Saturday, November 12, 2011

Filming Shakespeare ?. . .

Last week, I had the great good fortune to see the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's Tempest, starring Christopher Plummer, in a version taped on high definiton (the hyper-filmic 24P), projected at Symphony Space on Broadway, in New York City.

After the screening, Plummer, who was also the Executive Producer of the film project,  and his director Des McAnuff and their producer Barry Avrich miced up and answered first canned questions to be added to the EPK material for the DVD's distribution and then some audience comments and questions as well.

Throughout the talk-back, Avrich kept insisting on calling the production a FILM, and he called McAnuff a film director.  To me, the label denigrated the richness of the hybrid that the production actually seemed to be -- not a film because we are always kept at bay by the fourth wall, absent in the world of film, but not theater despite the fact that we are always aware of and wishing to be closer to the magic of the live stage.  The effects, except for some cinematography and editing, are purely theatrical conceits and conventions; though Shakespeare's script may be, as Avrich avowed, cinematic, my experience of this production was not exactly that at all.

Those of you who attended the screening of Richard III a couple weeks ago know exactly what I'm getting at.  Olivier enlisted the camera to be his collaborator in telling the story, and he set his production in a purely filmic world.  He followed a tradition of film adaptation that has been popularizing Shakespeare since film emerged as a medium.

This Tempest is not that at all.  It will, or could, actually popularize the experience of theater going.  But if an audience expects to see a film, s/he should rent Julie Taymor's version or Paul Mazursky's or Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books.

DVD versions of live productions abound these days, especially in the world of Opera.  The Met regularly releases taped versions of their best work for viewing around the country, around the world; many of the world's best opera companies are doing the same.  Some of these productions remain faithful to the purely staged performances, and others allow themselves more leeway, knowing they are on film.  A great production of Don Giovanni, for example,  took the DVD viewer into the Vienna woods and enlisted a variety of locations to enhance the story and music.  Even that production, however, was not precisely a "film;"  it, too, was a hybrid.

What should we call these?  Do we have to have a label?

1 comment:

Peter Galman said...

It's a recorded live performance. There should be a catch word for it, like biopic is. How about "StageFlick"? I know, the image does flicker anymore. StagePic. Ehh. Tough One.