Archive for the ‘ShakesFilm’ Category

On Monday, August 22nd, at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet,* the first film in our Shakespeare in Film Series for 2016-17. Film starts at 7:30pm, and the concession stand will be open.Free and open to the public!

For more information about the film, visit:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Burton%27s_Hamlet

For information on upcoming films, visit:
http://english.ua.edu/grad/strode/films

Richard_Burton_ArenaPAL_002_PREVIEW_ArenaPAL

This is actually Burton playing Hamlet in 1953, but the photo was too good to pass up. See: http://arenapal.blogspot.com/2014/07/richard-burton-more-rare-images-revealed.html

Just a brief note about everything IF will be doing this spring:

  • There will be a production of Aristophanes’ The Assembly Women, directed by Steve Burch, on March 25th at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center. The production will be part of “Women, Democracy, and the Ideology of Exclusion from Antiquity Through the Early 20th Century”, an international conference will be held at 205 Gorgas from March 24-25, 2016, organized by Prof. Tatiana Tsakiropoulou-Summers (Modern Languages and Classics): womenanddemocracy.ua.edu
  • In conjunction with UA’s EN 208 courses (World Literature II), IF will hold informal readings and film screenings about once a month in Morgan 301, featuring the work of Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, Beckett, and Soyinka. Details TBA on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/313455652125964/
  • Finally, the Strode Shakespeare Film Series continues, starting tomorrow (Jan 13) with Billy Morrissette’s 2001 appropriation of MacbethScotland, PaFor details, check out our department page: http://english.ua.edu/grad/strode/films

scotland-pa-original

We hope to see you at one of our many events!

~nrhelms

Program Notes for Scotland, Pa. by Tyler Sasser:

Macbeth

Theatre people always say that Macbeth is the unluckiest of plays, particularly for actors who literally risk “breaking a leg” should they bid each other “good luck” before a performance. Such a hapless reputation, however, has not taken away from the immense popularity of the Scottish play. With Romeo and Juliet, Juliet Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth has long been a staple of American high school education. The Scottish play often serves as our introduction to Shakespeare, if not to theatre more broadly.

One reason is because of its brevity. At merely 2,000 lines long, Macbeth is approximately half the size of Hamlet. Macbeth speaks almost 30% of those lines, thus making him more central to his play than any other Shakespearean protagonist, except Hamlet who speaks about 38% of the lines in his play. Since we spend so much time with Macbeth—by comparison, Lady Macbeth essentially exits the play in 3.4, only to return briefly in 5.1—audiences and readers at times find themselves identifying with him. Bloody career aside, Macbeth’s intense human desire to see his ambitions realized—no matter the cost—can become very personal for us.

Macbeth was first published in the Folio (1613), the collection of Shakespeare’s plays published seven years after his death. It most likely was written near the end of 1606, and it is often identified as the last of the so-called “great tragedies” of Shakespeare (Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello). As is so common in Shakespeare, the playwright borrows his narrative from another source. In this case, Shakespeare turns to the famous Chronicles (1577) of Holinshed, a popular history of England, Scotland, and Ireland familiar to the playwright and his contemporaries. Chronicles tells the story of Lady Macbeth, a high noble woman and cousin to King Duncan, whose husband and son are murdered. Macbeth marries her, and becomes king after Duncan dies in battle. As in the play, Macbeth never fathers a child.

Shakespeare significantly alters this history, and in the process provides us with fast-paced action and tragic characters. To be sure, Macbeth is a dark and bloody play. Probably the most famous and controversial (and there are many) adaptation of the play is Roman Polanski’s 1971 film, produced in the aftermath of the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family. As you will see with Scotland, PA, the play does not always inspire gloomy productions, but it is simultaneously unsettling and compelling. It forces us to realize, with Macbeth, that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.”

Scotland, PA

Scotland, PA irreverently repackages Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a 70’s style mystery, and like all good satire, this one is based on disgust.

