Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #82: Lau­rence Olivier’s Ham­let.
Lau­rence Olivi­er did remark­ably well in his trans­plant of Ham­let to the sil­ver screen. Although the trans­plant involved a gas­tric bypass of much of the play’s text, Olivi­er mit­i­gat­ed this omis­sion by inspired cam­er­a­work. Ter­rence Rafferty’s Cri­te­ri­on essay sug­gest that the cam­era is God’s eye view of the action, and while this is on the right track, I think it is slight­ly more com­pli­cat­ed; I posit that the cam­er­a­work in just about every scene is dri­ven by the char­ac­ter whose will dom­i­nates. Thus, a slight pan to reveal an emp­ty chair tells the view­er that Ophe­lia is think­ing about Ham­let, and a spi­ral­ing track-out cul­mi­nates inside of Hamlet’s head as he begins his most famous solil­o­quy.
This review isn’t going to be about the act­ing, or the play itself, but the strengths of the adap­ta­tion. The film allows inter­pre­ta­tions and effects that were not pos­si­ble in the­atri­cal releas­es. Hamlet’s solil­o­quys often begin inter­nal­ly, through voice-over, and only emerge into diegetic vocal­iza­tion as his ten­sion mounts. Then there are the visu­al effects, like the open­ing sequence that shows a skull on the cas­tle, that, as the cam­era zooms in, is revealed to be the king’s bed­room, and the eerie phan­tom of the dead king him­self. To be sure, the film’s adap­ta­tion is not per­fect. When Shake­speare gets self-reflex­ive and mocks his con­tem­po­rary the­atre-goers, the groundlings, the anachro­nism is jar­ring, more so even than it would be in mod­ern the­atri­cal per­for­mances.
Much more could be done with set pieces as well, where film-the­ater-pas­toral-trag­ic-com­i­cal pro­duc­tions like Bus­by Berkeley’s are noto­ri­ous for the impos­si­ble POV shots that the chore­o­graphed sequences are filmed in, Olivier’s use of deep-focus and spare but pow­er­ful cam­era move­ment do more to empha­size the dis­tance between the char­ac­ters, cre­ate dom­i­nant lines of sight like cross­fire and reveal hid­den dan­gers in every cup, torch and stair­case. The crys­tal clar­i­ty of many of the shots that are dri­ven by Hamlet’s will near­ly con­vinced me that he tru­ly was a mad­man. It isn’t sur­pris­ing that this film won 4 Acad­e­my Awards.

The Road Home

5.9.02 INT. KEOUGH HALL RM 435 1:00pm DAY

all of the mar­mosets are gone, and so am i. this won’t be updat­ed until i am back on the 20th. for those of you who want to know, here is my sum­mer read­ing list as it stands now (feel free to add to it).

  • fritz leiber;
  • art of zen and motor­cy­cle main­te­nance;
  • lord of the flies;
  • 1984;
  • catch­er in the rye;
  • the art of war;
  • book of five rings by miyamo­to musashi;
  • den­nis mck­ier­nan;
  • clock­work orange;
  • high fideli­ty;
  • on the road;
  • ham­let;
  • con­fed­er­a­cy of dunces;
  • gin­ger­man;
  • the naked and the dead;
  • good omens;
  • ridicu­lous rhymes (roald dahl);
  • atlas shrugged;
  • f scott fitzger­ald this side of par­adise;
  • some­thing by hem­ing­way

today i am road­trip­pin’

lis­ten­ing to The Road Home (a com­pi­la­tion CD i made)