Jared Johnson, SUNY at Stony Brook
Richard Burt and Lynda E. Boose, eds. Shakespeare, the Movie II: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, Video, and DVD. London and New York: Routledge, 2003. xi + 328 pp. ISBN (paperback) 0-415-28299-3. ISBN (hardcover) 0-415-28298-5.
Richard Burt and Lynda Boose's sophomore collection of essays, Shakespeare, the Movie II: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, Video, and DVD, is, unlike its predecessor, Shakespeare, the Movie (1997), a collection for and of the first decade of the 2000s. While the overriding preoccupations of the first edition, as suggested by the theoretical buttressing of the first and last chapters, include 1990s youth culture and the rise of queer theory/cinema, the second edition takes as its organizational framework issues more pertinent to post-9/11 American jingoism and its effect on the rest of the world — specifically globalization, postcoloniality, and (post-?) nationalism. The sequel, in a sense, has replaced sex with politics. This is not to say that there is no topical overlap between the original and the sequel (indeed, there is, since five of the sixteen essays are taken from the first edition) or, worse, that politics and sex are mutually exclusive (obviously they are not); but for Shakespeare, the Movie II, the editors have consciously broadened the scope of their essays to include as the collection's focus films outside of the dominant American and British film markets: Burt and Boose have taken Shakespeare out of Hollywood and to the streets, so to speak. By and large, the articles that reappear in the second edition carry with them a rootedness in the Hollywood film industry, while the newer articles explore postcolonial, national, and technological anxieties that are present in global as well as American and British Shakespearean popularizations. While there is more work to be done, Shakespeare, the Movie II takes an important first step toward mapping the multinational and multicultural appropriation and cultural quotation of Shakespeare in the early 2000s.
As the theoretical centerpiece to Shakespeare, the Movie II
, Richard Burt offers in the first chapter his concept of "glo-cali-zation," a neologism that he defines as "both the collapse of the local and the global into the 'glocal' and the retention of 'Cali' (or Hollywood) as the center of the film industry" (15)
; even when cinematic Shakespeare is taken to the glocal streets, Shakespeare retains an attachment to his (dislocated) Hollywood roots. Burt extends this logic of a paradoxically centered decenteredness to Shakespeare as signifier, arguing that even Shakespeare is not central to the "genre" of Shakespearean appropriation. Echoing Alan Sinfield's discussion of the historical adoption of Shakespeare by both sides of the political spectrum in "Heritage and the Market," Burt identifies Shakespeare as a "nodal point whose position and presence, when recognized, are relative to the media in which he appears" (17)
. Burt anchors Shakespeare, the Movie II
in a blurring of local and global that characterizes the settings for adaptations, international collaborative efforts of filmmakers and actors, and the diaspora of Shakespearean cultural citation across the globe, so that "Shakespeare" enters a period of post-popular culture in which any notion of a uniform popular culture is made obsolete by globalization. The Shakespeare of this edition is a Shakespeare of subcultures.
A number of filmic texts under examination in this edition hold tighter to their Cali roots. Two of the five articles from the first edition that Burt and Boose reprint in Shakespeare, the Movie II situate conventional Shakespeare film adaptations within the world of Hollywood film. In "'Top of the World, Ma': Richard III and Cinematic Convention," James Loehlin observes that the Richard Loncraine/Ian McKellen Richard III (1995) quotes extensively from the American gangster film, particularly Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949), starring James Cagney. Similarly, in "War is Mud: Branagh's Dirty Harry V and the Types of Political Ambiguity," Donald K. Hedrick argues that Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989) uses dirt/mud as a sliding signifier to suggest a self-canceling ambiguity vis-à-vis the issue of just warfare and participates in what he calls "the Clint Eastwood mystique," a reference to the vexed political nature of the Dirty Harry (1971) films (director Don Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood disagreed on the justness of Dirty Harry's brand of vigilantism). A newcomer to this edition, Michael Anderegg also takes what Burt might call a Cali-centric approach to two mainstream Shakespeare films: Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996) and John Madden's Shakespeare in Love (1998). In the essay, Anderegg grapples with issues of popularity and Hollywood cultural quotation. Like Loehlin and Hedrick, Anderegg reads these inter-national Shakespeares against other Hollywood films of similar genres, suggesting, for example, that Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo is part-Tony in West Side Story (1961) and part-Jim Starke in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Other contributors to Shakespeare, the Movie II keep Hollywood Shakespeares as their central texts, but interpret these films outside of the context of Hollywood cinema. A contributor to the first Shakespeare, the Movie, Diana E. Henderson considers the cinematic history of Hollywood Taming of the Shrews, adding for this edition four paragraphs that treat Gil Junger's 10 Things I Hate about You (1999). Another article from the first edition that fits this mold is Susan Wiseman's "The Family Tree Motel: Subliming Shakespeare in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho" (1991). Wiseman's article, a throwback to the guiding logic of the first edition, explores white male youth, homosexuality, and prostitution in 1990s America. Wiseman convincingly uses Freud and Shakespeare's Henriad as a means for reading the film's two main narrative strains and the lives of the two central characters, Mike and Scott. Another former contributor, Barbara Hodgdon, writes a full-fledged sequel to her article that appeared in the earlier editon. In "Race-ing Othello, Re-Engendering White-Out, II," Hodgdon focuses on a number of Othello adaptations in the wake of current and residual race problems in the United States. Her treatment of Tim Blake Nelson's O (2001) is particularly powerful as it considers the contours of race relations within the highly racialized setting of the film: a white preparatory school in North Carolina. Hodgdon discusses not only the problem of race in the abstract, but also the manifestation of the ideological forces of racism that become articulated through language (who has access to the word "nigger"?) and sex (the opacity of intent that Nelson uses to justify, excuse, or simply bring about Odon's "hate fuck" of Desi) and that culminate in Odon's synecdochic race riot, the Columbine-esque school shooting. Hodgdon's cultural critique of race as the primary factor that enfranchises and disenfranchises the characters of this film is compelling. Another category of social stratification that I wish Hodgdon would have examined more fully, however, is the power and impotence of material wealth in this dramatized elite setting, especially through the character of Roger. This type of critique, it seems, would help nuance Hodgdon's hegemonic and monolithic characterization of the white, upper-class prep school and could possibly contribute to current discourse about the fetishization of private school and the weeding out of public schooling through the apparatus of No Child Left Behind.
