REBLOG: British Council – #ShakespeareNoFilter

Reblogged from: Scarlet’s Web (BookLikes)

www.shakespearelives.org/explore/shakespearenofilter

As part of our Shakespeare Lives programme, we are retelling three of the Bard’s most iconic plays through the lens of Instagram! Set throughout Europe, these modern adaptions will inspire and intrigue. This is where you can catch up with the stories so far, and on Instagram you can follow @britishcouncileurope to watch them unfold in real time…

#ShakespeareNoFilter | British Council

#ShakespeareNoFilter | British Council

#ShakespeareNoFilter | British Council

http://www.shakespearelives.org/explore/shakespearenofilter

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1453590/shakespearenofilter

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DEAD POETS SOCIETY

And what will your verse be in the poem of life?

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden.)

Hands up folks, how many of us discovered Thoreau after having watched this movie? Really discovered I mean, regardless whether you had known he’d existed before. How many believe they know what Thoreau was talking about in that passage about “sucking the marrow out of life,” cited in the movie, even if you didn’t spend the next 2+ years of your life living in a self-constructed cabin on a pond in the woods? How many bought a copy of Whitman’s poems … whatever collection? (And maybe even read more than Oh Captain! My Captain!?) How many went on to read Emerson? Frost? Or John Keats, on whose personality Robin Williams‘s John Keating is probably loosely based? To many people, this movie has a powerful appeal like few others and has proven inspirational far above and beyond the effect of an ordinary movie experience. And justifiedly so, despite the fact that charismatic Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), one of the story’s main characters, tragically falters in the pursuit of his dreams, in the wake of apparent triumph. Because although Neil’s story is one of failure, ultimately this film is a celebration of the triumph of free will, independent thinking and the growth of personality; embodied in its closing scene.

Of course, lofty goals such as these are not easily achieved. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) in particular, the last scene’s triumphant hero, is literally pushed to the edge of reason before he learns to overcome his inhibitions. And Thoreau warned in Walden: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Anyone who takes this movie’s message to heart (and Thoreau‘s, and Whitman’s, and Emerson’s, Frost’s and Keats’s) knows that success too easily won is often no success at all, and most important accomplishments are based on focus, tenacity and hard work as much as anything else. And prudence, too – dashing Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) pays a terrible price for his spur-of-the-moment challenges of authority; although of course you just gotta love him for refusing to sign Keatings’ indictment. “Carpe diem” – live life to its fullest, but also know what you are doing. You won’t enjoy this movie if you are afraid of letting both your mind and your feelings run free.

Shot on the magnificent location of Delaware’s St. Andrews Academy, Dead Poets Society is visually stunning, particularly in its depiction of the amazingly beautiful scenery (where the progression of the seasons mirrors the progression of the movie’s story line), and as emotionally engaging as it invites you to reexamine your position in life. Robin Williams delivers another Academy Award-worthy performance (he was nominated but unfortunately didn’t win). Of course, Robin Williams will to a certain extent always be Robin WilliamsAladdin‘s Genie, Good Morning Vietnam‘s Adrian Cronauer and Good Will Hunting‘s Professor McGuire (the 1997 role which would finally earn him his long overdue Oscar) all shimmer through in his portrayal of John Keating; and if you’ve ever seen him give an interview you know that the man could go from hilarious and irreverent to deeply reflective in a split second even when it wasn’t a movie camera that was rolling. Yet, the black sheep among Welton Academy’s teachers assumes as distinct and memorable a personality as any other one of Williams‘s film characters.

Of its many Academy Award nominations (in addition to Robin Williams‘s nomination for best leading actor, the movie was also nominated in the best picture, best director [Peter Weir] and best original screenplay categories), Dead Poets Society ultimately only won the Oscar for Tom Schulman’s script. But more importantly, it has long since won it’s viewers’ lasting appreciation, and for a reason. – As the Poet said: “Camerado! This is no book; Who touches this, touches a man” (Walt Whitman, So Long!), this is no movie; who watches this, watches himself!

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Touchstone Pictures (1989)
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Producers: Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • Screenplay: Tom Schulman
  • Music: Maurice Jarre
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: John Seale
  • Casting: Howard Feuer
Cast
  • Robin Williams: John Keating
  • Robert Sean Leonard: Neil Perry
  • Ethan Hawke: Todd Anderson
  • Josh Charles: Knox Overstreet
  • Gale Hansen: Charlie Dalton
  • Dylan Kussman: Richard Cameron
  • Allelon Ruggiero: Steven Meeks
  • James Waterston: Gerard Pitts
  • Norman Lloyd: Mr. Nolan
  • Kurtwood Smith: Mr. Perry
  • Carla Belver: Mrs. Perry
  • Leon Pownall: McAllister

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1990)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Tom Schulman
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 100 Inspiring Films: No. 52
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 95th: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
National Board of Review Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Top Ten Films of 1989: No. 6
Political Film Society (USA) (1990)
  • Democracy Award
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1989)
  • BAFTA Film Awards, Best Film: Peter Weir / Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • BAFTA Film Awards; Best Original Film Score: Maurice Jarre
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1990)
  • Top Box Office Films: Maurice Jarre
Golden Screen (Germany) (1991)
  • Golden Screen
Jupiter Awards (Germany) (1990)
  • Best International Film: Peter Weir
  • Best International Actor: Robin Williams
Guild of German Art House Cinemas (1991)
  • Guild Film Award – Gold, Ausländischer Film (Foreign Film): Peter Weir
César Awards (France) (1991)
  • Meilleur film étranger (Best Foreign Film)
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1990)
  • Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Film)
Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) (Italy)
  • Regista del Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Director): Peter Weir
Online Film & Television Association (USA) (2015)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame, Motion Picture
Artios Awards (Casting Society of America) (1990)
  • Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama: Howard Feuer
Young Artist Awards (USA) (1990)
  • Best Motion Picture, Drama

 

Links

REBLOG: Here’s What Shakespeare’s Plays Sounded Like With Their Original English Accent

This is beyond awesome.

Reblogged from: Libromancer’s Apprentice (BookLikes)

 

twentytwowords.com/performing-shakespeares-plays-with-their-original-english-accent

 

Hey, Troy – this strikes me as something you’d be interested in.

I’m loving the jokes that they’re discovering b/c of this.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1450932/here-s-what-shakespeare-s-plays-sounded-like-with-their-original-english-accent

A FEW GOOD MEN

Unit – Corps – God – Country

How much critical thought can the military allow its rank and file? Certainly most orders must be followed unquestioningly; otherwise ultimately the entire Armed Services would collapse. But where do you draw the line? Does it matter how well soldiers know not only their military but also their civic duties? Does it matter whether trials against members of the military are handled by way of court-martials, or before a country’s ordinary (civil) courts?

