Monday, November 29, 2010

Shakespeare and Leslie Nielsen

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. Dir. David Zucker. Perf. Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley and O.J. Simpson. 1988. DVD. Paramount, 2000

Leslie Nielsen died on November 28, 2010. He's known (in Shakespeare and Film circles) as Commander John J. Adams in the Tempest-related science fiction film Forbidden Planet (for which, q.v.).

He was exceptionally, fantastically, outrageously funny in deadpan roles. He would have been brilliant as Touchstone, Feste, Falstaff, or Lear's Fool. Or Caliban. ["Surely, you don't mean Caliban!" "Yes, I do. And don't call me Shirley."]

There's undoubtedly more Shakespeare than this associated with Leslie Nielson, but the clip below (from The Naked Gun) is at the absolute top of my list.

[Quick Note of Caution: Mild Obscenity Included.]

Mayor: Oh, Drebin . . . I don't want any more trouble like you had last year on the South Side. Understand? That's my policy.

Drebin: Yes, well, when I see five weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of a park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards. That's my policy.

Mayor: That was a Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron. You killed five actors. Good ones!
It's a bit cliché to say so, but Leslie Neilson's expressions are priceless there. He seems to be weighing what the Mayor is saying—as if this is the first time his mistake has been pointed out to him (which it may very well be). And he seems to be on the verge of defending his actions—perhaps positing that the actors weren't really that good, but he's interrupted.

R.I.P., Leslie Neilson. Neither L.A. nor Altair will be the same without you.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Queen Elizabeth I: 17 November 1558

Hackett, Helen. Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

According to Anne Somerset, “Between eleven o’clock and twelve noon on 17 November 1558, Elizabeth was formally proclaimed Queen outside the Palace of Westminister, and at various other points around the capital” (Somerset 58).

It would not be an understatement to say that that moment changed everything.

But I don't have time for a bulleted list to give you the specifics. Instead, I'll recommend a book that I'd love to read if I had the time: Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths. I've only glanced through the book, but I can tell that I'd love to curl up with this one for a good while. Hackett examines what has been done with the lives of Elizabeth and Shakespeare, with particular emphasis (at least early on) on how stories about the two of them meeting have evolved over the centuries.

Of course, that fits the world of Shakespeare and film very well. Shakespeare in Love and Doctor Who spring immediately to mind. For the latter of these, take a look at this rare clip from a 1965 episode that shows Elizabeth I and Shakespeare together! That's the sort of thing Hackett examines in this book.

Works Cited

Hackett, Helen. Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kenneth S. Rothwell (R.I.P.) and the Terminology of Shakespeare and Film

Rothwell, Kenneth S. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

On November 8, 2010, one of the brightest stars in the Shakespeare and Film firmament went out. Kenneth S. Rothwell died.

Rothwell had a long and varied career, but I think his most astonishing contribution to the field was his A History of Shakespeare on Screen (pictured and cited in full above). In addition to being a highly-readable book, full of brilliant ideas, stories, and material for study, the books gives students, scholars, and interested bystanders a fabulous vocabulary for talking about Shakespeare and film.

My students and I find his four degrees of Shakespearean adaptation (delineated throughout the book) and his list of seven kinds of Shakespearean Derivatives (Rothwell 209-10) to be incredibly useful for classifying and talking about the different ways in which Shakespeare manifests himself in film and television. As an homage to Rothwell, here is a taxonomy of Shakespeare and Film (with my own explanations and links added)

Four Degrees of Shakespearean Adaptation:

1. Full-scale, studio, feature-length, [Hollywood] treatments of a Shakespearean text
The word “studio” above limits this to four films and makes the editorial insertion above, as helpful as it may be in clarification, ultimately unnecessary. These are the four full-length Shakespeare films made under the Hollywood Studio system: The Sam Taylor Taming of the Shrew (1929), the Reinhardt / Dieterle Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), the Thalberg / Cukor Romeo and Juliet (1936), and the Mankiewicz / Housman Julius Caesar (1953).
2. Other films released for theatrical viewing
Olivier’s films, Branagh’s films, Welles’ films, et cetera are in this category. This realm contains considerable vastidity.
3. Televisions programs
This classification includes Shakespeare plays first broadcast on television (and, often, later released on videocassette or DVD): the BBC Complete Works broadcasts, some of Trevor Nunn's productions, and the Studio One Julius Caesar, for example.
4. Film versions of stage plays
This category is fairly self-explanatory, though there may be some overlap in films that have their histories in stage plays. The Kline Hamlet, the Casson Macbeth (with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen), et cetera.
In addition to the four degrees of adaptation, Rothwell provides seven types of derivatives:

"Shakespeare Derivatives of Seven Kinds" (Rothwell 208)

