Team Danger Zone, Project Blog Post

For the group film project, we decided to focus on the interactions between Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio in scenes Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 2, Scene 4. We found these scenes other than a few lines to be completely transferable in a modern day scenario. It is essentially guys just getting together to talk about girls. Maybe a bit more emotional than usual, but overall regular guy talk. (Or so they say)

Because of this we decided to make one of our film takes a complete modernization of the text with a focus on the teenage aspect of the characters. Since they were written as 16 year olds, how would they sound as 16 year olds today? We also decided to add the technology of today in this version as it has taken over as such a prominent means of communication, especially amongst that generation.

Off to rehearsals!

Off to rehearsals!

Somewhat keeping with this theme of the age of the characters, and that Romeo and Juliet is so commonly taught to this age group in school, we then made our second film take as teenagers trying to act the scenes almost verbatim from Shakespeare’s play. They themselves are trying to relate and understand Shakespeare’s words as they were originally written.

“So how goes your dating life?”

We edited the script to keep the focus on the character’s age and interest in girls. We added music that also was reflective of the age group and the teenage romantic drama/comedies of today. Finally, we specifically filmed the use of technology as a means of communication especially in today’s dating scene.

 

Team D: Julian, Devin, Christine, Lety, Chelsea, Aja

Aja Elemans: Film Diary Act 5, Scene 1

Other than the necessary snack and bathroom breaks, Branagh’s Hamlet (1996) is actually quite an easy and enjoyable watch. It is clear that Branagh and all the actors he chose understand the lines or at least how they should be expressed as per this rendition. The acting is great and the story is very well presented. Because Branagh chose only to lightly modify Shakespeare’s original script, it is very easy to follow along should you have the text in front of you. It is by this practice that I noticed a repetition of references to Greek and Roman mythology.

Ossa, Hercules? Did the average person know what these were? Do they now?

Ossa, Hercules? Did the average person know what these were? Do they now?

In Hamlet’s first soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2 he makes reference to Niobe and Hercules. I took note and considered this a way of demonstrating Hamlet’s education. This reference of Hercules is to demonstrate how far from a father Polonius is to Hamlet. Without knowing who Hercules is or what he represents, the idea being portrayed is clear in the comparison and delivery of the line.

Later in Act 5, Scene 1, Hamlet makes reference to Alexander the Great, Caesar and again Hercules. The note in Robert Miola’s Norton edition to this second Hercules reference (Let Hercules himself do what he may, l.271) is that it could be a jab at Laertes. It is here that I question who in Shakespeare’s original audiences would be getting these references.

Without the script, there is no way I would have caught the repetition in the first place and without a close reading would I be understanding the references. So who exactly was he writing them for?

Yup… I snapped my movie watching and the first moment we see Hamlet really losing his mind.

 

Notes Reflection (Text vs. Film)

If you’re like me and haven’t annotated your reading before, starting this habit can be very hard. I mean, weren’t you taught as a child to not write in your books. At most, you followed your line of reading with your finger but the book should look as undamaged as possible by the time you were done. (Libraries will charge you for damage you know!) Annotating can open up a text and make your mind work very differently when interpreting a reading.

The only books I thought you could draw in!

The only books I thought you could draw in!

So how much of the text and syntax and depth do you miss when you are merely “reading” it? Did you notice how many words in that sentence started with the letter c? Did you notice that a word was repeated 6 times in that one paragraph? Maybe it’s my love of stationary (I am Asian and little OCD) but my annotating practices have started with a few coloured pens. This allow me to isolate specifics in different colours. My annotating also requires me to reread the text. Usually if it’s worth annotating, I need to reread it to understand it. Unknown words now get an underline and definition in the margin. (Thank you google search.) Alliterations get circled and repetitions get underlined. I’m also still not sure why but unless the text is written out like a limerick, I will always miss rhyming on the first go. Reading out loud is beneficial to catch the enunciations and flow in the prose. These practices can be hard to get used to, but when you can explain what Shakespeare meant to someone who has never heard English spoken that way before, then I think you have nailed it.

King Henry V, Act 4, Chorus Intro, all marked up!

King Henry V, Act 4, Chorus Intro, all marked up!

In contrast film annotating is a very different process. I have never watched a movie with the screenplay in front of me. (Where do you even get a screenplay?) I may have access to the original material (book or play) that it was based on but never have I followed along in a book and rarely with a play. (Only for Shakespeare, and even then…rarely) It can be quite hard to follow when the dialogue isn’t word for word as it is in the original play.

My first film annotating experience was watching Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet at seven years old with my dad. He kept pausing the movie and reviewing the lines in his massive Shakespeare anthology to make sure I understood. But pausing a movie can change the way the movie feels and flows. A directors pacing and editing wasn’t intended to have extra breaks. But without breaks, trying to take notes while watching a film can be extremely distracting. How quickly a detail could be missed if you look away from the screen even for a minute.

YouTube and IMDb. So helpful!

YouTube and IMDb. So helpful!

Much like the rereading required with annotating text, sometimes it is necessary to re-watch (at least a few scenes of) a movie. After you have watched it once, it is easy to make notes and distinguish the characteristics that make the film unique (or not).

Looking for camera angles, analyzing acting performances, quoting the script, listening to the score and appreciating the editing becomes evident as you not merely trying to pay attention to what is happening in the story. Even then, when I’m trying to dissect each film element out of a scene, I will most likely watch it 5 or 6 times through and type notes for each aspect.

