Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The St. Crispin's Day Speech in The Wars of the Roses

Henry V. Dir. Michael Bogdanov. Perf. Ben Bazell, Roger Booth, and Philip Bowen. Wars of the Roses. 1991. DVD. Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2005.

While we were in St. Crispin's Day vein, the students and I tried out the version provided by the War of the Roses series—I suppose you could call it the Hollow Crown of the early 1990s.

This version of the speech provides yet another take on Shakespeare's lines. I think they're still rousing—one of my contentions is that it's very difficult to deliver the lines in a way that lacks all inspiration (which didn't keep Babakitis from managing it in his 2007 version—for which, q.v.).

Rousing though it is, it finds its appeal in a different place. In this version, Westmoreland, who's "O that we now had here / But one ten thousand of those men in England / That do no work to-day! (IV.iii.16-18) initiates Henry's response, is shamed by Henry's overhearing the remark, and the rest of the speech is driven to shame him (and, perhaps, the others on stage) into willingness to fight:

video

I've never seen this motivation drive the speech . . . which isn't to say that the speech doesn't make me want to grab my longbow (or, in this version, my AK-47) and rush into the fray.

Links: The Series at IMDB.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Say Hello to Hal from The Hollow Crown

Henry V. By William Shakespeare. Perf. Edward Akrout, Tom Hiddleston, and Tom Brooke. Dir. Thea Sharrock. The Hollow Crown. Season 1, episode 4. BBC Two. 21 July 2012. DVD. Universal Studios, 2013.

Technically, I should have been following The Hollow Crown's broadcasts of Shakespeare's second tetralogy rabidly since 2012, but time has conspired to prevent me from doing so.

And, technically, I still haven't watched them. I know it's nearly heretical to say so, but I've dipped into The Hollow Crown's films and haven't been utterly compelled to shove everything else on my plate off onto the floor and devote every waking moment to the series.

But I was interested in exploring different versions of the St. Crispin's Day speech with my Shakespeare and film class, and my class and I both enjoy it when we're all looking at a film for the first or second time (rather than looking at a film I've seen two dozen times and they've never seen), so I determined to try a few I hadn't yet seen, and The Hollow Crown's Henry V was on the list.

I was impressed by the approach here, especially in contrast to Branagh's (for which, q.v.), Olivier's (for which, q.v.), and especially Babakitis—notable for being the absolute worst I've ever encountered (for which, if you can stomach it, q.v.).

Hiddleston's approach is understated but still very effective. His crowd is small, and the camera is nearly on a level with everyone (instead of privileging Henry, as in most versions). And the scene very nearly have no soundtrack—until we reach "band of brothers," at which point they just can't help themselves. Take a look:

video

My students were very adept at finding all sorts of interesting things to say about the clip, and it has convinced me that I should find the time to watch the films in their entirety.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.


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Friday, February 5, 2016

Shakespearean Texts, Texted; or, Texting the Text of the Bard

Shakespeare, William, and Courtney Carbone. srsly Hamlet. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015.

Shakespeare, William, and Brett Wright. YOLO Juliet. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015.

Shakespeare, William, and Courtney Carbone. Macbeth #killingit. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Shakespeare, William, and Brett Wright. A Midsummer Night #nofilter. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016.


I stumbled across a new series from Random House when browsing through my local bookstore the other day. It's called "OMG Shakespeare," and it retells four (so far) of the plays as text exchanges between the characters.

I'm a bit torn about these books. Clearly, I'm not in the center of the demographic for the books. There are also parts of them that are really bad—by which I suppose I mainly mean "uninteresting." But then there are also very clever ways of grappling with the problems that arise when presenting these stories in this medium. And the kids I've shown these to (kids that I've directed in multiple Shakespeare productions—so they know their Shakespeare, and they also know their Snapchats, their emojis, their Facebooks and Twitters, and their other social medias) really, really like them. They show each other certain pages or comments and they laugh hysterically.

