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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Al Pacino in "The Merchant of Venice"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0010  Sunday, 2 January 2005

[1]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Dec 2004 19:46:20 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.2133 Al Pacino in "The Merchant of Venice"

[2]     From:   Edward Brown <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 2004 08:27:08 -0600
        Subj:   NY Times Review of Merchant

[3]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Dec 2004 13:49:54 -0500
        Subj:   MOVIE REVIEW | 'THE MERCHANT OF VENICE'

[4]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Thursday, 30 Dec 2004 12:37:08 -0500
        Subj:   LA Times MOVIE REVIEW | 'THE MERCHANT OF VENICE'

[5]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Saturday, 1 Jan 2005 08:51:31 -0500
        Subj:   More M of V U.S. reviews


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Monday, 27 Dec 2004 19:46:20 -0000
Subject: 15.2133 Al Pacino in "The Merchant of Venice"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.2133 Al Pacino in "The Merchant of Venice"

Don Bloom says that Weinstein says something, but in fact he says
nothing except highly subjective opinion and bloated snobbery.  It is
the same snobbery that opines that an ex glovemaker from small-town
Stratford couldn't become the greatest poet ever.  Weinstein descends
into insult and leaves criticism way behind.  Pacino is a good actor who
thinks about the part, the character and his emotional position.  His
MoV has had good reviews and deservedly so.  Grumpy ol' Weinstein should
read his post before clicking 'send'.  He might see in that tract the
very lack of emotional connection he claims to abhor.

SAM SMALL

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Brown <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 2004 08:27:08 -0600
Subject:        NY Times Review of Merchant

Here is a link to the New York Times review of Merchant. I will be
interested to see list members' reactions when they have seen it.

http://movies2.nytimes.com/2004/12/29/movies/29veni.html

In any event, I pray for A Happier New Year to all.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Dec 2004 13:49:54 -0500
Subject:        MOVIE REVIEW | 'THE MERCHANT OF VENICE'

December 29, 2004
Putting a Still-Vexed Play in a Historical Context
By A. O. SCOTT

Directed by Michael Radford (best known for "Il Postino" ), "The
Merchant of Venice," which stars Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes
and Lynn Collins, is better-than-average screen Shakespeare: intelligent
without being showily clever, and motivated more by genuine fascination
with the play's language and ideas than by a desire to cannibalize its
author's cultural prestige.

Judiciously trimmed to manageable movie length, this "Merchant" is, for
the most part, faithful in letter and spirit to its source material. I
say for the most part because "The Merchant of Venice" has become, over
the past century, perhaps the most vexed single play in the
Shakespearean canon, and the first task of any modern adaptation is to
confront the anti-Jewish bigotry that propels its plot and informs its
poetry.

Mr. Radford's approach to the problem of Shylock (Mr. Pacino) is to
contextualize. Not only is the story punctually announced as taking
place in "Venice, 1596" - a kind of specification wholly alien to the
time - but introductory titles provide some background about the
marginal status and civic oppression of that city's Jewish population.
As in other parts of Europe, Venetian Jews practiced usury because they
were denied access to other economic activities, and because lending
money at interest, vital to the prosperity of the city-state and its
merchants, was something Christians would not do.

None of which quite explains the character of Shylock, or dispels the
taint of blood libel from the play - an impossibility in any case. The
only real choice is either to declare "The Merchant of Venice" off
limits or to allow its uglier qualities to continue to complicate its
gorgeous flights of rhetoric and its brilliant inquiries into law,
loyalty, the ethics of making promises and the quality of mercy.

