Do Over! Definitive Cinematic Versions. Go.

Ok, fine, nobody was willing to claim that any film could live up to the title of being the definitive interpretation of a play. I have to concede.
But I’ll take Alexi’s idea and open up a more specific topic — definitive cinematic versions. Will that make everybody happy? What is the definitive cinematic version of, say, The Tempest?
What’s a better definition for “definitive” in this case – would you call it the one you’d recommend to a friend as their first exposure to the story? Or would you go the other end of the spectrum and say, “No matter how many film versions of X you’ve seen, you simply must see Y.”

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8 thoughts on “Do Over! Definitive Cinematic Versions. Go.

  1. I do agree on you on that last one: What can be claimed as "definitive films" can simply be benchmarks for all other interpretations before/after it.

    …and if that's the case, anything by Akira Kurosawa would most definitely qualify as the benchmark. Nobody in the history of cinema has been able to capture "The grandeur of loneliness" quite like he has.

  2. I've apparently worded the question terribly, but I know what I meant :).

    The question I was trying to pose was something to represent this scenario: A person shows up at the blog and says, "You know, I've never seen Hamlet. Don't really know much about it at all. Was looking for a movie recommendation I might be able to rent."

    Would there be any consensus on the answer? Would people recommend the Mel Gibson, or Ethan Hawke versions? This person doesn't want to be told to read the play, or see the play, or to see 6 films and compare them because one had a really good Polonius and this other one did the whole To be thing really good.

    This is a very realistic scenario. What do you do with this person? Refuse to answer his question? I'm hoping that we haven't become a bunch of theatre snobs that would do that. This is, after all, a person who's shown at least some interest in learning more about Shakespeare, and I personally try to welcome that every chance I get.

    So, forget definitive and forget ideal vision if those are what's causing you trouble, and see if my example works better. Someone with little Shakespeare experience is looking to "dip their toe" so to speak by finding a movie to watch. I realize this probably makes it completely different from the question I actually posed initially, but that's my fault for not communicating properly. Which movie version of which play do you start them with? Why?

    Assume, for the purposes of this question, that any sort of "You simply *must* go see it *live*, dahling! Film just won't do!" will convince our hypothetical guest that Shakespeare is too much effort, and he just won't even bother. Some people may be fine with that, but I'm not.

  3. "Shakespeareans often get accused of being elitist, so I try really hard to avoid essentialism; words like "best," "pure," and "definitive" just can't be in our vocabulary if we're to be advocates for our discipline. "

    Amen to that, brother. Glad we're back on the same page.

  4. "And I set up at least some sort of guideline for what our goal is – the movie, choosing from those versions, that you would recommend as being the most accurate depiction of what you feel "Shakespeare's ideal vision" might have been."

    Adding the word "cinematic" doesn't make the word "definitive" less problematic. According to your definition quoted above, we're being asked to know what "Shakespeare's ideal vision," was, which is impossible at best and elitist at worst. Just as there is no definitive stage production of any play, there is no definitive cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare's plays. We all responded with our "favorite" Shakespeare movies because that's really the best we can do.

  5. Comedies:

    Much Ado- See the Branagh version. I have problems with it, but it's a good introduction.

    Twelfth Night- Trevor Nunn's.

    Midsummer Night's Dream- the star-studded one with Michelle Pfeiffer, Stanley Tucci, and Kevin Kline.


    Henry V- Branagh's version again, though I have some reservations about it

    Richard III- Ian McKellan's, hands-down. Succeeds in being a great film, not just a great adaptation of a stage play.


    Othello- Trevor Nunn's production, starrign Ian McKellan

    Macbeth – McKellan or Stewart's. Very different, but both high quality and absolutely riveting.

    Hamlet- I liked Branagh's. May be a bit long for an intro, though. Gibson's would be a fine intro, I suppose. The Tennant/Stewart one seems a good candidate too (WIth apologies to JM and Duane.)

  6. My list in my comments on your previous post are all movies that I would readily recommend to your eager neophyte. I think I was getting caught up in a semantic argument. We Shakespeareans often get accused of being elitist, so I try really hard to avoid essentialism; words like "best," "pure," and "definitive" just can't be in our vocabulary if we're to be advocates for our discipline.

  7. Okay, now that we've kicked "d*f*n*t*v*" out the window, I can name some items. (I already live with this debate in my own field, music and particularly opera, where no one rendition of a work, even captured on film, can capture everything for all time. But highly recommendable? Sure.) I named some of these in my previous response but here they are again:

    Hamlet: Branagh.
    Henry V: Branagh or Olivier. Both definitely fall short at points, but both are wonderfully entertaining.
    Much Ado About Nothing: Branagh. (None of his other Shakespeare beyond these three, though.)
    Richard III: Olivier. (McKellen too.)
    Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli. Yes, it's a very partial rendition, but it's still full of life and feeling and beauty.
    Twelfth Night: Nunn. This might head the whole list for me.

    From the BBC Shakespeare series (and I haven't seen every one), I think the Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure are outstanding.

    Alexi, not wanting to derail this discussion too much, but you're mentioned the Nunn Othello (with McKellen) more than once, I think. I've avoided it because Willard White, whom I know and admire as a fine opera singer, might not be up to a spoken Othello, and I would have to feel embarrassed for "one of my own" proving inadequate. Is he good?

  8. Jon: White was very impressive. His operatic background was evidenced by the degree of musicality he brought to the lines, He also had good chemistry with Immogen Stubbs and with Ian McKellan. I certainly feel he gave a good performance, and I know I was tearing up in his last scene.

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