Writer-director Billy Morrissette began drafting his script while forced to read Macbeth in high school and flip burgers at Dairy Queen. Of his employment, Morrissette disingenuously states, “I hated my boss, and I wanted to kill him.” Hence, while Shakespeare’s play is about murdering the king of Scotland so Macbeth can take his place, the movie is about murdering the owner of a burger joint so Mac can become owner. The movie also is about the fast-food style bloodbath that follows.

Joe “Mac” McBeth (James LeGros) and Pat McBeth (Maura Tierney) are unhappy with their life working at Duncan’s, a burger stand operated by Norm “The King of Burgers” Duncan (James Rebhorn). After Mac is passed over for promotion, the McBeths elect to take things into their own hands and make true the prophecies of one fortune teller (Amy Smart) and two stoned hippies (Tim Levitch and Andy Dick). Scotland, PA faithfully follows in the tradition of Macbeth being Shakespeare’s bloodiest drama, as a gruesome murder brings the amiable scatterbrained Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken) to investigate.

Anyone familiar with Macbeth will enjoy, even if superficially, the parallels Morrissette creatively imbues into his movie, such as Pat’s grease-stained hands. Yet despite the comedy, Scotland, PA maintains much of what makes Macbeth memorable. For instance, LeGros’s Mac resembles a feckless Macbeth easily led by his wife, and Tierney’s Pat recalls traditional performances of Lady Macbeth when she challenges her husband’s manhood. Further, this fast-food themed appropriation uses food and hunger not only for laughs, as when viewers see Christopher Walken with a carrot hanging out of his mouth, but also recalls its Shakespearean original. With approximately 30 references to consumption, Macbeth is chock-full of food-related imagery, whether Macbeth’s metaphorical hunger for ambition or the physical hunger noted by the witches. Even one of the most famous lines from the Scottish play—Lady Macbeth’s lamenting that her husband is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness”—suggests a dramatic concern with nourishment. The film’s fantastic soundtrack, composed almost entirely of Bad Company songs, also makes telling connections between play and film. “Bad Company” playing as Mac first approaches the stoned hippies (i.e., witches) is a hard rock caution, and “Can’t Get Enough” sums up the ethos of both Mac and Macbeth.

Morrissette happily dedicated Scotland, PA to all the burger flipping students who, like himself, read Cliff Notes instead of Shakespeare. If you are one of those people, then bon appetite!

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents its final film of the 2014-15 Shakespeare Film Series, Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 Love’s Labour’s Lost. Free and open to the public.

The Facebook Event

LLL poster
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare

The King of Navarre and his three attendant lords make a pact to forswear women for three years so that they can steep themselves in academic pursuits. Almost immediately, the Princess of France arrives on a mission from her father, accompanied (of course) by three attendant ladies. We all know where this is going. Each man falls in love with a different woman but keeps his love a secret, until a scene when each man, thinking he’s alone, confesses his love by reading a sonnet out loud. Realizing what has happened, the men break their vows and agree to pursue their women, who do not allow themselves to be won so easily. Love’s Labour’s Lost contains many of the tropes of Shakespearean comedy: wooing lovers, mixed-up letters, bawdy puns, secondary characters who serve as foils and comic relief, and the promise of marriage. More than that, it is a play about language, containing more rhymed verses and new words than any other play in Shakespeare’s canon. It plays with poetic form and delights in linguistic excess while also mocking characters like the Spanish Don Armado, whose attempts at verbal brilliance fail miserably and hilariously. The play’s ending differs from other comedies by moving toward marriage but suspending it after news arrives that the King of France has died. The couples will separate for a year, as the women return to France and force the men to renew their vows of chastity. What happens next remains unknown: records survive of a Shakespeare play called Love’s Labour’s Won, but it has never been found.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (2000)

