Life Lessons from The Dude

Jeff Lebowski is a man for his time and place—Los Angeles, 1991. But he doesn’t call himself by the handle his loving parents gave him. He calls himself The Dude, Duder, His Dudeness, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. But is The Dude a bumbling burnout or a Zen master? If you think he’s a mere stoner, well, that’s just like…your opinion, man.

I happen to think that there’s a lot to be learned from The Dude’s approach to life, and I’m not the only one. New shit has come to light. For instance, did you know that The Big Lebowski has its own religion called Dudeism, making it literally a cult film? And an annual Lebowski Fest attended by self-described Achievers (taken from the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers—and proud we are of all of them), who are the hipster equivalent of Trekkies as they dress in costume, drink White Russians, bowl, and (of course) quote their favorite film?

Just before O Brother, Where Art Thou? and just after Fargo, the Coen Brothers released The Big Lebowski. Loosely inspired by Raymond Chandler novels, specifically The Big Sleep, which was adapted into a film in 1946 starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, The Big Lebowski tells the increasingly convoluted story of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges.

The Dude happens to have the same name as a local millionaire—The Big Lebowski—and, as a result of mistaken identity, The Dude is assaulted, and his favorite rug is micturated upon. In an effort to be compensated for his soiled rug, The Dude visits The Big Lebowski at his mansion, only to find himself embroiled in an elaborate plot involving kidnapping, nihilists, the porn industry, and The Big Lebowski’s daughter, an avant-garde feminist artist. Suffice it to say, there are lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot what have yous—in short, a lot of strands in old Duder’s head.

Despite the far-fetched plot’s complexity, many of the film’s characters and sequences are taken from real life. The Dude is based on Jeff “The Dude” Dowd, who helped secure distribution deals for the Coen brothers’ first film, Blood Simple. And The Dude’s friend Walter, a pistol-packing Vietnam vet played perfectly by John Goodman, is an amalgam of several acquaintances of the Coen brothers. Even the subplot regarding The Dude’s stolen car is based on a true story.

If you’re interested in delving deeper into The Big Lebowski, I recommend checking out the book I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski by Bill Green, Ben Peskoe, Will Russell, and Scott Shuffitt. In this highly entertaining book, written in part by the Founding Dudes of Lebowski Fest, you’ll learn that the word “fuck” (and its variants) is said 281 times, the word “dude” (and its variants) is said 160 times, and the word “man” is said 174 times in the film. You’ll also find an English-to-Achiever translation guide and a Dude Dictionary. Mark it!

The movie is hilariously insane, but it’s also seriously philosophical, which makes sense given that Ethan Coen has a degree in philosophy from Princeton. Several ideologies are explored: Judaism, Christianity, nihilism, pacifism, fascism, feminism, and existentialism (the film’s bizarre quasi-narrator is a cowboy played by Sam Elliot called The Stranger, a nod to the novel L’Étranger by Albert Camus, and a copy of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness can be seen on The Dude’s bedside table).

So, despite The Big Lebowski being an absurd comedy, can we actually learn something about life from The Dude? Does the pope shit in the woods?

Here are just a few of the many life lessons The Dude provides.

1. REDECORATE

All The Dude ever wanted was his rug back, which was the catalyst of his involvement with the crazed plot of The Big Lebowski. So, if you’re thinking about redecorating, consider picking up a nice rug like The Dude’s. It just might tie the room together. But here’s a word of advice: if thugs pee on your rug, don’t seek recompense from someone like The Big Lebowski.

2. DRESS CASUALLY

The Dude knows how to take ‘er easy. If you ever feel your blood pressure rising, throw on a comfy old sweatshirt, a ratty pair of shorts, and a nice pair of Jellies. Or just go straight for the bathrobe. And did you know that most of The Dude’s wardrobe came out of Jeff Bridges’s own closet, making him truly the best-suited actor to play The Dude? Fabulous stuff.

3. SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO SAY FUCK IT AND GO BOWLING

Life is full of strikes and gutters, ups and downs. To get away from it all, The Dude frequents the bowling alley with his friends Walter and Donny. But despite all the time he spends at the lanes, The Dude is never actually seen bowling in the film. Hasn’t that ever occurred to you, man…sir?

4. LEARN HOW TO MIX A HELLUVA CAUCASIAN

The Dude’s beverage of choice is the White Russian—or Caucasian, as he calls them. Recipes vary, but the International Bartenders Association recommends 5 parts Vodka, 2 parts Coffee liqueur, and 3 parts cream. The Dude is a bit less specific with his measurements, and he also uses half-and-half instead of cream, but Caucasians help him keep his mind limber. Just make sure you never accept one from a shady character like porn magnate Jackie Treehorn.

5. LISTEN TO GREAT TUNES

The Coen brothers are known for having great music in their movies (see the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack), and The Big Lebowski is no exception. The official soundtrack release is good, but it only represents a fraction of the amazing music used in the film—and it doesn’t even have any Creedence, clearly one of The Dude’s favorite bands.

