Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Return to Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero. Dir. John McTiernan. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, and Austin O'Brien. 1993. DVD. Sony, 2007.

While looking through a folder of scholarly articles on Shakespeare, I came across Eric S. Mallin's tremendous and seminal work on Shakespeare and Schwarzenegger.
Mallin, Eric S. “‘You Kilt My Foddah’; or Arnold, Prince of Denmark.” Shakespeare Quarterly 50 (1999): 127-51.
I keep meaning to require it as reading for my Shakespeare and Film class—and I'll certainly do so next time. The way the article reads deeply into the film and into Shakespeare is intriguing.

For example, Mallin points out the interest of the choice the teacher (played by Joan Plowright, Lawrence Olivier's widow) makes in showing a scene from Olivier's Hamlet.

The connection-by-marriage is obviously interesting. But, more interesting that that, is the teacher's decision to show the Claudius-at-prayer scene to support her thesis that Hamlet is "one of the first action heroes." Mallin says that "The weight of the wish in Danny's dream of Shakespeare and the appropriateness of Arnold as a bearer of this weight are of course that Hamlet become an agent of immediate, uncompromising revenge and destruction, not of mediation and equity" (130).

To follow Mallin, Hamlet works because its hero is an inaction hero. We know what action heroes might (and will) do, but we wonder constantly what Hamlet will do, how he'll do it, and (to an extent) why he doesn't.

That's an unformed thought, but I have a semester or two to work on it. In the meantime, enjoy the scene below!

video




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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From Shakespeare's Wife to Shakespeare's Landlady

Nicholl, Charles. The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life on Silver Street. New York: Viking, 2007.
[This post has been in the draft stage for nearly a year now. I suppose it's time to post it. First, of course, I need to write it. Hang on a second.]

Charles Nicholl's books is extraordinarily interesting, even though it deals with a very short period in Shakespeare life. Perhaps it's interesting because it deals with such a short period.

There isn't a ton of documentary evidence about Shakespeare—though there is more than most people suspect.  This book focuses on an intriguing period in Shakespeare's life (as if all periods in his life weren't intriguing) when he was called in to testify about an engagement agreement.

Speaking of engaging, this book is.  Engaging, I mean.  Read it.

Links: Post on Shakespeare's Wife.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What noise? [Doctor] Who calls on Hamlet?

Hamlet.  Dir. Gregory Doran.  Perf. David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.  Royal Shakespeare Company.   Stratford-on-Avon.  The Courtyard Theatre.  24 July-15 November 2008.
An alert reader, having read the previous Doctor Who-related post, sent a link to this article in the London Telegraph.  The article reminds us that David Tennant, the current Doctor, is currently playing Hamlet in Stratford!

I've mentioned the stunning number of connections between Shakespeare and the long-running British science fiction series before.  But this seems to be a most remarkable production:  David Tennant and Patrick Stewart are both delightful actors, whether they're saving the world from alien attacks or saving Denmark from Norwegian interference. 

The production itself sounds well-constructed as well.  Mirrors are held up to nature as well as the audience, it seems.

A final note:  RSC, you could probably make a fortune if you were to release a DVD of this stage production.  So please do so!

Also, thanks to Dad, the alert reader in question.

Alternate titles for the post (out of several hundred possibilities):
  1. Who is't that can inform me?
  2. Who hath relieved you?
  3. Who would fardels bear . . . 
  4. Who's there?  [The first line of the play!]

Links: London Telegraph Aricle.

Click below to purchase the third season 
(which includes "The Shakespeare Code," for which q.v.
from amazon.com 
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Bonus Photos!

1.  David Tennant as Hamlet.  I wonder who plays Yorick's skull.

2.  Hamlet holding up a mirror to nature.  Or a silver tray.  Same difference.

3.  Bonus bonus photo:  Patrick Stewart as the King!  (He also plays the ghost of Hamlet's father).

Brief but Brilliant—Another Shakespeare Reference in Doctor Who

“The Unquiet Dead.” By Mark Gatiss.   Perf. Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, and Simon Callow.  Dir. Euros Lyn. Doctor Who.  Season 1, episode 3 (New Series).   BBC Wales. 9 April 2005.   DVD.  BBC Warner, 2007.
Early in the first season of the new series of Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companion travel to Dickensian London, where they mean the man himself. Charles Dickens, I mean.

