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

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

14

ASTA NIELSEN AND THE MYSTERY OF HAMLET

Ann Thompson

From April 1994 to April 1995 the National Film Theatre in London ran an extended season devoted to Shakespearean performances on film and television under the inspired title Walking Shadows-a title which occasionally transmuted in inter-office memos and e-mail to “Shadow and Substance”, “Idiot's Tale” or even, on a bad day, “Signifying Nothing”. Walking Shadows was also the title of an annotated catalogue of Shakespeare holdings in the National Film and Television Archive edited by Luke McKernan and Olwen Terris which was published by the British Film Institute to coincide with the beginning of the season (McKernan and Terris 1994). The month of June 1994 saw the screening of twelve different versions of Hamlet; as McKernan and Terris put it in their programme note:

Hamlet is the world's most filmed story after Cinderella. The figure of Hamlet, his agonised choices, his revenge and his fate (not to mention the literary kudos) have attracted filmmakers and actors from 1900 onwards, when Sarah Bernhardt became the first person to play the Dane on film. Since then he has been played by a woman three more times (Asta Nielsen, Joy Caroline Johnson and Fatma Girik), and the men have included Georges Melies, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, John Barrymore, Jack Benny, Laurence Olivier, Maurice Evans, Hardy Kruger, Maximilian Schell, Christopher Plummer, Richard Burton, Innokenti Smoktunowsky, Nicol Williamson, Richard Chamberlain, Derek Jacobi, Mel Brooks, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has been animated at least twice, portrayed as twins (Anthony and David Meyer) and turned into a cowboy (Johnny Hamlet and Lust in the Sun). India, Ghana, Japan, the USSR, Brazil, Turkey, Greece and Denmark have all produced their versions of the story.

The season ended with a wonderful programme of spoofs, parodies and comic turns called “You've Got to Give 'em Shakespeare Every Time” which included versions of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy by Tony Hancock, the Monty Python team, Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper and Rowan Atkinson. It was an extraordinarily rich season, both in these unexpected moments of

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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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