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).

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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:

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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.

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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?

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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:

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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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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!

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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."

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kit Marlowe in the Old West

Stagecoach. Dir. John Ford. Perf. John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, and Thomas Mitchell. 1939. DVD. Warner Home Video, 1997.
In searching for ways in which My Darling Clementine could be connected to Hamlet (for the beginning of the discussion, q.v.), I chanced upon The Invention of the Western Film: A Cultural History of the Genre's First Half-Century, a book by Scott Simmon that has a chapter devoted to the idea. Part of the book is available through Google Books. The chapter is fascinating, and it does what a MicroBlog on Shakespeare and Film doesn't have time to do: it develops the depth of the connection quite fully.

It also mentions a number of other connections to Shakespeare in western movies. Of these, I explored one that seemed promising: Simon argues that Doc Holliday “sounds like an extension of Doc Boone in Stagecoach, another heavy drinking, Shakespeare-quoting frontier surgeon” (225). I haven't had the time to review the film in question in depth (so please don't take this as pedantic criticism), but the only literary allusion I found in a brief glance through the film was the following drunken misquotation (I believe it's a purposeful and comic misquotation) of two lines from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus:

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The landlady has every right to look on skeptically. Not only does she know herself to be unlike Helen, she doubtless recalls the lines as written by Marlowe:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? (xii.81-82)
I suppose, though, if you follow the conspiracy theory that Kit Marlowe faked his own death, later emerging as the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, we might consider Doc Boone's lines to have a connection to Shakespeare. Perhaps Boone possesses the first draft of that play in Shakespeare's own hand—and perhaps that draft does read "Is this the face that wrecked a thousand ships, / And burned the towerless tops of Ilium?" But I remain as skeptical as the landlady pictured above.

Works Cited

Simmon, Scott. The Invention of the Western Film: A Cultural History of the Genre's First Half-Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hamlet: The Soliloquy in Six Syllables

“Wayne the Zebra.” By Ben Caudell, Peter Holmes, Andrew Viner. Perf. Steve Box, Elisabeth Hadley, Andrew Jeffers, Colin Rote, and Bobby Ball. Dir. Richard Goleszowski. Rex the Runt. Season 2, episode 12. BBC. 9 December 2001. DVD. A&E Home Video, 2002.
Aardman Animations, Ltd. is perhaps best known for producing the delightful claymation adventures of Wallace and Gromit. And rightly so.

However, they also are the ones responsible for Rex the Runt. And "responsible" may be the right word—the show tends to be rude and scatological and is probably not geared toward the same age range as is Wallace and Gromit.

But I told you that to tell you this: If you needed any sort of confirmation that Shakespeare was deeply, deeply embedded in western culture, you have only to consider this clip from Rex the Runt. In it, one of the actors up for the audition (for the role of "Beast of Crannock Moor"—long story—watch the episode for more details) gives us just six syllables (since he's a G. I. Joe analogue, his lips are sealed shut from his date of manufacture):

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With almost no clues (the bodkin, the word "soliloquy" and the phrase "cultured and all" may count as clues), the auditionee is able to convey Hamlet's "To be or not to be" with only these sounds: "Mmm mmm mm mmmm mmmm mmm."

Shakespeare: Persuasively Pervasive.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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You can also get this episode on iTunes!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shakespeare in the New(er) West

Tombstone. Dir. George P. Cosmatos. Perf. Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. 1993. DVD. Walt Disney Video, 1997.
I suppose there's something about Wyatt Earp that makes a Shakespearean presentation in Tombstone inevitable.

In the 1993 film Tombstone, we are taken to the Bird Cage Theatre (the theatre we almost got to in My Darling Clementine— for which, q.v.). But we don't get Hamlet this time. Instead, Henry V is on the bill:

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In My Darling Clementine, the soliloquy from and allusions to Hamlet seem to underline deeper considerations. In Tombstone, the scene seems almost obligatory—or, at best, to have a meaning nearer to the surface. Could the shootout at the O.K. Corral be considered Wyatt Earp's Agincourt?

Still, it's Shakespeare, and we're all ready to cry "More Shakespeare!" whenever possible.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Shakespeare in the Old West

My Darling Clementine. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Walter Brennan, and Alan Mowbray. 1946. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2004.
John Ford's classic western about Wyatt Earp, "Doc" Holliday, the Clanton family, and the Shootout at the O.K. Corral contains a bit of Shakespeare, too. Even though "Doc" Holliday says "Shakespeare in Tombstone" in an incredulous tone, I suspect that the connections between Hamlet and the rest of the film are intentional.

Here is a conflation of two scenes: the grand entrance of Granville Thorndyke (played by Alan Mowbray), the actor who has come to town to play Shakespeare; and the Clanton's threatening demands for something other than "them poems." Claiming to have "a very large repertoire," Thorndyke audaciously presents his audience with Hamlet's soliloquy ("them poems" got nothin' on that there poem):

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I'm intrigued by Old Man Clanton's concluding line: "When you pull a gun, kill a man." Could it be a paraphrase of Hamlet's Father's Ghost's advice to the Prince?
Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Splash of Hamlet in The Golden Bowl

The Golden Bowl. Dir. James Ivory. Perf. Kate Beckinsale, James Fox, Anjelica Huston, Nick Nolte, Jeremy Northam, Madeleine Potter, Uma Thurman, and Nicholas Day. 2000. DVD. Trimark, 2001.
Two parts of the 2000 film version of Henry James' Golden Bowl could be said to have a connection to Hamlet.

The first is the opening scene, which presents a dumb show of sorts—one that could be said to foreshadow some of the plot of the film. But it's fairly indirect, and the plot of the dumb show is more akin to Othello than anything else.

