The Play’s the Thing
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JIM LEHRER: Now to the old English of Shakespeare as played in modern films. Elizabeth Farnsworth has that story.
TEACHER: What does this course for you suggest?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some Americans get their first taste of Shakespeare in a classroom like this one. Or watching actors on stage bring life to the bard’s poetry. And there are some people who study the volumes on their own.
ROMEO: Did my heart love till now? Foreswear at sight, for I never saw true beauty till this night.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But this year fans of the greater writer can also find him at the movies. At least 10 Shakespeare films have been released in the last year or are soon to come out, including this hip version of Romeo and Juliet. Set in a Miami-like town called Verona Beach, the feuding families of Montague and Capulet become rival gangs, swords turn into guns, but the words of the love story remain the same. The director was Baz Luhrmann.
BAZ LUHRMANN: Every word of English in this film, in fact, every word spoken is written by William Shakespeare.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Romeo was played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
LEONARDO DI CAPRIO: What I didn’t want to do was sort of have that perfect way of speaking Shakespearean. I wanted to sort of make it more like conversation. I think that’s what everyone really tried to do.
MERCUCIO: I will make thee think thy swan a crow.
ROMEO: I’ll go along. No such sight to be shown but rejoice in splendor of mine own.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There’s nothing new about interpreting Shakespeare on film or in making the plays relevant to modern times. It’s just that there’s more of it happening than ever before.
RICHARD III: Now is the winter of our discontent. Made glorious summer by this sun of York.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ian McKellen’s adaptation of Richard III, set in an England imagined as fascistic in the 1930s, has the feeling of Hollywood’s fast-paced violent action films. Compare that battle scene to Lawrence Olivier’s 1955 version.
RICHARD III: Now is the winter of our discontent.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Then there’s Al Pacino’s approach to Richard.
AL PACINO: Hi. I’m Al Pacino, and I’ve just done this filmLooking For Richard which I have produced, directed, starred in, and written. No, I haven’t written it. Shakespeare did.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pacino’s documentaryLooking For Richard follows a group of actors as they produce Richard III.
AL PACINO: There’s so many ways to interpret Shakespeare, and they’re done all the time. And they will go on being done. This is another way in, but it has in it this style of the street, our life now, mixed with the play Richard.
CHARACTER IN LOOKING FOR RICHARD: We’re making Shakespeare a little bit more accessible to people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A few critics have worried that some of the new adaptations amount to “Shakespeare light.” But Director Baz Lurhmann says the man, himself, would approve.
BAZ LURHMANN: I’ve tried to take the attitude if Shakespeare was here today making a movie there is no device that he would not grasp at to try and reveal and touch people with the story that he’s telling.
I mean, people might say why bother set it in modern images, and the answer to that is that we haven’t done it just to be funky. Every choice that we’ve made, every image that we’ve used is simply about making it clearer, making it easier to understand.
RICHARD III: Who is it that complains–that I forsooth and stirred–I loved them not.
CHARACTER IN LOOKING FOR RICHARD: Shakespeare used a lot of fancy words. You know, it’s hard to understand, grasp those words.
AL PACINO: Excuse me. They’re not fancy words. I think that’s where we get confused
CHARACTER IN LOOKING FOR RICHARD: Putting them–
AL PACINO: It’s like poetry, though. It’s hard to grab hold to some rap slang too. But it’s hard to get hold of it until your ear gets tuned. You have to tune up.
HENRY V: We few, we happy few. We band of brothers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The chief popularizer of Shakespeare in recent years has been Kenneth Branagh, who produced, directed, and starred in Henry V in 1989 and in Much Ado About Nothing in 1993, which co-starred Emma Thompson.
ACTOR: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
EMMA THOMPSON: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Both were critically acclaimed and both turned a profit.
HAMLET: To be or not to be, that is the question.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Branagh has concentrated his talents on the story of that self-conscious Dane, Hamlet.
POLONIUS: Since brevity is the soul of wit and tedious the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief. Your noble son is made.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Branagh’s version is far from brief. Logging in at four hours, it presents the play, uncut, and is true to the words of the original. It’s the first Shakespeare film to be shot in 70 millimeter, and it includes big stars even in minor roles.
HAMLET: Though shalt not escape — get thee to a nunnery.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Branagh made his reputation as an actor in the English theater, but now for him the movie is the thing.
CLAUDIUS: How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
HAMLET: Not so, My Lord. I am too much in the sun.
KENNETH BRANAGH: Having come from the theater and loving the life experience, it’s a fantastic thing when you’re in a room live doing this kind of work with a live audience. There’s something about trying to capture all the excitement that you could have in a live performance on film because it’s there forever.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The four-hour Hamlet is already playing in New York and Los Angeles. It opens in many more cities tomorrow.