Friday, February 26, 2010

Peter Brook's Midsummer Night's Dream (1970): Three Rare Clips

Brook by Brook: Portrait Intime. Dir. Simon Brook. 2001. La Tragedie d’Hamlet. Dir. Peter Brook. Perf. Adrian Lester, Shantala Shivalingappa, and Scott Handy. ARTE France Développment. DVD. ARTE France, 2001.
Among the rarest of the rarities—The Holy Grail (or one of the Holy Grails) of Shakespeare production history study—is Peter Brook's 1970 stage production for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was enormously innovative, it changed everything, it influenced everybody, and it's impossible to find. Indeed, knowledge of the actual performance seems almost gnostic—a little like the way people who went to Woodstock (or claim to have gone to Woodstock) speak about that experience.

I just learned that the staging was never filmed in its entirety. Only a few short segments were filmed (by the BBC).

Therefore, we must make do with clips from documentaries on more general topics. For example, Oberon's "I know a bank" speech is available—but (to my knowledge) only in a documentary on Peter Book by Simon Brook (which is itself something like a special feature—a very lengthy special feature—on the DVD of Brook's Hamlet).


I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies. (II.i.249-68)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: What to Make of Magic. Staging Dreams: Casting and Interpreting Shakespeare. Dir. Perf. 2004. DVD. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, 2004.
This clip is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: What to Make of Magic, part of the Staging Dreams: Casting and Interpreting Shakespeare series available through Films for the Humanities & Sciences. And you should definitely ask your local library to purchase the DVD.

It is a bit of a disappointment that the clips contained in the documentary are so fragmented and so frequently presented without audible dialogue (the narrator's voice is frequently dubbed over the actor's lines). Still, we get a sense of the costumes and the staging here—in some ways, it's better than a gallery of production stills:


Speaking of production stills, Touchstone Exhibitions provides a marvelous resource (even if it is a bit clunky).

“Shakespeare: Drama’s DNA.” Perf. Richard Eyre, Peter Brook, and Judy Dench. Dir. Roger Parsons. Changing Stages: 100 Years of Theatre. Episode 1. BBC. 5 November 2000. Videocassette. Films for the Humanities, 2001.
I have written a bit on this bit before, but, for the sake of convenience, I'm providing the clip on this post as well.

The clip is from a lengthy documentary series on the development of the stage in England. It's quite well done—but I will always gravitate toward the segments on Shakespeare. In this case, I appreciate the provision of elements from Peter Brook's production:

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dumbshow-within-a-Dumbshow in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Dir. Tom Stoppard. Perf. Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss. 1990. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2005.
The film version of Tom Stoppard's stupendous comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, even if it could do with a bit of streamlining, is delightful. Of particular interest, because we at Bardfilm seem to be finding connections between puppets and Shakespeare recently, is the Puppet Show Dumbshow.

The film is filled with even more layers of acting than is the play. The Player (that's the designation he's given in the Dramatis Personae) and The Tragedians (likewise) are constantly popping up and telling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about art, about life, about death (particularly about death), and about theatre.

They're also constantly putting on plays or rehearsing for plays. In this scene, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come upon The Player and The Tragedians as they rehearse the dumbshow for their production of The Murder of Gongazo. The Player Uncle murders the Player King and marries the Player King. Then one Lucianus, Player Nephew to the Player King, comes up with a plan to detect the Player Uncle's guilt. He commands that a puppet show version of The Murder of Gongazo be put on before the Player Uncle and the Player Queen. That's what we have in the clip below: a film version of a puppet show within a dumb show within a rehearsal for a play-within-a-play that is made up primarily of the backstage parts of another play. The dizziness you feel is aesthetic appreciation—nothing to worry about. Oh, and don't miss Rosencrantz's exit line after all the chaos.

Well, it wasn't that bad!

As you saw, the film cuts from the Player Uncle's realization of his guilt to Claudius' realization of his guilt. If it hadn't, I imagine the Puppet Nephew to the Puppet King would have come up with an idea to show the Puppet Uncle and the Puppet Queen an animated version of The Murder of Gongazo, and the Animated Nephew to the Animated King would have had to show a silent film version of The Murder of Gongazo to the Animated Uncle—and so on—until the Sock Puppet version of The Murder of Gongazo dissolves, making way for the entirety of the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet. And then we cut to Tom Stoppard, waking up screaming.

"I could interpret between you and your love if I could see the puppets dallying."

(Hamlet, III.ii.241-42)

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Puppets Perform The Taming of the Shrew in Forty-Eight Seconds

The Taming of the Shrew. Dir. Sam Taylor. Perf. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. 1929. DVD. Aikman Archive, 2005.
The first full-length talkie Shakespeare film was Sam Taylor's The Taming of the Shrew. [Note: Later in film history, a different Taylor would make her name associated with the play.]

It opens with a slapstick, Punch-and-Judy-type puppet show which may serve to foreshadow the slapstick of the rest of the film. The rest of the film does have a lot of slapstick in it, as well as the arguably-cruel treatment by Petruchio of Katherine, and this opening takes some of the punch out of it. The puppet show invites us to take the rest of the film in the same vein—comic, cartoony exaggeration.

But it also invites us to consider whether a streamlined Shrew—a version of Taming stripped of all but the barest of bare essentials—would be in any way satisfactory. If this is all there is to the drama, why not get it over with in the forty-eight seconds it takes for the puppets to fall in love?


The answer is that there's much more depth to consider—and that's true even of Sam Taylor's sixty-three minute version of the play.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Strings: A Marionette Drama with Tangential Connections to Hamlet

Strings. Dir. Anders Rønnow Klarlund. Perf. James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover, Derek Jacobi, Ian Hart, Claire Skinner, David Harewood, and Samantha Bond. 2004. DVD. Fox Lorber, 2005.

Many years ago, I chanced on a reference to Strings: it claimed that the film was a version of Hamlet. Having finally had a chance to watch the film, I concede that there are some Hamletesque tangents in the film, but, overall, the Shakespeare allusions are minimal. Essentially, they amount to the basic narrative: The King is dead, and the son attempts to avenge his death while the uncle attempts to seize control of the kingdom. But there are innumerable differences, including the fact that this king took his own life (a fact that is concealed from his son in a plot to remove the son from the seat of power and to deprive him of life).

If you see this film, you should let it stand on its own merits without considering the Hamlet connection too deeply. After all, it's quite an innovative film! The film doesn't merely present marionettes presenting a drama; the entire world of the film is a marionette world, crafted to show what such a world would be like. For example, the city gates are designed so that the marionettes' strings are prevented from entering—if you keep the strings out, you keep the rest out.

And it's beautifully shot. Observe the dark, tragic opening of the film:


I suppose the easiest reference to make is Claudius' speech:
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well. (III.iii.69-71)
Note: According to the Wikipedia site, there's another Hamlet connection: the film is "a Danish-Swedish-Norwegian-British co-production." Denmark is, therefore, in both works. But there's more! Substituting "Polish" for "Swedish"—because Fortinbras leads his troops "Against some part of Poland" (IV.iv.12)—provides us with a description of Hamlet itself!

Links: The Film at IMDB. The Wikipedia entry on the film.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

