Posts Tagged ‘Shakesfilm’

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.

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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

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.

The next Shakespeare Film at the Bama Theatre will be Shakespeare Behind Bars, which was postponed last month due to tornado warnings.Shakespeare Behind Bars

Also, if you missed The Bad Sleep Well last week, you can find Brett Chatham’s program notes here:

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (~1600)

Despite its reputation among Shakespeareans, The Bad Sleep Well is not “Kurosawa’s Hamlet.” To clarify, the Japanese film does not merely set the play’s plot against the backdrop of a corrupt corporate culture. Several adaptations of the English play are just that and little more (see, for example, Michael Almereyda’s 2000 film), but Hamlet has more than proven its richness as a source of artistic inspiration. Of course, the Bard borrowed most of his plots; his audience was likely familiar with the cry “Hamlet, revenge!” before ever seeing Shakespeare’s Ghost on the Globe stage. Revenge tragedies dominated Elizabethan stages and pages, and generic conventions—such as murder, usurpation, and the supernatural—certainly perpetuated the popularity of Shakespeare’s play early on. But as Western culture began to focus more on the individual and interiority, directors still found Hamlet easily adaptable to the zeitgeist. From Germany to Russia to Japan, cultures quite different from Shakespeare’s England have interpreted the Prince of Denmark as a man who speaks and thinks for them as well. The role’s versatility helps explain its universality, and in a way, Shakespeare’s play has become everyone’s. Consider as well Kurosawa has acknowledged his admiration for Shakespeare generally and Hamlet specifically on several occasions—though he never mentioned it as an inspiration for The Bad Sleep Well. So, while we can claim Kurosawa does not, strictly speaking, adapt the play in his film, we can hardly deny he appropriates many of the play’s themes to serve his own story of madness, suicide, and especially, revenge.

Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

Laurence Olivier famously introduced his 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet as “the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind”; Kurosawa’s hero, Nishi, is not that man. Throughout the play, Hamlet wavers between killing his uncle and killing himself, revenge or suicide. Nishi, however, commits to his plan, avenging his father’s coerced suicide, long before the action of the film even begins. The Bad Sleep Well begins with an accusatory wedding cake and ends with an ominous phone call, and in every scene between the two, the film upsets the expectations of any audience who presumes to know how “Kurosawa’s Hamlet” should play out. Parallels to the play abound, but they are so intricately woven into this tightly knit noir that teasing out each strand would prematurely unravel many of the film’s mysteries. Film critic Chuck Stephens calls The Bad Sleep Well a “gray flannel ghost story in which the living haunt the dead,” and so, we may expect uncanny film noir. Shakespearean Kaori Ashizu claims the film is about “the ways in which an extraordinary mixing of feudal and modern attitudes empowers corruption,” and so, we may expect a sociological analysis of postwar Japan. Kurosawa himself said he wanted to expose those who “hide behind the facade of some great organization like a company or a corporation—and consequently no one ever really knows how dreadful they are, what awful things they do.” And so, we may expect fictionalized investigative journalism. And although no one above mentions the play, we can readily read references to Hamlet in each comment. The more we try to think about the film and the play separately, the more we dwell on their relationship. Should we view the film as commenting on the play’s themes or vice versa? The answer, quite clearly, is yes.

~Brett Chatham