This site will work and look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"She's a tech-head Mag....she's a girl Mag!"
11973 members | you are not logged in | 08 July 2020


June 19 2013

The perils of using Shakespeare as a screenplay. The New Yorker has what seems to me to be a rather strange article on Much Ado, which criticizes Joss for not putting his own stamp on the material.

Not so much strange as chock full of contradictions, moot points and a rather bizarre melange of self-righteous polemic and 'look at me' snippiness. I have no issue with a critical analysis of any work at all, but this takes as its premise the belief the film is bad, and goes from there. Not once does it offer any compelling or thoughtful defence of this notion. Hardly a substantial or justified analysis. More like baffling codswallop, really.
This is odd, because Joss put all kinds of personal stamp, spin and POV all over this version of 'Much Ado'! I'm thinking that the New Yorker reviewer wasn't sufficiently familiar with the work to notice that Joss cut and rearranged scenes, changed the sex of one character, added in a photographer, and um... made it modern day. LOL
Wrongheaded, but not interestingly.

[ edited by Pointy on 2013-06-20 03:30 ]
I can't wait to read their review of the Hamlet choose your own adventure book.
Pretentious d-bag says what?
Hey now, none of that here. Criticize the writing, not the writer.
I think Brody is opining (perfectly reasonably) that the best Shakespeare adaptations on film merely take the idea from the plays without the language and strict structure of the plays, like Kurasawa's THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN.

I am of divided minds: adapting Shakespeare without the language sometimes strikes me as pointless, except good movies sometimes result...
Firstly; Yeahhhh... strange about covers it.
Secondly; is the `if I do not love her` line really gone? I admit I don't recall hearing it but there have been a lot of interviews where Joss admitted to changing the line to `...fool`. Victim to a last minute edit?
An eye openingly bizarre, self-important and downright condescending article.

[ edited by apollo11 on 2013-06-20 08:12 ]
Apollo11: I think the critic missed the part where Joss changed the focus from christian values to infidelity paranoia, and thus didn't see the point of changing that one word.
I took "eliminated the line" to mean just that. Still... a critic who doesn't understand the perfectly good (along with artistic) reasons why the film is in black and white, I shouldn't expect too much from I suppose. ;)
Hmm... it may be just me, but this piece seems like it was written by several different people with wildly varying pet polemics. How strange.
I'm puzzled by the line "I love Shakespeare’s language too much to hear it tossed at me by the shovelful." The problem with this Shakespeare adaptation is that it has too much Shakespeare in it? I've been trying to find a different way to interpret the paragraph, but none comes to mind.

I can think of writers whose verbal tics become tiresome and repetitive. Larry Gelbart comes to mind. But for me, the main pleasure of Shakespeare is his use of language. His sentences were phrased so perfectly that they're quoted every day, hundreds of years after his death, and they're quoted by everyone. Do you know anyone who hasn't heard of Shakespeare? Shakespeare's use of language was one of the great accomplishments in human history. How can Brody want less of it?
"I think Brody is opining (perfectly reasonably) that the best Shakespeare adaptations on film merely take the idea from the plays without the language and strict structure of the plays, like Kurasawa's THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN."

I think one could argue that these films are no more adaptations of Shakespeare than Shakespeare's plays were adaptations of the stories he originally took his plots from.
Danielm80, that's the line that popped out at me too.

I've still got a few weeks to go before I can see the film, but this article seems to go against everything I've read about Joss's love and passion for Shakespeare.
The writer seems to want Beeoootiful Enunciaaation, along the lines of the young John Gielgud. At least, I assume that is why he doesn't want it tossed at me by the shovelful. IOW, let's abandon all development of Shakespearian performance styles over the last sixty or so years, shall we?

He's wrong about the line, too - Joss simply changed the word "Jew" to "fool", which seems to me entirely appropriate in the context of a soliloquy in which we do not want our hero to be associated with unthinking Elizabethan anti-Semitism. (Yes, I am the sort of person who knows the play that well. Sorry.) The "Ethiope" line near the end shows that Joss is very aware of issues connected with Shakespeare's language in a modern age.

It's a very silly review, IMO - based on a deluded concept of what the play is and on a clueless response to what Joss does with it - a beautiful, coherent and funny film.

And one should note a particularly Joss trope. A character appears to die and is brought back to life. Have we seen this before, I wonder?
"The most reverent thing to do with a movie adaptation of a work of literature is to approach it not like a translator but like an artist —" (Emphasis added)

All his objections to Joss (my master and hero) aside, this line alone proved the author's ignorance. Not impressed. At all.
I think this reviewer is not aware of all the interviews, where Joss rightly said what people would say about him if he were to rewrite or "improve" Shakespeare.
TimeTravelingBunny has the right of it. I tend to find it the height of idiocy when I see an adaptation of Shakespeare jettison the language, the characters, the plots and still try to relate it to Shakespeare. If you want to find the story antecedents to Shakespeare's work, they're out there. We didn't just get to the Bard and say, "OK, these plot lines are yours now."

As for complaints about "Much Ado" not being artistic enough, I tend to find some people in general have enough intelligence and knowledge that they can easily obfuscate what they're actually saying which is, "I didn't like it" with reasons they are reasonably sure they won't get called on. That's what I actually read from this person despite the work they've put it. It just doesn't pay off unless you buy his premise at the outset.

