Posted by: aediculaantinoi | January 20, 2013

Take Me Back to Thrace, Part I: Now With More Muppets!

As avid readers of this blog know, I like watching movies and television–particularly when the films or shows involved have relevance to the materials of this blog (or, sometimes, not!). I’ve seen two things recently in particular that have great relevance to this blog, and which also have Thracian connections–no matter how distant–and I’d like to share the first of those with you here.

storyteller

I have enjoyed almost everything that I’ve seen Jim Henson do, from Sesame Street and The Muppet Show onwards. I heard about Jim Henson’s The Storyteller many years ago, but never saw it on television; I heard about it on a Jim Henson retrospective documentary, and it seemed interesting. I wasn’t able to see it until about five or so years ago, when I found the fairy tales episodes on a previously viewed DVD. I have enjoyed that series a great deal ever since; but, I did not know there was also a Greek myths series until a few years later. I was finally able to see these–there were only four episodes–over the last few days.

I have to say, I think that Jim Henson’s The Storyteller did an excellent job with these, both in capturing the essence of each story involved, as well as doing it in an accurate and mature way that was, yet, likewise appropriate for younger viewers. The four stories in the four episodes were “Daedalus & Icarus,” “Orpheus & Eurydice,” “Perseus & The Gorgon,” and “Theseus & The Minotaur.” While each had its charms, I have to say I think I enjoyed the first and the last of these the most.

hades

The gods are mentioned in every single episode, and are actually shown in “Orpheus & Eurydice”: Hades (seen above) and Persephone, of course, being major characters in the story, along with Charon. (Pan is mentioned as the “brother” of Aristaios, the satyr who brings about Eurydice’s death; Cerberus gets a mention by the Storyteller’s dog, not surprisingly and quite appropriately!) Thrace gets mentioned in that episode as well, quite appropriately; though, the death of Orpheus by maenads is not exactly told as usual, and Dionysos never gets mentioned–even though the abandoning of Ariadne on Naxos is featured prominently in the “Theseus & The Minotaur” episode. I suppose of the many gods, Dionysos might be the one most difficult to explain to children…I know in my own education, he was never mentioned until the 7th grade, when the (at that point) familiar Greek myths got a whole added dimension of sexuality that had been absent from their earlier presentation to us in school.

In the episode featuring Perseus, Atlas the titan is shown, and likewise Hermes and Athena are mentioned (and the latter is also said to have been Daedalus’ instructor in engineering and architecture), and even Zeus gets several mentions throughout the series, and appears as the “golden shower” into Danaë’s chamber, which elicits the comment from the Storyteller’s dog, “So THAT’s how it happens!?!” I do have to say that the dialogue, and many of the speeches of both the Storyteller and the various characters are very much in keeping with the character of the figures depicted, in my opinion; the fact that there are many different versions of the stories as well is accurately and beautifully expressed by the Storyteller, who in the Greek Myths series is played by Michael Gambon. Other notable actors in various roles include the incomparable Derek Jacoby as Daedalus, a brilliantly menacing performance by John Wood (of Ladyhawke and War Games fame) as Minos, and Lindsay Duncan (Junia Servilia in Rome) as Theseus’ step-mother Medea!

I’d highly recommend seeing this, if you have not already. Copies of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: The Greek Myths on DVD are rather expensive new, and not exactly cheap previously viewed, unfortunately; I believe it is available through Netflix, however.

When I get to “Part II” of this series, I’ll detail the third season of STARZ’s Spartacus! (My first post on that series from a few years ago has been one of the most consistently viewed ones on this blog…for reasons I’m sure you can guess at!)


Responses

  1. I love those episodes myself. I am not sure if they are still on Netflix, but the series was there last year by which I was able to enjoy it. I had seen the episode of Orpheus and Eurydice as a child and so I was thrilled to be able to watch it again (along with the others) so many years later :)

  2. There were on Dutch tv when I was growing up in the 90′s. I was very little and duly impressed.

  3. I love this series so much especially the Theseus episode. My favorite part is Ariadne abandoned on Naxos and how she’s not just lying there crying and pining for death but is raging and shaking her fist at the departing ship. That’s much more the Ariadne I know. :D

    • I had wondered about your opinions on that one in particular, especially because of Ariadne. I loved her dress–if nothing else (though there was a great deal else there to like!), they got the look right. And, yes, her cursing of Theseus from her island was powerful and appropriate. (It would have been great to have seen Dionysos in that episode, or another, of course, but you can’t have everything…!?!)

      I thought all of the dances were pretty good, too.

      From a purely “I’m a prurient old fuck” standpoint, I liked the Theseus episode as well because of the scene where Theseus replaced the random other Athenian bound for Crete. When he switched garments with him and was standing there in the loincloth, and then the other guy just continued to stand there rather dumbfounded, and not getting re-dressed in Theseus’ tunic…it was a feast for the eyes, certainly! But, there you go…

      (Speaking of which: in the fairy tales series, did you notice the proclivity of the costume designer for codpieces amongst the male characters? Interesting choice for a kid’s show, eh?)

      • Yeah, the costuming and set design and creature fx were all superb – in some ways I feel it was some of the best work that Jim Henson studies ever did. But honestly, I wasn’t sad that they left Dionysos out. Granted, for the sake of completeness he probably should have put in an appearance both in the Theseus episode and the Orpheus one – but as you say, he’s a very complex and difficult god to portray, especially on a kid-friendly show (though I’m not entirely sure the series was aimed at children) and to be perfectly blunt I don’t think I’ve yet seen anyone portray him properly, at least when they’re intending to. (Lots of characters remind me very strongly of him, but that’s not quite the same thing.) Plus, that sort of makes it more like ancient Greek drama. Although the tragedies all take place in the world of Dionysos, with echoes and allusions, he doesn’t actually come on stage very often. Euripides’ Bakchai being the notable extant exception to that – but aside from a slender handful of trilogies explicitly devoted to Dionysian subjects, most dramas explored other themes, at least by the time the great Triad were working. I think there’s something appropriate to that, as much as I’d rather every single play be about him.

      • Indeed…very good point–there’s a good “presence in absence” thing taking place.

        A question for you, O Dionysian connoisseur: Wasn’t Dionysos in “The Frogs,” going down to Hades in the guise of Herakles? (Or am I totally getting that wrong…?!?)

        And, a few other questions for you related to all this:

        Having just seen the “Daedalus & Icarus” episode as well, I wondered, given Daedalus’ importance for the labyrinth, if you’ve had much to do with him in your own practices.

        Also, do you like the Dead Can Dance song “Ariadne”? I’ve been listening to it each morning coming to school…I have some thoughts on it, but I’ll share them later as I must get to class now!

  4. [...] Take Me Back to Thrace, Part I: Now With More Muppets! (aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com) [...]

  5. […] One” of a post called “Take Me Back To Thrace,” and Part One focused upon Muppets. I’d like to now do Part Two, which focuses […]


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