British actor-director Kenneth Branagh is generally credited with ushering in a new era of Shakespeare films in the 1990s. Beginning with 1989’s Henry V, Branagh envisioned himself as the Laurence Olivier of the modern era, but with a twist. Branagh became famous for his casting of both notable British stage and film actors (including himself, Emma Thomson, Adrian Lester, and Richard Briers) and Hollywood actors (including Robin Williams, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Alicia Silverstone, and Matthew Lillard), and his films strive to popularize Shakespeare’s plays for contemporary audiences. His Much Ado About Nothing (1993) earned critical and commercial success, while his “uncut” four-hour Hamlet (1996) was a star-studded tour de force. With Love’s Labour’s Lost, Branagh took a risk. How would he translate Shakespeare’s play about language and wordplay to the screen, when the play itself was rarely performed on stage before the mid-twentieth century and is one of Shakespeare’s least well known? The answer is a 1930s-era musical comedy that includes music by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter and showy song and dance numbers by its non-musical theater stars, with the exception of Nathan Lane, whose Costard reminds everyone that “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Critics and audiences were generally unimpressed and the film failed at the box office, but there is much to delight in here. Sure, the film is cheesy and imperfect, the musical numbers aren’t perfectly polished, and only about a third of Shakespeare’s words survive, but the film’s use of song and dance and the sheer absurdity of many scenes remind us of the joy and wordplay highlighted by the play. Beneath the razzle-dazzle, Branagh keeps the dark undercurrent of Shakespeare’s play with newsreels of European conflict and an ending that reminds viewers that loss is a part of life and that love must sometimes wait.

~Dr. Natalie Loper

Join us this Wednesday, March 11th at 7:30pm in Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre for Forbidden Planet!

Forbidden Planet copy

If you consider yourself a film or science fiction geek and haven’t seen Forbidden Planet before, consider this Wednesday your chance to get right with the world before your geek license is revoked. This movie sets up so many tropes that will come to be hated and adored in later films. For more, see Dr. Russ McConnell’s program notes below:

*****

The Tempest

The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, is about Prospero, powerful magician and rightful Duke of Milan, and his teenage daughter Miranda, who have spent twelve years on an island after Prospero’s villainous brother Antonio (aided by Alonso, King of Naples) usurped his position and set him and Miranda adrift at sea. They are not the only inhabitants of the island: Prospero is served by the supernatural spirit Ariel and the monstrous, animalistic creature Caliban. When Prospero learns that his brother Antonio is passing close by the island on a ship, he conjures up a tempest to wreck the ship to bring Antonio and his retinue to the island. This retinue includes Prospero’s old and faithful servant Gonzalo, Antonio’s co-conspirator Alonso, and Alonso’s son Ferdinand. The shipwrecked characters explore the island, having various adventures and plotting intrigues, secretly observed by Prospero. Ferdinand meets and falls in love with Miranda, and her father (although secretly approving of the union) forces Ferdinand to become his servant to prove his worth and sincerity. In the end, Prospero brings all the main characters together in a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation, which culminates in Ferdinand and Miranda becoming engaged, Ariel being freed, and plans being made to return to Italy. Prospero resolves to bring an end to his magic: “I’ll break my staff…I’ll drown my book.” In this moment, Prospero is often read as representing Shakespeare himself, the playwright finally declaring an end to his glorious career as a master creator of theatrical magic.

In recent decades, The Tempest has often been read as a play about European colonialism, with Ariel and Caliban as colonized natives. Alternatively, Caliban’s physical appetites (both sexual and bibulous) have caused some readers to identify him less with the oppressed colonial subject than with the repressed Freudian id, opening up the possibility of psychoanalytic interpretations.

There have been many adaptations of The Tempest over the centuries, including The Tempest or, The Enchanted Island produced by John Dryden and William Davenant in 1670 and an operatic version by Thomas Shadwell in 1764. Shakespeare’s original text did not make a reappearance until William Charles Macready’s version of 1838. Adaptations continued in the 20th century, eventually making the move from stage to film.