The show presents us with a wonderful moment where Dickens, confused and bewildered, asks, "What the Shakespeare is going on?"

It's lovely for many reasons. One of them is that it does what the show itself does. It twists the basic chronology of Earth history. It presumes that confused and bewildered people will always say "What the [best writer prior to that time]?" when faced with difficulty. People in the future might be saying "What the Vonnegut is going on?"

Actually, the phrase "What the dickens?" has been around for a long time. In fact, that's another reason it's lovely. Shakespeare himself uses the phrase in Merry Wives of Windsor:
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is . . . . (III.ii)
Perhaps, in a future Doctor Who, we'll meet Shakespeare again—only to hear him say, "What the Chaucer is happening here?"

Notes:  
  1. I was paying the bills this morning with the show on more-or-less in the background.  I wasn't wasting time.  I can do two things at once.
  2. I chose Vonnegut over your favorite author because of the flow of the phrase rather than belief in his genius.  "What the Woolf" (for Virginia Woolf) or "What the Berry?" (for Wendell Berry) or  just didn't have the right ring.  "What the Russell T. Davies?" sounds nice (and has the woodnotes wild of Whales warbling right with it), but it's a bit too lengthy.

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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

First and Second Impressions on the GRSF's Taming

The Taming of the Shrew.  Dir. Alec Wild.  Perf. Christopher Gerson, Tarah Flanagan, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Chris Hirsch, Zachary Michael Fine, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Carla Noack, Chris Mixon, Evan Fuller, Bob Fairbrook, Andrew Carlson, Brian David Frederick, Donte Fitzgerald, David Rudi Utter, and Nicole Rodenburg. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2008.
First Impression: Brilliant.

Second Impression: Also Brilliant.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival does Shakespeare well.  Their productions are personal, intimate, clever, and thought-provoking without being weird or badly-acted.

They also do enough Shakespeare—I only wish I had also been able to see their Merchant of Venice and the Pericles put on by the Apprentice Project. Next year, I intend to see everything they offer (and I'd recommend that you do the same).

I also regret not being able to see the show earlier in the run.  The show has now closed, so I'm unable to promote the 2008 season with the enthusiasm it deserves (though I can write about it enthusiastically and promote the 2009 season with great expectations).

The production gave us a Shrew of the broadest farce. The set contained metal-framed pillars that the actors could climb to observe the action—and also to play any one of a huge number of percussion instruments. Slide whistles, drums, and clackers accompanied the slapstick action.

I think it was a good choice for this play. The audience was persuaded from the start that nothing of any real consequence was going to take place in the world of the play. Thus, Katherine's striking Petruchio (and her re-striking him on his line "I'll swear I'll cuff you if you strike again," against which he had no strong response) was accompanied with sound effects. The effect of the effects was to lessen the repercussions of the physical violence for which the play calls.

The characters, after all, are from the Commedia delle'arte.  But, in Shakespeare, even stock characters like the Pantaloon seldom remain two-dimensional.  This production gave us that, too.

Katherine, who was not very often very shrewish, effectively demonstrated that the shrew in her was (mostly) a public persona.

Petruchio, who seemed to find his own actions as distasteful as a member of a modern audience might, was grasping at straws and playing it by ear through most of the play.  It was an intriguing interpretation.

In a future post, I'd like to comment more fully on these very effective moments in the play:
  • Clearing the stage for Kate and Petruchio's first encounter
  • Using sound effects—with both percussion and voice
  • Foregrounding the idea of playing games
  • Having Petruchio address the audience directly
In the meantime, set aside June and July of 2009 so you won't miss a moment of the glory that is The Great River Shakespeare Festival!

