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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
Re: Film of Julius Caesar
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0869  Tuesday, 22 September 1998.

[1]     From:   Louis Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Sep 1998 12:15:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0868  Q: Julius Caesar

[2]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Sep 1998 14:49:47 -0500
        Subj:   FILM OF JC

[3]     From:   Scott Crozier <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Sep 1998 09:32:04 +1000
        Subj:   Julius Caesar


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Sep 1998 12:15:20 -0500
Subject: 9.0868  Q: Julius Caesar
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0868  Q: Julius Caesar

>I have just seen the 1953 black/white "Julius Caesar" film (USA),
>featuring Marlon Brando as Antonius,  Louis Calhern as Caesar, and John
>Gielgud as Cassius.  It is supposed to be one of the best Caesar films,
>and I do like it. However, having read the play and seen it as a film, I
>still do not find it very fascinating.  Much more exciting, among the
>tragedies, are Macbeth, Titus, and Lear, I think.  Any comments?

Oh, yes.  One reason why the play is not fascinating in production is
that the Stoic philosophy is traditionally accepted as the reason for
Brutus' cool acceptance and approval of Portia's mad act of stabbing
herself to prove that she is worthy of his confidence, when any loving
husband - and Brutus is otherwise shown to be that - would be horrified
at this news, would react as Wood Allen might ("Couldn't you have just
crossed your heart and hoped to die?").  I suppose that if Brutus were
cast as a 19th century religious fanatic, or an Ahab, we might find our
way to understand his otherwise nutty confirmation of her deed.  That
reading would, of course, have to be salted over the rest of the
character's actions - with what effect on the whole character and on the
argument of the play, I cannot at this point presume to estimate.
Shakespeare gives Portia two scenes and a report of her death, all of
which indicate his conviction that she is seriously  mentally ill.  The
force of this is, to my knowledge, seldom if ever played.

There's more: Another scene that is so devastating in  the play'
argument, but is brushed over without any apparent directorial evidence
that it is so, is the tent scene in which Cassius bares his breast for
Brutus' dagger, remarking that his (Cassius') own crime is greater than
that of Caesar (who, after all, was only suspected of a future "crime",
whereas Cassius has actually committed one). So logically, Brutus should
kill him, too.   This stunning - it certainly should be stunning -
pivotal moment, in which Brutus must either destroy Cassius or betray
the principle that made him kill Caesar, has never been adequately
presented in any production I have seen.  Nor is it discussed in
production books that otherwise bother the play to death with notes on
motivation, etc.   When Brutus does NOT kill Cassius  in a production,
the sky should fall.  This is the moment when the world has turned
upside down for Brutus - but in any production I have witnessed or read
about, it is merely a moment when the two friends are reconciled!
Outrageous!

Yet another problem in the play as produced is everyone's acceptance of
Caesar as great.  But Shakespeare shows him to be fearful, proud,
overbearing, superstitious, pompous, and insulting.  This is a great
man?  Shakespeare doesn't think so.  A further problem is that he
BECOMES so the moment he is killed!  Contrary to the evidence presented
us by the man himself, Brutus and Antony moan and chatter away about
this earth-mover.  What shall we, as an attentive audience, think?
Brutus is a dupe - we may be able to accept that - but Anthony in a
*soliloquy*, mind you, with none to impress, no one to persuade for his
usual devious reasons, tells us what a wonderful man Caesar was!   Has
Antony been fooled?  Must we not think so, granting what we have seen of
this Caesar?  "Out of his own mouth he has condemned himself."  But if
the wiley Antony has been fooled, what does this do the argument of the
play?

It is as though directors and actors of this play presume that we should
bring to the performance a knowledge of  Stoicism, and a volume of
information that establishes the greatness of Caesar.   "Everyone
knows," they seem to say, "that Caesar was a great man, that Stoicism
was a philosophy of the time, that Antony and Brutus said and did those
things, that the history of the period was as reported by Plutarch.
Bring  this information with you so that we will not have to deal with
problems of motivation ."- as they would have to if, suddenly, someone
dared to give new, unkown names to these characters.
In short, I believe that the play is usually a flop in presentation
because no one HAS changed the names of the characters temporarily to
Jim, Bob, Mike and Sally, to see what Shakespeare really intended it to
be, a play, not an historical gloss.

      L. Swilley

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Sep 1998 14:49:47 -0500
Subject:        FILM OF JC

Niklas Seehaus asks about responses to the film of JC 1953 starring
Gielgud, Brando,  Garson, Kerr-and Mason too, as Brutus.  I argue for
the important influence of this film on JC criticism and on the
conception of the play-these in an art. about to appear in the inaugural
vol. of the new international annual edited by W. Elton and J. Mucciolo.

Cheers--
J.W.V.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Crozier <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Sep 1998 09:32:04 +1000
Subject:        Julius Caesar

Niklaus Seehaus asks what is so interesting about the 1953 film of JC.
A number of ideas that interests me is the date of its making, 1953 - in
the middle of the witch hunts that were scourging the America at the
time.  With this, the Roman forum looks vaguely familiar - look at
images of Washington.  Cassius and Brutus are played by non-American
actors and the Marlon Brando - very much the hero of the film - is very
American, very young and very correct.  The depiction of Portia and
Calphurnia is also interesting in terms of Hollywood's construction of
the "little woman".  Look at the way Calphurnia is depicted in the scene
where Caesar is convinced to go to the Senate.

Scott Crozier
 

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