The overwhelming majority of articles in Shakespeare, the Movie II move beyond Shakespeare's relationship with Hollywood toward a consideration of Shakespeare appropriations in national, international, and post-national contexts. In "Shakespeare and the Street: Pacino's Looking for Richard, Bedford's Street King, and the Common Understanding," Thomas Cartelli looks at "the street" as both a physical and symbolic site of authenticity in two fast-and-loose adaptations of Richard III. His discussion of Pacino's 1995 film details Pacino's portrayal of himself as a Bronx-raised philistine who suffers from performance anxiety under Shakespeare's immense cultural weight. Cartelli, quite accurately, reads the film as a battle, over the ownership of Shakespeare, between the British (coded as intellectuals) and the Americans (represented by Pacino and his cast of Hollywood celebs). Amusingly, Cartelli demonstrates how Pacino stacks the deck in his favor, showing clips of British actors and scholars that ventriloquize his inferiority complex (John Geilgud's blanket observation that Americans don't go to museums, for example) and staging his method-acting rehearsals — punctuated by his ranting speech and wild gesticulation — as epiphanic. The lynchpin of Cartelli's argument is his employment of the trope of "the street" in his interpretation of both films. The street, in both Pacino's relocation of Shakespeare to New York City and in The Street King's director James Gavin Bedford's setting of the plot of Richard III in modern day, gang-infested Los Angeles, functions as a site of authenticity that trumps that of stuffy British Shakespeares.
Similarly, in "Sure Can Sing and Dance: Minstrelsy, the Star System, and the Post-coloniality of Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost
and Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night
," Katherine Eggert explores the dynamics of what she sees as a postcolonial reversal of power between Britain and the United States through the status of two "British" Shakespearean actors, Kenneth Branagh and Ben Kingsley, in relation to the Hollywood film market. Eggert describes the current situation of Britain vis-à-vis the United States as a "post-postcolonial relation[ship] [. . . ] in which, culturally and economically speaking, the colonizer is now the colonized — British producers of Shakespeare films are to be found not fending off the barbarians at the gates, but rather absorbing and repeating the customs of the new overlords" (75)
. Newly deposed, Eggert argues, British actors now find themselves playing a form of blackface to appease Hollywood market tastes that both exaggerates their Britishness and subtly mocks the audience's Americanness.
Courtney Lehmann considers the blending of noir and western film genres in recent adaptations of Macbeth
in "Out Damned Scot: Dislocating Macbeth
in Transnational Film and Media Culture." Looking at a number of adaptations, ranging from a porn film (Stuart Canterbury's In the Flesh
, 1998) to a high school student film project (Glen Ridge High's Star Wars: Macbeth
, 1997) to a comic film Macbeth
(Billy Morrisette's Scotland, PA
, 2001), Lehmann argues that "[t]he Scotland of Shakespeare's play, like the unevenly globalized network of late capitalism, does not revolve around the choice between two evils but the proper choice of pleasures in a system characterized by an excess of jouissance" (234)
. A wide-reaching, anti-hierarchical and informative study, Lehmann's work explores the afterlife of Shakespeare's Scotland in a way that seeks to expose faultlines in the logic of capital. Despite the often highly entertaining language of her essay (she is the first, to my knowledge, to use the term "John Ashcroft syndrome"), the article falls victim at points to a forced logic of association. The most salient example is her assertion that the small-time business shenanigans represented in Scotland, PA
foreshadow the corporate greed of the early 2000s, according to this line of reasoning: "what the fetishized arches of the letter 'M' in this film ominously point to is what comes after 'M' — 'En' as in noir and, of course, Enron, whose solution to the forgotten pact between capitalism and democracy is to steal from everyone, though not necessarily in equal measure" (247)
Two more articles in the edition address Shakespeare adaptations in the postcolonial moment: Amy Scott-Douglass's "Dogme Shakespeare 95: European Cinema, Anti-Hollywood Sentiment, and the Bard" and Burt's "Shakespeare and Asia in Postdiasporic Cinemas: Spin-offs and Citations of the Plays from Bollywood to Hollywood." Scott-Douglass writes about four Danish film directors who, styling themselves the Dogme brethren, write a manifesto that critiques the artificiality and complacency of Hollywood cinema. She then analyzes two Danish adaptations of Shakespeare that employ this set of aesthetic and political principles. The scope of Burt's article is huge and, while he should be commended for his ambition, he opens himself up to criticism by choosing such wide-ranging subject matter: he covers "a diasporic Australian, an Indian, and two Asian diasporic film directors in order to analyze Shakespeare's place in the cinematic undoing of diaspora" in the first half of the article and "Asian characters as racial minorities and the circulation of the abject among Caucasian characters, some ethnic minorities in their own right, in Western films directed by Caucasians" (271)
in the second. Burt's article, as I am sure he well knows, could be the subject of a book-length study, and while the texts he looks at underline his questioning of the fixedness of Shakespeare, Burt needs more space to follow through completely.
