Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 383. Tuesday, 15 December 1992.
Date: Monday, 14 Dec 1992 10:53 pm EST (Tue, 15 Dec 92 03:53:38 UT)
Subject: Gibson's *Hamlet*
Beware - here comes the stage actor's venom! :-)
I have to chime in on the discussion of Gibson's *Hamlet* and say that it
has done more harm to any American acting tradition of Shakespeare than
anything I can think of. I was particularly offended when the Folger Library
(I believe it was the Folger or the Folger Shakespeare Theatre before it
moved) gave its annual achievement award to Mel Gibson! Not even to Franco
Zefferelli, whose idea it was for the film, but to Gibson.
I don't know if people on this list have any idea how many people have
been busting their butts for the last 30 years or more in this country (the
US) trying to establish a tradition of Shakespearean acting for the stage.
An article in the August 23 issue of *Backstage* (a trade publication for
actors/directors) had a feature article which detailed the rise of summer
festivals across the country (I believe the number of states with a summer
festival is now in the 40s). Some people, such as Des Macanuff at the Old
Globe in San Diego, have been at it for 35 years. Ashland, the Old Globe,
Colorado, Utah, Alabama, Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Kentucky, New
Jersey and other states have festivals which have been around for 15+ years.
People who have been acting Shakespeare in those companies for 15-20 years
have put their whole careers on the line for the Bard.
And along comes "Mad Max Lethal Weapon I'm a Box Office Attraction" Mel
Gibson to pull off the biggest acting con of the century. He gives a stunning-
ly mediocre performance, creates a public-relations coup by donating "educa-
tional" copies of his work to teachers for free, runs off with the Shakespeare
Award from a prestigious US Shakespeare organization, and has everybody
commenting about how he has now made Shakespeare "accessible." All this from
an actor whose entire training in classical theatre comes from a few high
school productions in New Zealand. What a joke.
It's no wonder that theatre is dying in this country - even the elite now
believe movie versions of Shakespeare are more "accessible" than stage pro-
ductions. It doesn't matter that what they're trying to "access" is a col-
lection of flickering light and photons on a screen (How can anybody access
light images?). It matters not that the performance demonstrates nothing of
the intense energy and command of technique and style that REALLY GOOD
Shakespearean acting requires. It matters not that we're watching a creation
of the cutting room, where everything was shot out of sequence and no intense
demands were made on any of the actors. It also doesn't matter that the
pure, overwhelming spectacle of the movie is doing everything it can to
overshadow the language because American audiences simply won't sit still for
language (and you'd better believe Zefferelli knew it|).
When we watch Shakespeare on film, we have to remember that we are watching
a Shakespeare MOVIE, not a Shakespeare PLAY (how quickly they forget, Marshall
McLuhan). The meduim of the movie means that very basic, fundamental changes
are being made in our perceptions fo what we are viewing, and that is signifi-
cant. When people talk about movies as making Shakespeare more "accessible,"
they are acknowledging, whether consciously or unconsciously, that Shakespeare
on the stage is somehow LESS accessible. As an actor of Shakespeare, I for one
fail to see how this can be so. Shakespeare is FAR MORE accessible on the
stage than he is on the screen, primarily because of the live interaction of
the humans on stage and the humans in the audience, which is what the theatre
of Shakespeare was all about. I think if Will was alive today he would love
the movies, but he would probably be a far different writer.
I sense I am defending a dying tradition because of the changing nature of
American culture and its addiction to the movies/television. Mel Gibson's
achievement proves again what Andre Agassi sells in his camera commercials -
image is everything.
Tom Loughlin * BITNET
Dept. of Theatre Arts * loughlin@fredonia
SUNY College at Fredonia * INTERNET
Voice: 716.673.3597 *
Fax: 716.673.3397 * "Hail, hail Freedonia, land of
* the brave and free." G. Marx