Shakespeare in the Movies from the Silent Era to Today by Douglas Brode, 2001. Read in September 2010.
Inspired by the debate generated by Ruby’s Reflection on “Can You Do That to Shakespeare?” I decided to skip a book in my list in order to write about this one, which is all about what has been done to Shakespeare in the movies. Brode starts his book with two quotes: “Shakespeare would have made a great movie writer”, Orson Welles, stage and screen director. And: “Shakespeare is no screen writer,” Peter Hall, stage and screen director. Both of these men are considered Shakespeare movie giants. So how can they disagree so completely? Because we can’t agree on what can be done with Shakespeare. Exploring this debate, Brode’s introduction alone makes the book worth buying.
The rest is good too. In thirteen chapters he covers the history of the movies made on nineteen plays, for example The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, the history plays and others.
He discusses the different approaches, the problems, the successes. He makes bold statements with which I disagree, for example, “The Chimes at Midnight is the greatest of all Shakespeare film,” (it was very good but not the best in my opinion) and “The casting [of Elizabeth Bergner as Rosalind in As You Like It] was disastrous.” Actually I thought she was OK in a generally bad interpretation. He is also devastatingly negative to productions I haven’t seen, but that only makes me curious. He seems to agree, for example, with those who hated Peter Brook’s version of King Lear, inspired by Jan Kott’s book Shakespeare Our Contemporary, (see my review) Brode writes: “Brook undermines Shakespeare and presents a world without decency, which is a far cry from Will’s vision.” Hmmm. Is it? Lear is a pretty bleak play. I so wish I could find this movie so I could judge for myself.
More often than not, though, I agree with Brode who clearly shares my love for Shakespeare and for movies. And I can forgive him almost anything for the following about Hamlet: “’There can never be a definite production of a play,” Time once noted, “about which no two people in the world agree.” That may be true; still, Branagh’s Hamlet comes close to delivering the definite film.”
However, we don’t read books just to reinforce our views, we read to broaden them and that is this book’s greatest value to me. It has stimulated my own approach to Shakespeare and inspired me to continue my ongoing search for more Shakespeare movies. They may not be endless but there are sure a lot of them and they keep coming. Lucky for us.