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Kevin Kline wants to play Hamlet


Ron Reed
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THEY all want to play Hamlet.

They have not exactly seen their fathers killed

Nor their mothers in a frame-up to kill,

Nor an Ophelia dying with a dust gagging the heart,

Not exactly the spinning circles of singing golden spiders,

Not exactly this have they got at nor the meaning of flowers�

O flowers, flowers slung by a dancing girl�

in the saddest play the inkfish, Shakespeare, ever wrote;

Yet they all want to play Hamlet because it is sad like all actors are sad and to stand by an open grave with a joker�s skull in the hand and then to say over slow and say over slow wise, keen, beautiful words masking a heart that�s breaking, breaking,

This is something that calls and calls to their blood.

They are acting when they talk about it and they know it is acting to be particular about it and yet: They all want to play Hamlet.

Carl Sandburg

Laurence, Richard, Mel, Kenneth, Ethan... And Kevin.

Just out on DVD, the video record of the New York Shakespeare's 1990 production, with the superb Kevin Kline in the title role. I saw part of it, 'twas very fine - though it suffers from the pretty much inevitable "filmed play flatness" syndrome.

HAMLET (Kline) (DVD Coming Sep 2/03) (1990)

---------------------------------------------

Cast List: Kevin Kline Dana Ivey Diane Venora

Director : Kevin Kline / Kirk Browning

Formats : DVD

Web Link :

In 1990, the same year that Mel Gibson brought Hamlet to the big screen,

Kevin Kline directed and later filmed this New York Shakespeare Festival's

live stage production of one of Shakespeare's most touted plays. Among

the co-stars are Diane Venora and Dana Ivey. New on DVD this week.

See also IMDb: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0099727/

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I'd think Adam Sandler would be about the right age.  Why does everyone who wants to do it wait till their old enough to be married to Hamlet's mother?

I think most are afraid to tackle Shakesphere and when they are older they feel they have eraned their stripes and are either more comfortable in the role, don't care anymore or want to attempt it before they look like has beens. What an industry!

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Asher, you're fast. Only a few minutes after I posted I looked more closely and saw that it's from the 1990 NY Shakespeare fest, at which time perhaps Kline was still young enough to be the young Dane, and so I had deleted the message you quoted.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Ron, you sound like a man who knows his Shakespeare. What do you think of the different film versions, as compared to each other and as compared to a live showing?

So you ladies and you gentlemen, pull your bloomers on...

-Joe Henry

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Nothing compares to seeing it live. However, Peter Brook's edited/reconstituted version is the only live Hamlet I've seen. 'Twas inconsistent but still had many fine moments.

For film versions I'll have to stick with Derek Jacobi. Very traditional, but sometimes tradition isn't bad. Kenneth Branagh? Gag me.

At least I didn't make the mistake of buying a ticket for the Keanu Reeves version in Toronto.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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mrmando wrote:

: For film versions I'll have to stick with Derek Jacobi. Very traditional, but

: sometimes tradition isn't bad. Kenneth Branagh? Gag me.

Interesting, since Jacobi plays Claudius in Branagh's version. Speaking of which, if I may quote my interview with Branagh back when his film came out:

PTC:
Derek Jacobi directed you on stage before, as Hamlet, and now you've directed him as Claudius. Did you ever clash over what to do?

KB:
No, Derek's pretty good. I think in both cases, you basically get behind the captain of the ship. You come with a lot of things yourself, anyway. In this case, he was so tunnel-visioned about Claudius, which he felt he was not necessarily ideal casting for, not conventional casting, he worried a great deal about that. He's a great worrying actor. So we only talked about the characterization of Hamlet as and when I asked him in moments of distress, "Do you think I should do this like this?" or "Is there anything you can suggest?" or whatever. But we liked each other very much. We're great pals.

PTC:
But he never said, "Ken, I told you not to do this ten years ago!"

KB:
He didn't
say
it. [laughter] He may have thought -- I'm sure there are tons of things that he would disagree with in my performance, but I think, like me, he believes these things change and evolve, and what you do ten years on is different. I tried to, having played it a lot and thought about it a lot, from take to take, just react in the moment. Try and react to what someone has said to me as though I just thought of it, and not
repeat
anything or try and capture anything that I've done on stage. I felt confident enough to just do it, and let the play and the part speak for itself. It's a risky business. You really do have to have done the work to let the part play you, that sort of magic state we all want to get to where it's surprising, it's just coming out, you haven't planned anything, and it's spontaneous and real, and you get to that stage having worked very hard on what it means and having practiced it a lot. I think Derek feels that, and he's one of those actors who's happy to give away things. Might have worked on one take, but throw it away this time and try something else.
Trust
is the thing.

