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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: Branagh H5
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1611  Tuesday, 26 June 2001

[1]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jun 2001 08:48:26 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jun 2001 09:39:06 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5

[3]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jun 2001 12:53:42 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5

[4]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Jun 2001 19:23:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re: my proofreading skills in responding to Branagh's H5

[5]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 Jun 2001 17:39:44 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Jun 2001 08:48:26 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5

I venture, with some trepidation, into an arena (performance criticism
and Shakespeare on film) which is not my strongest.

I read, with interest, both Andy White's and Graham Bradshaw's comments
on the respective virtues (or lack thereof) of Branagh's *H5*.  It
strikes me that they are, perhaps, using different standards of
evaluation.  Andy, I *think*, is looking at the emotive properties of
the film *as film*.  Graham seems to be evaluating the film as
performance and as representation of the text(s).  Both are perfectly
valid methods of evaluation, but are difficult to reconcile in direct
comparison.  Mike Jensen makes a good and important point in reminding
us that our standards for reference and evaluation need to address F and
Q, as well as the aggregate body of performances available to us.

I wanted to toss into the mix a totally un-scholarly couple of anecdotes
drawn from my experiences of Olivier's *H5* as a student, and Branagh's
*H5* as a teacher.

When I was in high school (an all-girls prep-school, actually), the
administration decided to load the entire student body into busses and
take us to see a special screening of Olivier's *H5*  (this was in 1973,
incidentally -- I'm not QUITE old enough to have seen it in its first
release!).  Off we went.  I recall being bored to tears...and I
basically LIKED Shakespeare, even then.  Some of my classmates were even
more bored, to the point of repairing to the restrooms to indulge in
smoking various illicit substances.  They got caught, and we were hauled
back to school with many dire predictions of how our inability to
appreciate culture would haunt us the rest of our lives.

Later, when I was teaching English at a university in Japan, I showed a
group of English majors Branagh's *H5*.  They liked it.  These were
people who were pretty fluent in English, but said that they had never
before been able to understand Shakespearean language as they had heard
it in performance (they had experience with both film and stage
versions).  They could understand the language in Branagh's *H5*, and
enjoyed it tremendously.

Later still (about four years ago), when I was teaching in an all-boys
prep school, I had the opportunity to show Branagh's *H5* to the 125
15-16 year olds under my care.  They all loved it.  They wanted to read
the play after they had seen the movie.  They wanted to read, and see,
more Shakespeare plays.  They talked about how compelling the language
was, especially in contrast to their only previous encounter with
performed Shakespeare, the mandatory viewing of Zeffirelli's *R&J* the
year before.  That, they said, had turned them off completely (except
for the brief nudity, which they liked!).  They were amazed that they
could enjoy a Shakespeare film that had no dirty bits.

I know Branagh's film leaves much to be desired in many ways, and I can
understand why Graham Bradshaw compared Olivier's "surgical" cuts with
Branagh's "slasher" approach.  But I can't help but feel affectionate
toward a movie that has done so much to entice quite a few people
further into Shakespeare.

For what it's worth.

Cheers,
Karen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Jun 2001 09:39:06 -0700
Subject: 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1592 Re: Branagh H5

Graham Bradshaw writes that

>In the message which Andrew thought "vitriolic" I suggested, as one
>example of Branagh's inability to think about Shakespeare's play (as
>anything other than a vehicle for histrionic exhibitionism), that he
>couldn't make any sense of what Pistol is doing in the play.

Surely Pistol appears (here, more than in Olivier, at least) as a victim
of war.

I was rather surprised by the variety of responses that Branagh's
version is able to elicit, and while I generally don't like Branagh's
work, I think that this is the best thing he ever did, if only because
it provokes such varying responses.  We can still see the title
character as terribly guilty or as wonderfully heroic.  Surely this is
the mark of an 'intelligent' production, isn't it?

I tend to think of Branagh's historiography (such as it is) as rather
similar to that of John Keegan, who wrote both _The Face of Battle_,
which founded a new school of historiography by looking mainly about the
conditions of foot-soldiers, and _The Mask of Command_ which looked
exclusively at leaders.  Both Pistol and Henry are examined by the film
with a certain sensitivity, and in the (admittedly, self-indulgent)
scene with the boy, the two are related.

By the way, in a very good paper at the Association of Canadian College
and University Teachers of English, John Leonard argued (in French,
incidentally) that the siege and starvation of Rouen was the event most
elided by Shakespeare's play.  No production that I've seen has tried to
put it back in.

Cheers,
Se

 

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