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

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

4

“TOP OF THE WORLD, MA”

Richard III and cinematic convention

James N. Loehlin

The Shakespeare movies of the new wave that has followed Kenneth Branagh's successful Henry V-e.g. Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet, Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, Oliver Parker's Othello, Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night, and Richard Loncraine's Richard III-have mostly been in what Jack Jorgens has termed the “realist” mode (Jorgens 1977:7). 1 “Realist” films, in Jorgens's typology, lie between “theatrical” films that simply transfer stage performances to the screen and “filmic” versions that substantially reimagine the play in terms of the aesthetics and resources of the new medium. The Olivier and Orson Welles versions of Othello are representative of these two poles; Oliver Parker's new version is a typical “realist” film. Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, with its kinetic visuals and awkwardly naturalistic acting, falls somewhere between the filmic and realist modes. The realist Shakespeare film is characterized by the sort of mid-range naturalistic acting, cinematography and editing that is used in most Hollywood films. The characters are represented as “real people, ” in plausible make-up and costumes, and the film relates the narrative straightforwardly without calling attention to the medium. Such films are not, of course, realistic, in the sense of imitating anyone's actual experience of the world, but cinematic conventions such as editing and soundtrack music are so universal that they are no longer even perceived by most viewers. The new wave of Shakespeare films, aiming for a share of the mainstream Hollywood audience, adopts Hollywood conventions, to the extent that Parker's Othello was marketed in Columbia Pictures print ads as an “erotic thriller” that was “as accessible as Fatal Attraction.” Yet while the other new Shakespeare films employ mainstream conventions in a straightforward, unselfconscious way, the Richard Loncraine Richard III embraces and exploits those conventions to make a striking and imaginative Shakespeare film that remains every inch a movie.

Ironically, Loncraine's Richard III, like the Stuart Burge/Laurence Olivier Othello, originated as a stage production. Richard Eyre directed Ian McKellen as Richard III the Royal National Theatre in 1990, and McKellen's desire for a filmed version of the performance led to the collaboration with Loncraine, a director of television advertisements and commercial films with no background in the theatre or Shakespeare (McKellen 1996:26-7). It is from Richard Eyre's

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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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