Tekla McIlhargey: Film Review

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I was immediately intrigued by the opening scene of Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night or What You Will when we were shown a clip in class and so it was an easy decision to write my film review on this specific film.  I found that with the breathtaking location choices to the purposeful use of light and dark I was drawn into the film and the story yet not overwhelmed by one particular film technique.  A compelling choice of Shakespeare’s original text was used and unfamiliar words were swapped for specific words more understandable for modern audience.  I found this technique would likely be useful in allowing a wider audience to enjoy one of Shakespeare’s best (in my opinion) comedic romances.

In act one, scene five, when Viola disguised as Cesario and Olivia meet for the first time, Viola is brought into a dark room where it is hard to see much of anything.  There is no sound except for the soft clicking of a clock.  This choice of natural lighting and lack of music work well with Violas initial confusion and consistent request for confirmation that Olivia is indeed the lady of the house.  As the text between Viola and Olivia becomes more personal, we see a pique in Olivia’s interest through close camera shots of her big expressive eyes and we see Viola thrust open the curtains to blind Olivia with light. We see the two end the visit on an intimate note out in the garden with Viola yelling “Olivia!” bolding and much to Olivia’s pleasant surprise, seen through an up close shot of Olivia’s expression.  They are fully in the light of the sun. Olivia has moved from a dark sorrowful place to a light loving place, both personally and visually.

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In act two, scene four, we find Viola, Orsino and Feste alone in a small, dark lit cabin.  This is not similar to Shakespeare’s original text as there is a larger group written in the original, however, the dialogue between the characters is similar and Feste’s song is identical.  Once again, I found the choice of natural lighting worked well with the scene, it is intimate and allows for the audience to behold a very close and seductive relationship between Viola and Orsino.  As Feste is singing the camera breaks between short shots of Feste singing and longer, slower shots of Viola and Orsino moving their heads closer to one other and almost kissing.  The darkness and natural lighting, the low, soft music and slow camera movements makes for a very intimate scene.

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The final scene of the play is act five, scene one.   Although this is not the last scene of the movie, it is, in my opinion, the most tense.  We watch quick shots as the quarrel and confusion escalade between the characters.  The look of confusion on Olivia’s face when she first welcomes Viola and Orsino to her home is a choice by actress Helena Bonham Carter to show her confusion as to why her ‘husband’ has arrived with Orsino and seems just fine with Orsino’s expression of adoration without her having to say a word.  The scene continues through quick up close shots and longer wide angle shots while we watch the cast and the emotion grow.  The perplexity and then clarity on the actors faces brings the audience to the climax as we watch the slow lingering shot of Olivia and her words, straight from Shakespeare’s text, “most wonderful”.

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The use of music, scene location and natural lighting, as well as the choice exerts from Shakespeare’s original text created an intense build up and finale that was exactly what the audience would have been waiting for.  As the film closes there is sequence of long shots with the characters dispersing towards their futures and Feste dancing merrily away singing; as an audience it feels we have been given a fair and comfortable ending.

 

Samuel Martyn: Film Review

Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. I feel as though the film, through methods unavailable in a theatrical performance, was able to produce more subtleties and evoke emotion that a live stage performance would not be able to. These factors, I believe make the film not only an effective interpretation of the text, but also a more palatable version at that.

I found the way in which the Chorus (played by Derek Jacobi) is presented in this adaptation is very intriguing, particularly in the prologue. The Chorus – no doubt through the text itself – is supposed to break the fourth wall, but the prologue is removed completely from the world that the narrative takes place within. This first scene is placed on a movie set, with cameras and other equipment in full view of the audience, so as to give the impression that the Chorus is, while later appearing in the actual scenes of the narrative, a type of modern-day tour guide through the jungle that is medieval Europe. henry-v-prologue

The Chorus is also seen wearing modern clothes, while all the other players are seen to be wearing clothes appropriate to the medieval period of the narrative. This helps once again show the Chorus as a separate entity, our tour guide through the film. It seems as though Branagh has the Chorus conducting a type of documentary, which to me appears quite unique in a beneficial way, as it gives a sense of realness to the history.

