Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1909) DVD Review

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909) stars William V. Ranous, Maurice Costello, Gladys Hulette, Rose Tapley. It was directed by J. Stuart Blackton and Charles Kent. This is a very early, short silent film version of the play.

Act I

An opening title card describes the first scene: “The Duke of Athens, soon to be married to Hippolyta, decrees that his subject, Hermia, shall give up her lover, Lysander, and shall marry Demetrius whom her father has chosen. The lovers decide to elope. They are followed by Demetrius and by Helena in love with Demetrius.” And we see a little of this in a wide shot. A title card then tells of the tradesmen who are rehearsing a play. The parts are handed out. Flute touches his face to indicate he has a beard coming in, and Bottom keeps taking center stage.

Act II

This film deviates from the play a bit with this odd title card: “Titania, queen of the fairies, quarrels with Penelope. Penelope plans to avenge herself and sends Puck for an herb which when placed upon the eyes of a sleeper, will cause him to love the first creature whom he sees upon awakening.” Penelope? Are we to believe Titania is a lesbian in this version, in love with Penelope rather than Oberon? It seems so. And the changeling they argue over is also female in this version. Puck is likewise female. And there is an early special effect as she flies off and puts a girdle round the earth. We see Puck find the flower and fly back to Penelope. Titania then sleeps and Penelope puts the flower’s potion on her eyes.

A title card reads: “The eloping lovers become weary in the forest. Puck places the magic herb upon the eyes of Hermia and Lysander. Lysander awakes and falls in love with Helena.” Wait, Puck puts the magic herb on Hermia’s eyes too? Hermia tells Lysander to lie farther off. So a tree is between them. And no, contrary to what the card says, Puck does not rub the flower on Hermia’s eyes. Demetrius then walks right by Lysander and Hermia, which is odd, as he is seeking Hermia. Helena is right behind him, and when Demetrius indicates he doesn’t want her following him, she stops, and Lysander wakes.


A title card reads: “The tradesmen come to the forest to rehearse their play. Puck changes the weaver into an ass. Titania wakes and falls in love with him.” And in a wide shot we see the rehearsal. Quince and Bottom are at odds, and there’s a wonderful moment where Bottom tosses down his script, and all the others convince him to continue. Bottom gets a full donkey head. Puck watches from behind a tree as Titania wakes and falls for him. Suddenly the fairies appear, played by three young girls. Puck then tells Penelope the good news. And then comes the strangest cut in the film. The camera remains in place, and Penelope and Puck are replaced by Helena and Hermia, arguing in the spot where Penelope and Puck were just standing. Puck then leads Demetrius and Lysander around until they sleep, at Puck’s urging. The girls too are then put to sleep by Puck. By the way, all of this takes place in daylight, not at night.

Act IV

The title card reads: “Penelope discovers the mischief that has been done. She restores the weaver to his normal shape and happily unites the lovers.” Bottom and Titania recline against a tree. One of the fairies scratches Bottom’s nose, which is a nice touch. When Titania wakes, she embraces Penelope, and the two walk off together, Penelope’s arm around Titania. Puck then restores Bottom’s head.

Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus and the train then come upon the lovers.

Meanwhile the tradesmen are outside at a fountain, frantic because Bottom has not arrived. But Bottom soon shows up.

The film ends there. Act V apparently has been lost from what I read, not cut initially.

Time: 11 1/2 minutes

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