The second is more direct—and, potentially, more interesting. The English audience watches a non-western dance that seems to tell a story of treachery and death:

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The initial response is intriguing and telling: "It's just like Hamlet," the young man says.

In my post on "Shakespeare in the Bush" (for which, q.v.), I wrote about the account of a non-western response to the plot of Hamlet. The Golden Bowl offers us the inverse: the western response to this non-western construct is to find a western equivalent that will enable comprehension. A large accumulation of dead bodies on the stage must mean something like Hamlet. That's the point of comparison and the place where meaningful discussion between cultures can take place.

Or it may just be that audience members are inclined to say "Thank the Lord that's over" at the end of any dramatic presentation, Shakespearean or otherwise.


Yes. Indeed.

P.S. The Screenplay is by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a marvelous author in her own right.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Doctor Who (in 1965) Watches Shakespeare (in 1599)

“The Executioners.” “The Chase.” By Terry Nation. Perf. William Hartnell, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Robert Marsden (as Abraham Lincoln), Roger Hammond (as Francis Bacon), Vivienne Bennett (as Queen Elizabeth I), Hugh Walters (as William Shakespeare), Richard Coe, Peter Hawkins, and David Graham. Doctor Who. Season 2 (Old Series), Episode 30. BBC. 22 May 1965. Videocassette. Fox Video, 1988.
Bardfilm is overjoyed to present an exceptional rarity: An intersection of Shakespeare and Doctor Who.

Yes, Bardfilm realizes that, especially in the new series, Shakespearean references, allusions, quotations—nay, even the Bard himself—are not rare. But this is a brief but telling moment of Shakespeare in the second season of the original series! For fans, that means William Hartnell (the first doctor) traveling with the first companions.

Intriguingly, the episode doesn't involve a journey through time to the age of William Shakespeare. Instead, the Doctor has rigged up a kind of "Time Television" that enables him to see various events throughout time (for example, Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address or the Beatles playing a pre-1965 concert). Because of this new technology, the TARDIS Travelers (and we along with them) can pinpoint a conversation involving Queen Elizabeth I, William Shakespeare, and Francis Bacon:

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That may seems quite flippant and forgettable, but quite a number of interesting inferences are present in this segment:
  1. Shakespeare (a.k.a. "Shaksper, the Man from Stratford") is visualized as the author of the plays attributed to him—indeed, he is placed in juxtaposition to Francis Bacon (one of the contenders for the authorship)—who has an idea for a play based on the story of Hamlet that Shakespeare declines: "It would not be quite in my style," he declares. Since Bacon recognizes Shakespeare as the author of plays, we can fairly assume that he's not using Shakespeare as a front for his own plays. His insulting "Scribbler!" at the end may be class-based or it may be mere jealousy, but it's not consistent with the idea of Shakespeare claiming authorship of plays actually written by Bacon.

  2. The Queen's appreciation of Shakespeare's work is clear—even in the face of opposition from whiny peers of the realm (viz., Sir John Oldcastle). Indeed, her Majesty seems to be testing his Bardship. Once he admits to making fun of Oldcastle, she acknowledges its humor: "We found it very amusing," she says (cf., by way of contrast, Queen Victoria).

  3. The clip offers independent confirmation of the anecdote (first noted in print in 1702—100ish years after the conversation is supposed to have taken place) about Queen Elizabeth's desire for "More Falstaff!" We find out that she, after all, "commanded him to continue in [that admirable character of Falstaff] for one Play more, and to shew him in love" (Rowe, qtd. in Schoenbaum 51).

  4. The Court of Queen Elizabeth was not nearly as crowded as it is usually presented as being!

  5. Will Shakespeare is not above being frightened at the powerful—he does cower a bit, particularly at the beginning. There's a humanizing tendency (as opposed to a tendency toward bardolatry) here.
Overall, the clip takes a relatively conservative position toward Shakespeare, yet it plays with the anecdotal evidence and (possibly) with the authorship question by placing Bacon alongside Shakespeare. And, of course, his initial rejection of the idea of writing a play based on the history of Prince Hamlet—followed by a dawning recognition that he could write something not in his usual style—is intriguing. The move from a kind of posited Ur-Hamlet to Hamlet becomes a turning point in Shakespeare's career. In this imagined version, that turning point is not due to the death of Shakespeare's son Hamnet but to a casual remark from a self-flattering member of the court.

Works Cited

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

Links: The Episode at IMDB. The Episode on Wikipedia.

Click below to purchase the film (and the book cited above) from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Monday, February 1, 2010

Breaking News: Julie Taymor's Tempest in a Teapot?

Tempest. Dir. Julie Taymor. Perf. Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, Felicity Jones, and Ben Whishaw. Chartoff Productions, 2009.
According to this New York Times' Carpetbagger blog entry, the closed doors at Miramax may mean that Julie Taymor's Tempest "will be shelved, to gather dust, or win a tepid release" (Sharon Waxman, qtd. in the blog entry).

In other words, Tamor's Tempest is a teapot (in a household full of coffee drinkers): potentially dusty, lukewarm, and /or ignored. Shudder.

Bardfilm has been looking forward to the film for nearly a year! Tamor's intensely visual style, Helen Mirren's Prospera, and the intellectual challenges of the play itself are so tantalizing that even a tepid distribution would be agonizing.

We hope that this production will not go under. Please think about the dollars in the film-going public's wallets and purses and recognize that, in Ariel's words, "They cannot budge till your release" (V.i.11). Release the film!

[N.B.: Comments are encouraged below.]

Links: Taymor's Tempest at IMDB.
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