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The Barred of Avon

Posted in General, On This Day on April 23rd, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!  Instead of blowing out candles, however, the fashion is to try snuffing out his reputation.

Among the cultural arbiters of Western Civilization, Shakespeare’s birthday is now celebrated by denouncing him as merely the front for an aristocratic, university-educated but evidently shy author.  The graduates of Real Cambridge and Nouveau Cambridge insist that a mere yeoman would be incapable of such creativity.

Yet, I cannot imagine that the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon would want to claim credit for “Titus Andronicus.”  Who would?  And all three parts of “Henry VI” do not add up to one good play.   The trilogy is a mess, a slapdash concoction of convoluted history and overripe melodrama. Its plot is virtually impenetrable. There are moments of great theater and traces of brilliant language but they merely glint in the din and confusion of these chaotic plays.

These plays clearly are not the works of a polished aristocrat. On the contrary, they are the early works of a very undisciplined writer who is eager to ingratiate himself to the public. True, these plays were popular, perhaps for the same reasons that movies about mad slashers are popular today.

By the time that Shakespeare wrote “Richard III”, he had developed some discipline. The play may still be an overripe melodrama but it is well-done.  If you believe in creative evolution, it is possible that the perpetrator of “Titus Andronicus” would eventually write “Hamlet” and “The Tempest.” 

But who am I to disagree with “The New York Times”?

In Style With Catherine de Medici

Posted in On This Day on January 5th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

January 5th Obituaries

On this day in 1589, ten thousand French foodtasters were thrown out of work. Catherine de Medici died and the people no longer felt terrified of eating. Ironically, Catherine was credited with introducing haute cuisine to France. Of course, the ulterior purpose of delicious food is to disguise the taste of any surprise ingredients.

In his novels, Alexander Dumas has the Queen Mother finding the most remarkable ways to poison people. Jeanne de Navarre, the mother of the future Henri IV, shouldn’t have worn those gift gloves from Catherine. Henri of Navarre receives a book from his loving mother-in-law. Unfortunately, so the novel relates, King Charles IX sees the book and is the first (and last) to read it. Guess what the sticky substance on the pages was? At least, Charles wasn’t Catherine’s favorite son.

You’d have thought that Catherine would have applied her culinary skills to the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre. She probably couldn’t trust French waiters to get the orders right. “Was Admiral Coligny supposed to get the poisson or the poison?”

From my video archives, here is a visit with the 16th century’s inspiration for Martha Stewart:

Catherine: Why hello. Today I am planning the wedding of my daughter Margaret to Henry of Navarre. And nothing and no one will be spared. I may cut throats but never corners. Helping with the invitation list is my friend–and great gossip–Nostradamus.

Nostradamus: The Pope can’t come, so there is no point in sending him an invitation.

Catherine: With Nostradamus you don’t have to bother with RSVPs. Now designing the wedding dress is my son Henri.

Henri: It is so beautiful I wish I were wearing it. Perhaps when I am king….Knowing Margaret, though, no one will believe that she should be in white.

Nostradamus: When the groom says “I do”, most of the guys at court will think “So have I.”

Catherine: Changing the subject, we are having the wedding at Notre Dame Cathedral. Having a thousand people stand during a four hour ceremony might be a certain problem, but my friend–and paisano–Ben Cellini is here with the solution.

Cellini: Here is it: a solid gold chamber pot. Of course you will need at least five hundred for both necessity and mementos. It won’t be cheap.

Catherine: We can economize on the catering. You see, we are planning to massacre the Protestant guests. Believe me, it will be difficult enough getting Margaret to write any thank-you notes for the gifts; so this will eliminate half of that chore. And a massacre is certainly a more original entertainment than the usual band; even the Protestants might find it preferable to doing “The Hokey-Pokey.”

A Patron of the Arts

Posted in General, On This Day on April 26th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Today is the birthday of the great French painter Eugene Delacroix.  His “Liberty Leading the People” was a long-time favorite of teenage boys in sophomore history; they had an aesthetic appreciation of France as a topless woman.  If only our Statue of Liberty lacked such inhibitions….

And in honor of Delacroix’s birthday, let’s discuss Talleyrand.   

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838) was a brilliant statesman and a shameless rogue: no wonder Alexander Hamilton admired him. Talleyrand was born with every advantage, but he continually reinvented himself: a liberal bishop, a revolutionary politician, a suave diplomat, a royalist conspirator. His politics were just as flexible: revolutionary, Bonapartist, and royalist (for competing dynasties.)

His remarkable life was shaped–actually misshaped–by a childhood accident that left him permanently lame. Rather than have their line represented by a cripple, his parents dispossessed him of his rights as the eldest son. He was relegated to a career in the clergy. Of course, it was a luxurious version of the clerical life–lush sinecures, no clothes drives or bingo nights for him. He had been an excellent student at the seminary/college except that he was reading distinctly unclerical works: Montaigne, Montesquieu, Voltaire. Young Bishop Talleyrand was a radical.

