Isn’t it Bliss?

April 7, 2010 at 11:46 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Isn’t it bliss? Not really. I feel a bit let down. That’s what happens when I build things up in my mind. I’d seen A Little Night Music with Elizabeth Taylor as Desiree back when it originally came out in 1978. I was a kid and I think I went with my mom and sister. I remember loving it. I’ve seen the play performed and enjoyed it.  I thought I would really like watching it this time around, knowing now that it is a musical remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, which I loved.

I was mistaken. Watching the two films so closely together was a huge mistake. The Bergman film is superior in just about every way. It’s funnier, more charming, more poignant. Comparing them side by side is painful.

And that’s unfortunate, because Stephen Sondheim’s score is beautiful and the play works well on the stage. For one, I really can’t stand Elizabeth Taylor in this film. Her simpering, squeaky voice is annoying and she doesn’t do the songs any favors. Even so, I still enjoyed “Send in the Clowns.” It’s an incredible song and it fits into the story perfectly. It’s really kind of breathtaking. (I just found a great version on YouTube with Judi Dench who plays Desiree in the London production. It’s such a heartbreaking moment in the play and the song is so incredible.)

I liked some of the performances in this film. Len Cariou is good as Frederick Egerman (he was nominated for a Tony for this role in the original Broadway production). He’s better in the romantic role than the unattractive Gunnar Björnstrand in the Bergman film. I also liked Diana Rigg’s performance as Charlotte (the wife of Desiree’s lover).

A Little Night Music is playing now on Broadway with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree and Angela Lansbury as her mother. I would love to catch this and remind myself of what a wonderful play it is, but unfortunately, the review in the Washington Post was entitled, “‘Music’ in the key of blah” so I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up about this version, either. I need to get the bad taste out of my mouth, so I’m going to find the 1990 Lincoln Center version which got good reviews!

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  1. Tue Sorensen said,

    Maybe I’m a purist, but I’m a little surprised that you spend so much time on movies that are so relatively peripheral to Shakespeare [read: I’m just jealous that I haven’t seen them!], when you could be watching versions of the actual plays! 🙂 Personally I do it the other ways around: make sure to watch the proper Shakespeare films, and then move on to the looser adaptations later, IF I feel I have the time. That’s how I tend to prioritize… not that anybody else should necessarily do it the same way! 🙂

    Of course I understand the inclination to look at varied and lighter matter in between the “tedious” loftiness of Shakespeare, and I do the same myself, just not in quite the same way. Of course, part of the reason for this is that we don’t have Netflix available here in Denmark, so I am forced to watch whatever else is available. I’ve recently been watching the first three seasons of The Tudors, which has a good deal of Shakespeare-inspired wordings and situations here and there, but is a bit soapy… still entertaining, though, and makes you wonder what *really* happened…

    How did you even find out that the Bergman film was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream…? Where do you get your info?

    I am about to re-read Dream again myself (and watch a couple of film versions, like the 1935 version and the “Childrens’…” version). I have started work on a book in which I plan to use Dream as a structural model and its themes as general points of departure. I look forward to your thoughts on the play! 🙂

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      Hi — well, let’s see. I’m no purist. 🙂 Also, I have no grand plan. Where do I get my info? Not even sure where I read about it. I think I must have looked first at the Woody Allen film and then read that it was inspired by the Bergman film… that led to the obvious… that the Sondheim musical is the same story as the Bergman film. The Rotten Tomatoes summary mentions it all (I sometimes look there for reviews):

      Netflix is fun. There is a lot available on it. (I watched the Tudors last year on Netflix). So part of my scheduling these is just whatever order I put them in my netflix queue and if any of them are available on streaming, then I watch them that way (the Bergman movie).

      I really want to read the text again before I start commenting on it. I have about a half dozen other books sitting on my nightstand, but I need to prioritize!

      Anyway, good luck with your book! That sounds like a fun project.

  2. Finally, Bliss « Or What You Will said,

    […] Music (from Live at Lincoln Center). I promised myself this treat after watching the dismal 1978 movie with Elizabeth Taylor. It’s so much […]

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