I'll give you some examples from srsly Hamlet. At its worst, it becomes nothing more than a rebus—and even the kids who like these books acknowledge that it's inauthentic—they don't actually text that way. Here's Hamlet's "Get thee to a nunnery" speech:


That can be very tedious and annoying. But then the book will play with the form in a genuinely interesting way, bringing other forms of social media into play. Here are two two-page spreads as an example. First, Polonius gives his advice to Laertes. Then Laertes accidentally tells Ophelia in a group text to remember what he said, giving Polonius the opportunity to put his nose in. And don't fail to note the end of the sequence: Ophelia updates her relationship status Facebook-style.




There's some interest and some cleverness in that—and the idea is caught up again after the nunnery scene. Ophelia moves from "In a relationship" to "It's complicated" to . . . this:


The two reactions also show some depth of thought. Horatio is concerned—probably mostly for Hamlet, but also for Ophelia. Rosencrantz is a bit clueless—he just wants to make sure she'll be at the play-within-the-play.

I also very much—far too much, in fact—appreciated what happens to Ophelia when she goes mad:


I'm very likely to use that in future courses when we discuss the line "They aim at it / And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts” (IV.v.9-10). I'll invite students to see if they find any correlation between any of Ophelia's mad speeches / songs and the emojis here.

And it's remarkable how, when Laertes enters, having zipped back from Paris, we get the description "Laertes has checked into Elisnore Castle—with Huge Angry Mob," under which is the delightful message "Huge Angry Mob Likes This."


Finally (for that book), the kids were especially tickled by Fortinbras' entrance at the end of the play:


In YOLO Juliet, the emphasis is placed on the parents' (and other elders') inability to navigate the world of social media—often with humorous results. One prime example is Friar John's use of all caps—which amounts to shouting—is a sign of his incompetence. In the same exchange, you'll notice that Friar Lawrence initials each of his texts as if they were e-mails or memos:


Lady Capulet takes Friar Lawrence's failing one step further. She signs off each text as if it were the end of a letter. In the example below, she also inexplicably "likes" something Capulet is doing:


There are also a few other social media things thrown in with pop cultural references to round things out. Observe what Juliet decides to listen to (and the service she chooses to listen to it with) after the balcony scene:


The narrative ends as I imagine you would expect it to—according to Shakespeare. But if you're worried that it's a downer, think again:


In short, these books demonstrate some intriguing and imaginative uses of social media to tell the stories of Shakespeare—but there's a lot of tedious rebus-esque material there, too. I don't think they would be of much use (or very funny) to those who lack familiarity with the plays. But for those who do (and are in the right demographic), they appear to be a hoot.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Bad Sleep Well: Kurosawa's Masterful Derivative of Hamlet

The Bad Sleep Well [Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru]. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyôko Kagawa, and Tatsuya Mihashi. 1960. DVD. Criterion, 2006.

One of my favorite Hamlet derivatives is Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well.  Even though Throne of Blood (for which, q.v.) gets most of the Kurosawa / Shakespeare press—and rightfully so, as it is utterly superb—The Bad Sleep Well is incredible.

The film's opening is crafted in such a way as to interest its viewers—and to confuse those who have been told that this is a Hamlet derivative. There's no ghost—no watchman on the battlements—not even an announcement about a wedding following so hard upon a funeral.

We do get a wedding, but it's not what those looking for Hamlet connections expects. Instead it's a wedding of some high-ups in the Japanese business world. The wedding takes place in one large room with a group of journalists—somehow smelling out a scandal—cordoned off in a separate, adjoined room.

After watching further, we learn that the film's plot involves a Hamlet-like character named Nishi who marries Yoshiko, the daughter of a corrupt official, as part of a secret plan to bring that official and the entire company to justice for its corruption and its role in his father’s suicide.  Yoshiko and her brother Tatsuo are similar to Ophelia and Laertes.

We open, in other words, with the marriage of the analogues for Hamlet and Ophelia.

