Mirabelle Harris-Eze: Notes Reflection

“We all do ‘do, re, mi,’ but you have got to find the other notes yourself.”

~ Louis Armstrong

Introduction

While most notes include summaries and interpretation of data, the way these occur on the page differ from person to person. My marketing textbook describes analysis as the conversion of data into insight, and this analysis is always made easier for me through taking notes. Today, I want to look at textual data and visual data, especially in regards to play-texts and films. My annotation practices when reading and observing both art forms differ and converge in methodology.

Annotation Practices – Play-Texts

An aversion to manipulating physical copies of a text, due to the majority of the texts that I have ever read being library loans, means that my copies of Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing are void of  highlighting, underlines and scribbles. I hope to grow out of this aversion, as I have to come to understand—over taking two English classes this semester and talking to classmates—that margin notes taken in the physical copy of a text have numerous benefits such as ease of reference and direct linking of ideas without having to write them all out. Currently, with my aversion still present, I write detailed notes about play-texts in a separate notebook.

As Play-Texts are a form of Literature, I am very conscious of literary devices when taking notes. I note:

  1. Literary Devices (Symbolism, Simile, etc.)
  2. Quotes or words I enjoy/I don’t understand
  3. Context I might need to look into further

I also try to go beyond simply addressing the existence of the above but: in the case of literary terms, discussing the effects of the devices used; with words I can’t decipher, looking them up; and context I am clueless about, researching more. All of this additional information is jotted down.

Annotation Practices – Film

When watching film, there are numerous aspects to keep in mind as I write my notes in a notebook. Unlike with textual works, I have less academic experience with writing notes when watching films. This class has been a large factor in my better understanding of interpreting film. When writing notes during the various films we’ve seen throughout ENGL 311, there are specific things I look for:

  1. Film Techniques (such as type of shots, editing cuts, etc.)
  2. Actors (A-List, relationship to director/producer, etc.)
  3. Lines or words I enjoy/don’t understand
  4. Context I might need to look into further

After numerous English classes that taught how to read literature, the process of annotation and interpretation of texts flows quickly and lengthily. The same cannot be said for film. These notes tend to be more sparse, especially because when watching scenes from a film in a classroom or theater-like setting, it is not possible/too time-consuming to pause to write down lengthy observations.

General Note Taking and Inquiry and Determining Success

Notes-1

An example of my note-taking.

I like to see how several small ideas connect over large chunks of text or video. Thus, when I write notes, my handwriting tends to be very minute and cramped. The more text I can cram on a page, the more ideas I can relate and compare. I also utilize arrows, models, and different text colors to relate ideas, differentiate headings or highlight important words and concepts. For taking notes for texts and films, I try to develop a character map listing out the cast of characters, along with their characteristics, and how they relate to each other.

There are two different things I look at when trying to tell if I’ve had a successful note-taking session:

  1. I understand the material better and this understanding resonates across all additional analysis.
  2. When I look back at my notes, I can understand them in nearly the same capacity as when I wrote them down.

Conclusion

My note taking is often intensely meticulous, cramped, colorful and done in a specific notebook with lined paper. My approach when taking notes when reading play-texts and when watching film differ and converge. Notes on play-texts tend to be lengthier and more in-depth. Both require brief summaries, analysis of textual and visual devices, and, later on, external research.

 


mira-shadowMirabelle Harris-Eze is an 18 year-old student based in Calgary, Alberta. Sometime in the near future, she wishes to publish a book written entirely in the language of her ancestors, Igbo. One day she hopes to fill this bio with writing credentials, and accolades. For now, this will have to do.

Mirabelle Harris-Eze: Scene Comparison | Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)


Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet (1996 film) directed by Kenneth Branagh

 

 

 

 

 

       

 



Introduction

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is arguably one of the most famous plays in English literature. This blog post will compare and contrast Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (1990) and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet (1996)—in particular the last half of Act III Scene I, encompassing Hamlet’s soliloquy up until Claudius exits with Polonius.

