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.

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).


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Great River Shakespeare Festival: Go. Just Go.

Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The Mery Wives of Windsor. The Great River Shakespeare Festival. 26 June to 3 August 2014.

Yesterday, I managed to make a road trip to Winona, Minnesota (from the Twin Cities, a drive of just over two hours) to see two plays at The Great River Shakespeare Festival. And I regret nothing.

Every year, The Great River Shakespeare Festival gives the region professional, astounding, life-altering Shakespeare productions of the very highest quality, always rivaling and often superseding the offerings of the nearby metropolitan areas. In short, it is theatre that you should not miss.

Only a few days remain in the season, and they're very close to beating their all-time record for ticket sales. Drop everything and head to one of the shows. If you've never been, they're offering tickets at two for the of one. If you've been before and are bringing a friend who has never been, the same offer applies.

I just have time to make a few notes about the most amazing parts of the productions I saw. These are the points that go above and beyond the baseline of great acting, interesting direction, careful attention to the text, and clear and moving storytelling. These are the transcendent moments The Great River Shakespeare Festival provided.

Hamlet.

I've seen whole handfuls of Hamlets, and I'm always interested in the directors' choices—but I'm not usually surprised by them. In this production, I was delightedly surprised on at least three occasions.

When Hamlet and Horatio have their first exchange, it's generally light, with his "We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart" delivered very flippantly. Horatio responds much more seriously, breaking through Hamlet's fa├žade of humor with the line "My lord, I came to see your father's funeral." At that point, Hamlet breaks down completely crying on Horatio's shoulder. It was surprising and very effective. We got the sense that there are greater depths to Hamlet's character that only Horatio can unlock. Hamlet staggered on to try to return to a light level with his crack about the funeral baked meats, but now the joke was covering up the pain rather than just a flippant remark.

When the Player King (played to perfection by Jonathan Gillard Daly) delivers his long speech on Hecuba, he paused briefly but significantly after the lines "for, lo! his sword, / Which was declining on the milky head / Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick." He glanced ever-so-slightly toward Hamlet, and we got a sense that this was part of Hamlet's problem—that his plan for vengeance is stuck at this point. Again, there was some depth there, and a sense that the Player King knew more than we might expect him to.

When Hamlet comes across Claudius at prayer, he picks up Claudius' own sword as he contemplates dispatching him then and there. Later, he exits with the sword. After Claudius concludes with "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: / Words without thoughts never to heaven go," he notices the missing sword and looks about for it perplexedly. I don't know whether this was the director's intention or not, but I suddenly wondered whether a biblical allusion was at work. The story of Saul and David in the cave has some intriguing parallels to the scene:
When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats' Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's robe. And afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord's anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it.” (1 Samuel 24:1-11)
I find the possibilities there very interesting. David doesn't take Saul's life out of respect for the Lord's anointed; Hamlet doesn't take Claudius' life out of disrespect for the usurper. That moment along has given me much food for thought.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

This was a remarkable production. I can't enumerate the points that was done so brilliantly—there were just too many of them—but the best thing about the production (besides the incredible harmony of the acting pair of Doug Scholz-Carlson and Christopher Gerson) was its pacing. Unlike every other production of the play I've seen, this one deals with the material with a light, fast touch. It's perfect. The audience gets everything—its enunciated clearly and played with dazzlingly—but nothing gets bogged down. As a result, the mix of humor and philosophy comes through much more powerfully.

Additionally, the Great River Shakespeare Fest, year after year, produces high-quality videos related to its productions. These are, without exception, remarkable, interesting, humorous, and serious. Witness, for example, "Kids Explain Shakespeare's Hamlet":



If you're anywhere near Winona, Minnesota—by which I mean within a roughly three hundred mile radius—it is completely worth heading to The Great River Shakespeare Festival. Go there. Go there now. 

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