Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1996) DVD Review

A Midsummer Night’s Dream  (1996) stars Alex Jennings, Lindsay Duncan, Desmond Barrit, Barry Lynch, Monica Dolan; it was directed by Adrian Noble. This film version stars The Royal Shakespeare Company, and features an interesting design and good performances, though does suffer from some odd cuts. This production actually presents the play as a dream – the dream of a child, who appears throughout the play, watching the proceedings. The film opens with shots of clouds, and the camera descends and enters through a window to a child’s room. It is midnight. A young child is asleep, clutching a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The child then gets up and walks down a hall.

Act I

We hear the first lines of the play, and the child looks through a keyhole in the door at the end of the hall. And then we’re in the play, with Theseus (Alex Jennings) bent over a blond, seated Hippolyta (Lindsay Duncan). When Egeus (Alfred Burke) enters, he rushes past the child at the door. He pulls Hermia (Monica Dolan) into the room, then pushing her to the floor. Demetrius (Kevin Doyle) and Lysander (Daniel Evans) enter. They both see Hermia on the floor, but it is only Lysander who goes to her. Demetrius and Lysander’s similarities are stressed immediately by their basically identical wardrobe. Many lines are cut from the first scene. After Theseus says “Rather with your eyes must with his judgment look,” he goes right to “Take time to pause” (actually adding her name – “Hermia, take time to pause”), thus losing the part where Hermia asks for his pardon. Also, all lines of Hermia’s third option – to essentially become a nun – are dropped. Hippolyta slaps Theseus in the face, leading to his, “What cheer, my love?” Helena (Emily Raymond) enters the room suddenly, so Lysander’s line about her is cut. Helena then immediately turns to go again, prompting Hermia’s line. Both Hermia and Helena have dark hair. Helena’s final speech is delivered to camera. The child is still there, watching her. After she exits the room, he chases after her, but falls into a dark chasm (reminding me of Time Bandits).

He lands in another room, and soon the Mechanicals enter from the rain. Bottom’s delivery of “This was lofty” is wonderful. Flute touches his face on “I have a beard” and pauses slightly before “coming,” acknowledging he has yet has no beard. Starveling is cutely pleased at being assigned the role of Thisby’s mother. They head back outside, and the wind takes Starveling’s umbrella. The umbrella is lifted far up into the sky, and gently returns to earth to begin Act II.

Act II

The umbrella lands in Puck’s hand, the first scene of Act II begins. The Fairy also holds a green umbrella. The set is many hanging light bulbs, a forest of light on a bare stage. The Fairy wears a feather dress. Puck (Barry Lynch) has yellow pants and suspenders. When Puck mentions the changeling boy, a bubble expands in the air, with the changeling’s face appearing in it. The other fairies arrive in bubbles. All have clothing made of feathers. Oberon (also played by Alex Jennings) and Titania (also played by Lindsay Duncan) have feathers in their hair, but their clothing is not made of feathers (though there are some red feathers on Titania’s red dress). A giant moon rises during the “forgeries of jealousy” speech. Demetrius and Helena enter through blue doors. Oberon gives us a look after Demetrius nearly screeches his “because I cannot meet my Hermia.” On “with the rich worth of your virginity,” Demetrius pushes Helena down and climbs on top of her, thus showing that there is still some unconscious attraction to her on his part. Demetrius exits before Helena’s line “Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex,” which she shouts after him. Her next lines are delivered to camera. At the end of the scene, Puck and Oberon ascend, holding onto umbrellas.

Titania goes to sleep on a giant overturned umbrella with many cushions. We go briefly to Act III, and there’s an odd nod to E.T. when the Mechanicals enter, one riding a bicycle in front of the moon. After Quince’s “we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke,” we return to Act II Scene ii, with the entrances of Lysander and Hermia. Puck gets on top of Helena for “On the dank and dirty ground.” Lysander starts to wake and embrace Puck, leading Puck to command him, “Awake when I am gone,” an interesting take on that line.


