The First Folio And Shakespearemania
Cinema Junkie / May 27, 2016
The First Folio — the book that gave us Shakespeare — is touring the U.S. so what better time to talk about Shakespeare on film.
Beth: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I'm Beth Accomando and it's time to brush up on your Shakespeare.
[Song] "Brush up your Shakespeare. Start quoting him now. Brush up your Shakespeare and know [indiscernible] [00:00:16] you will [indiscernible] [00:00:18]. Just to claim a few lines from Motella [phonetic] [00:00:21] and to think you're a hell of a fella. If your blog [phonetic] [00:00:26] won't respond when you flatter her, tell [indiscernible] [00:00:28]."
The First Folio is touring all 50 states in the U.S. and making a stop in San Diego. In this digital age where practically everything is online, why should we care about a 400-year-old book? Because without it we would not have this [inserted movie clip] "Tomorrow and tomorrow crimson this petty pace room [phonetic] [00:01:02]. Day to day to the last syllable recorded time" or this [inserted movie clip] "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts." or this [inserted movie clip] "They are such stuff as dreams are made of. A little life, ground, sleep." That's right, "Macbeth", "As You like It", and "The Tempest" might have all been lost and forgotten had they not been collected in the First Folio.
For some of us, The First Folio is a sacred document like the Bible, and the fact that the Folger Library is letting one of its 82 copies out into the world is cause for celebration. So, I turn to the Old Globe's artistic director Barry Edelstein to discuss exactly what the First Folio is and why it's so important.
Then I dig up an archive interview from 1989 with actor/director Kenneth Branagh talking about his film adaptation of "Henry V".
Finally, I'll speak with independent filmmaker Pete Shaner about his adaptation of "As You like It" and how you make a 400-year-old text accessible to a modern audience. I also recommend going back and listening to Cinema Junkie Podcast number five, where I speak with the brilliant actor Ian McKellan about Richard III.
First, let's start with Barry Edelstein, so he can explain exactly what the First Folio is, why it's important, and why DNA scientists are looking at it.
The First Folio is a publication of Shakespeare's plays. Now, during his lifetime, he never thought his plays were really going to outlive him. He thought it was his sonnets that were the valuable piece of literature he was creating. So, why do you think it's important to have this First Folio and for people to see it? Why should people be excited to see this?
Barry: Well, the relationship of Shakespeare to posterity during his own life is a really complicated subject. Not just his sonnets but two big epic poems that he wrote in the early 1590's were the only things that he seemed to take any interest in publishing himself. And in fact, not even the sonnets, they were published, apparently, against his will by some rival publisher. He didn't seem to be thinking much about posterity except as a poet. Although by five or six plays into his career he was already incredibly famous. The theater companies recognized that there was an after market for the plays in the form of the readership, the reading public. Although, also there it was a highly illiterate society. There was a robust book in publishing trade but really very few people could actually read. So, it was a way for the theater company's to get a little bit of extra money back on their investment. The way it worked is very different from today. It was like the Hollywood studio system and the 40's where the producing company would pay a set amount of money to a writer and take that play as a piece of peace work...
...and then the writer had no further claim in it. No copyright interest in it, no notion of intellectual property the way that we have today. The theater company owned it. They could produce it, they could not produce it, they could make changes in it, they could hire another writer to doctor it and they could then sell it to a publisher to print it. So, we know that half of Shakespeare's plays actually got printed during his lifetime. And then a Fello got printed after his death for the first time in between Shakespeare's death in 1616 and the Folio in 1623. The half of Shakespeare's plays that reached print were the popular ones, the ones that there actually was an audience who wanted to read. Shakespeare died in 1616, now the other important thing to note about this is that widely in the culture at that time, plays were not considered literature. They were considered throw away stuff like an airport paperback would be today. So they were printed in a format called Quarto, which has to do with how the paper is folded when it's printed, which was essentially a piece of a femmera [phonetic] [00:05:07]. A folio, which is a bigger book and typically a big hefty volume often bound in leather, was reserved only for scientific treatises, religious treatises, Bibles, things written by aristocrats, really stuff that, at the time, was considered solid literary work. In 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, his rival Ben Johnson, also a play write, collected his plays and published them in a folio and people mocked him, "What are you doing? Those are plays, they shouldn't be printed in a folio" but none the less he did it. And this set a precedent that said, oh you can print other kinds of stuff in the folio format. Actors in Shakespeare's company got an idea, which is, well if Johnson printed his plays in folio maybe we should do that for Shakespeare. We loved him, we want to memorialize him. Now they also published it as a way to raise some extra money for their theater company because nobody who works in the theater is ever thinking about anything other than...
...how do we raise some extra money, right? There were these two duel motives going on, commercial motive, let's raise some money for the theater company and second, let's memorialize our friend. So, let me get back to why it's important. It's important for two reasons. One, it's important because Shakespeare is important. You have to begin with the premise that Shakespeare actually matters and he does, he's still remarkably alive in our culture 400 years after his death. He's alive in the way we speak English. Lots of people talk about that. If you say something is "dead as a doornail" you are quoting Shakespeare. You may not know that you're quoting Shakespeare but you are. If you use the word assassination, you're quoting Shakespeare who was the first person to use that word in the English language. So, the English that we speak today is heavily influenced by Shakespeare. The stories that we watch on T.V., you know you watch "House of Cards" you're watching something that's influenced by Shakespeare. If you watch "Game of Thrones" you're watching something that's influenced by Shakespeare. The metaphors we use to describe things, even as we listen to political coverage in this election season, we hear the adjective "Shakespearean" tossed around. We hear people describe if they're being indecisive as Hamlet. And then finally, the conception of ourselves, the way we think about our relationship to nature, our relationship's to our parents, our relationships to those we love, our relationships to our children, and our relationships to our own legacies these are influenced in our very thinking by Shakespeare. So, the first reason this book is important is because Shakespeare remains important and this book is the book that gave us Shakespeare because without it half of the plays that we revere would not have survived the centuries since then. I counted up, this summer I will have been at the Globe nearly four years and in that time, the Globe has produced 11 Shakespeare plays. Eight of them appear in the Folio for the first time.
So from the Globe's perspective, it's important because without that book 80 percent of our output, over the past three years, would have been impossible. Those plays would not have survived. This book is the source material for this enormous energy that has changed the human culture. In particular, in the English language but also around the world and it's the source. I think of it very much in a spiritual sense. It feels, in my life, secular to be sure but none the less spiritual. It is a great, big, old book whose texts and codes moral and ethical ideas that we turn to for guidance, in the same way, that in a non-secular in a religious sense we turn to an old religious text for that same guidance. So, my experience of this book is profound and I've had the privilege in my life of being near the first folio's a couple of times and it's just enormously moving. But I think that even for people who don't do what I do for a living to be inches from these pages from which so much of our contemporary culture has emerged. It is moving and powerful.