I know that I am not in the minority when I say that Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play. In this blog post, I look into how Zeffirelli and Branagh, two directors releasing their film adaptations during the same decade, with similar budgets, interpret Hamlet on screen—just how polarizing could their renditions be?

Script and Running Time

Zeffirelli’s Hamlet runs at 134 (2 hours and 14 minutes) minutes and Branagh’s Hamlet at, nearly double that, 242 minutes (4 hours and 2 minutes). The disparity in running times are apparent in the conversion from Hamlet the text from Hamlet the screenplay.

Hamlet (1990) was cut to a length suitable for the cinema. Long blocks of text were cut down and lines swapped, thus quickening the pace of the plot. In contrast, Hamlet (1996) was the first unabridged theatrical interpretation of the text. I recall it took 4 sittings to watch it in high school English class, and we followed along with our textual copies of Hamlet. Branagh’s decision here renders the film more theatrical than cinematic, which lies in complete opposition to Ziffirelli’s decision to use a multitude of cinematic techniques, many action-film based. This observation is further developed when I talk about the shots both directors favored.

To Be or not To Be…

“To be, or not to be: that is the question”

(Hamlet 3.1.56)

The way the two directors interpret Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on screen was what I was most interested in during my comparative analysis.

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hamlet-zeffirelli-closeup

 

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Setting of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet

hamlet-branagh-1  hamlet-branagh-3

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Setting of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet


Zeffirelli’s Hamlet employs short takes, the average shot length is 6 seconds, reminiscent of action films. Mel Gibson as Hamlet wanders an underground morgue, the camera steady and shots short. These vary from close ups to wide angle shots, techniques possible solely with cinematography, that emphasize the darkly-lit setting. In contrast, the majority of Branagh’s Hamlet employs long single takes, very often with some sort of moving camerawork. In the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet is filmed standing in front of a mirror, in a brightly-lit hall of mirrors, the camera zooming closer and closer as the speech goes on. This mimics more accurately the experience in a theatre with the long single take, but still uses cinematographic elements with the camera zoom, building tension.

Tension is built in Hamlet (1996) sonically speaking, too. As Branagh delivers his lines, soft, pedantic music crescendos as the soliloquy goes on. Hamlet (1990) is void of music during the speech but Mel Gibson’s voice is filled with heavy reverb—as the scene takes place in an airy, cellar-like place—vocals are more emphasized than musical score.

Hamlet and Ophelia and the Other Guys too

The interaction between Ophelia and Hamlet is approached both uniquely and similarly by Zeffirelli and Branagh.


hamlet-zifferelli-ophelia-side-side-talk hamlet-zifferelli-ophelia-side-side-talk-2

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Hamlet and Opheila in Hamlet (1990)

hamlet-branaugh-ophelia-side-side-talk

Hamlet and Opheila in Hamlet (1996)


If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for

thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as

snow, thou shalt not escape calumny . . .

(Hamlet 3.1.35-37)

Hamlet’s line above is delivered loudly and angrily by Gibson, in an arc shot, in Hamlet (1990). In Hamlet (1996) the line is delivered just as loudly by Branagh, and perhaps a little more maniacally, in a tracking shot. Both shots capture the madness of Hamlet, whether genuine or feigned.

The duplicitous natures of Claudius and Polonius are captured similarly as well between the directors. In Hamlet (1990), Claudius and Polonius eavesdrop from behind pillars covered in shadows, while in Hamlet (1996), Claudius and Polonius eavesdrop from behind the mirrors in the hall.


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Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet (1990)

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Claudius and Polonius in Hamlet (1996)

 

 

 


Conclusion

Acclaimed directors Zeffirelli and Branagh, although releasing their renditions of Hamlet in the same decade, with similar budgets, produce quite unique works. While Zeffirelli’s rendition focuses on mainly cinematic elements, Branagh’s focuses more so on theatrical elements.