I first saw A Few Good Men as an in-flight movie, and after the first couple of scenes I thought that for once they’d really picked the right kind of flick: A bit clichéd (yet another idle, unengaged lawyer being dragged into vigorously pursuing a case against his will), but good actors, a good director and a promising storyline.

Then the movie cut from the introductory scenes in Washington, D.C. to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Jack Nicholson (Colonel Nathan Jessup) inquired: “Who the fuck is PFC William T. Santiago?”

And suddenly I was all eyes and ears.

Director Rob Reiner and Nicholson’s costars describe on the movie’s DVD how from the first time Nicholson spoke this (his very first) line in rehearsal he had everybody’s attention; and the overall bar for a good performance immediately rose to new heights. Based on my own reaction, I believe them sight unseen. Or actually, not really “unseen,” as the result of Nicholson’s influence is there for everybody to watch: Never mind that he doesn’t actually have all that much screen time, his intensity as an actor and the personality of his character, Colonel Jessup, dominate this movie more than anything else; far beyond the now-famous final showdown with Tom Cruise’s Lieutenant Kaffee. Nobody could have brought more power to the role of Jessup than Nicholson, no other actor made him a more complex figure, and nobody delivered his final speech so as to force you to think about the issues he (and this film) addresses; and that despite all the movie’s clichés: The reluctant lawyer turning out a courtroom genius (as lead counsel in a murder trial, barely a year out of law school and without any prior trial experience, no less), the son fighting to rid himself of a deceased superstar-father’s overbearing shadow, and the “redneck” background of the victim’s superior officer Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland, who nevertheless milks the role for all it’s worth).

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who adapted his own play, reportedly based the story’s premise – the attempted cover-up of a death resulting from an illegal pseudo-disciplinary action – on a real-life case that his sister, a lawyer, had come across in the JAG Corps. (Although even if I take his assertion at face value that assigning the matter to a junior lawyer without trial experience was part of the cover-up, I still don’t believe the real case continued the way it does here. But be that as it may.) Worse, the victim is a marine serving at “Gitmo,” the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, where any kind of tension assumes an entirely different dimension than in virtually any other location. In come Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and co-counsels Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), assigned to defend the two marines held responsible for Santiago’s death; Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall), who claim to have acted on Kendrick’s orders to subject Santiago to a “code red,” an act of humiliating peer-punishment, after Santiago had gone outside the chain of command to rat on a fellow marine (none other than Dawson), attempting to obtain a transfer out of “Gitmo.” But while Kendrick sternly denies having given any such order and prosecuting attorney Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon) is ready to have the defendants’ entire company swear that Kendrick actually ordered them to leave Santiago alone, Kaffee and Co. believe their clients’ story – which ultimately leads them to Jessup himself, as it is unthinkable that the event should have occurred without his knowledge or even at his specific orders.

By the time of this movie’s production, Tom Cruise had made the part of the shallow youngster suddenly propelled into manhood one of his trademark characters (see, e.g., The Color of Money, Top Gun and Rain Man); nevertheless, he manages to (mostly) elevate Kaffee’s part above cardboard level. Demi Moore gives one of her strongest-ever performances as Commander Galloway, who would love to be lead counsel herself in accordance with the entitlements of her rank, but overcomes her disappointment to push Kaffee to a top-notch performance instead. Kevin Pollack’s, Kevin Bacon’s and J.T. Walsh (Jessup’s deputy Lt.Col. Markinson)’s performances are straight-laced enough to easily be overlooked, but they’re fine throughout and absolutely crucial foils for Kaffee, Galloway and Jessup; and so, vis-à-vis Dawson, is James Marshall’s shy, scared Downey, who is clearly in way over his head. The movie’s greatest surprise, however, is Wolfgang Bodison, who, although otherwise involved with the production, had never acted before being drafted by Rob Reiner solely on the basis of his physical appearance, which matched Dawson’s better than any established actor’s; and who gives a stunning performance as the young Lance Corporal who will rather be convicted of murder than take an unhonorable plea bargain, yet comes to understand the full complexity of his actions upon hearing the jury’s verdict.

“Unit – corps – God – country” is the code of honor according to which, Dawson tells Kaffee, the marines at “Gitmo” live their lives; and Colonel Jessup declares that under his command orders are followed “or people die,” and words like “honor,” “code” and “loyalty” to him are the backbone of a life spent defending freedom. Proud words for sure: But for the “code red,” but for the trespass over that invisible line between a legal and an immoral, illegal order they might well be justified. That line, however, exists, and is drawn even in a non-public court-martial. I’d like to believe that insofar at least, this movie gets it completely right.

 

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures (1992)
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Executive Producers: William S. Gilmore & Rachel Pfeffer
  • Producers: Rob Reiner / Andrew Scheinman / David Brown
  • Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
  • Based on a play by: Aaron Sorkin
  • Music: Marc Shaiman
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Robert Richardson
Cast
  • Jack Nicholson: Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC
  • Tom Cruise: Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, USN JAG Corps
  • Demi Moore: Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN JAG Corps
  • Kevin Bacon: Captain Jack Ross, USMC, Judge Advocate Division
  • Kiefer Sutherland: Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick, USMC
  • Kevin Pollak: Lieutenant Sam Weinberg, USN JAG Corps
  • Wolfgang Bodison: Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson, USMC
  • James Marshall: PFC Louden Downey, USMC
  • J.T. Walsh: Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Andrew Markinson, USMC
  • J.A. Preston: Judge (Colonel) Randolph, USMC
  • Noah Wyle: Corporal Jeffrey Owen Barnes, USMC
  • Cuba Gooding Jr.: Corporal Carl Hammaker, USMC
  • Matt Craven: Lieutenant Dave Spradling, USN JAG Corps
  • John M. Jackson: Captain West, USN, JAG Corps
  • Christopher Guest: Dr. (Commander) Stone, USN MC
  • Michael DeLorenzo: PFC William T. Santiago, USMC

 

Major Awards and Honors

American Film Institute (AFI)
  • 10 Top 10 (10 greatest US films in 10 classic genres) – Courtroom Dramas: No. 5
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 29th: “You can’t handle the truth!” (Colonel Nathan R. Jessup)
National Board of Review Awards (1992)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
ASCAP Awards (1994)
  • Top Box Office Films: Marc Shaiman
MTV Movie Awards (1993)
  • Best Movie

 

Links

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

“It’s not the jury’s judgment that worries me. It’s mine.”

