Friday, January 23, 2015

An Honourable Murder: A Derivative of Julius Caesar

An Honourable Murder. Dir. Godfrey Grayson. Perf. Norman Wooland, Margaretta Scott, and Lisa Daniely. 1960. DVD. Danziger Productions, 2010.

I'm always pleased when I discover a derivative film version of a play that is less-often made into derivative versions. One example is The Street King, a derivative version of Richard III (for which, q.v.). I'm still waiting and hoping for a derivative version of Henry V—one set, perhaps, in Vietnam under French Colonial Rule. You wouldn't even need to change the name of the enemy! But I digress.

Encountering a disparaging remark against it, I recently learned about An Honourable Murder, a 1960 film that recontextualizes Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in the business world. A business mogul named Julian Caesar—the Chair of the Board of Empire Petroleum—has been working hard for a merger with Pompey Shipping, but his motives become suspect, and Brutus Smith is reluctantly convinced to join in a vote against him at a meeting that Mark Antony has been tricked into missing.

The disparaging remark was about the film's lack of significance. No, it's not as earth-shaking as the assassination of Julius Caesar, but if it's approached more in terms of a domestic tragedy and as a business rather than a political thriller, the film will provide some interest.

To give a flavour of the film, I've excerpted the analogue of the assassination scene below:

And I don't suppose I can provide that scene without providing the debate before the citizens (here, shareholders) over Caesar's removal:

I found the film compelling but not thrilling. Perhaps it can serve as an entrée en matière for the business majors in my Shakespeare and Film class.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click here to purchase the film from
(it's only available as a Region 2 DVD).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hamlet, the Vampire Slayer: Not a Mockumentary

Hamlet, the Vampire Slayer. Dir. Jason Witter. Perf. Kevin R. Elder, Leslie Nesbit, and Doug Montoya. 2008. DVD. N.s., 2011.

On the other end of the Hamlet and the Undead spectrum from Zombie Hamlet (for which, q.v.; see also Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Undead and Romeo and Juliet vs. The Living Dead) stands Hamlet, the Vampire Slayer. But I think it might as well lie back down in the coffin and have a nice rest.

I tried to enjoy this film—I genuinely made an effort—but it's so dull, awkwardly shot, and (for lack of a better term) bad that I couldn't get much out of it.

The essential plot is that Hamlet, aspiring male cheerleader, is upset at his father's death and his mother's o'er hasty marriage to Hamlet's Uncle, Enrique Claudio, who is a Vampire who only speaks Spanish. As a trope, it gets quite old quite quickly, as does the device of a vampire slayer with a mostly inexplicable Scottish accent, a Buffyesque character, two frat boys named Rosenchad and Guildenbrad, the frequent obscenities, and a rap version of the play-within-the-play.

The best (and least inappropriate) sample I can show you is the analogue to Claudius at prayer.

There you have it. Aren't you glad I watch these films in their entirety so that you don't have to?

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Mockumentary Zombie Hamlet

Zombie Hamlet. Dir. John Murlowski. Perf. John Amos, A.J. Buckley, K.C. Clyden Brendan Michael Coughlin, John de Lancie, Vanessa Evigan, June Lockhart, Shelley Long, Travis Wester, and Emmalee Wilson. 2012. DVD. Level 33 Entertainment, 2013.

I should have viewed this sooner. The title misled me into thinking it was going to turn out to be something on the lamer side of Hamlet derivatives. Had the term "mockumentary" been mentioned, I would have been much quicker to draw the remote and give it a try. That's the reason for my foregrounding the term, in fact.

Zombie Hamlet—or, really, Bringing the Undead to Life: The Making of Zombie Hamlet, as the documentary detailing elements of the production of Zombie Hamlet—is a clever, well-acted, surprisingly well-cast film (they got John Amos, the dad from Good Times and John De Lancie, Q from Star Trek in this film!) that tells the story of what two filmmakers do when they learn, in the middle of a location hunt, that their $24,000,000 budget has been cut. The helpful old lady who owns the location (played by June Lockhart!) offers $300,000 to fund the film; reluctantly, they abandon their plans to make a tasteful, thoughtful Civil War Hamlet and go with a low-budget zombie film version instead.

My favorite parts of the film are those that make fun of different auteurs and their typical style. In the following clip, the director and one of the producers discuss ideas for Zombie Hamlet, contemplating following first the style of Stanley Kubrick (the image above is from that imagined version), then Stephen Spielberg (with some intriguing and Spielbergian camera work), and then Michael Bay (director of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor).

