The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0698  Thursday, 7 March 2002

From:           Charles Weinstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 6 Mar 2002 20:35:33 -0500
Subject:        A Renaissance in Need of Reformation

The rash of Shakespearean films that erupted during the last decade has
occasioned talk of a "renaissance."  The term is inappropriate.  It
connotes a judgment of excellence; it may not be applied to fluent
mediocrity or prolific failure.

Shakespeare's plays are dramas, that is, studies of character and
conflict.  It follows (does it not?) that productions of these plays
must stand or fall by their acting.  No amount of clever direction or
advanced design will redeem a Shakespearean production from bad or dull
performances.  What, then, are the leading performances in this
decade-long renaissance?

Mel Gibson's Hamlet, a dumb, sweet-faced jock; Laurence Fishburne's
Othello, a sullen, glowering bore; Ian McKellen's sexless prune of a
Richard; Al Pacino's ludicrous "search" for the same character; Claire
Danes' so-called Juliet with her blank face, toneless voice and general
incompetence; the stunningly inept DiCaprio, making Shakespeare sound
like Pig Latin; Emma Thompson's bland and hammy Beatrice; Derek Jacobi's
effete and spinsterish Claudius; Ben Kingsley's grim, portentous and
insufferably self-important Feste; Nigel Hawthorne's unfunny Malvolio;
Alicia Silverstone's Princess, a walking definition of the word
"Clueless;" Calista Flockhart's Helena with her ridiculous mid-Atlantic
accent; Ms. Thompson's Katherine, as girlish as a bluestocking and as
French as Yorkshire pudding; Harry Lennix' Aaron, tip-toeing through the
language as though it were a minefield; the collective impostures of
Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard, Michael Keaton,
Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, a/k/a "The Innocents Abroad;" the
decorative superficialities of Jessica Lange, Annette Bening, Michelle
Pfeiffer, Glenn Close, Julie Christie, Kate Beckinsale and Kate Winslet,
a/k/a "Babes in Bardland;" and the Benedick, Berowne, Iago and Hamlet of
Kenneth ("a little o'erparted") Branagh, a man whose considerable
assurance is not equaled by his talent.

Salvaging films from performances such as these would tax the ingenuity
of any director.  In these cases, however, the directors are usually
responsible for the casting; and they compound this offense by adding
their own vulgarity, ignorance and tastelessness to the mix.  Stir well,
and what emerges from this witches' broth?

Julie Taymor's Titus, a three-hour exercise in window dressing; the
Loncraine/McKellen Richard III, a/k/a "Notes on Camp;" Baz Luhrman's
Romeo+Juliet, neatly instantiating its own thesis that all good things
can be turned into garbage; Oliver Parker's instantly-forgettable
Othello, slipping in and out of the mind like Muzak; Branagh's "uncut"
Hamlet, a wheezing white elephant plodding its way to the ivory
graveyard; his Much Ado, designed, shot and acted with all the
professionalism of a home movie; his Love's Labour's Lost, endurable for
six minutes; Michael Hoffman's community-theater Midsummer with its
foolish Hollywood stars; Zeffirelli's quixotic efforts to medievalize
Hamlet; last (and most assuredly least), Looking for Richard, an
enterprise so devoid of knowledge, intelligence and basic skill that it
easily ranks as one of the most embarrassing films ever made.

This is no renaissance; it's a reversion to barbarism.  It sickens me
that academics are actually studying, teaching and writing analytical
essays on this rubbish.  At least the monkish elite of the Dark Ages
devoted their hours to culling the cream of earlier generations, not
wallowing in the dreck of their contemporaries.

--Charles Weinstein

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