Monday, March 20, 2023

Book Note: Henry V: Kenneth Branagh's Screenplay

Branagh, Kenenth. Henry V by William Shakespeare: Screenplay and Introduction by Kenneth Branagh. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.

You might expect someone who teaches Shakespeare and film to pay a great deal of attention to screenplays.

Once again, Bardfilm foils your expectations.

But I've been paying more attention to them recently—see my comments on the screenplay for Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. I'm not quite at the stage of requiring a screenplay as a textbook for my Shakespeare and film course, but that day may come (the screenplay for the Branagh Hamlet is very tempting, for instance).

Before looking at that screenplay, I looked at Branagh's screenplay for Henry V. I've used that for some time because I find the descriptions to be very telling. My instinct is to read the film itself without depending on outside influences. But it's nice to have my speculative claims about a scene in a film confirmed with reference to the screenplay.

Let me show you two interesting moments. The first is the incorporation of a scene from 1 Henry IV (and a line from 2 Henry IV) into the film. Note the stage directions (film directions? . . . I'm uncertain of the terminology here) surrounding Hal's voiceover "I do. I will" and "I know thee not, old man."

Falstaff seems able to read the message of the voiceover just from the looks Hal gives him.

Of perhaps more interest is the way the screenplay talks about the scene after the Battle of Agincourt. If you recall, there's a moment where some women come forward through the chaotic aftermath of the battle. They're quickly moved to the side by the French Mountjoy. Here's what the screenplay has to say:

I think we probably easily gather that these women are the mothers and daughters of the French soldiers who have died in the battle. But I don't know that we'd get all this from the visuals themselves:

As he passe[s] MONTJOY, French women rush toward him screaming.  They recognise him as the man to blame.  MONJOY holds them back as HENRY passes and finally moves onto a cart where the bodies of the dead boys are being piled.

I'm glad to have the screenplay to give us that extra possibility—that they're running at Henry because they blame him for the losses of their husbands and fathers.

More soon on the Branagh Hamlet screenplay!

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Friday, March 17, 2023

Book Note: Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!: An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year

Waters, Fiona, ed.. Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!: An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year. Illus. Britta Teckentrup. Boston: Candlewick Press, 2021.

Do you remember the Saturday Night Live "More Cowbell" sketch? It involves a musical performance which is constantly interrupted with a cry for there to be "more cowbell" over and over again.

Well, I feel a bit like that.  "More Shakespeare," you can imagine me crying, over and over.

Despite that cry for this book, I think it's terrific. The subtitle basically tells you what you need to know, but I'm providing examples of some of the illustrations to get a flavor of what this anthology does. Here's the eponymous page for January 31:

The illustrations are beautifully done, and the selection of poems is not cliché or old-fashioned (though I tend to gravitate toward the old-fashioned ones, like the Blake poem above (and I might have preferred the original spelling, but I won't strain a gnat to swallow a tyger).

Many spreads have multiple poems. Let's take a look at the one that covers June 20 to 22.  It's a nighttime-creatures collation

And there we have our only Shakespeare—right there on Midsummer's Day (depending on how you count it). Nicely played, Waters and Teckentrup.

I still cry "More Shakespeare!" What about twelfth night? What about the Ides of March? But the volume is still most impressive, providing a year's worth of fabulous drawings and interesting poetry.

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Monday, February 27, 2023

Book Note: Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare

Brook, Peter. Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2003.

This brief volume has considerable profundity. It consists of a lecture Peter Brook gave in Berlin in 1998 and (if I'm reading it right) a second, shorter speech he gave in Paris in 1994.

It's the second that particularly interested me. It gives a general overview of acting principles during Brook's long life in the theatre and his advice for portraying Shakespeare characters.

As one would expect from something by Peter Brook, that's insightful. I'm not sure I agree with everything there, but it is certainly an invigorating process that he imagines.

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Peter Lorre as Hamlet?

Youngkin, Stephen D. The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

I've recently become interested in Peter Lorre again. This time, instead of just re-watching  Casablanca or Arsenic and Old Lace, I decided to read a biography.

