Tuesday, July 28, 2015
The film opens with a shot of soldiers marching, the first title card reading: “After the battle of Tewkesbury. Death of Prince Edward of Lancaster.” We see Richard demand to see King Henry. And then a title card tells us, “Murder of King Henry VI, the last of the house of Lancaster, as King Edward of York enters London.” And then we see Richard stab Henry with a dagger. Then, just to make sure, he runs the corpse through with his sword a couple of times, then cleans the blood off with his other hand.
The next subtitle reads, “Lady Anne Plantagenet, widow of Prince Edward, receives body of King Henry, for burial.” We see the corpse brought in. A title card tells us, “Lady Anne wooed and won by Duke of Gloster.” (It’s interesting that no dialogue is given to us in subtitles, not even the play’s most famous lines. But rather the titles are used to tell us what happens in the following scene.) Richard interrupts the funeral procession to woo Lady Anne. While on one knee he offers her his sword to kill him, and for a moment it seems she will. Twice more she raises the sword against him, but finally lets it drop, defeated. He watches it fall, and only then does he rise.
A title card reads: “Court of King Edward IV. Gloster incites quarrel between the King and Clarence.” And we see the arrest of the Duke of Clarence, and Richard visiting him in the tower. The two murderers kill Clarence almost immediately upon entering, whereas in the play, they have all that wonderful dialogue about whether they should do it and so on.
A title card tells us, “Death of King Edward IV.” And we get a brief scene of Edward IV dying, while Richard and others look on. In the play, he dies offstage.
Title card: “Princes Edward and York, sons of Edward, are brought to London.” We see them arrive, where they are greeted by Richard. And we do get a shot of one of them mocking Richard by imitating him.
And we do see Richard entering onto the balcony between the two bishops and carrying a prayer book, after twice declining the crown. And when he accepts, the crowd cheers. This whole sequence is really good, particularly afterward when we see the two bishops exit and Richard immediately flings the prayer book aside.
A title card tells us, “Gloster orders the young Princes to be taken to the Tower.” After that we see the coronation of King Richard the Third. Another title card tell us, “Buckingham, being refused his promised reward, leaves the court of Richard, with defiance.”
A title card says, “The Princes are murdered in the Tower.” We see the princes say their prayers and then go to bed. The two murderers enter and smother them, something that occurs offstage in the play. They then demand their pay of Tyrrell, who waits just outside the door. Tyrell then goes to tell Richard, who is clearly cheered by the news.
A title card reads: “Richard attempts to woo Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of the late King Edward. Her mother summons the Earl of Richmond from France to protect her.” For a moment, it seems that this film version has completely forgotten about Lady Anne. Part of the problem is that Queen Margaret is cut completely. But it seems that Lady Anne is wooed and then forgotten. We do get a shot of the letter Elizabeth has written to the Earl of Richmond.
A title card tells us, “Richmond sails from France,” and there’s actually a shot of the boat sailing toward shore (and the camera movies a bit in this shot, to keep the boat in frame). Interestingly, it is then that we get the title card, “Death of Lady Anne,” her death coming later than in the play. In the play, we learn of her death right after the princes are murdered. It’s an interesting shot, with Lady Anne asleep in bed in the foreground, and King Richard instructing someone to poison her, seen partially in shadow in the background. Lady Anne drinks the poison and dies immediately.
A title card tells us, “Richmond visits the Princess Elizabeth, to whom he is betrothed.” It’s interesting, because it sort of gives the impression that the battle is over Elizabeth. The next scene is Richard and his army departing to meet Richmond. A title card tells us, “Richard’s dream, the night before the battle.” In this version, the Ghosts all appear simultaneously (ah, early special effects), and point accusingly at Richard. Richard rushes out of his tent and falls to the ground. He is helped up by his men, and they rush off to battle. The battle scenes are all done in fairly wide shots. There is a shot of Richard’s corpse at the end.