Beth: Well, it's interesting today because so much of what we do now is online and digital and people are talking about not having to have a physical book anymore. And it seems like bringing this back, which is hundreds of years old, just has to be in the same room with it, would be very moving, I would think.
Barry: It is enormously moving and it's moving additionally for the reason that you just cited because we're in this world of incredible speed and of things like SnapChat that disappears three seconds after it's created. Here's this thing that has endured for 400 years. And anyway, the statistics in book publishing are that e-books are fading out, they had their big spike when the whole idea first started...,
...and now people are wanting to read a book. People want to hold this thing, this object in their hands. And I think for readers of Shakespeare and for people with casual acquaintances with Shakespeare, that's true too. You get the feeling that you're grabbing onto something that is a continuum, that people were laughing at the jokes in Shakespeare 400 years ago and the fact that is true means that there is a continuity to human existence, that there are certain values that endure. To be sure, there are certain values that don't; Shakespeare's idea about women, thankfully, have changed tremendously. Shakespeare's idea about race, thankfully, we have left behind. The direction of the world is forward and toward progress in all of these areas but that's not to say that there aren't things in there that endure. And by coming and looking at these pages you can, for a moment, connect yourself to the ever flowing stream of human civilization in a way that is positive and anobeling [phonetic] [00:11:02] and uplifting.
Beth: I understand that the book is going to be opened to Hamlet, how is that decided? And why is having it at Hamlet an important place to mark that book?
Barry: Well, the short answer is, I don't know how the Foldger actually decided that. I wasn't part of those deliberations, but I would say a couple of things. First, you go up to anybody say, to be or not to be that is the question, and they know that is Shakespeare.
[Audio insert] To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
Barry: And even if you don't know Shakespeare, you know "To be or not to be; that is the question". So, it is sort of clever and wonderful that it is the single idea that represents and encapsulates Shakespeare in some special way for everybody.
Beth: The Globe has chosen Macbeth and Loves Labor Lost as the plays they're doing this summer while the folio is here. Why did you decide on those particular plays this year?
Barry: The way we choose plays are a complicated thing that has to do with artists and their availability and what they want to do. I talk to a set of artists and say, what do you want to do, and somebody says, I've got a ben hankering [phonetic] [00:13:25] to do Loves Labor Lost and that is how Loves Labor Lost gets started. It has to do with how we try and put a season together we want to have a little balance, a comedy, and a tragedy, and it also has to do with plays that we haven't done recently. As I said before we've done 11 Shakespeare's in three years, which means that at every nine years we're going to pass through the entire cannon.
Beth: Do you see any particular reason why those plays might have a nice reason for being here while the Folio is here? Even though you picked them separate from knowing that. Is there something about those plays that you think makes them fitting?
Barry: Macbeth is a folio only play. So, there's that. That wasn't part of the thinking but I'm happy to hang my hat on it if it helps. Macbeth was not published during Shakespeare's life, it was published for the first time in the first folio. So, it's a good illustration of the premise that much of the thing that we adore about Shakespeare, which we revere about Shakespeare was brought to us by this book. Without the first folio, there's no tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. There's no washing your hands when you're feeling guilty, there are no three witches talking about "bubble, bubble toil of trouble". So, it's a great way to, subconsciously, say to the audience, you see? The first folio is why you're able to be here tonight and enjoy this play.
Beth: And will you be taking a visit to the first folio again?
Barry: Yeah. They're going to have a hard time getting me out of that library while the first folio is here. I'm actually hoping, I'm going to do a little commando raid and try and get in there when they take the thing out of its shipping crate and watch them put it up because it is such a wonderful opportunity and I'm such a geek that way.
Beth: I'm sure it is all encased and carefully sealed up but I imagine, books always smell so wonderful, and I'm wondering what the smell of that first folio is like?
Barry: Well, here's one of the crazy things about the first folio. There is this whole other thing which is that the object...the book is important because of the text that is printed on it but now, first of all, there are a couple of folio's that have survived. There were 750 of them printed 400 years ago, about 233 are known to survive. In a couple of them, people left their eyeglasses when they were reading and closed the book. So, you open the book and eyeglasses were made of metal and there's one famous one, where you see the rusty outline of a pair of eyeglasses on the pages of the book. That is the book takes on a physical life. There are a whole ton of them that have rusty outlines of scissors in them.
Because when you had a book bound in that period, right? When you bought a book at a bookstore it wasn't bound. You would buy loose paper and then you would take it across the street to the bookbinder and tell them what kind of binding you wanted it in and then you could spend a ton of money on an [indiscernible] [00:16:17] bossed leather thing or you could spend a little bit of money on some cheap calf-skin and bind it. The binders used scissors to trim the pages and there are a whole handful of first folios that have rusty outlines of scissors in them because the binders left the scissors in the pages. The other thing that is extraordinary about it is that little pieces of hair or dandruff would fall into a page or some skin cells or a fingernail clipping while people were reading. So what is happening at the Foldger Library, at the moment, is that they're not having only literary scholars come but they're having DNA scientists come. And they're taking these little pieces of hair from the pages of a 400-year-old book and doing DNA analysis and discovering things about the health of human beings 400-years-ago. There are cases where somebody will lick their thumb and then touch the paper and turn the page and it leaves saliva on the page and DNA scientists can come and lift the saliva off the page from somebody's thumb and find out what they ate before they were reading the book. So there's this whole other part of the study of old books that is not just what the text is but what the object itself can reveal about human life 400-years ago. This was amazing.
Beth: Alright, well thank you very much.
Barry: Thank you, Beth. Always a pleasure.
Beth: That was Barry Edelstein artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theater. Now I go all the way back to 1989 when Kenneth Branagh decided to direct and star in "Henry V" for the big screen. Branagh came to the KPBS studios for an enlightening interview about the Bardon [phonetic] [00:17:58] film.
Just start with us, just curious, what made you choose Henry V to adapt a film?
