Let’s Dissect the 2014 Shakespeare Films

Ok, this Shortlist link tells us about upcoming Shakespeare movies to ‘get excited about’ in 2014. At first I was because I didn’t realize there were 4.  But let’s look more closely.

1) Cymbeline

Ok, we’ve talked about this enough already. I think “cautiously hopeful” would be the best we can say, especially after the trailer came out.  You know, the one with the flamethrowers?

2) Macbeth

This one should be good, although maybe I’m just out of the loop that I don’t recognize any of the names they’re dropping.  Michael Fassbender?  Marion Cotillard (who we’ve previously discussed)?  Fine.  But then they’re all “Ooo! It’s being directed by the guy that did Snowtown!” and I’m all, “What the heck is Snowtown?”

What I think is really funny is that they’re *still* saying “…who replaced Natalie Portman.” We first learned that back in August 2013. I think that lends evidence to my theory that name recognition is everything.  Even though she’s not in it, they still want the buzz that her name generates.  (Trivia – Natalie Portman auditioned for Juliet in Baz Luhrman’s movie but didn’t get it because she was way too small compared to DiCaprio and it looked too pedophilish.)

3) Enemy of Man

I’ll just leave this here, from the summary:  “stripping back the dialogue and cranking up the action.”  Yeah, because that’s why we go see Shakespeare. For the action.  Maybe they could tackle Hemingway next?   (“Dude, did you see that guy just gut that other guy from his stomach all the way up to his face?” / “I know!  That’s some straight up Macbeth action right there!”)

4) Rosaline

I started out optimistic about this one when I first heard about it back in 2011, pondering whether it could be another Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Then I got a look at the source material, which proudly describes itself thusly:

“Rosie knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. They are best friends, next door neighbors, and the soon-to-be cutest couple in their senior class. Rosie has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her–and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But just before their relationship becomes completely official, Rosie’s cousin Juliet moves back into town. Juliet, who used to be Rosie’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy…and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance. 

Rosie is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rosie starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends.”

The scariest thing about this project is that it really makes you say “Who the f%& is deciding what movies get made these days?”

My favorite part of the summary, I think, is that it’s going to be in “modern language.”  Because, well, you know, Rosaline doesn’t actually HAVE ANY LINES IN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAY!  At least the villains making this one didn’t go all Julian Fellowes and just start adding in random crap that sounds like Shakespeare to them.

So maybe I’m “excited” for just the Macbeth?  Maybe the Cymbeline.  Technically it sounds like two of them aren’t even Shakespeare. I’d like to hear more about Enemy of Man and just how much original text it uses.

7 thoughts on “Let’s Dissect the 2014 Shakespeare Films

  1. "At least the villains making this one didn't go all Julian Fellowes and just start adding in random crap that sounds like Shakespeare to them."
    Ha! Well said! And tackling Hemingway. 🙂 Rosaline sounds like a bad idea!

  2. "Rosaline" is based on a book called "When You Were Mine" that got pretty good reviews: http://amzn.to/1aIhhXn

    I don't think there's anything wrong with adapting Shakespeare in a way that explores other angles of the story. Otherwise we'd just be watching Olivier and Burton/Taylor films over and over and never making anything new – what's the point?

  3. Well….that's not true at all, is it Kerry? You can stick with the script and still do amazing things with your own interpretation. We've had many Hamlets since Olivier, each bringing something different.

    What Rosaline does is imagines an entire story that has nothing to do with Shakespeare. Maybe it'll be the next Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, who knows. I'm not holding my breath.

  4. Why not? I mean, it clearly does have something to do with Shakespeare, it's based on a conflict we hear about in his play: what happens to Romeo's previous love for Rosaline when he meets Juliet?

    It seems like you're saying there should be no derivative works, period – and don't forget Shakespeare was writing derivative works of other writers too. I don't see what the problem is with exploring Shakespeare through retellings and new texts.

    What did you think about the BBC's Shakespeare Retold series?

  5. Right, but they're not calling it Shakespeare. It's a story based on Shakespeare.

    I totally agree that the way to determine the quality of new art is simply whether it's actually any good – but that's true of all art. What confuses me is connecting its distance from the playtext of Romeo and Juliet with the assumption that it will be bad, and implying that its distance from Shakespeare is why it will be bad – which none of us can know yet, because we haven't seen it yet.

    I do think that creating derivative art is a form of interpretation and exploration. My Own Private Idaho looks at the conflict between private and public life in the Henry IVs; the Shakespeare Retold series (I am genuinely curious to hear what you think of it, that wasn't a sarcastic question) tended to focus on drawing out psychological realism in the characters; even things like modern costumes in productions using Shakespeare texts are a form of derivative interpretation. As far as I can tell from the synopsis, "Rosaline" is exploring the parts of the young women in R&J, which seems to me to be a project well worth doing. The goal of exploring what Shakespeare 'had in mind' seems doomed to frustration; I'd much rather explore what he had to say.

  6. By continually noting "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" I am doing the exact opposite of suggesting that there should be no derivative works. In this case I simply don't expect this new author to knock it out of Stoppard Park on her first step up to the plate.

    We've been talking for years about stuff that is "inpired" by Shakespeare or "derived" from him or what. Everybody's got their own opinion. John Steinbeck wrote Claudius & Gertrude (or was it Gertrude & Claudius) where he imagined how those two got together in the first place. A very similar example.

    My issue was that you are lumping "interpretation" of Shakespeare's material with "deriving a story of your own that started with Shakespeare's material." They are very different things, and the bar for determining whether they are any good is far more subjective.

    I also don't see what the problem is with exploring Shakespeare through retellings…..and then you lost me at "new texts". Because "new text" means "not Shakespeare and never will be." In exactly the same way that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet does not do anything to explore our interpretation of what the previous authors had in mind, either.

    Interpret what Shakespeare said all you want. But when you write your own material, don't call it Shakespeare.

  7. The original list I posted referred to "Shakespeare films to get excited about in 2014." So, that's where that comes from.

    As for whether an exploration of young women in Shakespeare's works is a valid project? Sure, why not. Is this that project? I don't know about that. This is a first effort in the young adult space. After it comes and goes I don't expect to remember it anymore than that one with Martin Short.

    Re: the Retold series? I've not seen them. I think that's the one where Bardfilm, whose opinion on all things Shakespeare I regard very highly, told me to watch their Much Ado About Nothing. I started it, got 5 minutes in, said, "This is not Shakespeare's text?!" and turned it off. Maybe I'll come back to it someday, but I've got to come to it with an entirely different expectation when that happens.

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