Whether he’s talking about how he used to be a roadie for Metallica, expressing his hatred for the fuckin’ Eagles, listening to whale songs to relax, or having one of his acid flashbacks, music is a key part of The Dude’s world. And any movie that has not one but two montages set to “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan is destined to be one of my all-time favorites.

6. ABIDE

Life can be pretty stressful sometimes—especially if you’re The Dude. But he never lets it get to him. He goes with the flow, ultimately surviving all the crazy things that happen to him. And his catchphrase, “The Dude abides,” perfectly captures his relaxed approach to life. It’s the last line spoken by The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

WELL, THAT ABOUT DOES ‘ER, WRAPS ‘ER ALL UP

At the end of the film, The Stranger explains why we love The Dude: “It’s good knowin’ he’s out there—The Dude—takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”

I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.

Frida Kahlo’s Best Paintings (and the Stories Behind Them)

Frida Kahlo’s art is haunting, from tortured self-portraits to surreal works blending magical realism with her distinct folk art style. Her paintings are intensely personal, like visual diary entries, and she doesn’t shy away from the gory details of her physical and emotional pain. Every painting tells a story, and each one is a brushstroke on the canvas of her legendary life.

According to Frida Kahlo scholar Hayden Herrera in her book Frida Kahlo: The Paintings, Frida was born—and died—in the “Blue House” in Coyoacán, Mexico, which is now the Museo Frida Kahlo (“Frida Kahlo Museum”). In her short life, Frida created 143 stunning—and sometimes disturbing—paintings.

Frida Kahlo had no formal training aside from a few high school art classes, and she didn’t start painting until 1925, when she had a near-fatal bus accident in which her spinal column was broken and her pelvis was fractured. Her most horrific wound, however, was from a metal rod, which Frida claims (in her medical record) penetrated her hip and came out through her vagina.

The injuries from the bus accident, combined with a childhood bout with polio and a diagnosis of scoliosis, left Frida with lifelong health problems, including chronic pain and the inability to have children. The excruciating aftermath of the accident also made Frida an artist. She turned to art because she was “bored as hell in bed,” using a special easel so she could paint lying down.

If you’ve seen the 2002 biopic Frida, then you know a bit about Frida Kahlo, even though the film wasn’t totally accurate. But a closer look at Frida’s often autobiographical works of art reveals the finer details of her complex life.

1. MY BIRTH (1932)

In 1932, Frida set out to make a painting of every year of her life, starting with this bloody birth scene. The year she created My Birth, Frida suffered one of many miscarriages, and her mother also died from surgery complications, two tragedies that inform this piece. A weeping Virgin of Sorrows hovers over the presumably dead mother and a baby with Frida’s unique facial features.

2. MY GRANDPARENTS, MY PARENTS, AND I (1936)

Frida Kahlo was of mixed ancestry. Her maternal grandparents (depicted over the land) were Spanish and Indigenous, and her paternal grandparents (depicted over the sea) were German. In 1922, Frida entered the National Preparatory School as one of only 35 girls in a student body of 2,000. Though she rarely studied, she was a promising medical student, which led to her later artistic use of clinical imagery, such as the sperm, ovum, and fetus in this painting.

3. MY NURSE AND I (1937)

According to Frida, “My mother could not suckle me because eleven months after I was born my sister Cristina was born. I was fed by a nana whose breasts they washed every time I was going to suck them.” In My Nurse and I, Frida depicts her nurse wearing a black stone funerary mask, and the strangely adult-looking baby Frida does not seem contented as milk drips into her mouth. This piece illustrates her feelings of abandonment and the misery of her own childlessness.

4. SELF-PORTRAIT (DEDICATED TO LEON TROTSKY) (1937)

When Frida Kahlo married Mexican artist Diego Rivera in 1929, her parents said, “It was like the marriage between an elephant and a dove.” Frida herself said, “I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down…. The other accident is Diego.” The couple divorced—and remarried—in 1940. Through it all, Diego had many extramarital affairs, once claiming that his doctor declared him unfit for fidelity. But Frida had some affairs of her own, with both men and women, and one of those men was exiled Russian Communist Leon Trotsky, for whom she painted this seductive self-portrait, possibly to make Rivera jealous.

5. HENRY FORD HOSPITAL (1932)

Frida’s injured pelvis didn’t prevent conception, but it made her unable to carry a child to term. One of her most traumatic miscarriages happened in Detroit, where Diego Rivera was working on some murals. She recalls, “I had such hopes to have a little Dieguito who would cry a lot,” but that never came to be. Instead, she gave birth to this disturbing piece, using symbols like a snail, a severed umbilical cord, and other medical imagery to express her loss.

6. MOSES (1945)

This painting, sometimes called Nucleus of Creation, was made after Frida read Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud. This miniature mural contains so many small details that it’s impossible to take everything in at a glance: symbolism from world religions; portraits of Marx, Gandhi, Nefertiti, Hitler, Stalin, Jesus Christ, and others; and in the middle of it all, baby Moses, who looks a lot like Diego Rivera. This masterwork, which struggles to synthesize the entirety of human existence onto one canvas, reveals Frida’s intellectual and revolutionary side.

7. A FEW SMALL NIPS [1935]

In late 1933, Diego had an affair with Frida’s younger sister, Cristina. Unlike his other affairs, this one was not easily forgotten, and as a result, a disconsolate Frida produced no paintings in 1934 and only two in 1935, one of which is this disturbing piece. It’s based on a newspaper article Frida read in which a drunk man stabbed his girlfriend and explained to the judge, “But I only gave her a few small nips!” She added the blood splotches to the frame later, several of which look like fingerprints, making this the goriest painting Frida Kahlo ever made.

8. WHAT THE WATER GAVE ME (1938)

When André Breton visited Mexico in 1938, he said, “My surprise and joy was unbounded when I discovered, on my arrival in Mexico, that [Frida’s] work had blossomed forth, in her latest paintings, into pure surreality, despite the fact that it had been conceived without any prior knowledge whatsoever of the ideas motivating the activities of my friends and myself.” Though Breton’s praise advanced her career, Frida rejected the notion that she was a surrealist. “I never knew I was a surrealist,” she slyly said, “till André Breton came to Mexico and told me I was.” Still, What the Water Gave Me is perhaps Frida Kahlo’s most bizarre and dreamlike painting.

9. SELF-PORTRAIT WITH CROPPED HAIR (1940)

55 of Frida’s 143 paintings are self-portraits, which is a testament to the personal nature of her art. Herrera writes, “To judge from her more obviously feminine prettiness in photographs, it is clear that she exaggerated her mustache and gave her features a somewhat steely cast.” This self-portrait, created shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera (and before they remarried), is Frida at her most masculine. She’s cut off her long black hair (the scissors hover uncomfortably close to her genitals), and she appears to be wearing one of Rivera’s massive suits, which dwarfs her. This piece was likely an act of revenge against Diego Rivera, who preferred her hair long.

10. THE BROKEN COLUMN (1944)

In the 1940s, Frida Kahlo’s health worsened, and she had to wear a string of orthopedic corsets. For five months in 1944, she wore a steel corset, which is when she painted this agonized self-portrait, depicting her spine as a shattered column, nails piercing her flesh, and desperate tears on her face. Her pain is laid bare in this piece, reflected in the desolate landscape behind her.

11. WITHOUT HOPE (1945)

This disturbing piece, also painted during Frida’s period of declining health in the mid-1940s, shows her once again confined to her bed, spewing gore onto the easel that allowed her to paint while lying down. On the back of the canvas, she wrote, “Not the least hope remains to me.”

12. VIVA LA VIDA (1954)

Frida Kahlo added the last brushstroke to her final painting only eight days before she died. This seemingly simple still life of watermelons may not be her best or most compelling work—as her health faded in her later years and she became reliant upon painkillers, her work suffered—but it is remarkable that Frida wanted her last message to the world to be Viva la Vida: long live life.

“I HOPE THE EXIT IS JOYFUL—AND I HOPE NEVER TO COME BACK”

These were the last words Frida Kahlo wrote in her diary, leading many of her friends to believe that she killed herself, but her cause of death was officially ruled to be pulmonary embolism. Frida passed away in her bed at the Blue House in Coyoacán on July 13, 1954. She was 47.

Frida’s body was cremated. According to Hayden Herrera, “As she entered the oven, friends recall, the intense heat made her sit up, and her hair formed an aureole around her head. Four hours later, when her ashes emerged from the oven, they retained for an instant her skeletal shape. Rivera pulled a sketchbook from his pocket and drew his wife one last time.”

¡VIVA LA FRIDA!

I’ve only scratched the surface of Frida Kahlo’s amazing body of work and her remarkable life, so I strongly suggest that you seek out her other paintings and learn even more about the woman behind them. I also suggest, because you are likely missing the finer details in the paintings by reading this on your computer screen or (even worse) on the tiny screen of your phone, that you check out her paintings in person, or at least in a book like Hayden Herrera’s Frida Kahlo: The Paintings. (Most of the facts in this article are from Herrera’s book, by the way, and there’s a lot more where that came from!)

To get you started, here’s a list of my favorite Frida Kahlo paintings that didn’t make it into this article. Follow the links to check them out and learn more!

Long Live The Smiths!

The Smiths were like one of their masterful pop songs: luminous, funny, heartbreaking, and brief. They released only four studio albums between 1982 and 1987, at which point the band broke up with such bitterness that they haven’t reunited and most likely never will. Steven Morrissey (who goes by Morrissey) and Johnny Marr formed the nucleus of the radioactive atom that was The Smiths. Together they wrote uniquely disaffected anthems, which Morrissey sang, while Marr laid down intricate guitar parts punctuated by Andy Rourke’s bass and Mike Joyce’s drums.