Act 1 Scene 1 as it is performed in the film, allows the audience to experience the dialogue between the two Bishops in a way that a stage performance in a theatre could not. The shadowy lighting and the camera angles allow for close up and extreme close up shots to give a feeling of intimacy in the conversation between the two men. It allows for us to see the expressions of scheming and secrecy on the faces of the Bishops. henry-v-act-1-scene-1

This scene however not only allows the audience to feel these effects through camera angles, but through the dialogue itself as well. The two Bishops through this scene speak very quietly, sometimes even whispering. This effectively creates a feeling that this conversation is surreptitious in nature. In a theatre environment, these techniques would not be able to be employed, and I believe that their use in this film are effective and beneficial in the portrayal of Shakespeare’s text.

Another factor that helps drive along the narrative within the film is Branagh’s use of flashbacks to Henry V’s past. One in particular is the flashback to a conversation between Sir John Falstaff (Robbie Coltrane) and Henry (Branagh) before he became king. “No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.” This dialogue appears nowhere in the original text of this play, but is drawn from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4). These flashbacks, while from a different play, allow the audience to see into the past life of Henry, an effect that the original text does not necessarily provide. Branagh uses this as a tool to portray a conflicted Henry, who is turning his back on his former life. It also shows how his ascension to the position of king and the abandoning of his old friends affected them as well.

 

Branagh’s 1989 adaptation appears to be an effective, fluid, evocative interpretation of Shakespeare’s work. The film allows for an intimate view of the characters, as Branagh’s use of closeups and extreme closeups allow us to see more emotion and characteristics of the players, which is not an option in a theatrical performance. His use of the Chorus as a modern tour guide, leading us into and through the medieval period bridges a gap between our two eras, allowing us to see the film as a type of documentary. Finally, Branagh’s use of material from Henry IV Part 1 to show flashbacks to Henry’s past life allow the audience to see his emotional ties to those from his past and the conflict that arises not only within himself, but his old friends, which gives a more humanized, emotional interpretation of the text.

Hilary James: Film Review

Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night or What You Will (1996) is a witty, heartfelt rendition of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy. Nunn brought the story to life through excellent casting, giving the audience background information, and physical closeness to the characters.

The true highlight of the film for me was watching Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia and Imogen Stubbs as Viola/Cesario bring their characters to life in a somehow comical, yet relatable way. Cesario’s hilariously frustrated attempts to avert Olivia’s ardent affection was a joy to watch. Bonham Carter gives an authentic performance of the almost irrational passion for Cesario, and even her sudden reversal of love towards Sebastian is believable. Nunn makes use of a short voiceover to give us insight into Olivia’s mind as she first falls for Cesario, which quickly turns into her speaking aloud to herself- but sets up the idea that we are listening in on her thoughts.

Nunn’s rendition of Twelfth Night for the screen had many advantages- one of which being that the audience can truly view and understand the backstory behind the text. Most pointedly, the very first scene not only sets up Viola and Sebastian’s loving relationship, but explicitly shows us the events (a shipwreck) that would have happened before the first act. It also sets up Feste as a sort of observer and narrator of the action as he watches afar from a cliff. Secondly, the audience truly gets a sense of the effort behind Viola’s transformation into a man by having scenes of her cutting her hair, binding her breasts, stuffing her pants, and pasting on a moustache both at the beginning and later on in the film as a reminder of her daily struggle. Even a scene showing Viola hastily remove a man’s hands from her hidden breasts reveals her constant danger of being revealed. Thirdly, the arrival of Sebastion is foreshadowed in a flash forward of him alive in the sea, preparing the audience for a change of events.

Another decision that Nunn made, and that the medium of film allowed, was the arrangement of scenes and cuts back and forth between the action in order to give a sense of real time. The different shots allowed the audience to see characters reactions in real time (such as when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew watch their prank on Malvolio unfold in the hedges), and builds tension as we see events unfold in different places at the same time.

I found that Nunn makes special use of the physical closeness that the camera offers to characters. Specifically, he builds palpable tension between Viola (as Cesario), and Orsino in instances such as the bathtub scene. The tender nature of Viola washing her master’s back reveals her desire for him, and her inner struggle to remain in disguise. They are often in close physical proximity, speaking mere inches from each others face. Because of this, I could feel the danger of Viola being revealed, her inner desire and struggle, and his confusion at their obvious (potentially romantic) connection.

Finally, Nunn builds a beautiful reunion between brother and sister through use of camera, music, acting, and backstory. As previously mentioned, Viola and Sebastion’s relationship is established in the first scene- making their reunion emotional and believable. His use of camera and editing keeps brother and sister in separate frames in distant shots as they first see each other- emphasizing the distance and separation the two have faced. Gradually, the shots move closer so we can see the emotional reactions of the actors, but there is still a sense of distance as they are kept in separate frames. This, to me, represented their hesitance to accept the reunion as real, in case they be disappointed. Finally, as the music builds, and the camera moves right up to their teary eyed faces, they embrace in a heartfelt conclusion to the homecoming.