“No more murder cases,” is the doctor’s strict prohibition upon reluctantly releasing renowned barrister and recent heart attack survivor Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) from hospital. (Although even the word “release” seems to be a matter of some dispute here, because according to Sir Wilfrid’s nurse Miss Plimsoll [Elsa Lanchester], he was “expelled for conduct unbecoming a cardiac patient.” But let’s leave that aside for now.) And following the doctor’s orders, Sir Wilfrid’s staff have lined up an array of civil cases: a divorce, a tax appeal, and a marine insurance claim – surely those will satisfy their hard-to-please employer’s demands?

Err … not likely.

So, try as he might to be a good patient, Sir Wilfrid needs only little encouragement to accept the case of handsome drifter and small-time inventor Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering his rich benefactress Emily French (Norma Varden). Of course, the very circumstances that most disturb the famous barrister’s colleagues Mayhew and Brogan-Moore (Henry Daniell and John Williams) – Mrs. French’s infatuation with Vole, his visit to her on the night of the murder, the lack of an alternative suspect and his inheritance under her new will – just make the matter more interesting in Sir Wilfrid’s eyes. Most problematic, however, is Vole’s alibi, which depends entirely on the testimony of his German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich), an actress he had met when stationed with the RAF in WWII-ravaged Hamburg. Troubling, insofar, isn’t only that Christine is her husband’s sole alibi witness and that – Sir Wilfrid explains – a devoted wife’s testimony doesn’t carry much weight anyway. The real problem is that Christine isn’t the loving, desperate wife one might expect: far from that, she is cool, calculating and surprisingly self-controlled; so much so that, worried because he cannot figure out her game, Sir Wilfrid decides not let her testify at all, rather than risk damaging his case. That, however, seems to have been one of his illustrious career’s few major miscalculations – because now he and his client suddenly have to face Christine as a witness for the prosecution. And her testimony on the stand is only one of several surprises that she has in store.

Witness for the Prosecution is based on a concept that Agatha Christie first realized as a four-person short story (published in the 1933 collection The Hound of Death) and subsequently adapted into what she herself would later call her best play, which opened in London in 1953 and in 1954 on Broadway, where it won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle citation as Best Foreign Play. Throughout the adaptations the storyline was fleshed out more and more, the focus shifted from the work of solicitor Mayherne (whose name changed to Mayhew) to that of QC Sir Wilfrid Robarts, and the screenplay ingeniously added Miss Plimsoll’s character, utilizing the proven on-screen chemistry of real-life spouses Laughton and Lanchester, for whom this was an astonishing eleventh collaboration, and whose banter bristles with director / co-screenwriter Billy Wilder’s dry wit and the fireworks of the couple’s pricelessly deadpan delivery, timing and genuine joy of performing together.

Perhaps most importantly, the story’s ending changed: not entirely, but enough to give it a different and, albeit very dramatic, less cynical slant than the short story’s original conclusion. – To those of us who have grown up with Christie‘s works, those of her idol Conan Doyle and on a steady diet of Perry Mason, Rumpole of the Bailey and the many subsequent other fictional attorneys, the plot twists of Witness for the Prosecution (including its ending) may not come as a major surprise. At the moment of the movie’s release, however, the ending was a much-guarded secret; viewers were encouraged not to reveal it both in the movie’s trailer and at the beginning of the film itself; and even the Royal Family were sworn to silence before a private showing. Similarly, features such as the skillful, methodical unveiling of a seemingly upstanding, disinterested witness’s hidden bias in cross-examination have long become standard fare in both real and fictional courtrooms, and any mystery fan worth their salt has heard more than one celluloid attorney yell at a cornered witness: “Were you lying then or are you lying now?” (Not recommended in real-life trial practice, incidentally.) Yet, in these and other respects it was Witness for the Prosecution which laid the groundwork for many a courtroom drama to come; and herein lies much of its ongoing importance.

Moreover, this is simply an outstandingly-acted film; not only by Laughton, Lanchester and a perfectly-cast Marlene Dietrich but by every single actor, also including Torin Thatcher (prosecutor Mr. Myers), Francis Compton (the presiding Judge) and, most noteably, Una O’Connor (Mrs. French’s disgruntled housekeeper). This is true even if Tyrone Power’s emotional outbursts in court may be bewildering to today’s viewers – and even if one wonders why an American-born star was acceptable for an Englishman’s role without even having to bother trying to put on an English accent in the first place, whereas Dietrich and other non-native English speakers of the period, like Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, were routinely cast as foreigners. (Yes, yes, I know. Redford and Out of Africa come to mind somewhat more recently, too, but that’s a can of worms I won’t reopen here.)

Witness for the Prosecution won a Golden Globe for Elsa Lanchester, but unfortunately none of its six Oscar nominations (which undeservedly didn’t even include Marlene Dietrich), taking second seat to the year’s big winner Bridge on the River Kwai in the Best Picture, Best Director (David Lean), Best Actor (Alec Guinness) and Best Editing categories, and to Sayonara for Best Supporting Acress (Miyoshi Umeki) and Best Sound. No matter: with the noirish note resulting from its use of multiple levels of ambiguity – in noticeable contrast to Christie‘s Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries – it fits seamlessly next to such Billy Wilder masterpieces as Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity; and it has long since become a true classic, courtroom and otherwise.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: MGM / United Artists (1957)
  • Director: Billy Wilder
  • Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
  • Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Harry Kurnitz
  • Adaptation: Laurence B. “Larry” Marcus
  • Based on a play (and short story) by: Agatha Christie
  • Music: Matty Malneck
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Russell Harlan
Cast
  • Tyrone Power: Leonard Vole
  • Marlene Dietrich: Christine Vole
  • Charles Laughton: Sir Wilfrid Robarts
  • Elsa Lanchester: Miss Plimsoll
  •  Henry Daniell: Mayhew
  • John Williams: Brogan-Moore
  • Torin Thatcher: Mr. Myers
  • Francis Compton: Judge
  • Norma Varden: Mrs. Emily Jane French
  • Una O’Connor: Janet MacKenzie
  • Ian Wolfe: Carter
  • Philip Tonge: Inspector Hearne 

 

Major Awards and Honors

Golden Globes (1958)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Elsa Lanchester
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • 10 Top 10 (10 greatest US films in 10 classic genres) – Courtroom Drama: No. 6

 

Links

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

A Dainty Dish

Ever since his Oscar-nominated Henry V adaptation, Kenneth Branagh has come up with a simple, effective recipe: Blend 3 parts English actors well-versed in all things “Bard” with 1 or 2 parts Hollywood, sprinkle the mixture liberally over one of Shakespeare‘s plays, lift the material out of its original temporal and local context to provide an updated meaning, and garnish it by casting yourself and, until the mid-1990s, (then-)wife Emma Thompson in opposite starring roles.