10 Things I Hate About You: The Television Series

“Pilot.” By Carter Covington. Perf. Lindsey Shaw, Meaghan Jette Martin, Ethan Peck, Nicholas Braun, Cameron James, Dana Davis, Jolene Purdy, and Larry Miller. Dir. Gil Junger. 10 Things I Hate About You. Season 1, episode 1. ABC Family. 7 July 2009. DVD. ABC Studios, 2010. Hulu. Web. 22 February 2010.
I don't have too much to say on the television series version of 10 Things I Hate About You. In each remake, the distance from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew grows greater and greater and the allusions to Shakespeare grow fewer and fewer. In the film, occasional Shakespeare sonnets and Elizabethan garb shore up the Shakespeare side. In the first season of the television series, I noticed only one direct allusion to Shakespeare. Bianca tells her older sister that she intends to "befriend and beguile" the most popular girl in school. Kat replies with this line:
"Beguile? Big word, Shakespeare!"
The rest of the series is a fairly-light riff on the film—which it, itself, a fairly-rough derivative of Shakespeare's play. Still, the series is a nice, light comedy freely available (as of this date, at least) to view on Hulu! Enjoy!

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Returning to Gargoyles—Much More Macbeth in Season Two

“The Mirror.” By Lydia Marano. Perf. Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, Edward Asner, and John Rhys-Davies. Dir. Frank Paur. Gargoyles. Season 2, episode 18. Syndicated television. 11 September 1995. DVD. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004.

A very long time ago, I wrote about a student who had (a long time before that) recommended the animated television series Gargoyles as a source for much Shakespeare-in-Popular-Culture material (for that post, q.v.). At that time, I noted that the second season of the show was rumored to have much more Shakespeare in it than the first season.

It was an understatement.

There's too much to even begin to cover here. There's an episode (the one cited above) in which Puck is brought to Manhattan and hilarity ensues. There are quotes (as in the image above) from many of the plays. And Macbeth becomes a major figure in the Gargoyles mythology.

In fact, so much lies in that last sentence, that I have to point you toward an entry on Grimorum, the Gargoyle Wiki (did you know there was a Gargoyle Wiki?) that details the character of Macbeth.

With all that, I can do little more than catalogue the series, pointing interested parties toward its use of Shakespeare. Oh, and I can give you a little taste of the way the show uses Shakespeare. Here's some of the backstory Gargoyles provides for Macbeth.

In the scene below, we have travelled back to Scotland in the 1000s—when Scots and gargoyles fought each other (or, occasionally, fought together against a common enemy) regularly. Macbeth and Duncan are out for a stroll in the fog with their respective children when something happens that will lead Macbeth to have a strange sense of déjà vu when he strolls in the fog with Banquo later in his life:


The clip above comes from a long story arc about Macbeth's backstory. More particularly, it's from this episode: “City of Stone (Part 3).” By Lydia Marano and Brynne Chandler Reaves. Perf. Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, Edward Asner, and John Rhys-Davies. Dir. Frank Paur. Gargoyles. Season 2, episode 18. Syndicated television. 20 September 1995. DVD. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004.

Links: The Series at IMDB. The list of episodes at Wikipedia.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Is this the Beginning of Simpsons Shakespeare?

“Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies.” “Treehouse of Horror III.” By Sam Simon and Jon Vitti. Perf. Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria. Dir. Carlos Baeza. The Simpsons. Season 4, episode 5. Fox. 29 October 1992. DVD. Twentieth-Century Fox, 2008.
Yesterday's post reminded me that there were other connections between Shakespeare and The Simpsons. Although it's no longer available on Hulu, Sideshow Bob and Lisa had a marvelous exchange that centered on Macbeth. And I've heard (but I've never seen—isn't that shameful?) that a section titled "Do the Bard, Man" from "Tales from the Public Domain" (Season 13, Episode 14) tackles Hamlet!

The connection I'm posting today comes from the early days of the show. It's brief, but it's good. In this, the third Halloween special, Zombies invade the town. How Shakespeare's body got to Springfield is not explored in the episode itself, but I suspect that Mister Burnes purchased it on the black market as part of a phenomenal collection of Shakespeareana. In any case, Homer needs to vanquish Zombie Shakespeare, and he does so with the kind of clever line typical of horror films: "Show's over, Shakespeare." That line nicely calls attention to Shakespeare's role as dramatist rather than his role as literary icon. And Shakespeare's final line—a good rhetorical question—invites the audience to consider the possibility of a sequel!