While one way that the articles in Shakespeare, the Movie II
think outside of Hollywood is by looking at the films through national and global lenses, the other way is by examining technological anxieties and possibilities. Four articles have this critical focus: Peter S. Donaldson's "Shakespeare in the Age of Post-Mechanical Reproduction: Sexual and Electronic Magic in Prospero's Books
" (a borrowing from the previous edition), Laurie Osborne's "Mixing Media and Animating Shakespeare Tales," Douglas Lanier's "Nostalgia and Theatricality: The Fate of the Shakespearean Stage in the Midsummer Night's Dream
s of Hoffman, Noble, and Edzard," and Katherine Rowe's "'Remember me': Technologies of Memory in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet
." Donaldson's article interprets technology, in Greenaway's Prospero's Books
(1991), as a new world that is akin to the New World of The Tempest
. In the essay, Donaldson attributes a type of digital autonomy to Prospero's slaves once they are allowed to speak and argues that the new form of digital reproduction featured in the film functions in the same way as Prospero's magic works in the play — as a surrogate mother or way of harnessing female sexuality. Osborne employs Eisenstein's theorization of the power of cartoons to instantiate a "literalization of metaphor" by visually transforming one image/character into another in her consideration of Shakespeare: The Animated Tales
(1992). Unlike her article in the first edition, this essay includes not only cartoon Shakespeares, but also Shakespearean puppetry and glass painting. In his examination of three A Midsummer Night's Dream
s, Lanier looks at the challenges that film poses as a genre and argues that "[w]hile Hoffman's film attempts to overwrite the inherent theatricality of Shakespeare as cinematic naturalism, Adrian Noble's film and Christine Edzard's adaptation share an active embrace, rather than a rejection, of Shakespearean theatricality" (160)
. Lanier's analysis focuses mainly on the motif of the play-within-the-play, and his treatment of Edzard's quite fascinating cinematic and social experiment is particularly well done, as it is both critical and laudatory of her project. Finally, Katherine Rowe offers a novel and interesting reading of Michael Almereyda's Hamlet
(2000) that interprets the film's technophilic aspects as both a transcendent metaphor for memory and a historically-grounded moment of cultural memory. Her most compelling insights into Hamlet's obsessive culling of film footage is her observation that his watching of his own films "serve[s] not to slow the rush of the present into the past but to privatize memory records for meditation and self-reflection" (51)
The texts that Burt and Boose incorporate into Shakespeare, the Movie II build on the central topos of the first volume: popularization. What changes in this edition, though, is a more detailed tracing of the dissemination of Shakespeare through multinational and multicultural popular cultures, a process of both expansion and dilution that runs the risk of rendering the badge of "popular" a misnomer (perhaps Burt's "post-popular" would be more appropriate). This theoretical issue aside, the new material included in this second edition takes Shakespearean appropriation in new and exciting directions, and while the older material is certainly well-argued and interesting, it seems that in a sub-genre of literary studies that constantly fetishizes the new, more articles moving away from Hollywood would further benefit the collection. (The retention of certain essays from the first edition seems to be, more than anything else, the result of publishing constraints.) In any case, this collection of post-popular Shakespeares would make an excellent supplement to any Shakespeare and film class; it is likely to be as interesting to students as it is to intellectuals, providing edutainment for the whole academic family.
Burt, Richard, and Lynda E. Boose, eds. 1997. Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and DVD. London and New York: Routledge.
Burt, Richard, and Lynda E. Boose, eds. 2003. Shakespeare, the Movie II: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV, and DVD. London and New York: Routledge.
Sinfield, Alan. 1994. "Heritage and the Market, Regulation, and Desublimation." In Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism. Edited by Alan Sinfield and Jonathan Dollimore. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 255-79.