Forbidden Planet

Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 film adaptation Forbidden Planet is set on the extraterrestrial world of Altair IV, now colonized by humans, but formerly the home of the Krell, a now-extinct alien species. The film is the first to depict human beings travelling through interstellar space on a craft of their own making, and the first set entirely on another planet, in a remote solar system. The film’s equivalent of Shakespeare’s Ariel is Robby the Robot, and as a piece of technology rather than an enslaved spirit, he seems calculated to avoid inspiring any sense of guilt or distress in a 20th-century audience. He is a creation of the scientist Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who rules Altair IV, whose intelligence has been enhanced to a superhuman level by an encounter with ancient Krell technology, and whose knowledge is beyond the comprehension of the other characters, who consist of the crew of starship C-57D, led by Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen). Ultimately, however, their suspicion that no individual human being, however intelligent, can be trusted with such power proves to be vindicated.

Perhaps Forbidden Planet’s greatest innovation is its version of Caliban: a terrifying invisible beast that stalks the planet at night, hunting the crew of C-57D. The true origin of this monster is one of the film’s best surprises. Even though this origin depends upon a theory that Morbius describes as “obsolete,” it nevertheless neatly explains both the monster itself and the extinction of the ancient Krell, as well as evoking a major strand of critical interpretation of The Tempest.

The conclusion of the film departs somewhat from that of its source-text, having some elements of tragedy, and being less about forgiveness and reconciliation than about the essential fallibility of human nature (and, as it turns out, alien nature as well). While in The Tempest, Sycorax’s magic is characterized as full of “earthy and abhorred commands” in contrast to the good magic of Prospero, in Forbidden Planet, the super-science of Morbius turns out to encompass both halves of this dichotomy.

~ Dr. Russ McConnell

Shakespeare on Film, 2014-15

September 15_________Ten Things I Hate About You

November 4_________________The Bad Sleep Well

November 23___________Shakespeare Behind Bars

December 16_________________To Be Or Not to Be

January 19______________________West Side Story

February 16________________Deliver Us From Eva

March 11_____________________Forbidden Planet

April 27___________________Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sponsored by:

The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

All films are free and open to the public.

Here you can find the program notes for last week’s screening of Deliver Us From Eva.

deliver us from eva poster

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Although we are accustomed to thinking of Shakespeare as the author of The Taming of the Shrew, this title is first formally established in reference to an anonymous play entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1594. The Stationers’ Register comprises the records maintained by the Stationers’ Company of London, which was a guild which has operated under royal charter since 1557 to regulate practices within the book trade, from printing to bookbinding and bookselling, and in this case it alerts us to what appears to be the first printing of a ‘bad’ quarto version of Shakespeare’s play, probably reconstructed from memory by actors of The Taming of the Shrew. The date of The Taming of the Shrew is a complex question, as there are only scant records about early performances, including a reference again from 1594 to a play called ‘The Tamynge of A Shrowe’ in Philip Henslowe’s Diary which was intriguingly played in the same week as Andronicus which may well have been another early Shakespearean work, Titus Andronicus. However, whilst the first known official attribution of The Taming of the Shrew to Shakespeare comes to us through the First Folio of 1623, the combination of printed and manuscript archival records strongly suggest that this is one of his earliest dramatic creations, and scholarly consensus currently points to a composition date between 1590 and 1591.

            As one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it is interesting that The Taming of the Shrew draws extensively upon Renaissance comedic pop culture for its narrative: although very few direct sources have been identified for the play’s main characters, the forthright and unforgiving Katherina and her would-be suitor Petruchio, the idea of woman-as-shrew, or scold, was a stock subject for jestbooks in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ‘scolding of a shrew’ is listed as one of the ‘six ill sounds’ of the world in a joke book in the mid-seventeenth century, the Merry Drollery of 1661 offers guidelines on ‘how to choose a shrew’ in its ‘Advice to Bachelors’, whilst in 1693 a ‘merry Poet’ recalls a tale in which a ‘newly married man’ offers his ‘shrewd wife’ as the best form of torture to punish a wolf who has been ravaging local villagers. Along with Shakespeare’s own Katherina, these examples represent an intriguing combination of deep-rooted misogyny with humor in a way which can be deeply unsettling to modern audiences. It is worth considering the fact that in Richard II in 1597 Shakespeare uses the adjective ‘shrewd’ to indicate the danger of a very sharp sword, and for modern spectators, the shrew may yet be able to transform from a standing joke into a cunning and worthy opponent for her male detractors.

