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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Branagh; Films
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0559.  Tuesday, 18 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Jul 1995 15:21:31 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Antony and Cleopatra
 
(2)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Jul 95 18:05:32 EDT
        Subj:   [Branagh Question]
 
(3)     From:   Douglas Flummer <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Jul 95  22:41:21 CST
        Subj:   SHK 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Films; Adaptations
 
(4)     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <ANNAL@TEMPLEVM>
        Date:   Monday, 17 Jul 95 08:19:58 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Films; Adaptations
 
(5)     From:   Seth Barron <
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        Date:   Monday, 17 Jul 1995 15:29:34 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Branagh's terrible films
 
(6)     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Sunday, 16 Jul 95 08:34:22 IST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0552  Re: Branagh Films
 
(7)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Jul 1995 13:46:15 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   film
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Jul 1995 15:21:31 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Antony and Cleopatra
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Antony and Cleopatra
 
Jan Stirm;
 
I looked up the ages of Antony and Cleopatra at their deaths, and, you're
right, they were well out of their thirties, Antony late forties, Cleopatra,
60ish. Still, this is the movies. As for Emma playing Cleopatra, I should think
a black wig would do, purely to conform with tradition.  Unless there's been
some recent research that I've missed, Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemies,
first put in power by Alexander the Great, Macedonians originally, and
therefor, white. And even if she hadn't been white historically, if Denzel
Washington can play a sixteenth century Italian prince, why not a white actor a
black role?
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Jul 95 18:05:32 EDT
Subject:        [Branagh Question]
 
Terence Hawkes' and Simon Morgan-Russell's ideological approach to the Branagh
Question provokes this idea for a feature-length animated movie.  There's this
bright, charismatic Irish puppet, see, who's learning the ideas and values
appropriate to performers who are also members of victimized colonial
populations from his wise old foster-father.  But he succumbs to the worldly
blandishments of these seductive English cats--dons, and directors of
Establishment theatrical establishments, and financiers--and despite the
frantic counselling of his sidekick, a one-winged Welsh raptor named Hegemony
Cricketts, he gets drawn into the Show Biz, and he gets turned on to this
apparently virtuous but ultimately repressive idea of making feature films of
the plays of Shakespeare so that the great cultural icon can become accessible
to The People--not just high school and college students (what could be less
popular?), but coal miners and and lingerie salespersons and what not.  And as
he gets further and further into the toils of the powers that be, his round
Irish chin gets longer and longer, and his curly reddish hair gets straighter
and blonder, and his stocky Irish figure gets taller and leaner, and before
long he looks exactly like an Oxford rowing blue, now chained with a lot of
others like him to the bow oar of a military galley bent on the destruction of
the very puppet shop in which he was originally made, with the don cats and the
director cats and the financier cats beating the drum and patrolling the
catwalk with their whips. But the plucky sidekick's shrill cries of alarm call
down a host of others like him; they fly in the face of the oarsmen and throw
them out of rhythm, and persuade the puppet to tear himself free, and with his
oar to steer the galley onto a rock, causing it to split apart and sink.  He
and Hegemony float ashore near the puppet shop; in a close-up we see that his
features have returned to their original Hibernian form, and he is free at last
to take up his legitimate calling, as a Punch-type taking hit-and-run whacks at
the Establishment for little groups of truly popular spectators in marketplaces
and fairgrounds and the parking lots of suburban malls.
 
More gravely (a very little more--hey, it's summertime), I would observe (a)
that as Frederick Jameson wrote a while ago, ideology informs the arts by
troping "real social contradictions [e.g. the struggle in Northern Ireland
between Catholic and Protestant interests], insurmountable in their own terms,"
leading toward "a purely formal resolution in the aesthetic realm" (_The
Political Unconscious-, 1981, p. 79) and (b) that if you want to make a
bloodless revolution you have to change the views of the ins as well as the
outs.  I mean, what's to prevent our reading Branagh's H5 as a political
allegory promoting separatist views?  There's this bright, charismatic king,
played by this very Irish-looking actor, see, a loyal son of Mother Church, who
leads this raggle- taggle army of thieves and outcasts and, especially, Celts
off to war against a very Establishment-looking-and-sounding enemy, across the
water, despite the threat of another ancient enemy in the north of his own
country, and against overwhelming odds of men and materiel and even weather,
wins the victory (not without much regret at the necessary loss of human life),
and marries the princess (whose real name and looks and manner of speech and
gesture seem extremely C of E to me).
 