Links: The Festival's Cool Website.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chris Gerson as Petruchio

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Alec Wild. Perf. Christopher Gerson, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Chris Hirsch and Nicole Rodenburg. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 2008.
We're driving down to Winona today to see Chris Gerson in The Taming of the Shrew. The festival is always remarkable, and I'll report on the production in the next few days.

Meanwhile, head to the festival site for some very cool images and videos related to this season . . . and mark your calendars for next season!

Also, here are two cool pictures of Gerson—one from the current production and one from As You Like It a few years back.




Links: The Festival's Cool Website.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jack Benny and the Sympathetic Shylock

To Be or Not to Be. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch. Perf. Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, Robert Stack, and Felix Bressart. 1942. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2005.
Jack Benny is the greatest radio comedian the world has ever seen. As a movie or television actor—if you get the right movie—he's not terrible. Not great. But also not terrible.

In terms of Shakespeare and film, I very much enjoy his 1942 To Be or Not to Be (later remade by Mel Brooks in 1983). In the scene below, Benny and his friends (all actors in a Polish theatre—good guys, in other words) have donned Nazi uniforms to create a diversion to help their friends escape from the real Nazis while the real Hitler (the actor playing Hitler here is actually an actor playing an actor playing Hitler) watches a performance from a box on the other side of that wall.

One point to be made from the speech from Merchant of Venice here is that it's given the utmost sympathy. Whatever you may feel about Shylock, it's almost impossible for the "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech to be delivered without sympathy.

Another point is that the word "Jew is excerpted from the speech. It seems to be a speech about Poles and not about Jews. But the Jewish resonance is still there. Though the characters speaks of Poland, earlier in the film, we learn that he is Jewish. [When he wants to accuse a fellow actor of hamming it up, he says, "What you are I wouldn't eat." Lovely economy of form, that.]

That, itself, may serve as an emblem of WWII in 1942. What the world sees is the plight of the Poles; under that is the plight of the Jews.

Take a look at the clip; then try the whole film out at your local (or, if you use Netflix, not-so-local) video rental store or library.

video

Links: The film in question.  Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com (and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

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!

Monday, July 21, 2008

"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle [of Nym] . . ." —Richard II

Nim’s Island. Dir. Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. Perf. Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, and Gerard Butler. Walden Media, 2008.
On our way back from Israel, we watched (some more often than others) Nim's Island. Although it is by no means a full-scale Shakespearean Derivative, it does have a number of Shakespearean moments. I mean besides the protagonist's name (inspired by the second tetralogy but modernized in its spelling).

The plot concerns a father and a daughter who are stranded on an island. Sound familiar, anyone? Actually, they're not so much stranded as self-marooned, but it works out to the same thing, more or less.

Anyway, there's a storm—a real tempest of a storm, in fact—and uncouth strangers arrive on the island soon after and are subjected to seemingly-magical and definitely-odd happenings.

Yes, Nim's Island is a loose retelling of The Tempest!

All right, very loose.

But there is a wonderful moment where Nim, meeting a boy of about her age, smooshes her finger in his cheek (to see if he's really real) and says, "I didn't expect you to look like that."

We only have to turn to Act V, scene i for its equivalent:
                                                             O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!  (V.i.182-85)
Yes, I know it loses a little bit in the adaptation . . . but still . . . .

Finally, it's actually quite a good film. There are some suspenseful (and possibly scary) moments, but it still seemed quite appropriate for children and adults alike.



Links: Official site for the movie.  Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com (and to support Bardfilm as you do so). 

The book:

The film:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Shakespearean Writer's Block—Now Available in Bottles!

"You shall have wine enough, my lord, anon."
The commodification of Shakespeare is nothing new, but I was struck with the equovocation of this particular one. Does the bottle suggest that one can break writer's block with a simple dose of this merchandise? Or does the bottle, like the porter in Macbeth invite us to consider that it contains the essence of writer's block itself:
much drink may be said to be an equivocator with [the writer at work]: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him . . . (II.iii.31-34)
I suppose Hemingway might disagree, but I can't recall seeing any William Shakespeare brand Absinthe anywhere!

