to give their marriage a second chance when she returns in the fall. Hades and Persephone are a foil to Orpheus and Eurydice. The mistakes they have made are ones that the younger couple should learn from. Both couples, despite the ups and downs they have gone through, have a strong love and a strong bond.

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H skips right to Doubt Comes In which appears at roughly the same point in each version. It’s the classic scene where Orpheus leads Eurydice out of the underworld, forbidden to look back upon her. The main difference in C is that part of Orpheus’s verses are sung by the fates, who are making Orpheus suspicious of Eurydice and begin to falter in his determination.

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C ends with a reprise of Road to Hell and H ends with a song called I  Raise My Cup to Him where Eurydice and Persephone toast Orpheus in a reverse eulogy, the dead praise and celebrate the living. Road to Hell II ends the story on a brighter note: spring returns and the love between Orpheus and Eurydice survived despite their separation. Those who are familiar with Greek Mythology will know that they will eventually be reunited in Elysium after Orpheus’s death.

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I would highly recommend both versions. The music is beautiful and poetic and the story is nuanced and compelling. But here’s a warning: it’s ending will destroy you emotionally. I think the stage production sounds very well done with all the performers doing a fantastic job. The actor who plays Orpheus, Damon Daunno, has a gorgeous voice and Amber Grey is hysterical as Persephone. Nabiyah Be, who plays Eurydice, is great as well though I prefer Anaïs Mitchell in the original concept album, whose honey and graham crackers voice gives the character a naive quality. I regret not being able to see this production live.

 

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Bag Girl Reviews: Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

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I was first exposed to the Outlander series because my mom and my neighbor Michelle watched Starz television adaptation, a ritual to which I was cordially not invited. For this reason, I jokingly called Outlander their “mummy porn.”  Last summer I began renting episodes of season one through YouTube and was quickly hooked, so much so that I had my mom buy me the first two books, Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber.  The third in the series, Voyager, was among the books I received for Christmas and I had planned on reading it while I was on my Bermuda cruise, but was prevented to because Mom would not allow me to bring my tablet, which contains the audiobook I listen along with. So I continued reading it when I returned.

Voyager begins in 1968, twenty years after the end of Dragonfly in Amber. Surgeon Claire Randall travels to Scotland with her grown daughter Brianna and enlists the help of the young historian Roger Wakefield to find out what happened to Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth century Jacobite believed to have died at the battle of Culloden. Claire has spent the last twenty years with her reserved and scholarly previous husband Frank, now dead, but longs for Jamie, the man she married after a mysterious force drew her back in time two hundred years to eighteenth century Scotland and who is Brianna’s real father. With the help of Brianna and Roger, Claire is able to travel through the magical stone circle of Craigh Na Dun and return to her beloved Jamie but finds that her journey has only begun. After Jamie’s nephew, Ian is kidnapped by white slavers, the saga of Claire and Jamie brings us to the exotic and brutal world of colonial Jamaica.

Each of the Outlander novels are ambitious and expansive and Voyager is the most so, running in at over a thousand pages but is a page turner of the first class. Despite now being middle aged, Claire and Jamie still have their sizzling chemistry. The book is an enjoyable adventure, perfect for a voyage of your own.

Bag Girl Reviews: The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

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In the wake of the smash hit Broadway musical Hamilton, several historical fiction novels have come out which tell the story of the revolutionary it couple Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler, a long overlooked founding mother now reinvented as the ultimate romantic heroine. The first of such books was The Hamilton Affair by author and historian Elizabeth Cobbs.

The story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler has all the ingredients for the perfect period romance: an unlikely couple including a dashing and ambitious hero clawing his way up from the bottom and a beautiful and spirited heroine from a wealthy family, a whirlwind wartime romance, and plenty of scandal and appearances from well known historical figures. But I admit that I could not get into The Hamilton Affair.  Many of the elements of the plot have their basis in historical fact but I did not enjoy them from a storytelling point of view.