Although an aristocrat and a cleric, Talleyrand supported the French Revolution. In the Estate Generals of 1789, he persuaded the more sensible aristocrats and clerics to join with the Bourgeoisie in their demands for reforms. In 1791, he was one of the leaders of the National Assembly’s drive to extend full civil liberties to Protestants and Jews in France.

The same year he began his career in the foreign service. The suave aristocrat first represented revolutionary France in Britain and then in the United States. (It was at that time that Hamilton would have met the Frenchman.) During the Reign of Terror, when aristocrats and bishops–no matter how liberal–were executed for their pedigrees, Talleyrand was safely abroad. Eventually, France sickened of the Terror and turned on the Radicals; they had their turn with the guillotine. Then France was governed by a moderate oligarchy called the Directory; Talleyrand became the Foreign Minister. However, he sensed that the dull, corrupt Directory would not last long, and in 1797 Talleyrand started cultivating the friendship of an ambitious, stellar young general named Bonaparte.

In two years, Bonaparte was the Dictator of France. In six years, he crowned himself Emperor. And guess who remained Foreign Minister. In that position, Talleyrand was implicated in the XYZ Affair: he was the one whom the American diplomats were expected to bribe. Surprisingly, Talleyrand was not instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase; in fact, he opposed it but Napoleon disregarded his advice. Napoleon frequently disregarded the the more moderate and less martial recommendations of Talleyrand.  So the French Minister began conducting his own Foreign Policy: first with the Austrians, then with the Russians and finally with the exiled Royal Family, the Bourbons.

With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Talleyrand manipulated the Restoration of the Bourbons. Louis XVIII made Talleyrand his Foreign Minister. In that role, Talleyrand represented France at the Congress of Vienna and managed to get the victorious allies to agree to lenient peace terms and support the Bourbons. Once Talleyrand accomplished that miracle, he found himself pensioned off. It was a nice pension (100,000 Francs a year and honorary positions of the royal council) but it was the equivalent of professional exile. Noting that the Bourbons were governing as if 1789 had never occurred, Talleyrand quipped, “They have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.”

Ousting the Bourbons would be the elderly Talleyrand’s last political effort; in 1830 he personally corresponded with the Duke of Orleans, encouraging the liberal aristocrat to replace the reactionary on the throne.

But what has Talleyrand got to do with Eugene Delacroix?  Well…the Bishop was rather lax regarding celibacy. In 1797, he was on especially good terms with a Madame Delacroix, keeping her company while Monsieur Delacroix was serving on military campaigns. Madame Delacroix had a son the following year. Eugene Delacroix was to be a great painter but he didn’t have the usual struggles of a young artist. Talleyrand showed remarkable interest in him and saw that he had ample and lucrative patronage.

And what is the Latin root of “patronage”?

On this day in 1910: The Moderate Bunch

Posted in General, On This Day on November 20th, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Portfirio Diaz was the best President of Mexico that American business ever had. For just a reasonable–if continual–bribe, railroads, Standard Oil, and mining companies could exploit all that Mexico had to offer. Some of Diaz’s amassed fortune was trickling down to the populace, at least to his family, the crew of his yacht and the teenage girls who seemed to rejuvenate the elderly tyrant. However, that was not really a majority of Mexico’s population.

Diaz had been a war hero against the French in the 1860s; but 34 years of corruption seemed a sufficient veteran’s benefit. By 1910, Mexico was ready to overthrow the outrageous rascal, and the hopes and the grievances of Mexico would center around a most incongruous figure. As a revolutionary, Francisco Madero was the soul of well-mannered moderation. As a leader, he was innocuous rather than charismatic. The hope of Mexico’s impoverished masses was a wealthy aristocrat who had been educated everywhere but Mexico. But this education abroad had made him an admirer of societies that were neither feudal relics or shameless kleptocracies. Even if he did look upon Mexico from an Ivory Tower, it was with genuine compassion.

His liberal principles had earned him several bouts in a Mexican prison. However, having the advantage of being rich in the Diaz days, he could always bribe his escape. While in exile in Texas, Madero issued a call for the Mexican people to overthrow Diaz and reestablish democracy; it was on this day in 1910.

Rebellions began throughout Mexico, and even the army seemed loathe to defend the Thief-in-Chief. Six months later, Portfirio Diaz was on his yacht, cruising to Europe with his usual contingent of teenage girls; he lived happily ever after. Francisco Madero was the new President. On his private estates, he had genuinely improved his workers’ standard of living; he imagined that he could do the same with all of Mexico. Unfortunately, Mexico proved a little more difficult. Moderation seemed to please no one.

