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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Branagh's *Hamlet*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0168.  Tuesday, 4 February 1997.

(1)     From:   David Evett <R0870%
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        Date:   Monday, 03 Feb 1997 16:50 ET
        Subj:   SHK 8.0164  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

(2)     From:   Tad Davis <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 1997 14:17:24 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Branagh's Hamlet

(3)     From:   Troy Swartz <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 1997 17:52:29 -0500
        Subj:   RE: Music in "Hamlet"

(4)     From:   Ed Peschko <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 1997 18:00:46 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0164  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

(5)     From:   Chris Gordon <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 97 19:35:32 -0600
        Subj:   Branagh's Hamlet/music


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <R0870%
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Date:           Monday, 03 Feb 1997 16:50 ET
Subject: Re: Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 8.0164  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

I for one loved almost all the theatrical elements of the production, and hated
the more overtly cinematic--the Busby Berkeley staging of 1.2, until they got
to the speeches and closeups, the not-very-persuasive special effects of the
scenes with the Ghost, the first-half close (Greenland's icy shores?--certainly
nothing within many leagues of Elsinore), the exiguous violence of Fortinbras'
arrival, even the strip-poker approach to the duel, though it gives us a chance
to see the results of Branagh's time in the weight-room. And, indeed, all that
loud mediocre music.  In the aftermath of that wonderfully delicate playing by
Robin Williams I was ready to cheer; as I walked out I felt quite cross.

Grumpily,
Dave Evett

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 1997 14:17:24 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Branagh's Hamlet

In a recent SHAKSPER message, Elizabeth Blye Schmitt writes:

>I would like to know why Branagh felt it necessary to take the "how all
>occasions do inform against me" speech and turn it into Hamlet's version
>of St. Crispin's Day. His tendency to go for volume over intimacy was, at
>times, annoying, but he is the director.

And H. R. Greenberg writes:

>I have not heard so much bad, bathetic music playing so constantly, and
>often so loudly underneath a narrative since Hollywood Forties' B
>pictures. The result was often terribly disruptive, notably in the "How
>all occasions do inform against me..." soliloquy, set against
>Fortinbras' troops marching towards Poland, which terminates the film's
>first section.

I've seen the film twice now, and I have to agree with the perception of this
one scene. I don't agree with the perception of Branagh as going for volume
over intimacy in general, or with the perception of the music as being bad or
bathetic in general. But this one scene does not work. Branagh apparently felt
the need for a rousing conclusion before the intermission, and his verbal
interpretation of the soliloquy and its musical accompaniment reflect that. The
music undercuts the emotion of the speech in a jarringly obvious way. As if to
emphasize that this scene is somehow out of place, it is (unlike any of the
other outdoor scenes) filmed on a stagey indoor set with what appears to be a
matte painting in the background. The film has so much visual depth in all its
other scenes that the lack of depth in this one is immediately apparent.

Personally I wouldn't have minded if Branagh had chopped the whole speech, and
ended the first part of the film with Rufus Sewell's wonderfully sinister
Fortinbras "going softly on" into the snowy whiteout. There is at least some
textual warrant for omitting the speech. I wonder if originally he intended to
do so, and then relented to arguments that without it he could be accused of
not doing the "whole play"; or if an original filming of the scene on location
was found, too late, to have some flaw.  As it appears in the movie, the scene
looks and feels like an afterthought.

But I should also note that this imperfectly rendered scene was my only
complaint about the film. I loved it. I liked it even better the second time.
I found myself haunted last night by a feeling of the whole: all of its twists
and turns compounded into an overwhelming bodily sensation of dignity, loss,
and sadness: "A man's life's no more than to say 'one.' ... The readiness is
all." I even enjoyed Jack Lemmon's performance as Marcellus: he's gotten bad
press, not all of it deserved, or at least not deserved to that degree. No one
in the film sticks out as badly as Keanu Reeves in "Much Ado." And whatever the
flaws of the other performers, Derek Jacobi's brilliant performance as Claudius
is worth the price of admission several times over.

