Sunday, May 8, 2016

Shakespeare on Film

Since the invention of film, William Shakespeare's works have appeared in countless adaptations.  It is said that some of the first Shakespeare films date back to 1900.  Many silent and sound version of his quintessential plays have made it to the silver screen in the 1910s-1930s.

Notable example:
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).  Directed by Max Reinhardt, it contains a star-studded cast and fantastic dance sequences.  It is also the film that brought Erich Wolfgang Korngold to Hollywood, re-orchestrating Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music.

Through 1930s-1960s, actor Laurence Olivier took to the screen with several high profile Shakespeare adaptations.  Musically, Olivier went with mainly classical composer William Walton to score As You Like it (1936), Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), Richard III (1955), and Othello (1965).

Notable example:
Hamlet (1948).  Considered the definitive filmed version was directed and starred Laurence Olivier.  While his other Shakespearean scores contain fantastic material (complete with period-sounding styles, harpsichords and folk songs), Walton's Hamlet is a darker score fitting the melancholy tone of the play.

Walton's music for Henry V was turned into two different suites, and remain both popular as film music and as part of Walton's classical repertoire.

Marlon Brando brought The Bard to the screen with Julius Caesar (1953), with a supurb score by Miklós Rózsa.  One of the most popular film adaptations is Romeo and Juliet (1968).  The lush score by Nino Rota had the love theme become a heavily recorded radio hit.  Roman Polanski's extremely dark take on Macbeth (1971) used a fascinating variety of music by the avant-guarde group Third Ear Band.

With actor/director Kenneth Branagh, Shakespeare plays had a resurgence in the 1990s. Utilizing fellow actor/composer Patrick Doyle, the duo have collaborated on several play adaptations - Henry V (1989), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love's Labour's Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).

Notable example:
Henry V (1989). The film debut of Doyle and directorial debut of Branagh happens to be their strongest. While the score brings out the best of the story as William Walton did years before, the battlefield tracking shot with the stirring Non Nobis, Domine is a spectacular piece of film music. Doyle also appears as the solo singer at the beginning of the scene.

Doyle's Overture and "Sigh No More Ladies" from Much Ado About Nothing are also some of his best works for Branagh.  

Several interesting Shakespeare scores appeared in the 1990s and beyond. Baz Luhrmann's updated and anachronistic Romeo + Juliet (1996) features a gentle score by Craig Armstrong.  Elliot Goldenthal provided scores to Julie Taymor's Titus (1999) and The Tempest (2010).  Utilizing a wide range of orchestral styles and instruments, the scores provide a unique atmosphere to the film.


Notable example:
Coriolanus (2011).  Ilan Eskheri's modern sound matches the grim, modern setting of the tragedy.   

There are plenty of other plays put to film, and several more added every few years.  Of course there are other versions, like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) with a score by Richard Gibbs, West Side Story (1961) with the stage score by Leonard Bernstein, Shakespeare in Love (1998) with a Stephen Warbeck score, and the Japanese interpretations Ran (1985) with a score by Toru Takemitsu and Throne of Blood (1957), music by Masaru Sato.

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