My first problem with the story is the portrayal of Eliza and her sister Angelica. Eliza starts off as an outdoorsy tomboy who is uninterested in what is expected of an upper-class eighteenth-century girl. Her real life counterpart was said to be something of a tomboy and enjoyed being outdoors but was also skilled in everything a colonial woman was supposed to know such as sewing and housekeeping.  I have no problem with a girl being a tomboy but it’s a cheap and cliched way of making a female character from a different time period seem down to earth and relatable to modern audiences. In contrast, her older sister Angelica is portrayed as a vain and pretentious ninny who is only interested in finding a husband. Eliza is jealous of her beauty and charm and is dismissive of her. Angelica is used as a foil to Eliza in both The Hamilton Affair and Hamilton. While Eliza in Hamilton is gentle and demure, Angelica is feisty and outspoken. While Eliza in The Hamilton Affair is sensible and down-to-earth, Angelica is vain and flighty. Although both sisters were very different in real-life (Eliza was domestic and unpretentious and Angelica was a glamorous social butterfly) they were very close all their lives. One of the things that I appreciate about Hamilton is that though Angelica and Eliza are presented as foils and both love the same man, they are not pitted against each other; Angelica chooses her relationship with her sister over her feelings for Alexander. Angelica is not my favorite of the Schuyler sisters (I think her character in Hamilton is overrated and find Eliza more interesting), I think she deserves better than she gets in The Hamilton Affair.

The second problem is that I know and do like what is going to happen. Those who are familiar with Hamilton will know that the title character cheats on his wife with the younger, hotter Maria Reynolds. This is a part of the story I usually like to skip over because I am rooting for Alexander and Eliza as a couple. I am not interested in Alexander’s so called moral dilemma and do not feel sorry for him one bit when his life falls apart because of it.

And finally, I do not like how easily Alexander is let off for what he did. The Hamilton Affair excuses his infidelity with the old “he’s only human” justification. Eliza eventually gets over it, though she is tempted by an Iroquois Indian man she had a crush on as a teenager,  and it’s framed as she needs to be the better person and forgive rather than he needs to do something to earn her forgiveness. The book buys into the idea that men cannot control their baser urges and women should be “the better person” and forgive them when they err and god forbid they give the cheating son of a bitch a taste of his own medicine . That may have been how people in this time period though but it annoys me from a modern perspective. For a woman like Eliza, sticking with her husband and patching things up with him would have been her best and most realistic option but I imagine that doing so isn’t easy. Forgiving and moving on is not as easy as simply getting over it.  While in Hamilton, Eliza symbolically cuts her philandering husband out of her life by burning the letters she wrote to him, thus erasing all the proof of her feelings for him. When their son, Philip, dies in a duel, this shared tragedy brings them back together. Alexander has to suffer to earn his wife’s forgiveness, which is more satisfying from a narrative standpoint.

I imagine that some people might enjoy The Hamilton Affair if they are not as puritanical and judgmental as I am when it comes to adultery but I think that it pales in comparison to the musical it is riding on the coattails of.

Bag Girl Reviews: Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Without a Country by Kathyrn Lasky

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Growing up, Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country was an entry in the Royal Diaries series that I always wanted to read but never got a chance to. When I reread Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles last fall, I decided to purchase Queen Without a Country off of Amazon. 

Eleven-year-old Mary Stuart believes that she is destined to rule three countries. By birth, she is Queen of Scotland and she is arranged to marry the heir to the French throne, the frail but good natured Francis. Those around her say that she has a better claim to the English throne than its current occupant. But being a beautiful young royal growing up in the renaissance French court is not the fairy tale one might imagine. Mary and her loyal clique of ladies in waiting, all named Mary (this gets a little confusing at times, I can understand why Reign changed this but did they have to give them such preposterous names as Lola, Greer, Kenna, and Aylee) have to deal with spies and political intrigue, a pedophilic music teacher, and Mary’s treacherous and prickly mother-in-law to be, Catherine de Medici.

I always get a kick out of when I find surprisingly adult elements in books intended for children, such as Signor Marcellini, the music master who comes onto Mary Fleming, the real life counterpart to Reign’s Lola. One needs to keep in mind that Mary and her ladies are supposed to around eleven or twelve and girls in the sixteenth century were considered sexually mature around that age so that by the standards of the time, Signor Marcellini would not be considered a pedophile.  

