Monday, July 23, 2007

Movies: Hamlet (1969)

Tony Richardson's smoky, oily, dim and dirty production filmed at the Roundhouse Theatre back when Anthony Hopkins had a full head of bristly black hair was available for my big screen delectation at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theatre this weekend. Hamlet is played by a too-old Nicol Williamson (whose copper curls were tinged with gray) and Ophelia by a bleating Marianne Faithfull (really, she's beautiful, but her good looks and bad speaking voice mean that Girl on a Motorcycle (Naked Under Leather), which DVD I own, can only be watched on mute, preferably while drinking, or, others might add, smoking; her performance this time around is no better, despite the valiant efforts of her stylist to make celestial orbs of her coiffure and bosom).

There is no doubt in my mind that this production far exceeded my eighth grade's own, in which I, sporting a beard drawn in black eyeliner, played the evil King Claudius during my bout of insistence on dominating all "evil" in drama club (having starred in sixth grade as Lady Macbeth), although I was very impressed by my recollection of nearly all of Claudius' (and Gertrude's) lines (Gertrude was played by my grade school best (and only, really) friend, making us unpopular girls the butt of many a lesbian joke, probably to the greater merriment of our drama club moderators, the obese sixth and seventh grade teachers who lived together and drove to and from school together, veritably squeezing their marshmallowy bodies into their rusting metallic blue (classic) VW bug (which had one orange door, in retrospect the poignant cherry on the top of their poverty sundae). In retrospect, they were likely lesbians, although, teaching at a Catholic grade school this fact was certainly taboo. In retrospect, though, the school was in San Francisco, and the best teacher of all, our eighth grade teacher, was certainly a gay man, who, to my dusky knowledge, even went so far as to participate in the Pride parade and perhaps the Folsom Street Fair, in chaps, nonetheless. In retrospect, too, our fifth grade teacher was also most likely a lesbian. Our fourth grade teacher, though, was a nun named Sister Mary Joseph, and despite the gender confusion of her chosen name, was so conservative that she chided me for pronouncing "often" "awf-in," rather than "awf-tin.")

This digression may seem ill-placed in my musing upon the film, but actually it mirrors rather precisely the way in which my mind wandered during the watching, for Shakespeare is difficult enough to follow (this coming from a top university English major, mind you) without all of the darkness and smoke and and the speaking very fast (which speed Nicol Williamson is quite guilty of); I wouldn't have minded subtitles, and was grateful for my eighth-grade studies of the abridged (but not adapted) script. With regard to style, I like very much Hamlet's soliloquy, at the end of which he snuffs an entire candelabra's lights, one by one, with his exploratory fingertip. I also like his chastisement of Ophelia and the feminine arts ("God give you one face and you make yourself another. . ."), which Richardson filmed from behind the cords of a hammock in which Ophelia cowers while Hamlet leans authoritatively over her and into the frame, showing us the view to which Polonius and Claudius are privy from their hiding spot behind an arras (I believe it was an arras. . .) I am less supportive of the excessive smiling that both Ophelia and Hamlet engage in when they are supposed to be angry or sad or mad or any combination of the above (smile plus tears equals mixed message, and, in this case, wrong message).

Having been the first time I've read/seen the play since reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, I was surprised to notice that the title of my favorite book comes from Hamlet, from the scene in which Hamlet and Horatio converse with the gravedigger over the skull of Poor Yorick. I do recall there being many a Hamlet allusion (including the inclusion of a Yorick figure) in Infinite Jest, but I don't recall what they were. It looks like it may be time to give my favorite book a second read, in light of this new information. That is big commitment, but it's less of a commitment than my other plan, which is to re-read all of Pynchon's oeuvre as an exercise in preparation for Against the Day.

O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!

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