A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 242 – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – October 28th

This DVD, along with our vast MST3K collection, often gets put in as background noise while we’re doing other things. We’ve seen it a million times and we know it well enough that we can quote whole sections of it verbatim on a whim. In fact, when watching some of the Shakespeare we’ve already done I found myself hearing the lines and jokes from this production in my head over the real lines. Branagh’s Hamlet suffered from this particularly severely. I mean, I loved Branagh’s Hamlet, but I will forever now think of Hamlet as “Omelet the cheese Danish.” I can’t help it.

As with last night’s movie, this one tells you what it is right on the cover. It is the complete works of Shakespeare, but very much abridged. For one, only two plays are presented in anything close to complete form, with lines exchanged and scenes performed, albeit in truncated form, and the rest are sort of whipped through or mentioned in passing. Some get individual mentions, like Othello being done as a rap and Troilus and Cressida getting some interpretive dance performance art. But the comedies are almost all done as one big mash up that I would very much like to actually see performed. The histories are done as an American football game, with the crown passed as a football. All that stuff happens in the middle along with a lot of fake vomiting, screaming, bad wigs and running around. The play is bookended with two of the most well known of Shakespeare’s works.

We open with Romeo and Juliet. Well, actually we open with some introductions for the cast. There are three, which is the source of much of the humor, since the three of them have to play every role and present every play, but also bicker like siblings on a car trip. There’s Austin, the “expert”; Adam, the goofball; and then there’s Reed, who sort of corrals the other two. Personally I like Adam’s introduction best. But then there’s Romeo and Juliet, which is certainly well done and a good indication of the sort of humor the show will have, such as when Adam as Juliet does the balcony scene standing on a chair behind Austin. And then there’s the fake dagger. Anyhow, it’s certainly a familiar play, so it makes for a good intro to the show. Then, after all the wacky hijinks and pantaloons it’s time to celebrate! They’ve finished early! Everyone can go home! Ha ha. No. Because then there’s Hamlet.

Really, Hamlet does deserve its own act, and its own paragraph. It’s a big hulking beast of a play and if Branagh’s full version is four hours long then of course the abridged version needs a little more space than, say, All’s Well That Ends Well. They spend a lot of time on it, and well, they do a really excellent job, for all that it’s a parody and abridged and has an interlude in the middle where they pull up an audience member to play Ophelia and get the whole audience involved in motivating her. While I think it’s probably a given that the folks behind this whole thing know their Shakespeare, it’s Hamlet that really hammers it home. They get into the motivations and what they see as flaws. They distill what is an exceptionally complex play into a very short period of time and manage to get across what’s going on while still presenting it with tons of jokes and interruptions. And then they do it faster. And then even faster. And then backwards. It is a thing of beauty.

What I really love about this play is that it clearly required a love of and in depth knowledge of Shakespeare. The Reduced Shakespeare Company is a group of very funny people who know how to do good humor, but they also know their source material. And as I love Shakespeare, but am aware of some flaws in the plays, I do so love watching people lovingly parody it. Sure, some of the jokes are a bit dated. There’s at least one Bill Clinton reference that’s from my college years and it probably won’t age well the further we get from the incident in question. But then this is also a snapshot of the production at a particular time. I’m pretty confident that they keep their jokes fresh with newer performances. So regardless of all that, the humor is great and the Shakespeare is fun and I do so love it. Makes me want to put in Branagh’s Omelet.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reduced Shakespeare Company

October 28, 2010

The Reduced Shakespeare Company: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

“Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet did he? It must be a missprint – it’s a Mel Gibson movie.”

If you’ve been following or little blog here then you know by now that Amanda and I are big fans of William Shakespeare. We own quite a few adaptations of Shakespeare and have the intention to purchase a great many more. Amanda has a fairly good scholarly background in Shakespeare having taken courses examining his words both in High School and College, whereas I have only read a couple of his plays but always enjoy seeing them performed. So it’s only natural that we should completely love this fantastic and simple piece of live comedy theater which manages to at least mention every one of Shakespeare’s plays and does passable abbreviated versions of the most well-known of them.

We have watched this so many times that we pretty much have it memorised. Indeed after sitting through the four-hour-long uncut Kenneth Branagh Hamlet we actually threw this in and watched it as well, just because it’s so much fun. How many productions of Hamlet include an encore, and then a second encore?

According to the commentary on the DVD (which is FULL of nifty little tidbits and well worth watching if you get a chance) the whole production started out as a piece performed by a couple members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company at ren-fests. (In particular this is why the opening play, Romeo & Juliet, is actually a two-man production.) Since then the company has set up shop in London where they performed this play for years. They also have adapted the Complete History of America (Abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) and the Complete Hollywood (Abridged).

The concept here is that you have three guys on stage performing all the major roles in every play Shakespeare ever wrote. It’s full of quick changes, slapstick, modern-day references, audience participation and general silliness. In the version captured here on the DVD the three are Adam Long (one of the writers, who gives himself the part of being a somewhat dimwitted buffoon most of the time) Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. Of course like any traveling company the actual cast changes over time (one of the other writers has a cameo on the DVD as an audience member brought up on stage to take part in the play.)

What I enjoy about this so much is that it has a kind of reverence to it at the same time that it spoofs the plays. Sure they’re constantly cracking jokes and playing around, but the guys actually seems to think that Shakespeare is still relevant today, and you get the impression that the whole production is as much an homage and tribute to Shakespeare as it is a farce. I know that were I to ever teach Shakespeare I would definitely include this movie as part of the curriculum. Watching this makes me want to watch more Shakespeare, and likewise whenever I watch Shakespeare seriously performed it makes me want to watch this again.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment