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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Olivier on the Big Screen
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2004  Wednesday, 2 October 2002

[1]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Sep 2002 11:25:28 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1998 Re: Olivier on the Big Screen

[2]     From:   Bradley Berens <
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        Date:   Sunday, 29 Sep 2002 01:11:49 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1998 Re: Olivier on the Big Screen

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Sep 2002 09:09:21 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1976 Olivier on the Big Screen


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Sep 2002 11:25:28 -0400
Subject: 13.1998 Re: Olivier on the Big Screen
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1998 Re: Olivier on the Big Screen

>As a contemporary question,
>do any classes at the HS level, or earlier or later, ever consider
>cinematography? If so, do they examine the balance between literary
>values and visual ones? If not, why not? Does it create side issues more
>properly considered under the head of philosophy, branch of aesthetics?

I don't think cinematography is particularly appreciated by most people,
not until it's pointed out anyway.  I showed the Orson Welles TV version
of "King Lear" from the 50s (allegedly directed by Peter Brook but full
of Wellesian camera tricks--and acting flubs) to a community college
class, and they really responded to the scene where Goneril and Regan
confront their father.  Students often find this scene powerful, even on
the page, but in the Welles/Brook version, Lear (Welles) stands in the
middle of the screen, downstage so that you can see his whole body,
which for once is not overpowering and imposingly large.  Goneril and
Regan stand facing each other in profile, filling the sides of the
screen.  The shot gives you the bold statement that he is caught between
them, that they are bigger and stronger than he is, that they don't even
see him, and that he's shrinking by the minute.  (It's similar to an
early "Citizen Kane" shot where Kane's parents and banker argue over his
future, with little Charlie seen through a window between them.)

That said, whenever I've shown Trevor Nunn's "Twelfth Night," the
students respond much more to the visuals than the text.  I remember
getting a batch of essays about how Viola had to cut her hair and put on
uncomfortable clothes.  Not entirely irrelevant, but not what I was
looking for.  Though students may not pick up on inventive
cinematography all the time, they certainly get the mood of Olivier's
"Hamlet," especially when you show it next to Branagh's.  They usually
resist Branagh because it's all so bright--they think "Hamlet" is all
about doom and gloom.  This leads to some good discussion over how much
Hamlet's environment should reflect his inner state--is it better to
show that his world really is all doom and gloom, or is it better to
show him in contrast to the seemingly bright and happy Danish court?  I
think the Olivier version, though brilliant, often gives the student's
the impression that Hamlet is suffering from some kind of
seasonal-affect disorder and that he'd really be better off if he took a
vacation.

John-Paul Spiro
CUNY Graduate Center

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bradley Berens <
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Date:           Sunday, 29 Sep 2002 01:11:49 -0700
Subject: 13.1998 Re: Olivier on the Big Screen
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1998 Re: Olivier on the Big Screen

Hi everybody,

In the middle of a long an entertaining post about Olivier's HAMLET
Nancy Charlton dropped this pearl:

>Does anyone ever study people's responses to the same play at different
>periods of their lives?

Nancy, I don't know if anybody has done a *scientific* study--and it
would be a rather hard data set to define--but I have tracked my own
idiosyncratic responses to plays over the course of time and always been
interested (narcissistically, perhaps) in how my taste changes.

The clearest example for me is ROMEO AND JULIET.  A great deal of my
Ph.D.  thesis concerned this play, and one of the reasons I chose that
topic early on was that I felt the play (my favorite from age 15)
starting to slip away from me as I got older.  My ability to sympathize
with the youngsters in the play ebbed, and I found myself more and more
critical of them.

Now, at the grand old age of 34 I have a daughter myself.  She's only 18
months old and precocious though she may be I doubt that she'll be
running off to wed and bed the only son of my hated enemy in the
immediate future.  Nonetheless, since becoming a father I've found
rather more sympathy in my heart for Capulet. Not when he's beating
Juliet up, mind you, but his concerns for her future ring more true and
less like politicking these days.  Moreover, the crazy high-speed
mourning competition among Capulet, Lady Capulet, the Nurse, and Paris
when they find Juliet apparently dead (4.5, and a bit more exaggerated
in Q1, as I recall, than Q2) is harder for me to take than it was
pre-paternity.  Before I became a dad I thought it a piece of
not-all-that-great comic business, meant to distance our sympathies from
the Capulets because we-the-audience know that she ain't really dead,
see.  Now, I find lines like these of Capulet rather moving:

      Despis'd, distressed, hated, martyr'd, kill'd!
      Uncomfortable time, why cam'st thou now
      To murther, murther our solemnity?
      O child, O child! my soul, and not my child!
      Dead art thou!  Alack, my child is dead,
      And with my child my joys are buried.

It's amazing what a few months of chronic SIDS-fearing wakefulness will
do to my opinions of a four-centuries-old play.

So, what about the rest of you?  Any plays come into focus as you've
gotten older?  Any plays lost focus and turned blurry?  Do you wonder,
now, how you could ever have loved AS YOU LIKE IT or loathed CORIOLANUS?

         Curiously,
         Brad

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Sep 2002 09:09:21 -0700
Subject: 13.1976 Olivier on the Big Screen
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1976 Olivier on the Big Screen

Brian Willis makes some very enthusiastic comments about Olivier's film
*Hamlet*.  Since most of them are matters of opinion, I'll not dispute
any small differences we have.  I shall confine myself to a couple of
factual errors.

>A few last notes: Olivier's Richard III presents a unique challenge
>since it was produced to be shown both on the screen in color and in >the States on television in black and white.

It was not made with television broadcast or black and white viewing in
mind.  Olivier and the producers were shocked and disappointed when the
U.S.  distributors decided to put it on television before its almost
immediate release in American cinemas.  It is one reason the film did
disappointing business here.  It may have contributed to Olivier's
failure to find financing for his proposed film version of *Macbeth*.

>This film is deeply concerned with that mind, and Olivier uses some
>surprisingly modern camera techniques (long, twisting
>and seemingly interminable shots) that modern directors such as >Scorsese and Fincher have been using ever since.

Well, they don't usually point the camera toward walls.  Anyway, the
technique is as old as silent films, and was used very effectively in
several.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

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