I suppose I should have expected such interesting parody when, earlier in the film, we learned that the director had been responsible for the following commercial:

There's not too much actual Hamlet in this film, but it does appear from time to time—most often when the mockumentary focuses on the production of the actual film. This clip will give you a flavor of that—as a bonus, it includes the following tag line (which also appeared in the trailer for the film): "To not to be or to not not to be: that is the question."

The fast-paced plot (including some Weekend at Bernie's material) wraps up, leaving some room for commentary on the documentary. I appreciate the gentle mockery of critics like me in the following clip. And I also appreciate (but do not share) the distain of the "Shakespeare Purist" at the end of the clip:

Finally, when you least suspect it, this:

Yes, that's Hulk Hogan as a Weïrd Sister (using the word "brother").

The film will, at least in bits and pieces, make its way into my Shakespeare and Film course this year. Watch this fun, frantic film for lighthearted jabs at the film industry, a speculative take on Hamlet, and an interestingly-constructed plot.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Note: The Bible in Shakespeare

Hamlin, Hannibal. The Bible in Shakespeare. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2013.

This book fell into my path last summer, and I read it on and off that summer and into the fall semester. It's enthralling.

Hannibal Hamlin’s book is the most current available on the topic of the Bible in Shakespeare.  Filled with incredible, well-researched information, the book doesn't attempt to catalogue every quotation or biblical allusion in Shakespeare, but it does offer intriguing scholarly commentary on a wide range of different uses Shakespeare makes of the Bible.

Hamlin's introduction presents a good apology for the study:
This book is about allusions to the Bible in Shakespeare's plays. It argues that such allusions are frequent, deliberate, and significant, and that the study of these allusions is repaid by a deeper understanding of the plays. A supplementary argument, or perhaps a presupposition, is that Shakespeare's culture as a whole was profoundly and thoroughly biblical, a culture in which one could assume a degree of biblical knowledge that is difficult to imagine in today's mass-media global culture. One grips for a modern analogy, but there is none. Imagine a television program that everyone in the country has been watching every week, sometimes more than once, for their entire lives, having seen some episodes dozens of times. Suppose your parents and grandparents had watched all the same episodes, and suppose further that millions of people in other neighboring countries had watched these episodes too, dubbed into their own languages. Suppose that it was illegal not to watch this show and, moreover, that your eternal salvation was understand to depend on it. Suppose that this TV show was the basis for your country's literature and art, its political theory, its history, its philosophy, its understudying of the natural word as well as human nature, and essential to most other fields of knowledge as well.  In sixteenth- and seventeenth--century England, the Bible was that show; it was always in reruns, and it never went off the air. (1)

That's a good argument, in fact, for reading this book as well as for developing much greater familiarity with the Bible.

Hamlin stages his examination of Shakespeare's plays well with three sections on the culture of Shakespeare's day as it relates to the Bible, the way interest in Shakespeare's use of the Bible has waxed and waned (and its reasons for doing so), and Shakespeare's general practice of allusion.  He then provides five well-reasoned sections dealing with the specifics of Shakespeare's use of the Bible. A section on Shakespeare's use of Genesis 1-3 is followed by one on allusions in the Roman plays. Sections on Falstaff, Macbeth, and King Lear follow.

I don't agree with everything Hamlin has to say, but his book is a phenomenal study of the significance of biblical allusion in the works of Shakespeare.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

I, Robot Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth. Dir. Dan Gallagher. Perf. Mirai Booth-Ong, J. A. Curcione, and Dan Gallagher [The Robot Shakespeare Company]. DVD. Bright Red Productions, 2012.

A few years ago, I spotted a Kickstarter request proposing to film an all-robot Macbeth (for which, q.v.). Well, they got their funding, and they made their film!

The film is . . . mildly interesting. The animation is adequate, and the film angles are often quite interesting, but I was hoping for something a bit less straightforward. I'm now wondering how to use it. Would it be good for introducing the play to kids? To robots? To robot kids?

I'm a bit ambivalent about another aspect of the film. They've provided modernized subtitles (as in the image above) for the entire play. I suppose this, too, could be useful to viewers who are having trouble with the language, but they're a bit too simplified. They might be a good crutch, but they would be a bad stick.

As is my wont, I'm providing the dagger speech here to give you a sense of how they handled it—and, by it, a sense of the rest of the production.

Click below to purchase the film from
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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