[ . . . ]

http://movies2.nytimes.com/2004/12/29/movies/29veni.html?oref=login

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 30 Dec 2004 12:37:08 -0500
Subject:        LA Times MOVIE REVIEW | 'THE MERCHANT OF VENICE'

http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-et-merchant29dec29,2,5624811.story

'The Merchant of Venice'
Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and director Michael Radford glean insights from
Shakespeare's play.
By Kevin Thomas
Times Staff Writer

Dec 29 2004

Michael Radford's splendid film of "The Merchant of Venice" is so somber
- and rightly so - for so much of the time that it's hard to remember it
is one of Shakespeare's comedies, indeed regarded as one of his
greatest. Radford, best known for the hugely successful "Il Postino,"
takes a subtle approach that reveals how charged with ambiguity the play
is, which makes this "Merchant" emerge as remarkably immediate and
contemporary without ever seeming to strain for this effect.

Radford's direction of the ensemble cast is equally felicitous, for he
has encouraged the actors to speak their lines in a conversational,
natural way yet at the same time savor the poetry and eloquence of
Shakespearean verse. His pacing is unhurried yet not slow, and this in
turn allows his "Merchant" to become a movie with a life and rhythms of
its own and not merely a filmed play.

In all its unique and enduring grandeur, Venice is always a glorious
setting for a movie, but especially for "Merchant" because its
appearance in the late 16th century is so easily - and richly - evoked.
At that time the Venetian Republic was at once powerful and liberal, yet
its Jewish community was required to live in a ghetto that was locked up
at night. Additionally, Jews were compelled to wear distinguishing red
hats in public and were not allowed to own property.

That last restriction led many Jews to engage in moneylending, a
profession forbidden to Christians at the time but one that, while
allowing many Jews to prosper, also made them vulnerable to charges of
usury - charging exorbitant rates of interest on loans. Indeed, in the
opening moments of the film, Antonio (Jeremy Irons), a wealthy merchant,
expresses contempt for the moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino) by spitting
in his face.

It's a big mistake, for not long after that Antonio must turn to Shylock
for a loan. The money enables his penniless young friend Bassanio
(Joseph Fiennes) to pursue the vastly rich and beautiful heiress Portia
of Belmont (Lynn Collins, as talented as she is lovely). By the terms of
her father's will, Portia is to marry a suitably upper-crust suitor who
correctly guesses which of three caskets - one of gold, one of silver
and one of lead - contains a small portrait on porcelain of Portia, who
fervently hopes that Bassanio will be the man who picks the right
casket. But just as fate has shined kindly on Bassanio and Portia, they
receive word that one of Antonio's shipping vessels has apparently been
lost at sea and that he will not be able to repay his loan to Shylock,
who in his hatred of Antonio has made a bond with him stating that he
will charge him no interest but instead receive a pound of his flesh if
he defaults on the loan. Shylock has been further enraged by the
elopement of his daughter Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson) and Bassanio's
friend Lorenzo (Charlie Cox).

These and other complications build to "The Merchant of Venice's"
climactic trial, during which Shylock's demand for Antonio's pound of
flesh is as righteous and just as it is patently absurd and cruel. Then
appears a delicate-looking but brilliant young lawyer to settle the
matter for Venice's courtly ruler (Anton Rodgers). At the darkest moment
of his play, Shakespeare starts injecting an ever-larger dose of comedy.

[ . . . ]

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Saturday, 1 Jan 2005 08:51:31 -0500
Subject:        More M of V U.S. reviews

UNMASKED
by ANTHONY LANE
"The Phantom of the Opera," "The Merchant of Venice."

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/cinema/?050103crci_cinema

. . . The realization that, with Michael Radford's film of "The Merchant
of Venice," we are entering very different territory comes in the
opening moments. Audiences at the play are often bemused by the plunging
melancholy of Antonio; onscreen, however, a mood is a given thing, and
we are content to be lapped within it-all the more so when Antonio is
played by Jeremy Irons, whose voice could be transplanted to the cello
section of a major orchestra without ado.

