Friday, November 28, 2008

Spiral cut Ham(let): the Youtube Playlist

While watching the neoclassic comedy, Stange Brew (1983) recently I realized that a good deal of the plot is stolen from Hamlet. Canadian slackers Bob and Doug McKenzie go to Elsinore Brewery to get some free beer. They meet the young heiress of the Brewery fortune, Pam, whose father has recently died and whose mother quickly remarried her uncle, Claude. The rest of the plot involves hockey, an insane asylum, a flying dog and for some reason, Max von Sydow as an evil brewmeister who plans to take over the world. This gave me the idea of writing a piece about all the different Hamlets I've watched over the years from my favorite (the Derek Jacobi 1980 version) to the risible (Hamlet 2000). But once I got into it, I started realizing that there were too many Hamlets to really do justice in an essay. Instead I've made the equivalent of a mix tape, a Youtube playlist in which every scene from the play is taken from different productions of Hamlet. I call it Spiral Cut Hamlet, and I thoroughly admit I stole the pun from Mystery Science Theater 3000, which gets an airing in this playlist. Enjoy.

Act one, Scene one: Hamlet (1913): English film producer Cecil Hepworth's made this version of Hamlet in which is filmed near Dover. The first appearance of Hamlet's father's ghost is an innovative optical effect.

Act one, scene two, part 1: Hamlet (1948): I love the kiss between Gertrude and Hamlet in this scene. It's a little over the top! It is an unspoken tradition in Hamlet to cast a woman to play Gertrude who is not much older than Hamlet, but in this version Eileen Herlie was 9 years Olivier's junior.

Act one, scene two, part 2: Slings and Arrows (2003): Fictional action star, Jack Crewe (based on Keanu Reeves who played Hamlet in Canada) delivers Hamlet's first soliloquy as if he's gonna hurl. For a Hamlet fan, this might be the greatest TV series ever, depicting the comical complications befalling a troupe of actors putting on Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. I love this version of this monologue because it is really a play within a play. The only problem with linking to this version is that it is going to be really hard for you to stop watching the TV show which is fantastic and instantly absorbing from the first notes of it's music hall theme song, "Cheer up you melancholy, Dane."

Act one, scene three:
Hamlet (2000) Liev Schrieber as Laertes, Julia Stiles as Ophelia and Bill Murray as Polonius. Laertes gives Ophelia some lousy love advice, packs for his trip and gets lousy advice from his father. There is much to mock in this version but it is refreshing to see actors who aren't pushing middle age playing the young prince of Denmark and his cohorts. Also Bill Murray is a good Polonius.

Act one, scene four: Hamlet Mystery Science Theater 3000 #1009, A bad production of Hamlet from German television, dubbed with Ricardo Monteblahn as the voice of Claudius. Also a skit about Mike Nelson facing a ghost of a dead family member.

Act one, scene five: Hamlet (1996): Kenneth Brannagh does a great job conveying the depth of Hamlet's grief for his father. He also reclaims a lot of the lesser known scenes in the play, by restoring the full text to the screen.

Act one, scene five, part II (1987) Finnish director, Aki Kaurismaki's "Hamlet Goes Business" is a stripped down re-telling of the old Scandanavian tale minus Shakespeare's dialog that clocks in at a lean, mean 86 minutes. Here Hamlet tells his Horatio, an indifferent chauffer named Simo, that he will "put on an antic disposition."

Act two, scene one: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Hamlet is examined by Polonius and meets with his old chums Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Act two, scene one, soliloquy: Withnall and I: Withnall delivers the speech solo, which in the play is spoken before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In the context of the film, the character, an out of work actor is at once lamenting his lack of opportunity for work and keeping in practice a bit.

Act two, scene one, part three: Hamlet (1996): Kenneth Brannagh is totally mad north, northwest, dude.

Act two, scene two: Hamlet (1996): Charleton Heston has a cameo as Player #1 and Dame Judy Dench has an even briefer cameo as Hecuba. This is the second reference in this act to fortune as a "strumpet." As accident, coincidence and bad luck have a big part in Hamlet, it's no suprise that the characters have a low opinion of trusting to fate.

