Shakespeare Quarterly 54.4 (2004) 471-473
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The Reel Shakespeare: Alternative Cinema and Theory. Edited by Lisa S. Starks and Courtney Lehmann. Madison and Teaneck, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2002. Pp. 298. $49.50 cloth.
Ideally, The Reel Shakespeare should be read with a companion volume, Spectacular Shakespeare: Critical Theory and Popular Cinema (2002). The editors of both collections, Lisa S. Starks and Courtney Lehmann, reproduce the substance of two special issues of Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities devoted to Shakespeare on film, including, in the present volume, Lia M. Hotchkiss's "The Incorporation of Word as Image in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books" and the excellent filmography compiled by José Ramón Díaz Fernández. The rest of the essays in The Reel Shakespeare are reprinted from other journals—in one instance from a book—or have been newly commissioned.
The editors have grouped the essays into four categories: early cinema, avant-garde cinema, countercinema, and radical pedagogy. The arrangement is a deft move to impose patterns on a group of essays that differ from each other significantly in style and critical approach, from Kenneth Rothwell's straightforward and at times even breezy tone in "Hamlet in Silence: Reinventing the Prince on Celluloid" to the Lacanian/Zizekian subtleties negotiated by Alan Walworth in "Cinema Hysterica Passio: Voice and Gaze in Jean-Luc Godard's King Lear." Ostensibly uniting this collection is what the editors term an "escape from Hollywood," which allows for a focus on the "marginal, radical, and experimental uses to which Shakespeare has been put in twentieth century film culture" (14).
Marginal, radical, and experimental are words that certainly apply to a number of the films discussed, in particular Godard's King Lear (1987), Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991), and, to a lesser extent, Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991). My Own Private Idaho may seem almost too marginal to be considered a Shakespeare film at all. Kathy M. Howlett, however, in "Utopian Revisioning of Falstaff's Tavern World: Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight and Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho," shows how much [End Page 471] Van Sant's film is imbued with both Shakespeare and Welles. Van Sant, Howlett argues, succeeds in recovering the "carnivalesque origins" of the Henry IV plays even as he parodies Welles's nostalgia for a lost paradise, in the process breaking down "the binary opposition between high and low culture to reveal the vitality of the Shakespearean text given an American context" (174 and 168).
Godard's King Lear, too, might be thought to spin off to regions far removed from Shakespeare's tragedy. But Alan Walworth elegantly teases out a >=i(omega)ekian/Lacanian reading to reveal some of the ways in which Godard's concerns parallel Shakespeare's. It cannot be said, however, that a reader unfamiliar with Godard's film will be drawn to it by Walworth's analysis. Lacan is a strong presence as well in Hotchkiss's exploration of "The Incorporation of Word as Image in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books." Greenaway's film virtually invites a reading founded on the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. Hotchkiss provides a useful guide to the complexities of Greenaway's approach to The Tempest, but one finally wonders whether the Lacanian substructure really adds much to her own quite excellent analytic skills.
Unlike My Own Private Idaho, Godard's Lear, and Prospero's Books, both Peter Hall's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968) and Roman Polanski's Macbeth (1971)have usually been treated as fairly straightforward Shakespeare adaptations. The essays by Peter Donaldson and Bryan Reynolds, however, reveal the extent to which both films have affinities to the marginal and experimental. Donaldson skillfully pulls apart the fabric of Hall's film in order to reveal the various distancing devices in this version of Shakespeare's comedy. It is notable, nonetheless, that Hall's Dream ends by positing a "revitalized, 'restored community'" (55) that to a large extent cancels...