With Loveís Labourís Lost, Branagh sings with the great Will
Shakespaeare Tap Dances
A fan of Fred Astaire, the most Shakesperian British director reinterprets a play of his favourite playwright as a musical. With George Gershwin and Cole Porter standards, bathing beauties like Esther Williams... Kenneth Branagh "knows the tune".
Télérama, 8 January 2001
* Thanks to Patricia Gillet for the translation from the French
Since Henry V (1989), Kenneth Branagh hasnít stopped proclaiming his love for Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, two huge parts of his filmography, showed it clearly. Today, this passion takes a new turn with Loveís Labourís Lost, a less well-known play by the great William. The film, sung and danced, gives new life to the big musicals of yesteryear and places the Shakesperian play in an imagined Europe, just before the Second World War. The energetic director-actor cuts [the text of] his favorite British author to insert old songs written by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and George GershwinÖ
Télérama (Marc Cerisuelo) : Why did you do Loveís Labourís Lost as a musical?
Kenneth Branagh : This play has a lot of references to music, songs and dance, which is usual in Shakesperian comedies. So the meeting between Shakespeare and music wasnít unconceivable. As well, there are a lot of musicals inspired by theatre, like West Side Story or Kiss Me Kate. The subject of the play is love, the most romantic love. Thatís the heart of Hollywoodian musicals. Its structure reminded me of films with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, with their groups of friends in love, their gallery of funny characters, where one abandoned oneself to the emotion and to sensuality of the songs. Despite superficial nature of musicals, I often found myself deeply moved, captured by the innocence of the story. We know the boy and girl will end up together but we get caught up in the story. In Loveís Labourís Lost, I love the youthful sense of freedom, the lack of cynicism. Unlike Much Ado About Nothing, peppered with criticisms of marriage and suspicions about human relations, this world is innocent. This innocence without cynicism goes very well with the genre.
T : What do you think about classical musicals?
KB : I love Singing in the Rain, Band Wagon, Royal Wedding. In the latter, Fred Astaireís dancing amazed me. We can see the love of the [musical] genre for very long sequence shots. The lack of cuts complements the rapidity of the execution of the dance. Weíve worked hard on this.
T : You spent two or three years preparing this film, especially choosing the songs. Thatís a luxury!
KB : At the beginning, we planned to write original songs, but we couldnít measure up to Shakespeare. Then I thought that Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, who are masters, could do that. I thought about taking less well-known songs, but we needed classics like Cheek to Cheek or They Canít Take That Away From Me. Characters had to reach the point where words were no longer enough, where the intensity of feeling was too strong. That is the ssence of musicals, in that moment where the transition to song seems imperative and obvious.
T : Youíve cut two-thirds of the play.
KB : This film was very difficult to structure. Then we had to find where we could place the choreography. Where could I put a number with bathing beauties in a pool? I was keen on a scene in the manner of Busby Berkeley or Esther Williams, if only for its incongruity.and to show- girls making fun of themselves in a film that blurs the lines between genres and eras. For the Letís face the music and dance scene, I thought of Stanley Donen, Bob Fosse, Sweet Charity and the red tints of Minnelliís Brigadoon. The scene had to go to be flirtatious and sexy, it had to clearly show the physical attraction between the girls and the boys. Beyond the language and the romance, they want to fuck, too! The set, a cross between Cambridge and Oxford, reinforces the sensuality with its vivid super-Technicolor. I briefly thought about filming in black and white but, apart from the comparisons to Fred Astaire being more obvious and the expectations of the audience greater, the palette of saturated colours the film needed would have been missing.
T : Loveís Labourís Lost - itís kind of a meeting between the dances of Much Ado About Nothing and the group of friends from Peterís Friends
KB : The reprise of these themes corresponds to my romantic sensibility and my way of telling a story. By the way, my version of the ending is different from Shakespeareís. At the end of this "boulevard" comedy, suddenly death regains its rights. We thought this was impossible in Navarre kingdom. In the context of a musical, I thought we reunite the heroes in the end.
T : Yes, but with your montage of war images, you turn the tone towards sadness just before the happy ending
KB : We tried three different endings. First, after the goodbyes, we ended with Thereís No Business Like Show Business, but it didnít work. Then, movie ended with the farewell words in the sky, and it was too sad. I prefered more realism, through the Ďwarriorí montage, taking care not to make the scenes too banal. But keeping the lightness of touch and the ease of the genre.
T : You donít try to compete with Fred Astaire. Your choreographies are thought out, but more relaxed
KB : Some scenes are more thought out. We worked at the max. We didnít try to find technical perfection to the detriment of characters, the joy of living or the divine irresponsibility of love. Love makes you lose your bearings! You lose your dignity, you write bad verses, you dance and sing badly, but with all your soul.
T : You talk about an innocent story, a rejection of cynicism. But doesnít a contemporary audience need a new attitude to understand musicals
KB : Who knows what the public wants? Of course, this genre assumes an attitude of complicity, which the newsreels in the beginning help to establish. Loveís Labourís Lost seems like a joyful eccentricity which time may help or improve! The absence of cynicism is a pivotal choice for a story. Refusing cynicism is taking a risk. But without the power to foresee how an audience will react, thereís only one choice : to respond to the inner necessity and passion which pushes you to create.
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