Shakespeare on Screen: “Hamlet.” by Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (review)
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Shakespeare on Screen: “Hamlet.” Edited by Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin. Mont-Saint-Aignan, France: Publications des Universités de Rouen and du Havre, 2011. Illus. Pp. 550. €27.00 Paper.

Sarah Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin’s latest Shakespeare on Screen addresses one of Shakespeare’s most frequently filmed plays, Hamlet, with a broad array of scholarly approaches to several different dimensions of film. The essays range beyond analyses of feature films to include several studies of televised Hamlets, Hamlet adaptations, and work on documentary, as in Patricia Lennox’s “Joseph Papp and Diane Venora Rehearsing Hamlet.” Of the volume’s seventeen essays, only one was previously published; there are numerous illustrative screen images of varying quality, an expanded variation on José Ramón Díaz Fernández’s already useful filmography, and abstracts in English and French for all contributions. Hatchuel and Vienne-Guerrin have introduced and organized the articles effectively in order “to offer readers and viewers a large scope of approaches to the [End Page 126] play on screen worldwide” (17). While some essays principally review archival materials, many build rich insights into the cinematic and cultural contexts for Hamlet, in both formal films and adaptations.

Several essays adopt a comparatist approach while themselves inspiring comparison. For example, not only do the essays by Samuel Crowl and the late Bernice W. Kliman address a range of Hamlet films, but both invite the reader to contemplate Hamlet within combined chronological and filmic contexts. Crowl’s cinematically and historically sensitive framing of Olivier’s and Branagh’s Hamlets serves as a neat partner to Kliman’s archival work on televised productions in “Hallmark Hall of Fame: Three Go’s at Hamlet (1953, 1970, 2000).” Similarly, Jacek Fabiszak’s “To Cut or Not to Cut?” and Russell Jackson’s “The Gaps in Gertrude” treat several productions and complement each other’s very different textual interests within these films; Fabiszak surveys actual representations of texts in several films of the play, while Jackson builds on the ambiguity originating in early textual variations of Gertrude’s character to study differing film characterizations.

The volume’s complementary pairings are richest when studying filmic interpretations of the ghost and analyzing Hamlet’s film noir influences. In “The Ghost and the Skull,” Victoria Bladen’s provocative exploration of “the ways in which the border between life and death in film versions of Hamlet is imagined and presented” illuminates the interplay across boundaries in several modes, but stops just short of fully delving into how those breaches illuminate “the spectral medium of film” (171). Pierre Kapitaniak’s “Hamlet’s Ghost on Screen” directly engages the cinematic implications of these boundaries. He dates double-exposed ghostly Old Hamlets from Hay Plumb’s 1913 Hamlet, tracks the “distancing and ironic value” (178) that the old technique carries forward, and identifies the impact of new special-effects technologies.

Extending the work on Hamlet and film noir memorably initiated by Linda Charnes, Anne-Marie Costantini-Cornède and Douglas Lanier contribute essays that delve into intertwined cinematic and cultural uses of Hamlet in non-Anglo-American films. Costantini-Cornède compares Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well (1960) to Aki Kaurismäki’s Hamlet Goes Business (1987) in order to distinguish between their common relocation of Hamlet within a corporatized noir aesthetic: Kurosawa’s project embraces film noir’s cynical take on flawed social and economic structures, while Kaurismäki embraces neo-noir, which foregrounds the superficiality of the flaws so atmospherically present in film noir. Lanier’s “Nouveau Noir: Claude Chabrol’s Ophélia, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the Nouvelle Vague” unpacks Chabrol’s richly ironic version of Hamlet by tracing the resistance to bourgeois conformity that underpins the Nouvelle Vague French film style he helped to foster. While the mutual illumination created between these new contexts and revisions and Hamlet offers valuable insights, the authors carefully attend to noir cinematic style evolving within social and historical constraints. Although not concerned with film noir style, Dominique Goy-Blanquet makes an analogous and comparably intriguing argument in her analysis of cultural contexts for Grigori Kozintsev’s Hamlet, filmed during the...