Kenneth: A number of reasons really. It was the play, above all others, that I thought combined had a great story. Just a great narrative with terrific visual possibilities with the Battle of Agincourt and the Siege of Harfleur. It was a play, to me, that screamed out to be filmed. It has a great kind of pulsating storyline, feels very pacey, and wants to move swiftly. It has an atmosphere almost of a political thriller, to me. I thought it would benefit from a radically different treatment of the whole look of the piece that we should take our cue from, you know, the realism of medieval castles, which are torch lit and fire lit and therefore smokey and dark and rather shadowy and sinister places and that dark element should maybe go right through the whole film. That would, therefore, make it look quite different from the original film version and just make a different kind of movie. And added to that, it's a terrific emotional punch to the piece which I felt was underestimated by people who felt the play somehow only worked at times of war or at times of national crisis. I think the young man's story, in this piece, is the search for some kind of maturity right through the play through a series of tests that Shakespeare puts the monarch through are very exciting and people can identify with them. It's to do with accepting responsibility in a way that isn't just to do with being a king. So, that emotional hook, I felt, was the thing that would bind all of these other things together and just make it a rich mixture that had a personal dimension but was also epic because of its concern with countries and war so all of those things.
Beth: Yeah. I've also been fascinated by the fact that a lot of times they talk about Henry V...
...as kind of the ideal king, but I see also that there's a lot of a real ruthless politician to him, and that Shakespeare was giving us more than just that kind of "golden boy" image. How do you see him?
Kenneth: I feel that there's a lot of ambiguity about Shakespeare's feeling about this character. I think that he was a hero to Shakespeare, I suspect. But because he was flawed, I think, that his interest in Henry, or at least this is how I read it, is in the struggle of above all a human being not just a kind of great warrior king, but a human being who is a great soldier very professional killer indeed, but who also has to deal with inheriting a job, a crown that he's only one generation away from having been stolen, his father, Richard II. I think that there's a lot of tension and a lot of guilt about that, there is a lot of guilt about the rather exotic lifestyle Prince Hal had led at the Boar's-Head with people like Falstaff and he seemed to be a kind of medieval playboy, there's guilt about that. There's a kind of rough edge to him, there's a common touch to Henry which is a great asset to him but it leads to making him, in the position of king, rather a complicated creature. I think he has to bank down a lot of feelings and anger and sense of betrayal when, for instance, his friend Scrope betrays him, when he has to order the execution of Bardolph in the play and in our film. I think that they make for a much more doubt written and perplexed King, but I think Shakespeare admires him because by the time he gets to the morning of the Battle of Agincourt he's had to somehow learn to deal with his isolation with his regal separation from the common man...
...and will somehow go forward bearing in mind and that piece of enlightenment that he'll always be different, that he will always be lonely, but that the influence he carries and the responsibility that he is now kind of embracing makes up for that. So, finding all the [indiscernible] [00:22:20] to be king despite lots of human [indiscernible] [00:22:23] and failings is one of the things the play deals on and one of the reasons why, I think, Shakespeare likes him so much.
Beth: I think in the play his character goes through a real evolution, but he seems very contemporary in the fact that he is very much a politician. The way he argues and the way he deals with characters. Do you see him as the first politician in the Shakespeare plays?
Kenneth: Well, certainly his is someone who, like, maybe modern figures like Kennedy, perhaps in this country or [indiscernible] [00:22:54] seems to have one foot in the dirty world of politics and one foot in a brand of inspirational leadership of charismatic, warm [indiscernible] [00:23:05] kind of leadership.
[Song clip inserted] [Indiscernible] [00:23:09].
Kenneth: The play is the story of him developing and finding that, but I think that he certainly has strong political streak, if you like. He's very well aware of the pressure he's under of the pressure from the clerics in England, from the warlords around him, and of the very real threat of the French who we make a formidable force rather than just a bunch of [overlapping conversation] [00:23:40] fox. [Audio clip overlapping with speaker] [00:23:44] and could be ruthless.
Beth: You dress the chorus in contemporary clothing and right at the start of the film you kind of shatter that illusion of reality by showing the stage lights and all this. What made you decide to do that?
Kenneth: Well, the opening chorus refers to this wooden O [phonetic] [00:24:01] and some people feel, therefore, is stage bound in the Olivia [phonetic] [00:24:05] version. There was a recreation of the Globe Theater, of course, which the speech was referring to. It seems to me, though, that the opening [chuckle] course is asking the audience to do the same thing. They happen to be in a movie theater rather than a theater and then a play house, but the same injunction is there basically, which is, please forget your movie theater in San Diego and please imagine that you're in Agincourt. [Indiscernible] [00:24:29] of the same suspension of disbelief and it seemed to be an honest way to start.
[Audio clip inserted] [00:24:34]
"A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars, and at his heels, leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that hath dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object. Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt? O pardon, let us, ciphers to this great account, on your imaginary forces work, for ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, carry them here and there, jumping o'er times, turning th' accomplishment of many years into an hourglass; for the which supply, admit me chorus to this history; Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray gently to hear, kindly to judge our play."
Kenneth: Also, I wanted to disarm people and get away from being in a theater. Just say, look, we're doing this Shakespeare movie on film and this is where we start in a film studio, but we'd like you to pretend that, in fact, you are being transported to France. So, it was as simple as that to immediately disabuse people of the notion that it might be some old medieval thing, you know, with a terrible medieval look to it. So those were the reasons.
Beth: How did you originally get introduced to Shakespeare as a child? Was it something you were just taught in school or...?
Kenneth: It’s taught a lot at school in England. When I was about 13 we were made to stand up in class and read "The Merchant of Venice" aloud, which was no fun. It made no sense to me whatsoever and we didn't have the best teacher in the world for that. When I was about 16 we had a very good teacher take us through Romeo and Juliet, which was a terrific experience and it was really from then on, I suppose, when I began to develop some of my own opinions and have some confidence as a person. At such times something, like for instance at that stage in anyone's life, Romeo and Juliet makes terrific sense. You follow the story, you identify with the people, there are wonderful words to hear, it has a great dramatic sweep to it, and from then on really I just became an enthusiast, it made practical sense to me. I felt it was as important to me as wonderful music be it modern or classical or whatever, but I liked the way it appealed to the poet in me and in all of us. I read somewhere the other day, a survey in England, it said that they discovered that about 95 percent of people they had talked to had all written poetry at some stage. This was social groups right across the board. It seems to be an indicator that people are interested in being touched in that kind of way.
More than just a pedestrian [indiscernible] [00:28:01] and involvement with stories but sometimes wanting to be transported and taken into the world of poetry which Shakespeare does and did for me from that time and really onwards. So, I'm a big fan.
Beth: So, when you're adapting the play to film, how do you go about making it more immediate for contemporary audiences or more accessible?
Kenneth: Well, I cut some of it, to begin with. There are jokes...there's humor that I think just aren't funny anymore and I think if old Shakespeare was around he would rewrite and do new [indiscernible] [00:28:38]. So some of that went. Some of the more tortuous elements of the fluellen and pistol relationship went and then throughout the play there were lots of trims to really make it as pacey and as taught as possible and then beyond that the way it was spoken was very important. We tried to make people say it as thought it was real dialogue, real words spoken by real people as opposed to a declamatory operatic style which emphasized the poetic element of it. I wanted people to find speech rhythms of today that matched Shakespeare's rhythm. So, you didn't break it up, you didn't make it too quirky, but at the same time it sounded real.
