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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Movies and Luhrmann
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1240  Monday, 6 May 2002

[1]     From:   R.A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Friday, 03 May 2002 11:28:01 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 May 2002 17:45:47 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

[3]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 May 2002 12:16:01 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

[4]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 04 May 2002 10:01:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R.A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Friday, 03 May 2002 11:28:01 -0500
Subject: 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

> There is nothing cryptic in Shakespeare's language.

I think you are hasty

"Some enigma, some riddle" LLL 3.1.70

A great deal of Shakespeare's language is cryptic. Perhaps the play and
passage in question are not obscure to  you.

All the best,
R.A. Cantrell
<
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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 3 May 2002 17:45:47 +0100
Subject: 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

Larry Weiss takes Baz Luhrmann to task (Vaz you dere? or something) for
saying,

>One of the things about Shakespeare was that he totally stole popular
>culture or anything of the streets from low comedy but particularly he took
>popular music and just put them in his shows because that was a way of
>engaging his audience into the storytelling. Baz Lurhmann

Nothing controversial there, surely (besides the syntax)? See Bradbrook
(to cite only the doyenne of this wing of Shakespearean scholarship) for
example.

Actually let's be more precise:

Muriel C. Bradbrook, The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy, 2nd
Edition, pp.12-15, 18-20; The Rise of the Common Player: A Study of
Actor and Society in Shakespeare's England, pp.110, 119ff., 141-142,
265; The Living Monument: Shakespeare and the Theatre of His Time,
pp.13-20, 36-38; Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe,
p.182; Richard Axton, "Folk Play in Tudor interludes", Marie Axton and
Raymond Williams, eds., English Drama: Forms and Development, pp.1-23;
and of course the new-historicist Shakespearean's favourite
anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, on the Balinese cockfight....

m

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Friday, 3 May 2002 12:16:01 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

> >    "The idea in the whole film is to find modern
> day
> > images and equivalents that could decode the
> language
> > of Shakespeare". - Baz Luhrmann
>
> There is nothing cryptic in Shakespeare's language.
> If there were, it
> would be the height of folly to accept Luhrmann's
> arrogant contention
> that he holds the key to the cryptogram, especially
> in light of the
> following:
>
> >    After many approaches to the cinematic style,
> > "finally we realized that...Shakespeare's language
> > would tell the story." - Luhrmann
>
> You mean you did not know that before?

Thanks for some intelligent comments Larry. The problem is that, as
lovers of Shakespeare, there is not much that is cryptic about
Shakespeare. We have at least an adequate understanding of him. But it
is so easy for us to forget that a vast majority of the world does not
read or see Shakespeare. For them, Shakespeare IS a cryptic thing, just
as poetry was an unfamiliar thing for the craftsmen who escaped work for
an afternoon to attend a performance. The DVD made clear that, not only
is Luhrmann not arrogant, but he was quite studiously concerned with
recreating what makes the play so good and doing it in a modern setting.
For instance, the religious politicism of the Elizabethans was
duplicated in the film by the constant religious symbols - crucifixes,
the Jesus statue, tattoos -  of the characters and the city. The second
comment is actually out of context. I apologize. They mentioned, and
mocked, the really silly ideas they had for the film and then realized
(duh!), the language will guide us.

> >    "Ironically, the thing that was incredibly
> > successful about this movie is that you [Baz] took
> the
> > text as written by Shakespeare and because we
> clash it
> > with a modern context, the language is clarified
> > because it is articulated in familiar images". -
> > Catherine Martin, Production Designer
>
> The images in this film are not familiar to me or, I
> hope, most everyone
> else.  In any case, the "clash" of language and
> context confuses, it
> does not clarify.  And, besides,  Shakespeare's play
> does not need
> clarifying.

Why do you HOPE that the images are not familiar to the people on this
listserv? Does that mean that you hope that the film fails on a vast
level? It does not.  The reason that the film succeeded financially
where few Shakespeare films have is that it connected with a modern
audience. Let's take the opening scene for example. The commentary
mentions that many people could understand what is going on even without
sound or language. If you do the same with doublet and hose, it is clear
that the factions are angry and about to fight. In the film, it is clear
that the sides are at least rival gangs with an ongoing feud. The
constant rivaling of gangs is something with which our modern society is
unfortunately quite familiar. It did not alter the text, but it did
transform or decode the situation in a way that the general public could
understand. Shakespeare himself did the same thing; he placed older
stories in a modern and easily identifiable situation. And a great many
critics criticised his approach as well.