@Gill - Actually I did find the Jew line removed but Ethiope line remaining a bit confusing. The only thing I can think is maybe he could justify the visual gag where otherwise he would have removed both.
The "Jew" line is removed. The "Ethiope" line is still there, with someone visibly reacting. "Throne of Blood" and "Ran" aren't Shakespeare adaptations, any more than "Buffy" is an adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" (young girl is transported to a strange place, makes friends with misfits and is sent by a man who knows what he's talking about to fight and destroy evil), so that's a very odd complaint to begin with. If you don't want to see Shakespeare on screen *at all*, then don't go. If you don't want to see modern-dress Shakespeare *at all*, then you are probably not the best person to evaluate how this one stacks up against others of its kind. If, for some reason, the editor said to the writer, "You there! You hate this kind of thing! Go see if you like this one and write about the experience, it's your job," then the writer can't be blamed for fulfilling an assignment that should probably have been given to someone with different sensibilities in the first place.
"Taj Mahal? Nah, don't like tombs.
"Throne of Blood" and "Ran" aren't Shakespeare adaptations, any more than "Buffy" is an adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz"

Well, no, that's not right. Kurosawa was consciously and directly working from Shakespeare's plays in both cases. They're not just thematically similar (in the first case to Macbeth and in the second to Lear), they are directly adapted from that source material. This is a situation where it's always a matter of degrees of closeness rather than a blank yes/no. Clueless is clearly based on Jane Austen's Emma, for example, but is obviously less close to the source material than a Masterpiece Theater production of Emma would be. The Lion King contains some interesting allusions to Hamlet and is clearly strongly thematically related, but is also clearly not an "adaptation" or a "version" of Hamlet. I would say that Ran, in particular, is closer to Lear than Clueless is to Emma.

As for the linked article: pffffffft.
The "Jew" line is removed.

Well, the word "Jew" is removed, but the "line" isn't. All Joss did was change "Jew" to "fool." This is the kind of change, however, that is made routinely in modern stage productions of Shakespeare's plays; it really has nothing whatever to do with translating the play to the film world, and it's just weirdly ignorant for a professed lover of Shakespeare to be unaware of that.
Yep. I noted (and `looked upon` - pause for joke to settle - pause over) it today when I saw MAAN for the third time. Don't know how I missed it the last couple of times, but hey ho.

File this review away under the strangest ones I've ever read. There are some really basic little things that he seems to entirely misinterpret, misunderstand, or flat out miss... and I don't know why.
I found the first part of his discussion just bewildering, but I did enjoy his rif on Benedick's and Beatrice's past history. And then I got to the end, when he says that his favorite film version of Shakespeare is Godard's King Lear. Any of you ever see that? I did, when it first came out...well, I sort of did. I and a friend went and climbed over 4-5 people to get out of the theater after about 30 minutes. I've only done that 2-3 other times in my life. It was horrid. Don't believe me? Try this: . Either this review was a parody of ridiculous film reviews, or this man's standard for filming Shakespeare is "the more inaccessible to the normal human, the better" and, obviously, this MAAN fails grandly to meet that standard.
I think he completely misinterpreted the opening scene (the one-night stand). By putting that scene at the beginning, and putting the film in a modern setting, Whedon basically reframes the whole play. It becomes less about virginity, and more about fidelity/loyalty/trust. I never for a moment thought that Beatrice thought any less of herself because she had sex--or that she was saying she deserved a bastard husband (in fact, I'm pretty sure all lines related to Don John's bastard status were cut from the play, so going by the movie alone, we wouldn't even know that about him). Instead, she's just sad because she had sex with a guy she secretly really likes, and she thinks that it meant nothing to him. And obviously the fact that they've had sex doesn't make Benedick think any less of her.

Anyway .... I felt like this reframed all the dialogue surrounding virginity/purity. There's still an element of slut-shaming in the wedding, of course--but Claudio seems to be mostly upset about the fact that she cheated on him (the night before the wedding! in her wedding dress!)--not so much about the fact that she isn't a virgin. In the world of the movie, I think if she'd had sex with a boyfriend years ago, before she ever met Claudio, I don't think anyone would care. Claudio doesn't even seem like the jealous type, especially; and while shaming her publicly is an immature and cruel response, he's one of the most sympathetic and believable Claudios I've seen.
Erendis; you're so right on all points. And this is one of the minor miracles of Joss's adaptation, in my view. That scene at the (failed) wedding is a director's nightmare. We usually lose any shred of sympathy for Claudio at that point unless massive cuts are made in the dialogue; and then Claudio and Hero getting reunited at the end just seems a downer: she's back with that jerk? Somehow, without even chopping too much of the dialogue, Joss found a way for us to stay focused on the emotional reality of all the actors in the scene so that we found it believable (as you say, I think the "holy crap, she's boffing some random dude the night before our wedding IN HER WEDDING DRESS!" thing works as a pretty plausible reason for anybody to be incredibly upset, regardless of whether they care a damn about 'chastity' per se). Fran Kranz deserves particular praise, too, for the way he makes us believe that despite being profoundly hurt and angry he still, at base, loves Hero. Clark Gregg, similarly, does an amazing job of never letting us lose sight of his love for his daughter even as he is saying the most unbelievably appalling things. There are elements, of course, of what his character is saying that just don't work in a modern world context, but by riding a plausible emotional line through the scene we are able to get past those problems and, to some extent, to bend the words to fit the way the actors are playing them.

This thread has been closed for new comments.

You need to log in to be able to post comments.
About membership.

joss speaks back home back home back home back home back home