More gravely yet, and to answer my own question, I will argue that in ways
accessible to both ins and outs, the version of the Chamberlain's Men's play
filmed by Branagh and his many collaborators interrogates many important social
and political "contradictions" vigorously, even memorably--upper-class self-
assertion and treachery, the desperate criminality of the chronically poor,
power's hunger for more power, and the way it terribly feeds that hunger with
the bodies of subjected men and women.  It also movingly and/or delightfully
images the age-old antidotes to those age-old horrors, such as cameraderie,
love- making, and the singing of hymns.  It has, undoubtedly, a powerfully
cooptative effect, because no one will make another widely distributed -Henry
V_ for a long time.  But it seems to me clearly to work at the center of the
contradictions rather than at any of the extremes, and that's the place that
makes it most possible to get the most people interested and involved.
 
Dave Evett
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Flummer <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Jul 95  22:41:21 CST
Subject: Re: Branagh; Films; Adaptations
Comment:        SHK 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Films; Adaptations
 
Mixed in with the discussion of the merits of Branagh's work has been various
comments, mostly disparaging, about the presence of Keanu Reeves in *Much Ado
About Nothing*.  While I continue to see him as being a "Bill and Ted" type,
this much should be said about him: He continues to seek out roles that
challenge him to be a better actor.  It is easy to find actors or actresses
that have loads and load of talent that simply take the easy roles in the
movies that are sure to make lots of money.  But I think that Reeves has
exibited a penchant for taking roles that tend to be risks.  Whatever the
results may be, I think he deserves credit for putting more effort and daring
into his work than many other higher salaried purveyors of his craft.
 
Douglas Flummer,
who happens to like "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure"...one can't watch
serious art 100% of the time.
 
p.s. So Leonardo Dicaprio and Peter O'Toole are the cast of *R&J*.  Which one
is Romeo and which is Juliet?
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <ANNAL@TEMPLEVM>
Date:           Monday, 17 Jul 95 08:19:58 EDT
Subject: 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Films; Adaptations
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0554  Re: Branagh; Films; Adaptations
 
I have several objections to the Gibson *Hamlet* although I do agree that there
are some wonderful bits and the film does a good popular version of this most
famous and therefore heavily weighed play.
 
I found Zeffirelli's decision to cut long scenes into shorter ones (especially
1.2) distracting, because it also cut into the logic of the plot. Events became
disconnected and almost random. That, combined with deep cuts, destroyed (for
me) the rhythm of the play.
 
I hated the Oedipal reading when Olivier did it and I hate it here.
 
Of course everyone has an impossible, ideal Hamlet, but I felt Mel failed to
show the gentler side of Hamlet, the pre-madness side. The courtesy to those of
lower rank, moments of true caring to Ophelia, all these were lost in a wave of
sarcasm.
 
And finally, I now realize that Shakespeare knew what he was doing when he did
not show Hamlet either boarding the pirate ship or stealing the letters, or
dramatize Ophelia's death. These scenes just don't work.
 
                                                   Annalisa Castaldo
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Seth Barron <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Jul 1995 15:29:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Branagh's terrible films
 
I have just finished reviewing a week's worth of SHAKSPER-mail and am amazed
and nauseated by the amount of defensive and reactive commentary in defense of
Branagh's decidedly mediocre films.  The shrill and condescending fatuousness
about "the people" aside, I find it hard to believe that so many presumably
credible people could be anything but bored by Branagh's cheap, flat, un-ironic
exercises in trivial spectacle and self-promotion.  The key moment for me is in
Henry V when, after ruthlessly hanging Bardolph for stealing a pax from a
church, Branagh introduces one of his stupid and unilluminating flashbacks to
the tavern in order to sentimentalize the king: the cut back to the present
shows Branagh-as-Henry with a tear running down his face.  Branagh has to have
it both ways: he wants to show Henry to be stern and so forth, but can't stand
the idea of becoming unsympathetic to the audience because he panders so
shamelessly.  I agree entirely with the reactionary, even idolotrously
fascistic reading of Branagh's film.  The scenes with Katherine, those terrible
scenes of King Henry's smug coyness, his perfect ease with conquer and rape,
scenes which should be dificult for anyone short of Goebbles to read  as
delighful, are played as frothily as possible by Branagh, who winds up as smug
and twee as Henry himself, though obviously unconsciously.
 
