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The best Shakespeare on film


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Scotland, PA is kind of fun, although I'm not sure I'd put it on a Top 10 list.

For some reason the Pfeiffer Midsummer wasn't as good as it should have been. Tucci and Everett were fine. Pfeiffer at least wasn't annoying. David Strathairn was great (he usually plays miserable cads, and he seemed to appreciate the opportunity to bear himself regally as Theseus). But Kevin Kline and Bill Irwin were wasted. And Calista Flockhart? The casting director should get an ass's head for that one.

What about all those BBC/RSC productions? They were my introduction to many of the plays. I still envision Derek Jacobi when I think of Hamlet, Nicol Williamson when I think of Macbeth, and John Cleese when I think of Petruchio.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

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And Calista Flockhart? The casting director should get an ass's head for that one.

Hey... I didn't care for the film but I actually liked her in that role! blush.gif

And Kline was, as always, wonderful.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

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So are we removing, like, Throne of Blood and Ran and West Side Story the like from the adaptation rostrum, or do these count as well? Just curious...

You know what: I think it very much depends on personal preference. I had forgotten about Throne of Blood and Ran and I'm glad you reminded me, especially about the former. Again, for me good adaptations play fast and loose with the source material to make it (1) Cinematic and (2) Relevant for the audience its being made for. I haven't seen Ran but Theatre of Blood does that in spades. Or, at least, as someone who isn't Japaneese I assume that it is as effective! West Side Story, although easily one of my favourite musicals, is surely being done a dis-service if it's notched as a Shakespeare adaptation rather than as a Bernstein/Sondheim adaptation. It does, of course, have the Shakespeare story but its a 'twice removed' adaptation coming from modern Broadway rather than the Elizabethan theatre.

I agree, and as I said, I respected Luhrmann's integrity and commitment to the piece--but there are certain problems with doing so if there isn't a suitable marriage of the classical text to the modern interpretation

I heartily agree but, for me, R+J does manage this most tricky of aims. In DiCaprio's defence: yes he is a pouty, angst ridden adolesent. But, there again, so is Romeo! I've seen a lot of stage versions where Romeo is a ponderous, Hamlet type figure. But you know what? I don't think the character *is* that well centered. From the original text you can take a perfectly valid reading that he's an hormonal fool who gets into fights with little provocation and throws platitudes at every woman he sees. I think there *are* problems with DiCaprio's performance but I don't think it's spiritually that far removed from the Shakespeare character.

I cannot emphasize enough that "Shakespeare in Love", while not a true Shakespearean adaptation, is genius.
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Nick Alexander wrote:

: I hated the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, loved Branagh's rendition.

C'est wack.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I cannot emphasize enough that "Shakespeare in Love", while not a true Shakespearean adaptation, is genius.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Nick Alexander wrote:

: To the one who disagrees with me between the dismal Hawke version and the

: glorious Branagh version... Pfeh.

Branagh's version is far too bloated and pompous and indulgent to be "glorious"! Granted, it has some amusing idiosyncracies, but more than anything else, it demonstrates that there is a very good reason why other adaptations have been a fair bit shorter!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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To the one who complained about Winona Ryder in Looking for Richard--even she was a good actress... once.

Complained? No, no complaints here--just a lack of respect for her work in that film. Nothing personal, man--the film was interesting. She wasn't, IMO--even if she was good...once.

(Heathers, right?)

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First off, Elizabeth totally sucked wind.  Sorry.  It's been six years since I had to endure that wretched experience, but from what I remember the film was totally self-contradictory in tone and a waste of all talents involved, altho the colors were nice.  Those years of turmoil and the rise of Anglicanism before Elizabeth's reign were a lot of things, but certainly not like THAT.

Oh, really? Lots of bloodshed, a lot of horrible people queing up to take the throne from a weak monarchy and a nation desperate for a figurehead. It's not designed to be an historical text but a modern treatment of an overly sentimatised period of English history. Believe me: open, empty and echoing space is a much better treatment of the Elizabethan court than multi-coloured frippery like...

Secondly, please be clear.  Where was the history part in Shakespeare in Love off?  I would grant you the Gwyneth character (and romantic story) as fictitious.  I don't profess to be an expert, but the book I'm reading totally corroborates nearly every male character as historical, and that the issues of the times were fully addressed.  This book confirms that plays were constantly being written, and a whole play would be written while in production, learned within days.  Corresponds with the movie.  That the church was often against the theater.  Corresponds with the movie.  That Queen Elizabeth was the main reason why the theaters remained open.  Corresponds with the movie.  Please, be clear.

