November 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , , )

The authorship debate is not my thing. At all. I believe in my man, Will. Will wrote the plays, people. Got that?

So, when I heard rumblings about this film, Anonymous, I was not interested, not even thinking about going to see it. I thought I might watch it on video some day when I had nothing better to do. I thought it was going to be just so much more noise. I heard it compared to Oliver Stone’s JFK. Conspiracy theory extraordinaire! The real inside scoop! Someone finally put all the pieces together!

I am so glad I left all THAT NOISE behind and actually went out to watch this film! It is wonderful! Splendid! I loved it!

And no, I have not suddenly turned Oxfordian! Have no fear. That will not happen!

Let’s get the truth out right now, okay? It’s Fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N.

I hate to break the news, but the historical accuracies in this film are by far outweighed by the fun fiction. Hello? Do people really believe that Queen Elizabeth had multiple bastards? Hello? Do people really believe… okay, I’ll let it go.

It’s fiction. So is Shakespeare in Love, and you know I love Shakespeare in Love. I think I may love Anonymous even more.

This film is luscious! Beautiful cinematography. Absolutely breathtaking! Wonderful acting! Fantastic sets and costumes. A feast. I mean, wow! And smart. And entertaining! There’s romance, tragedy, intrigue, farce… even a miracle at the end that saves the plays from destruction.

This film is truly Shakespearean to the core (a seemingly impossible feat since the film is set on portraying Oxford as the Bard!). We revel in the beauty of the words here. The plays are beloved and treated with reverence in this film. Many are partially staged and it’s just lovely to see.

Shakespeare loved the play within the play. This whole film is a play within a play… and so much more! Here when the Mousetrap in Hamlet is staged, we have the play within the play within the play within the play within the movie. Bravo! (Let’s go over that… we have the Mousetrap which is Shakespeare’s play within Hamlet and it’s all happening in the play which is the story of Oxford’s authorship which is set within the framework of a modern play about the authorship question in the movie Anonymous. Yes, there will be a quiz!) It reminds me of the scene in Mad Men where Sally Draper talks to the neighbor boy about the infinity of little Land O’ Lakes Indians on the butter box (the Indian is holding the butter box with the picture of the Indian holding the butter box with the picture of the Indian holding the butter box…).

I think Shakespearean scholars (which I’m not) would catch all kinds of allusions in this film that go over my head. I think Shakespeare/Tudor film/TV buffs (which I’m not… keep your eye on BardFilm) will see all sorts of allusions to shows that go over my head (for example, I noticed Elizabeth’s finger sucking in her dotage, which I just happened to see Glenda Jackson do in the old BBC series Elizabeth R).

Love this film. Love it! I was so happy watching it! I was smiling through much of it and smiling on my way home! Oh my goodness, Rafe Spall playing Shakespeare does such a fully fantastic performance of this farcical jackass… I literally laughed out loud every time he appeared on screen. And can I say, thank you Rafe, for redeeming yourself in my eyes after that truly godawful film One Day… one of the few movies I would have walked out on, but my friend kept telling me it HAD to get better (it didn’t). Rafe Spall, you are redeemed. (I just want to point out that Rafe is the son of Timothy Spall who played the trippy Don Armado in Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost).

Rafe Spall’s Shakespeare is a relatively minor character in Anonymous. The film belongs to the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans who has been a fave of mine since the quirky Danny Deckchair). Oxford is also played well in his youth by Jamie Campbell Bower and  by Luke Thomas Taylor as a boy. Other fine characters here are Queen Elizabeth (played convincingly at different ages by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson), Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), and then there are the Cecils, Southampton, Essex, etc.

It’s a great story… and amazingly loose ends are tied, i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed! It makes perfect sense!

Just one more reminder, repeat after me: It’s fiction. It’s wonderful Shakespearean fiction! Enjoy!

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Shakespeare, With Balls

August 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations) (, , , , , , , , )

Bowling balls, that is. Oh. My. God. Let me explain.

What if… William Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?

Why would anyone ask themselves this question? No one is sure, including writer Adam Bertocci who wrote The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski in an inspired frenzy in late 2009 and saw it play on stage in New York City the following spring.

