Monday, March 2, 2015

Spaghetti Shakespeare Number One: Johnny Hamlet

Johnny Hamlet [Quella Sporca Storia nel West (a.k.a. That Dirty Story of the West; a.k.a. Django)]. Dir. Enzo G. Castellari. Perf. Andrea Giordana, Gilbert Roland, Horst Frank, Ennio Girolami, Ignazio Spalla, Françoise Prévost, Stefania Careddu, Manuel Serrano, Franco Latini, Giorgio Sammartino, and Gabriella Grimaldi. 1968. DVD. Eagle Pictures, 2008.

Note: I use the term "Spaghetti Shakespeare" advisedly, knowing that it might seem flippant or insulting; however, in Johnny Hamlet, we have a subset of the recognized genre "Spaghetti Western," so the term seems viable.

A student and I have received a Faculty Student Collaboration grant from University of Northwestern—St. Paul to study film versions of Shakespeare made in Italy, and I'm thrilled to be able to explore a section of Shakespeare and Film that has been relatively closed to me because I do not speak Italian and many of the films lack English-language subtitles. We intend to study five or six films and to collaborate on a presentation and an essay. In the meantime, we will be collaborating on and individually composing blog posts on the subject. You can therefore expect some guest posts from Ceciley Pund, the author of the blog What Consolation, as we discover intriguing and significant elements of these films.

One film I've been able to watch for the collaboration is Quella Sporca Storia nel West, commonly known as Johnny Hamlet. Particularly astute readers may be able to hypothesize that the film recasts the plot of Hamlet in the American Wild West, but that guess (which is, in essence, absolutely correct) will not necessarily prepare them for the way the film addresses those themes.

Much more will follow about this film in the weeks to come, but I want you all to jump right in with us in our exploration of this film. To that end, I'm providing the first five minutes of the film in the clip below. You'll see a ghost sequence, a glimpse of an Ophelia or two (Ophelia is bifurcated into a performer / possible prostitute and the sheriff's daughter), the traveling players, the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and an extremely intriguing use of "To be or not to be."


All right—I was probably joking about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but all the rest is intriguingly built in to the opening sequence. Knowing that the film is a derivative version of Hamlet, the viewer is startled by having what appears to be a voiceover of fragments of an Italian translation of "To be or not to be" delivered by a man in Elizabethan costume. Knowing that the film is Italian, we may not be surprised to see a figure in contemporary clown costume surreally turning backflips on a beach behind a horse—but it doesn't take long for these unexpected elements to resolve themselves into what looks like a more straightforward western . . . although they won't stay there for long, either.

Please stand by for further glimpses at this fascinating film and into our collaborative project.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A tiny fragment of Shakespeare in Darwin: The Series

Darwin: The Series. By Karl Kenzler [Episodes 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] and Lynn Rosen [Episodes 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12]. Dir. Carrie Preston [Episodes 1-10] and Greg Ivan Smith [Episodes 11-12]. Created by Christopher Gerson, Karl Kenzler, and Lynn Rosen. Perf. Karl Kenzler, Christopher Gerson, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Bill Heck, Joel de la Fuente, Tarah Flanagan, Victor Williams, Peter Bradbury, Kevin Orton, Scott Aiello, Bhavesh Patel, Alysia Reiner, and Steve Small. Web Series. 2015.

By dint of my connections with the Great River Shakespeare Festival (for which, q.v.), I learned of the quirky web series Darwin some time ago, but the first complete run of the series was only release recently.

The show itself is brilliant, intriguing, clever, and a lot of fun. A number of thrillingly odd characters are thrown together in a tale of getting a handle on life and love—a bit like a combination of Flight of the Conchords and a Woody Allen film (one of the really good ones). The basic plot involves a Life Coach named Leo Darwin whose own life is falling apart. His only client is Michael Yensbourg, a multimillionaire who suffered a highly-publicized nervous breakdown at a Wagner concert—the YouTube video of it went viral. Leo has written a self-help book called Darwin's Tree, and bits a pieces of psycho-babble advice periodically appear on the screen:  "Nobody is Superman—not even Superman," for example. But you'll learn more from the trailer than from my attempt at a summary:

I told you that to tell you this. Later in the series, in an attempt to get Michael to get out of his gaming basement ("You know what you need to do, Michael?" "Tobogganing?"), Leo Darwin tries to interest him in LARPing, but Michael considers that crowd to be losers. In the scene from Episode Five ("Digging Deep") below, Michael (played extremely convincingly by Christopher Gerson, one of the brightest stars in the firmament of the GRSF) chances upon a LARPing festival / Renaissance Faire while Leo chances upon the concept of "Rage Yoga" in an attempt to get his own life back on track. That's where the Shakespeare comes in:


"Back off, Hamlet! I'm not one of you!"  

