Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wake up, man! He's giving the St. Crispin's Day speech!

William Shakespeare's Henry V. Dir. Peter Babakitis. Perf. Peter Babakitis, Sabaa, Phil Sheridan, Brian Narelle, and Gwyneth Horobin. 2007. DVD. CreateSpace, 2008.
Whether you think Branagh's Henry V is pro- or anti-war, there's no question but that he pulls out all the stops when it comes to the St. Crispin's Day speech. The music and the words build nicely from start to finish, the reaction shots of the soldiers (notably Brian Blessed) in careful comprehension of the argument, and the final, swelling, rousing cheer cannot fail to move—or manipulate?—us.

I recently bought Peter Babakitis' Henry V, partly because the following editorial comment at amazon.com caught my eye, my attention, my interest, and my remaining video budget:
Shakespeare's tale of England's legendary warrior king, in a new production that reveals the ruthlessness and blind ambition of England's folk hero, with parallels to the legacy of Western colonialism and the current Invasion of Iraq.
"Wow," I thought. "Olivier directed his during WWII, Branagh directed his during the Faulkland Islands affair, and Babakitis is doing his during the Iraq conundrum. This will be interesting and relevant."

Naturally, I should have realized that "parallels to the legacy of Western colonialism" et alia need not be explicit in a production of Henry V—now that those thing have happened, they can be found implicitly in the text itself and in any production you'd care to name. I thought Babakitis might have some explicit commentary on the current world political situation, but he doesn't. Shakespeare has something to say about it—Babakitis does not.

In addition to lacking biting political commentary on the current state of affairs, it's a bad, bad film.

Brief Review: It's not quite up to current YouTube standards.

The Branagh St. Crispin's speech inspires us—even against our will.

The Babakitis . . . well, take a look below. Particularly dreadful are the reaction shots. One soldier (pictured above—you'll see him again below) seems to have fallen asleep during this rousing speech. In other instances, the soundtrack roar of the crowd (itself rather mild) overwhelms the speeches. Finally, any good director will tell you that a successful crowd scene can be filmed with a limited number of extras if you just pack them tightly together and film in extreme close up. Five people can look like a hundred! This director tries that . . . but five people end up looking like . . . um . . . five people. Five disinterested, disheartened, downtrodden people at that.

video

Links: The official site for the film. Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com (and to support Bardfilm as you do so). Or, really, have your library buy it—you don't want to spend that much money on this film yourself, though you would like somebody else to do so so that you can watch it and make fun of it!

8 comments:

Elizabeth R said...

Maybe the director took "we happy few" a little too literally?

kj said...

I think it more likely he was going for a "ne'er so vile" motif here.

kj

Lea said...

But is it as bad as this version of Richard II?

(I cannot tell; the clip is broken!)

Jeff (Second Reel) said...

Happy St. Crispin's Day!

I wasn't able to see the clip, but I did watch the long trailer on the official web site. I have been curious about this film for awhile, but have not braved the $30 price on Amazon.

When we were studying Branagh's version back in college (some time ago...) my professor told us about seeing it in first release during the first Gulf War, when several people in the audience wept during the Crispin's Day speech. I saw it only a few years after release, though never really made that connection. It was clear to me, however, that Shakespeare had his own commentary about the nature of war (or at least the nature of this particular war of Henry's) which, as you point out, is present in any production.

I posted something about this on my own blog here:
http://www.second-reel.com/annex/choruslines/index.shtml

PS - This is the second time I have come across your blog in various Tweets and reTweets. Great stuff -- I'll be sure to follow!

kj said...

Video is now fixed! Thanks for your comments, everyone. Feel free to comment again now that you can see the clip!

kj

Jeff (Second Reel) said...

Now I see what you mean!

I read an interview with Martin Scorsese re: The Last Temptation of Christ where he mentions earlier depictions of the Sermon on the Mount, and why he made the crowd in his version much smaller -- because how could so many people, many standing far away, hear everything that was said? The same could apply in the Crispin's Day scene, though I don't think Babakitis was going for that! (Scorsese also mentions the excellent take on the sermon in Monty Python's Life of Brian -- maybe Babakitis should have tried for comedy: Eat sand at Mother's? They canned Tommy Smothers?)

kj said...

Brilliant, Jeff. That would be perfect.

But with a serious venture in mind, the choice of defining the English troops as a group of rag-tag, downhearted, outnumbered soldiers depends on presenting the French as a contrasting, larger force. It would be a good interpretation and might play well--but it would need to be clearly intentional. Babakitis' production doesn't seem as thoughtful as that.

kj

p.s. Anne Caruthers? Who is Anne Caruthers? We happy few and Anne Caruthers?

kj said...

Lea--

I haven't see that version of Richard II. I have one directed by William Woodman that's pretty bad. It's "Staged as seen in the 16th Century," according to the case. And it looks like was "filmed as it would be in the 1970s."

But I'll keep an eye out for the one you mention! Thanks!

kj

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.

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