In Much Ado About Nothing, that formula works to near-perfection. A comedy of errors possibly written in one of the Bard‘s busiest years (1599) – although as usual, dating is a minor guessing game – Much Ado lives primarily from its timeless characters, making it an ideal object for transformation à la Branagh. Thus, renaissance Sicily becomes 19th century Tuscany (although the location’s name, Messina, remains unchanged); and the intrigues centering around the battle of the sexes between Signor Benedick of Padua (Branagh) and Lady Beatrice (Thompson), the niece of Messina’s governor Don Leonato (Richard Briers), and their love’s labors won – possibly the play’s originally-intended title*; and indeed, Benedick and Beatrice are a more liberated version of the earlier Love’s Labor’s Lost‘s Berowne and Rosaline – as well as the schemes surrounding the play’s other couple, Benedick’s friend Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Kate Beckinsale) become a light-hearted counterpoint to the more serious, politically charged intrigues of novels such as Stendhal’s Charterhouse of Parma and Scarlet and Black: As such, the military campaign from which Benedick and Claudio are returning with Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon (Denzel Washington) at the story’s beginning could easily be one associated with Italy’s 19th century struggle for nationhood.

While according to the play’s conception it is ostensibly the relationship between Hero and Claudio that drives the plot – as well as the plotting by Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Keanu Reeves) – Beatrice and Benedick are the more interesting couple; both sworn enemies of love, they are not kept apart by a scheming villain but by their own conceit, and are brought toghether by a ruse of Don Pedro’s (although even that wouldn’t have worked against their will: “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably,” Benedick once tells Beatrice.) And while Don John’s machinations create much heartbreak and drama once they have come into fruition, the story’s highlights are Benedick’s and Beatrice’s battles of wits; the sparks flying between them from their first scene to their last: even in front of the chapel, they still – although now primarily for their audience’s benefit – respond to each other’s question “Do not you love me?” with “No, no more than reason,” and when Benedick finally tells Beatrice he will have her, but only “for pity,” she tartly answers, “I would not deny you; – but … I yield upon great persuasion; and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption” – whereupon Benedick, most uncharacteristically, stops her with a kiss.

Branagh‘s and Thompson‘s chemistry was still unblemished at the time when this movie was made, and it works to optimum effect here.  And while every Kenneth Branagh movie is as much star vehicle for its creator as it is about the project itself, Benedick’s conversion from a man determined not to let love “transform [him] into an oyster” into a married man (because after all, “the world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor I did not think I should live – till I were married”!) is a pure joy to watch. Emma Thompson‘s Beatrice, similarly, is an incredibly modern, independent young woman; and scenes like her advice to Hero not to blindly follow her father’s (Don Leonato’s) wishes in marrying but, if necessary, “make another courtesy and say, Father, as it please me” only enhance the play’s and her character’s timeless quality.

Yet, while the leading couple’s performances are the movie’s shining anchor pieces, there is much to enjoy in the remaining cast as well: Richard Briers’s Don Leonato, albeit more English country squire than Italian nobleman, is the kind of doting father that many a daughter would surely wish for; and what he may lack in Italian flavor is more than made up for in Brian Blessed’s Don Antonio, Leonato’s brother. Kate Beckinsale is a charming, innocent Hero and well-matched with Robert Sean Leonard’s Claudio (who after Dead Poets Society seemed virtually guaranteed to show up in a Shakespeare adaptation sooner or later); as generally, leaving aside the appropriateness of American accents in a movie like this, the Hollywood contingent acquits itself well. Washington’s, Leonard’s and Brier’s “Cupid” plot particularly is a delight (even if Washington might occasionally have gained extra mileage enunciation-wise). Keanu Reeves, cast against stereotype as Don John, is a bit too busy looking sullen to realize the role’s full sardonic potential: “melancholy,” in Shakespeare‘s times, after all was a generic term encompassing everything from madness to various saner forms of ill humor; and I wonder what – but for the generational difference – someone like Sir Ian McKellen might have done with that role. But as a self-described “plain-dealing villain” Reeves is certainly appropriately menacing. Michael Keaton’s Dogberry, finally, is partly brother-in-spirit to Beetlejuice, partly simply the eternal stupid officer; the play’s boorish comic relief and as such spot-on, delivering his many malaproprisms with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

The cast is rounded out by several actors who might well have demanded larger roles but nevertheless look ideally matched for the parts they play, including Imelda Staunton and Phyllida Law as Hero’s gentlewomen Margaret and Ursula, Gerard Horan and Richard Clifford as Don John’s associates Borachio and Conrade, and Ben Elton as Dogberry’s “neighbor” Verges. (In addition, score composer Patrick Doyle stands in as minstrel Balthazar.) With minimal editing of the play’s original language, a set design making full use of the movie’s Tuscan setting, and lavish production values overall, this is a feast for the senses and, on the whole, an adaptation of which even the Bard himself, I think, would have approved.


* At least according to one theory.  Another theory has it that Love’s Labours Won is the title of a different, now lost play.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Renaissance Films / BBC / American Playhouse Theatrical Films (1993)
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Producers: Kenneth Branagh / David Parfitt / Stephen Evans
  • Screenplay: Kenneth Branagh
  • Based on a play by: William Shakespeare
  • Music: Patrick Doyle
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Roger Lanser
Cast
  • Kenneth Branagh: Benedick
  • Emma Thompson: Beatrice
  • Richard Briers: Leonato
  • Robert Sean Leonard: Claudio
  • Kate Beckinsale: Hero
  • Denzel Washington: Don Pedro
  • Keanu Reeves: Don John
  • Michael Keaton: Dogberry
  • Brian Blessed: Antonio
  • Imelda Staunton: Margaret
  • Phyllida Law: Ursula
  • Richard Clifford: Conrade
  • Gerard Horan: Borachio
  • Jimmy Yuill: Friar Francis
  • Ben Elton: Verges
  • Edward Jewesbury: Sexton
  • Patrick Doyle: Balthazar

 

Major Awards

London Critics Circle Film Awards (1993)
  • British Producer of the Year: Kenneth Branagh
Evening Standard British Film Awards (1993)
  • Best Actress: Emma Thompson
    – Also for “The Remains of the Day.”

 

Favorite Quotes:

“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”

“If [God] send me no husband, for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening …”

“Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”

“LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say ‘Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:’ so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.”

“LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”

“DON PEDRO: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
BEATRICE: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
DON PEDRO: You have put him down, lady, you have put him down.
BEATRICE: So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools.”

“Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please me.”

“Wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace: the first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig – and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and with his bad legs falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.”

“Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.”

“For it falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
While it was ours.”

“To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.”