Like I said with Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, this book is meant for elementary and middle school aged readers and comes across as somewhat juvenile to me at this point in my life, but I probably would have enjoyed when I was younger. The setting of the highly refined sixteenth-century French court is fascinating and like with Reign, it is meant to be escapism. Many young girls enjoyed fantasizing about being a beautiful princess, wearing gorgeous clothes, and having exciting things happen to you, I know I did. And if there is a historical setting, all the better.  

Bag Girl Reviews: Reign Season 4

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Perhaps the most egregious television shows I can think of is the C.W series Reign, based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. The story lines are cliched and melodramatic and give only the slightest nod to the history it is supposed to be based on, the acting is hoaky and terrible, the costumes range from looking like tacky prom dresses to looking like school play costumes. It’s characters behave like your typical C.W style spoiled brats and it’s thin veneer of political drama comes second to bed hopping and petulant rivalries. But the strangest thing is that I got caught up in the show and have a strange soft spot for it.  It is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. As an aspiring writer and a  lover of history who appreciates historical accuracy and artistic integrity, enjoying this pandering trash makes me feel like a hypocrite. If shows like Downton Abbey, Poldark, and Outlander are like a fine chocolate truffle, Reign is the television equivalent of eating a dozen pixie stixs. You know it is crap and bad for you and that there are better things out there, but sometimes you just need the hollow rush.

In this final season, Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) struggles to find her footing as the Catholic ruler of Protestant Scotland and makes a politically advantageous to Lord Darnley (Will Kemp) who tries to undermine her authority as queen. Her rivalry with Elizabeth I of England (Rachel Skarsten) escalates to an outright grudge match. Meanwhile back in France, Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows) tries to protect her increasingly unstable son Charles IX (Spencer MacPherson).

Poor Adelaide Kane is completely out of her depth as Mary, Queen of Scots. She is trying to be a dignified and queenly figure but comes across more as an overindulged little girl. Rachel Skarsten reads as more of a Regina George style alpha bitch in the role of Elizabeth I than the brilliant and pragmatic politician Elizabeth really was. Both are presented as strong, independent women in a man’s world but, in reality, are little more than the bitchy combatants in a soap opera catfight.

The best performance is given by Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici who is brilliant and steals the show.

There are a lot of bad things you can say about Reign. It is silly fluff and emblematic of the shallowness of the entertainment industry, mostly in how it thinks it needs to sacrifice authenticity in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. My opinion is that if you are going to make a film or television series involving some sort of history, the people who are most likely going to watch it are those who are interested in history, and you should not alienate that demographic. There is a terrible misconception that history is boring and not relevant to people today and this is not a mid set we should encourage or pander to. I find that history is fascinating enough without being turned into a costume ball version of Pretty Little Liars.

Bag Girl Reviews: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber

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If  Marie Antoinette’s legacy is as anything, it is as a fashion icon and a symbol of luxury and decadence. Her name and image has been used to conjure up visions of girly excess: cake, shoes, and elaborate and towering hairstyles. In her own time, France’s doomed last queen used her style choices to forge her own identity, which Caroline Weber explores in her book Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution.

As a member of the rigidly formal and etiquette controlled court of Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s clothing choices were limited. She was expected to lead a shy and retiring life and let a de Pompadour or du Barry hog the limelight, but this was not diva queen bee Antoinette’s style. With the help of the pioneering fashion designer Rose Bertin and her trusty hairdresser, Monsieur Léonard, Marie Antoinette created her own iconic look which provoked outrage as well as legions of imitators. Weber describes each of the fashion trends that Marie Antoinette helped launch, from the fabulously gaudy pouf to the scandalously revealing chemise à la reine, and how her reign as “queen of fashion” coincided with the birth of what we would know as France’s couture industry.

For someone of Marie Antoinette’s status, what you wore was political as well as personal. To wear an elaborate court costume complete with tower pouf, was to be seen as frivolous and uncaring about the plight of the poor; the powder which covered the wigs of the aristocracy was said to be made from flour stolen from hungry peasants. On the other hand, wearing a chemise à la reine and frolicking like a Rousseau inspired Shepherdess was seen as behaving in way which was unseemly for a queen and anti-french; the muslin from which a chemise à la reine was made being a foreign import. Colors, trimmings, and accessories were loaded with meanings which you ignored at your peril. Marie Antoinette, and her instantly recognizable wardrobe, were a fixture of both the burgeoning fashion press and seditious political pamphlets and cartoons. Her poufs and chemises became to epitomize all that was wrong with her and the world she represented.

