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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Branagh Films
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0552.  Thursday, 13 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <ANNAL@TEMPLEVM>
        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 95 08:23:41 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0541  Re: Oth. Film
 
(2)     From:   Greg Grainger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 09:50:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
(3)     From:   Ellen Edgerton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 95 09:52 EDT
        Subj:   Branagh *H5* morals
 
(4)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 10:27:27 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
(5)     From:   Simon Morgan-Russell <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 10:35:28 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0548 Re: Branagh Films
 
(6)     From:   Kenneth S. Rothwell <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 11:39:02 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
(7)     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 09:32:27 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
(8)     From:   Mickie Mosley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 95 08:53:28 pst
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
(9)     From:   Peter Greenfield <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 09:33:47 -0700
        Subj:   Branagh films
 
(10)    From:   Douglas Flummer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 95  19:03:38 CST
        Subj:   SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
(11)    From:   John Owen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 11:23:42 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <ANNAL@TEMPLEVM>
Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 95 08:23:41 EDT
Subject: 6.0541  Re: Oth. Film
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0541  Re: Oth. Film
 
I am interested to here more from Carol about why huge salaries do not go along
with quality art. Not that I don't think either 11.5 or 7 million pounds or
dollars isn't a ridiculous price for acting. But it is actually in line with
what movie stars get these days. And both Branaugh and Fishborne are good, as
opposed to Pauly Shore. Why should money turn them into cartoons?
 
                                                                 Annalisa
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Greg Grainger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 09:50:00 -0400
Subject: 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
 Ellen Edgerton <
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>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--
 
A side-light - since you're in the Northeast anyway, a very fine set of 'real'
porductions can be found in Stratford, Ontario. One of the first and still one
of the finest Shakespearian festivals in North America.
 
That aside, your point is a valid one.
 
Greg, good Canadian boy.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ellen Edgerton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 95 09:52 EDT
Subject:        Branagh *H5* morals
 
> 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? and then h
> produced *HV*?  And people started talking about him as the "next Olivier" -
> 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 partis
>  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).
 
Five years after seeing Branagh's *Henry V* film I'm still amazed at how many
people insist on seeing some sort of Thatcherite subtext in the film. (Someone
actually wrote a scholarly, dead serious polemic against the film and Branagh
and Prince Charles a few years ago; I wish I could remember the publication it
appeared in, but the title of the essay was "A Royal Fellowship of Death" or
something.)  If you're trying to link Branagh's Northern Irish (Protestant)
roots with subtexts in the film, I say you're on the right track, but going in
the wrong direction.  This is one of the most apolitical Shakespeare movies
I've ever seen, in my opinion.  (Whether it should be or not is another
debate.)
 
In examining the past history of productions of *H5* (something which seeing
this film drove me to do), especially in the 20th century, especially up to
recently, it seems to me that the chain of inspiration running at least as far
back as the 1975 RSC production has been what I would call "post-revisionist."
I'm really bothered by the willingness of observers of *H5* productions in the
1990s to focus so much on whether or not a production is, or should be,
"traditional/patriotic" or "revisionist/ cynical/anti-militaristic."  As if
this is the main, or perhaps ONLY, axis on which any clear, worthy production
should spin.  Branagh's film ties directly into a train of thought about *H5*
that might have started before the Hands production, but certainly continued
through Noble's 1984 staging and beyond -- that *H5* need not simply be a
nationalistic or political football to kick around, that it can actually be
about people as well.
 
I just get very disappointed to hear people still carping over Branagh's *H5*
with various conspiracy theories about it "pretending" to be anti-war while
"really" being pro-war...this is utter nonsense.  I've picked up bits of
information about Branagh over the years and it's shocking at just how personal
the film really seems to be.  A lot of people have noted surface parallels to
Branagh as filmmaker/young lion and Henry as young king; but these are the
public faces of both of them.  There are more interesting things seemingly
going on at a more personal level in this film, for Branagh and his character,
and they are totally apolitical in nature. Branagh may have visited Prince
Charles to do research on the role, but he obviously played Henry from his own
experience as a displaced person. If one wants to view Welles' FALSTAFF as "the
long goodbye" that Hal gives to Falstaff and the past, then Branagh's *H5* is
the even >longer< goodbye and the scene is now transported to the fields of
France and to Henry's own internal struggle to leave the past behind.  If
you're looking for a political allegory with modern-day Britain, I leave you to
it. You're not likely to find it, even about Northern Ireland, in a film made
by someone whose chief formative personal experiences seem to be based around
shifting environments, and transformed socioeconomic status and ethnic
identification.   It is not surprising that someone with these experiences
should end up playing Henry as a character in transition, caught between states
of maturity, between past and future, between sincere embrace of the company of
common men and kingly pragmatism and isolation.  (Maybe even between identity.
When Shakespeare has Henry say, "I am Welsh, you know," it's probably bollocks,
but when Branagh's Henry says it, he really means it.)
 