I discovered The Smiths in college, where I majored in Abject Loneliness (and graduated with highest honors). Not only were their songs the perfect salve for the injuries I sustained during my fruitless quest for love, but they helped me put things in perspective. I mean, there’s sad and then there’s mother-I-can-feel-the-soil-falling-over-my-head sad. Morrissey’s histrionics calmed me. And if he hadn’t met Johnny Marr that night in 1978, The Smiths may never have even existed.

HAND IN GLOVE

In his book Songs That Saved Your Life: The Art of The Smiths 1982–87, Simon Goddard writes about this fateful meeting: “Manchester’s Apollo Theatre. The date is 31st August 1978. Patti Smith is due on stage any second. In the crowd, the 14 year-old Marr is stood with his older Wythenshawe friends, 17 year-old guitarist Billy Duffy and Howard Bates, bass player in local punk band Slaughter And The Dogs. They are joined by another boy, a lanky 19 year-old from Stretford called Steven Morrissey. He and Marr say ‘hello’ but nothing more. Duffy has already been rehearsing in bands with Morrissey and tells the impressionable Marr what a great lyricist this Stretford stranger is. The name of Steven Morrissey will linger at the back of Marr’s head for the next three and a half years, occasionally bubbling to the surface.”

Four years later Marr was desperate to start a band, and he needed to find the perfect singer. He watched a documentary about Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the famous American songwriting duo responsible for “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Love Potion No. 9” and “Stand By Me” (to name a few). As a teenager obsessed with blues and jazz, Jerry Leiber was told about another boy, Mike Stoller, who played piano. According to Goddard, “Leiber decided to find where Stoller lived, knock on his door unannounced and suggest they start writing songs together.” This gave Marr an idea. He recalled the “great lyricist” Steven Morrissey, whom he’d met at the Patti Smith show, and decided to find him and tell him they were going to be songwriting partners.

Goddard paints a picture of this second fateful meeting: “The year is 1982. The time, around one o’clock on an early summer’s afternoon. The place is Manchester. The door is that of 384 Kings Road in Stretford. The one doing the knocking is Johnny Marr. On the other side of the door is Steven Morrissey.” With one of the many poetic flourishes in his great book, Goddard writes, “In another few seconds the door will open and the two cells of The Smiths will irreversibly fuse as one and multiply to become the most beautiful organism in the history of popular music.”

I STARTED SOMETHING I COULDN’T FINISH

By the summer of 1983, Morrissey and Marr had formed a band with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, finally settling on a name chosen by Morrissey: The Smiths. In later interviews, he has explained the name by saying, “It was the most ordinary name and I thought it was time the ordinary folk of the world showed their faces.” According to Goddard: “It may even have been a subconscious reference to Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the subject of [Smiths song] ‘Suffer Little Children’. In 1966, the notorious child-killers were only caught through the testimony of Hindley’s sister Maureen, and her husband David Smith, frequently referred to in passing as ‘the Smiths’ in books such as Emlyn Williams’ Beyond Belief, Morrissey’s primary source for the song’s lyrics.” To further muddy the waters, Dale Hibbert, who played bass with The Smiths early on, recalls, “I seem to remember them saying it was to do with Patti Smith,” which would make sense given the story of Morrissey meeting Marr at the Patti Smith show.

As a songwriter and guitarist, Johnny Marr’s influences were diverse: Motown, Burt Bacharach, Sam Phillips, 1950s rockabilly, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley and his lead guitarist Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Iggy & The Stooges, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, and many others. Morrissey’s lyrical influences were also diverse — and obscure. Per Goddard, when speaking to the NME, a British music magazine, Morrissey said, “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 percent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney, who wrote A Taste Of Honey,” a British stage play from 1958. Speaking of his song “This Night Has Opened My Eyes,” he stated that he was “putting the entire play to words.” It wouldn’t be the last time that Morrissey begged, borrowed and stole from a wide range of sources, including a fictitious novel title shown during a montage in a 1943 Bette Davis film, kitchen sink dramas, playwright Keith Waterhouse, novelist and poet Elizabeth Smart, comedian Victoria Wood, Virginia Woolf (specifically her book A Room of One’s Own), Oscar Wilde, Rebel Without A Cause, and many others. Morrissey mixed these odd and varied influences into a subversive, melodramatic and often hilarious style all his own.

In the studio, Marr would generally lay down each song as an instrumental, working with Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and various producers to come up with arrangements. Finally, at the end of the process, Morrissey would come in and record his lead vocal, sometimes in one take. (That’s also the first time the band would hear Morrissey’s words and melodies.) According to Goddard, Smiths producer Stephen Street said, “Morrissey was very, very reluctant to use synthesizers or anything electronic. The only way Johnny and I could get around that was by trapping guitar notes into these extended infinite reverbs that would hold for a long, long time, then use the fader to bring it in at the right moment.” Sometimes Morrissey allowed the use of a simple synthesizer, but synth was never used as heavily as was the fashion in the ’80s. (Morrissey’s falsetto wailing at times functioned like a traditional synth part, however.) Despite resisting the trends of popular music, all four of The Smiths’ studio albums and many of their singles did well in the charts.