Links: The Wikipedia article on the episode.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Krusty the Clown as King Lear: Happy Second Anniversary to Bardfilm

"Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" By Al Jean. Perf. Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, and Hank Azaria. Dir. Nancy Kruse. The Simpsons. Season 11, episode 3. Fox. 24 October 1999. DVD. Twentieth-Century Fox, 2008.
Two years ago today, Bardfilm gave in to the uncontrollable urge to blog about The Banquet (for which, q.v.). One year ago today, Bardfilm celebrated with a Shakespeare-related clip from Family Guy (for which, q.v.).

I suppose that's enough to make it a tradition! Here, therefore, is a Shakespeare-related clip from a different comic animated series: The Simpsons. In this episode, Homer has become a food critic. In that capacity, he ventures out to see Krusty the Clown play King Lear at a dinner theatre—with delightful results. I'm particularly fond of the newspaper caption at the end: "Krusty: Worst King Lear in 400 Years."


Thanks for reading Bardfilm for the last two years. And thanks for letting us be so self-congratulatory here today.
Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Macbeth among the Gargoyles

“Enter Macbeth.” By Steve Perry and Michael Reaves. Perf. Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, Edward Asner, and John Rhys-Davies. Gargoyles. Season 1, episode 9. Syndicated television. 6 January 1995. DVD. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004.
If Sweeney can be among the nightingales, why can't Macbeth be among the Gargoyles?

This post is another in the a-long-time-ago-a-student-mentioned-this-to-me-and-I'm-only-just-getting-to-tracking-it-down-and-writing-about-it category. Altaasmttmaiojgttidawai, as we call them here at Bardfilm, are not infrequent (I have three episodes of Wishbone, for example, that I'm attempting to find because of student comments), but they are sometimes puzzling. "What was Shakespearean about this again?" I often find myself asking myself.

About two years ago, a student recommended the mid-1990s animated series Gargoyles for its Shakespearean allusions.

I gather that the second season of Gargoyles alludes to Shakespeare more frequently than the first season does, but I've only managed to get through the first season (watching things at three times their normal speed with the subtitles on is a great way to zip through otherwise too extensively time-consuming material). What I found was a character (played by John Rhys-Davies, of all people) who says, "They call me . . . [insert skirl of Scottish pipes here] Macbeth" and a reference to Macbeth by two of the Gargoyles, who consider that "maybe we should" read the play (written by "some new writer called Shakespeare"—these Gargoyles are ancient creatures; that they consider Shakespeare "new" is an indication of this) now that they have an adversary by that name.

But that's it. The Macbeth in the first season of Gargoyles is power hungry and a bad guy, but he doesn't exactly serve as an analogue to the Macbeth of Shakespeare's play. Still, the intention is to endow the name with a chilling resonance—and the show manages to achieve that at the very least.


Note: John Rhys-Davies was in Jack Gold's 1980 Merchant of Venice. He played Salerio. They called him . . . [insert skirl of bagpipes here] Salerio.

Another Note: Bagpipes are mentioned more frequently in Merchant of Venice than in any other Shakespeare play—Macbeth included (there are no pipes of any sort whatever in the Scottish play).

Links: The Series at IMDB.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Dagger Speech from Men of Respect

Men of Respect. Dir. William Reilly. Perf. John Turturro, Katherine Borowitz, and Peter Boyle. 1991. DVD. Sony, 2003.
Men of Respect is a derivative version of Macbeth. My reading of Geoffrey Wright's Macbeth (for which, q.v.) applies to this film just as aptly. Our Macbeth analogue (cleverly (the italics indicate some skepticism about just how clever it is) named Mike Battaglia) is a hit man attempting to become the head of the crime family he serves. Something is lost when we have an ignoble Macbeth fighting for an ignoble position among ignoble peers.

But the dagger speech is presented in an interesting way. The dialogue is entirely internalized, but the vision Mike has of the blood dripping through the ceiling seems like a reasonable substitute. I appreciate the telephone ringing to replace the "I go—the bell invites me" line.

