Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shakespeare on The News Hour

The Best of MacNeil / Lehrer: Shakespeare on the News Hour. DVD. MacNeil / Lehrer Productions, 2007.

The connections between Shakespeare and The MacNeil / Lehrer News Hour are not limited to Robert MacNeil's terrific appearance in the Almereyda Hamlet (for which, q.v.). A DVD containing six stories The News Hour did on Shakespeare-related subjects was released in 2007:
  1. "The Heart of My Mystery" (15 January 1996), in which scholars are interviewed on the then-newly-discovered (and since fairly-conclusively debunked) "Funeral Elegy by W. S.," thought at the time, through the miracle of computer analysis, to be by Shakespeare.

  2. "Much Ado" (23 January 1997), in which Charlton Heston, Michael Kahn, and David Kastan are interviewed about the revival of interest in Shakespeare—particularly on film—brought about by the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet.

  3. "The Play's the Thing" (21 June 2001), in which the Denver Public School System's Spring Shakespeare Festival is profiled.

  4. "Brushing Up Their Shakespeare" (26 September 2002), in which The Academy for Classical Acting's approach to teaching how to play Shakespeare is examined.

  5. "An American Falstaff: Kevin Kline" (7 January 2004), in which Kevin Kline is interviewed on that role

  6. "Re-Learning Shakespeare" (27 December 2005), in which Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is covered—Mark Rylance is interviewed.
Of these, the most interesting are the interviews with the actors. Here's a clip from Charlton Heston's interview (he makes the case for Shakespeare and Film):

Kline's interview is more significant for the clips it provides of his Falstaff than for his commentary (though his commentary is not to be scorned at all). Here he is, as plump Jack:

All in all, the stories are fascinating, and I'm indebted to my library for buying them for all its patrons to share!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Acting Shakespeare; or, Ian McKellen Goes Solo

Acting Shakespeare. Dir. Kirk Browning. Perf. Ian McKellen. 1982. DVD. E1 Entertainment, 2010.

Some years after Playing Shakespeare started, Ian McKellen (Sir Ian to us now) put on a one-man show in which he delivers the greatest hits of Shakespeare along with anecdotes and commentary.

The show is intriguing, more as an avenue of insight into attitudes on Shakespeare in the 1980s than anything else. Sir Ian is charming, but the anecdotes are a bit dated, and he has a tendency to take us very deeply into a character or a speech—and then to release us with an off-hand joke that somewhat deflates the atmosphere rather than relieving the tension.

Still, it's impossible to critique McKellen's acting. It's really quite marvelous.

Here's a place where his instruction and his acting come together best. He explicates Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow":

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

"Some Things are Hard to Understand: Shakespeare Isn't."

Henry IV, Part 1. Dir. Paul Barnes. Perf.Tarah Flanagan, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Chris Mixon, Corey Allen, Kate Fonville, Michael Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Gerson. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 22 June to 31 July 2011.
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dir. Alec Wild. Perf. Tarah Flanagan, Jonathan Gillard Daly, Doug Scholz-Carlson, Chris Mixon, Corey Allen, Kate Fonville, Michael Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Gerson. Great River Shakespeare Festival. Winona, Minnesota. 22 June 22 to 31 July 2011.

The tag line on one of the Great River Shakespeare Festival's promotional videos is "Some Things are Hard to Understand: Shakespeare Isn't." It speaks to one of their strengths: comprehensibility. The festival always concentrates on delivering the text clearly and movingly to its audience.

Past years of the Great River Shakespeare Festival have delivered brilliant productions of the plays. Witness their Taming of the Shrew, their Love's Labour's Lost, their Comedy of Errors, or their Othello.

Or witness this video that focuses on one of the company's current plays:

The season starts tonight and runs through the end of July. Go see the plays.
Links: The Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Playing Shakespeare; or, What Fry and Laurie were Parodying

Playing Shakespeare. Dir. John Carlaw and Peter Walker. Perf. Trevor Nunn, John Barton, David Suchet, Alan Howard, Michael Pennington, Patrick Stewart, Lisa Harrow, Jane Lapotaire, Ian McKellen, and Ben Kingsley. 1979-1984. DVD. Athena, 2009.

Fry and Laurie's amazing parody (for which, q.v.) may have its origin in something else amazing: Playing Shakespeare. The four-disc set contains some of the most astonishing Shakespearean actors of the age talking about how best to act.

Here's a short clip. In it, Ian McKellen is asked to enact the first line of The Merchant of Venice with several different shades of emotion and subtext.

It's one line, but its delivery can be so extraordinarily telling. Fry and Laurie have fun with it by imagining an acting coach concentrating all that energy on one word. They make it ridiculous—but there's still some truth behind their ridicule. Not every word in Shakespeare can bear such a multiplicity of interpretation. But many—and perhaps most—of them can.

Links: The Film at IMDB.
Click below to purchase the film from
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fry, Shakespeare, and Laurie

The Cambridge University Footlights Revue. Dir. John Kilby. Perf. Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson. 1982. A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Season Two. Special Feature. DVD. BBC Warner, 2007.

This intriguing, early, and Shakespeare-related clip from the masterful comedy duo Fry and Laurie has been around for a long time, but it took me nearly all of that time to track down its origins (to cite it properly) and its location (so that we can all purchase it legally).

The sketch speaks for itself. Welcome to . . . "Shakespeare Master Class: An Actor Prepares (Part Three)."

It's certainly true that nearly every word in Shakespeare can carry enormous weight, but (of course), it can be overdone. This sketch serves as a warning to me—whenever I find myself asking the equivalent of "And what sort of spelling of the word 'Time' is that?" I'll stop, remember Fry and Laurie, and carry on along different lines.

The speech in question is from Troilus and Cresida. Ulysses speaks:
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-sized monster of ingratitudes. (III.iii.151-53)

Links: The Revue at IMDB.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shakespeare and Hercule Poirot

"One, Two, Buckle my Shoe." By Clive Exton. Perf. David Suchet and Philip Jackson. Dir. Ross Devenish. Agatha Christie's Poirot. Season 4, episode 3. ITV. 19 January 1992. DVD. Acorn Media, 2001.

Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, and India meet in this made-for-television adaptation of Christie's One, Two, Buckle my Shoe.

It's hard to write about mysteries because it's too easy to give the game away and spoil it for some future reader or viewer, so I won't say too much about the plot. But near the beginning of the show, we're treated to the end of a production of Much Ado About Nothing put on in India by English actors for an almost-exclusively English audience. As the plot rolls out, the connections between the unmasking in the scene and the unmasking of the guilty party or parties becomes clearer and clearer.

Here's the Shakespeare (which is what you're here for, after all):

Links: The Episode 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