Goddard recounts the words of another Smiths producer, John Porter: “We were always stoned. Vast quantities of hashish were consumed, and weed and whatever else we could lay our hands on.” He went on to add: “Any sound we need we’ll do it with guitars. So me and Johnny would be dropping spanners on them, taping bits up, just having fun smoking a lot of dope while staying up all night and making silly noises.” Marr and his producers pushed the limits of the guitar, often weaving a multitude of creatively processed takes into a sonic tapestry.

Their debut album, The Smiths, was released in 1984. It contained the classics “What Difference Does It Make?” and “Hand in Glove,” as well as the unsettling “Suffer Little Children.” In 1985, they released Meat is Murder, which featured “The Headmaster Ritual,” “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” and the over-the-top vegetarian anthem “Meat is Murder.” The next year, they released The Queen Is Dead, with a few of my personal favorite tracks: “Cemetry Gates,” “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” The Smiths would break up just before the release of their final studio album in 1987, Strangeways, Here We Come, which featured some of their best songs: “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before.”

I KNOW IT’S OVER

Early on, The Smiths signed with independent record label Rough Trade. Morrissey and Marr, both in their early twenties, signed the contract rewarding them each a 40% share in the band, while Rourke and Joyce received 10% each. Goddard writes, “Unknown to all concerned at the time, as the ink dried on the Rough Trade contract, so the depressing inevitability of The Smiths’ eventual undoing was irreversibly set in motion.”

According to Goddard: “There would be no final farewell, no last huzzah for The Smiths. Future legal documents would mark the partnership of Morrissey and Marr as having dissolved on 31st May 1987. Five years, more or less, to the day it began.” In the first week of August of that year, Goddard writes, “without prior consultation with the other three members, Marr contacted the NME to confirm he had quit. The Smiths were no more.” And so that saga of The Smiths ended, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, not with a bang but a whimper.

“As the 1980s came to an end,” Goddard writes, “so too did the likelihood of The Smiths ever reforming. Seven years later, the High Court case of December 1996 eradicated any last residual grains of hope. Mike Joyce successfully won his longstanding claim for a quarter of all performance earnings; an estimated £1 million in back royalties. In summing up, Judge John Weeks offered his infamously damning character summary of Morrissey as ‘devious, truculent and unreliable when his own interests were at stake.’”

Despite the band’s irreconcilable differences, Marr says he tried to patch things up personally with Morrissey: “I thought we needed to get back together in private because the relationship, something that was very important to the two of us, was unresolved. It had become public property. So we spoke a couple of times and got together quite a few times. I took him for a drive. We probably ended up in Duckinfield or somewhere appropriately glamorous. But after a couple of hours it seemed like there was no point in us getting together just to drive around and talk about the good old days.” He sums up their relationship: “We came together to make music. We were the right people to make music together and then we formed an amazing and unique friendship. But without the music that friendship was kind of redundant, really.”

THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT

Maybe it’s for the best that The Smiths didn’t reunite. Doing a few shows for a cash grab doesn’t seem like their style, anyway. And it’s impossible to imagine Morrissey and Marr, now in their 50s, capturing anything remotely like the magic of the raw recordings they made when they were young, inexperienced lads from Manchester involved in a mad cosmic collaboration for the ages.

The Smiths are dead. Long live The Smiths!

7 Unconventional Shakespeare Movies

With 1,500 writing credits on IMDb, William Shakespeare has to be the most prolific dead writer of all time. And with good reason. The consensus is that the Bard wrote at least 37 plays (there may be two lost plays), and his classic works are still being staged and made into Shakespeare movies over four hundred years after his death.

But how does his work translate to film, a medium that would not exist until some three hundred years after he died?

To illustrate how contentious the answer might be, here are two quotes from prominent stage and screen directors as recounted by Douglas Brode in his book Shakespeare in the Movies: From the Silent Era to Shakespeare in Love:

Shakespeare would have made a great movie writer.

Orson Welles

Shakespeare is no screen writer.

Peter Hall

Brode goes on to state:

William Shakespeare’s plays were written to be seen, not read—at least not by anyone other than the company performing them. They were never printed in his lifetime, probably according to his wishes. The plays were meant to be enjoyed in the immediate sense, not as removed literary works to be studied, like butterflies mounted by some eager collector who presses out all the lifeblood and mummifies beauty under glass.

In Shakespeare’s day, Brode writes, audiences were made up of “respectable, middle-class types one evening and a grotesque mix of university intellects and uneducated street people the next,” which Brode compares to “audiences at mall multiplexes.” He adds:

Shakespeare’s plays, filled with murders, sexual transgressions, ghosts, and witches, have more in common with the latest blockbusters than anything on the art-house circuit.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with adapting Shakespeare for modern audiences. In fact, by updating the situations and at times even the language, filmmakers may be giving us an experience closer to that of an audience in Shakespeare’s time. His plays were lively, contemporary, and comprehensible to an Elizabethan crowd, not boring, historical, and unintelligible, which is sometimes (erroneously) their reputation today.

There are many faithful, traditional Shakespeare movies.

