Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Note: Dunbar

St. Aubyn, Edward. Dunbar. London: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2017.

While we seem to be on the general subject of King Lear, we might consider one of the recent additions to the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

Dunbar is a retelling of King Lear that has some wonderful moments but is also largely unsuccessful.

The best thing about the novel is its starting point. St. Aubyn takes King Lear and begins in medias res. Henry Dunbar, our Lear analogue, is on the point of escaping from a sanitarium into which he's been confined by his greedy, horrible daughters who have an insider trading scheme for taking over his vast media and investment enterprise. He's made an alliance with a deeply-alchoholic retired comedian named Peter Walker to escape and to gain some sort of revenge on his daughters Abby and Megan. In the meantime, Florence (our Cordelia), aided by Wilson (Kent) is on her way to rescue him.

Dunbar's decision to leave the Fool and to try to make his way to London—and his subsequent descent into madness with the elements—is very moving. I'd like to provide an extract from Chapter Seven to illustrate the powerful reimagining of Shakespeare's Lear on the Blasted Heath scenes:

St. Aubyn gives us some tremendous character development and psychological insight in those few pages.

The novel's reimagining of Regan and Goneril are not so subtle. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are sexual deviants (one of them nearly bites off the nipple of Dr. Bob—our Edmund figure—early in the novel, and things go downhill from there).

The conclusion of the novel also leaves much to be desired. St. Aubyn throws a number of balls in the air—particularly in the last twenty percent of the novel—and then walks away, leaving them to fall where they will.

For me, the value of a work of Shakespearean fiction is at least partially found in what it enables us to think about Shakespeare's play. Dunbar makes me want to re-examine the character of King Lear, but it doesn't invite much else.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Lear's Shadow: Coming Soon to a Festival Near You

Lear's Shadow. Dir. Brian Elerding. Perf. David Blue, Fred Cross, and  Katie Peabody. 2018. For Film Festival Release. 

Lear's Shadow will soon be making the tour of the film festivals, starting with the Pasadena International Film Festival on March 11. In the meantime, special screenings are making the tour of the Shakespeare blogs.

The film is a stripped-down, bare bones show, all the more impressive for how much it accomplishes.

The premise gradually unfolds in a single setting—a theatre's rehearsal space. A somewhat-confused director—Jack—makes his way in, followed by an actor—Stephen. Jack starts complaining about the scripts and the other actors who haven't shown up. We start to realize that Jack has some sort of short-term memory loss and he's just been released from the hospital.

Stephen, at first as a delaying tactic, starts to talk about King Lear. That's the launching pad for a number of discussions of the play—how it ought to be acted, how it has been acted, what significance it has—as well as a number of performances of key scenes. It becomes something of a mirror movie at that point, the two men working out some longstanding disagreements as well as the recent events that have brought them to such a state.

And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. I hope the film will do well on the festival circuit and that it will eventually achieve larger distribution. I hope that because it's good.  It's quite good.

First, I was impressed by the acting. I'm privileged to see a lot of work that hasn't made it to a theatrical release, and a good premise is sometimes played out in a less-than-satisfying manner. That's not the case here. Both in acting their roles and in their roles acting parts of King Lear, David Blue and Fred Cross do magnificent work.

Second, the use of Shakespeare is fascinating here. The writer isn't setting out to make Shakespeare relevant—I get them impression that he knows that Shakespeare is already relevant. Instead, Lear's Shadow reveals Shakespeare's relevance. Parts of King Lear are carefully, organically crafted in to the film, and we're shown one way the suffering of King Lear becomes significant, meaningful, and healing to other sufferers in the world.

If you're able to catch this at a film festival, do so. It's a powerful piece where writing, acting, and concept come together to produce a significant reflection on Shakespeare that stands on its own as well.

Note: I can't provide a clip of the film or a trailer for it at this point, though I will try to add those in a future update. In the meantime, here are a few additional stills from the film.

Links: The Film at IMDB. The Film's Official Website.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Note: Performing King Lear: Gielgud to Russell Beale

Croall, Jonathan. Performing King Lear: Gielgud to Russell Beale. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Jonathan Croall provides the world with an invaluable resource for thinking about King Lear in performance. This book covers dozens of stage performances of the play from 1931 (John Gielgud's first Lear—he was twenty-seven—directed by Harcourt Williams) to 2014 (Simon Russell Beale, directed by Sam Mendes).

The research is intricate and careful, providing contemporary reviews, interviews with actors and directors, and (to a lesser degree) critical commentary on the productions.

The book is organized by performance, which means that readers can either read the work straight through and get a sense of the development of the modern stage by means of how one one play has been staged or pick and choose to read about particular productions / actors / directors that interest them.

Want to know how Peter Brook's production with Paul Scofield influenced nearly every production that followed it?  You'll find that here.  Want to learn how they got a good Lear out of Nicol Williamson? It's here. Want to think about how Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen, Richard Briers, Christopher Plummer, or Peter Ustinov approached the role? This is every inch the book.

