Saturday, September 20, 2008

To Adapt or Not to Adapt

Hey Folks-

Off to a rockin' start when I'm already falling behind after only one entry. So, today is going to be a delayed "Friday Flicks".

As many of you may know, I have a B.A. in Drama. This, by no means makes me an expert on anything, but I do have a pretty extensive base of knowledge about certain things, and Shakespeare is one of them. I took several Shakespeare classes. I've been in several Shakespeare plays. I've directed, critiqued, analyzed, read, and otherwise plunged myself into the world that is Shakespeare. I only say this all to preface this particular blog...

If there is one thing I hate AND love most about Shakespeare's plays, its the flexibility of them.

By "flexibility", I mean that they lend themselves to a lot of "out-there" interpretations. "Hey! How 'bout we do The Merchant of Venice, but instead 1500s Venice, we set it in 1930 and make them all gangsters." or "What about doing A Midsummer Night's Dream...ON THE MOON!" Like I said... I love this and hate this.

I believe in making Shakespeare accessible. It's beautiful language. The stories are pretty timeless (mostly because they were borrowed by Shakespeare too). Still, the language and the froofy costuming alienate teens or people who feel that it creates a barrier between them and the story. I can see that and respect that, which is why I have no problem with setting a play in a new time or location to break down that wall. It's really when the new thematic 'overlay' doesn't do anything but add a gimmick that I have the problem.

This brings us to today's list...

The Top 5 Modern Shakespeare Films

5) Love's Labour's Lost (Branagh again). I actually don't love this movie, but I do think that the updated theme is one of the most interesting, and this a good fit for this list. Branagh takes one of of the lesser known Shakespeare plays and puts in squarely into the 1930s and films it like a Hollywood musical. It wasn't great. It wasn't spectacularly received. It was you know... a movie. Still a really fun idea. it goes.

4) 10 Things I Hate About You. What's that you say? That's not Shakespeare? Well, actually it is. I mean... it's his plot. It's The Taming of the Shrew, made modern and teeny-boppery by Heath Ledger's dreaminess and Julia Stiles's shrewishness. First, let me just say that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being as close to Shakespeare's original vision and 10 being so unrecognizable that he'd be all "Hey...this is vaguely familiar...Did Chis Marlowe write this?", this movie is at about an 8.5. There is no remnant of Shakespeare's original dialogue (aside from some winks to the bardophiles.) It's set in modern day California. Still, if you know the original play, I really think that the movie does a great job of keeping the same sort of playful feel while being completely and totally perfect for the MTV generation. It's not a great movie on it's own, but it does exactly what it set out to do. Good enough for 4th place on my list.

3) Hamlet (the Kenneth Branagh version). On that same scale we're looking at a solid 1.5. I mean...not even a standard deviation. He didn't even cut any of the dialogue, which is pretty much done in every production of Hamlet anywhere. The thing is 4 hours long, for pete's sake. I have some general criticisms of this movie in general... for example, I think Branagh is sort of condescending to the audience, in that he sometimes skips over trying to act in the speeches and just does them as quickly as possible, as though the viewer will not care about the meaning and just be impressed at the dexterity of his tongue. That said, I think his bringing the setting into a slightly more modern, militaristic age freshened up the prose jjuust enough to make the list. Plus, the performances as a whole are phenomenal.

2) Titus. Julie Taymor makes me uneasy. She's an undeniable talent. She's one of the more creative folks in the film/theatre industry. She's also a crazy narcisist who makes me want to not watch her movies, just because her whole "I'm a big artist" vibe drives me nuts. Her adaptation of Titus Andronicus, "Titus", is really spectacular. It's not, you of the most deep plays in the Shakespeare canon. Many folks consider it the most inane of all of the tragedies. It's an excuse to chop people up, basically. It's the Shakespeare version of Saw, or Hostel. Torture porn. BUT it's good. And Taymor's take on it, as though it's coming from the imagination of a child, where the periods are a little skewed. It's like they took fascism and sort of.. smeared it. There's a little of a lot of different styles, but it's all internally consistent. It's a little hard to quantify, but Taymor makes violence compelling in a way that Eli Roth can only dream about.

1) Romeo + Juliet. Well... It was inevitable that this movie would show up on the list. I like it enough to place it at #1. In a way, it's almost shocking in the adaptation. The dialogue is the same, the plot is unchanged, but the setting makes it so... shockingly different. Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeares most familiar work. It's read in every high school. It's performed in every community theater. Everyone knows it, and yet Baz Luhrman made it so new with just a change of setting that I think there's no other place it could even POSSIBLY appear on the list. Courtyards become beaches and arcades, and swords become guns, and suddenly the same tired story is brand new. It's also really entertaining, and that counts for a lot.

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