Friday, March 20, 2009

Shakespeare in Low-budget Indie Film?

I want to film a Shakespeare.  I don't know which one, yet.  Not Macbeth.  Done too much. Maybe Tempest, though it's been done a couple of times as well.  

I think Macbeth, Tempest, Merchant of Venice get done in low budget film because they can be done in some kind of 'contemporary' way that nullifies class distinctions and sands down the 'noble' traits of tragic or romantic heroes.  Demotic mood does not do tragedy or lyricism well.  Branagh can film those plays, but with lavish production values and actors who can shake off their contemporary slush-mouth and bad postures to make those characters walk, talk and breath rightly.  What is rightly?  In a way that we, the audience, can hear and see that these characters are our most essential selves animated; our most essential selves in the throes of our most essential conflicts.  That takes bigness and myth done through small gesture and naturalistic grace notes as well through open-throated epic style.

Film CAN do bigness and myth for Shakespeare through very filmic performances--with much fluttery eye lashes and pouting--but not JUST with filmic fluttery pouting.  Film Shakespeare still needs size.  Not necessarily vocal size, but size of physical embodiment, articulation, emotional commitment, individual spirit, and capacity for seeing how the public and the private interpenetrate one another at very deep and subtle levels; the public and private are fibrously bonded in Shakespeare, and most contemporary actors available for low-budget film can't get close to conveying that.  Big money for big actors solves the problem. But, is that interesting?  

Oh, to be a Branagh, Nunn or Polansky.


Jon said...

What about Pericles? Nobody does that, but I think it's a lot more playable than people give it credit for, and the film medium has something to offer it (which I don't think is true of, for instance, Measure for Measure, another personal favorite of mine).

(Psst: Branagh, no U.)

Signore Direttore said...

Just my two cents, but unless it is adapted to the medium of film in a manner that either subsumes or supports the theatricality I don't like it no matter the budget. I am bored stiff by Branaugh's productions. I also think Polanski's MacBeth is stiff, phony and dated.
I agree with your astute observations about the internal and external and all that. I just haven't seen it on film where it comes off believably. I don't mean realistically or naturally.
I've often thought one way to successfully adapt Shakespeare to film would be to set it within a cult or fringe group. The formal heirarchies and coded language might adapt well to groups like Branch Davidians or gutter punk squatters.
The thing to remember with film, especially in these difficult times for indies, is that film is a popular medium. Who is your audience? If it's WS lovers that understand and demand rigorous performances, you might have to scale your ticket/DVD prices to rival live theater prices.
Honestly, I would like to see a new model for art films that allows for pricing on such a scale. Otherwise how do
is a carefully crafted film such as one you hope to produce sustainable? You could summon the resources to do one, but what then? You'll spend a decade trying to get your money out of it.

David Millstone said...

You know what film might be a model? Citizen Kane. Theatricality of camera work as well as of art design and performance.

And I love Chimes at Midnight....

David Millstone said...

Fellini might be another guide....

Signore Direttore said...

Interesting that you mention Welles - his career suffered greatly due in large part to his obsession with filming Shakespeare.
Totally off the wall - I saw a very fun indie of As You Like It set in a rave. But like most Shakes film adaptations you already know the story so tedium sets in in a way it doesn't with stage productions.