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."

Click below to purchase the film—on LaserDisc, no less—from

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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