Caroline Weber has an obvious enjoyment of both history and fashion which comes across in the book, which is well written and engaging, as side from a couple of language ticks which bugged me for some reason. She over uses the words “sartorial” and “ci-devant”; if you were to take a drink every time those phrases appear, you would quickly pass out.

Bag Girl Reviews: Farewell My Queen

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Since I’ve been on kind of a Marie Antoinette kick this summer, I decided to revisit a film I’ve heard a good deal about and first watched about a year ago. What inspired me to check it out was that Frock Flicks did a review of it this week and talked about the “creative liberties” taken with its costumes and plot.

Based on a novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, Farewell My Queen follows Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) on the eve of the French Revolution and the final days of life at the Palace of Versailles. Sidonie works as a reader to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), to whom she is fanatically devoted. The Queen enlists Sidonie in a plot to help her hated favorite, the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), flee the country.

Farewell My Queen is wonderfully atmospheric and goes into depth about the intricacies of life at Versailles. As a reader or lectrice, Sidonie is pretty much a servant who works behind the scenes and does not live in the luxury we associate with the fabled palace. She is an unimportant bit player in court life and her purpose as character is to provide a point of view for the plot’s events and the trials faced by Marie Antoinette. This is what is known as an Ishmael, a Watson, or a p.o.v. character, a character through whose eyes we see a more compelling central figure.

One of the film’s most controversial additions is the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Duchess de Polignac, who are shown to have a romantic, if not sexual, bond. Historians have long speculated about the nature of the intense connection between Marie Antoinette and her close friends the Duchess de Polignac and the Princess de Lamballe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau set the fashion for passionate, quasi-romantic friendships between women with his novel Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise and the queen, princess, and duchess may have been simply following this trend, or so suggests Antonia Fraser. Frock Flicks criticized how in one scene, Marie Antoinette frankly tells Sidonie that she is “attracted” to de Polignac, saying that it was simply too frank for a person living in the 18th century, when homosexual and lesbian intercourse was illegal and modern notions of sexual orientation did not exist. Marie Antoinette often compliments Sidonie’s youthful beauty and is implied to be attracted to her as well. Unfortunately, cinema tends to use female same sex relationships simply for the purpose of male titillation. Farewell My Queen uses girl on girl sexual tension but does not go all the way with it. 

I would recommend watching Farewell My Queen, if only to get a different perspective on the well-known Marie Antoinette story.

 

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Clarissa: Book 1 by Samuel Richardson or In Defense of the Good Girl

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At around 1,431 pages, Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady beats out Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (826 pages), Bleak House by Charles Dickens (813 pages) and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (955 pages) for the title of longest book I have ever read. Such a tome seems like an overwhelming task to get through but fortunately they are often divided up into a number of sections, each a mini book in themselves. How I got through War and Peace was that I would read a section and then take a break for a few weeks and repeat until the book was finished. I am going to do the same for Clarissa.

After her grandfather dies and leaves her a large fortune, Clarissa Harlowe, a young woman of great beauty, intelligence, and virtue, is uninterested in marrying; being independently wealthy, she lacks the economic incentive to do so. She has already refused several suitors and her nouveau riche family is frustrated with her. They insist that she marry the rich but repulsive Mr. Solmes, which is partially a revenge plot by Clarissa’s greedy and envious brother and sister. Her refusal to marry the man picked out for her by her family causes them to become increasingly controlling and hostile. Clarissa’s beauty and virtue attract the notice of  Robert Lovelace, a notorious rake, who sets out to win her with offers of protection should she wish to flee her impossible situation. 

