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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: June ::
Shakespeare on Film
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0356  Sunday, 15 June 2008

From:               Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:               Sunday, June 15, 2008
Subject:            Shakespeare on Film

I discovered this week that the MovieMaker web site <http://www.moviemaker.com/> 
will "honor" Shakespeare on Film throughout the summer by placing an excerpt 
from BFI's _100 Shakespeare Films_ by Daniel Rosenthal on the web site each week.

The series began on May 30, 2008, with "Shakespeare on Film: How the Bard of 
Avon made his way to  the silver screen" by Mallory Potosky. Potosky introduces 
what will follow:

<PROSEQUOTE>
All serious moviemakers and thespians know William Shakespeare will never go out 
of style. His universal tales of love, loss, anger and desperation continue to 
span time, cultures and mediums. Each theatrical incarnation of a Shakespeare 
play is different from the next as are all interpretations brought to the big 
screen. Case in point: Writer-director Andrew Fleming made a splash at Sundance 
earlier this year with Hamlet 2. Set for an August 27 release, the movie is not 
quite a direct take on the Bard's tragic story of revenge, but inspired by the 
legend nonetheless.

It is for all these reasons that _MM_ has decided to honor Shakespeare with a 
full summer of Shakespeare on Film. Visit us each week for a new excerpt from 
BFI's _100 Shakespeare Films_ by Daniel Rosenthal. As Julie Taymor explains in 
the book's introduction: "There will never be too many versions of any of the 
Shakespeare plays because each artist brings his or her own vision to the 
script. The more you see these plays in all their varied forms, the deeper and 
richer they become. It's often not about the story at all, but all about how you 
tell it." From Charlton Heston's _Antony and Cleopatra_ to Gus Van Sant's _My 
Own Private Idaho_, we cover the classic and the bold, beginning with Laurence 
Olivier's 1948 Academy Award-winning _Hamlet_.
</PROSEQUOTE>

http://www.moviemaker.com/articles/article/shakespeare_on_film_20080530/

What follows is the first excerpt from Rosenthal's _100 Shakespeare Films_:

<PROSEQUOTE>
Hamlet (1948)
d. Laurence Olivier

Laurence Olivier's Hamlet is both grim fairytale and psychological case study. 
The colorful pageant of Henry V (1944), [which he also directed] gives way to a 
monochrome engraving: Somber, disturbing and, as box-office success on both 
sides of the Atlantic proved, accessible. "A movie for everybody," declared The 
Washington Post, "Be you nine or 90, a PhD or just plain Joe." Its $3 million 
U.S. gross was exceptional for any non-Hollywood picture and it became the only 
Shakespeare feature to win the Best Picture Academy Award (it also took the 
BAFTA for Best Film), while Olivier's remains the only original-text Shakespeare 
performance to have won Best Actor.

His decision to ignore the play's politics and make accessibility his watchword 
brought controversy as well as acclaim. Using Alan Dent as Text Editor, Olivier 
removed about 50% of the text. Out went Reynaldo (Polonius's servant), 
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the second grave-digger and Fortinbras and two 
soliloquies ("What a piece of work" and "How all occasions"). Supposedly arcane 
words were changed; for example, "maimed rites" became "meager rites." All this 
prompted a Times leading article ("Alas, Poor Hamlet!") and furious letters, 
despite Olivier's attempt to forestall such hostility by writing in The Film 
Hamlet: A Record of Its Production that he had directed "an 'Essay in Hamlet', 
and not a film version of a necessarily abridged classic." All this goes to show 
the extent to which Shakespeare's texts were viewed as sacrosanct.

Olivier's "essay" begins with his famously simplified declaration: "This is the 
tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." Swirling mist clears and four 
soldiers on a platform carry the dead Hamlet, before dissolving to the beginning 
of the play, inside the castle designed to Oscar-winning effect by Roger Furse 
and Carmen Dillon at Denham Studios. [ . . . ]
</PROSEQUOTE>

The series continued on June 6, with Orson Welles's _Macbeth_:
http://www.moviemaker.com/ 
distribution/article/shakespeare_on_film_macbeth_20080606/

<PROSEQUOTE>
Macbeth (1948)
directed by Orson Welles

Made in just 23 days, Orson Welles' black-and-white experiment combines 
cinematic visuals with theatrical acting and design and a radio director's 
emphasis on the verse. His production of Macbeth at the Utah Centennial Festival 
in May 1947 was effectively a dress rehearsal for the movie, which began 
shooting a month later on a tight $700,000 budget from Hollywood B-movie studio, 
Republic.

Welles could only afford abstract sets: The jagged walls of Macbeth's castle 
resemble quick-dried volcanic lava; its courtyard has the unmistakable 
smoothness of a studio floor.