Let me provide a sample page and a sample image from the book. First, here's a bit of the section on richard Briers' performance (directed by Kenneth Branagh):

Next, here's one of an unfortunately-limited selection of images—Joseph Marcell (directed by Bill Buckhurst in 2014):

Croall mentions film versions of King Lear in passing, and the ones he mentions are usually film versions of the stage plays he's detailing. Bardfilm would like to suggest a sequel that covers the films more fully.

But that isn't a weakness. Croall is writing about stage productions that can no longer be seen. We can watch and re-watch a huge number of film versions of Lear, but we can't get a ticket to any of John Gielgud's Lears—not even on StubHub. The only production Croall writes about that I saw is the 2007 Ian McKellen King Lear directed by Trevor Nunn, and Croall provides tremendous insight into that show.

Performing King Lear is an incredibly valuable and utterly fascinating text that gives its readers a detailed sense of the scope and depth of modern productions of King Lear

Click below to purchase the book from
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Live-Action Shakespeare in Live-Action Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast. Dir. Bill Condon. Perf. Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and Kevin Kline. 2017. DVD. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, 2017.

Having seen the animated Beauty and the Beast a few times and having gleaned (as I thought) all the Shakespeare it had to offer (for which, q.v.), I wasn't expecting to find any in the live-action remake.

But I was delightfully surprised by hearing a quote from Midsummer Night's Dream and a discussion of Romeo and Juliet in the film.

Prior to this scene, the Beast has been injured saving Belle from the wolves. For some reason (probably one not unrelated to the overall theme of the film), Belle's reciting some lines from Hermia's speech in Act I of Midsummer Night's Dream (I've put editorial brackets around the line that does not actually make its way into the film but that gives an object to the first sentence that does):
[Things base and vile, holding no quality]
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid pointed blind. (I.i.232-35)
The implication is that Beauty can, indeed, love the Beast—love does not look with the eyes, after all. And the rest of the scene, as is plays out, helps us see with the mind rather than with the eyes:

That's interesting in a few ways. First, the Beast says that there "are so many better things to read" than Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps he, too, is thinking of Midsummer Night's Dream, where a lady falls in love with someone whose outer appearance wouldn't usually inspire love: Bottom the Weaver with an ass head.

It's also interesting that the Beast, despite the "expensive education" he says he received, didn't pick up on the rules of iambic pentameter.  The word "wing'd" should not be pronounced with two syllables (i.e., "wingèd") in this line—it ruins the meter! It should read in this way (capitals indicate stressed syllables): "and THEREfore IS wing'd CUpid PAINTed BLIND."

Sorry. That's a bit of a digression. The point is that I was surprised to find Shakespeare in the film.

But the Shakespeare actually comes in quite a bit earlier than this scene. Here's an exchange from Belle's first song
Where are you off to? 
To return this book to Père Robert. It's about two lovers in fair Verona.
Sounds boring.
Compare that to the equivalent scene in the 1991 animated version:
Good morning, Monsieur.

And where are you off to, today?


The bookshop. I just finished the most wonderful story about a beanstalk and an ogre and a—

That's nice. Marie! The baguettes! Hurry up!
Someone has deliberately foregrounded the Romeo and Juliet narrative in the live-action Beauty and the Beast. Was it to make the live-action Belle more mature, at least in her choice of reading matter? Was it to bring a narrative about a man and a woman forbidden to marry each other by their parents into the film?

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Shakespeare's Appearance in The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie. Dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Perf. Jorma Taccone, Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, and Elizabeth Banks. 2014. DVD. WarnerBrothers, 2014.

Although Bardfilm tries to be completely cutting edge, right on the spot as Shakespeare-related developments occur, we do occasionally have lapses.

Sometimes the lapses are as long as four years.

It's been four years since I saw The Lego Movie in theaters, and I remember wanting to call our collective attention to William Shakespeare's appearance in the film. Then it took time for the DVD to be released and for the library to buy it and for me to remember just where exactly Shakespeare appeared in the film.

But we're all ready now! I've put together one clip with each of the three appearances William Shakespeare makes in The Lego Movie. The first is his only line in the film:  "Rubbish." Shakespeare himself only uses the word twice (not counting "Ay, there's the rub[bish]" from Hamlet's soliloquy. In Julius Caesar, Cassius says, "what trash is Rome, / What rubbish and what offal, when it serves / For the base matter to illuminate / So vile a thing as Caesar!" (I.iii.113-16). In Richard II, the Duchess of York asks Edmund of Langley to pick up his tale from where he left off—where "rude misgovern'd hands from windows' tops / Threw dust and rubbish on King Richard's head" (6-7).

Shakespeare's second appearance is when he flies into battle to save the day.

And, at his final appearance, he does the popular dance known as "The Worm."  Here you go—and apologies for the four-year delay.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2016 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest