Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video

By Lynda E. Boose; Richard Burt | Go to book overview

In all these ways, whether from instinct or observation, Branagh seems already to have learned and applied the lessons in popularization that have emerged from this analysis of Zeffirelli's Shakespeare films. As I write he is about to release his four-and-a-half-hour version of Hamlet. There is thus every reason to hope that Branagh will continue to carry on where Zeffirelli has left off.


NOTES
1
Zeffirelli was pleased with The Champ (1979) and it made a great deal of money, but critics found it too sentimental. Along with the critics, he was displeased with Endless Love (1981), although it, too, was highly profitable. Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973) was an all-around disaster, and The Young Toscanini (1988) remains incomplete, “a $22 million, nine-month nightmare” (Stivers 1991:56).
2
Lawrence Levine has recalled a time in early nineteenth-century America when Shakespearean drama was both popular and elite, “attended both by large numbers of people who derived great pleasure from it and experienced it in the context of their normal everyday culture, and by smaller socially and economically elite groups who derived both pleasure and social confirmation from it” (Levine 1988:86). He analyzes the sacralizing processes which in the latter part of the century depopularized Shakespeare along with opera, classical music, and fine art. Although he briefly recognizes certain twentieth-century tendencies to break down the hierarchies that had thus come to separate high-brow culture from low, he does not discuss the re-popularizing potential of Shakespearean films.
3
What is timely in a youth-oriented market may soon, however, prove fatally out of touch. Zeffirelli attributes the failure of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, with its flower-child St Francis, to the change in attitudes reflected in the final years of Vietnam protests and flag-burnings: “Just as Romeo and Juliet had struck the right note at a time when young people were creating a cultural revolution, so Brother Sun went totally against the grain of the new cynicism” (Zeffirelli 1986:265).
4
There is a revealingly apologetic note about Olivier's description of his film as “An essay on Hamlet,” complete with its portentous topic-sentence: “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.” What a difference from the irreverent but ebullient credit in Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew. “Screenplay by Paul Dehn, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, and Franco Zeffirelli, with acknowledgements to William Shakespeare, without whom they would have been at a loss for words”! In a study that in many ways complements mine, Ace Pilkington details some of the screenwriters' verbal liberties (Pilkington 1994:167-68).
5
Although the play has often been set in the milieu of a Renaissance court, Zeffirelli preferred an earlier period. In his search for locations for his Elsinore castle, he originally intended to “contrast the brutality of the surroundings with the flowering of the first Renaissance man in the character of Hamlet himself (Scotsman 1989). In the event, though, the tie with the Renaissance which had proved so fertile in Zeffirelli's earlier films was lost altogether and Gibson's Hamlet became “a rugged young Viking in a coarse woolen tunic and leggings, his hair chopped short and his beard untended” (Darrach 1991:42).

REFERENCES
Cirillo, Albert (1969/70) “The Art of Franco Zeffirelli and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet,TriQuarterly 16:69-92.
Cole, Michael and Helen Keyssar (1985) “The Concept of Literacy in Print and Film, ”

-93-

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Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and Video
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Plates vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Totally Clueless? 8
  • Notes 20
  • 2 - Race-Ing Othello, Re-Engendering White-Out 23
  • Notes 41
  • 3 - War is Mud 45
  • 4 - Top of the World, Ma 67
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Popularizing Shakespeare 80
  • Notes 93
  • 6 - Shakespeare Wallah and Colonial Specularity 95
  • Notes 102
  • 7 - Poetry in Motion 103
  • References 119
  • 8 - When Peter Met Orson 121
  • References 134
  • 9 - In Search of Nothing 135
  • References 146
  • Stage Performances of King Lear Cited 147
  • 10 - A Shrew for the Times 148
  • Films and Videos Discussed 168
  • 11 - Shakespeare in the Age of Post-Mechanical Reproduction 169
  • References 185
  • 12 - Grossly Gaping Viewers and Jonathan Miller's Othello 186
  • 13 - Age Cannot Wither Him 198
  • Notes 213
  • 14 - Asta Nielsen and the Mystery of Hamlet 215
  • References 224
  • 15 - The Family Tree Motel 225
  • References 239
  • 16 - The Love That Dare Not Speak Shakespeare's Name 240
  • References 267
  • Index 269
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