Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Studio 60 on the Shakespeare Strip

“The Focus Group.” By Aaron Sorkin. Perf. Matthew Perry and Sarah Paulson. Dir. Chris Misiano. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Season 1, episode 3. ABC. 1 October 2006. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2007.

I've mentioned this brief Shakespearean moment before, but I didn't provide a video clip at that point. I have just enough time to do so today.

In this clip, Sarah Paulson’s character performs a brief speech from Midsummer Night’s Dream while imitating the voice of Holly Hunter. It's from early in the show's one season; therefore, it's a good episode!

Links: The Wikipedia article on the show.

Click below to purchase the episode from
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tennant's Hamlet to be Released on DVD

Hamlet. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford-on-Avon. The Courtyard Theatre. 24 July-15 November 2008.
I've had this e-mail in my inbox for a while, and I have five quick minutes to post it here.

This summer, David Tennant, the current (for now only, alas) Doctor Who played Hamlet in Stratford. The world—the universe, in fact—went wild. He's very good at playing people who have a heaviness of existence that belies their young looks and who are intent on putting the time, which is often out-of-joint, right again.

Those in charge of decision-making have done the right thing (whether it was due to the multiple petitions, the desire to preserve the performance, or simple economics): Tennant's Hamlet will be released on DVD. Hurrah!

Note: The image above is Tennant—The Doctor, really—striking a brief Hamletesque pose with a very odd skull that he found in the tiring house of the Globe theatre when he travelled back to 1599 to save the world with William Shakespeare and Martha Jones (the episode listed below).

“The Shakespeare Code.” By Gareth Roberts. Perf. David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, and Dean Lennox Kelly. Dir. Charles Palmer. Doctor Who. Season 3, episode 2 (New Series). BBC Wales. 7 April 2007. DVD. BBC Warner, 2007.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gielgud as Hamlet in 1944

“Shakespeare: Drama’s DNA.” Perf. Richard Eyre, Peter Brook, and Judy Dench. Dir. Roger Parsons. Changing Stages. Episode 1. BBC. 5 November 2000. Videocassette. Films for the Humanities, 2001.
While we're in this rare-clip-sharing mood, why not look at Sir John Gielgud's Hamlet. [Note: Technically, it wasn't Sir John Gielgud's Hamlet at the time—he was knighted in 1953, and this performance took place nine years earlier.]

The clip comes from the BBC Serial Documentary Changing Stages, a work that seems more and more indispensable every time I dip in to it.

Gielgud has done so many remarkable Shakespearean things (as well as playing Mr. Beddoes in the 1974 film version of Murder on the Orient Express) that it would be impossible to list them here; however, that voice, which is like being hit in the ear with a velvet boxing glove filled with slices of lemon, is used to perfection in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books (for which, q.v.). Just listen:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Meryl Streep Comments on her Role as Kate

Kiss me, Petruchio. Dir. Christopher Dixon. Perf. Meryl Streep and Raul Julia. 1981. Videocassette. Films, Inc., 1983.

Sometimes, the actors' views of their characters are important to an interpretation of the play. I'm becoming more and more interested (as I try to supply more and more Meryl Streep fans with rare footage) in the commentary that Meryl Streep and Raúl Juliá provide on their characters.

However, I'm not entirely sure I agree with all that they say. In the first clip I wrote about, Meryl Streep makes an analogy between a parent's love for a child and Katherine's eventual love for Petruchio. If people aren't bothered by the total selflessness of the former, why is there so much turmoil over the later?

The analogy is an interesting one, but it may break down. After all, the baby, unlike Petruchio, hasn't been psychologically abusive of the parent. The baby hasn't deprived the parent of food and shelter. The baby hasn't deprived the parent of sleep, warmth, and comfort.

All right, so that last one might apply. But the point holds in the other incidents. Petruchio is no baby.

Still, Meryl Streep says the word "baby" with such passion and fervor that she almost carries the point. Actually, she does carry the point in part—such love can and does exist between parents and children and between wives and husbands—and between husbands and wives. It may exist between Katherine and Petruchio. In the production the documentary presents, it does, in fact, exist. The second clip I wrote about demonstrates something of the initial magnetism between the two.

With that in mind, take a look at this clip of Meryl Streep and Raúl Juliá discussing their roles. Raúl seems to be talking about both Katherine and Meryl; Meryl responds to Raúl and Petruchio. At points, it actually seems something like professional wrestlers trash talking before a match.

Note: A total of four clips of this production are available on this blog: The First Clip, The Second Clip, The Third Clip, and The Fourth Clip.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Meryl Streep as Kate

Kiss me, Petruchio. Dir. Christopher Dixon. Perf. Meryl Streep and Raul Julia. 1981. Videocassette. Films, Inc., 1983.

Meryl Streep fans were very kind when I wrote about her role as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew, a performance that the documentary Kiss me, Petruchio partially provides.

