Thursday, December 9, 2010

Shakespeare's Stratford: The Documentary

Shakespeare’s Stratford: An In-Depth Look at the City & its Illustrious Native Son. N.d. Perf. Sue Sutton. 2008. DVD. Artsmagic Ltd., 2008.

While we're on the subject of documentaries, let's look at a more comfortable, homier documentary.

In Shakespeare’s Stratford, Sue Sutton takes us on a very down-to-earth tour of Shakespeare's hometown. She visits all the tourist sites and interviews the workers there, speculates about certain elements that are of interest to her, and asks quirky questions.

The film shows the balance that Shakespeare in London (for which, q.v.) lacks. When there's speculation, it's labeled speculation, and the viewer is free to make a judgement or to investigate further.

In this brief clip, Sutton discusses a notorious story about Shakespeare's death:

The film is quite long (over three hours), but I find the down-home approach invigorating.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shakespeare in Lo . . .

Shakespeare in London: The Life and Times of the Real William Shakespeare. Dir. Mark Ubsdell. Perf. Chrispin Redman, Paul Piper, Keely Beresford. 1999. DVD. Goldhil Entertainment, 2007.

Here's a quick personality test for you. Should the title above end with ". . . ve" or ". . . ndon"?

I think the makers of the documentary Shakespeare in London want you to equate the two. They attempt to ride on the coattails of the far more popular and (dare I say it?) vastly superior Shakespeare in Love.

Two instances of this stand out in particular. One is the use of Shakespeare's signatures (see the image above). The opening to Shakespeare in Love shows Shakespeare practicing his own signature. That film may have gotten the idea from the novel No Bed for Bacon (for which, q.v.). Shakespeare in London clearly gets its idea directly from Shakespeare in Love.

The second instance is the decision to use the same speech masterfully delivered by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love as part of Shakespeare in London's story. The speech is placed right after a ridiculous claim about Queen Elizabeth visiting the theatre in disguise. Perhaps the writers of this documentary took Shakespeare in Love as a documentary itself:

The speech is a magnificent one. For those of you keeping score, it's from Two Gentlemen of Verona, III.i.174-82. It shows what early Shakespeare can do. In Shakespeare in Love, it's compared to Marlowe's heavier lines; here, it seems to serve no purpose—except the purpose of reminding its audience about Shakespeare in Love.

The documentary isn't terrible, but it also doesn't go beyond the basics. When it does, it speculates without indicating that it's being speculative. For example, early in the program, we learn that,
For young Shakespeare, life in Stratford has become a life of drugery. He's a poet. He wants to write. Romance beats within his breast. And yet, for him, the marital bed, since the birth of the twins, has become a virtual prison cell. He wonders is this to be his life. And, as far as he can, he wishes to escape. And then, at some time in the mid 1580s, Shakespeare leaves Stratford, abandons his wife, abandons his children, and hits the road for London.
The last five words of that are the only non-speculative part. The rest may or may not be true—and it should be presented in that light.

The film is brief (about fifty minutes), the production values are those of a videocassette that has been digitized and burned to DVD, and the acting falters somewhat. But the thing that troubles me most is the attempted reproducton of scenes from Shakespeare in Love. The authors, directors, and actors of that film did it well; why attempt to replicate what they did? I can only think that the producers of Shakespeare in London were waiting to get the rights to incorporate those scenes in their own documentary; when the rights didn't come through, they though, "Oh, well. We can do it ourselves!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Bed for Bacon: Tracing the Origins of Shakespeare in Love

Brahms, Caryl [pseud. of D. C. Abrahams], and S. J. Simon. No Bed for Bacon. London: Michael Joseph, 1941.

Shakespeare in Love. Dir. John Madden. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush and Tom Wilkinson. 1998. DVD. Miramax, 1999.

It's not easy to forget the introduction to William Shakespeare that Shakespeare in Love gives us. The camera shows us a quill in close-up behind the opening title—Shakespeare is hard at work. Then we cut to what he's writing, and it turns out he's practicing his signature, complete with different spellings. In a lovely gesture, he wads up a sheet of signatures (which would be worth a hundred times its weight in gold if Southby's had such a sheet to auction off) and tosses it in a mug marked "A Present from Stratford upon Avon." Here's the scene in question:

It's marvelous, it's humorous, and it's intriguing. But where did that idea come from? Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard are the co-authors of the screenplay. Did they come up with that remarkable moment?

In some work I've been doing on Shakespeare-related fiction, I chanced upon a 1941 novel entitled No Bed for Bacon. There, on page 13, is the idea—though not, certainly, the details carried out in the film:
In a cold dark little room over against the back of the Theatre, Sir Francis Bacon was talking eloquently. Opposite him a melancholy figure sat tracing its signature on a pad.
He always practised tracing his signature when he was bored. He was always hoping that one of these days he would come to a firm decision upon which of them he liked the best. He looked at them. He considered. He shook his head. (13)
Does that count as an allusion? An independent idea developing in two independent locations? Homage to the book? Plagiarism?

I'm not sure I would go as far as the last of those possibilities, but I have checked the credits of Shakespeare in Love, and I find no credit given to the book. And if the writers got the idea there, they should cite the source!

I am aware of a documentary that plays far too much on the popularity of Shakespeare in Love. Next time, Shakespeare in London: The Exact Same Thing as Shakespeare in Love (Except for the Last Four Letters).

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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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 2008-2039 (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