We know what will happen to Antonio. He will, on behalf of his friend
Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes), borrow money from Shylock (Al Pacino).
Antonio's ability to repay the debt will be wrecked by the reported loss
of his ships at sea, and Shylock will claim his bond: a pound of
Antonio's flesh. The best thing about Radford's film is that the two
leading characters, merchant and moneylender, seem, in their separate
fashion, to be so steeped in sadness-almost drowning, indeed, in the
dense and brackish waters of Venetian society-that you can study their
expressions, in the early scenes, and find forewarning of where each of
them will stand, or fall, by the end of Act IV. Shylock, of course, does
not appear in Act V; once he has been cheated of his legal rights, he
tumbles out of the action as if through a trapdoor, back into the murky
canals.

The first thing you notice about Pacino is the walk: a splayed and
iron-footed tread, like that of a man following a funeral procession.
The camera loses its calmness, developing the documentary shakes, as he
starts to rail, and under its close scrutiny he has no need to declaim.
The big speeches here are not ululations or party pieces; they are the
warp and weft of ordinary talk, and even Portia (Lynn Collins), posing
as a wispy-bearded lawyer in the court, manages to convert her most
famous nostrum-"The quality of mercy is not strained"-back into the
currency of argument. After all, she is not tossing a fine-sounding
phrase into the air but locking horns with Shylock: instructing him to
be merciful, to which he quite rightly fires back with "On what
compulsion must I? Tell me that." Only then does she elaborate on mercy,
and the intimacy of film allows Collins to speak quietly, dropping the
words like rain.

[ . . . ]

Pound of flash: Pacino master class can't save Merchant
by Jessica Winter
December 29 - January 4, 2005

The Merchant Of Venice
Written and directed by Michael Radford
Sony Pictures Classics Opens December 29

In adapting the Shakespeare play most often filed under Problematic,
director Michael Radford may resist the usual lure to contemporize the
Bard, but he doesn't want his rendition of The Merchant of Venice to be
seen as a product of its particular place and time (1596, to be exact).
He adds historical disclaimers and snips discreetly at the more
vitriolic lines, the film's opening titles outline the gross legal
restrictions on Jewish life and livelihood in the late 16th century, and
Radford invents a new first scene, where the merchant Antonio (Jeremy
Irons) spits upon the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino) during what
appears to be a pogrom. But Shakespeare, hardly immune to the popular
prejudices of his day (and perhaps, as a popular artist, beholden to
them), bounds Shylock's villainy inextricably to his religion, and no
faithful adaptation of the play can erase the anti-Semitism coded in its
DNA. The movie's Shylock is clearly a brutalized victim of bigotry, yet
the climactic trial scene still suggests a personification of the blood
libel, as Shylock salivates for his pound of flesh and Antonio's Saint
Sebastian bears his gaunt chest in sacrifice for his friend Bassanio
(Joseph Fiennes). Radford has invoked the invasion of Iraq and the war
on terror in interviews about his Merchant , but the implied clash of
civilizations here is woefully asymmetrical: The old Jew is drunk on the
red red wine of vengeance while the pretty Christians argue for mercy
and justice and then go skipping off to their country estate for love,
laughter, and song.

Even notwithstanding this version's inert blocking and awkward camera
placements, The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare's more crooked
and hollow contraptions in any guise: Shylock's acrid rages and ultimate
humiliation cohabit uneasily alongside the courtship contrivances and
smug prank pulling up at Belmont. Portia plays Let's Make a Deal with
her trio of suitors and dons drag to pull all the strings in court, but
Lynn Collins has trouble conveying anything deeper than blithe, benign
calculation, especially while fondling a windowpane to express her ardor
for oily Bassanio. (Nostrils permanently flared, pucker frozen in a
lopsided smirk, Fiennes resembles a draft of Derek Zoolander's
"Magnum.") Irons's Antonio, his frustrated desire for Bassanio exalted
by his near-sacrifice under Shylock's blade, is another fine variation
in the actor's gallery of world-weary, softly spoken aesthetes, and
Pacino simply wipes the cobblestones with the rest of the cast: His
beautifully calibrated performance is lucid, commanding, and genuinely
tragic. Al, can we have your King Lear?

http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0452/winter.php

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