Deliver Us From Eva directed by Gary Hardwick (2003)

In this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, Eva Dandridge (Gabrielle Union) is a Los Angeles Health Inspector whose career attributes of perfectionism, directness, and bouts of officiousness are not well-received when she applies them at home to minister to the personal lives of her three sisters. Each of the three younger sisters’ plans are thwarted by Eva’s interference, and by reconfiguring Shakespeare’s sisterly dynamic between Katherina and Bianca in relation not only to Eva’s personal qualities but also her professional life, Hardwick’s film begins to elucidate a slightly different picture of the modern-day shrew than that put forth on the early modern stage. For although Eva is, in her own words, ‘uncompromising’ and ‘wear[s] it as a badge of honor’, she is true to her word when she states of ‘principle’ that ‘maybe the world is in short supply, but I am not’. Indeed, Eva takes the concept of the early modern shrew and uses it to launch a stinging attack in a battle of the sexes as she describes ‘women who aspire to culture, and men who aspire to scratch themselves’. In keeping with the source material, Eva hits so hard with her sweeping critique of all men that her words venture into misandry, but as director Hardwick has stated, she emerges as a ‘turbo-feminist’. As in Shakespeare’s play, a potential suitor is recruited for Eva, the ‘Master Player’, Ray Adams (LL Cool J), who is paid by Eva’s three brothers-in-law to distract, seduce, and then dump her. The brothers-in-law hope that Ray will be a sufficient diversion to stop Eva from interfering with their lives. However, after a rocky beginning, it is Eva’s very resolve and intelligence which seduce Ray, and when their relationship blossoms the brothers-in-law find that the newly-content shrew poses an even greater problem than she did before.

            Deliver Us From Eva is an African-American Shakespearean film adaptation, and Hardwick stated that one of his greatest motivations in making the movie was ‘to see Eva on screen. [He had] never seen a woman, much less a black woman, like her in a movie’, and in Eva’s sharp-tongued, witty exchanges the shrew appears less and less like an irritating scold and more and more like an empowered hyper-achiever. Indeed, not only is Eva herself a powerful female character, but her three sisters, Kareenah (Essence Atkins), Bethany (Robinne Lee), and Jacqui (Meagan Good) are likewise outspoken and forthright, allowing this adaptation to suggest that a modern incarnation of shrewishness may actually be more shrewd than shrew.

Dr. Emma Annette Wilson

For those of you who came to see The Tempest last night, thanks so much for supporting what we do! Now, take a deep breath. Release it. That’s about how much time you have before our next offering: the 1962 film West Side Story at the Bama Theatre, Monday, January 19th at 7:30pm.

West Side Story

Here are the program notes for the film, courtesy of Dr. Emma Wilson. Hope to see you there!

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The story of Romeo and Juliet was already an example of cross-cultural adaptation when Shakespeare took up the gauntlet and created a Protestant stage version of a tragic romance between ill-fated lovers from Catholic continental Europe. There are more sources competing to be Romeo and Juliet’s origin story than there are factions and brawls in Shakespeare’s play, ranging from an Italian novella by Matteo Bandello from the 1550s to a French version by lawyer Pierre Boaistuau. While it is uncertain which, if any, of these texts Shakespeare knew in their original languages, he certainly drew on the first English-language iteration of this story, The Tragical Fate of Romeus and Juliet penned by Protestant militant Arthur Brooke in 1562. Brooke’s attempts to aid the Protestant cause in the French wars of religion were thwarted when he died in a shipwreck in 1563, but in bequeathing Romeus and Juliet to us, not only did he spare us from the joys of John Madden’s spectral Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter from Shakespeare in Love (1998), but he enabled an almost complete English conquest of this tale. Two quarto printings of Romeo and Juliet survive from 1597 and 1599, in addition to its inclusion in the First Folio of 1623, and whilst diarist Samuel Pepys said “it is a play of itself the worst I ever heard in my life”, history has sided with Samuel Johnson as the arbiter of taste when he declared that this is one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing plays”.