As for MAAN, it is hard to respond to all of those effusive and desperate
letters about the "aliveness" of Shakespeare, the "mirth" and "warmth" of the
Immortal Bard, hard because those letters are so intensely embarrassing to
read.  Why is it the curse of Shakespeare studies to defend not just the
relevance of its object to contemporary society, but its essential humor and
general relevance to life, or "Life" as many would seem to have it, Life as an
endless and exuberant country dance that we are committed to demonstrating the
joy of to as many 14 to 18 year olds as possible?  Why do I suspect that on
other posts there are not cloying references to the "aliveness" of Milton, or
to Dryden's "Warmth"?
 
But as for the film, let me put forward just one question: if it is really so
funny, why does Branagh have the characters laugh at their own and each other's
jokes so maniacally?  The only other movies I have ever seen where people laugh
so frantically, with such an intense need to affirm humor where there may be
none, are about crazy people.  Obviously Branagh is cueing the audience with
this absurd laughter, gentle hints from the master of arcane forced fun,
alerting us to the presence of horn jokes, so patiently letting us know that,
yes, this, _this_ is the Carnivalesque: Enjoy it!
 
To finish let me just suggest that someone who really can deal with the
cinematic representation of festivity in an interesting and complex way is
Pasolini, who isn't afraid to deal with the morbidity of celebration.
                        Seth Barron
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Sunday, 16 Jul 95 08:34:22 IST
Subject: 6.0552  Re: Branagh Films
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0552  Re: Branagh Films
 
Just to weigh in (on?) with the extensive discussion of Branagh's filmic effort
to bring the Bard to "the people" (whoever THEY may be), I've taught MAAN twice
over the past year and have found Branagh's film very useful as a means of get-
ting students to think hard about the production aspects of what is all-too-oft
en just another text they must plow through with my not always inspiring help.
Among the issues we raised were those of casting decisions-Denzel Washington as
one of the really "hot" Hollywood properties, as well as Michael Keaton just
finished with _Batman_, clearly were chosen with a view to the draw--just as
Shakespeare the businessman knew that Dogberry was a role Kempe would have a
real frolic with.  More interesting to me on a theoretical level was the highly
erotic and therefore classicly comic opening sequence of the film, perhaps not
intentionally making the film much more amenable to analysis as a pure comedy
fraught with erotic energy and an undertone of potential tragedy, rather than a
Shavian comedy of witty manners.  I found that my students, both Arab and
Jewish Israelis, made use of the film to construct arguments about potential
productions and one trio of them even staged the scene in which Don John plants
the seed of doubt in the minds of Claudio and company with Don John as a very
campy Biker type, dancing onstage with a boombox playing Michael Jackson's
"Bad"--an inspired interpretation of the necessity of a figure like Don John
for a comedy in the Greek sense of the term, and also a much better Don John to
my thinking than Keanu Reeves managed.
 
As for the H5 debate, I would simply refer readers (if no one else has as yet)
to an essay in _Shakespeare Right and Left_ (or maybe it's _Alternative Shak._)
on Branagh's two versions of the play, his film having followed his RSC
performance in a production heavily favoring the proletarian characters in
every aspect of the staging, from emphasizing lines Branagh's film cuts
(especially in Henry's reply to William in the famous incognito scene on the
eve of Agincourt) to using a drinking song as a plaintive background motif for
the later battle scenes.  Fine essay--sorry to be so vague on the exact
references.
 
Michael Yogev
University of Haifa

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(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Jul 1995 13:46:15 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        film
 
Lest I become responsible for an international incident, where we Yanks are
once again made to seem to be playing the buffoons, let me assure everyone that
when I referred to "some of the best American actors" making films like
*Batman* I wasn't referring to Van Kilmer.  I hesitate to name names, but
listmembers might pause for a moment to ponder in silence what happened to the
career of the man once played the lead role in *Five Easy Pieces* and
*Chinatown.*
 
And Professor Hawkes, in a nation which is now beginning to spend more money on
prisons than schools, the head of the Bard hurled at us with all the fury of an
Irishman comes to us, generally speaking, as an easy, welcome lob.
 
--Robert Appelbaum
 

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