In his afterword, Bertocci points out that Elizabethans were constantly reworking earlier stories and that most of Shakespeare’s plays can be linked to obvious sources. He says, “This is my contention: If The Big Lebowski had premiered in 1598, Shakespeare would have ripped it off by 1603.”

I just finished reading it, and wowzas, it’s a bit funny. It’s an adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. If you don’t remember the story line, take a gander at the Wikipedia article. It’s an odd movie… the unemployed, laid-back, pot-smoking Dude (Jeff Bridges) and his Vietnam vet bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) are embroiled in goofy hijinks involving a rug, mistaken identity, a pseudo-kidnapping, missing ransom money, spiked White Russians, misplaced toes, ears, urine, and ashes, and well, throw in a bunch of F-bombs, and I think I’ve set the stage. Remember, it’s the Coen Brothers.

So, Bertocci took this and said “let’s make it Shakespearean.” He rewrote the entire story in Shakespeare-like heightened language, even throwing in Shakespearean references (he claims there are references to all the plays, sonnets, and other works and I believe him!). Bertocci follows the film’s plot closely and even works in the lyrics to some of the songs used in the film.

It somehow works. I can’t really convey how funny it is. It had me laughing out loud several times, and smiling with amusement most of the rest (it’s a really quick read if you are familiar with the movie… I just watched it on Netflix last week, so the story was fresh in my mind).

It is almost too difficult to pick out a few examples, as the whole thing is so hilarious and I feel like the examples will sound dumb out of context. Well, here is one. You may recall my love for Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothing. I started many of my posts with it and used it as my theme.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.

Bonnie asking the Knave to blow on her toes, from the DMTheatrics' production of The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, photo by Steph Cathro

Okay, so Bertocci’s reference to it in Two Gentlemen of Lebowski is sung by Bonnie (Bunny in the film), the slutty porn star wife of the Big Lebowski as she asks the Knave (the Dude) to blow on her green toenail polish:

With toe-nails of verdant and forester’s green
With a hey-nonny-no and a hey-nonny-nonny
Blow thrice on my toe-nails and I’ll be thy queen
And ever preserve me as thine, blithe and Bonnie.

Bertocci also includes textual notes that are… ahem…worth reading. So on the same page as the reframed Balthasar’s song, I’ll take note of an example. Bonnie says to the Knave:

I ask this deed of you thrice now; and that which a damsel craves
constantly is the service of a tongue most moved in capability.
Look to my foot; I cannot reach that far. Blow, wind!

The accompanying note reads:

tongue most moved: i.e., capable of dexterous speech and cunning linguistics

Alrighty then. Another note later in the play:

lance: euphemism for penis; see also most nouns in Shakespeare

So it goes on in that vein, page after hilarious page. Okay, I can’t let go of the toe thing. You may recall in the movie that a severed toe is delivered to the Dude and it appears to be Bunny’s (with green polish). Walter denies that it’s Bunny’s toe. So, here is Walter’s reply in the TGOL version:

O toe!
Thou wouldst have a toe? A toe can be obtain’d.
Ways are known, Knave. Thou wilt not like to hear.
I’ll have a toe for thee this afternoon
Ere singeth cockerel at three o’clock.
These amateurs would have us soil’d with fear.

I really wish I could see a video of it in performance, but alas, the Coen Brothers have apparently put the kibosh on future productions. There are two short videos that are worth watching on the DMTheatrics’ American Shakespeare Factory archives. I can imagine with music and dancing, it would be a really fun show to see.

The Knave abideth.

The Knave bowling in his dreams, from DMTheatrics' production of The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, photo by Wojciech Wilczak

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Renaissance Rom-Com

August 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays, The Two Gentlemen of Verona) (, , , , )

I had the pleasure of watching Don Taylor’s 1983 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (part of the BBC’s Television Shakespeare series). This is one of Shakespeare’s first plays, and although it is not among his best, I find it entertaining. This BBC version remains close to the text and is easy-to-watch.