The infamous story of star-crossed lovers from rival Italian families scarcely needs retelling here. From their first chance encounter at a dance to their final reunion in a shared tomb, Romeo and Juliet challenged classical ideas of what it meant to write a tragic play. By giving us not one but two forceful protagonists, who are then subject not exclusively to a series of inevitable and fatal steps, but rather to the more fickle hand of fortune, which delivers a letter too late, Shakespeare reconceptualised tragic procedure for his audience. In so doing, he inspired a slew of subsequent adaptations of this story, each of which would explore the frequently depressing consequences of different types of rivalry and factious behaviors. The 1961 film version of West Side Story clearly speaks to the cross-cultural origins of this narrative, bringing a Shakespearean perspective to cultural and national issues which remain troubling today, including racial tensions and urban discontent. Through these kinds of adaptations, we can think about the ways in which, in the 1590s, Shakespeare was writing a very modern tragedy.

 

West Side Story, directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise (1961)

Winner of the 1962 Academy Award for best picture, in addition to 9 other Oscars including 2 acting awards, and recognition for direction, color cinematography and art direction, costuming, editing, and sound, the film version of Broadway musical West Side Story was rewarded on all fronts on its release. Furthermore, its originator Jerome Robbins was the recipient of a Special Award from the Academy for his choreography of this Shakespearean adaptation. Yet whilst these accolades recognize the translation of West Side Story from Broadway to Hollywood, they do not engage with the other pivotal stage heritage of this film, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. So what was it, in 1961, that made Romeo and Juliet want to be in America? High society of sixteenth-century Verona seems a world apart from 1950s New York City. However, both settings are perturbed by the same key issues of distrust creating bitter divisions between rival factions, with tragic consequences for their young people. Waves of post-war immigration escalated tensions among urban neighborhoods, meaning that 50 years on from the placement of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet at the feet of the statue of Liberty, praising America’s open “golden door”, immigrants were experiencing a much more mixed reaction to their arrival in the Big Apple, ranging from wariness to outright hostility. West Side Story adapts Shakespeare’s rival noble Montagues and Capulets to dramatize these challenges via the established migrant gang the Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto-Rican gang the Sharks in New York City.

Shakespeare’s tale and West Side Story rely upon contrasting the happiness which the young star-crossed lovers experience together, from their first forbidden encounter at a dance to balcony serenades, with their ultimate tragic demise. Through enduringly joyous lyrics such as “America” and “I feel pretty”, Puerto-Rican Maria (Natalie Wood) of the Shark clan, and the audience with her, fall in love not only with Tony (Richard Beymer) of the rival Jet gang, but also with the American dream. However, following the fatal consequences of the ultimate showdown between the Sharks and Jets, the giddiness of the opening scenes evaporates as Maria states, “I can kill, too, because now I have hate”. In so saying, she probes some of the central questions which this Shakespearean adaptation raises: were these events inevitable? Did a chance meeting at a dance really let fly a tragic volley? Or is this a case of “chopt logic” which could have been averted through greater tolerance? In raising these issues, West Side Story allows us to explore afresh what constitutes a tragedy today.

~ Dr. Emma Annette Wilson.

Shakespeare on Film, 2014-15

September 15_____________ Ten Things I Hate About You

November 4______________________ The Bad Sleep Well

November 23________________ Shakespeare Behind Bars

December 16_____________________ To Be Or Not to Be

January 19__________________________ West Side Story

February 16____________________ Deliver Us From Eva

March 11_________________________ Forbidden Planet

April 27_______________________ Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sponsored by: The Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

All films are free and open to the public.

 post-269895-0-67746100-1368655720

This year the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies begins a Shakespeare on Film series at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. All films are free and open to the public. We’ve scheduled a range of films, some you’ve no doubt seen and loved, others you’ve not. Next up is To Be or Not to Be, a serious comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, shot during World War II. Please enjoy for the first time or again! And please let your students know about this series!!!