Copious thunder, lightning and wind effects enhance the artifice, and yet there 
is great visual poetry when the camera closes in on Macbeth's feverish face as 
he sees a crowded banquet table suddenly empty, save for Banquo's ghost, or when 
a ten-minute take follows the build-up to and aftermath of Duncan's murder 
(Welles could shoot such long takes without worrying about off-camera 
interruptions because the cast had pre-recorded their dialogue in Scottish 
accents and acted to playback). [ . . . ]
</PROSEQUOTE>

This week (June 13, 2008) features Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar:

http://www.moviemaker.com/ 
distribution/article/shakespeare_on_film_julius_caesar_20080612/

<PROSEQUOTE>
Julius Caesar (1953)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

In 1952, MGM coupled its substantial $1.7 million investment in Shakespeare with 
one of the most inspired casting decisions in Hollywood history. A year after 
stunning audiences as macho, mumbling Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named 
Desire, Marlon Brando was to play the "wise and valiant" Marc Antony. Columnists 
expressed astonishment, TV comedians impersonated Kowalski's rendition of 
"Friends, Romans, countrymen," but the star, declaring himself "sick to death of 
being thought of as a blue-jeaned slobbermouth," had decided that Julius Caesar 
must kill his Streetcar image. He spent hours imitating recordings by great 
British Shakespeareans such as Olivier; then, after a disastrous cast 
read-through, asked John Gielgud to record Marc Antony's lines.

Instructed by Mankiewicz to "stop copying the goddamn Limeys," Brando eventually 
concluded that he must also temporarily set aside the Method insistence on 
playing emotional subtext, because with Shakespeare "the text is everything." 
Thus liberated, suggested producer John Houseman, Brando was able to let the 
language express all emotion and thought, peaking in the funeral oration.

Mankiewicz's taut and assured direction respects Houseman's pre-production 
injunction not to "distort Shakespeare's text with cinematic devices." He does 
not show Caesar's fainting fit or the conspirators' flight from Rome, eschews 
adventurous camerawork and uses Miklos Rozsa's score sparingly, between scenes, 
so music never distracts from the speeches. He spices the urgent, coldly 
reasoned plotting with supernatural dread, notably when the blind soothsayer 
rises up from a crowd and during the spectacular storm before the conspirators' 
meeting. During the assassination there are no shouts from the killers, nor 
screams from Caesar, and the silence is as shocking as the sight of these 
civilized men's pristine togas suddenly stained with blood. Enter Brando to 
wrest control of plot and film. [ . . . ]
</PROSEQUOTE>

Now, for those of you, like myself, who have never heard of _Hamlet 2_, you can 
watch the trailer for it at <http://video.filminfocus.com/player/?id=244849>.

But be warned; the film advertizes itself this way: "One high school drama 
teacher is about to make a huge number 2." Further, we find that this is a film 
"From the co-writer of South Park and Team America World Police."

I found this summary at IMDb:

<PROSEQUOTE>
Screened this surprise comedy gem at Sundance 2008, and judging from the 
reaction of festival goers this is the best of the fest. The story is about Dana 
Marschz (Coogan) who is a complete and utter failure as an actor. As such the 
only gig he can get is teaching drama at a low funded Tuscon, Az high school. 
His wife (Keener) isn't too happy with the living conditions which includes 
little money and a random roomie (Arquette) to help pay the bills. As luck would 
have it though Dana's life is about to change. His drama class unexpectedly 
inherits a bunch of misfit kids who need more then a little motivation, then 
Dana has a chance encounter with the goddess that is Elisabeth Shue who now 
lives in Tuscon and works as a nurse because she is sick of Hollywood. To top 
things off Dana has just one last chance at creating a masterpiece before the 
curtain comes down for the final time. By shear will and a good bit of madness 
Dana creates Hamlet 2, which very well could be the most horrible play in human 
existence. Short on talent but strong on enthusiasm the group of misfit students 
come together to bring to life Dana's opus. With both disastrous and beautiful 
results Dana's masterpiece thrills and amazes in what can only be called a very 
interesting movie going experience.

I don't want to over hype the film, its certainly not Little Miss Sunshine, but 
it can hold its own with the smart and hip comedies that we've come to expect 
from the indie circuit. Steven Coogan finally has his vehicle to break through 
to the American cinema and it should definitely increase all our awareness of 
his comedic genius. More unexpectedly though the best part of the show is 
Elisabeth Shue who is so fantastic playing a parody of herself. Certainly one of 
my favorite on screen performances in a long while. Aside from the actors, you 
can expect a nifty little group of musical sequences that are both funny and 
actually performed quite well by the talented young folks in the flick. Movie 
should work on all levels, there is some questionable material, but if you don't 
take risks in comedy you aren't going anywhere new which is exactly why this is 
a comedy worth watching.
</PROSEQUOTE>

De gustibus non est disputandum.

Hardy


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