It is a straightforward Renaissance setting with lovely vistas and blue skies. Much of the courting in this courtly-love quadrangle takes place in a garden graced by statues of Amor (love) and Fides (Latin for trustworthiness). Early on, golden cherubs shoot an arrow into the sign for amor, cluing us into Proteus’s preference for following his heart at the expense of his integrity.

The play’s action is not particularly well-drawn, but Shakespeare returns in later plays to many themes raised here, so maybe it can be viewed as Shakespeare’s internship project. Proteus is a silly boy acting on infatuation, willing to give up his true love with Julia and his lifelong friendship with Valentine, hurting everyone along the way, in his efforts to win over the disdainful Silvia. Shakespeare ties up all the loose ends at the end of this play by creating a sudden and unexpected return to reality for Proteus, while everyone he has injured instantly forgives him, and all live happily ever after. It’s a bit far-fetched.

This production is fun to watch. Proteus and Valentine are both wide-eyed boys, falling in love at first sight with pretty girls and sharing trysts and secret kisses with them where ever they can. Silvia is portrayed as the other-worldly woman on a pedestal — as she walks (lightly, in flowing gowns), flower petals are strewn on her from above. She’s the object of everyone’s infatuation.

Poor Julia, who dresses as the boy Sebastian in order to visit her wayward love Proteus in Milan, is lovely and heartbroken when she sees Proteus throwing himself at Silvia.

The comic foils in this play, Speed and Launce (along with his dog, Crab), are great fun with their quick-witted wordplay, often mocking the courtly lovers. I especially enjoy Speed, Valentine’s quick-talking and always-smiling servant, who is played here by a teenager.

Along with the set and costumes, the music in this version is lovely. From the chorus at the beginning to quiet lutes in the courtly garden, the Renaissance-inspired music is a nice addition.

The other thing I really enjoy here are the actors’ facial expressions. Valentine’s wide-eyed adoration of Silvia, Speed’s mischievous smiles, Julia’s heartbroken sadness as she listens to Proteus serenade Silvia… the actors do a great job. I think my favorite of all is the Duke of Milan (played by Paul Daneman) whose steely glare and raised eyebrow show that he knows exactly what kind of “friend” Proteus is for telling him of young Valentine’s secret plan to elope with his daughter Silvia. That is a great moment.

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Shakespeare Behind Bars

March 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays, The Tempest) (, , , , , )

The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
(The Tempest, V.i.27-28)

Shakespeare Behind Bars is a documentary about Curt Tofteland’s work with inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky.  He worked with groups of about 20-25 inmates each year to produce one of Shakespeare’s plays. The film focuses on the group’s practices during 2002, culminating in their 2003 production of The Tempest.

It’s amazing. I can’t get over how touched I am by this film. It is very complex emotionally. I felt like I really got to know some of the inmates involved. The film follows them as they discuss and rehearse the play, but it also takes time to let several of the inmates speak about themselves and their crimes and their time in prison.

T-I-M-E. The film gives you a glimpse into prison life. What I find most upsetting is the T-I-M-E involved. For me, and most people around me, there are not enough hours in the day to do everything we need and want to do. These men are serving long sentences and they have nothing but T-I-M-E on their hands. I found this a bit overwhelming to really consider. A man in his 20s, in prison on two life sentences with no possibility of parole, and he has nothing, absolutely nothing, but T-I-M-E on his hands. For the rest of his life.

Enter Curt Tofteland who volunteers his time to teach these men about Shakespeare (actually the warden speaks about the many educational programs at this institution and how his mission is to train the inmates to return to society, so I am sure this is just one of many worthwhile programs available to them). Tofteland is a mentor to these men who are sorely in need of mentoring. Tofteland says about Shakespeare, “He never ceases to teach me. He’s my mentor. His gift truly was insight into human behavior that is as true now as it was 400 years ago.”

You can feel the inmates coming to grips with the truths they find speaking through their characters as they work on the play. An inmate named Red was given the part of Miranda, and at first was quite upset about it, but as he got into the part, he realized there was a lot Miranda had to say to him personally. It seemed almost uncanny, karma, that he got this part that spoke so clearly to him and his own issues. He says, “Miranda helped me to deal with some of the things that was inside of me that needed to be developed, needed to come out.”