Crowl's guide outlines the elements of a film in his Keys to Filmmaking.

Crowl’s guide outlines the elements of a film in his Keys to Filmmaking.

Also after watching a movie, nerds like me tend to wander over to IMDb to review the actors, directors, screenwriters and trivia. Sometimes you forget that the actor was in that other movie you liked and now you realize how similar they were.  Or that the director also made another movie based on a previous work of said author. Or that the screenwriter seems to have a thing for dramatic thrillers. Directors will very often collaborate with the same cinematographers and composers and the styles will bleed through each of their works.

While this is still a “work in progress” for me, it is interesting to review the things that you note as you read through a passage for the first time or the fourth time. As someone who has read the Harry Potter series more times than I have fingers, it’s evident that with every re-reading I pick up something new. Annotating allows you to slow down and take note of the things that the author carefully considered when creating their text. Meanwhile, most films probably don’t deserve a second watch, but the ones who do will be immediately evident. You can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it and on re-watching you wonder how you somehow missed so much the first time around.

To be or not to be? (Scene Comparison)

 Kenneth Branagh (1996) vs. Franco Zeffirelli (1990)

Even the movie posters look to tell a different story.

Even the movie posters look to tell a different story.

Here are two massive Hollywood productions, competing for Oscar nominations in their respective years. Branagh in all his Shakespeare enthusiasm made one of the longest movies ever (3hr58min). Zeffirelli was completing his Shakespeare works with a more accepted film length. (Which also ended up being better received, at 2hr15min.)

When making Hamlet come to life, Act 3, Scene 1 has particular importance. People who don’t know Shakespeare have usually heard the line “To be or not to be”. It has been delivered every which way since the time it was written. While both the directors refrained from editing the original prose, the two deliveries could not be more different than Branagh’s performance in his self directed movie and Mel Gibson’s for Zeffirelli’s film.

branagh

That’s a hard look to pull off, even for Mr. Branagh.

To start, both directors took very different looks to the title character. Branagh is rocking some 90’s Eminem bleach blonde hair with a sharp mustache and goatee. To be fair, no one could really pull of this look. In comparison, Mel Gibson looks like, well, Mel Gibson. Not braided hair Braveheart Mel Gibson, just a short haircut and a light beard. Both are maybe not quite invoking of a student returning home from school but that’s creative freedom.

gibson

Classic emotional Mel Gibson looking sad.

Looks aside, the set choice for this famous soliloquy are also very different. Branagh is in a massive brightly lit ballroom, surrounded by double way mirrors. This is key, as Branagh’s Hamlet seems to know that Claudius and Polonius are watching him from the other side. The verse becomes less self-reflective and more of an act for his hidden audience. Zeffirelli places Hamlet alone in a tomb where he reflects life and death. In a somber space and almost asking the dead who surround him, Gibson’s Hamlet is truly considering if this life is worth living. Simply by the surroundings, the two directors take a very different tone to Hamlet’s words.

Whose house has two way mirrors?

Whose house has two way mirrors?

Branagh uses the mirrors to also deliver the soliloquy in one continuous shot. The only editing coming at the beginning before any words are spoken to establish that Polonius and Claudius are present for the speech. Having the camera look over his shoulder and slowly zooming in on the reflection as he walks closer to the mirror and his hidden listeners. At one point he even draws a knife and points it towards himself in the mirror. Or perhaps seen as foreshadowing he is in fact pointing the knife at those who are standing behind it. One could also consider the mirror as an illusion to the veil of death as Hamlet speaks of the travel no one returns from (LL80-81).

Zeffirelli in his tomb with low lighting had no problem taking multiple shots and editing them together. The scene is mostly close ups but it is clearly shown that Hamlet is pacing around the tomb in his self-contemplation. The audience is forced to revel in Gibson’s facial expressions and follow him closely throughout the scene. The only breaks are short glimpses of bones and the crypt as answers to Hamlet’s questions of death.

Well that's a gloomy setting.

Well that’s a gloomy setting.

Finally Branagh delivers his lines with a slow methodology that he is not simply saying them to himself. His pauses come as if he knows what he wants to say. The feel comes less naturalistic and more like a rehearsed performance. There is less inflection within the words and he maintains a steady almost whispering volume for most the phrases. There is a gradual build of volume as the camera moves closer to the reflection but it is accentuated by an introduction of a low lying score.

Zeffirelli lets Gibson have accentuated speech that comes when thoughts are spoken aloud. There is clear emphasis on Shakespeare’s repetition of words. The word sleep being used 5 times within 7 lines are given noted pauses (LL.61-67). Gibson puts lots of emotion into his performance and is not tied to a score. The only other sounds come from his pacing and throwing himself to the floor in his sorrow.

While both performances deliver the opening line quite quickly, Branagh chooses to pause and gives final focus on “action”. This again accentuates the feeling that he knows what he wants to say. Gibson delivers the last line fluidly in a final thought and ends the scene with a saddened hang of the head.

 

While both directors took very different approaches to Shakespeare’s work, they should both be appreciated for their artistic approaches. While you may not want to submit yourself to the 4 hours required for Branagh’s epic, you can catch both scenes here in these YouTube links:

Branagh (1996) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjuZq-8PUw0

Zeffirelli (1990) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei0fnP9s0KA

 

So what do you think? Is one far superior then the other? Are either of them really what Shakespeare meant when he wrote the ever famous soliloquy?