Didn't like the film, myself, but Branagh was a great interview.

"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 know there's debate over exactly what age Hamlet is, but why is it always such an issue what age the actor is? I mean, isn't he acting?

FWIW & e.g., Branagh was 36. Gibson was 34. Olivier was 41. Kline was 43. I suppose if anyone was pushing it, he was. But Hamlet can plausibly be a late teen through 30-year-old or so, depending on how the play's interpreted, so I don't have a problem with a 30-something playing him, especially if that will give the role more depth. And Kline especially is very youthful-looking.

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Kline did Hamlet in 1990 -- that's the version we're talking about. He was youthful-looking then. Not so much anymore (see "Life as a House").

I thought Branagh's Hamlet film was over the top and said as much about the actor/director as it did about the character. But I would have loved to see him do it on stage. Film acting is a lot more subtle than stage acting, and some actors have difficulty making the transition. That being said, I liked what he did with Henry V.

Yeah, it was interesting to see Jacobi as Claudius after thinking of him as Hamlet for a number of years. Anybody remember who played Claudius to Jacobi's Hamlet?

That's right, Patrick Stewart.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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An interesting bit of trivia:

I remember reading that James Dean's big dream was to play Hamlet. One of his reasons? All the other Hamlets on film were too old.

Now, picture that...

--Diane

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I think we've had this argument before, however, just for posterity, I really liked the Branagh Hamlet. Didn't care for the Gibson/Zeffirelli one.

I will have more to comment later. In my Shakespeare class which I'm taking this fall, we are doing a section on critiquing film adaptations of The Bard. Should be interesting.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Ron, you sound like a man who knows his Shakespeare. What do you think of the different film versions, as compared to each other and as compared to a live showing?

I do love Shakespeare very much. When I'm immersed in it, on a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or working on a production, I feel like what he's written is second only to scripture in its power and insight, the way it can live and grow with you for a lifetime. But I should admit that I'm no Shakespearean scholar.

Still, always willing to venture opinions!

Trevor Nunn's TWELFTH NIGHT may be my favourite film treatment of the bard. I'd seen it staged a number of times, and it always left me cold: convoluted, confusing, absurdly unbelievable and just plain not funny. But this film completely converted me: the story was not only clear but very internally credible (in the way we "believe" fairy tales), both touching and VERY funny. The brother - sister love was so powerful, and it struck me how rarely that's portrayed in film (as Peter Chattaway has commented elsewhere). The follies of the lovers were beautifully realized, yet somehow when it all comes together at the end love regained its dignity, and it truly felt joyous. Ben Kingsley's dark version of Feste was fascinating, Helena Bonham Carter was radiant, but Imogen Stubbs was an absolute revelation.

I'm also a huge fan of Ian McKellen's RICHARD III. Some folks don't like the transposition of the story into a sort of fictionally-fascist pre-WW2 England, but that sort of thing doesn't trouble me at all. I loved it, and thought of REMAINS OF THE DAY - though I did find the final battle sequence didn't work as well as they wanted it too (maybe they needed to bring in an action director for that section). When I've seen the play staged, it's almost a one-man-show, with Richard foregrounded against a relatively undifferentiated seething mass of enemies, political machinations, obstacles. But in the film it all jumped into focus - each character was clearly drawn, the convolutions of the story never left me frustrated. And the performances were a magnificent. The early scene where Richard woos Anne over the body of her husband (whom Richard has slain!) is one of the most difficult in Shakespeare, for obvious reasons: I've seen it tackled in many an acting class, and it's nearly impossible to make it work. In this film, they nail it.

Speaking of bold interpretations, I'm also a fan of Baz Luhrmann's ROMEO + JULIET. Leo may not be able to handle the verse, and the stylized and extreme violence verges on comic book, but I buy it all - how perfect, to tackle a story about teen love with this kind of recklessness and passion -"too hot" indeed! To capture DiCapprio and Danes at the pinnacle of their teen stardom is so perfect. Luhrmann's a genius, endlessly inventive, visually brash and stunning, and his audacious stagings of opera serve him well here. I mean, when we start with that newscaster saying "Two households, alike in dignity..." I get chills!

