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

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

13

AGE CANNOT WITHER HIM

Warren Beatty's Bugsy as Hollywood Cleopatra

Katherine Eggert

Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra has never been produced as a big-budget film, in Hollywood or elsewhere. This fact should probably not surprise us: in the sound era few Shakespearean plays have received big-budget treatment, and a mere handful have been filmed by Hollywood studios. But unlike, say, Love's Labor's Lost, both the Cleopatra story and specifically Shakespeare's version of the Cleopatra story saturate Hollywood history, beginning with an undeterminable number of silent productions that incorporate Shakespeare's version of the character, and entering the sound era with Cecil B. De Mille's 1934 Cleopatra (Ball 1968). For all of these films, however, Shakespeare's play maintains a peculiar status, considering its author's reputation and Hollywood's penchant for touting any of its high-culture associations: Antony and Cleopatra serves as a submerged source-for character, for situation, and even for the occasional line or phrase-but never, in whole or in part, as a script.

This essay, then, is less concerned with Shakespearean representation than with its evasion. On the one hand, Hollywood of course carries on the Western obsession with representing the Cleopatran legend, but on the other, it curiously does not fully exploit Western literature's most celebrated author of that legend. 1 Hollywood's evasion of Shakespeare's Cleopatra, I will argue, has to do with its aversion to Shakespeare's drastic reformulation of the relation between gender and creative self-presentation, a reformulation that has even more radical implications for a popular cinema than it does for theater. While Shakespeare's play provides the occasion for reproducing the nexus of femininity and power in which Hollywood has always been interested (and that has become even more alluring in box-office terms as feminism gains ground in mainstream culture), its extreme treatment of that nexus is one that Hollywood hopes not to entertain. As a result, Antony and Cleopatra can claim two branches of genealogical descent in late twentieth-century filmmaking. First, feminist avant-garde filmmakers and feminist film theorists, on or beyond the margins of Hollywood, have indirectly taken up Shakespeare's Cleopatra as a model for a cinémathèque feminine. But second, and more interesting for my purposes, Hollywood itself

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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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