07 September 2011

Everything Under the Sun 1: Historical Figures

Everything Under the Sun is a short series of posts we'll be doing here at the Aviary, motivated by a potential collaboration on a project that might end up being sort-of/kind-of personal. I have what amount to assignments of exploration of my own interests in particular areas, so I thought I'd put them out there to provoke any responses that you may find irresistible.

Historical Figures of Interest
I'm a little ashamed to admit that I am more influenced by fictional characters - or even character archetypes - than I am by real human beings. That's not too surprising when you consider that I generally prefer DC Comics to Marvel. I like icons better than actual people.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Discovered Edward Snow's translations of his poetry while in high-teenage mode, full of romance and angst myself. (Snow I found first, and all other translations since seem to me to be lacking something. Hate when they slavishly follow the rhyme scheme.) It was like discovering poetry for the first time. My girlfriend of the time (my first real one; first love, truly) was a sort of inadvertent historian about a few people she was enthusiastic about (Artaud, Nin) and inspired me to poke around and learn more about the man behind the poetry. I learned about his connections to Lou-Andreas Salome and, by extension, Nietzsche, which seemed just a marvelous excuse to continue exploring angsty and existential teenage wonderings. Also learned of his connection to Rodin, which in that teenage way seemed fated, as my next true love introduced me to art museums and The Burgers of Calais facsimile in the sculpture garden in D.C.

Rainer had something of a confusing and tormented childhood, particularly with regards to his sexual identity, and he turned out to be something of a dick husband/father. I was surprised to see how similar our facial features were. I continue to think of him as an example of a great artist who sacrificed all moral considerations for artistic aspirations, which troubles me. I adore his art, and despise his personal life. Maybe I envy it, too, for its potential sense of freedom. Ironically, I wasn't aware of his Letters to a Young Poet – one of the more apt treatises for young, aspiring anythings – until long after discovering his poetry.

Anton Chekhov
A playwright I acted for on a couple of shows was fond of how similar he and I appear when I have my hair short and a goatee (no longer a favorite look of mine). I found this somewhat ironic, as I have never loved his work. At least at the time, I found The Seagull enjoyable, and that was about it. Not too long after I was introduced to his one-act plays by one of my mentors, and found them to be blissfully funny. This, plus the aspect of “required reading,” makes me question my initial reaction to his playwriting, but to date I haven't been able to bring myself to really sit down and tackle Cherry Orchard or Three Sisters again.

Buster Keaton
I'll never feel like I deserve Buster. My commedia dell'arte troupe decided a year in advance that our next show would tackle the theme of silent comedies, and we began research. This would become one of our (if not the) defining creative experiences, and the entire process had a profound impact on me as an individual artist. However, when the idea was hatched the creative forces that were guiding things - for whatever reason – attributed me to Chaplin, and the other male actor to Keaton. So for over half a year I did comprehensive research on Chaplin. It turned out that one of our fellow actors ended up directing the show, and her opinion was that I should be working on portraying Keaton, and the other fellow, Chaplin. So, after we had both done extensive research and developed pretty profound appreciations for one auteur, we switched. The effect of this was compounded for me by how much I respected/envied(loved?) this other actor – switching off at that point seemed...somehow terrible.

It was the right call. He was much better suited to understanding Chaplin's amazing pathos, that stays just the right side of maudlin, to absolutely devastating cathartic effect. As for me, I have a face that lends itself to a certain stoicism but, more importantly, I've spent some time studying acrobatics and am an aspiring thinker who appreciates the mechanics of things. Still and all, I feel blessed to have been “given” Keaton. He was an unequivocal genius, hysterical and inspired (and tormented, in a triumphantly private way) who continues to pretty much hold deity status in my heart.

William Shakespeare
Because: Come on. How about that sentence structure?

Edgar Allean Poe
Some of the first legitimate literature I was exposed to, and he was GOTH as FROCK. Don't forget he write some of the seminal detective fiction.

Nikola Tesla
Freaking lunatic. Also an impressive intellect. I love that we keep wondering if he was right about some of his more, shall we say, eccentric notions.

Leonardo Da Vinci
Similar to Tesla, just an irresponsibly multi-talented genius. I love guys who have the heart of a poet and the intellectual curiosity and capacity of an engineer. So, for that matter, see Buster Keaton too.

I'm sort of ashamed there's no American history figures here. I like Ben Franklin's renaissance spirit and flamboyant sense of humor. Toss Sam Clemens on there, too. Jefferson could write, and was an architectural mechanic, and Adams was an admirably stubborn-yet-romantic S.O.B.

But now we're just getting into common United States idols here. Let's wrap it up!


Davey said...

Just a few things I noted while reading. I saw the first picture and honestly thought that your first "historical figure" was going to be your dad, and that the picture was of Grant in character from his High School acting days. Edward Snow and You have a shared relative man.

I've never been much a fan of Chekhov's plays, but his short stories are hilarious.

Buster Keaton would have made a great Bond.

Andrew Bellware said...

Buster Keaton and Edgar Allen Poe were both American, no? And Charlie Chaplin did some of his best work in America -- Tesla too!
U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Jeff Wills said...

@Davey - Dunno about Snow; that there's Rilke himself. I should find Snow. I've always held this fantasy that I'd meet him somehow, randomly.

@Andrew - You, sir, raise an excellent point. Poe was in fact what I defaulted to when we had to do an imitation of style piece for English class and my teacher (rightfully) told me I couldn't imitate Rilke. U.S.A.!

Prof. Jenn said...

It's "Allan," not "Allen," BTW. Just the nit-picky English prof in me.

Fun fact: I was set to perform The Raven for a Halloween storytelling show one year. Thing is, the famous Simpsnons Treehouse of Horror, in which The Raven was read by James Earl Jones, happened *the night before.* I almost bowed out. Almost. :)

Jeff Wills said...

Oof - bested by my own prejudice. My middle name is spelled "Allen." Still, it feels appropriate to be corrected by an honest-to-gosh professor.

Glad to hear you didn't bow (until after, I hope). I did a recitation for my high school drama class, which is where I discovered that acting and public speaking are two very different sports, and that public speaking terrifies me. I pretended the book quivering in my hand was part of the act.

Patrick said...

I was beginning to wonder what you were up to. Having not seen you here or on FB much, I suspected it was something big and all-consuming. I'm intrigued. Interesting list of fellows; I might have to compile a list of my own. Who were/are some of your fictional heroes/icons. I mean besides Batman.

Pavarti said...

Hey, that's me! I'm in the post! I feel so special! :)