And what a biography I found! Stephen Youngkin's The Lost One is an astonishingly-detailed and utterly fascinating account of the varied and complex life of Peter Lorre.

By its means, I learned two things I did not know before, and they both have to do with Shakespeare.

The first is what Peter Lorre said in a discussion about why he was typecast—why he never got an important role.

Lorre asked if they meant something like Hamlet. And then . . . well, read on to see what happened (from pages 82–83) . . .

I, for one, would be very happy with a Hamlet with just the Gravedigger . . . as long as the Gravedigger was played by Peter Lorre.

The second thing I learned was that Peter Lorre, Bertolt Brecht, and Ferdinand Reyher wrote a screenplay called Lady Macbeth of the Yards (with the alternate working titles of All Our Yesterdays, All Our Yesterdays: Macbeth 1946, and Blood Will Have Blood). It sounds absolutely fabulous, and I only wish it had been made into a film (this is from pages 275–77):

Ah, Hollywood. Why did you green-light other projects in 1946 (not naming any names) but cancel this one?

But instead of continuing to complain, I'll start trying to see if the screenplay is extant anywhere. 

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Book Note: The Shakespeariad

Snider, Denton Jaques.The Shakespeariad: The Poetric Evolution of Shakespeare. St. Louis: The William Harvey Miner Co., Inc., 1916.
———.The Shakespeariad: A Dramatic Epos. St. Louis: The William Harvey Miner Co., Inc., 1923.

If you grew up in St. Louis and went to the headquarters branch of the St. Louis County Library, the term H+ may have a special resonance for you. H is the code for Headquarters—a book with an H on its card catalogue listing or on a sticker on its spine would be shelved in the open stacks of Headquarters.  H+ was for those books that weren't shelved openly. You had to ask a librarian in person for an H+ book, which could be embarrassing because H+ books were the kind of books that maybe not everyone should read.

In "Murder at Pentecost," one of Dorothy L. Sayers' Montague Egg stories, we learn that some books in the Bodleian Library are classified as Phi books (with the Greek letter Φ). Here's how one character explains the classification:  "A Phi book . . . is a book deemed by Bodley's Librarian to be of an indelicate nature, and catalogued accordingly, by some dead-and-gone humorist, under the Greek letter phi."

That was H+, and it was always with a mixture of excitement and embarrassment that I passed my request slip to the librarian on duty. Quick Note: The books I was requesting weren't that indelicate. They were usually older novels translated into English.

But not all H+ books were indelicate. Some were H+ for storage reasons. These were the books that not very many people would grab off a shelf if they spotted it. And that was the majority of the H+ books I requested. I read a very lovely history of the typewriter, something about Swedenborgianism, and a book on fonts.  And I think the videocassettes of the BBC Shakespeare series were also classified H+. They came in a huge brown case with intimidating straps all over it, and the librarians threatened you with your life (and / or a $300 fine, which, for me, was about the same thing) if you lost or damaged a cassette.

I told you that to tell you this (as my Grandmother Jones used to say).

It was in H+ that I discovered The Shakespeariad. It looked interesting because the -iad suffix (or -id or -id) means "story of," as in The Iliad (the story of Ilium, a.k.a. Troy) or The Aeneid (the story of Aeneas). So this was the story of Shakespeare! In verse! First published three hundred years after the poet's death!  Republished seven years later (i.e., three hundred years after the publication of the First Folio)!

It wasn't as interested as it sounded. And I find now that its interest lies in its existence rather than in its content.

The plot (such as it is) takes us to Prospero's (or is it Caliban's?) "Magic Isle," where we find Caliban in sole position . . . until Prospero returns. Then Hamlet wanders by—as do Ariel, Horatio, Rosalind, Hermione, et cetera.

In the second part, we head to "Shakespearopolis, the City of the Magic Isle" to meet with a bunch of women from Venice. 

Part the Third takes us to Hamlet's palace (and, later, Prospero's temple) in "The Magic Overworld."

