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harsil (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

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Shakespeare: Taming Of The Shrew
Shakespeare: Taming Of The Shrew
DVD ~ Colm Feore
Offered by VideoWorks
Price: CDN$ 19.99
9 used & new from CDN$ 5.71

2.0 out of 5 stars There are better options, May 21 2015
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I had high hopes of the 1988 Stratford Festival production with Colm Feore, at least for a few seconds: against expectations, they include the Induction. Unfortunately, and incomprehensibly, they truncate it at the point at which Sly passes out; in other words, before he gets transformed into a lord and given a wife. So all the themes of transformation and social inversion that the Induction is so obviously intended to introduce are removed from it. So what's the point of including it at all? The only thing I can think of is that by showing Sly to be played by the same actor as Petruchio, they suggest that the play is his dream, which at least retains the idea of the play as a fantasy, to some extent; it's actually not a bad idea as far as it goes, assuming the audience picks up on it. They show him again at the end, waking up, which is a nice touch.

Overall, though, the production is plagued by such interpretative uncertainty, which is compounded by a series of other issues. Gremio is way too old; he has nothing of the pantaloon character about him. Stratford films of this vintage seem to favour costumes evocative of the early 20th century, though the reasoning behind this choice is unclear; here it seems more distracting than illuminating. The lines are often spoken too quickly and indifferently to be particularly intelligible, especially toward the beginning; it's hard to imagine someone who wasn't well prepared having much idea as to what was going on. They slow down for key plot points, though, so they may just be emphasizing the plot, which always seems pretty pointless in Shakespeare, since it hollows out all the thematic material, where all the richness is. Hortensio is played as rather effete; I'm not sure why.

There's some decent stage business in the scene where Kate ties Bianca up, but the dynamic between them and their father is botched. Kate and Petruchio do a 'love at first sight' thing, which is good, but they don't really spark any chemistry, which isn't. Feore is better in this crucial scene than the Kate, who doesn't quite seem to know what tone to adopt; it's almost there, but not quite.

The party scene at the end is probably the best part of the performance; there are some nice line readings and interpretations; though again, there's too much hamming it up at the beginning of the scene.

The Taming of the Shrew [Import]
The Taming of the Shrew [Import]
DVD ~ Marc Singer
Price: CDN$ 20.04
15 used & new from CDN$ 7.43

3.0 out of 5 stars Quite a ride!, May 21 2015
The startling 1976 American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco production is a very mixed bag indeed.

It takes its cue from the fact that several of Shakespeare’s characters are rooted in the Italian commedia dell’arte (as is the case in many of his comedies), and it makes of the whole play what it sees as a commedia dell’arte spectacle, which in practice means a lot of slapstick and other physical comedy. At times this works well; but it’s worth remembering that while Shakespeare draws on many sources for his plays, he tends to transform them, and to use them only as a starting point. You can’t just reverse engineer his work to make it resemble its sources without losing something essential; Shakespeare is not commedia dell’arte, and, especially at the beginning of the play (though maybe it’s just a question of getting used to it), the play gets seriously garbled. I don’t see how anyone who lacks a certain degree of familiarity with the play could have any idea as to what’s going on. The play occasionally gets lost in something it’s not.

Having said all that, though, I have to add that the production explodes into brilliance in the scene where Katherina and Petruchio first meet, which must be one of the clearest, most thoughtful, most perfect bits of Shakespeare interpretation I’ve seen. It’s the only film where the focus is entirely on the fact that Katherina and Petruchio are shown in this scene to really like each other, and to be birds of a feather who are challenging each other. This is all done with the aid of the above-mentioned physical performing (which extends to the point of including some WWF-style wrestling moves). It’s all brought off with great panache, and the actors’ professionalism in carrying off all this strenuous physical activity while reading their lines clearly and fluently is beyond my imagining. (I might add that it’s the only time I’ve seen American performers seem fully comfortable with Shakespeare’s language, and manage to read the lines with no awkwardness at all.)

