Bard Gets Musical Make-over in Berlin
Agence France Presse, February
by Marie-Therese Delboulbes
After the rock 'n' roll Bard,
it's Shakespeare: The Musical Comedy, as Kenneth Branagh gives
the Hollywood treatment to a lesser known work in the English
dramatist's canon, "Love's Labours Lost", screened
Tuesday at the Berlin Film Festival.
Song and dance are the order
of the day in this latest offering in the Branagh Bardathon that
features Alicia Silverstone and Branagh himself.
The real stars of the film are
the songs themselves, classic numbers by Cole Porter, George
Gershwin, Irving Berlin.
Older filmgoers will sigh with
nostalgia as Shakespeare's characters don their top hat, white
tie and tails and lilt their way through such numbers as "I
get a kick out of you", or "There's no business like
The film is an old-style Hollywood
extravaganza in which the classic text is tweaked to accommodate
chorus-line numbers, cheek-to-cheek dancing and other musical
comedy set-pieces, with innumerable references to the movies
of the 1930s and '40s.
The imaginary Navarre in which
Shakespeare set his comedy is transposed to the eve of World
War II, a context heightened by the inclusion of several black-and-white
newsreel-style inserts purporting to present the day's front
Fans of "Casablanca"
will swoon at the sight of the King of Navarre and his companions
saying their bitter-sweet farewells in the manner of Humphrey
Bogart waiting at the airport while the plane taxis on the tarmac,
preparing to fly off with their sweethearts, a pastiche of Ingrid
Bergman's departure in the Michael Curtiz classic of 1942.
Even the Marx Brothers get a
look-in as Branagh works out his idea, suggested to him while
working with Woody Allen in New York on "Celebrity"
two years ago.
"Love's Labours Lost"
is the Ulsterman's fourth tilt at Shakespeare after his debut
feature "Henry V" in 1988, followed by a famous "Much
Ado about Nothing" in 1993 and a four-hour full-text version
of "Hamlet" in 1996. It is also unlikely to be his
last, he says.
Shakespeare has revived as big
box-office in recent years, not least with the 1996 Leonardo
di Caprio movie "Romeo and Juliet" in which the Bard
shared a writing-credit with director Baz Luhrmann.
Luhrmann's rock version of the
play, closer to his earlier kitsch movie "Ballroom Dancing"
than to the Elizabethan stage, was also featured at the Berlin
Film Festival that year.
Quite apart from last year's
Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love", a fictional account
of the playwright's early life, Shakespeare plays have provided
the inspiration for such films as Al Pacino's "Looking for
Richard", an account of an actor's approach to the play
"Richard III", and a fascist-era "Richard III"
written by the classic Shakespearean actor Richard McKellen.
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