Links: Steele Wines.

Shakespeare over Iceland (Shaken, not Stirred)

Winchester, Simon. Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004.
Simon Winchester is such an amazing author that I will read anything he writes—whether I'm interested in the subject or not—just for the joy of the prose. He has a few books on geology, of all things, and they are completely engrossing. I'm eagerly looking forward to reading his The Man who Loved China, but I didn't bring it to Israel because it's a heavy hardback.

Instead, I brought Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles, a light paperback.

First published in 1988, the book does not demonstrate Winchester at his best. Large portions are, I'm afraid, quite dull. Other parts—mostly autobiographical ones—are somewhat disturbing. All in all, I'd recommend The Meaning of Everything instead.

But the book did offer me a bit of Shakespeare as we were flying over Iceland. I didn't see much Shakespeare-related film in Israel, but I did read a lot of Shakespearean matter. I didn't expect to find any in Winchester's book; however, there it was.

On his travels, Winchester met a man who surprises him with the sudden question, "Have I told you about my theories about your William Shakespeare?" (142). The section from the man's book (Shakespearean Tragedies Illuminated by Buddhism; or, Around the Philosophy of Retribution of Cause and Effect, Throughts of Dhyana, and Matters of Ignorance was its title, by the way) that Winchester quotes is an interesting instance of East meeting West on Shakespearean grounds:
In conclusion, Shakespeare showed up the cause and effect of human tragedy so dramatically in his masterpieces, and Buddha told us the way to avoid human tragedy and attain the Pure Land through his whole life of over eighty years.  (143)
Winchester summaries the thesis in his own words: "William Shakespeare may have been a wise old bird, but he couldn't hold a feather to Buddha, who had wisdom in unrivalled abundance" (143).

The book isn't brilliant, but I enjoyed finding Shakespeare in this seemingly-unlikely place—where Winchester himself found him.


Links:   Purchase the book at amazon.com and support Bardfilm as you do so.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stateside Shakespeare

I've returned from Israel.  Whether I wasn't looking in the right places or whether there's really not quite as much Shakespeare there as I'd like, I didn't find much Shakespeare there.

Even the Jerusalem Film Festival—with copious offerings of almost every imaginable sort—seemed to have nothing Shakespearean to offer.

Of course, I brought some Shakespeare with me, but I didn't seem to have too much time to watch any—let alone any time to write about it!  But, now that I'm back, I hope to have the opportunity to get back on track, Shakespeare-and-film-wise.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Shakespeare-Related Fiction


Davies, Robertson. Tempest-Tost. New York: Penguin, 1980.
I don't read a ton of Shakespeare-related fiction. So much of it seems to be namby-pamby, particularly those works set contemporaneously to Shakespeare. But Tempest Tost by Robertson Davies is a different story. It's not fast-paced wit like one would expect from P. G. Wodehouse, but its humor is reminiscent of a Blandings Castle novel.
The plot involves an amateur theatre company attempting to put on a production of The Tempest. The funniest part is when the stuffy professor who plays Prospero asks, after the final dress rehearsal, for a stem of grapes
of exactly seven grapesthat he can get before his big speech:

"I don't want to cause any extra trouble," said he, in the voice of a man who is going to do precisely that, "but could the stage management contrive to give me a stem of grapes with exactly seven grapes on it; to have it concealed, I mean, in the basket on the banquet table, so that I can get it before my Big Speech? . . . Then I could eat seven grapes, during that speech, at at the end—

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep


I could toss away the stem. You take me? Rather fine, eh? . . . Seven grapes
what does that put you in mind of? The Seven Ages of Man, eh? From As You Like It. It is pretty clearly understood that the Melancholy Jaques is an early study for the character of Prospero. Now here we have a chance to make a synthesis-to draw Jaques and Prospero together, with this piece of business with the grapes . . . ."
All in all, an enjoyable read, filled with amiable characters and good (though leisurely) description.

~~~
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