Several other key points of interpretation are navigated with great success. Petruchio’s concern with the importance of the interior person and the insignificance of outward appearance is emphasized, and no opportunity is lost to show that these two actually end up in love; and at a certain point, it seems that Kate is shown to find her “turning point”.

On the other hand, I think it was a mistake for Petruchio to look surprised that Kate should show up when he sends for her, at the end; and when she delivers her big speech, she turns away from the widow far too soon.

There are some other negatives. With a running time of a little over an hour and forty minutes, about 40% of the play must have been cut; and the cuts include the Induction, which to my mind is always a serious error. Also, the actors’ manner of speaking is sometimes too stylized; this is especially true of Kate, who is often quite irritating in the way she speaks. And the live audience sounds like a laugh track at times.

Overall, however, this is a lively and extremely well-executed performance, if a little over the top. The interpretation is bold and original, and though it’s too off-the-wall (and too short) to be considered a first choice, it’s certainly worth seeing as an alternative version.

The Taming of the Shrew (Broadway Theatre Archive)
The Taming of the Shrew (Broadway Theatre Archive)
DVD ~ Fredi Olster
Price: CDN$ 24.99
11 used & new from CDN$ 20.81

3.0 out of 5 stars Quite a ride!, May 21 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The startling 1976 American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco production is a very mixed bag indeed.

It takes its cue from the fact that several of Shakespeare’s characters are rooted in the Italian commedia dell’arte (as is the case in many of his comedies), and it makes of the whole play what it sees as a commedia dell’arte spectacle, which in practice means a lot of slapstick and other physical comedy. At times this works well; but it’s worth remembering that while Shakespeare draws on many sources for his plays, he tends to transform them, and to use them only as a starting point. You can’t just reverse engineer his work to make it resemble its sources without losing something essential; Shakespeare is not commedia dell’arte, and, especially at the beginning of the play (though maybe it’s just a question of getting used to it), the play gets seriously garbled. I don’t see how anyone who lacks a certain degree of familiarity with the play could have any idea as to what’s going on. The play occasionally gets lost in something it’s not.

Having said all that, though, I have to add that the production explodes into brilliance in the scene where Katherina and Petruchio first meet, which must be one of the clearest, most thoughtful, most perfect bits of Shakespeare interpretation I’ve seen. It’s the only film where the focus is entirely on the fact that Katherina and Petruchio are shown in this scene to really like each other, and to be birds of a feather who are challenging each other. This is all done with the aid of the above-mentioned physical performing (which extends to the point of including some WWF-style wrestling moves). It’s all brought off with great panache, and the actors’ professionalism in carrying off all this strenuous physical activity while reading their lines clearly and fluently is beyond my imagining. (I might add that it’s the only time I’ve seen American performers seem fully comfortable with Shakespeare’s language, and manage to read the lines with no awkwardness at all.)

Several other key points of interpretation are navigated with great success. Petruchio’s concern with the importance of the interior person and the insignificance of outward appearance is emphasized, and no opportunity is lost to show that these two actually end up in love; and at a certain point, it seems that Kate is shown to find her “turning point”.

On the other hand, I think it was a mistake for Petruchio to look surprised that Kate should show up when he sends for her, at the end; and when she delivers her big speech, she turns away from the widow far too soon.

There are some other negatives. With a running time of a little over an hour and forty minutes, about 40% of the play must have been cut; and the cuts include the Induction, which to my mind is always a serious error. Also, the actors’ manner of speaking is sometimes too stylized; this is especially true of Kate, who is often quite irritating in the way she speaks. And the live audience sounds like a laugh track at times.

Overall, however, this is a lively and extremely well-executed performance, if a little over the top. The interpretation is bold and original, and though it’s too off-the-wall (and too short) to be considered a first choice, it’s certainly worth seeing as an alternative version.

Hamlet (1969)
Hamlet (1969)
DVD ~ Anthony Hopkins
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 37.20
18 used & new from CDN$ 18.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Hamlet the Scot, April 9 2015
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This review is from: Hamlet (1969) (DVD)
I've read of the 1969 Tony Richardson film with Nicol Williamson and Marianne Faithfull that it’s some sort of admirable but failed experiment; but I saw very little experimentation, and even less failure, in this worthwhile production. It’s really quite good, and has some fine moments. It’s also been described as “low-budget”, but low-budget is usually a good thing in Shakespeare, as he was a pretty low-budget kind of guy himself. The more-or-less total absence of sets — there are some brick walls and I detected a few tunnels, but mostly, I didn’t think about sets, or much notice their absence — focuses one’s attention on the words and the characters and the psychology, and of course mirrors Shakespeare’s own bare stage pretty well; and it all comes off pretty successfully here, in my view. The film is shot in very tight, close spaces, and this emphasizes the all-important atmosphere of the play really quite well. It’s the anti-Branagh.

The cast is remarkably strong, even if the actor playing Hamlet was only a year or two younger than those playing his mother and Claudius (though he actually looks older than them, especially Claudius, and seems a bit old for the part). Once you get past that, though, he is very good in communicating the character, and the soliloquies are mostly well done.

Anthony Hopkins is excellent as Claudius, and does better than any of the other film Claudii in capturing both the character’s cynical-murderer side and his luxuriant-bon-vivant side, as well as his guilty conscience; Hopkins really is a fine actor.

Maybe I prejudged her, but Marianne Faithfull is surprisingly convincing as Ophelia, and also does better than her competition in capturing the character’s fragile-reed-pulled-apart-by-all-the-men quality. Her mad scenes are much tamer than theirs, but are no less effective for that. Hers may be the truest portrayal of the character on film.

The Ghost is interestingly done, just a bright light and a disembodied voice; in itself, it works well enough, but the sound effects that are added on top make it hard to notice the words, which anyway seem to be cut.

The Gertrude has a bit too strong a whiff of Morticia Addams about her to be wholly convincing to me, and is probably the weak link in the cast (not that she’s all that bad).

The big negative, as usual, is the cuts; the film’s running-time is just under two hours, and it feels a bit rushed toward the end. I actually felt that the whole last part of the film was a little weaker than the rest. The graveyard scene is a bit of a jumble, though this may have been intentional; Hamlet and Laertes do a pretty good job of throttling each other in the grave, and overall the scene gets pretty grotesque and macabre. The film closes with a close-up of Hamlet’s deceased head that is arguably the single most ridiculous shot I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Having Horatio and Hamlet played by a pair of shaggy red-headed fellows named Gordon Jackson and Nicol Williamson occasionally had me wondering if there wasn’t something rotten in the state of Scotland rather than that of Denmark; but overall this is a very worthwhile production, taut and dark and focused; as long as you’re OK with the cuts, you needn’t hesitate. No subtitles on my copy.

Hamlet
Hamlet
DVD ~ Laurence Olivier
Price: CDN$ 28.47
29 used & new from CDN$ 23.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, but standard, April 5 2015
This review is from: Hamlet (DVD)
Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film is very good, though it didn’t strike me as quite the masterpiece it’s often said to be. The acting is mostly strong and the lines are generally well delivered, and the way Olivier conveys Hamlet’s moods and sensibilities in a subtle and sensitive way throughout is probably the best thing about it. The general atmosphere and darkness are well captured.

But the film didn’t strike me as truly exceptional. This could be in part because I saw it shortly after watching the David Tennant film, which is so human and naturalistic; the Olivier doesn’t really compete. It also has some touches of the mid-century acting style that seem a little over the top today. William Walton’s overwrought score seems ill-suited to the play to me. The soliloquies are delivered unexceptionably but unexceptionally. Jean Simmons (as Ophelia) is a good actress, but she’s made to look and act like a fairy princess here, and when she cries, as she does quite often, she sounds uncannily like a baby.