Sammie (who plays Trinculo), appears in the film as a sweet and thoughtful man, a hard worker, and someone you wouldn’t mind as a neighbor or co-worker. It’s hard to mesh that image with his description of his crime: he had already been in and out of prison twice and then he strangled his girlfriend in a fit of rage when she was threatening to expose their affair to his wife. You see, I say complex emotions. These are men who have done horrible things. Sammie admits tearfully that it is difficult for him to forgive himself, and find any goodness in himself knowing what he did.

Another inmate, Hal (he plays the part of Prospero), killed his pregnant wife by drawing her a bath, dropping a hairdryer into the water, and then making it look like an accident. He had much to get out of this play about forgiveness. He said, “Self-forgiveness doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s kind of hollow. I try to find deeper meaning in my life. This can’t be it. This can’t be what my life is all about and what my actions have caused.”

Tofteland says that these men have already been judged and sentenced by society, so he doesn’t feel the need to judge them himself. He simply goes in and works with them. The heart and soul that they put into their practice and their performance is amazing. This is a film that’s well worth watching.

I found out about it because Tofteland will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company at 7:30 PM on April 1 at Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia, Maryland. If you are in the DC/Baltimore area and you can get in (space is very limited) you may want to catch this. The film is available on Netflix.

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Wherefore Art Thou Gnomeo?

March 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm (Film Adaptations, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Here’s the post you have all been waiting for! I have had no time to read Shakespeare lately, but I did have time to go to a movie on a rainy day today, and the kids wanted to see Gnomeo and Juliet. We waited out in the cold rain in a long line and we finagled the last tickets to the sold-out show (and boy, I woulda been p.o.’d if I’d waited in the rain and been turned away!). Got into the show a little late, but I think we only missed a minute or two. Had to sit in the front row, so have a bit of a crick in my neck now from staring up at the screen.

So, ummm, yeah. That’s how I spent my afternoon. Goofy pottery garden gnomes: blue ones at the blue house, red ones next door. You guessed it. They don’t get along. Blue Gnomeo falls for red Juliet. Froggie Nanette (aka Juliet’s Nurse) warns Juliet. The talking statue of Bill Shakespeare warns Gnomeo. There can be no happy ending, right?

Wrong. There are several moments when we believe our hero is a goner, but it’s just a tempest in a teapot. Tybalt crashes dramatically to smithereens, but nothing a pot of apoxy won’t fix.

Worth watching? I don’t know. Not to me. I am not a fan of many modern kids movies. All the animated hyper-drive silliness. As far as Shakespearean… um, really, I think Romeo and Juliet Sealed with a Kiss did a slightly better job sticking with the story. I don’t remember drag racing and a giant lawnmower/earthmover in Shakespeare’s version. I can’t remember Elton John singalongs, either. 

Was it awful? No, it’s watchable. Mildly amusing. I kind of enjoyed one line (in the whole movie! yay me!) where Juliet’s dad says she needs to be put back up on her pedestal for good. And she’s glued there. I thought there was some insight there. But it was fleeting.

The kids didn’t mind any of this or the inconveniences, getting soaked in the rain, almost getting sold out, no time for popcorn, sitting almost under the screen. They loved this movie! Mesmerized. There was a round of applause from the full house at the end! Bravo!

P.S. I’m going to really, really try to get back to my project here and actually read Shakespeare! I need it! Love’s Labour’s Lost, here I come!

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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

January 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

Wow, six hours of staring at Tim Curry playing William Shakespeare, and really it made me long (for pretty much the whole six hours) to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. That would be much more entertaining. This 1978 British TV series, Will Shakespeare (also released as “Life of Shakespeare”), is a bit hard to watch.

This series is six episodes on two discs and it’s available on Netflix. There are no subtitles available on these discs, and I missed them. Between the British accents and background music/noise it was hard following the first disc. The second disc didn’t give me as much of a problem (maybe I got used to the accents). 

I was excited to see my friend John McEnery in this series. I loved him as Mercutio in my old favorite, Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, here he is wasted as a neighbor in Stratford. There is no need for this character, who appears to just hang out a lot with Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway while Will is away in London. I guess it would be awkward to have Anne talking to herself, so they placed an extra body in the room. Too bad.

