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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Branagh Films
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0548.  Wednesday, 12 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Christine Gilmore <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 07:38:14 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546  Re: Branagh Films
 
(2)     From:   Pam Powell <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 17:02:04 GMT +2:00
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546  Re: Branagh Films
 
(3)     From:   Noel Chevalier <CHEVALIE@UREGINA1>
        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 95 09:19:44 CST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0544  *Oth.*: Q: Emilia; Othello v. Iago; Film
 
(4)     From:   Simon Morgan-Russell <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 12:19:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
(5)     From:   Ellen Edgerton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 95 13:29 EDT
        Subj:   One further thought on Branagh
 
(6)     From:   Karin Magaldi-Unger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 10:57:32 U
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546  Re- Branagh
 
(7)     From:   Jeff Martinek <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 12:21:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
(8)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 11:22:29 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
(9)     From:   Lawrence S Schwartz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 16:17:32 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Gilmore <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 07:38:14 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 6.0546  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546  Re: Branagh Films
 
Well, may, I agree with some of Simon Morgan-Russell's reservations about
Branagh on Shakespeare on film.  What redeems the films is that they are
Shakespeare and some of the acting; however, in Much Ado About Nothing much of
the acting was horrible--Reeves and Leonard in particular. Although Denzel
Washington was quite good, quite stately, the color blind casting was too too
weird.  Even Thompson and Branagh were a bit much, though Emma Thompson looked
wonderful.  All in all, I'd rather read the play than see that version again.
As for Henry the 5th, some elements were quite stirring (could that have been
the music?), but in general I found the framing structure illucid (is that a
word?).  Again, I'd rather read the play.  However, Henry wasn't as bad as
Gibson's Hamlet. What redeems these film efforts is the Shakespeare.  How
wonderful it is to watch/read intelligent, clever, thought-provoking dialogue.
I do look forward to any new Shakespeare film and this new Othello may well be
good even though I can't quite see Branagh as Iago, but if so I'd like to see
Emma Thompson as Emilia.  With Fishburne as Othello, I'm sure there will be
redeeming elements of this version of Shakespeare as well.
 
cg

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pam Powell <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 17:02:04 GMT +2:00
Subject: 6.0546  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546  Re: Branagh Films
 
Well said all of you who like Kenneth Branagh. I saw MAAN 5 times and I took
people to see it who had been bored with Shakespeare at school and had not
bothered with him since and all enjoyed the film version. So where is the harm
in that? It was a beautiful, easy to access production and what's wrong with
bringing Shakespeare to the masses anyway? I'm all for showing people what
they're missing and opening their eyes to Shakespeare's stories, characters and
poetry.  Let people who don't like Kenneth Branagh stay at home!
 
Pam Powell
Univ of Witwatersrand
South Africa
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Noel Chevalier <CHEVALIE@UREGINA1>
Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 95 09:19:44 CST
Subject: 6.0544  *Oth.*: Q: Emilia; Othello v. Iago; Film
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0544  *Oth.*: Q: Emilia; Othello v. Iago; Film
 
One word to Simon Morgan-Russell:
 
Before we start sending letters to anyone about Branagh's "despoiling" of
Shakespeare, I think we have to be very careful to judge these films within
their own context.  Certainly they're not definitive performances by any means,
neither should they be taken as such.  Branagh (and Zeffirelli before him),
like it or not, do stand in a long tradition of WS adapters and popularisers, a
tradition that includes Garrick and Dryden and even (God help us!) Sir Henry
Irving.  I think there is some intrinsic interest in assessing how the most
significant entertainment medium of our own time handles Shakespeare.  In many
ways, these films are far more faithful to WS than, say, Dryden ever was.  And
if you prefer a more artistic reading of WS on film, you always have Orson
Welles.  Or Derek Jarman.  Or Peter Greenaway.  Film does permit such multiple
readings to reach mass audiences in a way that WS could never conceive.  I
think the only real danger in any film is that the sense of ephemerality is
lost, and that less astute viewers (students among them) may tend to think of
"the Branagh version" of *Henry V* as *the* version (in the same way that some
of my students saw "the Mel Gibson Hamlet" as the definitive version).  I know
people of another generation who passionately defended Olivier's films of the
1940s as definitive versions, even though Olivier took greater liberties with
the text than Garrick.  It's an old story, and it's not going to go away.  If
nothing else, you can see these films as records of popular culture's reaction
to the one writer that popular culture still claims.  I can certainly be
critical of what Garrick did with *Hamlet* and *Lear*; but I'd give my eye
teeth to be able to see Garrick on film, if only to judge for myself what all
the fuss was about.
 