We then return to Act III Scene i. A whole lot of lines are skipped. After Bottom (Desmond Barrit) says, “this will put them out of fear,” it goes right to Quince saying “If that may be, then all is well.” Thus, it skips the whole bit about the lion and the calendar. That’s an unfortunate cut. Also, it makes Bottom’s “first” senseless, as his other points have been dropped. Starveling puts a dress on over his regular clothes, so when Quince says, “Come, sit down, every mother’s son,” he looks at Starveling on “mother’s.” After Puck’s line about watching the play and perhaps being an actor too, we return to Act II Scene ii, with the entrance of Demetrius and Helena. After Lysander exits, Hermia levitates briefly, then returns to the stage before waking. Then we go back to Act III Scene I for Quince’s line, “Speak, Pyramus.” Bottom has donkey ears, a beard, giant front teeth and a tail. When Bottom sings, Titania descends on her umbrella bed. Titania gets on the floor before him and rubs her foot against his crotch on “thou art beautiful.” Interestingly, Pease-Blossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustard-Seed are played by the Mechanicals (making it seem like Bottom’s dream). Bottom and Titania go into the giant overturned umbrella, and it is set adrift on a body of water, romantically, by moonlight.

It then cuts to Scene ii, with Oberon saying “This falls out better than I could devise.” We then see Bottom fucking Titania and making donkey noises with each thrust. Oberon then asks Puck about the Athenian. On Hermia’s “never see me more,” she head-butts Demetrius, knocking him to the floor and leading him to say “There is no following her in this vein” and making his “Here therefore for a while I will remain” quite funny. Puck crawls across the floor on “I go, I go,” turning to Oberon on “look how I go.” That’s great. Helena starts to fall for Demetrius’ new protestations of love, leans in to kiss him, then thinks better of it, saying, “O spite!” Puck covers Lysander’s eyes, leading him to say “Here will I rest me” (instead of “And here rest me”).

Act IV

Titania enters riding on Bottom’s back. (On certain lines, Bottom sounds like Alfred Hitchcock.) The Fairies are disappointed when told to go, as they seem to want to watch Titania make love to Bottom. We actually see Puck lift off Bottom’s ears. After Oberon says, “Swifter than the wandering moon,” the film skips to Bottom waking. So we lose Titania’s wonderful lines about being found “With these mortals on the ground.” Bottom wakes in the umbrella bed. On “methought I had,” Bottom looks into his pants, implying that he had a giant cock as a donkey.

The film goes right to Bottom rejoining the Mechanicals, saying, “Where are these lads?” And so the entire scene of Theseus and Hippolyta finding the four lovers is cut. Thus, we lose Egeus’ other big moment in the play. After “Masters, I am to discourse wonders,” it cuts to Act V.

Act V

We go to the celebration, where Demetrius, Helena, Lysander and Hermia are eating. Hippolyta draws Theseus aside and says, “’Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of.” Philostrate is played by the same actor who plays Puck, and he leads the child to the small theatre where the Mechanicals then perform. Bottom pauses before the third “alack,” as if trying to recall his next line. Quince corrects Bottom’s “Ninny’s tomb” during the performance, something not written in the play. Theseus’ lines about how “the man should be put into the lantern” are cut. When Thisby says “Ninny’s tomb,” Quince corrects her, which again is not in the play. Bottom is allowed a serious moment as Pyramus, truly affecting his audience when believing Thisby to be dead. After Pyramus dies, Theseus gets up and goes to him to say his line, “With the help of a surgeon, he might yet recover and still prove an ass.” He directs “ass” at Hippolyta, who reacts (thus their playing both roles comes into play and is acknowledged). (And yes, the word “still” is added.) Before the dance, Hippolyta has a moment with Bottom, again implying that Hippolyta and Titania are in fact the same person. The chiming of the bell interrupts the dance, and everyone looks up, as if toward the clock. Puck steps out onto the stage for his first speech. He is alone in the small theatre, but for the child, who watches from the balcony. After the final lines, Puck takes the child’s hand and the company lifts him into the air on the stage. And the last image is them on the stage, not returning to the child’s room.

Time: 104 minutes

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