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Reviews 217 Rothwell, Kenneth S., A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999; cloth; pp. xiv, 352; 25 b/w plates; R R P A U D $ 110. Shakespeare on film is big business, not only at the box office but in the Shakespeare industry. Filmed versions and adaptations have until recently been regarded with ambiguity and suspicion by professional scholars of Shakespeare, partly because of the many changes and omissions made necessary by the different medium (who needs long descriptive passages when the camera can in a split second show us the scene?), but also, more dishonourably, because of a snobbishly scornful attitude to film. Ironically, early film-makers used Shakespeare to lend their works respectability. N o w that changes in the discipline have allowed us to regard a Shakespearean text as intrinsically a potential or a context able to be realised or textualised in a myriad of ways, and now that we are interested in the nature of popularity itself, academics feel justified in setting courses and writing books on filmed Shakespeare. There is certainly no shortage of material. At latest count there are recorded 365 different filmed versions one for each day of the year - and they still come. The 1990s in particular was the second golden age, the first being the period around the First World War. Scholars who work in the burgeoningfieldowe a huge debt of gratitude to Kenneth Rothwell. Many who attended the Sixth World Shakespeare Congress in Los Angeles in April 1996 have forgotten everything except the running backdrop of 'A Century of Shakespeare on Screen' - a unique opportunity of seeing some early silent Shakespeare versions and also later German, Slavic, Japanese and Brazilian films. The pioneering and invaluable reference book Rothwell compiled with Annabelle Henkin Melzer, Shakespeare on Screen: An internationalfilmographyand videography (New York, 1990) put the subject on a scholarly footing and wrested it away from enthusiastic dilettantes. It will obviously need to be regularly updated, but the authoritative information and judgments on filmed Shakespeare up to the mid 1980s will not need to be redone. More recently, a short monograph by Rothwell, packed with information, has appeared and deals with the many early, silentfilms(Early Shakespeare Movies: How the Spurned Spawned Art, International Shakespeare Association Occasional Paper No. 8 (Chipping Campden: International Shakespeare Association, 2000). A History of Shakespeare on Screen certainly does not disappoint those of us awaiting Rothwell's knowledgeable synthesis. Its breezy tone, far from being a sign of superficiality, comes from Rothwell's effortless confidence in 218 Reviews his own scholarly familiarity with all details about Shakespeare films, from the silent Vitagraph movies, each a one-reeler of 10 to 15 minutes, through to Branagh's Hamlet. O n every film he discusses, Rothwell provides not only the kind of reliable information expected of a book called A History of..., but also critical insight into detail. However, some readers might occasionally be irritated with his personal tastes, openly expressed in genial opinionativeness. Rothwell is at his most relaxed and appreciative when dealing with mainstream Hollywood, and popular, middle-browfilms,at his most wary with 'art-house' independents and mavericks. Olivier and Branagh are greatly admired while Orson Welles is treated with a touch of disdain. There are of course many books available which can be used to redress any perceived imbalance in Rothwell's: see, for example Michael Anderegg's appreciative study, Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). Technical innovativeness of film as a medium is also sometimes valued more highly than conceptual originality - Greenaway gets the nod over Jarman. Behind these preferences lies a worthy American respect for democracy, and in a brief pro-Anglophone and 'anti-Luddite' outburst Rothwell likens the high academic reputation of Throne of Blood to 'the snobbish preference for foreign imports over domestic cars' (p. 194). H e is a little closer on the spectrum to the tradition of thespian bardolatry than to those who he sees as fetishizing auteur filmmakers. It is, of course, asking too much of a single author, but to package up into one chapter 'Other Shakespeares: translation and expropriation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 217-219
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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