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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Olivier
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0627  Monday, 4 March 2002

[1]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Mar 2002 10:11:06 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0608 Re: Olivier

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Saturday, 2 Mar 2002 10:42:51 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0608 Re: Olivier


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Mar 2002 10:11:06 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0608 Re: Olivier
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0608 Re: Olivier

> The waning of the
> golden days of stage coincides directly with the
> rise of television.
> This is because television is almost wholly language
> based.

Yes, but I would argue that television is not necessarily language
based. It's plot based. To have a good 22 or 48 minute show you need to
have a good plot to keep the interest of the viewers. Shakespeare knew
this too. Beautiful poetry yes, but also some of the best sources and
plots were drawn upon. Richard III thrills us a great deal through the
intricate plot, as well as with the great moments and speeches. How many
people does he dispose of to get the throne?

>  Soaps,
> sit-coms and chat shows are still the most popular
> form of entertainment
> in the English speaking world.  In the UK the
> "Eastenders" soap gets 25
> million viewers per night.  Nothing else can beat
> that.

Again, NO ONE watches soaps for the great dialogue.  It's the plot. Who
sleeps with who? Who is going to kill who? Much like a Shakespearean
comedy. Except Shakespeare's dialogue is far better.

> Film can be very flexible - from wholly visual to
> almost talking heads -
> there are many examples of each.  Luhrmann, Taymor,
> et al - have all
> made the dreadful error of packing masses of fatuous
> imagery into the
> frame believing it enhances Shakespeare's words.  It
> does not.

We must remember that it is not the duty of film to represent a stage
production of Shakespeare (in nearly all cases). On stage, one has
little choice but to listen to the words (although Broadway is swiftly
attempting to change that). FILM IS A VISUAL MEDIUM: there is nothing
more boring to the viewer than long stretches of static dialogue,
Shakespeare's or no. I think the best illustrator of this is Branagh's
Hamlet. There is some brilliant moments in it, but when the script must
gun through large moments of dialogue without cuts for the sake of doing
the entire text, it can get extremely tedious. And I like Shakespeare!
If one goes to a film to see a theatrical experience, it can work. But
that theatrical experience must be enhanced by supporting visuals to
fully employ the medium.

Now, I grant you that in the cases of Luhrmann and Taymor, the visuals
are quite a large part of the film. There are moments in each film where
the visuals perhaps don't work or are distracting. But they are not
working for the Shakespeare purist (of which I used to be a member).
They are using Shakespeare's plot and his language and transforming it
into visual terms. Some would say, "Blasphemy! What need do we have to
improve our beloved Bard's words? They're the best ever written!". True,
but film is not attempting to reproduce the medium in which Shakespeare
operated.

For the most part, Luhrmann and Taymor's interpretations are brilliant.
They transform text into visual metaphors that sometimes convey a
sentiment or idea even better than Shakespeare's words. Sometimes they
do it much quicker. The recent discussion of water in R+J is a brilliant
example of this. The integration of a framing story with a modern boy,
argue its merits if you will, forces the cinema audience to come to
terms with several things:

Taymor's metaphor of Titus as an answer to modern day media violence,
the haunting image of the Colosseum and the bloodthirsty patrons who are
indeed us in the audience, the boy who is playing toy soldiers in his
kitchen with ketchup and is dragged into the Colosseum in time to see
REAL soldiers returning from REAL war covered in mud and blood.
Shakespeare would applaud this connection to our own society. His plays
are filled with topical references and were performed in modern dress.

Now, I don't want this to devolve into a discussion of the merits of
these two films because we have already discussed that elsewhere. I'm
trying to illustrate that film is a DIFFERENT medium to explore these
texts. It is very rigid to dismiss them because they do not reproduce a
stage experience or are forced to cut text to reach a 2 hour running
time.

There are also plenty examples of close-up shots in film, so that is not
merely television's domain. Like them or not, film adaptations are
thought-provoking and transformative of the text in ways that even
theatre can not reproduce. And that is a good thing if taken in the
terms and functions of the cinematic medium. Luhrmann and Taymor too are
more radical examples to choose for a discussion of this sort. The past
six years of Shakespeare on film have seen a radical reinterpretation of
how to translate him onto screen. Like it or not, it works for quite a
few people.

Brian Willis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Saturday, 2 Mar 2002 10:42:51 -0000
Subject: 13.0608 Re: Olivier
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0608 Re: Olivier

Sam Small writes, "Luhrmann, Taymor, et al - have all made the dreadful
error of packing masses of fatuous imagery into the frame believing it
enhances Shakespeare's words". As we've exhausted the Luhrmann strand
now, might I use Sam's observation to ask the list what they thought of
Greenaway's Prospero's Books? I'll start the ball rolling by daring to
suggest that Greenaway's imagery is not entirely fatuous.

m

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