Given this context (which I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed and found
resonant), to try and pigeonhole >this< film as taking this or that political
position is in my opinion missing out on a lot.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 10:27:27 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
As Shakespeare through the pop vehicle of theater was able to preserve and pass
along to the groundlings much of the history and mythology that he saw as the
foundation of their common culture, a foundation hidden until then from all but
the handful who could afford a liberal arts education, so today Kenneth Branagh
is passing along to the audience of movie-goers the Shakespeare that is too
often hidden in academic seminars. Like the history and myths that lay at the
heart of sixteenth century culture, so Shakespeare lies at the heart of our
culture of today. Contributor of somewhere between three and five thousand
words to the common vocabulary, not to mention commonplace phrases and idioms
by the dozens, he also set a standard for competence in the use of language
that has resulted in perhaps the greatest literature in the world. His
contribution to the language is arguably greater than that of any other single
individual, a language that has risen since his time from a small and
unimportant vernacular to the most important language in the world. In bringing
Shakespeare to life for the groundlings of today he is performing a very
important function, and one which I wish he were willing or free to perform
more often. I hope that he and Emma can get around to Antony and Cleopatra
while they are still young enough to be believable. True, his films aren't
perfect. (Everybody groans at Keanu Reeves performance, but no one has
mentioned Michael Keaton's inexplicable take on Dogberry. Thank God for the
mute button!) Still, Patrick Doyle's wonderful music, moments like the opening
of HV, backstage on a modern theater, or the falling in love scene in Much Ado,
more than make up for all faults.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Morgan-Russell <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 10:35:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0548 Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0548 Re: Branagh Films
 
I feel like the Governor of Harfleur -- beset with Branagh and his colonising
hordes, waiting in vain for reinforcements from the Dauphin.
 
Ellen Edgerton seems to think that I accused Branagh of "appealing to the least
common denominator" and Martinek seems to suggest I'd prefer to have Sh.'s
plays "locked up in museums."  I seem to have been constructed as a hoary
Shakespearean curmudgeon.  Not so!  A veritable fresh-faced youth, I'm not much
older than Kenneth Branagh when he published his autobiography *Beginnnings* .
. .
 
Of course I'm not in favour of locking up Shakespeare behind glass (although
locking up Shakespeare behind celluloid is, apparently, OK), and I'm certainly
not accusing of Branagh of diminishing Shakespeare, and lovers of his films as
groundlings.  In fact, I'm questioning Branagh's position in this cinematic
transaction.  By all means -- make films of Shakespeare's plays ("My Own
Private Idaho," Greenaway's "The Tempest," Jarman's "EII" -- all of which I
prefer to Branagh's efforts). But to "bring" Shakespeare to "the people"
requires that (a) one is in a position to "give" it, implying (doesn't it?) a
superior interpretive position and (b) the definition of "the people" as an
audience, which is surely a move we should be wary of, as scholar's familiar
with the debates about the homo/heterogeneity of Shakespeare's audiences.  I'm
sure everyone has a favourite exception, but it seems to me that the "the
people" consists of American HS/College students and Anglo-philes, largely.  I
say again, who could argue with the fact that the several versions of Sh.'s
plays on film don't allow the possibility of dialogue in the classroom?
Scwartz points out, quite correctly, that it's a question of interpretive
"vision" -- I don't like the fact that Branagh's vision is becoming the vision
of a generation of students.  One student of mine balked at the idea of
watching both Branagh's AND Olivier's films of *H5* -- Olivier's was "old, and
out-of date" compared with Branagh's.
 
Kagan asks "Why argue with success?"  To which I respond "Hegemony!"  And Pam
Powell suggests that if I don't like Kenneth Branagh, I should just stay at
home.  I guess that's the answer -- but wait, I see I've pluralised "scholars"
with an apostrophe earlier in my post . . . a chink in my academic
fortifications . . . I hear King Branagh I (or should that be King Olivier II,
the Usurper) cry "Once more into the breach . . ." If only the reinforcements
from the Dauphin would arrive . . .
 