Again, what happens in the overall plot is not very interesting. But the idea that this was written in the early days of World War I as a way to see how Shakespeare's characters might fare in a modern age is. And some of the details of how that works out are really quite fascinating.  [Note: The book was republished in 1923 , but the main difference I can detect is the addition of an appendix to that printing; the poem itself seems unaltered.]

Let's take a look at the opening of the poem.  We start with Caliban solus, and he professes a longing to be Prospero's servant once again. This is from the 1923 edition, but the main difference I can detect between the 1916 and the 1923 versions (I have both editions) is the addition of an appendix to the second edition; the poem itself seems unaltered.

I find that very interesting. No, not the verse so much (though the appendix to the 1923 edition mentions that it employs the new principles of "Free Verse" . . . but within reason), but the framing of these characters after three years. Prospero has been worried that Caliban would become less civilized, and he's surprised that Caliban seems to be wording (his verb) it very well. But it's also interesting that Prospero is not really here to catch up on old times with Caliban. He's really looking for Ariel.

I didn't think that when I first checked the book out from the H+ stacks in St. Louis. But I'm finding that worth exploring now.

Note to graduate students: No one seems to have written on this work at all. A search of the MLA Bibliography for "Shakespeariad" turns up no results. Perhaps this book is the topic of your next conference paper!

Bonus Image: The 1916 and 1923 editions compared.  The 1923 edition is much larger, but it does not contain much additional material.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

Book Note: Much Ado About Nothing: Kenneth Branagh's Screenplay

Branagh, Kenneth. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare: Screenplay, Introduction, and Notes on the Making of the Movie by Kenneth Branagh: Photographs by Clive Coote
. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

I've taught Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing in my Shakespeare and Film class nearly every year. But I somehow failed to realize that the screenplay was availble.

I've found the screenplay for Branagh's Henry V to be very interesting, providing telling details that aren't fully revealed in the script. The Much Ado screenplay has fewer moments like that, but they are telling.

I'm providing a few images of places where the script gives us insight into what's going on in the director's mind.

And I'm also providing a few images from the section called "The Shoot"—photographs taken on the set with brief descriptive labels.

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Return to Prospero's Books—with LaserDisc Technology!

Prospero's Books
. Dir. Peter Greenaway. Perf. Sir John Guelgud, Michael Clark, Isabelle Pasco, and Orpheo. 1991. LaserDisc. Fox Video / Media Home Entertainment / Image Entertainment, 1992

I haven't written about Peter Greenaway's remarkable film Prospero's Books since 2008 (you can find the links to those posts at the end of this post). In all those years, I've been waiting patiently for an official DVD—or even (be still, my beating heart) a Blu-ray—to come out. But to no avail. And I know that all the DVDs for sale out there are dubs of the VHS (and probably illegal).

Then I spotted a LaserDisc for not too much. "Well," I said to myself, "our library has a LaserDisc player. I'll give it a shot."

Long and short, the library's LD player was broken and irreparable. So I found someone in California who could convert an LD to a DVD for a fee that still wasn't too much. With a few tracks lost to something called "LD rot," I now have a high-quality version of the film!

And it makes such a difference. It's not the same as watching it in the theatre (I was able to do that when it was first released, and it shook me to my bones), but it's much better than what I've been able to see (if you look at the links below, you'll see the poor quality of a capture from a VHS tape of the film).

And it makes me feel like sharing! So come on over this Friday night . . . .

Wait. That might not actually work. But I'll provide some key clips below, still following Bardfilm's Fair Use Policy. And I'll also leave out the nudity. [Note: The quality won't be the same as watching the actual LaserDisc, but it will be much improved over previous clips.]

Here's the opening, setting the stage for the background of looking through many different "books."

Continuing the "book" theme, let's look at a brief sampling. [Note: I'm finding it hard to find lengthy clips without nudity. And, although the nudity would probably be classified as "artistic" rather than "naughty," there's too much of it.]

In this penultimate clip, we have the meeting of Miranda and Ferdinand. You'll also get a sense of how Sir John Guilgud's voice takes nearly all the lines in the film.

And last, we have the last scene in the film. Prospero is drowning his books . . . and all but two are lost. Caliban manages to save those two from destruction.

