Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hamlet and Macbeth meet in Alfred Hitchcock Presents

"Banquo's Chair." By Francis M. Cockrell. Perf. Alfred Hitchcock, John Williams, Hilda Plowright, Max Adrian, George Dillon, Tom Dillon, Reginald Gardiner, Kenneth Haigh, and George Pelling. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock Presents . Season 4, episode 29. NBC. 3 May 1959. DVD. Universal Studios, 2009.

Occasionally, I reward myself for finishing a particularly difficult bit of writing or a peculiarly large stack of grading by posting to Bardfilm. As you may be able to tell from the length between this post and the last one, I've had a fair bit of both kinds of work, and that's kept me from posting.

And that's unfortunate because, some time ago, I happened upon a marvelous episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that employs a trope from Macbeth for Hamletesque results, and I've desired to post about it ever since.  In this episode, a retired detective wants to crack a two-year-old unsolved case, and he resolves to go about it with—perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously—Hamlet’s idea in mind:
                                I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions.  (II.ii.588-93)
Most interestingly, he decides to use a device from Macbeth—the appearance of the ghost of Banquo—to trap the man he suspects of murdering his aunt. He invites the suspect to the aunt's old home, convinces the house's new owner to host a dinner party to which he brings a Shakespearean actor (which allows for some of the dinner conversation to turn, notably, to Hamlet) and the murder suspect. He also hires an actress to impersonate the suspect's aunt.

I've reduced the show to its absolute essentials in the clip below—minus any sort of thrilling twist that Hitchcock may or may not have provided at the show's end (no spoilers).  Enjoy!

video

Now that you've seen that, you may be wondering what happens next. The following clip is most certainly a spoiler, so do not watch it if you want to watch the entire episode yourself at some point. Additionally, see if you can anticipate any sort of Hitchcockian twist that might be coming.

video

Links: The Episode at the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki.


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



Friday, August 22, 2014

Forthcoming: Romeo and Juliet in Harlem

Romeo and Juliet in Harlem. Dir. Aleta Chappelle. Perf. Harry Lennix, Aunjanue Ellis, and Jasmine Carmichael. 2014. TAG Films, Moon Shadow Films, not yet released.

Ah, the power of Bardfilm. No sooner do I lament the relative dearth of Shakespeare films given an African-American cultural setting (for which, q.v.) than the wheels start turning, resulting in Romeo and Juliet in Harlem.

The film seems to be making the rounds of the festivals at present, but there is a trailer, which gives a sense of what the film is doing:

video

We have a Romeo of Hispanic descent (thanks for the note of correction in the comment below) and a black Juliet in an adaptation (a film that keeps Shakespeare's language, as opposed to a derivative, which keeps Shakespeare's plot but abandons the language) set in Harlem. I'm very intrigued by the idea, and I gather than the film is an ultra-low budget endeavor (despite having a big name like Harry Lennix), which may explain some of the more amateurish aspects of the trailer.

In any case, I'll be working hard to find a venue to see this film—and to see what issues it deals with—particularly in terms of black / white race relations in the United States—which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a timely conversation to have right now.

Note:  If you're anywhere near Memphis on November 1, head to the Indie Memphis Filmfest for a screening of Romeo and Juliet in Harlem!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Deliver Us From Eva: A Film Derivative of The Taming of the Shrew

Deliver Us From Eva. Dir. Gary Hardwick. Perf. Gabrielle Union, L. L. Cool J, Essence Atkins. 2003. DVD. Universal Studios, 2003.

I wish there were more derivatives like this; it recasts Shakespeare in African-American culture. Unlike O, which, as far as I remember, involves African-American culture by way of contrast to white American culture, Deliver Us From Eva is a derivative of The Taming of the Shrew  that sets itself entirely in Black culture in America—or, rather, what passes in Hollywood as Black culture, which isn't quite the same thing.

I also wish this film were better. Even though it has L. L. Cool J, it falls flat. I think part of it is the overall interpretation of the story arc. The younger sisters need to get Eva (our Katherine analogue) out of the way so that they can enjoy their own relationships; the men in those relationships hire Ray to get her to fall in love with him, move away with him, and then be dumped by him in some faraway location. And the idea they all have in mind is that Eva is shrewish because (not to put too fine a point on it) she hasn't had a man sexually. Once she does, the shrewishness will be all gone. I feel that this is not a fair reading of Katherine or of women, and the film suffers as a result.

