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A Midsummer Night's Dream
BBC Version - Runtime = 7 Minutes, 25 Seconds
The BBC produced TV versions of all of Shakespeare's plays in the late 1970's and early 1980's. This version is directed by Elijah Moshinsky and produced by Jonathan Miller. In this clip you'll see Ron Daniels as Puck, Peter McEnery as Oberon, and Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect) as Titania. The contrast with Reinhardt's production will strike you immediately: it's in color, and its video conventions are more familiar to most of us. But for all its differences, this production clearly remembers, and pays homage to, Reinhardt.
MGM Version - Runtime = 3 Minutes, 44 Seconds
Max Reinhardt's 1935 production for MGM stars Mickey Rooney as Puck, Victor Jorey as Oberon, Anita Louise as Titania, and James Cagney as Bottom. The director, long famous as an innovative stage director, had recently arrived in America as a refugee from Hitler. In his production, lush romanticism meets Hollywood extravaganza with a vengeance. Very much a prodcut of the Depression, offering audiences a fantasy of escape to a world of mysterious elegance, Reinhardt's film is so heavy on special effects, fantastic costumes, and elaborate choreography, that there isn't much time left for words. This clip begins at the end of a long ballet sequence. Music by Mendelssohn.
Just one clip this time, which should have you asking what it's got to do with Shakespeare, and why. (The many different kinds of relations between Shakespeare's texts and others -- either before him or after -- go by the fancy name intertextuality.) It's from Gus Van Sant's 1992 film My Own Private Idaho, starring the lamented River Phoenix and the lamentable Keanu Reeves. Reeves plays Scott, the rebellious son of the mayor of Seattle. He hangs out with the truly homeless Mikey. Both work as male prostitutes. They live in an abandoned building with other street people. There they are visited by Bob, an older gay man and a down-at-the-heels scammer. Bob is not Falstaff, Scott is not Hal, and My Own Private Idaho is not Henry IV, Part one and/or two.
Here are two radically re-visioned versions of Act 1
Scene 5, Lady Macbeth's first appearance, as she reads
her husband's letter.
Polanski Version - Runtime = 5 Minutes, 48 Seconds
Orson Welles produced, directed, and starred in Macbeth in 1948, when the former Boy Wonder was already having trouble financing his daring cinematic experiments and was forced to take technical short-cuts. Only seven years earlier, when he was 26 years old, he made his first film, Citizen Kane (1941), a landmark in American movie-making. (Welles was already famous by then for his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, in which Martians land in Grovers Mill, N.J., right across from Route 1 -- and scared the pants off a gullible public.) His other Shakespearean adaptations are Othello (1952) and Chimes at Midnight (1966). The clip begins with Macbeth reciting the line that Lady Macbeth (Janette Nolan) then reads in his letter. The execution of Cawdor is silently interpolted into the scene.
Brook's Version - Runtime = 11 Minutes, 43 Seconds
Laurence Olivier is considered by many to be this century's greatest, certainly most influential, Shakespearean actor. His film versions of Richard III, Henry V, and Hamlet are not only landmarks in acting but significant experiments in adapting Shakespeare to cinematic form. This version of Lear was made for British TV in 1982, in Olivier's old age. The actor's real infirmity informs his reading of the character. The contrast with the Brook/Scofield version is striking, beginning with the use of color and music, and a studio rather than Brook's outdoors. The clips cover the same territory as the clips from the Brook's production: first, the reunion with Cordelia (played by Anna Caldor-Marshall), then the end of the play.