Having said that, the Polonius is great, and I liked the Ghost as well, especially the way his voice is treated. The sword-fighting looked good to me, though the exchange of rapiers is inauthentic. Overall, a solid but standard production.

Hamlet (BBC)
Hamlet (BBC)
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 18.45
24 used & new from CDN$ 11.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory, April 4 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Hamlet (BBC) (DVD)
The 2010 Royal Shakespeare Company film with David Tennant is very good indeed, largely because of the contribution of Tennant. He’s prepared this role to a T, and most of the lines are brilliantly read and performed, especially the famous soliloquies; his delivery is extremely thoughtful and naturalistic. (It makes a sharp contrast to his Richard II, which felt a little phoned-in to me.) The overall feel of the production, with its grey-painted walls and subtle lighting, conveys the atmosphere of the play perfectly, and details like the ubiquitous security cameras add to the feel of constant spying and poison everywhere. Music is often used effectively.

The performance seemed to me to fall off somewhat in the second half, largely because of cuts — the Act IV soliloquy is butchered into meaninglessness, for example (though it can be argued that it's redundant anyway), and the episode on the ship to England is cut completely, which is astonishing — but also because of a certain slackening of the tension in the performances.

But overall, this is extremely worthwhile. If you only watch one performance, try to make it this one; it’s one of the most revelatory Shakespeare productions I’ve seen.

Hamlet (1990) by Warner Home Video
Hamlet (1990) by Warner Home Video
DVD ~ Franco Zeffirelli
Offered by JnP Store Canada
Price: CDN$ 30.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Another strong Zeffirelli entry, despite cuts, April 3 2015
Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 Hamlet makes for a pretty useful introductory run-through of the main themes and ideas of the play. At two-and-a-quarter hours compared to Kenneth Branagh’s four, it’s severely cut, but surprisingly (at least to me), Mel Gibson gets closer to the feel of the character (at least as I understand him) than Branagh does, even if he doesn’t necessarily act as well. (I might add that Zeffirelli seems to have a much better grasp of the material than Branagh does.) Gibson comes across as intelligent and sensitive, though he “emotes” a bit too obviously, spending too much time with a single bewildered look in his eyes. Overall, though, the lines are very well read, and the film feels vivid and vital; though as always, the Americans can’t really hold their own next to the British actors. Helena Bonham Carter at 20, as Ophelia, runs rings around Glenn Close at 43, as Gertrude, though she may be a bit too strong a personality for fragile Ophelia; and Gibson can’t really compare either. Bonham Carter arguably gives the best performance in the movie, though I think that — arguably — Kate Winslet, in Branagh’s film, is more convincing in the mad scenes.

The film is similar to Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in many ways: it’s gorgeous to look at, without undermining the play, and the sets have a very authentic feel; it’s clearly structured and very judiciously cut; and the main themes and plots mostly survive the cutting. And since Zeffirelli doesn't have any underage girls to cast here, there are no serious casting concerns. Having said that, the cuts do make the film feel somewhat choppy; and though all the famous speeches are there, they feel a little crammed together in the shortened running time; at times it feels a little like a highlights reel.

Szco Supplies 242508 Leather Tri-Fold Wallet, Black
Szco Supplies 242508 Leather Tri-Fold Wallet, Black
Price: CDN$ 8.34
2 used & new from CDN$ 8.34

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars These are really cheap!, Jan. 11 2015
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These are really cheap! The credit-card slots are too narrow and ill-made to actually take a credit card properly; and the black dye comes off all over your hands when you try to put one in. I imagine it will come off on your clothes as well.

