28 February 2008

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Malthouse Theatre
27 February 2008  
Tower Thearte, CUB Malthouse 

Director Oscar Redding aptly says, “If a play has continued to be extraordinary for four hundred years and you fuck it up you only have yourself to blame”.  So Oscar, I guess I’m blaming you.

Malthouse Theatre chose to include a film in their 2008 season. I was so looking forward to seeing this. Poor Theatre’s original production of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was performed in 2004 in a shopfront to a maximum audience of 15. Looking at the actors, the design and the interpretation of Shakespeare’s work, I’m sure it would have been stunning and I wish I’d seen it.

This is the film version. It was shot in 38 hours, at night over nine days. The effort and dedication of everyone involved is clearly evident. It’s shot in some of Melbourne’s identifiable seedy spots, including Bourke Street Mall, the Degraves Street underpass (where the cast use to rehearse, because it was dry and free) and The Waiters Club.

This is a film, so it has to be viewed and reviewed as a film. I don’t want to use the word atrocious – as I really respect and admire what these folk did to make this film – but it is not a good film.

The whole thing is seen from the POV of whoever is holding a camera. Some googling revealed that it is Osic and he’s the wedding cameraman for Gertrude and Claudius wedding. I spent most of the film trying to figure out who he was. I thought it might be Hortatio and that Hamlet’s little hand puppet was a joke, rather than an indication of madness. Why all of these people continue to trust Osic with their secrets is never clear.

I know Hamlet – it’s one of the best damn stories ever written. If I didn’t know that story, I would have had no idea what was going on on that screen. Nothing was done to establish who the characters were and what their relationships were with each other. So much was hidden in darkness and shadow, that it wasn’t clear what was happening. I get that it’s meant to be hidden and dirty – but isn’t the whole point of film that we see what is going on? It looked like Hamlet pulled back the shower curtain to find Polonius having a drunken nap in the bath.  Ophelia’s death and even her burial were even more mysterious. Gertrude runs into the Waiters Club and says she has drowned. Who drowned? You have to show on the screen, telling doesn’t work. Seriously, please show this film to someone who doesn’t know Hamlet and ask them to summarise the story for you.

Then there was the actual filming. I can see that you were trying to emulate the Dogme 95 declaration. However the Dogme directors knew what rules they were breaking and some did it stunningly (I’m by no means a Lars Van Triers fan, but he could shoot a film). This had unfocussed and wobbly close ups and two shots with lots of language – but rarely did we see what was going on and the quality of the film was so distracting that it was even harder to concentrate on the slabs of language.

The nauseating shaky camera makes the screen almost unbearable to look at. The individual shot composition went from dodgy to bad to “have you ever actually sat in a cinema and watched a film?” I’d love to see the storyboard – if there was one. I really do not understand how a film can look so bad on a screen.

I don’t care about the lack of resources and the roughness. That had nothing to do with this film. It has some admirable ambitions, but was shot badly and failed to show an understanding of film, action and visual story telling. 

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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