Thursday, 29 April 2010

"To Be Or Not To Be…"

...A Shakespeare Lover.
Why are people so fond of adapting Shakespeare to screen? I do feel he’s arguably the greatest writer so I have no issues with it, but it’s really interesting how he’s adapted and then re-adapted and then adapted again, just for good measure. The man sure has left behind a legacy. Two films I’m anticipating this year are Shakespeare adaptations. The first is Julie Taymor’s The Tempest. I like, but don’t love, The Tempest and I’m not too enamoured with Taymor’s decision to change the sex of Prospero (even if the lovely Helen Mirren has been given the reins). The second is an updated version of Coriolanus, a play I’ve never read (but I’ve never been overly fond of his histories). But with Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Fiennes, I don’t see how I can say no.
I can’t say which adaptations of Shakespeare’s work are my favourites, although this list does pretend to be about that. But five incarnations come to mind immediately when I think of Shakespeare on film.
Hamlet (1948)
Olivier’s Hamlet has its issues, a number of them actually, but I’m always willing to forgive them – like Jean Simmons’ simpering Ophelia, Olivier’s obvious oldness, Herlie’s obvious youth – because it all comes together well. The film depends so much on the foreboding atmosphere, and with the black and white and the misty screen it’s so reclusively tense we can’t help but spiral down with Hamlet as he takes his journey. I guess, it did deserve it’s Best Picture win.
Much Ado About Nothing (1992)
Branagh and Emma Thomson sizzle on screen as Beatrice and Benedick, and though this too has its faults (Keanu Reeves, ugh) it’s all done well. I’m actually not a big fan of the actual play, but unlike many pieces it translates excellently to screen. I guess reading it can never compare to seeing it acted and Much Ado About Nothing doesn’t shirk on the joy of it all. It boasts one of Emma's most delightful performance, it's a pity it's become forgotten...
Twelfth Night (1996)
...forgotten like this. I always remember the lovely Helena Bonham Carter with affection in this. Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare play (an odd choice, I know), it’s perhaps my favourite play – period. There’s just something irresistible about the nuanced nature of the characters and the ridiculous machinations of the characters as subplot after subplot develops leading to perfectly delight conclusion. Imelda Staunton and Ben Kingsley too are worthy of remembrance. I can’t say why the film has become so forgotten…
The Taming of the Shrew (1967) (my review)
This film actually makes an appearance in my top 100, but has anyone seen it? This is Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor with the most chemistry between them. It’s sheer joy to watch them play excellently off each other in this farce piece. It may probably be a bit too irreverent for Shakespeare worshipers, but I’m sure that he would have enjoyed it for the sheer fervour with which they attack the lines.
Romeo & Juliet (1968 (my review
This is actually quite a simple choice. As I mentioned in my review of it, it’s close to perfection. Leonardo Whiting and Olivia Hussey are astounding as the eponymous characters and the ensemble cast backs them up well. It’s not at all maudlin and just as excellent as the original. I’m uncertain if any Shakespeare incarnation could ever top this?
What do you think? Is Zeffirelli’s take on the greatest love story a paragon of its genre as I believe, or do you have another favourite?


Univarn said...

We had to watch Zeffirelli's take on Romeo and Juliet in my 9th grade english class (almost 9 years ago, ugh that's so long ago!). I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I remember chuckling at it for being a bit hammy at times. But I could possibly write that up to teenage perception. I do need to revisit it.

Yojimbo said...

It is hammy. But, hormonally hammy, which feels right. The revolutionary thing about "Romeo and Juliet" through Zeffirelli is that he ACTUALLY cast kids in it, rather than, say, Liz & Dick.

Also, check out Mel Gibson's "Hamlet" (also Zeffirelli) and Branagh's (I saw a production of it last night with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart that emphasized the comedy--interesting). Branagh's "Henry V" is terrific, a breath of fresh air for that play. Also, check out things like Al Pacino's "Looking for Richard," "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," "and "Me and Orson Welles"--about Welles' staging of a Fascist "Julius Ceasar." The only time I'm disappointed with a Shakespeare adaptation is when it treats it "like a classic."

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

univarn yeah it was hammy, but as yojimbo hammy in a good way.

yojimbo i saw both those hamlets. i actually did a semi-thesis on comparing the three adaptations. i promised to post it, but how many people are drooling for a 4000 word essay from me? i like henry V the film fine, but i've never LOVED his histories.

Simon said...

So, as seems to be the consensus, everybody does Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade, which is the grade I'm in, and we have indeed done it. We've also watched both versions (that is, sixties and nineties). Personally, and this can indeed be chalked up to teenage POV, the sixties version was a bit crappy. I mean, the whole thing just looked so cheap--the sets looked cardboard, the costumes bought at a Halloween store--and the performances were either dull and uncreative or hammy and smug, and, I guess this is a problem with the nineties version too, but a lot of the actors only seemed to vaguely know what exactly they were saying--emphasizing at the wrong spots, etc. It was all very...weird. I guess I'm not one for things played straight. I can see why other people like it, though.

I also liked Henry III, because of McKellen and co. And, though this isn't technically Shakespeare, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Have a nice day.

anahita said...

ooooh twelfth night is my favourite shakespeare play too!!! although the 1996 romeo + juliet is my favourite screen adaptation of a shakespeare play - tis just so beautiful xx

Anonymous said...

I love Twelfe Night too, but you made a mistake: 1996 adaptation starring Helena Bonham Carter isn't by Branagh. :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

anon thanks. such a weird gaffe because i know that, but i always think it because i know branagh loved his shakespeare in the time. thanks for the correction.