Under Milk Wood (2005)
Under Milk Wood
is a play in free-form verse written by Dylan Thomas, the modern
voice of Wales. It is subtitled A Play for
Voices, and was basically intended to be a radio play. It is an
affectionate, quaint evocation of 24 hours in the life of an
imaginary small Welsh seaside town, visiting the colorful
inhabitants of Llareggub (Bugger-all backwards!) while they sleep,
then when they wake and go about their business, and then again as night
falls. The town's personality is described in two ways: first with a
literal recounting of everyday activities by the First Voice, and
then with an examination of the subconscious world of the
characters' intimate thoughts, as revealed by the Second Voice.
The play was first performed as a
solo reading by Dylan Thomas himself, first in the Fogg Museum at
Harvard on May 3, 1953, and then again as a stage performance in New
York on October 25 of that year, just before his death on November 9.
In 1963 the BBC recorded it for radio with narration by another famous
Welshman, Richard Burton. Although it has been rendered on the radio
as well as on stage, those performances must have been
incomprehensible to all but a few of the literati, because it is
essentially a narrative poem which includes very little in the way of
everyday dialogue. Most of the narration consists of beautiful,
densely poetic language.
The greatest strength of this filmed
interpretation is the powerhouse cast, which includes Peter O'Toole
and Richard Burton in the two most important male roles, and Elizabeth
Taylor as a woman remembered by the blind sailor (O'Toole) who
provides the point of view for many descriptions of the town's other
inhabitants. The "first voice" is provided again by Richard Burton
himself, so a good portion of the film consists of the greatest voice
of Wales reading the greatest poet of Wales, which is a treasure if
you love serious literature. There is one rather sleazy weakness of
the presentation: a bizarrely tacked-on subplot about two drunken
drifters walking through town and having three-way sex with a local
fancy woman in a barn. This entire episode doesn't seem to be consistent with
the gentle tone of the remainder of the film. With or without that
subplot, the film appeals only to a tiny highbrow audience. As you
might expect, the small target group interested in such a project
doomed the film version to an unsuccessful theatrical release, and it
and has rarely been seen since.
The appearance of Under Milk Wood on
DVD gives the play new life in ways probably never imagined by the DVD
producers. You see, the DVD can be watched in English with English
subtitles, thus giving the play a third dimension, making it possible
to read Dylan Thomas's poetry while listening to Richard Burton's oral
interpretation, while seeing the events being pictured by actors in an
actual small Welsh town. The threefold interpretation has the
advantage of expanding the film's appeal far beyond the tiny
turtleneck crowd which would attend a solo reading. I, for one, would
never have the patience to listen to a long, dense narrative poem
being read to me, and I don't have the patience to do so even with the
illustration provided by the film, but I found it all to be much
easier going when I could read along with the narrators.
For anyone interested in this
material, the DVD has some nice extras. There is a second
feature-length movie about the life of Dylan Thomas, some 1971
interviews with the director and Richard Burton, and commentary by the director, which is a rarity for a 35 year old film.
If you are interested in this play
or the work of Dylan Thomas in general, the people who own the
copyrights to his work have generously created a free web site which
makes just about all his important creations available in the best
possible interpretations. Most works on the site are printed out and
also read by the author himself, through audio files that are embedded
in the different pages.
Here, for example, is the famous poem "Do not go gentle into
that good night", as written out and performed by Thomas himself,
who rivaled even Richard Burton himself for sheer pomposity!
the complete play Under Milk Wood, not read by Thomas this time, but
as performed on the BBC by Richard Burton, with the accompanying
words written out as well.
Big Wednesday (1978)
Despite the fact that I have spent a lot of time
on this film, both now and in the past, even including an interview with surfing
filmmaker Dale Davis in my review, I never have really liked it that much. In all
fairness, however, it is much better on DVD than ever before. This
film was shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and includes some of the
best surfing footage ever filmed, so previous attempts to represent
it on a cropped VHS rendering have been disappointing, because they
failed to evoke the scope and poetry of the sport. The DVD allows it to be shown as
the author/director intended, and also includes a full-length
commentary by John Milius, who is not only a famed auteur, but was
an avid world-class surfer in his own right. He went to college at
USC in 1962-66, in the heyday of the first surfin' craze.
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