Act two, scene two, soliloquy:
Hamlet (1996): Brannagh chews a bit of scenery as he plots his revenge, hoping to trap Claudius with the play within a play. I love the scenery, especially the minature theater. Olivier really overacts this one too so maybe it's tradition to do so.

Act three, scene one, soliloquy: (Hamlet 1980) The most famous scene in Hamlet. I think Jacobi's performance is my favorite because it as once very energetic and modern feeling, while being relatively straight-forward. When I watch Jacobi, I always understand the text, which is not always the case with other actors.

Act three, scene one:
I couldn't decide which version of the famous "get thee to a nunnery" scene I liked best, so I linked to them all. Olivier gets rough with Ophelia, but only after she goes for his throat, looking like a pyscho milk maid in her blond braid wig. Almost all subsequent versions have taken this route, upping the anti at every opportunity. I love that Olivier shows tenderness to Ophelia when neither she nor her father can see it. It's a brilliant bit of camera placement, so simple and effective. I like the Hamlet 2000 version because it plays it like two twenty-somethings breaking up: full of sarcasm, lust and betrayal. I think Richard Burton's version is a tad disappointing. He certainly has the crazy down, though. Kline's version seems derivative of Jacobi, but he brings his own special brand of crazy to it--think of it as a Fish Called Ophelia. The Brannagh version begins very sweetly owing in great deal to Kate Winslet, playing the scene as a reconciliation gone wrong, which is I think the intention. All of the versions play with the point at which Hamlet cottons onto to the fact that the couple are being spied upon. The Gibson version is my least favorite, dragging the moment of awareness back almost to the beginning, and cutting half the text. I think this grossly simplifies Shakespeare's play which gives plenty of latitude for interpretation without the vivisection of his dialog. If it weren't for Helena Bonham Carter this scene would be a total loss. The Scott Campbell television version is good, but suffers a bit from Ophelia troubles.

Act three, scene two: Hamlet (1996): Hamlet messes with the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hapless Polonius enters and has a famous debate about the shape of a cloud being like a whale. This is especially silly since in the Brannagh version they are indoors at night.

Act three, scene two, part 2: Hamlet (1996): Prior to the Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet pledges his friendship to Horatio who is beginning to look very good after a few minutes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet continues his pipe-playing metaphor and uses the famous phrase "passion's slave." Brannagh has a way of making these lesser-known scenes the heart of his productions and he manages to make the awkwardness of a guy telling his friend how much his friendship means to him, part of the strength of the moment.

Act three, scene two, the play: Hamlet (1976): From an avant-garde production in which Helen Mirren played both Gertrude and Ophelia and there were two actors on stage playing Hamlet at all times, both of whom were costumed like Ziggy Stardust. For her Gertrude costume the not quite yet ready for "Dame" Mirren was saddled with a pair of flame red Princess Leia buns and a set of surgical scrubs. I was noticing the other nightwhile watching A Star is Born (1937) that the play within a play, or the movie within a movie always kind of sucks and always makes us glad we aren't watching the whole thing. Who would rather watch The Murder of Gonzago than Hamlet or The Dueling Cavalier than Singin in the Rain? The one exception to this may be the bizarre and bawdy version of the Murder of Gonzago in this staging of Hamlet.

Act three, scene three and four: Hamlet (1990): The Zeferelli version pretty much looses the scene of Claudius attempting to pray for the curious choice of Claudius half vomiting. Gibson plays the scene as Mad Max Beyond Elsinore. After killing Polonius, thinking it was the king behind the tapestry, Hamlet continues confronting his mother about her new husband while simulating sex with her. At one point Gertrude (Glen Close) starts to make out with him just to shut him up. Luckily the ghost of Hamlet Sr. shows up to put the breaks on the rapidly deteriorating family quarrel/love in. I included this version from this production because it easily the most memorable scene in the film.

Act four, scenes one and two and three: Hamlet (2010): It's the all nerd Hamlet starring the Tenth Doctor, Captain Picard and Sio Bibble. Seriously though, nerdy sci fi acting experience aside this is one of my favorite Hamlets. Tennant is wonderfully funny in these scenes, as he's meant to be. The Young Prince was one of Shakespeare's most devilish punsters. Patrick Stewart and Pennie Downie are also really great in these scenes. I can't stop thinking that Penny Downie looks like Carmen Soprano, but don't let that interfere with your enjoyment. They take a mostly throwaway scene and light it on fire.