Here are 7 of the most unconventional.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)

Surprisingly little is known about the details of William Shakespeare’s life, a fact that author Bill Bryson repeats many times in his insightful book Shakespeare: The World as Stage. That lack of information enabled writer Tom Stoppard (who wrote and directed the unconventional Hamlet adaptation Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) to stop worrying about historical accuracy and instead focus on making a fun movie. In Stoppard’s words:

I have a take on historical accuracy, which is that all supposed historical truths are temporary, meaning they’re always there to be modified in the light of subsequent discoveries. But this film is entertainment, which doesn’t require it to be justified in the light of historical theory.

Is Shakespeare in Love historically accurate? Hardly. Does it matter? Not even a little. Because it’s an excellent film, deserving in every way of the seven Oscars it won, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench’s brilliant (but brief) portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I.

“A stolen season.” Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow as star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare in Love.

Set in 1593, Shakespeare in Love is an Elizabethan rom-com that is full of references to William Shakespeare’s work. Joseph Fiennes plays a young Shakespeare who is suffering from writer’s block. He is working on a new comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, but he can’t seem to find inspiration until he meets the beautiful Viola (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). The rest of the plot is so much fun that I won’t spoil it for you here other than to say that it has all the elements you’ll find in the best Shakespeare plays.

My personal favorite scene is when the company finally puts on Romeo and Juliet, which of course Shakespeare has completed as the tragedy we all know and love today. The audience’s reaction is a reminder of how impactful the play’s ending would have been upon its release. Given our familiarity with the storyline, we can never have such an experience of shock and surprise. It’s one of many great moments in the film.

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (1999)

The Taming of the Shrew is a particularly difficult play to update for modern audiences. It’s the misogynistic tale of Katherina, an intractable “shrew,” who is “tamed” by Petruchio until she’s an obedient bride. The play has seen several cinematic adaptations, the most notable being Sam Taylor’s (1929) and Franco Zeffirelli’s (1967), both of which starred celebrity couples (Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in 1929 and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1967). It was also adapted into a stage play and film called Kiss Me, Kate with songs by Cole Porter.

“We shall ne’er be younger.” Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You.

10 Things I Hate About You does an admirable job of at least updating the play for the ’90s (by modern standards, it’s still pretty far from being a feminist masterpiece). The plot is recast as a teen comedy, and with the exception of a few snippets (“I burn, I pine, I persish!”), Shakespeare’s dialogue is largely absent. But it’s a charming film with breakout performances from Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger. And it was even made into a short-lived TV show.

RAN (1985)

King Lear is a tragedy about a king named—well, Lear—who divides his kingdom between his three daughters, which turns out to be a big mistake. There have been just shy of a dozen film adaptations of King Lear, but none is as stunning as Akira Kurosawa’s samurai masterwork Ran, which was the most expensive movie production in Japanese history at the time. In Kurosawa’s vision, Lear is an elderly warlord named Ichimonji turning over his empire to three sons.

“Sharper than a serpent’s tooth.” Tatsuya Nakedai as Lord Ichimonji speaking to his three sons.

Ran (which means “chaos” or “turmoil” in Japanese) was not the legendary director’s first foray into adapting Shakespeare for the big screen. In 1957 Kurosawa directed Throne of Blood, which moves Shakespeare’s Macbeth from medieval Scotland to feudal Japan, and in 1960 he directed The Bad Sleep Well, which transposes Shakespeare’s Hamlet from Denmark to postwar Japan. Ran is not so much an adaptation as it is a brilliant reimagining of Shakespeare’s play. It’s truly an epic in its own right. Check out the Blu-ray if possible to fully appreciate this gorgeous film.

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST (2000)

Kenneth Branagh is the reigning king of the Shakespeare movie. He has directed and starred in five adaptations so far: Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You Like It (2006). His version of Hamlet is notable because it was the first unabridged movie adaptation of the play, clocking in at just over four hours.

“There is no evil angel but love.” Alicia Silverstone makes a splash as The Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

But Branagh’s version of Love’s Labour’s Lost is by far his most unconventional approach to Shakespeare’s source material: it’s a 1930s-era musical in which Shakespearean language gives way to song-and-dance numbers featuring classic tunes by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and more. It might sound like it shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s a great adaptation of what Roger Ebert calls “the weakest of Shakespeare’s plays,” and though Ebert compared the film to “cotton candy,” I think it’s a lot more substantial than that and a lot of fun as well!

MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)

Shakespeare’s English histories are not his most popular plays as a general rule. According to a list compiled by shakespearances.com, Henry IV (Part 1), Henry IV (Part 2) and Henry V have not been staged in the last few years as frequently as Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and they haven’t been made into very many movies, either. The most famous version is probably Chimes at Midnight (1965) by Orson Welles, which is a mash-up of the previously mentioned Henry plays with elements of Richard II and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Laurence Olivier made a direct adaptation of Henry V in 1944, Kenneth Branagh made his own in 1989, and a new version called The King starring Timothée Chalamet is currently available on Netflix.

“Minions of the moon.” Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho.