That may be the only direct use of Shakespeare in the series, but the series itself is Shakespearean in its farce, its parody, and its use of language. Give it a try.

Links: The Official Web Site of Darwin: The Series.

Bonus Image:  Christopher Gerson, as Michael Yensbourg, 
finds that speaking to a beautiful woman isn't really that bad.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Warm Bodies: Now with the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet

Warm Bodies. Dir. Jonathan Levine. Perf. Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, and John Malkovich. 2013. DVD. Summit Entertainment, 2013.

Some years ago, I wrote a post on the novel Warm Bodies (for which, q.v.). It's taken awhile, but, thanks to a student who presented on the film (students are wonderful, aren't they?), I've finally gotten to the film.

Essentially, the student got me interested again in noting that, at the end (spoiler alert, people), R (the Romeo analogue) takes exactly the opposite course from that which Romeo (of Shakespeare's play) takes.  Romeo goes from life to death because of love; R goes from death to life because of love.

Yes, it's cheesy, but it's also interesting. The film attempts to rise above typical zombie movie fare, for a time looking more like an allegory than a zombie film: we're all the walking dead without love.

In any case, it's still not my cup of tea (the subtitles in the clip below are a clue to my having watched the film at three times the speed with the subtitles on), but I would be remiss if I didn't present the balcony scene from the film, with its touch of Julie (the Juliet analogue) delivering a modernized version of this speech from Romeo and Juliet:
How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here. (II.ii.62-65)


Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Return to Prince of the Himalayas

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.

Every other year, I try to incorporate Prince of the Himalayas (for which, q.v.) into my Shakespeare and Film course. I'm always hampered by the film's distressing lack of availability. But I'm going to throw caution to the winds this year and explore this film in some considerable depth.

For one thing, it's the only derivative of Hamlet covered in Simon Crowl's Screen Adaptations:  Shakespeare’s Hamlet:  The Relationship between Text and Film, which I've adopted as a textbook for the course this year.

For another thing, it's quite an incredible film. I've given a fairly-extensive plot summary here, but I didn't provide more than a trailer at that point. I was still (and am sill) desperately hoping for a theatrical or DVD release of the film. But, since I haven't heard any rumblings for several years, I think it would be all right to give a sample here.

In this scene, Lhamoklodan, the Hamlet analogue, has returned to ask one simple but enormous question: "Why?" His mother thinks he means "Why did my father have to die?" but he really means "Why did you bury my father before my return?" You can observe the answer to that question in the clip. You'll then also see Odsaluyang (the Ophelia analogue) welcoming Lhamoklodan home.

Finally, you'll see the pomp and circumstance of the installation of Kulo-ngam, the Claudius analogue. As you watch it, note the response of one of the high officials:


That's Po-lha-nyisse (can you guess whose analogue he is?) reacting with shock to the idea of Kulo-ngam and Nanm marrying. That moment is fascinating. It gives us insight into one possible reaction to the marriage of Kulo-ngam to his brother's widow—and that reaction doesn't come from Lhamoklodan. We would expect Lhamoklodan to feel that way, but this is the Polonius analogue (had you guessed that already?), and those are usually on the side of any Claudius analogues out there.

I'm actually getting more and more excited about the prospect of taking a deep, hard look at this film with my class—and I continue to hope for a US DVD release at some point!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Note: That Shakespeare Kid

LoMonico, Michael. That Shakespeare Kid. North Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013

I recently read this book, having heard of it through a Kickstarter campaign and Shakespeare Geek's blog. It came out as a self-published book a couple years ago.

The gimmick is intriguing. A kid gets a concussion and is only able to speak in quotations from Shakespeare. As plot devices go, it has its positive side, but it does start to pall fairly quickly. It seems like it might work for a short story, but it does tend toward the tedious.

I think a good example of this comes in a scene where our narrator and the Shakespeare Kid end up at a Mets game. During the course of the game, the Shakespeare Kid provides a running commentary drawn from every quote that could apply to baseball. Click on the image below to enlarge it and to give it a try:

It's a tour de force of the genre, and it does demonstrate the cleverness of the author—I'll certainly give it that! But it does carry on. The possible monotony is broken by a couple devices—the Shakespeare Kid is able to text the narrator in modern English; later, he can use a whiteboard to communicate with her and with his teachers.

Apart from the overuse of the gimmick, the novel was interesting enough, giving us some colorful characters, some romance, and some tension that carries the book through to the end.

Links: A Review of the Book at Shakespeare Geek.

Click below to purchase the book from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2012 by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest