Yeah maybe! But when it comes to adaptations often fair is fair and foul is pretty rank!
We may not currently agree on the authorship question but I think we can agree (mostly) on the best and worst adaptations to screen ( a discussion aimed at Don's question--I know Ando and Sev posted comments on the wall--I am also reasonably assured that that is the start of their answers and not the end!).
Here's a starting point to launch us!
Well, since I've posted my favorites on the wall I'll simply respond to the article you linked (which I saw for the first time some weeks ago). Right down the list:
25. Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar - Disagree about Brando. Brando blew himself out of the water and nearly off the screen (couldn't touch Gielgud or Mason - in fact, he had to frequently consult Gielgud on interpretation and pronunciation). His Marc Antony has zero charm, is often inarticulate and when he screeches at the end of penultimate lines he's simply dradful. And I'm a great admirer of Brando. But not here. The scene between Gielgud and Mason (Cassius and Brutus, respectively) near the end of the film when they're sniping at one another over tactics and war provisions is one of the best exchanges of Shakespearean dialogue I've ever seen on film. Make no mistake: Gielgud is the star of this show.
24. Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night - Haven't seen it.
23. Peter Brook's King Lear - Best Lear on film due primarily to Paul Scofield's deliberate, masterly performance. The grainy, bleak, black & white look can be a bit wearying but Scofield & Company keep the drama compelling.
22. Derek Jarman's The Tempest - Haven't seen it.
21. Michael Radford’s Merchant of Venice - Slow & painful - for everyone concerned.
20. Max Reinhardt (???) A Midsummer Night's Dream - Haven't seen it.
19. Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet - Since when is the kitchen sink required to enjoy a meal? Prominent talent idiotically cast, starting with Branagh.
18. Laurence Olivier's Henry V - My favorite of his Shakespearean film roles/direction. Finely crafted propaganda.
17. Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo & Juliet - MTV does Shakespeare. It's cool when I'm in the mood. But West Side Story works so much better.
16. Peter Greenway's The Tempest - My favorite spoken language Shakespeare adaptation. Yes, due to Gielgud and also Mr. Greenway who transports us completely to that other world in ourselves. Each time I watch it I come away humming something from its fantastic soundtrack.
15. Fred M. Wilcox's Forbidden Planet - Haven't seen it. I know. I will!!
14. Branagh Much do About Nothing - Not a bad treatment but not especially memorable. Is Keanu Reeves still alive?
13. Julie Taymor's Titus - I own it. Never watch it. On the rare occasion when I do I fast forward to the gruesomeness, which is not a complement to Taymor. She's great with spectacle. Miserable with the rest. She could not leave the long shot alone (for long) in this one. But Shakespeare isn't Euripedes. You need to pull in to really catch Will's charm.
12. Richard Loncraine’s Richard III - Hated it. I always think that Richard, like the play, should creep up on you and enchant. Otherwise, you end up with a cartoon. Olivier fared no better. Bleh.
11. Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet - Is which direction is this count going? Cause we're headed toward the pit. Awful. Awful.
10. Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet - Standard fare. Inspired moments.
9. Olivier's Hamlet - Despite Oedipal gloom it's still the best adaptation of the spoken language Shakespeare on film. Grigori Kozintsev’s Hamlet, though nodding to the Olivier version, is equally as effective visually. It's a Soviet film but equally as romantic in style, which tends to bore me after a spell.
8. Olivier's Richard III - Overdone and half-baked. But I don't like the character or the play so I'm biased. Gielgud can't even save this one for me.
7. Branagh's Henry V - I think Branagh's self-confessed Platoon-like approach works for most of the film. But the courtship scenes near the film's conclusion feel more compulsory than inclusive.
6. Gus Van Sant My Own Private Idaho - Huh? Shakespeare adaptation? Why not Dr. Doolittle? Please.
5. Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood - Masterpiece. Speechless.
4. Orson Welles' Othello - I like Welles' nightmare treatment. The quick cutting and showplay works for me. This is right up there with Richard III as one of Shakespeare's most heinous designs in my book. Instead of polishing it with brass Welles makes the grotesque aspects of a man's character look like it should. Micheal MacLimmoir's Iago is the best I've seen on stage or screen.
3. Kurosawa's Ran - In terms of scale and imagination no one can touch this magnificent adaptation of King Lear. I'm afraid Akira tops Will with this one.
2. Roman Polanski's Macbeth - Haven't seen it. It's next in me queue.
1. Welles' Chimes At Midnight - Haven't seen it. Looking for a decent print.
Until recently I believed there was no such thing as a "bad" Hamlet, since the part draws out what's unique in the actor and every actor brings something special to the part.
Branagh's film version puts a cork in that theory.
