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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0536  Monday, 25 February 2002

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 09:18:36 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[2]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 10:17:22 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[3]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Feb 2002 20:57:21 -0500
        Subj:   Classical Acting: Signs of Decline, Part II

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Saturday, 23 Feb 2002 09:52:24 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 09:18:36 -0800
Subject: 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

One is slow to disagree with a reader/viewer as sensitive as Karen
Peterson, but regarding the Schaffer *Tempest*:

>It has been colorized, apparently by someone taking mind-altering drugs
>on the job.

Actually, it was broadcast in colour.  I don't know about the fidelity
of the colours on your tape, but on mine they are odd pale pastels.
Very strange.

>Evans was, as I recall, considered a fair-to-
>good Shakespearean actor,
>perhaps closer to the "classical" style under discussion than to current
>trends... In this "Tempest", he was just...
>embarrassing. Hammy, poorly inflected, un-
>thought-out articulation.  Hackneyed,
>awkward movements.  I could go on and on, but won't.

I don't know what Evans was like when he received such acclaim for
Shakespeare at the Old Vic, though certainly the writer Audrey
Willamason was routinely impressed.  I have seen four of his *Hallmark
Hall of Fame* Shakespeare productions, of which *The Tempest* was the
last.  They are all pretty much the same performance, and Karen
describes it (them?) well.

>Apparently the point of this production was to do a version that would
>charm children and lower-secondary age kids into a life-long love affair
>with Shakespeare.  I don't know.

It was actually similar to the other three in the way it brought
Shakespeare to the masses.  The most telling differences are, I think,
genre differences.  *Macbeth* (the 1954 version, not the 1960, which I
have not seen in 30 years) was a tragedy, so it lacked the lightness of
*Tempest.* *Shrew* was done as a knockabout farce, with an unintendedly
disturbing misogynist ballet after the wedding.  *RII* is probably the
best of the four, though quite bland.  It was done as a kind of
historical tragedy.

Aside from these differences in tone, *The Tempest* was the most
accomplished technologically.  The others feel quite primitive--I
believe they were broadcast live--and that feel very much affects the
way the shows *play* to me.  I find these to be the most significant
differences.  Otherwise the play very similarly.

It is worth noting that many contemporary reviewers were impressed by
these broadcasts, which goes along with Karen's point about how taste
and standards evolve, so those who try to set standards in stone will
not look very smart in the court of history, assuming the court pays
attention to them.

>One final note.  I wish I could remember where I read this...that Gielgud
>sometimes expressed
>annoyance at Olivier because he felt that the latter actor was too
>naturalistic, and uncritically accepting of "contemporary"
>(post-classical?) acting styles, and that his (Olivier's) work diminished
>the dignity of Shakespeare.

I don't know that Gielgud didn't say this at some point in his life, but
in a television interview broadcast a few years before he died (on The
South Bank Show--I think), Gielgud said that he hired Olivier to
alternate Mercutio and Romeo with him because of his respect for the way
he thought Olivier would handle Shakespeare.  He allowed that the
reviewers were harsh to Olivier, but said that within a short time they
caught up to what Olivier was doing, and learned to praise him.  Gielgud
felt Olivier was a much better Romeo.  I don't remember if he expressed
an opinion about Mercutio.

Best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 10:17:22 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

Gielgud knew full well that he was being grouped with Olivier in the
"last great generation of classical actors" category and he agreed. He
understood that Olivier's naturalistic style of acting was taken twenty
steps further by Brando, De Niro, Pacino, etc.

Although it may be lamented that acting ahs declined, and I certainly
cannot totally disagree, Brando himself delivers what I think is an
electrifying performance as Mark Antony in Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar.
In his own, non-classical style. And in a film with John Gielgud as
Cassius! How's that for clashing of styles?

Brian Willis

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 20:57:21 -0500
Subject:        Classical Acting: Signs of Decline, Part II

In "Shakespeare in the Twentieth-Century Theatre," appearing in The
Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (2001), Peter Holland acknowledges
the "common assumption that the great age of verse-speaking belongs
irretrievably in the past."

--Charles Weinstein

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Saturday, 23 Feb 2002 09:52:24 -0800
Subject: 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0519 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

Charles,

Regrettably, you seem to have me confused with someone who teaches in a
high school.  For yours information, my students who are left so
uninspired by Olivier are in a third-year course in a leading research
university.  In any case, smearing those whose tastes do not coincide
with one's own does not make an argument.  People have different tastes,
and can have different tastes that are equally informed.

Charles's pseudo-argument that "A Gielgud performance has emotional
riches that will not yield themselves instanter to the dismissive
sensibilities of today's average teenager," is immediately reversible,
like a glove.  Why should the emotional richness of a Marlon Brando
performance yield itself instantly to the dismissive sensibilities of
someone who's never overcome the judgements of his teenage years?

Cheers,
Se

 

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