They also made it quite clear that they would like a little more, thank you very much, of the rare, out-of-print footage of Meryl Streep that I had found. Raúl Juliá fans weren't quite so vocal, but I'm sure they'd like more, too. At least, I got that impression.

Here, then, is a bit more of Meryl Streep as Kate and Raúl Juliá as Petruchio in Act II, scene i of The Taming of the Shrew! The clip comes first; commentary follows.

I may have more to say about the commentary that Meryl Streep and Raúl Juliá provided on Katherine and Petruchio later; for now, I'll try to confine my comments to this clip.

The best thing about the clip is the way it seems to bring the feelings of the two protagonists honestly and openly to the surface. Kate becomes unaccountably (to her, at least) attracted to the machismo of Petruchio—much against her will. On Petruchio's part, he enjoys the teasing game and the game of wits. This is best exemplified in the tickling scene ("Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?" et al) and in that brilliant moment where he lifts her—seemingly effortlessly—and carries her across the stage.

Kate's response is marvelous. She's attracted, but very much against her will. She's intrigued, but she resents having any decisions made for her.

Note: A total of four clips of this production are available on this blog: The First Clip, The Second Clip, The Third Clip, and The Fourth Clip.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Legend of the Black Scorpion: Hamlet as Wuxia

The Legend of the Black Scorpion [a.k.a. The Banquet (Ye Yan)]. Dir. Feng Xiaogang. Perf. Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun, Ge You, Ma Jingwu. 2006. DVD. Dragon Dynasty, 2008.

In gearing up for several weeks on Hamlet in my Shakespeare and Film class, I returned to The Legend of the Black Scorpion. I've written on it many a time and oft. In fact, it was the film that inaugurated this blog over a year ago.  At that point, the film was known as The Banquet; it had not then been released officially to American audiences.

Since then, I've watched the film (well, most of it) with my Shakespeare and Film class and studied it carefully.

Yet I haven't ever shared a video clip of the film with you, my devoted (or even casual) readers. Let's change that.

This is the opening sequence. Please note the fascinating alterations of the Hamlet narrative, even in the opening sequence. And things get even more interesting as the film progresses!

The genre of the film is Wuxia, a kind of Kung Fu action film that developed in the Hong Kong cinema. Later in the film, the principles of that genre are brought to bear more fully; the film has a great deal of slow-motion, highly-choreographed violence. It's not my general cup of tea, but it fits the play's narrative.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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


Monday, March 9, 2009

Shakespeare Sits for a Portrait in 1610

MacKey, Robert. "Portrait of Shakespeare Unveiled, 399 Years Late." The Lede. 9 March 2009.
I'd heard rumors about this, but I hadn't seen the images until today: A Newly-Discovered Portrait of Shakespeare—or, at least, a newly-revealed portrait. But is it of Shakespeare? Or is it of some other man of the same name?
My attention was just drawn to another article on the subject. And another. And there will, no doubt, be more and more on the subject as the world contemplates the newest (oldest) possible image of Shakespeare.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Shakespeare in the 1950s: The Guthrie Theatre's Production of Two Gentlemen of Verona

Two Gentlemen of Verona. Dir. Joe Dowling. Perf. Sasha Andreev, Sam Bardwell, Michael Booth, Sun Mee Chomet, Laura Esping, Nathaniel Fuller, Jonas Goslow, Hugh Kennedy, Jim Lichtscheidl, Valeri Mudek, Kris L. Nelson, Lee Mark Nelson, Isabell Monk O'Connor, Randy Reyes, John Skelley, and Wyatt Jensen. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 24 January—29 March 2009.
The Guthrie’s Two Gentlemen of Verona was, I have to admit, slightly disappointing. I’m loathe to say so, however, because it was a good, solid production at a great, great theatre and because it was marvelously entertaining. Just because it didn’t measure up to the Midsummer Night’s Dream Joe Dowling directed last season (for which, q.v.) is no reason to discount it out-of-hand! But it was a bit disappointing, and that’s one reason (the other is that I felt compelled to give a Pepsodent commercial from the 1950s a Shakespearean twist—see below) it’s taken so long to write a review of it. I felt bad—I felt too critical even in expressing a mild disappointment.

This is especially true because there were some deeply significant and vitally interesting parts of the production. For example, the play is set on a TV sound stage in 1955. Throughout the performance, two huge, bulky TV cameras (one moving about at ground level in front of the stage and one on a crane upstage right) film and broadcast the performance to two giant 1950s-TV-shaped screens. The “broadcast” (really, I suppose, closed-circuit) images were black and white, occasionally tending toward that washed-out look common to early television broadcasts.

One of the commercials shown before the production—
but given a Shakespearean twist for Bardfilm.
It's also possibly the silliest stuff that ever I produced or you heard.

That staging, as odd as it may sound, was extremely effective and fit with some of the concerns of the play exceptionally well. The play frequently uses images of blindness (including references to Cupid, the blind god of love), shadows, and “unseeing eyes,” and these partially-obscured literal images underscored the figurative images in the text of the play.