Hamlet
Hamlet
VHS
4 used & new from CDN$ 15.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Complete, but flawed; and far from definitive, Dec 31 2014
This review is from: Hamlet (VHS Tape)
The chief virtue of Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet is that it’s essentially complete, though this could be construed as a mixed blessing, given that Shakespeare is unlikely ever to have produced a complete production himself and that it may never have occurred to him that anyone would ever try to do so. Its key weakness, though, to my mind, is the other aspect of its ambition: Branagh has a tendency to focus on gorgeousness over interpretation (or faithfulness) in his Shakespeare films, and in this case, all the luxury and the focus on beauteous film-making distract both him and us from the substance of the play, and take the whole thing down several notches. The play, as written, has a heavy atmosphere of darkness and sickness and paranoia and claustrophobia, and this atmosphere is a key element of it; this film has too much glamour and glitz, too much space, and way, way too much light. It completely excises the flavouring that ought to overhang the play. (The film was shot at Blenheim Palace, which is, admittedly, gorgeous.)

I’m not sure that Branagh is all that strong an actor, either, and in this case his talent doesn’t match his ambition; though there’s nothing really wrong with his performance, there’s nothing particularly right about it either, and you never get the feeling that he’s really gotten to the heart of the character; he misses much of the nobility, as well as the existential angst; there’s nothing underlying his antic, and you lose sight of the method and the seriousness, the melancholy and the profundity of the character — and thus the point. Having said that, there are several good passages: he’s strong in the scene right after the play within the play, for example, if not so good during it.

Hamlet and his friends also seemed to me to be too old for their parts; they’re supposed to be university students (albeit oldish ones), and making Hamlet look older (not to mention Horatio, who looks like a prosperous accountant who should be at home with his very proper wife and his 2.7 lovely young children, not skulking around Elsinore with someone with issues like Hamlet’s) takes away from the whole philosophical-university-student-suffering-from-melancholy-and-idealism thing, which is a pretty important context of everything he says and does.

There are other misjudgements. The sex scenes between Ophelia and Hamlet seriously distort their relationship and her character, and they're simply gratuitous. The fight scene at the end starts off ridiculous, passes through ludicrous, and ends up just plain laughable (think balcony, rope, chandelier…). Fortinbras is made to take Denmark by force, which undermines the character’s role in the play, and seems to me to contradict the text explicitly. Music is frequently used poorly; it’s often sentimental and well beneath the tone of the play, and sometimes the mood of the music contradicts the spirit of the scene it’s in. Music is also sometimes used to add unnecessary emphasis to a scene, in keeping with Branagh’s tendency to point up key scenes too much; it doesn’t work, and just seems silly. The music in the Act 4 soliloquy struck me as ridiculous.

As for the other actors, Brian Blessed is absolutely fantastic in the role of the Ghost, once he starts talking in Act I (the film’s almost worth watching for those few minutes alone, though again, one might argue that it’s not quite the effect Shakespeare was going for); the initial appearances of the Ghost struck me as a little bizarre and incoherent, though. Derek Jacobi is fine as Claudius, though it doesn’t look like a very difficult role to me. Julie Christie could have been a little wispier as Gertrude. Kate Winslet is strong as Ophelia, though perhaps a bit too strong; the character could do with a little frailty. As usual, the Americans can’t quite hold up their end alongside the British actors. Billy Crystal seemed particularly weak to me as the Gravedigger; the fellow who plays his second fiddle would have been a better choice.

For all my carping, the film’s probably worth seeing — just — because of its completeness; but it’s certainly not a definitive performance, and I sometimes wonder how much Branagh really cares about Shakespeare; his Shakespeare films seem to be more about Branagh.

Romeo and Juliet (Special Edition) (1996)
Romeo and Juliet (Special Edition) (1996)
2 used & new from CDN$ 4.49

2.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but odd, Dec 30 2014
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The 1996 Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes features L.A. drug gangs and lots of guns, and can’t really be taken seriously as Shakespeare; but it does have a certain lurid appeal. There are some good Shakespeare moments, too; but mostly it’s just odd. Neither lead is much of a Shakespearean.

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