Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

Extreme Shakespeare

By David Luhrssen
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The strength of Shakespeare comes from the evocative power of his language and his profound insight into human nature. One sign of that strength is the survival of his work, not only in elite settings but in popular culture. Another is the ability of his plays to be reset, restaged and reimagined.

One startlingly good reimagination of the Great Bard is director Alexander Fodor’s adaptation of Hamlet, out now on DVD. Without modernizing the language, Fodor sets Hamlet in a contemporary world of cocktail parties, money and high style, paced to the rhythm of club music and alternative rock. The cast of mostly young British actors infuses the familiar characters with natural grace and understanding for their archaically vibrant speech. They don’t look stilted. Using split screens and adept camera placement, Fodor transforms Hamlet into edgy contemporary cinema without dumbing down the story or the language—as has often happened when “hip” directors stab at Shakespeare.

Hamlet is among other things a ghost story, and Fodor plays with horror movie devices when presenting the prince’s dead father, a vengeful wraith in a long black leather coat. One critic described Fodor’s Hamlet as Shakespeare filmed by David Lynch, an apt comparison at least in some scenes.

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