Here is the remaining line-up:

* December 16, 2014: Strode Film Series – To Be Or Not to Be
* January 19, 2015: Strode Film Series – West Side Story
* February 16, 2015: Strode Film Series – Deliver Us From Eva
* March 11, 2015: Strode Film Series – Forbidden Planet
* April 27, 2015: Strode Film Series – Love’s Labour’s Lost

All films start at 7:30pm, and are free and open to the public.

Brett Chatham’s program notes for this film are included below.

Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Any discussion of To Be or Not to Be must consider the comedy within its historical context. The film began production in the fall of 1941, wrapped a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and began showing in theaters in the spring of 1942. The official position of the United States had changed dramatically since the film’s conception, but Lubitsch and his cast and crew defended their work. Contemporary critics, however, were quite offended—and understandably so. The film made light of a most serious threat; in the thick of World War II, American audiences were hardly ready to laugh at any zany Nazis. Even several generations removed, we may still find some of the films famous lines in bad taste. For example, a recurring gag—“So, they call me ‘Concentration Camp’ Ehrhardt?!”—seems especially uneasy in light of what we now know of the Holocaust’s horrors. (At the time, the Allies knew almost nothing of Hitler’s death camps.) Yet we laugh at the speakers’ uneasiness rather than our own; both the real and the fake Colonel Ehrhardts carry on conversations worse than they carry out orders. Similarly, the line that most offended audiences then—“What he did to Shakespeare, we are doing now to Poland”—was only meant to deflate “that great, great Polish actor, Josef Tura.” Lubitsch certainly understood the implications of such provocative jokes but contended he never meant to dismiss or minimize the Nazi invasion of Poland: “What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology.” The film encourages us to be ever vigilant against man’s capacity for evil but careful not to give such “ridiculous” ideas too much credibility in themselves. When we retreat from ridiculing our enemies, we empower them. As a Jewish German-American émigré, Lubitsch had a more personal connection than most to the events unfolding in Europe, but he understood the war effort required fighting off the field as well on. And he could give the enemy quite a beating with his vaudevillian shtick.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (~1600) and The Merchant of Venice (~1597)

To Be or Not to Be takes its title from the best-known soliloquy in Shakespeare. Indeed, that first line is so associated with its author that its very utterance elicits more thought of theatricality than mortality. Here, as he contemplates being and nothingness, Hamlet appears to be thinking aloud to himself, but privy to those thoughts are King Claudius and his counselor Polonius, both hiding onstage. The audience knows this, and perhaps the Prince does as well. Hamlet seems ever aware of his role as an actor—at the Danish court and even, self-referentially, on the English stage. As such, “To be or not to be” explores not only existence but artifice, appearance, acting. Shakespeare wrote several plays about his art, particularly concerned with how the theater both reflects and affects life. (Consider Hamlet’s play-within-a-play, the aptly named The Mousetrap, in which the Prince hopes to catch the King’s conscience by staging the King’s crime.) Hamlet must act to save his own life, avenge his father’s, and end his usurping uncle’s, but he is much better suited to soliloquizing. To Be or Not to Be features actors who transform the European theater of World War II into an improvisational black farce, impersonating Nazis to save the Polish underground. In the film, the titular speech signals romantic rendezvous, arranged by a star actress while her “Hamlet” husband is occupied onstage, but another Shakespearean monologue, delivered on three separate occasions by a mere “spear-carrier,” actually plays a more prominent part in the plot: Shylock’s so-called Rialto speech—“Hath not a Jew eyes?”—from The Merchant of Venice. This more poignant speech signals changes in how the Polish actors view their relationships to one another and to their foreign occupiers. The troupe must identify with the enemy well enough to fool them. Merchant examines similar tensions of identification. Though Merchant is much less about theatricality than Hamlet, the earlier play’s themes still resonate strongly in the film, pointedly so considering the anti-Semitism of both settings, places hostile to their displaced populace. Ultimately, the question becomes whether to belong or not to belong.