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Queen Elizabeth’s Magician: a docu-drama about Dr John Dee
09.01.2011
09:07 pm
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A couple of months ago Damon Albarn premiered his new work Dr Dee: An English Opera as part of the Manchester International Festival. As the name would suggest, Dr Dee concerns the life of the Elizabethan mathematician, cartographer and magician John Dee, with original music composed by Albarn (singing and conducting a chamber group live on stage throughout the show). Well, maybe it was because I was so blown away by Bjork’s magical Biophilia show a few days earlier at the festival, but I found the opera to be a massive let down. You can read more of my thoughts on Dr Dee An English Opera here.

One of the main complaints levelled at Albarn’s production was that its oblique nature did nothing to explain the fascinating story of John Dee to an audience unfamiliar with the man. I was lucky enough to have some knowledge in advance and was able to spot some of the key moments in Dee’s life - but even then the narrative felt scrambled and made little use of some incredible source material (namely the man’s incredible life story). That’s despite this promising write up in the MIF’s program:

There was once an Englishman so influential that he defined how we measure years, so quintessential that he lives on in Shakespeare’s words; yet so shrouded in mystery that he’s fallen from the very pages of history itself.
That man was Dr Dee – astrologer, courtier, alchemist, and spy.

Queen Elizabeth’s Magician - John Dee is a 2002 television show produced by the UK’s Channel 4 for their Masters of Darkness series, and tells the man’s incredible story in a much more accessible way. While perhaps not revealing anything that the more avid Dee student wouldn’t already know, the show is informative and entertaining (if slightly cheesy) and serves as a good introduction to the man and his legacy. It’s also a good watch for fans of Alan Moore, who appears throughout the show and talks of Dee’s magical practices and their influence - and the three-note “spooky” sax motif is more memorable than anything in Albarn’s opera: 
 

 
Previously on DM:
Dr. Dee: sneak preview of new Damon Albarn opera about 16th Century Alchemist

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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09.01.2011
09:07 pm
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The Paranormal Peter Sellers
10.09.2010
07:23 pm
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Many actors are superstitious. Some like Peter Bull kept a collection of Teddy bears to bring him good luck; others like Jack Lemmon said the words, “It’s magic time,” before filming each scene. But none were quite as obsessed with superstitions and the Occult as comedy genius, Peter Sellers.

Sellers’ introduction to the Occult came via fellow Goon, Michael Bentine, the Watford-born Peruvian, who had grown-up in a household where seances and table-turning were regularly practiced. Not long after they first met, Bentine told Sellers of his psychic abilities - how during the Second World War, when Bentine served in the Royal Air Force, he had been able to tell which of his comrades would die before a bombing mission. Bentine claimed if he saw a skull instead of his colleague’s features, then he knew this person would be killed. How often Bentine was correct in his predictions is not known. No matter, Sellers was impressed by the shock-haired comic and was soon obsessed with all things paranormal.

From then on he collected superstitions, as easily as others collect stamps. He refused to wear green or act with anyone dressed in the color. If anyone gave him something sharp, he gave them a penny. He read his horoscopes every day, to divine what he should do.

Sellers often said he had no idea who he was: “If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.”  This was his way of renouncing any responsibility for his actions.  He claimed he found comfort and stability in consulting clairvoyants and fortune tellers, which again only underlines the fact he did know who he was - a control freak, who wanted power over his future. It was inevitable, therefore, that once under the spell of sooth-sayers and psychics, Sellers was open to fraudsters, tricksters and con-men.

The clairvoyant who had most influence over his life was Maurice Woodruff, the famed TV and newspaper astrologer, whose syndicated column reached over fifty million people at the height of his career. Woodruff received over 5,000 letters a week, asking for advice and had a Who’s Who of of celebrity clients, including Lionel Bart and Diana Dors. He also famously predicted the death of President John F. Kennedy and the end of the Vietnam War. Sellers was devoted to Woodruff, consulting him before he accepted any roles, and regularly had Tarot readings performed over the telephone. But Woodruff was heavily in debt and open to the persuasion of a little cash earner when film studios asked him to suggest film scripts for the actor.

One famous tale, recounts how Woodruff was asked to suggest the initials of director Blake Edwards as being very important to him. Unfortunately, Sellers failed to connect ‘B.E.’ with the famous director. On return to the Dorchetser Hotel, his usual residence when in London, Sellers was smitten by the sight of a beautiful, young blonde-haired woman at reception. When he enquired as to who this vision of loveliness was, he was told Britt Ekland. Sellers recalled Woodruff’s prediction and married Ekland within weeks.
 
More on the paranormal Peter Sellers plus bonus clip after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.09.2010
07:23 pm
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