> >    "One of the things about Shakespeare was that
> he
> > totally stole popular culture or anything of the
> > streets from low comedy but particularly he took
> > popular music and just put them in his shows
> because
> > that was a way of engaging his audience into the
> > storytelling. Every choice we've made in terms of
> > cinematic devices have been grounded in some
> reality
> > of the Elizabethan stage. That has been really our
> > motive in everything we've done here". - Luhrmann
>
> Vas you dere, Bazzy?

No, but he researched. The commentary revealed to me how extensively the
creative team allowed the text of the play to be the source for their
creative decisions. I mentioned a few last time, but I have yet to hear
anyone refute those claims with the text or anything other than
generally derisive comments.  Luhrmann has extensive theatre experience
(he continues to direct theatre and opera). He allowed the conventions
of the Elizabethan theatre to inform his process and he details them at
great length on the DVD.

> >    "It wasn't a world of no rules; it was a world
> of
> > rules as dictated by the text". - screenwriter
> Greg
> > Pearce
>
> I have no idea what this sententious babble means,
> so I can't comment.

It reinforces what I have been saying all along and it is quite clear
what it means. Since the commentary was recently recorded, he is
answering derision of the film as random, much like the claims on this
listserv.  The commentary defends and supports every decision which they
made. There were rules that they followed and every rule was grounded in
Shakespeare's text.  Just as Shakespeare created a fictional Verona in
his play, Luhrmann creates a fictional Verona Beach in which to play out
his R+J. Why is it that when a comment is made that supports a position
we don't like, it is much easier to say "this is nonsense" rather than
to subvert it with evidence of our own?

> >    Luhrmann on his film's tackling of (perhaps)
> > Shakespeare's most famous play:
> >    "seeing something well known in a different and
> > fresh light",
> >    "finding choices that didn't change the text
> per se
> > but utilizing it in different ways",
> >    "we were not the first butchers of the Bard".
>
> Well, the last one is right.  But hardly an excuse.

Again, if we don't want to agree, we attack with derision. We place
Shakespeare on a high art pedestal and when he is made popular, it's
butchery. Luhrmann's comment was a satirical comment on what people
perceive of his work. He's trying to say that that pedestal exists and
it was placed there centuries ago by a cultural elite. If a film does
not cater to that cultural elite but tries to make the other 90% of
people in the world understand and feel, it's knocked as not worthy. And
why should he have to excuse his vision or his direction? It is equally
as valid as any of ours.

> Please come back, Brian.  I am knocking Luhrmann,
> not you.

I understand, and I have realized that I am getting too personally
involved in this debate. The problem is that I am so personally and
emotionally touched by many of the films that I get attached to
defending them as if they were my own. They touch the same emotional
chords as their source material for me. And that is ultimately why we
are all here regardless of our positions: we have all been moved by
Shakespeare's work and want to discuss it. I apologize for getting so
lost in emotional involvement when I should be detached. Because I feel
so passionately about these things, I allow it to color my posts
sometimes. It's my tragic flaw. :) I just wish that sometimes we could
debate these issues with the support of sources rather than doggedly
deriding something out of our aesthetic tastes merely on personal
preferment. Explain why something doesn't work rather than just
blanketly knocking it. I still haven't read ANYONE attack Luhrmann with
sources including the play text. Can anyone criticise the film and
explain how it distorts the play or the text? I've quoted exhaustively
from Luhrmann and his production team. I could also quote the many film
critics who loved it. There are also some who disliked it.

I suppose I get insulted when those who support and enjoy such films are
implied as morons (not by you Larry). I enjoy these films on aesthetic
and intellectual grounds. I can defend them on those same intellectual
grounds. I merely ask for others to do the same.

Brian Willis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Saturday, 04 May 2002 10:01:30 -0400
Subject: 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1230 Re: Movies and Luhrmann

>And, besides, Shakespeare's play does not need
>clarifying.
>From the discussion of Luhrmann's R&J:

If the above pronouncement about this or any of Shakespeare's plays were
true, why would its author bother to retain membership in this
Listserv?  --or why would any of us waste our time reading and writing
about the plays, or, for that matter, even producing them?

If a director leaves the plays to speak for themselves, as the above
author implies, they will, Peter Brook long ago pointed out, remain
remarkably silent.  The potentials underlying Shakespeare's rich
language, characterizations, and plotting must be explored, mined, and
then, to use Harold Clurman's image, translated to the visual languages
of stage and/or screen.

Ed Pixley

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