 

Links

The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare (BBC)

The Gold Standard

In 1978, the BBC ambitiously set out to produce all of Shakespeare‘s 37 plays for television. (Alright – so it’s 38 … so they didn’t include The Two Noble Kinsmen, which is cribbed from Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale anyway. But who’s counting beans?) With casts featuring the better part of British acting nobility, including some promising (then-)newcomers, the enterprise was completed in two launches with distinct creative approaches and, for all occasional frictions in continuity, remains a one-in-a-kind endeavor: the gold standard every Shakespeare enactment must either meet or fall short of in comparison; for truthfulness to the Bard’s intent as much as for stellar acting and production values. While the complete series has since been made available on DVD in region 2 (European) and 4 (Australian) encoding, only 20 of the plays have also been released in region 1 (North American) format, in two sets of five tragedies, as well as one set each of comedies and histories: one might have wished for some additions, or more sets overall; but all available compilations are worth their price’s every penny.

Tragedies

Laced with murderous schemes, revenge, and the search for justice, love, and peace of mind, Shakespeare‘s tragedies delve into the human mind’s darkest recesses; exploring greed, envy, ambition, guilt, remorse, and pure evil next to compassion, generosity, humility, and innocence, all interwoven in timeless plots unmatched in variety, construction, and richness of characters. Interpretation is substantially left to the actors: Despite Hamlet’s litany of directions to the Players appearing in that tragedy’s “play-within-the-play” – directions representing Shakespeare‘s own grievances, including his irritation with comedian Will Kempe’s tendency for spotlight-seeking beyond his scenes’ actual confines (therefore, “let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them. For [some] will … set on [the uninformed] spectators to laugh …, though [meanwhile] some necessary question of the play [must] be considered. That’s villanous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it,” Hamlet quips) – the ultimate actors’ playwright gives few express stage directions, leaving his own players considerable freedom, and making the world wonder, ever since their Globe Theatre premiere: What’s driving the Prince of Denmark – madness? revenge? indecision? something else entirely? Is Claudius, that tragedy’s king, evil incarnate or a man wrecked with guilt? Is Othello’s antagonist Iago bent on revenge because he “hate[s] the Moor,” or giddily enjoying his malicious plots’ every second? How much capacity for guilt has Macbeth ultimately left: is he truly, thoroughly corrupted, or has something of the king’s loyal thane remained inside him?

Region 1 Set 1
Hamlet

The set’s natural centerpiece, both for its preeminence among Shakespeare‘s plays and for this production’s superb quality, is Hamlet, the Bard‘s four-hour-long adaptation of the Danish Amleth saga. As the Prince, Derek Jacobi – the legitimate heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, and mentor to Kenneth Branagh – gives a lifetime’s performance: if you only know him as Claudius the Stutterer from the magnificent adaptation of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, or as Cadfael from the equally magnificent series based on Ellis Peters‘s books, you’re in for a truly unexpected treat. For Jacobi‘s first love is the theater, and it shows: with near-unmatched insight into Shakespeare‘s world (particularly this play and its title character), he makes the Prince of Denmark all his own, in a portrayal easily on par with the best in existence. There’s no pulling of punches here, no wavering like Olivier’s; but no genuine madness, either – just pure, unrestrained passion, often swinging between emotional extremes within seconds: I wonder whether Mel Gibson’s vaguely similar approach in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 movie was based on a study of Jacobi‘s performance. The production also features Patrick Stewart as a Claudius covering emotions from Macchiavellian intrigue to deeply-felt guilt, Claire Bloom as an unrivaled, regal, but very vulnerable Getrude, Eric Porter as scheming master politician Polonius (never mind that Hamlet calls him a “tedious old fool”), Robert Swann as one of the strongest Horatios I’ve ever seen, Emrys James as a wonderfully congenial Player King, Lalla Ward as a sweet, but not too sweet Ophelia, David Robb as impetuous Laertes, Tim Wylton as the First Gravedigger and Peter Gale as Osric (both milking their scenes to optimum, but never over-the-top effect), and an outstanding cast rounded out by Patrick Allen (the Ghost), Ian Charleson (Fortinbras), Jonathan Hyde (Rosencrantz), Geoffrey Bateman (Guildenstern), and Paul Humpoletz (Marcellus).

Macbeth

The “Scottish Play”‘s impact rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its title character and his lady, and those of Nicol Williamson and – particularly – Jane Lapotaire’s breathtaking Lady Macbeth provide strong support indeed for the Thane-of-Glamis-turned-king (and murderer) and his ruthlessly ambitious wife. Brenda Bruce, Eileen Way and Anne Dyson scare you near-witless as the witches, maliciously mock-echoed by James Bolam’s Porter, and besides Ian Hogg’s Banquo and Tony Doyle’s Macduff, among the production’s most impressive performances are Jill Baker’s and Crispin Mair’s (Macduff’s wife and son).  One of my other great favorites in the entire series, and easily my second favorite in the first set of tragedies released in region 1 format.

Romeo and Juliet

If you can get over the decidedly dated (and at best, um, partly successful) set decoration and costume, Patrick Ryecart and Rebecca Saire as star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet (through whose story we’re guided by John Gielgud’s Chorus) are every bit as youthfully innocent but determined as Franco Zeffirelli’s and Baz Luhrman’s Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes.  Moreover, there’s Anthony Andrews as a captivatingly flamboyant Mercutio, a snapshot view of a very young Alan Rickman as brash Tybalt, plus Michael Hordern’s as always expert Capulet, and Celia Johnson’s deadpan Nurse.

Othello

In the play that keeps me wanting to climb into the screen (or onto the stage) and yell, “Othello, wake up!!,” Anthony Hopkins gives a tour-de-force performance as the Moor (“the part [he’d] always wanted to play,” he is quoted); yet, he’s almost upstaged by Bob Hoskins’s deliciously, mirthfully evil Iago. Penelope Wilton’s Desdemona is all blameless righteousness; and the production wouldn’t be the same without the spot-on performances of Anthony Pedley (Roderigo), David Yelland (Cassio), and Rosemary Leach (Emilia).

Julius Cesar

In Shakespeare‘s look at the Ides of March from Caesar’s murderers’ and heir’s perspective, finally – that play without heroes or villains – the four principals are well-divided among Richard Pasco (Brutus), Keith Michell (Mark Antony), Charles Gray (Caesar) and David Collings (Cassius), while Virginia McKenna (Portia) and Elizabeth Spriggs (Calphurnia) make the most of roles easily overlooked in weaker actresses’ hands.