[Audio clip inserted]
KING HENRY V “What means this, herald? [Indiscernible] [00:29:26]."
MONTJOY "No, great king: I come to thee for charitable licence, That we may wander o'er this bloody field To look our dead, and then to bury them; To sort our nobles from our common men. For many of our princes--woe the while!-- Lie drown'd and soak'd in mercenary blood; O, give us leave, great king, To view the field in safety and dispose Of their dead bodies!"
KING HENRY V "I tell thee truly, herald, I know not if the day be ours or no."
MONTJOY "The day is yours."
Kenneth: So, it meant a group of actors who were confident enough in Shakespeare to be able to do that, to be as natural with it as that, which needs familiarity. So, people like Paul Scofield, Derrick Jacobi, Judy Dench, and Ian Holm are all massively experienced in the classics, of Shakespeare in particular and so they had the confidence to be economic with the film camera. And beyond that, we took license with costumes and haircuts. We tried to give an essence of medieval Europe, if you like, but it was the universality of the story that I wanted to come across. I didn't want to too firmly root it in a stylized medieval look, which can now seem very laughable if you've ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you'll know what I mean. So we were going for a realistic look that was true to the spirit of the piece but every delivery and execution of was tailored for now for the modern era and I.
Beth: Did you worry at all that American audiences might miss some of the complexities by not being as familiar with English history? Like, how Henry ascended the throne and how his father had gotten thrown?
Kenneth: I always wanted the film to appeal to people who had never seen a play at all, ever, whether be it Shakespeare or whatever. But on one level it could work just as an adventure story on its own terms and below that if you know more history then maybe you get more juice out of it. Whatever you come expecting to see there are other things that Shakespeare puts in there. More subversive discussions about the nature of leadership and politics. But first and foremost, it was there to try and work initially as a piece of entertainment. A good adventure [indiscernible] [00:31:48], which people are only secondarily aware, happens to be Shakespeare.
Beth: Do you see Henry as having a particular pivotal turning point? Is there some point in the play where he really makes a change?
Kenneth: There are several testing points for him where he is more and more isolated. His group betrays him, Falstaff dies, Bardolph is hung, the odds against him coming here from France alive get longer and longer, and [indiscernible] [00:32:18] in the night time sequence just before the battle [indiscernible] [00:32:20] of the battle, he goes into disguise and is basically tying to say to people wrestling with the struggle that he's had all through the play saying, but the king is just a man just like anybody. You must understand that and being faced with a common man with whom he's always felt an affinity saying, I understand that, I understand what you're saying but tough don't expect me to feel sympathy. I'm here, I'm a soldier, and I’m following him that's all I have to do. If we lose tomorrow it’s his fault. I think that once he realized that there is no comfort to be had from his position except the knowledge that he is trying to do it as well as he can, I think that he in some senses grows up. He has to know that he's on his own, and although that's sad it’s at least certain and it’s the certainty of that I think that changes him. He becomes a lonelier, and a wiser, and a kind of heavier creature in a sense after that but he isn't as torn as I think he is all the way through. He doesn't need to justify himself in the same way because it’s a losing battle. Isolation is the price of the job. Once he finds that out he's able to give the Saint Crispin's Day speech and say, well, I have made this decision and if you don't want to be here then go home. If you are here then you'll be part of a moment that people will talk about until the end of time.
[Audio clip inserted]
King Henry V "This day is called the feast of Crispian: He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, and rouse him at the name of Crispian."
"He that shall see this day, and live old age, will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, and say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian’s. Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars. And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, but he’ll remember with advantages what feats he did that day: then shall our names familiar in their mouths as household words Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester, be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d. This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remember’d; we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."
Kenneth: And he inspires them and gives the impression of having derived great strength from the discovery that what he's doing, he believes, is worthwhile. And all the rest of the drawbacks of being a king he can begin to live with.
Beth: Did you find it difficult starring in it and directing it at the same time?
Kenneth: It was only possible to do both because I had played the part before with The Royal Shakespeare Company for about two years on and off.
So, it was very much in my blood, the part and it meant that I had prepared as well as I could. I could trust the performance such as it was to look after itself. What really interested me in the whole project was directing it. If I'd had to give up one I'd have given up acting because I was more interested in the whole thing. The performance was organically interwoven into that whole view of the play as a much darker piece, as a much more ambiguous study of war and of leadership and of the nature of heroism. So, the two things went together. It all developed quite, sort of, and side by side. But I would have had an actor that had learned the part and who I would watch rehearse with the other actors and then I would go in and do the last rehearsal and the takes and I had a man watching me, my old principal from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Then, I'd have the luxury, the next day, of seeing the daily's and as long as Ron didn't panic it was possible to go back and do it again as I did three or four times, I reshot several bits that I wasn't happy with. I found it quite easy to look objectively to my own performance which was a great relief. So, the director won out in the best way.
Beth: What do you think your film version of Henry V says to contemporary audiences?
Kenneth: I think it ask them to think about what they accept in terms of the inevitability of war, if they accept that, or the inevitability of compromise that exists in leaders. If they are in politics, if they are in positions of real power then they must be involved in the seamier side of politics and if they are, can they really be the genuine inspiring leaders that we want them to be? Is it possible to have that kind of leader in the modern world?
I think Shakespeare says that he is not sure if it was ever possible, but you have to question your reaction to a man who at various times makes one very inspired and empathetic with him and who at other times was chilling and ruthless and a killer. He has a kind of paradoxical charisma, which is a dangerous thing but a very attractive thing. I guess Shakespeare says, if you accept war as inevitable, do you think there are better or worse ways to do it? Do you accept that political leaders have to be [indiscernible] [00:38:36] in some way? And if you accept that they have to kind of balance many different things, can there be hero's within that kind of world and is Henry V one? And he's that kind of leader you want. It asks all sorts of things about what we expect from the way we're to be led. I think that the whole thing raises all the ambiguity that Shakespeare wants to raise. It's not simply a pro-war play, it's not simply an anti-war play, there is an undertow of resignation about the whole business but Shakespeare tries to extract some hope for us out of the debate that he wages within the piece that's complicated. A film, I hope, on those under levels as the play is, I hope so.
Beth: Were you at all intimidated by the fact that you were making a film version of a play that Laurence Olivier had tackled before?