The DVD includes Rediscovering Richard: Looking Back At A Forgotten Classic, a seventeen-minute featurette which has interviews with Jean Picker Firstenberg, the director of the American Film Institute, and Bill Buffum, the man who donated his copy of the film to AFI. Buffum talks about working as a projectionist and about collecting films, including acquiring The Life And Death Of King Richard III. This featurette also goes into some of the other early silent Shakespeare films, and includes a bit of information on actor Frederick Warde.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
The film opens with a shot of a clock striking twelve noon. Titles tell us this is “The Duke’s Palace” in “The Port Of Ephesus.” Aegeon’s opening speech is cut, and this production begins with Duke’s “Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more.” Aegeon delivers his long speech out to the audience.
The second scene has a title card as well: “The Market In Ephesus.” The first line, as spoken, is “Here, sir, say you are of Epidamnum” rather than “Therefore give out you are of Epidamnum.” There is some nice physical humor in this scene, as well as some sexual innuendo (like on “I am invited, sir, to certain merchants”). The clock has a place above the stage, constantly hanging over the action, and it’s referred to on the line, “Soon at five o’clock.”
Oddly, when Dromio of Ephesus arrives, a title appears: “The Wrong Twin Servant.” That’s pretty weak. And if the production had to rely on such things, how was the audience in the theatre kept apprised? Perhaps it was simply a note in the program.
The second act begins with a title, “The House Of Antipholus Of Ephesus,” and then with an added line, as Adriana tells Luciana, “It’s two o’clock,” time playing a big role in this production. When Dromio recounts his conversation, “quoth” is changed to “said.” And then rather than Luciana asking, “Quoth who?” everyone on stage asks, “Said who?”
The title at the beginning of the second scene is “The Market In Ephesus.” Antipholus of Syracuse has a very playful, amused attitude toward Dromio, and even when Adriana (Goldie Semple) and Luciana (Lucy Peacock) enter. He looks up at the clock on the line “In Ephesus I am but two hours old,” looking at it after “but.” After “or idle moss,” there is a lighting change and all characters but Antipholus freeze. Antipholus then does his next speech, “To me she speaks…” to the audience, moving about the stage, and at the end returns to his initial position so the action can resume. The same thing happens when Dromio speaks of “goblins, owls and sprites.” It’s an interesting effect, giving us a stronger sense of the otherworldly forces they believe are at work here.
A shot of the clock at the beginning of the third act tells us it’s 3:15 p.m., and after a cute little dance a title card tells us, “The other Antipholus arrives home.” He, his Dromio, Angelo and Balthazar have obviously all been drinking. Balthazar sports a ridiculously tall wig. Because one actor plays both Dromios, the conversation between them at the gate is played in such a way that we see only the outside of the gate, and the other Dromio’s lines come from within (perhaps recorded?). Balthazar hiccups often during his long speech, and belches once. Antipholus of Ephesus says “Porcupine” rather than “Porpentine.”
A shot of the clock at the beginning of the second scene lets us know it’s now 3:30 p.m. Luciana adds a screeching, comical “What?” to this scene when Antipholus indicates he’s interested in her. When he asks for her hand, she almost gives it to him before coming to her senses and exiting. Dromio of Syracuse is hilarious in this scene, when talking about Luce, the kitchen wench. Angelo is still inebriated when he enters with the chain. He too says “Porcupine” rather than “Porpentine.”
There’s an added comic chase with Luce after Dromio. The fourth act then begins with the title card, “A Street In Ephesus.” The title at the beginning of the second scene reads, “The House Of Antipholus Of Ephesus,” and a shot of the clock shows it to be 4 p.m. And the third scene begins with a title reading, “A Street In Ephesus.” It opens in that altered state, with everyone frozen except Antipholus of Syracuse, who delivers his opening speech to the audience. There is a wonderful moment after Dromio gives him the money and they both think the place itself is playing with them both, that it’s not the fault of Dromio or miscommunication. They are both silent in fear, and it’s seriously funny. The Courtesan is given a rather grand entrance. At the end of the scene she tosses a flower to a man in the audience, and it’s the only time we see any of the audience (though this shot might have been done later, for it’s close and steady on just two people, with everyone else in darkness, and seems anticipated if not altogether fabricated).