Inspired by Chimes at Midnight, director Gus Van Sant brought elements of Henry IV and Henry V into the bleak world of young street hustlers in Portland, Oregon (according to the end credits, the movie features “additional dialogue by William Shakespeare”). River Phoenix plays a lonely, narcoleptic male prostitute who embarks on an epic journey with a streetwalker played by Keanu Reeves, who is inspired by Shakespeare’s character Prince Hal. The movie, a landmark in New Queer Cinema, is raw and not always easy to watch. The cinematography is surreal, the kinky sex scenes rendered as artistic stills are brilliant, and when I heard the first strains of “The Old Main Drag” by the Pogues heralding the end credits, I gave the film a one-man standing ovation.

JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (1985)

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, rivaled only (perhaps) by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing. But the play has only been directly adapted a handful of times, most notably the film Twelfth Night from 1996, which featured some great performances from Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Hawthorne and more.

“An improbable fiction.” Joyce Hyser dresses in drag in an attempt to pass herself off as Just One of the Guys.

The 1985 teen sex comedy Just One of the Guys is very loosely based on Twelfth Night. The film follows Terry Griffith, an aspiring high school journalist whose work is dismissed because she’s female. Naturally she decides to dress as a boy and enroll in the rival high school to prove that her work has merit. Along the way, many gender-bending misunderstandings occur, ultimately leading to Terry finding love and success as a budding journalist. Believe it or not, the movie led to two sequels: He’s My Girl (1987) and Just One of the Girls (1993) starring Corey Haim.

If you’re not into ’80s movies, check out She’s The Man (2006) for an even more modern twist on Twelfth Night. The film stars Amanda Bynes as the cross-dressing lead and Channing Tatum (in one of his first roles) as the object of her affections.

WEST SIDE STORY (1961)

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and widely read plays. As such, it has been adapted into film many times and has loosely inspired countless star-crossed lover stories. One of the best straight-ahead adaptations is Romeo and Juliet (1968) by Franco Zeffirelli. If you’re looking for a more modernized version, check out Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996). Luhrmann updates the setting and time period but keeps the Shakespearean dialogue.

“Such sweet sorrow.” Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood as Tony and Maria, the modern-day Romeo and Juliet in West Side Story.

West Side Story, which transports Shakespeare’s classic to 1950s-era New York and turns the story into a musical about warring street gangs, was a massive hit. The movie won ten Oscars, including Best Picture, and is now considered one of the greatest musicals ever made. With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the songs are iconic, from “Maria” to “America” to “I Feel Pretty.” Addressing issues of race, immigration and cross-cultural love, all set to a catchy beat, West Side Story is a delightful Shakespeare movie.

ALL THE WORLD’S A—SCREEN?

With hundreds of Shakespeare movies in existence and more in production every year, this list barely scratches the surface. For a more extensive exploration of Shakespeare movies, check out Douglas Brode’s book Shakespeare in the Movies: From the Silent Era to Shakespeare in Love, keeping in mind it was published in 2000 and is therefore missing twenty years of adaptations.

If you’ve never seen Shakespeare performed live, attend a performance as soon as possible! As much fun as a good Shakespeare movie is, there’s no substitute for a live theater performance.

The Secret Space of Dreams: Jerry Garcia’s Art

Jerry Garcia’s art was mostly of the musical variety. He was a founding member of the Grateful Dead, his longest-running project from 1965 to 1995. He was also an accomplished banjo player in the bluegrass group Old and in the Way and a longtime friend of mandolinist David Grisman, with whom he recorded several albums later in his life, not to mention his many side projects, including playing pedal steel guitar on “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Less famously, Garcia was also a visual artist who produced more than 1,000 pieces, mostly after his brush with death in the form of a diabetic coma in 1987.

In her foreword to the book Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews, his daughter Trixie recalls:

In the difficult years following the coma, my dad was thrown into recovery mode. He had to relearn the guitar and when he or his fingers needed a break, he would draw. His skill in drawing from time spent as an art student helped him regain coordination and precision. Art became a new high for him.

Trixie describes Garcia’s post-coma period:

An unending stream of art supplies of increasing complexity funneled into the house, mostly in the form of markers, pocket sketchbooks, and the occasional airbrush set. He would experiment with each new wave of supplies, and he was a talented visual artist — exploring materials, textures, techniques, and characters.

The Artist
The artist at work with a Christmas ornament placed on his head by his daughter.

Garcia fell in love with art in the third grade with some help from his teacher Miss Simon, who, in Jerry’s words, was “young and pretty and she always wore flowery peasant dresses. She must have been a bohemian at the time.” According to Garcia: “She was the one who encouraged me to do the creative stuff. She liked my drawings, and she really encouraged me along those lines.” Around that time, Garcia also discovered EC Comics, inspiring a lifelong appreciation of horror.

In the summer of 1957, a 15-year-old Jerry Garcia received his first electric guitar, a Danelectro, and that same summer he smoked his first joint, two events that would shape his life’s trajectory. It was also the summer in which he began attending classes at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), falling in with the Beat generation and establishing his identity as an artist. But music soon eclipsed the visual arts. In Garcia’s words: “When I finally got into the guitar and all that stuff, all my art trip just . . . it went away. Everything went away.”