I've chosen three representative clips to give you a feel for the film. Please note that the material in them, even though I have done some editing to remove more objectionable content, may not be acceptable to all audiences.

Clip One: The men try to persuade Ray to date Eva.

video

Clip Two: Ray sees Eva's shrewishness at work in her job as health inspector. 

video

Clip Three: Ray asks Eva on a date.

video

I'd genuinely like to know your thoughts—and I'm particularly interested in an African-American perspective on this film. Does this reflect or undermine Black culture in America? Does the derivative work? What other Shakespeare plays should find African-American derivative versions? Please add your thoughts to the comments below!

Links: The Film at IMDB.


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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Note: The Daughter of Time

Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time. New York: Scribner, 1995.

One of the last Shakespeare-related books on my summer reading list was Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time. I was looking forward to it. She's a well-respected mystery author, the book is about Richard the Third, and I've heard reviews that adore the book and that revile it in equal measure.

My reaction was probably the worst that an author can hope for: Relative Indifference.

The general plot involves a detective in the police force lying in a hospital bed, feeling pretty sorry for himself. His friends try to interest him in historical mysteries, and, looking at the portrait of Richard and thinking that it couldn't represent the monster of received history, he starts on an amateur research project. The research goes very slowly, but the end result is a determination that Richard was not responsible for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower.

The problem is twofold. First, it's not a very interesting journey. It's a bit like Rear Window meets Oliver Stone's JFK—but without the suspense of either. Second, it's filled with specious conspiracy-theory reasoning. Yes, Shakespeare paints Richard III as worse than he probably was—that's a claim that can be made with various degrees of success and with varying levels of scholarly support along a continuum. But this book seems to be making the case that he was an angel, and it's basing the claim on inadequacies. Much of the reasoning is of this sort: "If that happened, then this certainly would have followed. But this didn't happen; therefore, that couldn't have happened." It's something of a non post hoc, ergo non propter hoc argument (for some Shakespeare-related information on the informal fallacies, q.v.). And it also says things like "Did you know that the Tower of London was a royal residence in the 1400s? It wasn't a prison at all!"  Well, yes, the Tower was a royal residence—but it was also a prison!  It can be (and was) both.

In a similar way, this book is both well-written and fairly dull, and readers shouldn't be swayed by its argument.

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



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Jack Benny and Ronald Coleman Try their Hands at Othello

"Jack and Mary See Coleman's Movie." The Jack Benny Program. NBC. 2 February 1948. Radio.

From my earliest days, I've been a fan of Jack Benny. I remember many hours at the Headquarters Branch of the St. Louis County Library, listening to LPs and audio cassettes of old time radio programs—and always searching for more and more Jack Benny.

The dubious benefit of having all the advertising slogans of Lucky Strike Brand Cigarettes (L.S. / M.F.T.—It's Toasted!—Smoke a Lucky to Feel Your Level Best—Be Happy; Go Lucky!—et cetera) running periodically through my head is outweighed by the delight that the rest of the show occasions.

In 1948, Ronald Coleman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in A Double Life, the story of an actor who fears playing Othello because he may become murderously jealous.

I told you that to tell you this. Ronald Coleman and his wife Benita frequently appeared on The Jack Benny Program as the exasperated next-door neighbors of Jack Benny. The plot of a 1948 episode of the program centers on Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone's trip to the movies to see A Double Life.

I've extracted the part of the episode that has to do with Othello and placed it in the video below.  Ronald Coleman delivers the "By heaven, I saw my handkerchief in his hand" speech (V.ii.63ff), and Jack Benny shows him how to do it better.

The video images are from the 1911 silent film Desdemona (for which, q.v.), the Emil Jannings silent Othello (for which, q.v.), and from Janet Suzman's Othello (for which, q.v.). I realize the combination of the radio show's audio with these visuals is a bit surreal, but it's the easiest way for me to get the audio to you.

video

Links: A Double Life at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(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