I did not find Nunn’s direction to be revolutionary, the use of the camera was fairly standard (no extreme close up’s, minimal use of the camera as a character, etc.), and he kept fairly true to Shakespeare’s original text (there were large dialogue cuts of course, but the important plot points remained). He didn’t make special use of location shooting; there were minimal sets, some outdoor shots, nothing particularly grand or elaborate. However, this did not take away anything from the film for me, as I found the film’s greatest assets to be its homeliness and it’s wit.

Matthew Moghadam: Film Review

        Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew has been one of my favourite Shakespearean film adaptations since my youth. Be it Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s comedic and palpable portrayal of Katharina and Petruchio, the opulent costumes and set pieces, or deliverance of the very dialogue that pulled me in, I still find myself delighted with each screening. In watching again for the first time in many years, I was quite taken with a variety of significant details in the film’s production. There are, of course, typicalities featured in many films, such as the use of pathetic fallacy to reflect the mood, the emotionally driven film score to accompany each scene, and a vibrant show of colour and lighting to uncover many character qualities – though I was intrigued more by the dissimilar aspects of the film.

        One such notable interpretive choice is the use of extreme close up shots of characters’ eyes. Primarily in the first several scenes, this directorial incorporation is certainly remarkable in its allowance for the true emotion of a character to be presented. For instance, while watching her sister arrive at their abode early on, Katharina’s sheer vexation is abundantly shown; alternatively, her fondness of Petruchio is revealed in an affectionate examination through the stained glass of the room in which she is locked following their brawl. Bianca herself is even subject to such a dramatic angle, as she views her suitors through the shutters of her family home (prior to being attacked by her antagonistic sister). Though a seemingly uncomplicated addition to the film, it separates this picture from others of its kind, and further provides insight into the very thoughts of the character – after all, the eyes are the windows to the soul, are they not?

        Another weighty contribution to the film is the character development that emerges without dialogue – or in ‘film time’, as described by Crowl. Certainly stemming from Franco Zeffirelli’s operatic nature, the choice to embrace this display not only heightens comedy or drama, but also the opportunity to advance an understanding of a character, and thus, the changes in and between characters that play throughout the story. Such segments are displayed in a number of scenes, such as the impatience and embarrassment of guests in reacting to the calamity of Kate and Petruchio’s wedding day, the contrasting aspirations of Petruchio and Kate en route to their country home, or even Katharina’s smugness in cleaning Petruchio’s home. In my youth, I found many of these discussion-less incorporations most entertaining, and little has changed as the years have waned, save for my realization of the pronounced changes to characters’ dispositions.

        Taylor, Burton, and the supporting casts’ portrayal of their characters in an appreciably dramatic manner is certainly another highlight of the film. Though the interpretive decision was made to remove many excerpts from the original play, it is as if one is seeing the production live due to the spectacle and extravagance of the piece. Furthermore, chemistry between characters, particularly the two leads (understandably so, as they were married to each other at the time), is ineffably palpable, leading to a believable and dazzling final product. Nevertheless, while the drama and chemistry between Taylor and Burton is certainly appealing, Zeffirelli’s portrayal of their characters is occasionally prolonged past welcome, including the great and exhausting chase that takes place within first few scenes; it gradually transitions from a playful pursuit to a tediously extended monotony (an entire 13 minutes in total). The case is similar with the potentially excessive portrayal of Petruchio’s morning ‘hangover’ routine, or even Katharina and Petruchio’s destructive tendencies throughout. Though a degree of such interaction and profligacy is worthwhile and compelling by individual characters or between several, such regularity may result in a desire for the the shrew’s tameness to present itself sooner than written for the sake of audiences’ amusement.

        Surely this portrayal is not a direct representation of Shakespeare’s classic work, and nor is it a near-perfect depiction, though without too many liberties taken on part of the cast and crew, the work is still unmistakably a Shakespeare film. Despite an overzealous antagonism between characters, or a possibly overabundant focus on ex, I found the film easily understood, amusing, and utterly enjoyable.  For its time and scale, the Taming of the Shrew is a spectacular, entertaining, and substantial contribution to the genre of Shakespearean film.


Matthew Moghadam, 10120896


Loncraine’s Richard III: The WW2 Shakespeare Movie

As one of the other recent films who have attempted to somewhat modernize Shakespeare for the stage, Loncraine’s Richard III in 1995 actually seems to be a much more respectful modernization of Shakespeare than many consider Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet. From my experience as a person who was very critical of Luhrmann’s adaptation, I could tell as the movie opened that this would be a much more mature adaptation aimed at an older audience. It called forth images of past war drama’s and action movies based on World War 2, and I began to settle in with some optimism.

We are greeted by this scene before any actual text from Richard III is spoken.

Well, as over the top and dramatic as you could get I suppose, and worries began to pry at the back of my head as I recalled a mess I was forced to watch in highschool, which I’ll admit I enjoyed as a comedy and not the tragedy it was. A character promptly executes who we assume is an important person who’s said only a few words up to this point, though to be fair any words of his were added in by Loncraine’s decision, before promptly killing another. Personally, I’m a fan of violence, since I find the conflict of violence and non-violence interesting so this wasn’t exactly unwelcome as we are introduced to the main… well, antagonist I suppose is the word for this film.

Unlike in Batman, we didn’t care until Ian McKellen took off the mask.

As many of us saw in class, Ian McKellen is an experienced actor who has a lot of experience with Shakespeare, and personally seeing him as the star role gave me a lot of hope. Not because I have an affinity for older men, but that this would not turn out like the later Romeo + Juliet (I promise this is the last time I’ll beat the dead horse). The violence was done, and so ended what I’d call the prologue to this Shakespeare movie. The directors role here was to give the audience some background on the story, since we’ve kindly been informed multiple times in class that Richard III is a historical play with a chronological sequence. In addition to this whole scene at the beginning which sets up a scene contextually later on, the director has bold red text multiple times explaining the background and context for what we’re about to see.

Unless Richard has anything to say about it…

As we’ve seen, this is an adaptation that film has made when transferring Shakespeare to film. How successful is it? Well I’d say there’s just not a lot of ways to get around it, and having some chorus run out in front of the movie as it’s playing at every movie theatre and yell about how Edward is the king and such would be silly. The conventions of modern English in text on screen may seem to cut this theatre tradition out, but it’s just convenient, saves time and leaves no room for confusion, especially before the elevated language of Shakespeare takes place.

 

Ian McKellan: like an animal tracking prey

The foreshadowing of this movie is actually ridiculous, and the fact you don’t even notice it until you know who all the people are and how the story of Richard III goes, makes you wonder how the director can literally tease the entire story in front of you at once without you knowing.

As was mentioned in class, the approach to the soliloquy was indeed a bit different in this film. Particularly with the actor directly addressing the camera, much in the way an actor might directly address the audience. Some say the theatre has its own kind of atmosphere where you feel a part of what is taking place, hell some make you a part of what’s taking place. Loncraine’s decided to do exactly that and transforms many of Richard’s soliloquy’s into a direct address to the audience where he tells you how dastardly he’s going to be and how much he wants you to witness it. Besides this, there aren’t a lot of camera techniques that draw your attention away from it being a film.

 

Oh hello, movie watcher, you thought you weren’t included?

 

 

 

 

 

 

He even sometimes includes others in his solo musings, even if they are nameless extras. This just furthers the whole idea that Richard wants you to see all this, and as a directors choice, I think it worked out perfectly to display Richard as the self absorbed man he is.

 

I took pictures of what I did too guys!

 

Hello stranger, are you watching how evil I’m being?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The film continues on from this point as Richard seems to succeed at every dastardly move he aimed to make. In fact, it seems that every chance he gets, Richard is just trying to show off to others. It kind of comes off as a kind of combination of arrogance and insecurity, where he seeks approval from others because of his physical disfigurement and overcompensates for it.  Heck he even shows it to others, to their disgust, as a way to get their pity and sympathy. Although when he’s not trying to get sympathy, well that’s a different story.

 

Speaking of his physical disfigurement…

 

There is that one time Richard wasn’t ‘acting’ though..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s actually a little weird when you’re focused on the story of an antagonist, because we’re so used to following the point of view of the protagonist. You end up feeling a bit on his side even though you know he’s the bad guy. In my opinion, Ian McKellen does an excellent job of making Richard charismatic enough to like, but so gross and off putting at the same time that you feel bad for liking the character at any moment. There’s moments where he’ll be charismatic, polite, and well mannered like the best of men. Then the next moment he’s looking over a dead man’s photos with a smile like a grandmother looking at photos of her grandchildren. Thanks for whoever decided on this scene by the way, creepy as hell.

 

Ah, memories…

In fact, it’s kind of become a theme for Ian McKellen to come across as an actor at this point since Richard is indeed just acting. It kind of gives you an odd insight into the mind of the willing antagonist, the evil that acknowledges it is evil. While history itself might be different, the movie stays true to the idea that Richard himself knows how evil he’s being, and when you start thinking about evil and world war 2 movies, another theme starts becoming more and more obvious.

 

I guess it really is just like a WW2 movie.

Woah woah, what was that flag? No subtlety? Ok.

 

 

 

 

 

The design of the flag is a red background, a white circle, with a black design on it. Sound familiar? Well, basically at this point Richard is Hitler. I didn’t think I’d get to do it, but I’m writing a blog for an English course where I get to compare a character from Shakespeare to Hitler. Thanks Loncraine, I couldn’t have done it without you! On a more serious note though, this solidifies Richard as evil with such obvious comparisons. It’s not even just a thought in the back of your mind, it’s “Oh this movie is like a WW2 movie about Hitler rising to power except it’s a Shakespeare play.” I suppose it was fairly obvious from the start, but the more you dwell on the idea the more it makes sense from the director.

I mean think about it, Richard III was considered a villain in history, and Richard III is Shakespeare’s re-telling of the history. Loncraine basically drew the parallel that Richard III is to Victorian England’s history the same way Hitler is to 1930’s history. It’s a position that some people might find uncomfortable to think about, but it’s being made extremely apparent to the audience in this movie.

 

I mean come on, he’s got a huge picture of himself in his office.

The movie ends up approaching its denouement with Richard still being completely full of himself. Everyone is in uniforms reminiscent of the Nazi soldiers (except for that one guy who ends up ‘betraying’ Richard) and Richard seems to think the hardest part is done and just doesn’t seem to see anything coming. I mean, the director was really committed to making it seem like Richard’s lost his touch at this moment, I mean in a scene just after he grossed the hell out of Elizabeth and forcibly kissed her, he thinks he’s completely won.

 

Well Richard, don’t you think that was a little uh.. bold? Gross.

Right after kissing Elizabeth, he seems completely sure and full of himself. Also still talking to the camera of course.

 

Well, in the end it successfully causes you to lose any and all sympathies you might have had for this character, which I suppose was the point huh. The kiss wasn’t explicitly stated to physically happen in the play, and I don’t know if it’s a convention in theatre, but it was sure as hell uncomfortable to watch. I mean he just finished talking about how he’s going to have children with her daughter, it’s almost like Richard thought he could do no wrong anymore. Either that or he’s just seriously sick of getting away with stuff that he no longer cares, he just wants to get caught. All the world to nothing he said.

Well, with that the movie pretty much draws to its conclusion, and the director seems committed to the idea that Richard had no regrets even in his last moments. Just one of those movies where everything is a parody to Hitler and Nazi Germany and – wait I forgot this was a Shakespeare film. I’m not sure if the director intended it, since there is indeed a standoff between just Richard and Richmond (Who happens to be the one challenging Richard’s crown), but it ends up feeling fairly Hollywood as it wraps up. I mean my one complaint would be the amount of lines Richmond lost in the film from the text, since he seems to take up the reins as protagonist. It just felt like you were on a boat with Richard, he was the captain, and he struck a rock and now you’re sinking with him and there’s no lifeboats and you have this cocky Richmond fellow just staring at you from his ship with his smug grin.

Well aren’t you cheeky.

Overall, I felt like what started out as a typical WW2 film with its intro, progressed into Shakespeare, and then back again. It doesn’t feel like the entire breadth of the story was included but, I’m satisfied with what was shown. Even with my one complaint, I’d say they had settled in very rigidly to portray Richard as the main character and not let that change. I mean heck, Richard didn’t even change at the end, he still seemed to be enjoying himself as he pitched down into the flames.

 

Well, I guess that’s one way to go

 

 

Works Cited

Richard III, Dir. Richard Loncraine, 1995. Film. 8 June 2016.

All images borrowed directly from the film cited.

Shakespeare, William. Richard III. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Website. 8 June 2016 ( http://shakespeare.mit.edu/richardiii/full.html/ )

By: Chelsea Santucci