Simon Morgan-Russell
Department of English
Bowling Green State University
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth S. Rothwell <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 11:39:02 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0546 Re: Branagh Films
 
Dear Friends, I was in California for a few days and returned to find my e-mail
flooded with comments about Branagh's films, mostly favorable. I was all set to
jump in until I discovered that I had little to say that hadn't already been
said better. Ironically Olivier was excoriated years ago pretty much the way
that "purists" (whatever that means) attack Branagh now. I remember one of my
professors having apoplexy over O's HAMLET for reasons  I never understood. I
assumed the professor was so learned that I couldn't possibly understand him
anyway.
 
I use this discussion as an excuse to remind colleagues that SHAKESPEARE
BULLETIN continues the work begun by the now defunct SHAKESPEARE ON FILM
NEWSLETTER. A section in each issue is devoted to reviews and articles on
Shakespeare on screen. If you have something you need to say about Branagh's
films, or any other director's, forward your manuscript to June Schlueter or
James Lusardi at Lafayette College, Easton PA 18042, or to me at the University
of Vermont. We welcome submissions. Hoping to hear from you, Ken Rothwell
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 09:32:27 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
I've been very entertained by the exchange on Branagh.  I just want to add a
question and a couple of comments.
 
(1) A question for Jeff Martinek: You say Orson Welles made the greatest
Shakespeare movie ever.  Which one are you referring to? I'd like to know so I
can challenge you if I disagree or see the film if I don't know it.
 
(2) For the record, I like Branagh's Shakespeare films a lot, though I  worry
he may have been so successful so quickly that he won't be as self-critical as
he needs to be.  I find his  _Henry V_  a stunning film.  Though I've pondered
the concerns some  have about what the film is saying about war, it seems to me
almost as ambiguous and open to interpretation on that question as
Shakespeare's text is.  For me and most of my students, though it celebrates
the camaraderie and courage of  Henry's soldiers, it is on the whole a moving
and realistic revelation of the horrors of war.  I knew Olivier's film version
pretty well before Branagh did his, and I've done some close comparison of
specific scenes.  I can only report what seems obvious to me: Branagh's acting
is much better--more believable, more engaging, more complex and thought
provoking--than Olivier's in almost every scene of the play.  (At the same
time, I don't deny that Olivier's version has some strong points.)
 
(3) I didn't take to Branagh's _Much Ado_ as quickly and fully as his _Henry
V_.  But I enjoy the film, and have enjoyed it more with repeated viewings.  I
may be a bit idiosyncratic in what I like and dislike in the film (at least no
one so far has said exactly what I would say).  So let me open myself to
agreement or disagreement by making my list:
 
     (a) Considering the medium and the standard length of films, the editing
is pretty good.  But I miss some lines that seem to me important for
understanding the play.
     (b) I don't think Keanu Reeves is a great actor (if you want to see him in
something REALLY non-memorable, try _Babes in Toyland_). But unlike most of you
(it appears), I found him a believable and memorable Don John.  He even seemed
to understand what he was saying.
     (c) For me the most irritating thing about the film--I felt this way when
I first saw it in Atlanta and every viewing has reconfirmed it--was the
treatment of Dogberry and crew.  I couldn't understand what Michael Keaton was
saying half the time, and I found the wierdness with which he played the part
distracting and pointless rather than funny.  The scenes struck me as odd,
self-conscious, overdone, manipulative--I don't know if I've quite put my
finger on what was wrong, but something certainly was.  I have seen several
stage versions of the play and have always found the Dogberry parts very
funny--i.e., a source of deep, spontaneous laughter, and trememendously,
charmingly, even heartwarmingly entertaining--when they have been played with
simple, straightforward dumbness.  For me, the Dogberry scenes were the low
point of the film.
     (d) I especially liked Branagh's treatment of Claudio and Hero. They were
strong, believable, likeable (though my teen-aged daughter thinks Claudio is
too earnest, emotional, and expressive).  I would guess that most who watch the
film believe they are genuinely in love, are happy to see them get together at
the end, and are willing to forgive Claudio.  I know that response is counter
to a venerable tradition, which dislikes Claudio and wants to see him and Hero
mainly as weak foils to Beatrice and Benedick.  But I think the play is much
stronger when we give C & H as generous a reading as the text allows.  Though
thousands of students have written papers claiming that Shakespeare was showing
true, mature love in B & B and false, immature love in C & H, I find that a
feeble, or at least incomplete interpretation.  I think Shakespeare is showing
various dimensions of  love--positive as well as negative--in both couples.  In
this respect at least,  Branagh's film effectively conveys the richness of the
play.
 
