I’m going to interpret the title brief to cover what I could claim to have done to defend Cinephilia. I’ve just given a short course in Melbourne talking about film adaptations, to a general Adult Education group. I enjoyed sharing my cinephilia with people interested in just learning about more about the cinema. And I loved the way it focused my thoughts in a little more depth and rigor than usual on some of the areas that make up the enormous mosaic of ‘cinephilia’
As well as the Movies, I love Shakespeare, and it’s fascinating to look at the enormously varied ways in which Shakespeare has been interpreted, adapted and used in the cinema. With nowhere near the time to look at all the adaptations of all the plays, I thought it would be interested to see how different filmmakers responded to the ‘Mousetrap’ scene from Hamlet, where Hamlet organises a performance to “catch the conscience of the King.”
|Asta Neilsen, directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schell|
The blandest version was that of Laurence Olivier (1948) a pompous, egotistical actor more concerned with exhibiting his mellifluousness than penetrating a character. It’s a good example of the ‘quality’ film that really has no personality. If you want to promote good cinema, an overrated work can provide an effective touchstone.
|Kenneth Branagh, director and actor|
|Ethan Hawke, directed by Michael Almeyreda|
A strong Soviet version was made in 1964 by Grigori Kozintsev the wonderful Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet. The setting is closest to that of Olivier’s, a comparison which extends to the Mousetrap scene. But it’s more than just its location. More than any other version, here Kozintsev emphasises the social and political context, a state so rotten that the only person of any insight and integrity is powerless to respond effectively to the corruption he’s only too aware of. This version has perhaps the strongest sense of the social mire of Elsinore. Hamlet is more than a man who “Thinks too much, rather than too little”, but helpless in this corrupt, bourgeois world. A very Soviet era reading.
Almeyreda was not the first to see Hamlet as being appropriate to the world of business and corporations and big money. These don’t use the Elizabethan language, or set out to be reproductions of the play.
|Hamlet Goes Business, directed by Aki Kaurasmaki|
Claude Chabrol ‘s version, Ophelia (1963) is also contemporary, with a rich bourgeois family living in a palatial country house. It’s also a reflection on how Shakespeare can be relevant to one person’s life. Our hero Ivan is disturbed by the relationship between his mother and his uncle, and when he sees Olivier’s Hamlet at the local cinema, he has the idea to make his own version of the Mousetrap to see how the two react. There are many parallels with Shakespeare’s plot, but Chabrol is telling his own story, and exploring his own world view. It just happens that Shakespeare can be a rich way of doing this.
The third is perhaps the one I found most interesting. It is Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960). Here is the act of creation as a director with his own clear ideas about his world, can sense how Shakespeare can help him explore and communicate those ideas. Again, we’re in the world of contemporary big business, and it is a deeply corrupt world. The events we follow are Kurosawa’s, not Shakespeare’s. The motivation behind them or the rationale for their inclusion is Kurosawa’s, but when there are parallels these semblances are delicious. Think of how the ‘ghost’ is fully justified.
Then there is the Mousetrap moment. It is not a play within a play, or a film within a film here at all. Such a device would be forced in this narrative. It also comes at a different point in the story, in fact very close to the start rather than the middle. But it shows how an idea can be creatively realised by a real film maker.
The film opens at a big (arranged) wedding, with Corporate Business more than love the motivation. At the right time, the elaborate wedding cake is wheeled in. The guests applaud it (like a piece of theatre.)
|"Then a second cake is wheeled in." The Bad Sleep Well directed by Akira Kurosawa|
And what better example of cinephilia in action?