I suggest you read a few more books on the subject. Absolutley: the theatre of the period does bear more than a passing resemblance to modern screenwriting (which is the implication the film is making. Even down to the Woody Allen style psycho therapy) but the film goes beyond that nice observation to try and attach a romantic heroism to Shakespeare's chosen profession. Once you get beyond the wittiness what's left is a typical Hollywood bit of historical fiction. All the poor folk are idealist writer geniuses who live fast and die young. Whilst the elite are all horrific caricatures of human nature incapable of human feeling. Absolute garbage, especially when Shakespeare spent a great deal of his life trying to restore his family's name in society!

The thing which most galls me about the film, though, its that not content with Hollywood - ising England it then goes on to do the same with the plays themselves. Romeo and Juliet is misrepresented as some kind of idealistic romance when it was, in fact, written at a time of Shakespeare's life when the tragedy was what was being revered. Most of the critical work I've seen on the subject suggests the play would have been jeered, rather than cried at. Similar problem with Twelth Night. I'm not so worried about the historical inaccuracies involved (placing the play much earlier than it was probably written) but rather than re-writing of it as a romance rather than a comedy.

It is a fun romp and the film does have some great character work. I particularly like Ben Affleck's character; a bit of Hollywood satire which *really* works especially given the accusations of primadonnaism surrounding young Mr. Affleck in recent years. And, granted, it does the job in making the idea of Shakespeare accessable. But it does so by making him something less than he was. Good adaptations illuminate the original text in different lights. Shakespeare in Love gets its laughs by darkening the historical Shakespeare and instead reimagining him as a product of Hollywood, not a man in Elizabethan England.

All I remember in McKellen's RIII was the spider crawling over Kristin Scott Thomas' face--tell me, was THAT in the original text?

It was, like, a simile. wink.gif

Phil.

"We live as if the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be." - Angel

"We don't do perms!" - Trevor and Simon

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It was, like, a simile. wink.gif

And that was, like, a smilie. blush.gif

(Couldn't, like, resist....)

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And that was, like, a smilie.  blush.gif

(Couldn't, like, resist....)

Rather than being, totally, a metaphor.

Phil.

"We live as if the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be." - Angel

"We don't do perms!" - Trevor and Simon

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Also, before you engage Peter on this one, Nick, be advised this discussion isn't the first on this very topic...

I've read the discussion, and I feel that whatever needed to be said has been said. Hamlet is my favorite play, and so I am not sensitive to the need for an editor. To me, the more the merrier.

We can agree to disagree. Peace.

Nick

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Well, the question of whether the play needs an editor is just the one detail that Jason and I happened to get fixed on there. But the length of the play was just one of many things that made Branagh's film bombastic and indulgent -- to this, I would add the music, which all but drowns out the dialogue in places, the many distracting big-name cameos (shades of The Greatest Story Ever Told), the vast hall of mirrors, and stupid stunts like the one where Hamlet throws his sword all the way across the hall of mirrors and spears Claudius with perfect precision.

Love the Charlton Heston scene, though!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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So are we removing, like, Throne of Blood and Ran and West Side Story the like from the adaptation rostrum, or do these count as well? Just curious...

Jason, I know one version of West Side Story that I would remove from rostrum..... (as heard from the back of the audience) "GYYYUUUUUCCKKK"

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Once you get beyond the wittiness what's left is a typical Hollywood bit of historical fiction. All the poor folk are idealist writer geniuses who live fast and die young. Whilst the elite are all horrific caricatures of human nature incapable of human feeling. Absolute garbage, especially when Shakespeare spent a great deal of his life trying to restore his family's name in society!

I don't know exactly who these poor folk are, but Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all WERE bloody geniuses... and Marlowe's life as portrayed in that movie was TAME in comparison to his real life, in which he was accused of atheism, blasphemy, subversion and homosexuality, was quite possibly a spy for the queen, and killed (or possibly assassinated) in a barfight. Stabbed in the head, right above the eye.

It had a face like Robert Tilton's -- without the horns.