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Troy Swartz <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 1997 17:52:29 -0500
Subject:        RE: Music in "Hamlet"

In regards to the score for Branagh's "Hamlet":  Unfortunately I have not seen
the film yet, so the next best thing for me to do was to check out the website.
 It appears that the score was composed by Patrick Doyle.  For some, this could
be a fortunate event or, for those like me, an unfortunate event.  My first
encounter with Doyle was his score for "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein".  At the
time I thought it was excellent. However, after seeing "Dead Again" and "Henry
V", I became disenchanted with Doyle's composing ablities.  He tends to add too
much 'gusto' to events in films that do not warrant such impacting sounds.  I
can handle the 'gusto' to a degree, but what I cannot handle is the fact that
much of Doyle's music sounds the same.  However, perhaps this film [Hamlet] is
different.  Granted, Doyle's music has won awards, but it still does not change
the fact that the score is sometimes a bit too overbearing, masking the
important events of a film, as well as also seeming to be recycled musical
phrases and orchestrations.  Well, that's my spiel. I'm sure there are plenty
of you out there willing to disagree.

>-- Troy Swartz

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Peschko <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 1997 18:00:46 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 8.0164  Re: Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0164  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

>I haven't been following the "Hamlet" thread, but has there been any mention of
>the score, especially in comparison with Walton's music for Olivier's film? I
>have not heard so much bad, bathetic  music playing so constantly, and often so
>loudly underneath a narrative since Hollywood Forties' B pictures. The result
>was often terribly disruptive, notably in the "How all occasions do inform
>against me..." soliloquy, set against Fortinbras' troops marching towards
>Poland, which terminates the film's first section. I do not know whether
>Branagh intentended it so, but the execrable music was brought up so loud as to
>virtually drown out this very important speech (at least at the Paris theater
>in NY).. Perhaps the director intended to further dwarf Hamlet's lame protest
>against the reality of Fortinbras' "stirring with great intent". Comments on
>the music in general, and its specific use in the latter instance would be
>appreciated.
>
> H.R. Greenberg

Yeah... I thought that the music was overblown a bit -- and it kind of 'got in
the way' of me enjoying the movie on the second viewing.

Except for two places. One -- the scene with the second gravedigger, and the
'to be' soliloqy. In both cases, the music worked because it didn't take
control of the scene, and was more of an 'undercurrent'.

I tended to look at this version of Hamlet as sort of 'Hamlet Squared'. Most
live performances I've seen, the actor who plays Hamlet kind of 'winds down'
due to the emotional intensity of the role.

In the movie, Branagh could go full-tilt the entire time (along with everybody
else). Kind of exhausting...

Ed

(PS: I don't know about anybody else -- but I thought that Branagh's radio
recording of Hamlet --  available from the BBC --  is much more subtle, and
much better read overall.  Although I *was* rather more fond of Kate Winslet's
Ophelia, and the 'play within the play'.

Anybody else wish to compare the two?

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Gordon <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 97 19:35:32 -0600
Subject:        Branagh's Hamlet/music

I have to admit that  I too was disappointed with the setting of Hamlet's "How
all occasions" soliloquy when I saw the film; a discussion with my colleague
Kris Michaelson today, however, made me reconsider: Kris is bright and
well-read, but not especially knowledgeable about Shakespeare or _Hamlet_; her
reading of the film was that one of the main points had to do with the futility
of revenge, and she saw this scene as pointing that up by the very way in which
it made Hamlet into a nearly insignificant figure in a vast landscape. I found
that a very nice reading indeed; I have no idea whether that was a point Mr.
Branagh was trying to make (since I, too, saw the scene as a somewhat
overindulgent replay of the St. Crispin's day speech in _Henry V_), but her
response did make me pause. As to the music: I must confess that I speak as a
huge fan of Patrick Doyle (who, in addition to scoring Branagh's work, composed
the scores for _Indochine_, _Into the West_, and _Sense and Sensibility_, among
others). I had been listening to the soundtrack for more than a month before I
saw the film and found it absolutely compelling. I thought the music in the
film was used extremely well overall, though I thought it was overdone in the
scene above. It's important to remember, however, that the composer is not the
final arbiter of how the music is used, so if blame must be laid in this case,
it must be laid at Mr. Branagh's feet. I've managed to see the film three times
in two weeks, and still think it brilliant overall.

Chris Gordon
 

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