The camera work was at its most effective when a character would turn his back on the audience to address the eye of the upstage right camera. For example, Proteus (before he leaves Verona) offers a direct address to that camera. Meanwhile, his father approaches him from behind. We see Proteus’ back and his father walking toward him on stage; we also see Proteus’ face and his father approaching him over his shoulder. All in all, it’s a very nicely layered effect.

The ’50s setting was also effective while we were arriving. We entered the theatre to be greeted with images from advertisements from the 1950s on the screens and the audio from ads for Kent Cigarettes, Paladin, Pepsodent (see above), and TV Dinners on the speakers.

This ’50s feel continued as a frame for the play itself began. The stage manager came on to welcome us, the live studio audience, to this broadcast of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, but not before the cast milled about on the stage, chattering and complaining. In this pre-air gabble, Lance asks who wrote the script. Someone says, “William Shakespeare, of course.” “Is he on set?” he inquires after hearing the name.

The stage manager is a fairly-constant presence, motioning to actors to enter or to prepare for their cues and chatting with the upstage-right camera man; for the most part, this isn’t too distracting. However, early in the play, there was too much noise coming from this ostensible backstage—it distracted from rather than enhancing the on-stage performance.

More distracting still were the “Guthrie asides”—extra-textual statements common to Guthrie productions of Shakespeare that are intended to make the text more palatable to a modern audience (I suppose) but which end up seeming quite immature—more like a high school production than a professional theatre. I’m sorry, but it’s true. As readers of Bardfilm know, I’m not ultra-conservative in my demands of productions of Shakespeare. I find many of the BBC film versions, for example, to be quite dull because they stick too closely to the script. But there were far too many interjections (for example, Lance and Speed frequently turn to each other and say “Wha?” when the language gets too obscure). Lance also frequently says things that give the general impression of “Don’t blame me if it’s not funny—it’s Shakespeare’s fault, not mine.” Once or twice might have been fine; after that, it becomes tedious.

In general, though, Lance was pretty good.  Jim Lichtscheidl played him as a cross between Ed Norton and Rodney Dangerfield. For a early-television-era setting, it was a good choice.

But the conjunction between the early days of Shakespeare (Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of his first plays) and the early days of broadcast television worked well—perhaps in trying to explain away the rough edges of some of Shakespeare’s writing and in some of the performances.

When Julia and Lucetta have their conversation in I.ii about suitors, it seems like an early, rougher version of the exchange between Portia and Nerissa on the same subject in The Merchant of Venice. The set and the setting seemed to underline that.

Another connection to that play could be found in the audience’s reaction to the exchange of the ring. When I saw The Merchant of Venice at the Guthrie, I was impressed and moved that some audience members audibly gasped when Bassanio handed over Portia's ring. One woman near me actually blurted out a hastily-quelled “No!” It was a marvelous moment, making me consider the contemporary (to Shakespeare) reaction to a moment in a play never before seen. The same thing happened (more or less) in IV.iv of this production of Two Gentlemen of Verona when Proteus gave Julia (in disguise) the ring Julia had earlier given him to give to Silvia.

Early innocence giving way to less-naïve maturity may also be indicated in the setting and the set. Early in the production, Proteus sips Coca-Cola through a short straw—looking very much like a character out of the Archie comic books—while Valentine has martinis. Later, almost immediately after Proteus meets Sylvia, he switches to the hard stuff.

Finally, I offer a miscellany of other things about the production, all the while encouraging you to go see it (especially with the special Bardfilm discount, for which, q.v.).
  • WGTF is the name of the station (W because the Guthrie is east of the Mississippi, G.T.F. for Guthrie Theater Foundation).
  • We know that the setting is 1955 because it’s the class of 1955 that opens the show.
  • There are 1950s-era crooners who sing at intervals throughout the production, often returning to a song with hand motions: “Two hearts, / One love!” they sing, echoing somewhat the last line of the play: “One feast, one house, one mutual happiness” (V.iv.171).
  • When Turio says, “They say that Love hath not an eye at all” (II.iv.94), I got the distinct impression that he was parodying the cliché “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team!’” It’s actually an intriguing possibility: “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Love!’”
  • I believed that this play gives us the first instance of the phrase “to make a virtue of necessity” (IV.i.61) until I checked the Arden edition; it believes the phrase to be proverbial.
  • There’s a wonderfully layered moment—one which will be repeated in many other Shakespearean comedies—in which the original audience (the one contemporary to Shakespeare) would have seen a boy playing a woman pretending to be a boy speaking of having once been a boy playing a woman:
How tall was she?

About my stature; for at Pentecost,
When all our pageants of delight were play'd,
Our youth got me to play the woman's part,
And I was trimm'd in Madam Julia's gown,
Which served me as fit, by all men's judgments,
As if the garment had been made for me:
Therefore I know she is about my height.
And at that time I made her weep agood,
For I did play a lamentable part. (IV.iv.155-64)
In short, it's a good show.  Go see it.

Links: The Guthrie Theatre.
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 2008-2039 (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