The ineptitude of the production is, of course, a subject on which I will eagerly dwell if shown the instruments. But Branagh's performance attains a level of awfulness that I can't imagine will ever be superceded. "How all occasions do inform against me . . ." -- which he uses just before the intermission -- is declaimed in competition with the ridiculous music. Thus, his voice rises to a shout, forcing the camera back, and the tone and intimacy of the soliloquy is wholly lost amid the effects. But Branagh himself is not lost. He stands on a pedestal against a vast back-drop, looking very much the self-deluding sophomore speechifying in a high school elocution contest. It's so ridiculous that one stares in disbelief, unsure whether to laugh or scream in rage. I decided to do both. Was there no one on that film set, no friend or gaffer or sycophant with the guts to approach him and whisper, "Ken . . . you're making an egregious ass of yourself ?"
Chimes at Midnight is just a precis of the Falstaff plays. So a good deal of what what you wait to see is either cut out or done sideways. Hotspur is a cruel loss -- not so much the actor as the way he's used and mis-used. But the battle scene is one of the great moments of Welles' career as a visual artist, ranking it with Eisenstein's battle on the ice in Alexander Nevsky. Critics said that Welles was the only actor too fat to play Falstaff -- and there's something to that, though he models himself well during the Rejection scene.
Much Ado about Nothing - Branagh, once again. I don't dislike him, really. In fact, I first saw this at a pre-release screening with Branagh himself introducing the film. He was charming and amiable and very winning. But he definitely should keep from directing himself. He turns Benedick into a shrill, spastic asshole. He ruins the great "I do love nothing in the world so well as you . . ." and leaves it entirely to Emma Thompson to save the moment. Fortunately, she's in top form and gets the job done. But -- unlike his Hamlet, suffocating under the elephantiasis of its own aspiration to "completeness" -- Branagh's Much Ado is ruthlessly cut. Dogberry's magnificent "O, that I were writ down an ass . . ." is gone -- I mean gone! -- and replaced with Michael Keaton mugging his way through the scene.
Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream gives you the chance to see famous Warner Brothers players -- like Jimmy Cagney and Olivia de Havilland -- taking on Shakespeare. They're not bad. The real problem for me, of course, is that I despise the play. I'm most un-sympathetic to Shakespeare's romantic fantasies. Even The Tempest -- a far better poem -- is tedious for me to watch.
Romeo and Juliet - Never liked any version much, probably because -- until Zefferelli -- the actors were always too old for their parts. If you don't mind promenading through the geriatric ward, the old MGM film with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer (and John Barrymore as Petruchio!) may give you a chance to appreciate the text. I like it for Shearer, actually, even though she's three times Juliet's age and hardly a "natural" actress. It's just that she's one of those rare actresses who are most sexually provocative when they're most artificial, so . . .
Kurosawa's Ran has some great Kurosawa moments, but he's an older director than he was when he made Throne of Blood. He gives us longer takes, more subdued -- and, hence, more stylized -- performances, and after a while he makes me hunger for a close-up. In the battle scenes he's still the young Kurosawa, however.
Peter Brook is a director whom I hate yet admire greatly. I've encountered two versions of Paul Scofield's King Lear -- this film and one on audio cassette. I prefer the audio performance. Scofield's rendition of "O, let me not be mad. Not mad . . . " froze me down to the bone. Brooks gives this black-and-white film a sense of immediacy, but for me it loses both the play's majesty and intimacy.
(Brooks also did a shoe-string production of Hamlet, directing a half-assed cast in what appears to be a recently-vacated Indian cathouse. He not only cuts lines -- he drops the first scene entirely -- but even changes or adds lines. Nevertheless, Brooks is always trying to get at something. For this I respect him -- and also for having said that Shakespeare never uses the "expected" word, but it takes an Englishman to know that the word he does use is perfect.)
I can't agree with your assessment of Welles' Othello. Too much of it is operatic -- both aurally and visually -- and MacLiammoir's performance is a mistake from beginning to end. (Welles' sound-editing doesn't help him much, either.) The movie, of course, is more Welles than Shakespeare, and that's a reason to find it interesting. But Olivier's Othello -- static and soundstage-bound as it is -- is at least the record of a fabulous performance by him and his cast. Frank Finlay is one of the few Iagos I've seen who actually understand the part.
I likewise can't follow your lead on Olivier's Richard III. His performance in that film is probably his finest as a Shakespearean actor. Olivier was often criticized for being "too technical". But the character is virtually a moustache-twirling louse, and the real joy of an otherwise pedestrian history play is this protagonist taking us into his confidence, explaining to us precisely how big an asshole he intends to be and then executing his plan. The part is a perfect fit for Olivier. What's unfortunate about it is his stodgy direction. It's like he's shooting a musical -- set up the camera and let the actors do their schtick in long, uninterrupted takes.
Derek Jarman's The Tempest - I don't like the play anyway, so Jarman's unique "vision" doesn't disturb me the way it disturbs others. But it's still unbearable.
I agree with your analysis of the MGM Julius Caesar. But I don't find Brando quite as obnoxious as you do. He has his moments.
Forbidden Planet ?!? Are you shitting me? Robby the Robot as Ariel? Or is he Caliban? The movie hasn't worn as well as other sci-fi flicks from the 'fifties -- surprising, since it had a bigger budget than most of them. But Monsters from the Id . . . ahhhhh . . . what an idea! If only Inception had found something inside people's dreams beside car chases and James Bond-ish wrap-ups.