Tragedies – Region 1 Set 2
  • King Lear
  • Anthony & Cleopatra
  • Coriolanus
  • Timon of Athens
  • Titus Andronicus
Histories – Region 1
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV, Part I
  • Henry IV, Part II
  • Henry V
  • Richard III
Comedies
  • As You Like It
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Tempest
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • The Merchant of Venice
The Collection’s Other Plays

(Region 2 & 4 encoding only.)

Tragedies
  • Cymbeline
  • Pericles
  • Troilus and Cressida
Histories
  • Henry VI, Part 1
  • Henry VI, Part 2
  • Henry VI, Part 3
  • Henry VIII
  • King John
Comedies
  • Measure for Measure
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Twelfth Night
  • All’s Well That Ends Well
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Winter’s Tale

 

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Continue reading

RICHARD III (Ian McKellen)

Villany Unveiled

A gala ball: The York family celebrate their reascent to power; the Wars of the Roses (named for the feuding houses’ heraldic badges: Lancaster’s red and York’s white rose) are almost over. Actually, the year is 1471, but for present purposes, we’re in the 1930s. A singer (Stacey Kent) delivers a swinging “Come live with me and be my love.” Richard of Gloucester (Sir Ian McKellen), the reinstated sickly King Edward IV’s (John Wood’s) youngest brother, moves through the crowd; observing, watching his second brother George, Duke of Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) being quietly led off by Tower warden Brackenbury (Donald Sumpter) and his subalterns. With Clarence gone, Richard seizes the microphone, its discordant screech cutting through the singer’s applause, and he, who himself made this night possible by killing King Henry VI of Lancaster and his son, begins a victory speech: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” (cut to Edward, who regally acknowledges the tribute). But when Richard mentions “grim-visaged war,” who “smooth’d his wrinkled front,” the camera closes in on his mouth, turning it into a grimace reminiscent of the legend known to any spectator in Shakespeare‘s Globe Theatre: that he wasn’t just born “with his feet first” but also “with teeth in his mouth;” hence, not only crippled (though whether also hunchbacked is uncertain) but cursed from birth, his physical deformity merely outwardly representing his inner evil.

Then, mid-sentence, the image cuts again. Richard enters a bathroom; and as he continues his monologue we see that only now, relieving himself and talking – with narcissistic pleasure – to his own image in the mirror, he truly speaks his mind; contemptuously dismissing a war that’s lost its menace and “capers nimbly in a lady’s bedchamber,” and determining that, since he now has no delight but to mock his own deformed shadow, and “cannot prove a lover,” he’ll “prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

Thus, Richard’s first soliloquy, which actually opens the play on a London street, brilliantly demonstrates the signature elements of this movie’s (and the preceding stage production’s) success: not only its updated 20th century context but its creative use of settings and imagery; boldly cutting and rearranging Shakespeare‘s words without anytime, however, betraying his intent. Indeed, that pattern is already set with the prologue’s murder of King Henry VI and his son, where following a telegraph report that “Richard of Gloucester is at hand – he holds his course toward Tewkesbury” (slightly altered lines from the last scenes of the preceding King Henry VI, Part 3) Richard himself emerges from a tank breaking through the royal headquarters’ wall, breathing heavily through a gas mask: As his shots ring out, riddling the prince with bullets, the blood-red letters R-I-C-H-A-R-D-III appear across the screen.

And as creatively it continues: Richard woos Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas), Henry’s daughter-in-law, in a morgue instead of a street (near her husband’s casket), and later drives her into drug abuse. Henry’s Cassandra-like widow Margaret is one of several characters omitted entirely; whereas foreign-born Queen Elizabeth is purposely cast with an American (Annette Bening), whose performance has equally purposeful overtones of Wallis Simpson; and whose playboy-brother Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr.) dies “in the act.” Clarence is murdered while the rest of the family sits down to a lavish (although discordant) dinner. When upon his ally Lord Buckingham’s (Jim Broadbent’s) machinations, Richard is “persuaded” to take the crown, he emerges from a veritable film star’s dressing room complete with full-sized mirror and manicurists (sold to the attending crowd outside as “two deep divines” praying with him). Tyrrell (Adrian Dunbar), already one of Clarence’s murderers, quickly rises through uniformed ranks, and moves from regular army to SS, as he further bloodies his hands. Richard’s and Elizabeth’s final spar over her daughter’s hand takes place in the train-wagon serving as his field headquarters; and we actually see that same princess wed to his arch-enemy Richmond (Dominic West), King Henry VII-to-be and founder of the Tudor dynasty, with lines taken from Richmond’s closing monologue. Perhaps most importantly, we also witness Richard’s coronation, which Shakespeare himself – honoring that ceremony’s perception as holy – decided not to show; although even here it is presented not as a glorious procedure of state but only in a brief snippet rerun immediately from the distance of a private, black-and-white film shown only for Richard’s and his entourage’s benefit.

And challenging as this project is, its stellar cast – also including Maggie Smith (a formidable Duchess of York), Jim Carter (Prime Minister Lord Hastings), Roger Hammond (the Archbishop), and Tim McInnerny and Bill Paterson (Richard’s underlings Catesby and Ratcliffe) – uniformly prove themselves more than up to the task: Indeed, although the single largest spotlight is clearly on McKellen‘s Richard, the movie’s other performances are so strong that the film comes across very much like an ensemble piece of the highest order.

Even if the temporal setting didn’t already spell out the allegory on the universality of evil that McKellen and director Richard Loncraine obviously intend, you’d have to be blind to miss the visual references to fascism: the uniforms, the gathering modeled on the infamous Nuremberg Reichsparteitag, the long red banners with a black boar in a white circle (playing up the image of the boar Shakespeare himself uses: similarly, Richard’s and Tyrrell’s first meeting is set in a pig-sty, and Lord Stanley’s [Edward Hardwicke’s] prophetic dream follows an incident where Richard, for a split-second, loses his self-control). But the imagery goes even further: Richard’s narcissism is reminiscent of Chaplin’s Great Dictator; and you don’t have to watch this movie contemporaneously with any Star Wars installment to visualize Darth Vader during his gas mask-endowed entry in the first scene.