I've added a brief (but telling!) bit of the film from after the murder. It's the derivative version of "Enter Ross with an Old Man." These speeches . . .
Threescore and ten I can remember well:
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and certain—
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would make
War with mankind. (II.iv.1ff)
. . . have been transmuted into news about bad traffic and global warming: "Man, they said it was an earthquake, uh. Earthquakes on the East Coast! I mean, rocks fell on the Thruway. They got cars jammed up all the way to Poughkeepsie. They had a death toll. It's not even a holiday."

Mike gives the only possible response: "It was a rough night."

Here's the clip. Enjoy!


Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Columbo v. Macbeth

“Dagger of the Mind.” By Jackson Gillis. Perf. Peter Falk, Richard Basehart, John Williams, Honor Blackman, Bernard Fox, Arthur Malet, and Wilfrid Hyde-White. Dir. Richard Quine. Columbo. Season 2, episode 4. NBC. 26 November 1972. DVD. Universal, 2005.

Some time ago, a student mentioned an episode of Columbo that was heavily-indebted to Macbeth. I stored that knowledge away until I could track down the episode, investigate it, and contemplate its relation to Shakespeare. Only recently did I manage to do so.

I had never watched a Columbo episode before watching this one, and this is still the only episode I've ever watched, so I can't do any sort of  comparative analysis to other episodes. But the uses to which Macbeth is put in this play are genuinely intriguing.

The first of these is the meta-theatrical element. Since Columbo tends to present the crime first and then to display Columbo's cunning ability to figure out the complexities that the audience has already seen, this partial summary of the plot isn't exactly a spoiler—it's what you'd learn in the first five minutes of the show. Two actors, neither of whom is terribly morally upright, accidentally kill a third person. They don't plot or intend his death, but he does have secrets that would compromise them if they are connected to his demise. Consequently, they attempt to cover up the murder / accident. The meta-theatrical element comes in when we find out that the two of them are playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

With the weight of an actual crime on their consciences, their acting becomes much more believable and much more powerful. And the speeches they deliver take on a new layer of meaning.

Other connections between the play and their actions underline the mirror plot. Lady Macbeth's "How easy is it, then?" on stage is exactly the attitude she takes toward the off-stage cover-up. In the clip below, you'll see that the on-stage knocking that signals the porter's entrance segues neatly into the off-stage knocking of the maintenance man who is trying to fix the radiator in the Macbeths' dressing room. And when he makes a move to move the trunk, Lady Macbeth sits on it to prevent him from discovering the body—he might otherwise be tempted to shout "Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!" At the end of this clip, the theatre lights are shut off: "Out, out, brief spotlight" is the echo we hear.


All in all, it's an intriguing use of the psychology of Macbeth.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Shakespeare's Valentine

Schoenbaum, S. Shakespeare’s Lives. New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Each one of us should dip into Shakespeare’s Lives from time to time. It's a massive—and a massively-delightful—book that tells the fascinating story of what people have done with Shakespeare's biography through the years. One intensely-interesting set of anecdotes revolves around William Henry Ireland. Starting in the late 1800s, Ireland purported to find tons of documents written by and to Shakespeare. He forged every one of them, often not terribly cleverly.

For this Valentine's Day, I thought it would be amusing to see what Shakespeare wrote to Anne Hathaway (as imagined by Ireland). The image above contains the entirety of a letter from Will to Anne; but the letter isn't all. There's a poem, too. Such romantic and affecting poetry has seldom been heard before:
Is there inne heavenne aught more rare
Thanne thou sweete Nymphe of Avon fayre
Is there onne Earthe a Manne more trewe
Thanne Willy Shakespeare is toe you.
Marvelous, that. Magnificent.

Works Cited

Schoenbaum, S. Shakespeare’s Lives. New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Links: Wikipedia's article on William Henry Ireland.

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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