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Friday, April 19, 2013


Grigori Kozintsev’s esteemed USSR version of the famous play (it’s Shakespeare via Boris Pasternak) is handsome, brooding & big (make that bolshoi), but too tasteful by half, safe when it needs to be wild. (Only the statuesque Ghost and the Shostakovich music score do anything daring.) And don’t be fooled by the long running time, deduct the silent scene setting, and the film’s 2 hours & twenty minutes leaves about an hour & a half of text. Shot in WideScreen monochrome*, Kozintsev must have liked the Laurence Olivier 1948 version which shares architectural ideas, atmospheric fog and those damn interior monologues on the famous soliloquies. (The Olivier text is also heavily trimmed (largely reflecting the Freudian ideas the young Olivier had seen in the legendary John Barrymore production), but it doesn’t feel it.) Except for Stepan Oleksenko’s Laertes, none of the players make much of a camera connection, and the Hamlet (Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy) suffers from the same platinum dye job Olivier gave himself. No doubt, the film made a better impression when it came out (Kozintsev followed up with KING LEAR). But as HAMLETs go, the effect is more in line with a ballet or opera (say, Ambroise Thomas’s French operatic HAMLET, with it’s happy ending), than the one Will wrote. (*NOTE: The FACETS DVD doesn’t have the 16x9 feature, so be careful setting the 2.35:1 screen ratio.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: New HAMLETs pop up all the time, but most of the modern ‘takes’ date with alarming speed. For the complete text, there’s Kenneth Branagh’s Jumbo-sized effort (as broad as it is shallow) or you can stick with the critically unfashionable Olivier. He does get off on a wrong foot, ‘This is a story of a man who could . . . not . . . make . . . up . . . his . . . mind,’ but soon rights things with a grand cast, a grand score, the greatest/funniest Gravedigger ever (Stanley Holloway), and the sheer glamour of Larry circa ‘late-‘40s. BTW - his amazing leap in the final sword fight must be straight out of Barrymore’s 1925 production; and you can see Barrymore himself perform it at the climax of DON JUAN/’26.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Oddly, having subtitles in place of actors speaking Elizabethan English actually makes the plot easier for newbies to follow. So, struggling High School students may get the most out of this.

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