- Steve Taylor, "Cash Cow"

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Well, the question of whether the play needs an editor is just the one detail that Jason and I happened to get fixed on there.  But the length of the play was just one of many things that made Branagh's film bombastic and indulgent -- to this, I would add the music, which all but drowns out the dialogue in places, the many distracting big-name cameos (shades of The Greatest Story Ever Told), the vast hall of mirrors, and stupid stunts like the one where Hamlet throws his sword all the way across the hall of mirrors and spears Claudius with perfect precision.

Love the Charlton Heston scene, though!

Re: Length of play--one cannot help the length of the play if one decides to do the whole unabbreviated text. Of course, had they hired all actors from those old Federal Express Commercials, Hamlet would have had a pleasant 90 minute running time. biggrin.gif

Re: Music--don't remember it to be perfectly honest.

Re: Cameos--wasn't bothered, but then I never saw The Greatest Story Ever Told. I liked seeing Jack Lemmon and Billy Crystal in a Shakespearean production, and I like the big-named cameos in Jesus of Nazareth. If someone was truly miscast (like John Wayne in GSET, sight unseen), it didn't happen for me there.

Re: vast hall of mirrors--LOVED that. Made perfect metaphorical sense. And it made me wonder if they'd ever done that before--I mean, how the heck does someone film that without catching the camera crew? (Of course, this achievement alone might be what you're getting at--a distraction from the text).

Re: sword to Claudius. No longer realistic, but Shakespeare is never realistic--only a heightened realism, and I thought that poetic.

If it makes any sense, while I love K Branagh's Hamlet more, if I were to purchase a DVD, I'd be getting Gibson's version, only because I'm a huge fan of Sir Ian Holm.

Nick

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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I don't know exactly who these poor folk are, but Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson all WERE bloody geniuses... and Marlowe's life as portrayed in that movie was TAME in comparison to his real life, in which he was accused of atheism, blasphemy, subversion and homosexuality, was quite possibly a spy for the queen, and killed (or possibly assassinated) in a barfight. Stabbed in the head, right above the eye.

I don't really have the time to get into this debate, nor am I a historian. However, I am a student of English literature, and have focused much of my studies on Shakespeare and other English Renaissance drama. I fall into the camp of people who absolutely think that Shakespeare In Love is bloody brilliant! Again, like, BDR, my research indicates that Shakespeare, Marlowe, et al, were well portrayed in the film. There are, of course, some anachronisms in the film, but overall I think it's fair to say that Shakespeare and Co. were more the Elizabethan equivalent of Hollywood screenwriters and celebrities. In that regard I think the film captures the spirit of the plays rather well.

Well, the question of whether the play needs an editor is just the one detail that Jason and I happened to get fixed on there.

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Re: vast hall of mirrors--LOVED that.  Made perfect metaphorical sense.  And it made me wonder if they'd ever done that before--I mean, how the heck does someone film that without catching the camera crew?  (Of course, this achievement alone might be what you're getting at--a distraction from the text). 

Leave it to me to bring in the low art angle, but Enter The Dragon (1972) with Bruce Lee has a famous mirrors sequence that contains the climactic fight.

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

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Again, like, BDR, my research indicates that Shakespeare, Marlowe, et al, were well portrayed in the film. There are, of course, some anachronisms in the film, but overall I think it's fair to say that Shakespeare and Co. were more the Elizabethan equivalent of Hollywood screenwriters and celebrities.

Well we obviously studied in very different departments. I missed the part where all the Elizabethan playwrights were clean, righteous anti-heroes. (Although, granted, this is a characteristic of British academia that the Elizabethan theatre has come in for a lot of de-romantasising in recent decades. Far moreso than in the States/Canada) Yes, there are lots of very cute references in it but, please, it's not a film about Shakesperian England. It's *about* screenwriting with the Shakespeare thrown over the top. Hence why I sort of enjoy it but can't possibly recommend it as an example of a great Shakesperian film.

Re: Length of play--one cannot help the length of the play if one decides to do the whole unabbreviated text.
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"We live as if the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be." - Angel

"We don't do perms!" - Trevor and Simon

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Re: vast hall of mirrors--LOVED that.
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D'OH!! Obviously I've been too enmeshed in politics recently. I knew that.

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

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Gotta say, even though I'm not liking that film anymore I keep being reminded how good the memory of Affleck's performance is...

Phil.

He has the best line in the movie. Even though I can't remember it perfectly... the one about him thinking the play needs a new name. smile.gif

It had a face like Robert Tilton's -- without the horns.

- Steve Taylor, "Cash Cow"

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