A shot of the clock tells us it’s 4:30 p.m. when the next scene begins, and a title card reads, “A Street In Ephesus.” The action freezes again for Dromio’s aside. But this Dromio’s speech is not related to witchcraft or dreams, so it doesn’t really work. It feels like the film has sort of broken the pattern, and now it’s simply about asides. Doctor Pinch is also given a rather elaborate entrance.
The fifth act begins at 4:45 p.m., with the title card, “Another Street In Ephesus.” In this version, the Merchant and Antipholus of Syracuse do fight with foils, and the fight is set to music. A title card reads, “The Abbey,” and when Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio arrive, their knocking is in time with music. The clock chimes five o’clock, making the Merchant’s line “By this, I think, the dial points at five” comical. Of course at the end, four actors are needed, and so two others appear, with their backs to the audience. The film of course gives us no close-ups of the other two. And much of their dialogue is cut. For example, we go from the Duke’s “Which accidentally are met together” to Adriana’s “Which of you two did dine with me today?” And in other cases the main actors speaks lines of both characters.
The DVD, part of the Stratford Collection, contains no special features.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
The three witches are hot, young, but twisted girls dressed in school uniforms, shown first desecrating tombstones in a cemetery. The first scene ends with “There to meet with-” And the title comes on the screen.
Macbeth (Sam Worthington) sees the girls walking out of the graveyard, which is interesting. He and Lady Macbeth are at the grave of their son, Lady Macbeth on her knees, weeping. So clearly the child alluded to in the play has a significant presence in this version. Then we see Macbeth overseeing packages being delivered by a small boat. The drug deal goes sour, and a deadly battle results. Macbeth and Banquo (Steve Bastoni) then follow survivors to the club that functions as their lair, and capture Cawdor, the traitor.
The film then goes to Scene ii, beginning with “Brave friend” at the place of the battle, with Duncan now having arrived. But when Duncan asks, “Who comes here,” the answer is “The worthy Macduff,” rather than “The worthy Thane of Ross.” Duncan asks him, “Whence cam’st thou?” Macduff replies, “From Cawdor, where began the dismal conflict.” In the play, Ross answers, “From Fife, great king.” Meanwhile Macbeth and Banquo partake of some drug that’s on the table, so perhaps the witches’ appearance is hallucination. Macbeth turns on the club’s smoke machine and lights, so those elements are real. The witches are now wearing hot little gothic outfits. The first line is “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” from the first scene of the play, and Macbeth replies, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Of course, that connection is in the play, but the lines are separated by a scene. Banquo is in the bathroom, vomiting, and so is not present. Still, Macbeth asks about them not speaking to him, leading the witches to deliver their prophecy regarding Banquo, but they do so to Macbeth, not to Banquo himself. Macbeth then bumps into Banquo who still delivers his lines, “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,/And these are of them/Whither are they vanished?” But the lines have a different tone, because Banquo hasn’t seen the witches, and so doesn’t believe they were there at all. He has vomited up the drug that may still have possession of Macbeth’s mind.
It’s odd that Macbeth himself caught the Thane of Cawdor, because then his line to the witches about Cawdor still living doesn’t hold as much surprise; after all, Macbeth can assume Duncan will kill him. Duncan enters and speaks to Cawdor: “False friend, no more you shall deceive our bosom interest” (lines from the second scene). He then bestows the title and properties on Macbeth. This reordering takes away from the audience foreknowledge of Macbeth’s new title during the witches scene. Duncan then goes right to lines from Scene iv, when he speaks directly to Macbeth.