Act four, scene four:(Hamlet 1996): Hamlet encounters Fortinbras and a large company of Norwegian soldiers on their way to Poland. Fortinbras seeks permission from the King to march across Denmark. Hamlet speaks to a captain who tells them that the land in Poland which they seek is worthless and they will have a difficult battle to get it. Hamlet reflects on his own schemes given the big picture and how so many men are going to give their lives for a remote cause when he is walking away from his, which is so dear to him. He bucks himself up with a little soliloquy and goes off to seek his "dull revenge." This is classic Brannagh bombast, the sort of clip you run before the Superbowl to fire up the fans.

Act four, scene five: (Hamlet 2000): Ophelia looses it at the Guggenheim. Laertes returns to find his father dead and his sister crazy. He swears revenge and Claudius tells him that it was Hamlet who is to blame. Julia Stiles has polaroids of flowers, cause ya know, it's like post-modern.

Act four, scene six: (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead): Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find themselves on a boat with a letter ordering Hamlet's death, with no Hamlet. This will not end well for them. In the play the whole thing is told through a letter from Hamlet to Horatio. Hamlet says that pirates chased them and he boarded the pirate ship and got them to agree to take him back to Denmark, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern remained on their present course to England. Stoppard improves on a weak area of the play, giving these minor characters rhetorical footwork to equal Hamlet's for humor and cleverness.

Act four, scene seven: (Hamlet 2000): Claudius goads Laertes into going along with his scheme to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword in a duel. In this production there is a duel and a gunfight, which is all a bit much actually. Also Hamlet sends a message in the middle of the scene (by fax, of course, cause it's post-modern and all) saying that he is on his way home. At the end of the scene Gertrude comes in and says that Ophelia is drowned. Here Shakespeare comments on his own drammatic timing in the dialog, "One woe doth tread upon another's heel, So fast they follow: your sister's drown'd Laertes."

Act five, scene one: (L.A. Story): The gravedigger scene with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis. I think it's pretty genius the way the Gravedigger changes the body of the tanner with "those Beverly Hills Women" whose parts aren't biodegradable.

Act five, scene two: (Hamlet 2000) Hamlet and Horatio are reunited and upon returning to the castle come upon Ophelia's funeral. Hamlet and Laertes have an Emo-off over who is more grieved at her death. Laertes tries to beat up Hamlet.

Act five, scene two, part ii: (Hamlet 1980) Hamlet and Horatio are chatting about Hamlet's plans for revenge when Osric, the king's greasy lackey and general Polonius replacement arrives. Horatio and Hamlet mock him. Good times. Osric eventually is allowed to come to his point, that the King has wagered that Hamlet could best Laertes in a duel. I guess the king figures that if Hamlet isn't killed at least he'll win his bet.

Act five, scene two, part iii: (Hamlet 1996): The Duel. The voice over reminds me of Dune in this scene. "The tooth, the tooth, remember the poison tooth" vs. "The poison cup. It is too late." Olivier's staging of this scene is brilliant as well, but Brannagh is just so over the top in returning spectacle to the play that I can't help myself. After so many dreary, dark, stripped down productions of Hamlet it's nice to see one that pulls out all the stops and gives the groundlings what they want: to see Claudius impaled with a sword and crushed by a chandelier. Oh, and for some crazy reason Robin Williams plays Osric.

Act five, scene two, death of Hamlet: (Hamlet 1920): Goodnight, sweet princess. Danish film star Asta Nielsen formed her own production company to make a version of Hamlet in which she could star as the title character. There is another version on Youtube from 1890 with Sarah Bernhardt playing the Dane, as well. The Nielsen version is more complete and has a very interesting relationship between Hamlet and Horatio with Hoartio claiming that Hamlet has the soul of a woman. Of course this isn't in the play, but it's definitely a unique twist on the story.

Act five, scene two, post-script: (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead): The ambassador arrives to wrap a loose end: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.


AbbyNormal said...

I made it through all of them - what a fascinating mixtape of Hamlet!