Kenneth: Not intimidated enough not do it, obviously. I feel that his is such a magnificent version and such a classic one and he's marvelous in it but it is nearly 50 years old and quite different from how I knew that I was going to be approaching mine. So, it never occurred to me that they were in direct competition in any way. They reflect different kinds of acting styles, different kinds of cinematic techniques, but fundamentally different approaches to the play. So hopefully they are there to complement each other.
A lot of people who watched this film go out and hire the Laurence Olivier video. So, I wish I had some money today actually. I think that's healthy. That's nice for Shakespeare, I wish he had some money in it. I was always inspired by Olivier, his audacity in doing it. That's where I felt more inspired than intimidated because if he could do it, as with so many other things and parts and everything, and he allowed people like me and thousands of other actors to have a go as well. So, I'm grateful to him for that and I would hope he would, somewhere up in the great [indiscernible] [00:40:34] known for actors, he'd be approving of the effort, I hope so.
Beth: You worked in some scenes from Henry IV part one and two, did you ever consider starting Henry V like with the last scene of part two or...?
Kenneth: I did consider starting it with a speech from Richard II, The Hollow Crown speech because it seemed that was a kind of essay on kingship that we were doing and just talking about the fallibility of kings. That didn't seem as though it belonged, but I did feel that we needed to introduce Falstaff as a figure because Mr. [indiscernible] [00:41:12] has a speech in Henry V referring to his death, which is a beautiful speech. I wanted the audience, who would not necessarily be familiar with the previous plays or with Falstaff, to have an idea of who this creature was. Also, to provide [indiscernible] [00:41:27] sense of the life that Hal used to lead and also the way he had to reject it and the quality of that rejection which was pretty chilling. It also sets up the boars head crew that Pistol and Bardolph and them and all these people who are essentially losers, their time has gone their star is falling and so that informs everything they do in Henry V. I guess Shakespeare didn't put Falstaff into Henry V because he knew that if he did he'd have to write three or four scenes and if he did then Falstaff would steal the play. And he wanted it to be about Henry V.
We bring him in to try and aide the story telling for those people who haven't seen it before and just flush out this larger than life creature, who has such an influence over Henry V even though he doesn't appear.
Beth: Do you have any other film projects in the works now?
Kenneth: We have some things in development, I think they call it. Modern stories that we'd like to make into films. Also, possibly some Shakespeare movies. It would be nice to do a Shakespearean comedy. I don't think they've worked on screen and have rarely been done. So, that would be a challenge and it would be nice to use all the skills that we've learned this time around on this Shakespeare movie and put them into another one sooner rather than later and not leave it for 15 or 20 years before we do another one. Though, comparatively few Shakespeare films and it would nice to add a few to the collection.
Beth: Do you see a difference between performing it on stage and on film? Is one easier than the other?
Kenneth: They're different disciplines but certainly the film camera is a very interesting medium to play Shakespeare in. Because you can use the intimacy that would probably only get in a studio theater playing to a couple of hundred people. And that's always frustrating if the work is good and it has a universal quality like Shakespeare does. You want to share it with as many people as possible because it makes sense to many people. So, the challenge of being able to use close-ups both as a director and as an actor to give that kind of intimacy, to see when people cry, or get angry, or annoyed is very challenging. And it’s different from filling a 1500 seat theater where at the back they can't see your eyes, or betray one thing while you say another thing. So, all those kind of layers of meaning its lovely to be able to exploit on film. But it’s great getting it right in the theater too. It’s different and sometimes I think more difficult.
Beth: Well, thank you very much.
Kenneth: Thank you.
Beth: That was actor/director Kenneth Branagh from the 1989 interview and now for something a little newer.
An interview I just did with Pete Shaner and the independent American film maker who decided to make a contemporary film adaptation of Shakespeare's "As You like It". In fact, I just spoke to him as he was leaving for a film festival in Hawaii. "As you like it" is one of the plays that's only preserved in the first folio. So, here's my interview with Pete Shaner.
Beth: Here in San Diego, we are in the midst of, kind of, a Shakespeare-mania because the first folio is arriving and this is drawing a lot of attention on William Shakespeare and his plays. So, I wanted to have you on, Pete, because you are an independent film maker who with all of these choices around you as to what you could make, you decided to go to a 400-year-old play, "As You like It", to make a film. "As you like it" is one of the plays collected in the first folio, which we would have lost, if the first folio didn't exist. Tell me, what was the attraction about doing "As You like It" as a feature film?
Paul: Well, I was looking around for my next project. I had done two independent features up to this point. Both of which I had written and I was painfully aware of my own limitations as a writer. So, I had also just finished acting in a local production of "As You like It", which was at Coronado Playhouse. So, I thought, Shakespeare's pretty good. Actually, you can't find a better writer than Shakespeare. It was a romantic comedy, which I like romantic comedies, and the last thing is; as an independent film maker you want to work with the best material that you can get. And you can't get it any better than Shakespeare. Shakespeare's in the public domain so he's free and sadly that is a concern that we deal with. The next thing is, he's got instant name recognition value. You tell somebody that you're doing a Shakespeare adaptation and some people's eyes will glaze over, but a large number of people will want to see it.
And so that's also an important consideration for a film maker. Plus, I was an English major and I happen to love Shakespeare, I appreciate the brilliance of his writing of his characterizations. When you choose him as an independent film maker it does come with a whole basket full of challenges. One of which is, how do you make a 400-year-old play that is in its original tongue accessible to a modern viewer? How do you give them a hook that they can get into? As an English major, of course, you love the language, you love the words, you love the poetry, you love the images that he presents, and a lot of the reason for that is he presented on a blank stage in the middle of the day with very few props and no special effects, really, other than the pyrotechnics he created with his words. So, a lot of that language, as a film maker, you struggle because yes it's beautiful, yes it's archaic, yes it's incredibly lengthy, and yes for in a visual medium where the challenge is to show instead of to tell. What do you keep? And what do you throw away? And then of the things that he talks about what can you show? A lot of Shakespeare happens to be descriptions of things that have just happened off stage. Huge battles, for example, and you're not going to bring a huge battle onto the set so you're going to send a soldier running in from the side panting heavily describing the huge battle that is taking place just off stage and as a film maker you want to show that battle or you want to show parts of that battle. That's part of the adaptation process, is going through and visualizing the things that he talks about keeping enough of the poetry and enough of the language so that you're not cutting out all of the best bits of Shakespeare but at the same time not keeping so much of it in that the people who struggle with the language are going to be lost.
Beth: And you also made the choice of making this a modern adaptation. So, this isn't a period setting, this is set in contemporary times. So you have the additional challenge of having Shakespeare's language spoken within a contemporary context. How was that to work with?