Macbeth goes home to find Lady Macbeth (Victoria Hill) asleep in the bath (itself a bit of foreshadowing). Then in bed, Macbeth says some of the lines which in the play Lady Macbeth reads aloud from his letter. Lady Macbeth’s first line then is “I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way.” But it’s said in an almost drowsy manner. And it is Macbeth who suddenly is ambitious, not Lady Macbeth. The film then goes back to Scene iv for the execution of Cawdor, who recites the Lord’s Prayer before being shot. After pronouncing Malcolm next in line, Duncan goes to Macbeth and says, “Let me infold thee/And hold thee to my heart,” lines which are delivered to Banquo in the play and further set Macbeth apart. Macbeth’s aside is done as voice over.
The film then returns to Scene v for Macbeth’s line “My dearest love,/Duncan comes here tonight.” Lady Macbeth has just done a line of cocaine, so perhaps her sudden ambition comes from that. Lady Macbeth steps outside to await Duncan, and we see a swing set, its single swing blowing eerily in the breeze, another reminder of the Macbeth child. And it is then that we get Lady Macbeth’s famous speech (“Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”), here given as voice over. And right as that speech ends, she and Duncan embrace. Malcolm is accompanied by a woman. Donalbain is cut from this version.
The beginning of Macbeth’s speech (“If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/It were done quickly”) is done as voice over, but then part of it is delivered to Lady Macbeth. Because the characters are all involved in criminal activity, Macbeth’s lines “his virtues/Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu’d against/The deep damnation of his taking-off” don’t really carry any weight. But Lady Macbeth’s line about her dashing “the brains out” carries a lot of weight in this version, and it’s completely believable that that is the line that convinces Macbeth to do the deed. It’s a powerful moment.
Fleance’s “The moon is down” line is cut, and he goes right to “There’s slumber in heaven” (“husbandry in heaven” in the play). Most of the dialogue between Macbeth and Banquo is cut. The dagger Macbeth sees is a shadow on the wall, made by a light against a plant. The dagger speech is done at first as voice over. But once he realizes it’s a shadow, he smiles, and speaks the line “I see thee still” aloud. As in most film versions, we do see Duncan’s murder. And, like in some other versions, Duncan wakes first.
The second scene begins with Macbeth’s “I have done the deed.” While Lady Macbeth goes to place the daggers, there is a shot of Macduff with his wife at their home. He looks in on their child too (they have just one child in this version, which I think is a poor choice). And we see Lady Macbeth smearing the men with blood. The Porter is cut. Macbeth answers the door over an intercom system. We see Macbeth kill the two men. Lady Macbeth’s faint seems real in this version, upon seeing the bloody corpse of Duncan, rather than as a ruse to take the focus away from Macbeth. Macbeth’s “know it further” is aimed at Malcolm, which is enough to give Malcolm pause. Because Donalbain is cut, Malcolm’s conversation is with his female companion. After Macduff’s “He is already nam’d,” we see Macbeth being hailed at a party in his honor.
(By the way, every once in a while we see a man with a camera watching the action.)
Macbeth sees Banquo leave the party early with Fleance, and runs out to let him know of the supper being held that night. The “Ride” in “Ride you with Fleance this afternoon” refers to dirt bikes, not horses in this version. Macbeth’s lines about “a fruitless crown” are delivered to Lady Macbeth. And the film goes right to Scene ii for her response: “What’s to be done?” The scene where Macbeth speaks to the two murderers is cut. And the third murderer is cut. Added is a scene where police go to Malcolm, but there is no added dialogue.
Macbeth goes to speak to both murderers, not just one, at the beginning of the banquet scene. Macbeth sits at the head of the table, so cut is the bit where he is unable to find a seat. In the mirror he sees Banquo’s ghost. Macbeth’s “gory locks” becomes “gory head,” perhaps because Banquo’s hair is so short. Banquo’s ghost physically attacks Macbeth, or so Macbeth imagines.
Scene v is cut.