Passive and virtuous Clarissa is a heroine who would be hard for modern audiences to get behind. We like our period heroines to be rebels who stick it to the patriarchy but this does not do justice to the reality of what life was like for women in centuries past. Clarissa’s plight is an extreme example of what many women in the 18th century went through. They were considered the property of either their father or their husband and were constantly reminded that they had to be obedient. By refusing to marry Solmes, Clarissa is posing a threat to the social structure. Her parents do not relent because doing so would compromise their authority; they are pretty much a parody of the “because I said so” style of parenting. Trying to buck the system backfires on Clarissa as doing so causes her to be stripped of whatever freedom she has: walking in the garden, sending letters, and even leaving her room. The point is that Clarissa is a goody-goody who is used to playing by the rules but is conflicted when duty means sacrificing her own happiness. A genteelly brought up girl like Clarissa would be ill equipped to handle life on her own and she would be dependent on a man, which is where Lovelace comes in, who we get the feeling cannot be trusted.  

Richardson explores the helplessness of women in his society. From the time she was a child, Clarissa would have little say in own life. She would be subject to the authority of her parents and later her husband, an authority which could easily turn tyrannical and abusive. Clarissa starts off as a beloved and indulged daughter of privilege but the absolute rule of parents slowly turns her into a prisoner in their own home when she opposes them. A contemporary reader may ask why she does not stick up for herself? The answer is: she does. Clarissa finds a number of ways to snark at and rebel against her oppressors but this only serves to make life worse for her. 

The Jo Marches and Arya Starks of the world will always chaff against what society expects of them and be admired when they rebel against these expectations. But for the majority of women throughout history, this would be merely wish fulfilment fantasy. The Clarissa Harlowes of the world try their best to find their way within the system and later end up being screwed over, then criticized for being weak.

A Bag Girl Triple Feature: The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and Moana

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Part of my preparation for Jasmine’s visit was picking out movies for us to watch while she was down here. The three I chose were the 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, since we both watched the recent Hulu series, and Moana, which we saw together in theaters on my last birthday. 

I learned that there was also a film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale when I was researching the Hulu series. It follows pretty much the same story line, except it begins with the heroine’s backstory, which is told through flashbacks in the Hulu series. A young woman named Kate (Natasha Richardson) is captured trying to flee the repressive Republic of Gilead with her family and is forced to become a handmaid and bear a child for the Commander (Robert Duvall) and his wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway). She is stripped of her bodily autonomy and given the name Offred. After falling in love with the Commander’s chauffeur, Nick (Aidan Quinn), Kate, now Offred, tries to find away to escape.

The first difference of note between the Hulu series is that the heroine’s name is Kate, whereas in the series, she is called June. There is also an implication that Kate’s husband died while they were trying to flee from Gilead, while in the series, he is shown to have escaped. Much is cut out of the source material to give the film an under two hour runtime which you could fit into a two season series with ten episodes a season. The second season has not aired yet on Hulu, so I got a taste of what is to come later on. The Commander and Serena Joy are shown to be older in the 1990 version than they are in 2017 version, as I have heard they are in the source material. Faye Dunaway is an inspired to choice to play Serena Joy.

If you enjoyed the Hulu series and or the original novel by Margaret Atwell, I would recommend checking this movie out. 

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Moana was a film that I was excited to see, mostly because the music was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton. I decided to see it on my birthday, which usually is soon after Thanksgiving, Moana’s release date, at Salem Cinema with Jasmine.

Moana of Motunui (Auli’i Cravalho), a young Polynesian islander, is destined to succeed her father as Motunui’s chief but finds herself drawn to outside ocean surrounding her tiny, isolated island. When famine strikes Motunui, Moana discovers the missing heart of the goddess Te Fiti, the cause of the famine, and sets out to return it, teaming up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to save her island.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is that the animation is drop dead gorgeous, especially on the ocean, which is an anthropomorphized character in itself. The music is also brilliant; Lin Manuel Miranda definitely brings his A-game. Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington in Hamilton, is the singing voice of Moana’s father, Chief Tui. I thought that Phillipa Soo, who was the original Eliza, was the voice of Moana’s mother, but it turned out to be Nicole Scherzinger, former front woman of the Pussycat Dolls. Dwayne Johnson brings all of his charm and charisma to the role of Maui and works well with Auli’i Cravalho, a newcomer who I hope to see more of.

The was a bit of an uproar on the internet when the song City of Stars from the film La La Land beat Moana’s How Far I’ll Go for best song at the 2017 Oscars. I saw La La Land and enjoyed it but thought it was somewhat overrated and perhaps did not deserve to sweep the Oscars the way it did. Its music was good but nothing phenomenal. In my opinion, Moana, and its soundtrack by Lin Manuel Miranda was among the best of 2016.