Paul: I pretty much worked with that by ignoring it. [Laughter] In a sense that Shakespeare obviously sounds best when it's in his native tongue. When you hear Ian McKellen or Kenneth Branagh do Shakespeare they get it so thoroughly into their bones. The language is written for cadence of the British dialect, American actors sometimes would struggle to say and we might struggle to understand but when they say it it's almost as if you got the babel-fish in your ear and you understand everything that they're saying. However, the one thing that I've always found to be troublesome is when an American actor tries to do a British accent and doesn't do it well. That's more distracting than anything that you might not understand about the speech. So, the goal is to have people, to the extent that they can, to make it their own. Speak in whatever accent or whatever way comes natural to them and then work with the language, maybe take out a V or a vowel and just put in a U, if it flows a little easier off their tongue. Maybe take one archaic word and find a synonym for it that doesn't mess up the meter and throw that in. So, it is really kind of on a case by case basis. Then, at the same time, because you're in a film medium and you have the ability to use a close-up, if they're talking about something show a close-up of it, if you can. I know that in Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet" instead of the sword fight they did it with guns, but he chose to name each of the guns a particular sword type...
...like the "rapier" and the "dagger" and he did close-ups that let you know that when they talked about "rapier's" and "dagger's" they were, in fact, talking about these weapons that they were going to shoot each other with.
Beth: Well, I think a recent example of being able to do a contemporary version of Shakespeare and keeping the language was Joss Whedon's "Much ado About Nothing", which was wonderful. And I think there's that little bit of time where you first get into it and your ears kind of listening and getting a tune to it and you feel a little uncomfortable but then there's a point at which suddenly you go, oh I'm there, I'm in it, and I'm no longer consciously aware that I'm listening to this particular meter or Shakespearean language.
Paul: It's true. It takes a moment even when you're seeing the best actors do it on stage to sort of dial your ear in and pick up on it and once you do usually there's not a problem with it. A couple of things that we did with "As You Like It" that we did to make it more accessible...Shakespeare won't more songs for this particular play than he did for any of his other plays. Obviously, it's sort of like his musical romantic comedy and at the time it would have been played with a lute or a lyre or different flutes and we thought, okay let's take these lyrics, these very Shakespearean lyrics, and let's reimagine them as in one case, we took the song "Under the Greenwood Tree" and we made it into a rockabilly hit and I have some of that and I've got a clip from it. What you'll hear is that Steve Murdock, who is the guy that did it for us, did an amazing job. It just sucks you right in. We used all of Shakespeare's words and didn't change a single one, but just because it's in a very catchy, and very upbeat...it's in a genre of music that it's hard not to smile when you listen to. You're sucked in by the song before you even realize that you're listening to Shakespeare.
Beth: Alright. Let's hear some of the rockabilly version of a Shakespeare song.
[Audio clip inserted] [Song] "Under the greenwood tree who loves to lie with me, and turn his merry note unto the sweet bird's throat, come hither, come hither, come hither: here shall he see no enemy but winter (winter) and rough weather (rough weather)."
Beth: Shakespeare's language itself is very musical and part of what, I think, people need to understand too is that if all you've done is read Shakespeare in a high school English something, it's meant to be listened to and you get so much more from it when you hear the dialogue spoken because just kind of the cadence of it and the wayward sound have an emotional impact that helps you to understand what's being said.
Paul: Well, that's true and it's also meant to be seen and its meant to be played, it's meant to be performed and there are bits in all of Shakespeare...one of the things they tell you about is he tells you everything you need to know about how to do the play within the play itself, within the dialogue of the play. If you read it there are comedic bits in it, there are slapstick bits in it, there are gruesome bits in it, you know? It's Titus Andronicus, which has been described as his slasher hacker play because there are bodily mutilations in it. It's funny because he wrote it very specifically to be played. He didn't write it to be studied in English class, he didn't write it because he was Shakespeare and he was writing something that would last the ages. He wrote it for an audience, he wrote it for the people that were going to see it at the Globe. They had certain expectations.
For instance, there were a lot of ghosts in Shakespeare's plays and part of that was ghosts sold. People liked to see ghosts and so he put ghosts in Hamlet, he puts ghosts in a lot of his plays. So it's important, I think, to see it brought to life, to see it to where instead of words on a page in dialect, that's hard to understand. It is two people either laughing or confronting each other, or tormenting each other, or two people in conflict in some way. And that really is what brings Shakespeare to life.
Beth: Well, having the folio come here to San Diego points out another thing, that Shakespeare himself did not save his plays in a book form it was members from his acting company that gathered all of this up together say for prosperity. So he was very much looking at these as living works so that they were being performed and that was his income. I think now we tend to elevate him to this great artist and this person who created these amazing 37 plays but he was cranking out work to stay employed.
Paul: He was incredibly prolific. The modern writer that I think he is most like is Aaron Sorkin. If you've ever watched "West Wing" or any of his features, the people in his plays talk incredibly fast, they're incredibly smart, and they're constantly referencing what's going on in the world, and they're constantly referencing things that when you watch it as an audience you get it and I think if you think of Shakespeare in that way that when he was doing this the people in his audience had no problem with the language. They were hearing the way people spoke. They also had no problems with any of the things that he mentioned or eluded to or any of the phrases he used or any of the jokes...
...or any of the bits of history that he would drop into the play. It's my contentions and, of course, I didn't make this up this is one of the things that you read when you study Shakespeare is that Shakespeare was actually meant to be performed at a breakneck pace. Pretty much the speed of any episode of the "West Wing" that you ever saw, it's just coming out a mile a minute and you just hang on. If you think of his audience, at the time, they would have gotten that and they would have loved it and it would have been an incredibly wild ride. And also, there wouldn't be any four-hour versions of a Shakespeare play. Shakespeare himself talks about two hour’s traffic on the stage. His plays were meant to be about two hours long. If they're longer than that it's because you're talking too slow. We do that because we're trying to extract all the meaning out of it, we're trying to squeeze all the goodness out when a lot of it was meant to just be, as an actor would say, thrown out and thrown away. You say it and you move on, but we don't have the air for that. This is again, one of the challenges as a film-maker is that we can't do it at breakneck speed unless you've got an audience who is just winged on Shakespeare, and knows it. So, you have to choose, but even then when you're doing it you can't treat it with kid gloves, you can't treat it delicately. It's a rough and tumble thing, you've got to just go at it and if something because it's obscure either in the way it's written or the things that it references is going to cause trouble for the audience, sometimes you have to leave that behind no matter how well it's written or how beautiful the images may be.
Beth: Well, one of the beautiful speeches or monologs in this is the "Seven Ages of Man". So, this is a very famous speech that has been pulled out of "As You Like It" many times just to be read as a piece of poetry.
So, this is one of the things you had to tackle in this. So, let's hear a little bit of it and then I want to talk to you about how you tackled it as a director.