Then we have Curry as the Bard. I am not a huge Tim Curry fan, although I like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He is totally trapped in that Dr. Frank-N-Furter character for me (even more, maybe, than Keanu Reeves will always be Ted on an excellent adventure).

Frank-N-Furter, yes. Shakespeare, iffy. Very iffy for me. Especially as the young, curly-haired Shakespeare of the first disc where he looks just like Frank-N-Furter (this series was filmed only a couple of years after Rocky Horror). For me, Curry as Shakespeare lacks the charm of say, Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love. He has a creepy/sinister thing going that is difficult to get past.

Matter of fact, a lot of this series suffers from creepy/sinister. The first episode centers on Christopher Marlowe. There is a long creepy/sinister scene in a (spa? club? bathroom?) with lots of mirrors and Marlowe’s head in a mud mask. Weird. Marlowe’s creepy/sinister boy toy is involved in underhanded shenanigans and a hard-to-follow payola thing that contributes to the end of Marlowe. Whatever.

Then there is creepy/sinister actor Jack Rice, whose mother’s body is quietly dumped by Shakespeare in the river to avoid alerting the authorities who would close down the theater if they knew she died of plague. Jack loves to play the girl parts in the plays and whenever he is on the scene in his heavy makeup and admiring himself in the mirror, I am reminded of Tales from the Crypt.

The creepy/sinister theme continues with the Earl of Southampton, who is shown over and over and over again on the first disc dining with Shakespeare at opposite ends of a 30 foot table while they silently stare daggers at each other, apparently having a lovers spat over Shakespeare’s unrequited infatuation with his dark lady of the sonnets.

The second disc continues the creepy theme. Creepy/bitchy Anne Hathaway. Creepy/silent son Hamnet. Creepy/terrifying Queen Elizabeth. And it is creepy the way Shakespeare ages and balds while Southampton remains lovely.

In addition to creepiness, there are extended, hard-to-follow intrigues involving Southampton and Essex and the Queen (and maybe Shakespeare). I did not really follow the plot a fair amount of the time, and by the end of the six hours I didn’t care.

Hmmm, I think I need to make some toast and find Rocky Horror playing at a midnight movie. I remember… doing the Time Warp…

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Shakespeare’s Stratford

December 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, )

I know. I need to start reading Shakespeare again. I will. Maybe next week. In the meantime, I watched a travelogue tribute to the Bard’s hometown. Shakespeare’s Stratford is a 3-hour tour of Stratford. A 3-hour tour. (I’m humming the Gilligan’s Island theme.)

This video takes us to various locations all around Stratford, including properties owned by the Shakespeare birthplace trust. We tour the birthplace. We see his mom Mary Arden’s home (which it turns out was misidentified with a neighboring house for years and the actual Arden home was saved by chance). We see his wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage with its cozy-looking thatched roof. His daughter Suzanna’s house. His granddaughter’s house. The school he went to. The church where he was baptised and buried. Along the way, we hear the stories of each place told by the people who work there. It’s fun. It’s informative.

Okay, I will admit to having a nearly superhuman tolerance for historic home tours. Seriously, I have walked through hundreds of houses. I like it. I like looking at the old furniture, hearing the old stories, wondering what it was like way back when. And… I’ve visited Stratford and been to most of the places featured in the show (over 20 years ago, but still). I would go again. I don’t get tired of the whole thing.

Yet there’s something oddly off about this show. It’s very low budget. I think I could have filmed it. It looks like it was made all in one day — a really windy, gray, ugly winter day. The audio is often bad, especially on the docents and people being interviewed. The host, Stratford native Sue Sutton, is an odd duck. Poor thing, she is forever windblown. She really could have used a stylist (or at least a comb through her hair).

Sutton purposely asks unusual questions at nearly every location. It was sort of like taking my 9-year-old son on the tour and hearing him ask cringe-worthy toilet-related questions and then giggle as the tour guides deal neatly with the queries they’ve probably heard a zillion times. For example, Sutton gets into an extended discussion of Shakespeare’s son-in-law’s hemorrhoids. We hear about the purges (both upward and downward) that doctors prescribed back then. We hear how the privy slosh got poured on the gardens as fertilizer. And now I know why there were canopies on beds (to keep bugs, rat droppings, etc. from falling from the organically active thatched roof into the open mouths of snoring sleepers!).