I'm still not sure why this highly-visual, tremendously-innovative film version of The Tempest still hasn't been issued in DVD or Blu-ray—it deserves it!

Now . . . is it worth it to go through the whole process again with another LD to get those LD-rotted tracks?  Hmmmmmm.

Links: The Film at IMDB. Previous Posts on Bardfilm about Prospero's Books: "The Granddaddy of Modern Tempests," "The Odd, Layered Opening of Prospero's Books," "The Odd, Layered Closing of Prospero's Books."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

King James the First in Doctor Who

“The Witchfinders.” By Joy Wilkinson. Perf. Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, and Alan Cumming.  Dir. Sallie Aprahamian. Doctor Who. Series 11, episode 8. BBC One. 25 November 2018. DVD.  Studio Distribution Services, 2019.

As I noted recently, I haven't been watching Doctor Who that much. But I feel the need to be culturally literate, so I've slogged on to see what it's like to have a female doctor.

And that means that I made it to an episode with King James I. And it was an episode that had something to do with witches! "Here we go," I thought. "The last time we met up with Shakespeare in Doctor Who was in the episode called 'The Shakespeare Code'—another one with witches and an appearance (albeit a brief one) of an English monarch (in that instance, it was Queen Elizabeth I)." Note: Yes, I have many parenthetical phrases when I think as well as when I write.

I certainly didn't expect Shakespeare to show up in this episode. But I thought there might be some nice self-referential elements. I mean—Queen Elizabeth I & witches and James I & witches—surely the second monarch would reference some of the rumor flying about during the first monarch's reign!

But, no. We don't get that.

But we do get James revealing a bit of his biography. And I suppose we should be content with that.

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

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Friday, January 20, 2023

The Joel Coen Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth
. Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. Denzel Washington and Francis McDormand. 2022. Apple TV+.

These are a few scattered thoughts on the Joel Coen Macbeth with Denzel Washington, together with a bemoaning of subscription streaming service Shakespeare.

Let's start with the latter. The problem I have with streaming services is how limited they are. I'm OG on DVDs—even if that makes me seem like a dinosaur. A DVD can easily be loaned to a student (or purchased by a library for wider circulation). It's easy to bring a DVD to class to show. It's easy to extract particular scenes from a DVD to embed in a presentation for educational purposes . . . or to put on a Shakespeare and Film blog of one sort or another.

Streaming services make all that very difficult—which is why I've never seen the David Tennant / Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing (I've hoped for years that it would be released on DVD—I'd buy it in a shot, even though it's not considered to be very good). And such limitations invite bootlegging, which hurts just about everyone.

All that is to say that I wish they would release the Joel Coen Macbeth on DVD. Purchasing it would be a privilege and a delight!

I did see a fair bit of the film (I happened to have a three-month Apple TV+ trial at the time). And I suppose my reaction tread a path others went down: I was intensely excited and then pretty disappointed.

Visually, the film is quite remarkable. Here's the official trailer to give you a flavor of that:

The film's portrayal of the Wëird Sisters (or, really, Sister) is also very interesting. Conflated into one (but sometimes presented as three), the Wëird Sister—played astonishingly well by Kathryn Hunter) goes through all sorts of contortions and transformations that ally her with the crows encircling the battlefields. I want to avoid using bootlegged clips of the film (see my point above), but a quick search of the internet will enable you to find some.

Visually, then, a great film. Use of the witches? Top notch. The rest of the film? Just flat. It seemed like a read-through of the play rather than something brought to life.

I do want to share the dagger speech with you. There's some interest in how it's portrayed, but, even here, the acting is flat. [Note: Why isn't this a bootlegged clip? Well, see my Fair Use Policy for the answer.] 

You will have noticed that point six of the Fair Use Policy is "Bardfilm does not provide the highest video quality possible." Indeed, this was filmed with a phone in front of a monitor streaming the film. But it's the best I'm going to try to do (until a DVD comes out . . . please!), and it gives you a sense of what I'm talking about: (1) It's neat that Macbeth never really noticed how much that door handle looks like a dagger. There's no hallucination here—just imagination. (2) The delivery is just not that interesting.

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