1. Recontextualization
Recontextualizations are derivatives that retain most of the plot elements, characters, and / or concerns of Shakespeare's original play, but they generally abandon most of the language. The BBC Shakespeare Retold series, O, She’s the Man, Strange Illusion, and many others fit in this category.
2. Mirror movie
A mirror movie will tell a story about actors putting on a Shakespeare play. The Canadian television show Slings & Arrows would fall into this category, as would A Double Life, Kiss me, Kate (which also overlaps with point 3 below), To Be or Not To Be (either Jack Benny's or Mel Brooks'), The Goodbye Girl, A Midwinter’s Tale, et cetera.
3. Musicals, ballets, and operas

West Side Story, Kiss me, Kate (which also overlaps with point 2 above), Otello, etc.
4. Revues (using biography and other genres)
Al Pacino's Looking for Richard, Vincent Price's Theater of Blood, and other films fit in this classification.
5. Parasitical
This kind of derivative “. . . will exploit Shakespeare for embellishment, and / or graft brief visual or verbal quotations onto an otherwise unrelated scenario” (209). These derivatives “use only fragments of Shakespeare that are not deeply embedded in the film’s main plot” (216). Some Star Trek (both The Original Series and the Next Generation) would fit in this category, as would Renaissance Man, Last Action Hero, et cetera.
6. Animations

The Lion King (which overlaps with either 1, 3, or 5 above, depending on your point of view), Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, and other works fit here.
7. Documentaries and Educational Films
Documentaries and educational films would be classified by Rothwell's seventh kind of derivative.
Rothwell’s degrees of adaptation and kinds of derivatives are extremely useful—and they really become interesting when we consider the ways in which they overlap and combine. For example, Kiss me, Kate fits and does not fit into Derivative Category 3—it’s a musical. But it’s also a mirror movie—a movie in which the characters are putting on a Shakespeare play. It might even count as a recontextualization, too!

Rothwell's contribution to the field cannot be overstated, and scholars the world over are deeply indebted to his work.

Links: An obituary for Kenneth Rothwell.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman

Gaiman, Neil. The Absolute Sandman. Illus. Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Malcolm Jones, III, and Steve Parkhouse. Vol. 1. New York: DC Comics, 2006.

Bardfilm is occasionally so far behind the times that allusions to Shakespeare in Pop Culture pass into allusions to Shakespeare in Classic Literature.

But today is Neil Gaiman's birthday, so I feel less out-of-date in mentioning allusions to Shakespeare in comic books from the late 1980s.

There are quotations from and allusions to Shakespeare throughout the series (which I have not read in full). Indeed, this post only scratches the surface of Sandman's use of Shakespeare! But one issue receives particular attention because it bears the title of one of Shakespeare's early comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream.

That issue (from which the images in this post are taken), in addition to being less gory than its predecessors, is intriguing for its integration of the world of the comic with the world of Shakespeare. Morpheus, who met Shakespeare in an earlier issue, meets up with Shakespeare's troop to see a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The audience consists of creatures from the fairy world of the play—including Puck, who, like Shakespeare's character, gets caught up in the action of the play before him.

Gaiman's mixing of imaginary worlds can be seen as a homage to Shakespeare—and to imaginative literature in general.

"Lord, what fools these mortals be": An image from the first issue. Shakespeare in general and A Midsummer Night's Dream in particular were already part of Sandman's world at that point.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

The Classical Actors Ensemble Presents a Tragedy by John Ford

Ford, John. ’Tis Pity She's a Whore. Dir. Joseph Papke. Perf. Peter Aitchison, Andrew Chambers, Brandon Ewald, Koya Frye, Kate Greenwood Gunther, Steven Herzog, Erik Hoover, Ari Hoptman, Jeff Huset, Foster Johns, Leif Jurgensen, Mark Knutson, Zach Morgan, Jonathan Peterson, Jen Rand, Joel Raney, and Sigrid Sutter. Classical Actors Ensemble. Minneapolis. 5 November—20 November 2010.
Another brief break in the grading allows me to squeeze in this announcement. John Ford's Tragedy ’Tis Pity She's a Whore (written c. 1629) will be staged this month in Minneapolis!

Though it may not have the strangest name for a play by a rough contemporary of Shakespeare's (John Heywood's The Play Called the Four PP might claim that distinction), its title is an odd one. Don't let it dissuade you from attending. It's clearly not a play for the faint of heart (it's filled with violence, incest, intrigue, depravity, et cetera), but it is a magnificent one.

I've only seen one production of this play—in St. Louis, some dozen years back. Saying that I enjoyed it wouldn't quite capture the experience. It was good for me. It built character. It enlarged my understanding of the post-Jacobean, pre-Commonwealth drama. And it also gave me a story I've told quite a few times since.

We were all leaving the theatre, somewhat stunned at the tragedy of the tragedy and the disturbing nature of its subject matter, and I heard one lady say to another, "Well, I certainly didn't get any catharsis from that!"

Whether you're looking for catharsis or not, support the production of English Renaissance Drama wherever you find it. Try The Classical Actors Ensemble's production of ’Tis Pity She's a Whore.
Links: Information about the production.
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