It goes on in that vein. There’s a lovely explanation of the clothing worn by various members of a well-to-do sixteenth century farming household. And then Sutton asks a costumed reenactor to explain the mechanics of the codpiece on his pants. We learn that scientists identified the year that the timbers were felled for the Hathaway cottage (1460something) and then we hear how cow dung was essential in its wattle and daub construction. And finally (by then, not surprisingly!), Sue Sutton tells us she was named for Shakespeare’s daughter Suzanna, because like her, she was conceived several months before her parents married (when her father, an RSC actor, saw a ghost of William Shakespeare). Alrighty.

Worth my while? Yeah, I liked it. Except now I feel cold. Worth your while? Maybe, maybe not.

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Silent Shakespeare

December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Asides, Film Adaptations, The Merchant of Venice) (, , )

I love his words. But I also love the stories, and so I can thoroughly enjoy a ballet based on Shakespeare.  I saw Netflix offered The Milestone Collection: Silent Shakespeare and I thought I’d give it a try.

It was interesting. It includes brief (most are one reel — about 10 minutes) renditions of seven plays: King John (Britain, 1899), The Tempest (Britain, 1908), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (USA, 1909), King Lear (Italy, 1910), Twelfth Night (USA, 1910), The Merchant of Venice (Italy, 1910), Richard III (Britain, 1911).

I enjoyed the pace. I found the silent movies, with their lovely music, very relaxing to watch. Yet because the plots are so abbreviated, the stories move right along. Some of the films are incomplete or jump around, but they’re interesting to watch. I like the stylized acting and the facial expressions. It’s fun to watch. Such a different era.

The costumes are nice. I liked seeing actual Athenians dressed in Greek attire in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I enjoyed seeing the Merchant of Venice filmed on location in Venice! Beautiful! Two of the films, King Lear and the Merchant of Venice are tinted with beautiful colors. I don’t know what the process was they used, but the skin remains black and white–only the clothing and some of the backgrounds are vivid. It’s an interesting contrast!

Okay, let’s face it… this is an oddity. I could not always follow the story lines and I admit to fast-forwarding through some of it, but still, I thought it was pretty cool to see these early films!

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An About Face

November 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

I’ve changed my mind. I like Love’s Labour’s Lost now. It’s been months since I posted about it, but I really disliked this play before. I found it so pretentious and annoying, all the characters seemed smarmy, overly-wordy and self-important. Blech.

It’s all changed now. I watched Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost from Shakespeare’s Globe and all is well. I couldn’t be more surprised at how this video of a stage production at London’s Globe Theatre could change my perspective on this play. This passage from the notes that accompany the DVD explain the difference:

During the play, Shakespeare makes fun of pedantry and pompousness, of wordiness and worthiness and of academic posturing in general. Any literary dons that recognise none of themselves in Love’s Labour’s Lost are at best unsporting and at worst obtuse. But anyone new to Shakespeare, perhaps worried about being confused or intimidated by the language, would probably not be grateful for the play’s obscure allusions, knotted wordplay and long passages in Latin. A good production, then, must ensure that such qualities are presented as the butt of the joke, rather than crucial pieces of plot. This, thankfully, is the approach taken by Dominic Dromgoole’s production, and it plays no small part in the production’s success.

All I can say is three cheers for Dominic Dromgoole! Instead of getting weighed down by the wordy wit and wordplay I found myself just enjoying the farce of the situations and the wonderful silliness of the characters.

The cast of zany characters in this play really shines. Costard (played by Fergal McElherron) is over-the-top fun throughout the play. This take on Costard whispers to me of Michael Keaton’s bizarre portrayal of Dogberry in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. But where Keaton’s Dogberry seemed to me distractingly weird, McElherron’s Costard seems on the money. I get a big kick out of Costard’s scene about remuneration (the money he takes from Don Armado for delivering a love letter to Jacquenetta). I had seen the scene analyzed in Playing Shakespeare, where it was an example of the Elizabethan love for words and language. Great fun!