Neither Nishi nor Yoshiko speak during the first scene, which lasts nearly twenty minutes; however, there’s enough talk about them to excuse their silence.  During the preliminaries, Tatsuo is twice described as Nishi’s friend and once as Iwabuchi’s son before he is described as Yoshiko’s sister.  When Yoshiko enters, limping, a close-up reveals that one of her legs is substantially shorter than the other.  She stumbles while ascending the steps, and Tatsuo, rather than Nishi, helps her up and escorts her to the banquet.  Rumors fly among the journalists that Nishi is only marrying Yoshiko to advance his position in the company, but Tatsuo, when he gets the chance to make a speech, passionately defends Nishi—adding this as his conclusion:  “Listen, Nishi.  If you make my sister unhappy, I swear I’ll kill you.”

The toast is shocking to the business-minded audience—but not nearly as shocking as the arrival of a second wedding cake.

I'd love to give you the entirety of the first scene, but that is too much. Here, instead, are the last seven minutes or so of the opening scene. Pay particular attention to the different levels of viewers here—especially in one remarkable shot where we, as the camera, look over the shoulder of the bride and groom into the faces of the businessmen and then, beyond them, through the entire room to the group of journalists in the adjoining room, intensely watching for any sign of scandal:

video

I imagine it will be hard for most of you not to track the film down at your earliest opportunity to see how the rest of it plays out. The cake with the rose marking the window from which the analogue of Hamet's father supposedly jumped becomes something of the play-within-the-play in compressed form.

And look at the framing of this shot—it's remarkable!


When you watch the rest of the film, you'll find much more to think about, and all of it will set you scrambling back to the text of Hamlet with new and intriguing perspectives on the plot and the characters.

Links: The Film at IMDB.


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Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Note: Station Eleven

Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. New York: Vintage, 2015.

I read this book twice in quick succession: the first time because the narrative was enormously compelling and the second time to be certain that the depth of character and theme was really as profound as I thought it was the first time. And it certainly was.

Please don't run away screaming when I start to tell you about the plot. It's a post-apocalyp—

Hey! Wait! Come back! I promise it's not like that!

When I heard that this novel was a post-apocalyptic narrative, I was skeptical. The Hunger Games and Divergent and the rest have soured me to the genre. But this is a masterpiece that uses the idea of a post-apocalyptic world to transcend the genre completely.

I also heard that there was a Shakespeare connection; that pushed me heavily toward reading it.

The novel opens with an actor putting on King Lear—and dying from a heart attack in the middle of Act IV, scene vi.

That night, a devastating pandemic (the Georgia flu) arrives in America. It sweeps across America and around the world, killing nearly everyone who is exposed to it.

The novel then explores what takes place twenty years later—but without leaving the time just before and just after the Georgia flu unexplored. Indeed, that's what I found so masterful and so genre-breaking about this novel: what happens twenty years after and what happens two weeks before the breakout are explored nearly equally in order to make sense out of the breakout, civilization (and its downfall), and the human condition.

In the section set wenty years after the Georgia flu, we mostly follow the experiences of The Traveling Symphony—a group of actors and musicians who have come together in the wake of the collapse of civilization:
The Symphony performed music—classical, jazz, orchestral arrangements of pre-collapse pop songs—and Shakespeare. They'd performed more modern plays sometimes in the first few years, but what was startling, what no one would have anticipated, was that audiences seemed to prefer Shakespeare to their other theatrical offerings.

"People want what was best about the world," Dieter said. (37-38)
The Traveling Symphony has, as a sort of motto, Survival is insufficient, which, one of the characters says, "would be way more profound if we hadn't lifted it from Star Trek" (119). The motto implies that there's more to life than mere survival—and the novel explores that theme in all its intricacies and mysteries.

In that (and in the use of Shakespeare), it's a bit like Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear (for which, q.v.), but without Woody Allen as the Fool and without the off-putting Avant-garde segments.

I'm providing two things to inspire you to read this novel. First, the opening three pages (click to enlarge):



Second, here's a list from early in the novel of what's been lost with the fall of civilization. I found it moving and entirely fitting with the way the novel develops its themes:



I found the novel to be compelling on a number of levels, and I highly recommend it—and (unusually) not just for the Shakespeare.

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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 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) 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