The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0536 Wednesday, 25 February 2004
Date: Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 19:52:11 -0500
Subject: New DVD's: His Kingdom for a . . . Well, You Know What
New DVD's: His Kingdom for a . . . Well, You Know What
February 24, 2004
By PETER M. NICHOLS
In a move that would traumatize studio planners today, Laurence
Olivier's "Richard III" was shown on television on the same day in 1956
that it opened in movie theaters. In an essay with the DVD released
today by Criterion, Bruce Eder writes that about 62.5 million viewers
watched the film on NBC, more than had previously seen this Shakespeare
play since it was first performed in 1592. Not surprisingly, relatively
few saw "Richard III" on the big screen, but the upside-down scheduling
partly righted itself 10 years later when a rerelease did well at the
box office. In subsequent years the film appeared drastically shortened.
The Criterion version runs 158 minutes, which is within the 155 to 161
minutes variously listed for the original.
Russell Lees, a playwright and stage director, and John Wilders, former
governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, provide commentary. In his
third Shakespeare screen adaptation (after "Henry V" in 1944 and
"Hamlet" in 1948), Olivier added material from "Henry VI" to set
historical context and, Mr. Lees says, gave the sets a surrealistic look
to prepare audiences for the language. In the role of the royal usurper
who offers his kingdom for a horse, Olivier accidentally took an arrow
in the leg while filming the battle scene on Bosworth Field.
Elizabethan audiences found Richard's brisk, witty villainy deliciously
attractive up to a point, and Olivier's performance is filled with dash
and energy. In the DVD commentary he is contrasted with Marlon Brando,
also at his peak in the 50's. Mr. Brando formed characterizations within
himself, but Olivier built them from bits and pieces of others he found
outside. In an interview with the critic Kenneth Tynan on the second
disc, he says: "I scavenge for that tiniest little bit of human
circumstance. Observe it. Use it." 1955. $39.95.
'Hamlet' Olivier was one screen Hamlet, but here we have Mel Gibson
emerging, Caryn James wrote in The New York Times, "strong, intelligent
and safely beyond ridicule" in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 adaptation,
released today by Warner.
Mr. Gibson had done two of his four "Lethal Weapon" movies. In one of
two good documentaries with the the DVD of the Zeffirelli film, Ian
Holm, who plays Polonius, also admires Mr. Gibson's Hamlet, if with some
dry amusement at the movie's emphasis on physicality over traditional
attention to language.
On DVD Mr. Gibson remains, as Ms. James wrote, "by far the best part of
Mr. Zeffirelli's sometimes slick but always lucid and beautifully
cinematic version of the play." In the second documentary, made behind
the scenes during the shoot, Mr. Gibson says that with a Hamlet
portrayal you "just have to wander in there and go crazy" and describes
his character as "a guy who goes off his nut" but "not a guy who can
just go and stab his uncle." He also introduces his mother and father,
who were visiting the set. "Hamlet" is a good film for including your
parents, he says. $19.97. 135 minutes. PG.
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