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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Branagh
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1039  Saturday, 24 October 1998.

[1]     From:   Tad Davis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 12:04:14 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1029  Re: Branagh

[2]     From:   Drew Whitehead <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Oct 1998 08:39:13 +1000 (GMT+1000)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1029  Re: Branagh


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Oct 1998 12:04:14 -0400
Subject: 9.1029  Re: Branagh
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1029  Re: Branagh

I do not understand the perception of Branagh as an ego-maniac: that
description better fits Olivier, who carved many of the supporting
characters out of the play (and saddled it with a muddled theme to
boot). I thought Branagh's performance as Hamlet was intelligent, deeply
felt, and well-modulated; again, I simply don't understand the
perception of some people that he ranted through the entire film. The
attention and scope that Branagh as director gave to the other
characters was generous almost to a fault.

Unlike many people, I loved the moving camera: for the scenes where it
was used, it gave at least the sense of a live performance, the actors
out on a limb without a net, the scene growing organically
moment-by-moment in something approximating "real time." Consider that,
from the moment Hamlet enters the King's presence after the murder of
Polonius, until the King shouts "Do it, England!", there are no cuts:
the action is continuous, and so is the emotional build. There are many
such moments in the film.

I do believe there were some miscalculations. The two speeches he
transposed should have been left where they were; the use of a zooming
camera to make the Ghost appear to be moving did not work-it looked
schlocky; I wish he had dropped the "all occasions" speech-or at least
filmed it outdoors instead of on a hokey, fake-looking sound-stage; the
mob at Laertes' heels is dismissed too easily; and I felt the death of
Osric was too much.

There are many who would include Jack Lemmon in those miscalculations.
His first couple of speeches were awkward and out of place; he seemed to
be distracted by his poorly-balanced hat. But by the time he got to the
"ever 'gainst that season" speech, I thought he was fine, and continued
so from that point on.

There are many who would include the music in those miscalculations as
well. Again I disagree. There are two moments where the music threatens
to overwhelm the action: in the quiet prelude to Hamlet's outburst to
Ophelia, and in the "all occasions" speech. Otherwise I found the music
to be a good supporting player. I've listened to it many times, both in
and out of the context of the film-I'm a Patrick Doyle fan as well as a
Branagh fan-and I always enjoy hearing it; maybe not as much as the
soundtrack for "Henry V," but still enough to come back again and again.

There are occasional problems in the film integrating a "guest star"
with the action, and it gives an odd visual and psychic disconnection to
some of the scenes. Robin Williams was one of the first to be filmed,
and he does not actually appear in any of the medium or long shots of
the final swordfight; his character is either missing altogether from
those shots or, in one of them, doubled. Richard Attenborough comes out
of a door in the corner, pretends to look at the scene, and then exits
through the same door: you never see him moving in the midst of the
other characters. Branagh had to work around the schedules of his cast,
and it was not always possible to smooth over the rough edges in the
editing room.

I've seen the film about nine times now, and those are the moments I
would change if I could. The rest of it I would keep as it is. There are
many brilliant moments of illumination. Derek Jacobi's performance was
worth the price of admission several times over; Richard Briers
transformed my perception of Polonius, as Julie Christie did that of
Gertrude and Nicholas Farrell that of Horatio; Rufus Sewell made a
wonderful brooding Fortinbras in the snow, in a brief scene that-with
music, mood, and background-is one of my favorites in the film; and
Charlton Heston lent a quiet dignity to the Player King.

I do wish the film were available in the US in widescreen format. I was
in Ireland in May and almost bought it there, until someone pointed out
that the PAL video signal is incompatible with the standard in the US.
The "pan and scan" version available in the US distorts many of
Branagh's carefully-balanced compositions; most regrettable is the loss
of many of Julie Christie's reactions to Claudius' opening speech. The
scene is about them, not about him; but you'd never know it from the
videotape.

Tad Davis

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Drew Whitehead <
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Date:           Friday, 23 Oct 1998 08:39:13 +1000 (GMT+1000)
Subject: 9.1029  Re: Branagh
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1029  Re: Branagh

Neth Boneskewy wrote:

> I only know of a single Branagh-directed movie where Branagh is not
> involved as an actor, In The Bleak Midwinter.  Unless you're also
> thinking of Swan Song, his Oscar-nominated short documentary? -- but
> that would only make two.  Is this what you mean by "often"?

As I am sure other will tell you, there is the film "Dead Again" or at
least that is what it was called here.  The film you refer to as "In the
Bleak Midwinter" I know as "A Midwinter's Tale" (The Shakespearean pun
in this title appeals to me).  There is also a filmed stage version of
12th Night with Richard Briers as Malvolio.  I have a copy of this and
can get you the details if you would like them.  Living, as I do, in a
city that is lucky to see 2 or 3 live Shakespearean performance per year
I am always grateful when anyone does a movie version of one of his
plays, and I thank-you for your defence of Mr. Branagh.  He obviously
enjoys his field of work and has a passion for Shakespeare, and even
though I don't always agree with everything he does (Jack Lemon, ugh!) I
applaud his efforts and look forward to the next time I go to the cinema
to see another of his productions

Drew Whitehead
 

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