The witches appear in Macbeth’s home, and it is possible that it’s a dream. Macbeth enters earlier than he does in the play, as this is perhaps his dream, so he hears the “Double, double, toil and trouble” bit. The witches are naked (as they are in Polanski’s film), and use Macbeth’s kitchen for their spell. And as one witch says the “pricking of my thumbs” line, Macbeth enters, visible just over her shoulder. She smiles at him after the “wicked” line, which could indicate she was teasingly calling him wicked, or that she enjoys his wickedness. The witches each drink from the potion, then offer some to Macbeth. They then hide from him, as a game. When he finds them, it becomes quite sexual, and it is then they warn him about Macduff and so on. I love that the witches laugh when Macbeth says, “Deny me this,/And an eternal curse fall on you.” The vision in this version is of several men saying “Hail Fleance,” rather than the parade of kings.
Because the Macduffs have but one child, “babes” becomes “babe” in “to leave his wife, to leave his babe.” Most of the dialogue between Lady Macduff and her son is cut. The Messenger is also cut, and Ross is given his lines. Because of the criminal element of this film’s world, Lady Macduff’s lines “where to do harm/Is often laudable, to do good sometime/Accounted dangerous folly” have a more immediate context. Macduff’s son is shot, but his line “He has killed me, mother” is cut. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth watch the news report about the Macduff murders, Lady Macbeth looks with horror at Macbeth. This is the moment where she begins to turn away and lose it in this version. We also see Ross and Lennox seeing the same program.
Most of the dialogue between Malcolm and Macduff is cut, including all of the stuff where Malcolm is testing Macduff. Also cut is the part where Ross first says to Macduff that his wife and child are okay. Also cut are all the lines where Macduff repeatedly asks about his wife and children: “My children too?” and “All my pretty ones?/Did you say all?” It’s a shame to lose those, for that is usually a powerful and emotional moment.
The fifth act begins with the Doctor arriving outside. But it is daytime. The dialogue with the Gentlewoman is given in Lady Macbeth’s bedroom, while Lady Macbeth is in bed. Lady Macbeth rises and goes into the bathroom to wash her hands in the basin. Lady Macbeth speaks to the Doctor as if he were Macbeth. Lady Macbeth howls as they try to get her back into bed, until the Doctor gives her a sedative. Macbeth then enters (thus combining Scenes i and iii), and the way he asks, “How does your patient, Doctor” indicates he doesn’t really care. He’s so removed from his previous life at this point.
There is then a scene of the men arming themselves, those who will stand against Macbeth. Interestingly, Fleance stands among them. In the play, he disappears. One problem is that you kind of despise Macduff when he shoots two unarmed men who were abandoning their posts with Macbeth anyway. You have to be on Macduff’s side at this point, and this scene makes that impossible.
Lady Macbeth kills herself in the tub, and Macbeth rushes to her after hearing the Gentlewoman’s scream instead of being told of her death. The problem with that is that when he says “There would have been a time for such a word,” it doesn’t make much sense. That line is in response to “The queen, my lord, is dead,” which in this version is not spoken. The rest of the speech is cut, which is unforgivable.
The Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane is a bit goofy in this version. Macduff and company drive a Birnam Timber truck through Macbeth’s gate. The battle is done with guns rather than swords, which is always a weaker choice, and is done in slow motion without dialogue for a while, until Macbeth’s “They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly.” The next line, “But bearlike I must fight the course” is cut. However, that line refers to the previous line, so if you keep one, you must keep the other. All of Young Siward’s lines are cut, as are Siward’s. By the way, for this battle scene, Macbeth has donned a kilt, a sudden nod to the play’s original setting. After Macbeth is stabbed, he makes his way up to his bedroom, where Lady Macbeth is laid out on the bed (someone moved her from the tub), and kisses her, dying next to her. Oddly, Fleance goes into the bedroom and shoots the Gentlewoman, just going to show that everyone in this version is horrible. Macbeth is not beheaded. All of the lines after his death are cut. And as I feared, the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech is done as voice over at the end, which is stupid.