Dull (played by Andrew Vincent) is sincerely (to great comic effect) dull. Don Armado (Paul Ready) is hilariously goofy. Boyet (Tom Stuart) is a nosy sycophant, often dismissed by the princess with an eye roll. And I love the princess here (portrayed by Michelle Terry)–her strong personality shining through in every scene.

What’s lost in this production? The pedantry. And good riddance! The silly banter between the boys making their oath to study and give up food, sleep and women for three years is hilarious! The ridiculous conversations between Holofernes and Nathaniel are dealt with lightly — they are a minor part of the show and there is no labour lost worrying about what the heck they are talking about.

Unfortunately, I think some of the banter between Berowne and Rosaline is also lost here. I don’t see much chemistry between the two in this production. I like Trystan Gravelle’s Berowne, but I find Thomasin Rand a bit mechanical in her delivery of Rosaline’s lines, and the interchanges lose their sizzle.

Speaking of mechanical, the play within the play here, The Nine Worthies, is really funny. The set up is very like the set up for the mechanicals’ production of Pyramus and Thisby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (an ironic twist that the supposedly-learned Halofernes, Nathaniel and Armado are among the “rustics” made fun of here). As with P&T, there is much heckling of the players from the royal audience. It’s very funny and ends in total chaos here, with wrestling and a food fight.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It’s great entertainment, the staging is fun and imaginative, the set is simple, but lovely, the costumes are luscious, the music beautiful. If you’re looking for a good video representation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, look no further. It’s not on Netflix yet, but is available on Amazon and eBay. Enjoy!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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In Search of Shakespeare

November 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

I watched the 4-part 2004 PBS series In Search of Shakespeare with Michael Wood over the past few weeks and found it really enjoyable. It is lively and fun and brought the Bard to life for me. I am not vouching for its scholarship, but the series paints a plausible portrait of the man from Stratford. It’s very entertaining, at least. The series feels sort of like a travel showy-documentary-whodunnit with plenty of drama and excitement. It’s fun!

So, the tale told here is of Shakespeare, son of a Catholic family, and how perhaps his closet Catholicism (in the era of the Reformation) plays out in his life and work. Interesting!

The story is fleshed out with a great deal of documentation. Michael Wood is off to all corners of England, going through the Elizabethan paperwork that still exists in dusty corners of libraries throughout the land. I was kind of fascinated at the thought of scholars poring through all these old papers. It would seem a needle in the veritable haystack to come up with any reference to Shakespeare (with all its many spellings) in 400 year old documents in any random corner of England, but there  you have it. Somebody’s got to do it, I guess.

That sounds like it would be boring to watch, but it’s not. Wood is excitable and he gets ramped up about all this stuff he finds, and he lays the land very convincingly — you get a feel for the context of everything he presents and the possible implications for Shakespeare.

The Royal Shakespeare Company joins in the fun, presenting various Shakespearean plays in various places reminiscent of or actually where Shakespeare’s players played. There are a lot of bits and pieces of plays sprinkled throughout the series.

I recommend the series for some light entertainment. Like I said, I don’t vouch for the scholarship, but Wood presents a life of Shakespeare that seems very reasonable and understandable. He places the plays in the historical context and within a plausible life journey of Shakespeare. I found it convincing!

I enjoyed it and maybe learned quite a lot about what life was like back then, and maybe even what life was like for William Shakespeare. I have a picture in my mind now of a charming rake, with quite a bit of drinking and carousing and living the bachelor’s life in London and suffering a midlife crisis and falling in love with a married woman and dying a bit young after a drunken binge.

As Gavin Wilson, a reviewer on Amazon put it, “It is one of the regrets of so many adults that they wished they liked Shakespeare more … if only it wasn’t so much work to appreciate him, compared to ‘Friends’ etc. Here Michael makes him very digestible.” I agree wholeheartedly!

The PBS website is interesting and has quite a bit of information on it. There are lesson plans and other tools for teachers who want to use this series in the classroom. I think kids (say late elementary and up) would like it. PBS also sells the DVDs or you can watch it on Netflix.

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