(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mickie Mosley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 95 08:53:28 pst
Subject: 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
I have been a theatre professional for some 25 years.  The sad reality is that
you almost have to bribe people in this country to come and see Shakespeare,
with a few exceptions such as Ashland, Oregon. Shakespeare is not taught
extensively in schools, it is only paused upon in perhaps 8th or 9th grade and
as a result most students never develop any love for Shakespeare or any kind of
poetry at all.
 
The wonderful and redeeming thing about Kenneth Branagh is that he is very much
getting Shakespeare back into the eye of the public. Whether or not you enjoy
the way he does it is irrelevant.  If people go to the movies and like what he
has done, perhaps they will be interested in reading the plays...and those of
us who truly love the works should be grateful for anyone that is steering
young people back into the fold, so to speak.  Yes, the plays are not exact to
the texts....yes, all the performances are not perfect, but the reality is that
this man has taken Shakespeare from the text book to the public and I think he
deserves a lot of credit for this.
 
We should all be interested very much in continuing the life and breath of
these wonderful works and if his contribution is not pure, it is simply one of
the best examples of a professional getting these magnificent works back into
the homes of most of America.
 
I say Hoorah!!
 
     MM
 
(9)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Greenfield <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 09:33:47 -0700
Subject:        Branagh films
 
Exclusive from the Clinkside Curmudgeon: Oh, no!  Here comes the abominable Mr.
B. and miserable stock company again.  That's right--as if Richard III and
Hamlet weren't enough for vainglorious Burbadge, now he thinks he can play a
Moor!  And of course, we'll be subjected to Will Kempe mugging at the audience
and insisting on doing a jig in the most inappropriate place.  I wish someone
would point him toward Norwich and give him a shove; at least we'd get nine
day's rest.  And then there's Shakespeare, turning out his tempestuous drivel,
so that Burbadge will let him do his old-man shtick one more time.  How long
will we have to wait for REAL character actors, like Richard Briers?
 
(10)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Flummer <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 95  19:03:38 CST
Subject: Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
I have read the commentary submitted over the last couple of days concerning
the quality of Branagh's Shakespearian efforts.  I am of the opinion that we
should be considering his films based on their own merits, rather that try to
compare them to what the "ultimate Shakespeare film" would be.  Personally, I
liked "Henry the 5th" more that I did "MAAN" because I thought that HV had a
better result when translated to the screen than did the other.  I thought that
Branagh did an excellent job of portraying the horrors of war (as did Gibson in
Braveheart, I might add) and of an extended military campaign in foreign lands
under inclimate weather.  I also think that overall, HV was a better effort at
portraying the reality of the living conditions that the characters had to deal
with than "MAAN", which I saw as being more like a stage production that
happened to be outside.  In comparison, one might say that I see nothing as
being added to what "MAAN" (in terms of adding a film's dimensions and
potential), while HV in fact benefitted from it's performance on film.
 
Now, this is not to say that HV could not have been better.  In fact, any
version of HV, MAAN, Othello, Hamlet, or whatever, will differ widely based on
the director and the interpretive decisions that said director makes.  But I
think that in discussing Branagh's previous work, rather than saying "it could
have been this" or "It could have been that", it would be more fair to ask "Did
he succeed in doing what he was trying to do" or "Is the film a truly effective
portrayal of Shakespeare's work.
 
I also wonder how well an "ultimate Shakespeare film" would succeed in today's
culture that seems to be so orientated on what is popular.In music (my own
personal forte) the best music is regularly overwhelmed in sales by music that
the public can easily relate to.  This is true when speaking of rock music
(hence the popularity of dance music and the current back-to-the-70's trendin
clothes), jazz (can you say Kenny G?) or classical (so much Mahler, so little
Shoenberg).  I have observed that as a particular artistic endeavor gets closer
to artistic purety, it is harder and harder to sell it to the masses.  I, in
fact, saw this just last night when I attended the St. Louis Lollapaloosa show,
when Cypress Hill, a rap group with MTV exposure, had the ampitheatre singing
"legalize it"; Hole, a pop group with a famous lead singer with similar MTV
exposure, had the audience captivated throughout their performance (which I
thought was better than any rap); while Sonic Youth, a band with no MTV
exposure but with a highly artistic and somewhat avant guarde method of perfor-
mance, had people going out to their cars, although the performance featured
almost 100% brand new or recent material and was true to the band's art ethic.
I figure that since the high levels of dissonance present throughout the music
makes their work somewhat inaccessable except to those who already have a taste
for such things, those people who left didn't put forth the effort to enjoy a
truly great thing.
 