The DVD contains a behind-the-scenes featurette, with an interview with Geoffrey Wright, in which he talks about the cast. There is also an interview with Sam Worthington, who talks about the project, about working with Geoffrey Wright, and yes, about the kilt. And there is an interview with Victoria Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay and played Lady Macbeth. She talks about the character of Lady Macbeth, saying, “She’s in a state of tragic denial, feels responsible for the death of her child, but can’t really continue living if she accepts that, so she’s trying to find blame everywhere else.” Interesting. She also speaks briefly about adapting the play.
The DVD also includes the film’s trailer.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Interestingly, George Wilkins also plays a part in the case. Nicholl writes, “Shakespeare knew this dangerous and rather unpleasant character – indeed it is almost certain Wilkins wrote most of the opening two acts of Pericles” (p. 16). Stephen and Mary Belott, after their marriage, lived at George Wilkins’ house. “As we know, the ‘victualler’ George Wilkins was also a writer. He was, or became, a literary associate of Shakespeare – for a while a collaborator with Shakespeare – and so his brief appearance at the Court of Requests opens up something rather rare: a specific biographical context for a Shakespeare play. The play is Pericles, probably first performed in early 1608, and published the following year. The broad consensus among literary historians is that Wilkins wrote most of the first two acts and Shakespeare almost all of the rest” (p. 198). Nicholl then writes: “It is more or less exactly at this time, in the summer of 1605, that there begins an identifiable literary connection between Wilkins and Shakespeare. At this point, as far as the evidence remains, Wilkins was an unknown and unpublished author. But some time in or shortly after June 1605 he began work on a play for Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men. The play was Wilkins’s best and most charismatic work, The Miseries of Enforced Marriage” (pages 207-208). He then adds, “This skeletal and partly speculative narrative – a story of mutual literary opportunism – is a kind of prelude to Pericles, for it was doubtless the success of the Miseries, still onstage in 1607, that led to Wilkins’s collaboration with Shakespeare on Pericles” (p. 221). And regarding the character Marina, Nicholl writes: “It occurs to me that Marina in the bawdy house at Myteline might have some traces of a real person in a real situation – Mary Belott in the house of Wilkins. Her arrival there marks the first known connection between Shakespeare and Wilkins, and her presence there may have had a similar aspect of sexual vulnerability, of innocence cast among the wolves – or anyway may have been construed that way by Shakespeare, who cared about her and who perhaps felt some pangs of avuncular anxiety about the rackety circumstances in which she now found herself” (p. 223).
Later Nicholl comes back to Mary: “I have been teased by the possibilities of Shakespeare’s relationship with the charming Mrs. Mountjoy, but perhaps the person at the heart of the story is her daughter Mary, of whom we know next to nothing until she steps into the limelight of the Belott-Mountjoy suit. Her life touches Shakespeare’s in this circumstantial way, but seems also to touch his imagination. She is betrothed to a reluctant husband, as Helena is in All’s Well; she is banished ‘dowerless’ by the father, as Cordelia is in King Lear; she is lodged in the house of a pimp, as Marina is in Pericles. She is not the ‘model’ for these characters, any more than Stephen is the model for the recalcitrant bridegroom Bertram, but there are traces of her in them: a real young woman, living in the house where Shakespeare writes, and in the house of his co-author Wilkins. Was it Mary’s hands Shakespeare saw in his mind’s eye when he wrote in Pericles of a girl weaving silk ‘with fingers long, small, white as milk’?” (p. 270). Sure, this is speculation, but it’s intriguing.
This book also, in the appendix, includes the documents regarding the Belcott-Mountjoy case. So you can read them for yourselves and come to your own decisions. There are also some photos of the documents, and other photos related to the time.
The Lodger Shakespeare: His Life On Silver Street was published in 2008 by Viking Penguin.