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Shakespeare Film Series Returns To The Old Globe

Three adaptations of the Bard plus a documentary screen for free this summer

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Photo credit: Bond360

David Harewood plays Oberon to Tina Benko's Titania in Julie Taylor's filmed stage production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."


Barry Edelstein, Old Globe artistic director

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

Last year's free summer Shakespeare film series was such a hit that The Old Globe Theatre is bringing it back for round two.

Last year's free summer Shakespeare film series was such a hit that The Old Globe Theatre is bringing it back for round two.

The Old Globe's Artistic Director Barry Edelstein loves Shakespeare and wants to share that love with as many people as possible. One way that he has found to achieve this is through a free film series that allows anyone to come sample the Bard of Avon on the big screen.

One of the great things about the film series is that Edelstein appreciates bold adaptations of Shakespeare to the screen. Each of the four films screening this summer is fueled by a passionate vision that is never reigned in by too much reverence for the original text. Edelstein said "reverence can be deadly."

The four filmmakers — Julie Taymor, Peter Brook, Al Pacino, and Baz Luhrmann — have an obvious love for the playwright, but they are not afraid to cut his text or place their own particular interpretation on the plays.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' June 26, Lowell Davies Festival Stage

Julie Taymor's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the only film of the quartet that I have not seen. Unlike her two previous Shakespeare film adaptations "Titus" and "Tempest," "Dream" is a film version of her New York stage production. She shot it over multiple performances and did shoot specific inserts on stage when a live audience was not present, but it remains a film record of a stage production.

But as with her other films and stage work, "Dream" boasts exquisite production design that seduces you immediately. Two points of note about her production are that her androgynous Puck is played by a diminutive actress (Kathryn Hunter who is also something of a contortionist) and that Bottom (played by Max Casella) and his "rough mechanics" are New York construction workers.

Taymor's work is always provocative and inspired so I am looking forward to seeing this for the first time on a big screen and outdoors in Balboa Park where it seems the ideal venue.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Altura Films International

Paul Scofield plays the title character in Peter Brook's "King Lear."

'King Lear,' July 17, Old Globe Theatre

In striking contrast to the vibrant colors and extravagant production design of Taymor's production is Peter Brook's stark, black and white film version of "King Lear." Brook's interpretation was fueled in part by Polish critic Jan Kott's book "Shakespeare Our Contemporary," which saw Shakespeare's "King Lear" as focused on the futility of all things.

You can find hope and goodness in Shakespeare's text, but Brook chooses to emphasize the more nihilistic elements in the play to deliver a powerfully bleak film. But as with all bold interpretations, it makes you look at the play from a whole new angle to see new shadings and meaning. His visual style and chilly Danish locales capture the feel of that Medieval era in all its primitive harshness.

The film boasts a towering performance by Paul Scofield as Lear with fine support from Irene Worth as Cordelia and Jack MacGowran as Fool. Brook's film divided audiences and critics but it remains one of the best and most provocative film adaptations of the Bard.

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Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Al Pacino sets off on a quest to explore Shakespeare's "Richard III" in the documentary "Looking for Richard."

'Looking for Richard,' Aug. 7, Old Globe Theatre

Al Pacino's documentary "Looking for Richard" is all about his journey as an artist to create a production of "Richard III."

This film has such an infectious passion for Shakespeare that it should be shown in every high school English class before students read one word of his plays. Pacino has a voracious hunger for knowledge and researching the play and trying to unlock its mysteries. He talks to people on the streets of New York about the Bard as well as with scholars and respected artists, and all with surprising results.

If you only see one film in this series, make it this one. You will leave with a renewed enthusiasm for Shakespeare.

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Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Claire Danes is Juliet and Leonardo DiCaprio is Romeo in Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet."

'Romeo + Juliet,' Aug. 28, Lowell Davies Festival Stage

The series closes out with Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet" that casts Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers.

As with Brook's "Lear," Lurhmann's "Romeo + Juliet" split audiences. Some complained about cuts to the text but others praised Luhrmann's audacious approach that dared to try and find a way to make the play resonate for kids in the 1990s.

Edelstein is scheduled to introduce "Looking for Richard," and I have the great privilege of introducing the other three films. In addition to these four Shakespeare films, you can revel in the Globe's stage productions of "Richard II" and "Hamlet" (directed by Edelstein) this summer as well.

Cinema Junkie Podcast 121 (available this Saturday) will feature an interview with Barry Edelstein about the film festival.


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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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