“[T]hus I clothe my naked villany with odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ; and seem a saint when most I play the devil,” Richard comments in the play: if there’s one line I regret to see cut here it’s this one, for it so clearly encompasses the way many a modern despot assumes power, too; by cloaking his true intent in the veneer of formal legality. Even so: this is a highlight among the recent decades’ Shakespeare adaptations; under no circumstances to be missed.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: British Screen Productions / United Artists (1995)
  • Director: Richard Loncraine
  • Executive Producers: Ian McKellen / Maria Apodiacos / Ellen Dinerman Little / Joe Simon
  • Screenplay: Ian McKellen / Richard Loncraine
  • Based on a play by: William Shakespeare
  • Music: Trevor Jones
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Peter Biziou
Cast
  • Ian McKellen: Richard III
  • Annette Bening: Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV
  • Maggie Smith: Duchess of York
  • Kristin Scott Thomas: Lady Anne
  • Jim Broadbent: Duke of Buckingham
  • Jim Carter: Lord William Hastings
  • Nigel Hawthorne: George, Duke of Clarence
  • John Wood: King Edward IV
  • Robert Downey Jr.: Lord Rivers
  • Edward Hardwicke: Lord Thomas Stanley
  • Tim McInnerny: Sir William Catesby
  • Bill Paterson: Sir Richard Ratcliffe
  • Adrian Dunbar: James Tyrell
  • Donald Sumpter: Brackenbury
  • Dominic West: Earl of Richmond
  • Roger Hammond: Archbishop Thomas
  • Edward Jewesbury: King Henry VI
  • Stacey Kent: Ballroom Singer

 

Major Awards

BAFTA Awards (1997)
  • Best Production Design: Tony Burrough
  • Best Costume Design: Shuna Harwood
Evening Standard British Film Awards (1997)
  • Best Film: Ian McKellen
  • Best Technical/Artistic Achievement (Production Design): Tony Burrough
European Film Awards (1996)
  • Best Actor: Ian McKellen
Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Best Director: Richard Loncraine
    Tied with Ho Yim for “Taiyang you er” (The Sun Has Ears)

 

Links

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

Paper Moon

As a playwright, Tennessee Williams was to the South what William Faulkner was as a fiction writer: a creative genius who revolutionized not only the region’s arts scene and literature but that of 20th century America as a whole, bringing a Southern voice to the forefront while addressing universally important themes, and influencing and inspiring generations of later writers.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning “A Streetcar Named Desire” dates from the peak of Williams‘s creativity, the period between 1944 (A Glass Menagerie) and 1955 (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, his second Pulitzer-winner). After its successful 1947 run on Broadway, Streetcar was adapted into a screenplay by Williams himself for this movie produced and directed by Elia Kazan, starring the entire Broadway cast except Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by the star of the play’s London production, Vivien Leigh. The piece takes its title from one of the New Orleans streetcar lines that protagonist Blanche DuBois (Leigh) rides on her way to the apartment of her sister Stella (Kim Hunter), foreshadowing her later path, from (ever-unfulfilled) Desire to Cemetery (death, or the loss of reality) and a street called Elysian Fields, like the ancient mythological land of the dead.

Although Blanche is the person most visibly engaging in deception (of herself and others), almost everyone of the characters suffers loss after a brutal reality check: Stella, who hasn’t been back home for years, first learns from Blanche that their genteel home Belle Reve (literally: “beautiful dream”) is “lost” – although in what manner precisely Blanche doesn’t specify, which immediately raises the suspicion of Stella’s husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) – only to later hear from Stanley that under the veneer of Blanche’s appearance as a delicate Southern lady lies a promiscuous past, and the true circumstances of her ouster from her job and ultimately from their home town were not as Blanche would have Stella believe. Stanley’s friend Mitch (Karl Malden), who despite their disparate social backgrounds intends to marry Blanche after they are drawn to each other by their mutual need for “somebody” in their life, is similarly disillusioned by Stanley, and subsequently by Blanche herself when he insists on seeing her in bright light instead of the dim light of dancehalls and of the paper lamp she has insisted on hanging over Stella and Stanley’s living room lamp, neither able to face the effects of age and a profligate lifestyle herself nor willing to reveal them to others. And Blanche’s own loss of innocence, finally, set in years earlier, when she found her young husband in bed with another man and he committed suicide after she publicly reproached him. “Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life,” Tennessee Williams says about A Streetcar Named Desire in Kazan’s 1988 autobiography A Life; and in a letter opposing the movie’s censoring before its release he described the story as being about “ravishment of the tender, the sensitive, the delicate, by the savage and brutal forces of modern society.”

The brute, of course, is Stanley, who not only becomes the catalyst of Blanche’s fate and the destroyer of Stella’s, Mitch’s and Blanche’s own illusions, but is her antagonist in everything from background to personality: Where she is a fading belle dreaming of days gone by he is all youthful virility, a working-class man living in the here and now; where she is refined he is crude, and where she engages in pretense, he tears down the facade behind which she is hiding. The conversation during which Stanley tells Stella about Blanche’s past is pointedly set against Blanche’s humming the Arlen/Harburg tune It’s Only a Paper Moon, which sees love transforming life into a fantasy world, which in turn however “wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.” Yet, as portrayed by Marlon Brando, who with this movie stormed into public awareness with his unique and volcanic approach to acting, Stanley is no mere vulgar beast but a complex, often controversial character, despite his brutal streak almost childishly dependant on his wife and frequently hiding his own insecurities under his raw appearance (thus putting up a certain front as well, but unlike Blanche’s, a socially acceptable, even common one). Ever the method actor, Brando reportedly stayed in character even during filming breaks; much to the disgust of Vivien Leigh, for whom lines like “[h]e’s like an animal. … Thousands of years have passed him right by and there he is: Stanley Kowalski, survivor of the stone-age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle” must consequently have come from the bottom of her heart.

In early 1950s’ society, Streetcar was considered way too risqué – even downright sordid – to be presented to moviegoing audiences without severe censorship, which Williams and Kazan were only partly able to fight. One of the most substantial changes made in the adaptation was that at the end of the movie Stanley is punished for his brutality towards Blanche, whereas in the play’s cynical original ending he is the only character experiencing no loss at all; indeed seeing his world restored after Blanche’s exit. Since Kazan’s suggestion to produce two alternate versions (one to please the censors, one in conformity with Williams‘s play) was rejected, even the 1993 “Original Director’s Version” retains its altered, censorship-induced ending. Therefore, the play will forever constitute the last word on Williams‘s own intentions. But even in its censored version this movie was a deserved quadruple Oscar- and multiple other award-winner (albeit undeservedly not for Brando). It has long-since become a true classic: a cinematic gem of first-rate direction and superlative performances throughout.

And so it was I entered the broken world
To trace the visionary company of love, its voice
An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)
But not for long to hold each desperate choice.
Hart Crane, “The Broken Tower”
(Preface to the published edition of Tennessee Williams’s play.)

