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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: June ::
Re: Branagh's Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0527  Thursday, 4 June 1998.

From:           Renie Pickman-Thoon <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Jun 1998 17:37:08 -0700
Subject:        Re: Branagh's Hamlet--The Full Text

First, I feel I should at least note that I'm *pleased* to find this
list.  I would normally wait a decent period of time to learn the ropes
before blundering in; but the lure of the Branagh thread brought me
here, and I can't help but join the fun.  I apologize if I restate
anything that was posted before I joined.  If I overstep, in length or
tone, please attribute it to excessive zeal.

I have not seen the Jennings performance, but I have seen Branagh's
film, ummm-several times; it rekindled and redoubled my interest in Shax
(I hope that abbeviation is not forbidden...) so I certainly don't come
without my own prejudices.

I heartily second the suggestion for KB's film. Both my son (6 1/2) and
even my daughter (3 1/2)  watch it (the latter with judicious use of the
remote) It's a version that everyone can understand, and make their own
judgments. And yes, it's the full text-my understanding of what the full
text is, and, I suspect, many people's understanding of it, i.e. it's
got all the speeches, it's got all the characters.  Some of you may be
squirming already . . .

Jean Peterson wrote:

> I for
>one was at first puzzled and increasingly put off by Branagh's repeated
>insistence that he was filming the "entire" play, the "complete" text-as
>if such a thing existed-when he, like many directors before him, culled
>together a working text from all existing versions of the play,
>including modern emendations.

I can understand how such a perception might annoy.  Jean, were you
referring to his press interviews?  It's hardly the place to explain the
difference between the First Folio and the Second Quarto, don't you
agree?  The press aren't interested, and neither is the film-going
public.  In general.  It promotes the horrible notion that, to quote
Branagh, "Shakespeare is for swots."  KB has tried to get as far away as
possible from the idea that it takes a degree to like or understand
Shax.

In addition, it was hell, I've no doubt, to find backing for the movie
after Zeff's version with Mel beat him to the finish line.  No, I don't
think KB did the "full text" JUST so he could make his own film.  He's
far too in love with the play to have done that.  But, yes, it was
pitched and promoted as an "event"-and the distinction of the "full
text" made the money appear for a Hamlet, which, in film industry terms,
was pretty much on the heels of Zeff's.

No mean feat.  But back to KB's alleged "claim."

In the introduction to the screenplay for his film, KB recounts that he
considers his first taste of the "full text"  the 1992 BBC radio play,
which he describes as, "a splendid opportunity to explore the play's
language with a focus and significance that was uniquely offered by the
medium, in which the spoken word dominates." He goes on to note that,
"arguments will always rage as to what constitutes the 'full' text."
There is also a page devoted to explaining the choice of text for the
screenplay. (Pg. 174)

>his representation of
>his film as "the" complete *Hamlet* deliberately and dishonestly glossed
>over the very complex and interesting problems that the multiple texts
>of that play offer, and presented a misleading picture of his own
>directorial process.

Not in the least do I think he deliberately or dishonestly glossed over
the "choices" that multiple texts may offer.  He chose the most
expansive story he could, and was very straightforward about what he
chose and why he chose it.  As for his directorial process-that's
precisely what's involved in making the choices he did.

> the way Branagh so vociferously claimed to treat each word of
>the text as sacrosanct,

He did and he does-he anguished over whether to keep, "I'll make a ghost
of him that lets me."  His delivery of words, and his choice of images
have, in the main, been chosen to enhance understanding and
communication of the text.  (I'm going to include excitement in helping
communication.)  In the film documentary, "The Readiness is All"
--essentially, the Making of Hamlet-KB and Russell Jackson work through
finding where the words are grounded for the actors: in order to find
how to channel the energy in the words.  Jackson also mentions this in,
"Discovering Hamlet" a film about the Jacobi-directed RTC Hamlet (played
by Branagh).  (Branagh put Jackson and Hugh Crutwell on his team for
Henry V, and hasn't given them up since.)

As further evidence of his respect for what the writer wrote: the
screenwriter of Dead Again (a film which KB directed but did not write)
trumpeted how KB scrupulously adhered to the text.  And anyone who has
seen KB's film "A Midwinter's Tale" (don't miss it!) may recall Nicholas
Farrell's character exclaiming, "Can you *believe* the cuts!"

> while taking such cavalier liberties with other
>kinds of changes and interpolations: writing in characters who do not
>appear in the text (such as the prostitute in Polonius' bed), changing
>speech assignments (so that Ophelia and Hamlet are both seen reciting
>the love letter the text assigns to Polonius), and writing in the
>excessively repeated "flashback" scene of Hamlet and Ophelia making
>love, to cite just a few examples.

Taking liberties?  Artistic interpretation, I think is more apt.
Otherwise, I suppose a director is *always* taking liberties!  And
cavalier-no, certainly not.  He thought hard about all the choices he
made-and whether they work for YOU or not I'm convinced they weren't
lightly made.

In fact, I loved all of the choices you mention.  And I loved the
chandelier- you mean that isn't in the First Folio? (wink)  KB made the
choices he did to tell the story as he wished to-grandly-and I believe
he accomplished that.

> Even his decision to film the play
>as a 19th-century period piece (replete with a wealth of physical and
>material detail to set the scene) is peculiarly at odds with his
>apparent attempt to claim authoritative and definitive status for his
>film, unless one doesn't mind erasing the nearly 400 years of historic

Oooh-not at all.  First, to my knowledge KB has never claimed
"authoritative and definitive status" for his film.  And even if he
had-it doesn't necessarily follow that an authoritative Hamlet needs to
be in period.  As for definitive- is it heresy to argue that each person
may have a definitive Hamlet?  Or that a person may "change" Hamlets
depending on what stage of life they're in?

KB's version IS, right now, the version I'd take to a desert island.
Thank-you to Roy Flanagan who pointed out that almost all corners of
academe benefit from KB's bold risk-taking-even his mistakes.   Branagh
puts Shax on the table.   Failure? Not a whit.  A resounding success.

Cheers,
Renie

PS By the way, Lemmon played *Marcellus*; Ian McElhinney played
Bernardo.
 

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