I have always been partial to the Brannagh Hamlet. I was able to look past a lot of the overacting and embrace that one for some reason. Of course, I haven't seen aseveral of the other versions - including Jacobi's. I had no idea Brannagh somewhat based his off Jacobi's?

I LOLed at "A Fish Called Ophelia" and at you including "The L.A Story" scene. Only you - and I mean that in the awesomest way.

Also, what a naughty mynx Mirren is! Avant-garde indeed!

As far as the goth kids version - I felt really bad for the stuffed animals. They really shouldn't be treated that way. :-)

In addition, I agree there is much to mock in the 2000 version, but I swear, at least they went for it and tried something different. And I still would rather watch that versus the Gibson one. Of all the ones I have seen, Gibson's version was my least favorite even though there were some standout scenes.

Oh, and there is a Campbell Scott version? How did I not know this? Ohhhh, I love me some Campbell Scott. Must ... watch ... Campbell .. Scott.

Well done Jenny! Fascinating, as always. I marvel at the amount of work you must have put into this and, of course, I thank you.

kda0121 said...

Wow, Jenny, you've really outdone yourself with Spiral Cut. How did you keep all the different versions straight in your head as you were writing them? And had you seen all the versions prior to this writing? My word, what an undertaking. I take my hat off to you.

I've only seen two versions about the Dane; the Olivier rendition and Mel Gibson's. I've tried to read the play, but couldn't get through it. I'm really of the mind that plays are to be seen and not read. Especially Shakespeare. Because I haven't read the actual play, I never know when the scissors have been take to the text when put on film. I really liked the Olivier version and even thought Mel Gibson wasn't bad. I would really like to see Branagh's version. I have his Henry V and he's excellent in that. I had no idea there was a Derek Jacobi version. He's not listed in my Leonard Maltin Guide! But I see that Jacobi was in the cast of the Branagh version. That must've been interesting. I've read that as stage versions go, John Gielgud's version was outstanding.

Uncle Vinny said...

Wow... I just have to congratulate you on your encyclopedic knowledge of both Hamlet and the zillions of versions of it. I'm really enjoying your blog, I'm glad I stumbled onto it!

lilianavonk said...

Okay, I didn't watch all the clips, but I did give several a gander...I totally agree about Derek Jacobi (you ARE watching I, Claudius by now, aren't you?) & in fact seeing that clip from the 1980 Shakespeare series reminded me of what a big teenage crush I had on him back then.

Woah, the 1976 production...if kids today want to know why those of us who grew up in the 70's are so weird, we should just point them to that & say, "This is the kind of thing grown-ups were doing!" Jeez, talk about a textbook case of hedonistic 70's excesses. Still, I am once more agog at how Helen Mirren becomes more gorgeous the older she gets--she's far more attractive today than she was there, IMO--plus yay, Quentin Crisp!

OMG OMG OMG--you've hit on something that was a huge deal to me; during Branagh's Hamlet (which I saw in the theatre) I got so disgusted with Jack Lemmon's terrible line readings that I thought, "Okay, that's it--no more Americans doing Shakespeare, cos they suck. Stop with the stunt casting, Branagh!" And then...there was Charlton Heston. His command of iambic pentameter was so beautiful & unexpected, it brought tears to my eyes--not to mention renewing my faith in Yanks doing the Bard. (I'd seen Kevin Kline's Hamlet & liked it, but had forgotten about it right then.)

LMFAO at A Fish Called Ophelia & Mad Max Beyond Elsinore. You are a treasure beyond words, m'dear. XD

Jennythenipper said...

Thanks for commenting on my ancient post, dearie. I haven't started watching I, Claudius yet. I do still have the disc at home, though. So we will get to it soon. Yes, I had a big crush on Jacobi when I first watched this in the late 80s.

Mirren made some interesting choices in the 70s, and this wasn't the worst by far. (That honor goes to Caligula).

Jealous of you seeing Branagh's Hamlet in the theater. Not as jealous as I am of Idlesuperstar's Hamlet list of course, but still jealous nonetheless. I'd forgotten about Lemmon, but then Marcellus is a pretty small part.

Kline's Hamlet is decent, not great. I much rather would have seen him act as the Pirate King in HMS Pinafore. There is one uncanny similarity to A Fish Called Wanda and Hamlet, which I posted on a while back. I'll see if I can dig it up.