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 D√©veloppment. 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:

Click below to purchase Brook by Brook from
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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.

Click below to purchase the film from
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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.

Click below to purchase the film from
(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 2008-2039 (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