Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray, eds. Shakespeare, Film, Fin de Siècle. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000. 264pp. ISBN 0 333 77663 1 Cloth, 0 333 77664 X Paper.
De Montfort University
Cartmell, Deborah. "Review of Shakespeare, Film, Fin de Siècle." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.1 (May, 2000): 21.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/06-1/cartrev.htm>.
It is not surprising that a new collection of essays on Shakespeare on film has appeared. The editors, Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray, introduce the book by describing what seems to be an increasing number of films of Shakespeare's plays; indeed this book itself reflects the current vogue in the subject, arriving after a recent spate of collections, including Anthony Davies and Stanley Wells's Shakespeare and the Moving Image,1994, Lynda Boose and Richard Burt's Shakespeare: the Movie, 1997, Robert Shaughnessy's Shakespeare on Film: A Casebook, 1998, and anticipating Russell Jackson's Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, 2000. It seems that the Shakespeare on screen industry belongs as much to Eng. Lit. as it does to Hollywood. However, as Richard Burt, in the last chapter of the volume, succinctly puts it, there seems to be a growing gap between Shakespeare films and Shakespeare scholarship: "mass culture narratives rely on dated scholarship: they view the writings as timeless monuments, as literary texts in which Shakespeare was working toward a final draft, rather than as thriving, continuing sites of cultural production and revision" (215).
It is this central contradiction within what has now become a mainstream academic discipline that could have been more prominently addressed throughout the volume; instead, the editors opt for a more timely theme and, in hindsight, this might have been a mistake. Although there are laudable attempts to unite the volume by cross-referencing chapters, the repeated, seemingly obligatory remark, "as the late 20th century draws to a close" (95) becomes somewhat tedious after a while and the references to the millennium often obscure the sense of the chapters. This is the case in Judith Buchanan's admirable assessment of Oliver Parker's representation of otherness in Othello ("Virgin and Ape, Venetial and Infidel: Labellings of Otherness in Oliver Parker's Othello"); references to the millennium seems to be tagged on in an effort to appease the editors. Similarly, sentences attempting to link various chapters often appear to be parachuted in. For example, in Stephen M. Butler's chapter on "Camp Richard III and the Burdens of (Stage/Film) History," we are redirected to Neil Sinyard's chapter "Shakespeare Meets The Godfather: The Postmodern Populism of Al Pacino's Looking for Richard": after commenting on audiences' preferences for sexually potent rulers, we are bewilderingly told that "this can affect the reputation of actors, as in Olivier's ascendancy and, in the US, Barrymore's; Neil Sinyard's essay . . . suggests continuing associations between what (and who) controls by violence and what (and who) allures as a result" (55). Rather than invite the reader to draw connections, in this case, the editorial insert is simply incomprehensible.
The doomed attempt to unite and thematise the volume inevitably results in unnecessary verbiage. Many of the sentences could have been pruned; for instance, "Buchanan's concluding point is that the Christocentric assumptions underpinning the millennium make this moment in history of only partial relevance to discussions of racial alterity" (7) could have been edited down to "the millennium is of little or no relevance to racial issues or, indeed, to this chapter." Admittedly, in terms of its spread of films, the volume does confine itself to the fin de siècle (with the arguable exception of Paul Mazursky's 1982 Tempest), including chapters on Richard Loncraine's Richard III, Al Pacino's Looking for Richard, Christine Edzard's As You Like It, Adrian Noble's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Kenneth Branagh's In the Bleak Midwinter and Hamlet, Oliver Parker's Othello and John Madden's Shakespeare in Love. It also includes a scoop: an interview with Kenneth Branagh who expresses his bemusement and fascination with the way "the academic community has responded to this last seven/eight years of Shakespeare filmmaking". (178).
- This area is worth highlighting as the book's range of chapters demonstrates the rise of Shakespeare on screen as an academic subject. The relationship between film and book or mass and academic culture, frames the volume (Andrew Murphy, "The Book on the Screen: Shakespeare Films and Textual Culture" and Richard Burt, "Shakespeare in Love and the End of the Shakespearean: Academic and Mass Culture Constructions of Literary Authorship"). However, as Shakespeare on screen has gained academic respectability and popularity, film adaptations of Shakespeare bear little if no relation to academic interests in Shakespeare as a location of cultural production and revision; rather they seem to increasingly regress to reading the plays as autobiographical documents, enshrining the Genius that is Shakespeare. The volume would have been better if it admitted that it is a miscellaneous collection of essays that, in various ways, attempts to negotiate the huge differences between Shakespeare on film and Shakespeare in academia.
- Boose, Lynda, and Richard Burt. Shakespeare: the Movie. London: Routledge, 1997.
- Davies, Anthony, and Stanley Wells. Shakespeare and the Moving Image. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
- Jackson, Russell. Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.
- Shaughnessy, Robert. Shakespeare on Film: A Casebook. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).