and Lisa S. Starks, eds. The Reel Shakespeare: Alternative Cinema
and Theory. Madison and Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP; London:
Associated UP, 2002. 298pp. ISBN: 0 8386 3939 9.
The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland
Jess, Carolyn. "Review
of Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks, eds. The Reel Shakespeare: Alternative
Cinema and Theory". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.1 (May,
2004) 11.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-1revlehm.htm>.
In what proves to be a rigorous investigation of some
of the most current upheavals in Shakespearean cinema, The Reel Shakespeare
examines marginalized Shakespeare incarnations, setting these films
into dialogue with cinema’s origins, production systems, and aesthetic values.
Traversing once more the realm of searches for the ‘real’ Shakespeare, Lehmann
and Starks aim to consider Shakespeare’s role in mediating cultural concerns
at important junctures of cinema history, while surveying diverse critical
viewpoints that illuminate Shakespearean cinema at the present moment. The
book’s consideration of ‘unorthodox’ filmic approaches to the Bard posits
‘countercinema’ as more successfully identifying Shakespeare’s ideological
diversity by juxtaposing evolving states of the ‘reel’ (cinema) with Baudrillardian,
Jamesonian, Lacanian, and Žižekian conceptualisations of the ‘real’. The
book’s primary aim is to discover the remnants of ‘real’ Shakespeare amongst
a throng of avant-garde approaches. Essays are included on new wave
appropriations of Shakespeare (including Godard’s King Lear), several
more recent avant-garde productions, alternative approaches to teaching
Shakespeare on film. Jose Ramón Díaz-Fernández’s selected bibliography provides
a useful source of critical enquiry on ‘reel Shakespeare’.
Departing from a reconsideration of Shakespeare’s filmic
ascription across the twentieth-century from a post-millennial perspective,
the volume anticipates the effects of digitalization (as considered in Richard
Burt and Lynda E. Boose’s Shakespeare, The Movie, II), independent
filmmaking, and emergent filmic methodologies upon Shakespearean cinema.
By juxtaposing the ‘reel’ with the ‘real’, then, the book pivots on the
theoretical exigencies of Shakespearean cinema in terms of film’s shifting
ontological status, and the cultural and theoretical engagements that underpin
the Bard’s filmic reception. In Lehmann and Starks’ introduction, Shakespeare
is described as a ‘roughhousing lover, misogynist, protofeminist, pervert,
masochist, snob, pedant, rogue, and dreamer’, and not the ‘“sweet swan of
Avon”’ revered by Hollywood (20). Representing Shakespeare, the book argues,
is an act that is entrenched not only in assumptions of high and low culture,
but also in a critical awareness of the problems inherent in representation,
such as the exclusions that overwhelm even the most progressive of mainstream
appropriations, and the oppressive ideological effects of Hollywood production
systems upon a radical textual entity. Avant-garde cinema is championed
as emphatically concerned with attempting to address and solve these anxieties,
in the same moment as Hollywood is figured as washing over the challenges
posed by representation, for instance, by totalising and eschewing definitions
of ‘cinematic’ under the banner of ‘Hollywood.
The first section of the book is occupied solely by Kenneth
S. Rothwell’s essay, ‘Hamlet in Silence: Reinventing the Prince on
Celluloid’, which demonstrates the challenges poised by this play to cinematic
reinvention from cinema’s early stages to the beginnings of the Hollywood
studio system. Looking at seven incarnations of Hamlet produced in
America, France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain, Rothwell demarcates
the extensive spectrum of approaches to portraying the Prince as demonstrated
by this small body of films, enforcing the play’s resistance to singular
representation. Charged with ‘high art’ value and as a measure of class
distinction, Shakespeare’s ‘sacerdotal’ play is revealed here to have played
a vital part in early cinema’s configuration as a ‘legitimate’ representative
vehicle (29). Part Two explores the new wave reverberations of Shakespeare’s
early cinematic manifestations, as evidenced by productions by Peter Hall,
Jean-Luc Godard, and Peter Greenaway. As Peter S. Donaldson’s essay, ‘“Two
of Both Kinds’: Modernism and Patriarchy in Peter Hall’s A Midsummer
Night’s Dream’ makes manifest, avant-garde ‘“reveals the cinematic
apparatus”’ (43). Thus the process of filmmaking is demystified, in the
same moment as the ‘real’ Shakespeare becomes separated from the swathes
of conservative renditions of his texts. This notion is reconsidered in
Alan Walworth and Lia M. Hotchkiss’s (primarily psychoanalytic) examinations
of Godard’s King Lear and Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books to
consider points of origin, absence, and recuperation in Shakespeare’s texts
that apply similar ideological contexts to cinema’s evolving ontology.
The essays by Starks, Bryan Reynolds, and Kathy M. Howlett
in Part Three contend with portraits of violence, horror, and ‘utopian revisioning’
(as opposed to dystopic discourse) in postmodern Shakespearean ‘countercinemas’
to examine how Shakespeare functions as an agent of cultural catharsis,
while the essays by Douglas E. Green and John Brett Mischio in Part Four
review and posit radical pedagogical schemas in the contexts of queer theory
and authorship. The book’s strengths lie in its challenge to a homogenized
cinematic Shakespeare, and indeed an approach to the texts via explicitly
cinematic and cultural critical perspectives enforces Shakespeare’s contribution
to theoretical reifications of the seventh art. Díaz-Fernández’s extensive
bibliography encompasses filmic adaptations and ‘derivatives’ of Shakespeare’s
plays, which might have prompted theoretical engagements throughout the
volume as to the definitions surrounding these highly significant terms.
Nonetheless, the book successfully convinces the reader of Shakespeare’s
involvement in testing ‘the limits of representation’, at the same time
as his ‘reel’ and ‘real’ status is persuasively disengaged from stale ideological
Burt, Richard and Lynda E. Boose, eds. Shakespeare
the Movie, II: Popularizing the plays on film, TV, video, and DVD.
London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2004-, Matthew
Steggle (Editor, EMLS).