A Bag Girl Double Feature: The Beguiled (2017) and Baby Driver

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The Beguiled is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood, in turn based on A Painted Devil, a 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. My dad rented the original film when he read that a remake was in the works. I enjoyed the movie and its 2017 update was on my list of must watch movies of the summer  especially because it had a great cast and I was sold on the idea of blond haired southern belles in pretty, pastel dresses tormenting a helpless man. I was originally hoping to do a double feature of The Beguiled with My Cousin Rachel, as they are both atmospheric period pieces dealing with suspicion and sexual tension.

Corporal John McBurney ( Colin Farrell), a wounded union deserter, finds himself taken in by an isolated girl’s school in Virginia. The smooth talking McBurney proceeds to charm all of the school’s inmates, who are starved for male company, specifically Martha (Nicole Kidman), the school’s tough and icy headmistress, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a lonely and lovelorn teacher, and Alicia (Elle Fanning), a sexually curious student. Tensions and suspicions rise as McBurney begins to wear out his welcome. 

Colin Farrell as McBurney is both sleazy and sympathetic; by no means an honorable man but did not intend to cause as much trouble as he did. Nicole Kidman was great as Martha, the strong woman who had been strong for too long.  I was concerned about the casting of Kirsten Dunst as Edwina, believing she was too old (in the original film, Edwina is said to be in her early twenties) but she did well in the part. Elle Fanning is an actress I enjoy but I could not get behind her character Alicia, who is a total little shit. I adored the production design for this movie. All of the women are dressed in pale pastels and the sets are illuminated using mostly natural light or candles  to give the film an eerie, ethereal, gothic feel, which is at the same time sweet and feminine. The Beguiled was written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola and I think some of Marie Antoinette’s sugary prettiness made it into this movie.  I would recommend The Beguiled  solely on its production design alone.

The 1971 film version deals in both male fantasy (being the rooster in a hen house) and male nightmare (when said hens turn against you). But Sofia Coppola’s take on the story is firmly on the side of the women; you are rooting for them as they close ranks to protect themselves against a male interloper. This feminist subversion sits well in a summer film reason defined by Wonder Woman.

I started hearing a lot of positive hype about Baby Driver, which is considered one of the best films of the summer. After hearing the details about the movie, I became interested and anxious to see it, since I enjoy gangster flicks. 

Partially deaf after a car accident which killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) drowns out the world around him with a pair of earbuds and a quiet, stoical demeanor. To pay off a debt, Baby works as a getaway driver for a gang of criminals headed by Doc (Kevin Spacey) but wishes to leave that life for good and run off with a pretty and free spirited waitress, Debora (Lily James). But this proves to be the hardest getaway of Baby’s career. 

Music plays a large role in the movie, as Baby uses his playlists are used to drown out the ringing in his ears due to his partial deafness and as a sort of soundtrack to his life; he is often seen dancing and singing along to whatever song he is listening to and the cuts and choreography of the film are set to the beat of the music. It has often bean said that the film works as a sort of quasi jukebox musical. An interesting detail in the sound design is that a ringing noise is heard whenever music is not playing.

Ansel Elgort as Baby is effortlessly cool and I would not be surprised if young men over the coming decades start copying the character’s style of dress and mannerisms. Kevin Spacey is both funny and intimidating as Doc and armed with a number of hilarious quips. Doc’s gang is filled with a number of colorful characters: Buddy (Jon Hamm), a banker turned bank robber, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), the Bonnie to his Clyde, and Bats (Jamie Foxx), the gang’s loose canon, who all give stand out performances. Lily James seems to be the go for girl whenever they need someone to be delightfully ditzy, and Debora’s romance with baby is sweet and believable. Another character of note is Joe, Baby’s foster father, who is deaf and in a wheelchair, with whom Baby communicates through sign language. Joe is played by deaf actor CJ Jones.  I appreciate the inclusion of deaf and other differently abled actors and of sign language, which I would like to learn some day.

I am not big on action movies but I enjoyed Baby Driver, and its action sequences are heart pounding. Add in interesting characters, a sweet romance, and a killer soundtrack, and Baby Driver is a great movie.