"I can't agree with your assessment of Welles' Othello. Too much of it is operatic"
Precisely. It's exactly why I prefer Verdi's treatment (though Zeferelli's film isn't the best version of it) to Shakespeare's.
"I've encountered two versions of Paul Scofield's King Lear -- this film and one on audio cassette. I prefer the audio performance. "
Yes. In truth, I prefer the audio version of most Shakespeare productions over the visual story. The latest Taymor effort, The Tempest, for example, works better for me with the monitor turned off. I'm not a fan of an excessive use of cgi, anyway.
Correction: John Barrymore as Mercutio.
OK, I really liked Franco Zefferelli's Hamlet with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close. I also really like Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. Lightweight faire maybe but I'm anxious to go deeper.
The problem with seeing Shakespeare on film is that -- as a rule (to which there have been exceptions) -- filmmakers think of Shakespeare plays simply as screenplays composed on "spec" -- meant only to be the jumping off point for their own artistic visions.
Hence, by the time his plays reach the screen they're mercilessly cut and re-thought. Not just abridged or carved up to fit a standard movie time-slot, but really twisted and distorted to express ideas that Shakespeare never intended. I'm not crabbing about that. Shakespeare was himself a guy who stole from others and cut, re-worked, and re-expressed his original source materials. But you can see how difficult it is to simply recommend this or that movie as a good "Shakespearean" film.
When you watch Kurosawa doing King Lear or Macbeth you don't get much Shakespeare, other than the plot -- which Shakespeare himself lifted from somebody else.
Welles, at least, has more respect for the sound and flavor of the words themselves, so you'll get a taste of Shakespeare in Welles' renderings of Othello, Macbeth, and the Falstaff plays. But even Welles is ruthless in savaging the text -- though sometimes that's more a function of his lack of money to finish his project than it is of his true attitude toward the play he's filming. Macbeth is closest to the original. I'm informed that he recorded the dialogue track after he shot the film. That enables him to blend his own flamboyant pictorial style with the play. But the technique has its drawbacks -- as sharp and nimble as the actors are, and as sure as their readings are, there's a disembodied quality that permeates the movie, which is otherwise often beautifully filmed -- a real hodge-podge of Shakespearean film noir.
Once more, if it's Shakespeare -- I mean, his text -- you want, you're probably better off seeing more "theatrical" productions of him. It's a matter of personal taste. You may not enjoy low-budget TV productions, usually taped and, by the time they reach DVD -- if at all -- visually and aurally depleted by the sheer number of generations they passed through before you get to see them. I'm sufficiently stiff-dicked about Shakespeare that I don't mind these problems so much. But you might find them insurmountable. To me, every obstacle can be overcome but boredom. That's the sure killer.
If you're willing to give TV tapes a chance, you might try the BBC/Ambrose video (it's on DVD) of Much Ado about Nothing. Cherie Lunghi, who was Guenevere in Excalibur, plays Beatrice. Robert Lindsay (whose credentials include playing Edmond in Olivier's King Lear) takes a bit of getting used to -- or, rather, the beard he wears in the first couple of acts takes getting used to, but I find him a most satisfying Benedick. Jon Finch, who did Frenzy with Hitchcock and played Macbeth for Roman Polanski, is the Prince. I can't quite bring to mind the actor who plays Claudio, but he plays him nobly, a very different character from Robert Sean Leonard's version in the Branagh film. Dogberry, Verges, the Prince's sour brother, Conrad, Hero (who's not as pretty as I'd like), Margaret, Hero's father -- the whole crowd, basically, are very professional. And the exquisite Act IV scene where the merry, warring lovers finally lay down their masks has only been done this well in an old PBS version with Robert Stephens and his then wife, Maggie Smith, a production that I'd love to have but can't find anywhere.
You must decide whether you're interested only in swift-moving contemporary film narrative or whether you're willing to commit to the plays themselves. If you're really willing to take the plunge -- and risk some boredom or even anger while setting yourself up to be ass-fucked by some of the finest drama, in the finest language, you've ever come across -- then you've got to watch more than mere "filmed" Shakespeare productions. Some of the finest performances of his plays that I ever saw were done outdoors in parks on summer nights with only half-professional casts.
Thanks Sevorin. I have read the plays so I do love the language.I am an Anglofile in my reading. I love the Golden Age of English detective fiction. 1890-1940. Dorothy Sayers, Margerie Allingham, Will Freeman Croft etc.
It's actually in my hands! A lifetime since I last saw it. I thought I'd never see it again. But Allah akbar!!
I remember how annoyed I was at the start of it. But by its finish Plummer was my favorite Hamlet and Shaw my favorite Claudius (he plays him like a guy who would actually knock off his brother and steal his wife and crown).
I don't have NF.
I was expelled for profanity and public fornication several years ago.
I put that up for the non fornicators here. But if you hadn't brought it up I'd have never got the chance to see it! Didn't know it existed. So thanks.