[Audio clip inserted] “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts his acts being seven ages."
Beth: So, when you decided to do this what were you telling your actor to do? And how did you want this performed?
Paul: Well, what you just heard was essentially the prologue that gets into the seven ages before he enumerates each one of the ages. It’s kind of a shame that we're hearing it on radio, because you're not really seeing all the things that go along with it. Some of the things you heard like you heard a projector going in the background, you heard applause at the beginning of it, you heard the sound of feedback coming out of a microphone, and you heard, at one point, somebody hitting on bongo drums to accentuate on the points that he makes. All of which is indicative of the choice that I made which was, it's such a piece that there are famous pieces in every one of Shakespeare's plays; "To be or not to be" and there are audience members that are sitting on the edge of their seat because they remember this from when they studied it and by God they can't wait to get to this speech. So, you really can't make it a part of the dramatic narrative. It kind of has to be set up on its own and just go, okay you're waiting for the speech here's the speech. And what we did was we chose to make a performance art piece out of it. Jacques [phonetic] [00:59:44] is a disaffected beat poet in the piece the way we do it and the dukes court hangs out in this really cool bar called the "Zombie Lounge".
In the "Zombie Lounge" that's where all of the original music, for instance, we talked about "Under the Green Wood Tree", there's a house band that plays and one of the Lord's [indiscernible] [01:00:09] is the lead singer in that house band. Part of what Jacques does is he does these performance art pieces. So, we reimagined this as a piece where he gets up and he's got a real 16-millimeter film that he scrounged from different news’s reels and each image in the film accentuates or demonstrates one of the different seven ages of man that he talks about. As he is going through the seven ages of man we're seeing how the audience is reacting to it and they've all got barre’s and black glasses and they're in this really hip beat club, we're seeing images from the news’s reel that describe the seven ages, we're seeing his impassioned performance of it. Because we do tie it back to the story because in the story part of the thing that he's ruminating on is the fact that Orlando [phonetic] [01:01:06] has just been in the bar talking about an old servant, whose name is actually Old Adam in the piece, and that sort of sends Jacques off on a rumination about aging and death and the fact that by the time you get to the last age of man you've essentially returned to the first stage and you're toothless, you've got sans eyes, all of the senses. And while this piece is being performed, Orlando is off fetching old Adam and bringing him into the bar. So, the last image, because we've seen this whole series of news’s reel images, is actually when he's talking about the last age of man. Is Orlando carrying Adam down a back alleyway to get into the bar?
And so, even though we've set it up as a performance artist piece, we've still maintained the integrity of this was the inspiration for Jacques to do it and this is how it ties into the furtherance of the story.
Beth: The core of "As You like It" though, is a romantic comedy and what about this particular Shakespeare play appealed to you in that romantic comedy aspect?
Paul: Well, once again looking at contemporary examples, I see this as the "Love Actually" of Shakespearean comedies. It's a romantic comedy that actually follows four different couples. You get different amounts of story time for each of those four couples but by the end of the play you've got four couples standing up there being wed in front of a receptive audience. It's about the trials and tribulations that they go through and much like "Love Actually" they're all interwoven and interconnected in ways that aren't fully made clear until the end of the piece when you see who's really the whom, and who's been doing different deception on different people. Those types of romantic comedies, if they're done well, I think we'll always find an audience. And of course, nobody does them better, I don't think, than Shakespeare. There are a number of things in this too that are incredibly modern. The central couple, which is Orlando and Rosalyn, in the way the story gets set up Rosalyn is banished and Orlando is running away from his brother who is trying to do him in. So, they both end up on the island of Arden but the fly in the ointment is that Rosalyn is dressed as a boy because both she and her best friend Celia have decided that it is not safe for them to go traveling around as young maidens. So, they both assume the disguise of boys. So, when Orlando first meets Rosalyn...
...she has taken on the name of Ganymede and so he meets Ganymede. He's strangely attracted to this boy but he's not quite sure why. So, there are issues of sexual identity and cross-dressing, and what constitutes attractions. From that perspective, it's a very modern piece.
Beth: You've brought a scene in with you, so set this up.
Paul: This scene is the part of the first dialogue that Orlando has with Rosalyn when she's dressed as Ganymede. One of the things that we did...one because it furthered the story and two because we just wanted to do it. The first time that Rosalyn and Orlando meet, we've already set up in the story that Rosalyn is an expert fencer. The first time that we meet her in the story is she's actually with her coach and she's fencing and at various other points in the play she is practicing some of her sword-play. When she sees Orlando she knows who he is because they had met once before and they were instantly both smitten with each other. Then, they were torn apart and now they've ended up on Arden together. So she goes up to him with her two rapiers and sort of challenges him to a friendly sword match. The first time that they meet it's a battle of the wits and it’s a very witty exchange back and forth but a lot of the metaphors and a lot of the things that they are using aren't really that clear but I didn't want to lose the battle of wits and I didn't want to lose the fact that this is their first confrontation. So, we wove that dialogue in with a fencing match and they fence each other. He doesn't have any idea what he's doing, which is the way it is in the play when it comes to a love with him.
And she just wipes the floor with him. Immediately he develops this huge respect for this strange young boy that he's strangely attracted to. After they've had the sword fight then they go off and they just talk to each other. It's very much like first date material.
Beth: Let's hear the beginning entanglement between Orlando and Rosalyn in disguise.
[Audio clip inserted]
Rosalyn: "Are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?"
Orlando: "Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much."
Rosalyn: "Love is merely a madness. Yet I profess curing it by counsel."
Orlando: "I would not be cured youth."
Rosalyn: "I would cure you if you would but call me Rosalind and come every day to my coat and woo me."
Orlando: "Now, by the faith of my love, I will."
Beth: You were a San Diego filmmaker and one of the things that appealed to you about doing this particular play was using the setting of Coronado. Explain why that was attractive and fitting for "As you like it".
Paul: I had actually just moved down to San Diego from LA and was staying briefly on the island of Coronado and had gotten involved in a stage production of "As you like it". So all of these things were kind of in the same pot bubbling at the same time. One of the things about Coronado that astounded me was how beautiful the island is. It's almost as if they brought in a professional production designer from Hollywood in and designed it so that no matter which way you looked or how you pointed the camera it was going to be pretty. I liked the vibe on Coronado. So, I said, I need to shoot something here. At the same time, we were doing this play and having just a blast. Everybody in it was just doing a great job and we didn't want to see it end. At the same time, I was looking for a new project and so I put all of those together and I thought, why not take this play...
...that everyone who is in it knows their parts, it's well-rehearsed, it's gelled as a piece, and why not take this beautiful island of Coronado and reimagine as you like it as a contemporary piece that doesn't take place in the forest of Arden but takes place on the island of Arden. So, that was the beginning of it. Then, another thing I wanted to do was do a real grass roots film. The other independent films that I had done were both done up in LA and they were done very traditionally, meaning that I formed a limited partnership or a limited liability company, I sought investors, I raised money, I wrote the script, I found a casting director, we found names that we thought a.) We could afford and b.) Might have some sort of appeal to different markets. So, they were very much done away a lot of independent films are and I said, I want to do one where you're doing it just for the love of doing it and you're spending absolutely no money. Which means that you can't shoot it the way a film is traditionally shot, meaning that you do 12 hour days back to back to back, in the case of an independent film, three weeks or four weeks. We shot this film over the course of an entire year only on weekends. Everybody came together and we didn't do 12 hour days we would do an eight-hour day would be about the longest we would do. We would pick one small scene or one bit of a scene and shoot it at a time and we would have a lot of parties after we'd wrapped for the day. So, it very much was an experience in let's take what I know about filmmaking from having done it the other way, use those lessons and make it look professional, make it feel professional, make it sound professional, but have it be something that really falls in the genre of, hey I've got a barn I can sew the costumes, let's put on a show.
That's what it ended up being and actually I'm very pleased with the way it came out.
Beth: It's funny because that sounds a little bit of the way Joss Whedon put his together in the sense that I think he shot it in his own home and most of the actors were friends of his and it had this very warm intimate feel to it.
Paul: Yeah, from what I read about that because obviously I was interested in that because we shot before he shot but his film was done and out into the public before ours was so we were very interested in the reception to this. So, I read a lot of stuff on the making of it. He would get groups of friends over to his house and they would read stuff and they would read Shakespeare and they would read other plays. It was just something that they did for fun. Give an actor a script and a reason to read it and you've got a party. So, this was one of the things that they had toyed with and he was between projects. He also knew that in order to get all those people that he had in it and in order to do it funded and in the studio way it would be lost in development hell and it would never end up being what he wanted to do. And so he just said, let's just do it. And they did and I thought that they came out with a delightful little film.
Beth: You mentioned that for some people when you mention you're adapting a Shakespeare play they're eyes glaze over a bit. What can you say to these people who still seem to be kind of resisting? Because I find this very true in the United States because a lot of times people's first introduction to Shakespeare might be within a classroom setting where maybe your teacher doesn't read the text that well or you're just given the text to read and you get lost in it. So, what do you have to say to those people to maybe alleviate some of those fears?
Paul: The thing you have to do is expose Shakespeareaphobes to well done Shakespeare. It can come in a number of forms. You take them to a well done Shakespeare play.
You show them a well done Shakespeare film and maybe not even the whole thing. You show them a scene. Well done Shakespeare is always going to grab you. The thing that endures, I think, is not so much the poetry of the language, even though that is spectacular, but the thing that endures are the humanity of his characters and the problems that they have to tackle, the situations that he has put them in. Those are things that people, even today, are still wrestling with. You look at Macbeth and what power does to a person and what the pursuit of power does to a person. You look at what's going on in politics right now. People are still driven by the same motives. This is one of the reasons why I choose to contemporize pieces of Shakespeare is because if you get them out of the poofy pants and you get them out of the roughly collars and you have them lounging about in jeans or if they accessible from the first minute that you see them and they're listening to music that sounds like the music that you listen to then you're already making the hurdles lower. One of the next projects I'm thinking about is an example of making Shakespeare accessible is redoing the "Merchant of Venice" but as a 1950's Syfy film. Instead of the town of Venice, you're on an orbiting trading post much like Deep space 9 or Babylon 5 where you have all these different races that are thrown together for the purpose of trading. But you do it Edwood's style, you do it as a 1950's black and white cardboard sets, costumes that your mother sewed...,
...and you reclaim parts of the film that have gotten lost except to people that really understand it and really know it. "The Merchant of Venice" is categorized as one of Shakespeare's comedies but it also deals very strongly with racial prejudice and it deals with issues that have, I think, come to overshadow other parts of the play and made it something to where if you have to much humor in then you are somehow detracting from the very serious issues in it and I think that you can bring a balance back to it. Because it's also a romance. It's the wooing of Porsche and there's a great deal of humor in that. So come up with something that makes other parts of the play accessible and then when you get to the end of the play if the characters have been drawn correctly what happens is that the issue of racial prejudice comes as...they're not expecting it. The viewers aren't expecting it and it's something that then makes them think about it more than if you go into it right away thinking, oh this is a play about antisemitism. Just something that I am toying with but another way to make Shakespeare accessible.
Beth: Your film is hitting the festival circuit right now so people can't find it online or anything at this point, but tell us what the future is for it?
Paul: It's been out for a little bit. It was nominated best film for the San Diego film awards, unfortunately it didn't win but the film that won was very good. It's just now on the festival circuit and later this week we'll be screening it in Hawaii as part of the big island film festival on the big island. It's out to about six different other festivals that haven't made their selection yet for their programs. After its run the festival circuit then at some point it will be online in one form or another.
So that people can go out and see it and it will all depend on whether or not we get Netflix or Amazon shows any interest in it or whether we put up a site of our own and just direct people to it.
Beth: Alright, great thank you very much for talking about Shakespeare.
Paul: Alright. Thank you.
[Song] "Brush up on you Shakespeare and know women you will wow."
Beth: Thanks for brushing up on you Shakespeare with this edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Coming up next week will be a focus on Film Out and LGBT Cinema including the new film "Down River". Remember to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and check out the archives at KPBS.org/junkie podcast in particular look for episode five with Ian McKellen if you want to continue this Shakespeare mania with one of the best Shakespearean actors around. Until our next film fix I'm Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie.
[Song] "Brush up your Shakespeare. Start quoting him now. Brush up your Shakespeare and know women you will wow. With the wife of the British Ambassador try a crack out [indiscernible] [01:17:12] if she says she won't buy it or take it, make her take it once more as you like it. If she says your behavior is [indiscernible] [01:17:22] kick her right in the [indiscernible] [01:17:25]. Brush up your Shakespeare and they'll all [indiscernible] [01:17:31]. Brush up your Shakespeare. Start quoting him now. Brush up your Shakespeare and know women you will wow. If you can't be a hammond to Hamlet they will not give a damn or damnlet. Just recite the occasional sonnet and you'll [indiscernible] [01:18:02]. When your baby is pleading for pleasure let her sample your measure for measure." Brush up your Shakespeare and they'll all [indiscernible] [01:18:15] for suit and they'll [indiscernible] [01:18:18] and they'll all [indiscernible] [01:18:23].
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place