Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shakespeare Cinema Sins

One of the courses I'm taking this year is about Shakespeare, and it looks at both the text of the plays, but also how they're adapted on the stage and screen.  As a result, I've been watching a lot of different films based on Shakespeare plays.

While I've really enjoyed most of them, and I might make a recommendations post at some point in the future, this is not that post.  This is the post were I complain about things that so many of these films get wrong, and that really get on my nerves.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 3 Shakespeare Cinema Sins.

1. Speaking Shakespeare

This is easily the most common one.  So many actors, even ones who are quite talented, seem to be absolutely terrified of the language.  The come across kind of nervous, particularly in that moment just before they say a line.  Sometimes you get a sense that they don't know what the words actually mean.  They know what they are supposed to be feeling, so they make the right facial expression, but they don't seem to put any nuance into it, or change facial expressions along with the lines.

Then there are the actors who clearly do understand what they are saying, but they seem so delighted by it that they forget that they also have to act.  They just stand there, grinning away, saying their lines because they're just so happy that they know what it all means.

2. In the land of the mystical Shakespeare people

I've noticed that some actors/directors don't seem to realize that the people in Shakespeare's plays are real people, or at least as real as the characters in most other plays, books or films.  However, I always get this feeling that they draw a line between "people" and "Shakespeare people", which is a shame.  One of the advantages of filming Shakespeare is that you don't have to stage whisper or use dramatic arm movements; the camera has a zoom lens, and the audience can pick up on subtle details.  It's particularly annoying/amusing when certain actors run; they do the sort of ethereal, toes pointed, straight back running that reminds me of ballet.

3. Lost in Modernization

Films that attempt to modernize Shakespeare plays can be great; they can help make Shakespeare relevant and interesting to people who would normally shy away from his plays.  They can also make good films in their own right.

However, when you try and modernize a Shakespeare play, you can't always just take the plot and transplant it directly into a modern setting. You have to make some adjustments to make sure that the play retains the same ideas, characters and basic plot, and still makes sense.  Unfortunately, some films don't pay much attention to that idea.  For instance, I'm not so sure that Macbeth could be driven to murder Duncan to own a restaurant.  He seems like a talented, capable, hardworking man-why not set up your own restaurant?