I know, you are saying, "that is music and we are talking Shakespeare!"  I am
suggesting, in my typically wordy manner, that the "ultimate Shakespeare film"
would probably get the same treatment that Sonic Youth gets.  In it's purest
form, it would be inaccessable enough to the masses that it might not sell if
it were intended to be a major summer blockbuster, but might succeed if it were
relegated to the art house circuit.  Unfortunately, art house films does not
get the same level of distribution as other films that makes millions of bucks.
For example, I was lucky to see Greenaway's "Cook, Thief..." in a regular
theater, and I was not able to see "Prospero's Books" until our Student
Programming Council brought it to the Student Center as a video.  No other
Greenaway films have I had access to, although I could probably dig up a video
somewhere.
 
On the other hand, Branagh gets major advertising, major distribtion, and major
bucks to make his picture with.  HV was nominated for an Oscar, which in fact
led to it's being in my town long enough for me to see it.  It sounds like he
is in fact successful in making the Bard accessable to the masses.  This may,
in turn, make it possible for other Shakespearian films to be made (if I
remember, Gibson's Hamlet came out a little bit after HV), and for films that
put a more artistic interpretation on the work to be more bankable.
 
We must consider that our pop culture is different than it was when Olivier
made "Hamlet".  Then, artistically challenging pictures were commonly made by
directors and actors that received widespread recognition, such as Orson Welles
or Olivier.  While we still have quality directors today, we would not see
films like "Citizen Kane" get the recognition that they did back then.  If we
want Shakespeare to get a fair shake on film, it has to be shown to the studios
that such heavy subject matter is, in fact, bankable.
 
Douglas Flummer
Southern Illinois University
 
PS: please send direct e-mail, if desired, to 
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 .
The address that I am typing from is on our mainframe system, and I absolutely
hate it!  On the other hand, my other address is on Windows-based Lotus Notes,
and it is much easier to reply from there than it is on here.  (Maybe I might
switch my subscription from here to there someday.)  Thanks.
 
(11)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Owen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jul 1995 11:23:42 -0700
Subject: 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0548  Re: Branagh Films
 
Well, I have held out as long as I can. I don't see Branagh as being a very
severe popularizer. A lot of MAAN: the play is preserved in MAAN: the movie. At
San Diego's Old Globe, the fine regional theater where I saw my first
Shakespeare as a boy, the Bard has been dealt with far more drastically. There
was once a MAAN there during the late 60's, set on the moon, with Friar John as
a robot. One more recent production set it in imperial British India (with
characters named Don Pedro, etc, speaking Elizabethan verse, heaven help us!).
And don't get me started on Brook's Lear, which cut passages out of the play to
make it MORE downbeat. Compared to the wild experimentation on stage since
1960, the most radical film versions have been moderate, if not conservative.
Maybe dragging the kids to Ashland involves more peril than you think.
 
With this in mind, could someone (preferably Prof. Morgan-Russell) give us a
summary of what Branagh has 'done' to Shakespeare which does not amount to
merely expressing a vague aversion to his latest films? As far as acting goes,
well. The only unqualified failures I saw were the Don John of Reeves and the
Dogberry of Keaton (well, never seen a good Dogberry to be honest -- have
you?). Ok, and the Antonio of Brian Blessed (I mean, dash it all, the whole
point of the character is that he should be so infirm and ancient that his
fiery challenge to Claudio is poignantly impracticable -- the gigantic Mr.
Blessed looks fully capable of ripping poor Mr. Leonard's head off. The
definition of bad casting.) Yes, that is a lot of bad performing, but I defy
the purist to find a production where there is no unsatisfactory element. In a
way, all Shakespeare performances are, as in Hazlitt's review of Kean, read by
flashes of lightning. The dedicated playgoer is addicted to the spendid MOMENTS
when Shakespeare's intentions seem to be full  y realized. The dedicated actor
and director, I hope, strive to produce them. As much as I joy in reading the
plays, those moments simply cannot be reproduced on the page. The only other
option, audio Shakespeare, has its good points. Pure spoken language, absolute
Shakespeare, no loony visual excess, no clodhopper stage business. But
something is always missing from that too, some completeness of interaction,
some spontaneity
 
Oh yes, back to Branagh. Good actor, better director, excellent producer. And
please listen to the spendid BBC radio Lear with Gielgud, before passing
immutable judgement on Branagh.
 
John Owen
 

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