Noel Chevalier

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(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Morgan-Russell <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 12:19:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
Hmm.  I suppose I should answer the last posting on this issue, though I'm
surprised that the response were completely pro-Branagh.  I remember the
showing of MAAN at the Atlanta SAA, and my section of the auditorium grumbled
throughout the film.
 
So.  I suppose it's clear that I dislike Branagh, though I will admit that I
don't know much about him, and may have made the age-old mistake of mistaking
the actor's character for the character of his role.  But I don't think he's a
great actor.  And I don't like what he does to Sh.'s plays.  Perhaps there's a
national divide on this issue -- certainly all my American students love him,
and my British friends and colleagues dislike him.  When I told several British
friends here in Bowling Green about *Othello* there were groans, eye-rolling,
and even a few cases of horror at the assumption that Branagh might play
Othello himself (which I hastily cleared up).  It's difficult to explain this
reaction in terms of individual misanthropic cynicism.
 
I suppose I don't care for the fact that Branagh is becoming the "canonical"
Shakespeare.  He was one of the three Hamlets of 88/89 wasn't he? amd then he
produced *HV*?  And people started talking about him as the "next Olivier" --
indeed, I almost expected a *RIII*.  My fear is that Branagh thinks of himself
in this way -- that somehow he is the heir to Olivier's Shakespeare (hence,
"vainglory").  I'm sure that Branagh's mission to bring Sh. to the people is
succeeding, as Ms. Goodman remarks.  But who appointed him to this role?  I'm
not in favour of restricting the circulation of Shakespeare to a cultural
elite.  I'm from a working-class family in England, and, without the anomalous
exception of my grandfather, none of my immediate or extended family have ever
read any Shakespeare.  They don't miss it.  They would argue (and I might
agree) that they don't need it.  I'm not sure how easily we can determine who
the "people" of Branagh's mission are.
 
So what are Branagh's motives for bringing Sh. to the people?   I've heard
disturbing things of *HV*, for example.  Certainly, Olivier's film is partisan.
 Propaganda.  But the message of Branagh's *HV* -- which can come across as
"military presence is awful, isn't it, but necessary after all" -- has been
contextualised by some viewers with the British presence in Northern Ireland
(not my thesis).
 
My call for an "open letter" to Branagh was tongue-in-cheek (the internet
doesn't really allow for the transmission of this very easily).  I couldn't
really argue that Branagh should stop making movies, and I'm happy to have his
film as texts for discussion in my class (this Fall, my honours Shakespeare
students will be reading Sh's *HV* with Olivier's and Branagh's films and
Dekker's *Shoemakers' Holiday*, for example). Ultimately I doubt whether
Branagh cares a fig for my opinion of his films.  And I know that my students
still like his films despite my renowned grumbling about them.  And I would
like very much to continue to talk about the use of his movies (or as Ellen
Edgerton points out, movies in which he stars) in the classroom -- perhaps
saving vituperative wrangling for personal e-mail exchange, rather than
clogging the list with it.
 
As a parting shot, to all Branagh fans, I say unto you "Peter's Friends". . . .
 
Simon Morgan-Russell
Department of English
Bowling Green State University
 
P.S.  Mr Appelbaum! America's "best actors" in "Batman"!  Heavens forfend!
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ellen Edgerton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 95 13:29 EDT
Subject:        One further thought on Branagh
 
As for Kenneth Branagh somehow being reprehensible or appealing to the least
common denominator, which is what the original post seemed to me to be implying
and decrying:  what's so terrible about the cost of a ticket to see a
production of Shakespeare's plays being six or seven dollars? Am I somehow
being culturally lazy if I do not have the funds (much less the time) to leave
my provincial Northeastern city and embark for London, New York, or Ashland to
seek out a "real" production of these plays?  Maybe I should just continue
struggling with a 20-pound Bevington edition on my lap like I did in high
school--obviously, a much more realistic and erudite Shakespearean activity
than going to see something like the *Much Ado* film.  (And if students are
supposed to go out and seek Shakespeare for themselves... what do we need
English professors for, I wonder?   Or SHAKSPER, for that matter?)
 
