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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Al Pacino in "Merchant of Venice"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0184  Friday, 28 January 2005

[1]     From:   John Mahon <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Jan 2005 14:33:03 -0500
        Subj:   Al Pacino in "Merchant of Venice"

[2]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Friday, January 28, 2005
        Subj:   Two from Today's Washington Post

[3]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Jan 2005 19:21:10 -0500
        Subj:   Shylack


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Mahon <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Jan 2005 14:33:03 -0500
Subject:        Al Pacino in "Merchant of Venice"

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

A Teacher's Guide for the new "Merchant" film has probably reached a
number of you.  I saw the film and my recollection is that the final
images of the film are of Jessica looking out from the Belmont estate at
fishermen in the Venetian lagoon, fishing with bows and arrows. Another
of the final images shows Shylock, hatless, standing outside as the
doors of the synagogue or the ghetto are closed to him.  But the FINAL
image, I thought, was of the fishermen.  The Teacher's Guide says that
Shylock is the final image.  I ask your help in remembering:  which is
it at the very end of the film, Shylock or Jessica and the fishermen?

Thanks,
John Mahon
"The Shakespeare Newsletter"

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Friday, January 28, 2005
Subject:        Two from Today's Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43151-2005Jan27.html

A Simplified 'Merchant' Still Generates Interest
By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page C05

Almost two centuries ago, Charles and Mary Lamb published their "Tales
 From Shakespeare," storybook reductions of the great plays, in simple
prose. Most contemporary film adaptations of Shakespeare, including the
new "William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice" starring Al Pacino,
follow the Lambs' form -- a good, swift overview of the plot, with a
little bit of the magnificent language thrown in. Such is the loss of
currency of Shakespearean language that the reading level of the 1807
"Tales," intended for children, is about all that works in an art film
today, even one intended for a sophisticated adult audience.

But the Lambs' "Tales" have their charms, and so does Michael Radford's
reduction of "The Merchant." Shot, in part, in Venice, it has a
compelling and gritty realism. It is a dark and brooding reading, with
the stink of the Venetian canals and moral life almost physically
palpable. And Pacino acquits himself admirably in the role of the Jewish
usurer, Shylock, as do the surrounding characters who (despite the
blinding wattage of Pacino's star power) are never quite reduced to
cardboard cutouts.

[ . . . ]

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41522-2005Jan27.html

A Masterful 'Merchant'
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page WE36

WHAT BETTER opportunity to chew up the scenery than to play Shylock in
"William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice"? In Michael Radford's
movie version of the Shakespeare play, Al Pacino puts on the gown and
the red cap and dons the hoary beard. But, lo, he plays this
larger-than-life role with entrancing restraint.  He tempers the lofty
speeches. He makes his gestures small-scale and therefore large. He's
terrific to watch and listen to; you can't take your eyes off him.
There's more to Shylock than toning down your personal boombox, however.
A problematic character in these enlightened times, he's largely an
anti-Semitic creation: a debt-obsessive Jew hellbent on securing his
pound of flesh from Antonio (the merchant of the title), who has
forfeited on Shylock's personal loan.

How do you portray such a character and also honor William Shakespeare's
original text? (Do you even put on the play?) Director Radford and
Pacino have taken this nettlesome challenge and transformed it into
something worthwhile and charged with philosophical dimension. To watch
this movie is to not only appreciate the majesty of Shakespeare's
poetics but to engage in a profound, subtextual dialogue with bigotry.

[ . . . ]

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Jan 2005 19:21:10 -0500
Subject:        Shylack

As an actor, Al Pacino has a deep understanding of thugs, mobsters,
hustlers, operators and anyone conversant with the modern American
street.  He has little or no affinity for patricians, intellectuals, the
cultivated, the well-spoken, or people from other times and other
countries.  This makes him a disastrous Shakespearean, as his Richard
III so wincingly confirmed.  Shylock might seem more promising, a
resident of the Ghetto with an earthier argot; and didn't Dusty do it
not so long ago?  But the 400 year-old idiom and a welter of other
strangenesses stand between Pacino and the character, and he cannot
connect with his role.  So he does what any actor in his situation would
do.  He withdraws into himself and gives a shy, subdued performance,
hoping that muted incompetence will pass for restraint.

Pacino spends much of the film in a state of apparent exhaustion,
trudging from scene to scene with his eyelids half open.  His voice
never rises above a gravelly murmur.  With Jessica he shows neither
sternness nor tenderness, only somnolence.  His initial scene is
impenetrable:  why does this notorious usurer forgo interest in favor of
a pound of worthless flesh?  To appease the Christians with a "merry
bond"?  Or to tickle his vindictiveness with the mere possibility of
killing Antonio?  The first choice will work only if you cut Shylock's
vow to catch Antonio "upon the hip" and feed the "ancient grudge" he
bears him--a cut which this politically correct film predictably makes.
  The second choice is the one Shakespeare intended.  Yet remarkably,
Pacino plays neither, his droopy-eyed fatigue conveying neither hatred
nor hope for acceptance.  At times he comes fleetingly to half-life,
only to relapse into insomniac depletion.  "Hath not a Jew eyes?" is
gruff rather than furious or anguished; he is offhand rather than
impassioned in the jailer scene; and his demeanor at the trial is moody.
  We must assume that Shylock is motivated throughout by nothing more
than weary resignation.

At least one UK reviewer has dubbed Pacino an accomplished
verse-speaker, surpassing the seasoned British actors with whom he
shares the screen.  Since he has played only two other Shakespearean
roles in a 40-year career overwhelmingly skewed toward demotic
semi-literates, this would be amazing if true.  In fact Pacino speaks
terribly, his discomfort with the language manifest in his abashed
muttering, as well as in a hesitant, halting, word-by-word delivery
maintained from beginning to end.  Could this be dialectal, the alien
Jew negotiating a foreign tongue?  No, because Pacino uses the same
plodding diction with Jessica and Tubal.  (Ignorance has a hard time
masquerading as characterization).  Phony Britishness causes him to
pronounce "lord" as "lohrd"; when mingled with the strains of his native
Bronx, it changes terminal-"r" words into earsores, or rather
ee-ah-saws.  His mumbling articulation can have a truncating effect, as
when "turquoise" is lopped into "turquoi" and "better the instruction"
into "bet the instruction."  A foreign language is indeed being
negotiated, but it's Pacino stumbling through Shakespeare.

Hollywood stars rarely distinguish themselves when they tackle the Bard,
and Al Pacino is no exception.  Though lauded by some as a major
achievement, his whispery, tentative and amateurish Shylock is a
monument to nothing but his own inexperience.

--Charles Weinstein

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