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Brothers (1951)
  • Director: Elia Kazan
  • Producer: Charles K. Feldman
  • Screenplay: Tennessee Williams
  • Based on a play by: Tennessee Williams
  • Adaptation: Oscar Saul
  • Music: Alex North
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Harry Stradling
  • Art Direction: Richard Day / Bertram Tuttle (supervising art director, uncredited)
  • Set Decoration: George James Hopkins
Cast
  • Vivien Leigh: Blanche
  • Marlon Brando: Stanley
  • Kim Hunter: Stella
  • Karl Malden: Mitch
  • Richard Garrick: A Doctor
  • Ann Dere: The Matron

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1952)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: Vivien Leigh
    Vivien Leigh was not present at the awards ceremony. Greer Garson accepted on her behalf.
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Karl Malden
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Kim Hunter
    Kim Hunter was not present at the awards ceremony. Bette Davis accepted on her behalf.
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White: Richard Day and George James Hopkins
American Film Institute:
  • Top 100 American Films – No. 45
  • Top 100 Love Stories – No. 67
  • Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 4 (Marlon Brando)
  • Top 25 Stars (female) – No. 16 (Vivien Leigh)
  • Top 25 Film Scores – No. 19
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 45th: “Stella! Hey, Stella!”  (Stanley Kowalski)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 75th: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” (Blanche DuBois)
Golden Globes (1952)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Kim Hunter
BAFTA Awards (1953)
  • Best British Actress: Vivien Leigh
Venice Film Festival (Italy) (1951)
  • Special Jury Prize: Elia Kazan
    For having produced a stage play on screen, poetically interpreting the humanity of the characters, thanks to masterly direction.
  • Volpi Cup Best Actress: Vivien Leigh

 

Links

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

Merken

William Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Folger Library Edition)

Hamlet - William ShakespeareTo thine own self be true …

William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet is arguably the most famous play ever written in the English language; it presents the world with questions and characters that have been the subject of thespian and scholarly debate ever since the Prince of Denmark’s first appearance on the stage of London’s Globe Theatre. Probably written and first performed in 1601 (estimates vary between 1600 and 1602), the play draws on Saxo Grammaticus’s late 12th/early 13th century chronicle Gesta Danorum, which includes a popular legend with a similar plot centering around a prince named Amleth; as well as several more contemporaneous sources, primarily Francois de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques, Extraicts des Oeuvres Italiennes de Bandel (1559-1580), which expands on the story told in the Gesta Danorum, and a lost play known as the Ur-Hamlet (i.e., original Hamlet), sometimes also attributed to Shakespeare, but equally likely written by a different author a few decades earlier. Another work frequently cited in this context is 16th century playwright Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedie.

Pursuant to Shakespeare‘s wishes and like all of his works, Hamlet was not immediately published, and the original manuscript did not survive. However, in the absence of copyright laws or other forms of protection of what today would be called the playwright’s intellectual property rights, first bootleg copies (so-called quartos) based on transcripts made during or after performances began to appear in 1603. Yet, it would not be until 1623 – seven years after Shakespeare‘s 1616 death – that his former fellow actors John Hemmings and Henry Condell published 36 of his plays (including this one) in a collection known as the First Folio.

As no print version of any of Shakespeare‘s plays has a bona fide claim to its author’s first-hand blessings, ever since the Bard‘s death the world is left with numerous questions about his characters’ motivations and psychological makeup; first and foremost, in this particular case: who is this Prince of Denmark anyway, and what’s driving him – is he a reluctant suicide or reluctant avenger? A Renaissance man? Wrecked by Freudian guilt? Genuinely mad, or merely putting on a clever act of deception? Or is he someone else entirely? – Indeed, we’re even left in doubt as to what exactly it was that Shakespeare meant his characters to say, with all attendant interpretative consequences: Does the Prince wish for his “too too sullied” or his “too too solid” flesh to “melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” in his first major soliloquy (Act I, Scene 2)? Does he really contemplate “the stamp of [that] one defect” which may fatally taint the perception of a man’s other virtues, “be they as pure as grace,” before meeting his father’s ghost (I, 4)? Does Polonius, when sending Reynaldo on a spying mission after Laertes, refer to his scheme as “a fetch of wit” or “a fetch of warrant” (II, 1)? Do Hamlet’s musings in “To be, or not to be” (III, 1) concern “enterprises of great pith and moment” or “of great pitch and moment,” whose “currents turn awry and lose the name of action” by his doubts? Does or doesn’t the sight of the Norwegian army while Hamlet is on his way to England (IV, 4) prompt him, who has so far failed to carry out his purpose, to reflect “How all occasions do inform against me,” and conclude his soliloquy with the vow “from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth”?

How you answer any of these questions, and how you consequently view the play’s characters, depends in no small part on the text you read. Like all Folger Shakespeare editions, this one is based on what the editors have deemed the “best early printed version,” while allowing the reader a unique direct comparison of the principal reliable versions by including a text essentially combining these versions, with unobtrusive markers characterizing those passages appearing only in one particular version. For Hamlet, the editors eschewed the play’s very first (1603) quarto, which was possibly compiled by a journeyman actor and whose inconsistencies with all subsequent versions (textually as well as plot-wise and even regarding character names) have caused it to be generally considered a “bad” quarto, in favor of the 1604 Second Quarto, which some even believe to be based on Shakespeare‘s own first draft of the play and which, in any event, while more extensive than the 1623 First Folio (in turn, thought to be closest to the version(s) actually produced on the Globe Theatre stage), boasts about as secure a claim of authenticity as the latter. In some instances, the text follows the Second Quarto (Q2) without visually alerting the reader to the differences vis-a-vis the First Folio (F1), thus compelling those more used to the latter version to seek out the extensive end notes to reassure themselves that (in the examples given above) it might indeed be “solid flesh,” “warrant,” and “pith and moment” (F1) instead of “sullied flesh,” “wit,” and “pitch and moment” (Q2). In other instances, however, the First Folio’s language (clearly marked as such) is given preference over that of the Second Quarto; while crucially, the text also includes all those passages *only* contained in the latter, including the “stamp of one defect” and “bloody thoughts” monologues, whose interpretation has such a direct bearing on many a reader’s understanding of Hamlet’s character.

The text is amplified by illustrations and annotations for those unfamiliar with 16th century English, scene-by-scene plot summaries, a short biography of Shakespeare, and introductory and concluding essays on this and the Bard‘s other plays and on Shakespearean theatre, as well as extensive suggestions for further reading, and a key to the play’s most famous lines. While it is unlikely that after 400 years of debate any one version, be it in print, on stage or on screen, will be able to generate unanimous acceptance as the “definitive” rendition of this complex play, this is an excellent starting point for an in-depth excursion into the Prince of Denmark’s world.

Hamlet and Horatio in the cemetery - Delacroix EugeneEugène Delacroix: Hamlet and Horatio in the Cemetery
(1839, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France)

 

Favorite Quotes:

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

“What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more. Sure he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unused.”

“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.”

“Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

“Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”

“Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?”

 

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One-page edition of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (photo mine)

Merken