Revolutionaries wanted more drastic reforms than Madero was prepared to make. Conservatives wanted no reforms at all. Worse for Madero, his innocuous moderation terrified American corporate interests in Mexico. They evidently preferred paying bribes than taxes, and a scrupulous Mexican government might interfere with their business. The American Ambassador Henry Wilson, representing those business interests, initiated his own foreign policy: a military coup to overthrow Madero.

Assuming that everyone had his good intentions, Madero had not tried to purge the Mexican Army of Diaz’s cronies. Unfortunately, a number of generals proved quite nostalgic for the old kleptocracy and were eager to reestablish it. Ambassador Wilson had no trouble orchestrating the coup. Madero had entrusted his security to Gen. Victoriano Huerta. Huerta organized the firing squad.

If you have seen “The Wild Bunch”, “One Hundred Rifles”, or “Viva Zapata” you know what happened next. It was a free-for-all civil war. Any general could claim to be the President, and anyone could claim to be a general. The Conservatives fought the Revolutionaries, and the Revolutionaries fought each other. In hindsight, this probably was not the best environment for American businesses; it was impossible to keep track of whom to bribe.

By 1920, the civil wars had bled themselves dry, and Mexico had arrived at a political compromise that more or less has lasted to this day: a government of moderate thieves.

Masterpiece Marketing

Posted in General on October 30th, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Branding Comes Early in Filmmaking Process


LOS ANGELES — Jordan Yospe had some notes on the script for “The 28th Amendment,” a thriller about a president and a rogue Special Forces agent on the run. Some of the White House scenes were not detailed enough, Mr. Yospe thought. And, he suggested, the heroes should stop for a snack while they were on the lam.

“There’s no fast-food scene at all, but they have to eat,” he said.

Mr. Yospe was not a screenwriter, not a producer, not even a studio executive. No, Mr. Yospe was a lawyer with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. He was meeting with the writer-producer Roberto Orci, who co-wrote “Transformers” and “Star Trek,” to talk about how to include brands in “The 28th Amendment.”

In the past, studio executives made deals to include products in films. Now, with the help of people like Mr. Yospe, writers and producers themselves are cutting the deals often before the movie is cast or the script is fully shaped, like “The 28th Amendment,” which Warner Brothers has agreed to distribute.

Now, having Campbell’s Soup or Chrysler associated with your project can be nearly as important to your pitch as signing Tom Cruise.  

For the moviegoer, the shift will mean that advertising will become more integral to the movie. The change may not be obvious at first, but the devil is going to wear a lot more Prada.

Manufacturers can stipulate that a clothing label must be tried on “in a positive manner,” or candy or hamburgers have to be eaten “judiciously.” A liquor company might sponsor a film only if there is no underage drinking or if the bar where its product is served is chic rather than seedy.

The more intricately a film involves a product, the more a brand pays for the appearance, offering fees ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million a film.

Trying to justify my exorbitant cable TV bill, I recently watched “The Island.” It was two hours of death-defying adventure, intelligence-defying plot and taste-defying product placement. For instance, after a busy day of eluding death squads in the dystopic future, you can refresh yourself with a bottle of Aqua Fina. And why not make your harrowing escapes in a BMW.

(BMW’s publicity was minor compared to the product placement that Mercedes Benz received in “Triumph of the Will“. Now that was a celebrity endorsement!)

But why should product placement be limited to movies or television?

Wouldn’t the astute corporation want the Bible, William Shakespeare and Leo Tolstoy to shill for its products? I am pleased to announce that my new editing service–Masterpiece Marketing– can offer product placement in the greatest works of literature.

Think of the promotional opportunities in The Odyssey. For instance, the astute sponsor could add some helpful details about the construction of the Trojan Horse.

“Now sing of that wooden horse,

the ambuscade Odysseus planned,

The wily Greek knew where to shop

For all his needs at Home Depot.”

Among other Homeric endorsers, Circe is very popular among pet-lovers, and Polyphemus would make a credible user of Visine. And, as each member of Odysseus’ crew is devoured or drowns, his dying words could be “This wouldn’t happen on a Carnival Cruise.”

The Bible can perform miracles for your marketing. For instance, the Ten Plagues of Egypt needs corporate sponsors. Frogs, flies and locusts tie in nicely with Orkin; boils and the deaths of the first-born are good reasons to have Blue Cross/Blue Shield. And why did the Magi bring gold, frankincense and myrrh?  They first checked the baby registry at Target. We can also arrange to have your company included in the Beatitudes.

Would your company like to appear in Shakespeare? “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by YOUR NAME HERE.” “Oh, brave new world that has YOUR PRODUCT in it!”  For a slight additional fee, your endorsement will be included in Cliff’s Notes.

Masterpiece Marketing also offers a multi-media package, providing product placement in a novel and its film adaptation. For example, “Anna Karenina” offers memorable endorsements for vodka, mattresses and trains.

Masterpiece Marketing: creative ways to improve the truth.