The Sunny Side to Every Situation

Defending Ethan Hawke and the virtues of John Wayne in a wet shirt

Somebody give that wind machine a raise.
Somebody give that wind machine a raise.

First of all, my apologies to our faithful readership, who no doubt have been wondering why we’ve gone silent. Josh and I went on a little Film Fight field trip tonight to see Hamlet 2, which opens in Austin tomorrow (at which point Josh and I will have more to say about that).

(And since we’re talking, dear readership, I have to say I’m quite moved – if bewildered – that you continue to vote for me on yesterday’s topic even after I admitted I should lose. That is either blind devotion, or you didn’t actually bother to read the posts before you gave me your vote. That’s fine – whole governments have been built on an uninformed populace. So I’d like to thank you [and the academy] – couldn’t have done it without you.)

Right, so back to the topic of the day: performances in Shakespeare adaptations.

Now, you’ve got a leg up on me, having just watched Almereyda’s Hamlet with Ethan Hawke. (Or did you just YouTube a couple of clips and start assembling the snark? In which case… harrumph.) I haven’t seen it since it came out, although I remember at the time thinking there was some interesting stuff going on. I rather loved Bill Murray’s Polonius, and transplanting “to be or not to be” to a vacant-eyed ramble through Blockbuster Video is indisputably an inspired touch.

I admit, rewatching the clip on YouTube– which is of course taking the scene out of context, and taking the film out of its ideal viewing experience – I was a little taken aback by Hawke’s flat delivery. Still, if you’re going to reimagine Hamlet as a whining, slacker filmmaker, then Hawke’s your guy. Maybe he didn’t do himself any favors taking on a role – or rather a reinterpretation of a role – that played too close to his so-called public image, but I’ve never heard you complain, “Oh gawd, it’s Cary Grant playing another witty sophisticate.”

Hawke’s done great work – Dead Poets Society, Waterland, Training Day, his Linklater pictures (and Explorers!) – and I think your dismissal of him, frankly, is a bit knee-jerk. And after so many Hamlets and so much emoting, so much spittle spat, it’s at least a unique rendering of the soliloquy. A rendering perhaps too close to comatose, but let’s move on.

Or not: Since we’re on the topic of knee-jerk – have you even seen My Own Private Idaho? Seriously, mocking Keanu Reeves is like shooting fish in a barrel, but with My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Sant took an unformed, vapid-seeming actor with a surfer dude voice and made it work – made him work – beautifully.

Enough of your naysaying: How about the ones who were born to speak the Bard?

Orson Welles – he of the magnificent, stentorian voice – was a terrific Othello – although, honestly, that movie could have been silent (and kinda was – he sliced and diced the text but good, and dubbed the sound afterwards due to budget troubles). We both agreed Ian McKellen knocked Richard III out of the park. The entire cast was smashing, actually – which is no mean feat, to not have a single bad apple.

I’d argue the cast of Julie Taymor’s Titus was also uniformly excellent – Sir Anthony’s usual blowhardiness plays well for the part, Harry Lennix is frightfully good as Aaron the Moor, and Laura Fraser’s Lavinia acts the shit out of a role that reduces her to a mute stump. (Can we have a moment of silence for Julie Taymor, who razzle-dazzled us early with Titus – a film in which bombast absolutely made sense – but has only grown more incoherent with every film since? Great visuals, though.)

Finally, of the “movies inspired by Shakespeare” variety, John Ford’s The Quiet Man deserves mention. It only very loosely plucks plot and theme from The Taming of the Shrew, but my goodness, what a sit-up-in-your-seat moment that must have been for audiences in 1952 when they first saw Maureen O’Hara. She’s like some Technicolor dream, tending sheep in a bright green Irish field, her red hair flapping in the wind. A bit of a blarney cliché, but glorious nonetheless.

Also a revelation – then and now: Who knew John Wayne looked so good in a wet shirt?

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Shakespeare on Film, The Quiet Man, Keanu Reeves, Ethan Hawke

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