I wish I'd seen Zeffirelli's R&J when I was a starry-eyed love-besotted teen in the early seventies - I bet I would have been smitten. Seeing it for the first time now, I appreciated the sense of place, and felt that the reconciliation of the families at the end brings home the play's tragedy in a way that Luhrmann can't achieve by leaving it out. And how great to see such young actors in the roles! Wow. But apart from that, I had a much harder time being drawn into this one. Maybe I'm too much post-modernized.

Back to the more specific topic of our thread, Mel Gibson's HAMLET is splendid, Kenneth Branagh's an embarassment. There are a couple scenes where Zeffirelli and his cast indulge too much - the Oedipal stuff is sophomorically overplayed in the Big Scene with Glenn Close, and the library scene is self-consciously clever - but apart from those smudges, this is an active, visceral (but still intelligent) Hamlet that does Michael Ball's Backwards And Forwards complete justice. Branagh on the other hand should have had a director: he struts and frets his four hours and two minutes upon the stage, as if to illustrate all the excesses of his speech to the Players. Yuck. (Though I will say Helena Bonham Carter made sense of Ophelia in a way no other actress has managed to do, for me - I'll give Ken some of the credit there.)

His HENRY V is superb (though I've not seen all of it), and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is marred only by the terribly-out-of-sync performances by Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves. (I actually think Kenny B can be faulted for the latter: I read something from Keaton that indicated he and Reeves were hired at the insistence of the studio and against the director's wishes, so Branagh did everything he could to undermine the two American actors' performances. Anyone know a source for that? I'd love to find it again.) He's very good in OTHELLO, though he mars the film with his out-of-context "talk to the camera" soliloquies: Laurence Fishburne is outstanding in the title role, one of the great Shakespeare performances onscreen.

I've only seen half of the Ethan Hawke HAMLET, but I was thoroughly enjoying that as well. Some found the "to be or not to be" speech in the video store too self-consciously clever: I loved it, especially when it paid off in the video collage he created "to catch the conscience of the king." Great fun!

Polanski's MACBETH is memorably dank and evil, especially with the Manson murders casting their shadows over it all. Around the same time I remember being very taken with Nicol Williamson's inflamed, obsessed, borderline-mad portrayal of HAMLET - thirty years later I remember him picking with a dagger at the mortar between the stones of the castle wall as he tore his way through the "to be or not to be" speech, blasting away all the over-familiarity. (Wonder if I remember that right? Seems it was in one of those curving stone stairways...) I also wonder what I would think of the performance now - wouldn't be surprised if I'd find it melodramatic, a type of acting that appealed much more when I was a teenager newly enamoured of the theatre. I'd love to see this one again, not only to see how it (and I) have aged, but also to check out Anthony Hopkins as Claudius (!) and Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia (?!). Oh, and Anjelica Huston as a Court Lady.

Have never got past a few minutes worth of any of the pre-Zeffirelli bard flix: the acting always seems so mannered, and I'm too much a man of my times, I think.

The recent MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM did nothing for me, but then neither has any other production of this one. I'm still waiting for my conversion experience - though the otherwise-reprehensible production at Ashland this summer did an astonishing job of making Bottom a truly transcendent character. Haven't seen the Taymor TITUS, but that's a definite must-see.

And that's all I can think of right now!

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Um... Ron...

Didn't Kate Winslet play Branagh's Ophelia?

Yep. Helena B.-C. was with Gibson.

Ron, the Julie Taymor Titus is brilliant. Get thee to the video store ASAP. Alan Cumming alone is worth the price of admission. (Although Jessica L's "Revenge" costume is a little too goofy for me.)

Did you see the Ashland production last year?

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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Didn't Kate Winslet play Branagh's Ophelia?

Yep. Helena B.-C. was with Gibson.

You're both right. Another point stripped from Kenny, over to Frank.

Ron, the Julie Taymor Titus is brilliant. Get thee to the video store...

Verily! (Actually, it'll have to wait until the end of September, for various reasons. But I've now officially moved it to the top of the post-September list.

Did you see the Ashland production last year?

I didn't. This was my first summer back there in a few years. Did you? Are you an OSF fan as well?

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Did you see the Ashland production last year?

I didn't. This was my first summer back there in a few years. Did you? Are you an OSF fan as well?

Inconsistent OSF attendee, but I've been down there on three separate occasions. Saw Titus, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth all at the same festival last year. Lots of stage blood. William Langan played both Titus and Julius and did a heck of a job.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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