Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Julius Caesar, with Brando

At yesterday's class of Shakespeare at the Movies, we saw the last bit of the Taylor/Burton Taming of the Shrew and the beginning of the 1953 Julius Caesar with Brando as Marc Antony and James Mason as Brutus.

I had been contemplating the "Shrew" feeling that most of my dissatisfaction lay with Burton's un-nuanced Petruchio who was simply money hungry, as possibly he was in real life at that point [having spent a million of his own dough to produce this movie]. The teacher was very incensed about Zefferelli's over lush Padua. I liked it even if I know medieval cities were filthy stinking places. The discussion of what a movie director''s obligation is to be true to Shakespeare seems to me moot. Movies are entertainment, they are not serious drama, certainly not on the Zefferelli/Burton scale. Movie makers are out to make money by entertaining the masses and the masses love pretty costumes and exotic locales. Movie directors/producers feel no obligation to living writers, let alone long dead ones. I said as much and did not endear myself to those who adore Shakespeare as if he is sacred.
When we came to potential conversations about "Caesar" -- a movie that adheres closely to Shakespeare and was produced in a different frame of mind, I think, and where Cold War themes may be in the background, it seems, in the question of the motivations of the conspirators, we have three considerations. One is what Shakespeare meant; the second is what we find from our contemporary point of view and the third, vis a vie the movie is what the actors were acting. Watching a movie with all its close-ups reveals the intentions of the actors more vividly than theatre audiences generally see on a stage. If Cassius is "lean and hungry" [and lean he is] what is his hunger? From the words he spoke and the disgust on his face recounting Caesar's eagerness to become emperor, he wants personal autonomy. Shakespeare was brilliant at understanding political motivations but we forget that modern concepts of ego and individuality did not exist c.1600. It will be interesting to see if members of the class expect to analyze the actions in the light of post-Freudian psychology.

Meanwhile the movie is a joy to watch, even if there are anachronisms like a bust of Hadrian although Hadrian would not be born for nearly 100 years. Brutus wanders about with a sort of paperback book in his hand -- was such a thing available? The conspirators seen to have knife holsters under their robes, is that accurate. Such things would not have concerned a Shakespearean audience in the least but today we look for accuracy in all such details. Discussion next week will be interesting and watching the beautiful faces of Brando and James Mason {Brutus] a great joy.

1 comment:

Kass said...

You've found some interesting classes in your town. Brando's face was beautiful.