According to Roberta Weir in her foreword to the book J. Garcia: Paintings, Drawings, and Sketches, Jerry once said:

A line on paper is like a note in the air. It’s out there. And once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back.

Weir reflects:

I believe this comment conveys the essence of Jerry’s drawings and paintings. His images are not so much faithful renderings as they are animated strokes that dance across paper collecting into unselfconscious improvisations.

Roberta Weir, an artist herself who runs the Garcia Weir Gallery, is the foremost authority on Jerry Garcia’s art. According to Weir:

Jerry’s mind was a virtual kaleidoscope where forms and ideas overlapped with impunity. He was supremely serendipitous, he made no apologies for his technique, and he had an unerring instinct for the symbolic power of simple images. He kept his pens and sketchbooks with him at all times, scribbling and sketching constantly.

Garcia told Roberta Weir:

Art was probably my most civilized aspiration. But music seduced me.

From that point on, Weir recalls, “art became a private activity — and one at which he was gifted, productive, and largely unknown.”

Garcia also told Weir:

I don’t want to work at this. I’m just doing it totally for my own amusement and pleasure. I don’t need any more fame.

Jerry Garcia’s paintings and sketches reflect his unique and colorful vision of the world, as well as his warmth and sense of humor. So throw on your favorite Dead bootleg, make yourself easy, and take a long, strange trip with me through the world of Jerry Garcia’s art.

CALIFORNIA MISSION

California Mission
Suggested musical pairing: “Mission in the Rain” by the Jerry Garcia Band (1976)

Jerry Garcia was a child of San Francisco. Born in the Excelsior District on August 1, 1942, he came of age among the beatniks in the city by the bay. Garcia recalls, “For me, San Francisco was a magic place.” Though the Grateful Dead officially formed in Menlo Park, first as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions and then as the Warlocks, the band has long been associated with San Francisco and the psychedelic scene in the 1960s.

FLAMENCO DANCER

Flamenco Dancer
Suggested musical pairing: “Spanish Jam” by the Grateful Dead (1974)

Jerry Garcia’s ancestors on his father’s side were from Spain, but Garcia claims he never had a strong sense of his Spanish ethnicity. He explains his relationship to his Spanish family, who lived a life different from his own:

Now, for me, the hit that I got from my Spanish relatives — my Spanish relatives were always very, very straight. To give you an inclination, [they] were the kind of people that when my mother died, they wouldn’t let my mother be buried next to my father because she’d remarried after he died. That’s an indication of how straight they are.

RACE RECORD DREAM

Race Record Dream
Suggested musical pairing: “Oh, Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” by the Grateful Dead (1980), a cover of the original 1958 version by Elizabeth Cotten

Jerry Garcia was heavily influenced by Black musicians. When discussing different versions of the song “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (the original by Big Joe Turner and a cover by Bill Haley and His Comets), Garcia says:

I started to be conscious, “Oh, I see, there’s the black version of stuff that’s good and then there’s the lame white version of stuff sometimes.

He goes on to say that rhythm and blues “was much more interesting. And I mean, that’s all I listened to when I — into that teenage space. For me, that was heaven, you know?”

SHAMAN ARTIST

Shaman Artist
Suggested musical pairing: “Dark Star” by the Grateful Dead (1969)

In 1965 Jerry Garcia tried LSD for the first time. In his words:

I had a perfectly wonderful time, and it was that soft psychedelia, you know, the first thing, the first stuff. It was very soft and sweet and great fun. It wasn’t particularly miraculous. It was just that thing of solving all earthly problems.

The Grateful Dead would go on to perform for several of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests.

THIRSTY

Thirsty
Suggested musical pairing: the theme song from the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which the Grateful Dead recorded in 1985

Jerry Garcia enjoyed the horror genre, from his days as a “sickly kid” reading EC comic books in bed to his later love of Stephen King (Garcia did an audiobook performance of “My Pretty Pony” from King’s short story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes). This affinity for horror would manifest itself in his band name, the Grateful Dead, as well as their original name, the Warlocks.

NOT FOR KIDS ONLY

Not For Kids Only
Suggested musical pairing: “Jenny Jenkins” by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman (1993)

In 1993 Jerry Garcia and longtime collaborator David Grisman released an album of traditional children’s songs called Not For Kids Only, and they used Jerry Garcia’s art as the album cover. Jerry never lost his sense of childhood wonder. As his daughter Trixie recalls:

Beyond his love of music, Jerry’s world was loaded with cosmic jokes, cartoon characters, campy horror flicks, weird coincidences and anything that seemed magical to him.

FARE THEE WELL

You can see more of Jerry Garcia’s art in the books Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews and J. Garcia: Paintings, Drawings, and Sketches. You can also view several pieces online at the Garcia Weir Gallery and in this Rolling Stone article.

Keep on truckin’!