Sorry to be such a groundling.
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karin Magaldi-Unger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 10:57:32 U
Subject: 6.0546  Re- Branagh
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546  Re- Branagh
 
<. . . it may be a sad commentary on late 20th century American culture that
the only way our students come in contact with Shakespeare (or Beethoven or
T.S. Eliot or Dorothy Parker or C.S. Lewis) is through film. I prefer to think
of it as the best use of a movie camera since "Buckaroo Banzai's Adventures
Across the 8th Dimension" ... Of course, we could try trapping them by the
busload and shipping 'em off to Ashland...> -Karen Krebser, San Jose State
University
 
In response to Karen Krebser's comments (at San Jose State): why "trap" your
students by the busload & send them to Ashland when you have a nationally
known, young, energetic & innovative Shakespeare festival right in your own
backyard in Santa Cruz? Shakespeare Santa Cruz eschews museum theater and
speaks to today's culture; our mission is very like Branagh's. Tell your
students about us & they'll come down here, without restraints!! We're
producing The Tempest, King Lear and Ronald Harwood's The Dresser this summer.
We open on July 19th. If you don't know who we are, check out the excellent
article about our 1994 production of The Merchant of Venice in the July-August
issue of American Theatre, or our home page on the WWW:
http://arts.ucsc.edu/shakespeare/welcome.html. Better yet, visit us yourself.
 
Karin Magaldi-Unger
Shakespeare Santa Cruz
Education and Outreach
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeff Martinek <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 12:21:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
How Silly.  There is nothing more unnatural and unhealthy as locking away
Shakespeare's plays in the libraries and museums.  Branagh's films, while far
from perfect, revitalize the bard to a new generation with their lusty and
shameless swagger.  As a grad students writing my dissertation on the bard, I
can't remember ever being as happy as the day I sat in the local theater with a
crowd of 15-year-olds watching Mr. Reeves redefine bad acting, studly Denzel
leer in his leather breeches, and Ken and Emma play Hepburn and Tracy beyond
the hilt.  What a glorious piece of work! Sure, some subtlety is lost, but IT'S
ALIVE with hormones and slapstick and dirty jokes and the gorgeous Tuscan sun.
My step-brother, an electrician with a sub-high school education, saw the film
and immediately purchased a 'complete works'---now he lards the lean earth with
pithy commentary on Branagh's editorial and directorial choices.  As Orson
Welles (who made the greatest Shakespeare movie ever) understood, 'high
seriousness' in Shakespeare is sterile without its gloriously earthy
counterpoint of horny drunks, sarcastic ostlers, and fatuous windbags.  I can't
wait for Branagh's "Simpson trial" version of Othello.
 
(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 11:22:29 -1000
Subject: 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
Just to throw my .02 cents worth into the fray: I am currently directing "Much
Ado About Nothing" as a free outdoor production in Honolulu.  The turn out for
auditions was stupendous.  I have been told by members of my cast that this is
because they "loved the movie".  Why argue with success?  From my own practical
point of view of a director, Kenneth Branagh can go through the entire
Shakespearean cannon and make as many movies as he wants to if the result is
the one that I have seen.  "The People" love Branagh's films and as a result,
the plays are gaining in popularity. I think that's the best of all possible
news.
 
Shirley Kagan
University of Hawaii
 
(9)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lawrence S Schwartz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jul 1995 16:17:32 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
One of the posters in the SHK 6.0546 posting writes:
 
"To be sure, Branagh's films are pop-culture versions of the works..."
 
Well, how can you tell?  Was Branagh's late-80s production of King Lear also a
pop-culture version?  Wasn't Shakespeare's retelling of the York-Lancastrian
set-to a pop-culture version of history?  Didn't he pop-culturise Holinshed?
 
Good heavens, but the air must be rarified in some of your ivory towers, or
perhaps you just need more sleep and sunshine.  Kenneth Branagh is a bright
guy, with the financial backing that allows him to produce his _version_ of
some mighty fine plays in _cinematic_ form.  Because he is able to produce
these works on film, he doesn't NEED to have 5 or 10 people dressed in
contrasting costumes run across the frame (screen) at alternate moments,
screaming "French pig" or "English dog," representing Agincourt.  Nope; he can
hire a lot of people to do it, and he can arrange to stick two bits of
celluloid together with some adhesive, and make a film.
 
A film is different than a play.  The vision of a director in either medium is
going to be different than _your_ vision, if the story is known to both of you.
 Personally, I buy into Branagh's vision, and I'm glad he's been able to
assemble casts that (save for Keanu Reeves) seem to revel in their roles, and
in the art of acting.
 

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