I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hamlet, 1948










Not Rated
 
“Hamlet” is Oscar’s first non-American made film and the first British production to win Best Picture. It is also the only film adapted from one of William Shakespeare’s plays to win this award. Best Actor winner Laurence Olivier plays the title character in this story and he is the second most-nominated actor in Oscar history (with 10) behind Jack Nicholson (with 12).

I’m sure many of you had to read this famous play in some high school English class (or at least you read the Cliff’s Notes). It is the story of young Prince Hamlet, son of a murdered King. Through a visit from his deceased father’s ghost, he discovers his uncle is the murderer and has now taken Hamlet’s mother as his wife. Hamlet is outraged, disgusted, and out for revenge- a familiar theme in Shakespeare’s writings. Hamlet decides to hire actors to put on a play in the palace that reveals the true murderer. He declares, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King!” And if you’re at all familiar with Shakespeare, you know this doesn’t end well.

Hamlet is so disturbed by his mother’s hasty remarriage and accuses her of incest. Perhaps someone can educate me as to the definition or relevance of incest during this time… But if she married her husband’s brother, they are not related by blood, so… is he referring to a “marital family” incest? Other than Hamlet’s understandable revulsion in his mother’s rush to a marriage bed (when she should be mourning her husband), I don’t understand his preoccupation with incest.

Diehard fans of Will may not like this condensed version coming in at two and a half hours long. Important characters such as Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Fortinbras are completely nonexistent and some of Ophelia’s monologues are cut or shortened. If you prefer unabridged versions, I suggest you check out Kenneth Branagh’s version from 1996 clocking in at four hours. It’s actually a very good film and I much prefer that adaptation to this one. (I happen to own it on VHS if anyone wants to borrow it J). Branagh is superb in the role, as is Kate Winslet as Ophelia. Billy Crystal, Jack Lemmon, and Robin Williams also have minor roles.  But there are few other renditions you could choose from: Mel Gibson was Hamlet in 1990 and Ethan Hawke played him in 2000; I haven’t seen those versions, so I can’t offer an opinion.

I feel the story moves faster in the second half. Perhaps it’s because you’ve had enough time to get used to the Shakespearean dialogue, or maybe it’s just that the story finally gets moving. I spent the first half of the story, thinking What are you talking about??

The Director of photography did a nice job with this film. The angles, shots, and shadows used in order to convey Hamlet’s solitude, desperation, inner turmoil, and madness are appropriate and symbolic (ie. the lookout on a precipice above jagged cliffs and crashing waves; the interior of the vast stone castle looking insanely cold, dark, and foreboding).


I had the pleasurable opportunity to study abroad in Denmark and visit Kronborg Slot, which is considered “Hamlet’s Castle” with my host family. The castle is situated near the town of Helsingor, which Shakespeare wrote as Elsinore in his play (hence the connection of the two). Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, and even Jude Law have all played Hamlet at one point in the castle courtyard there. It is a striking castle/fortress with beautiful grounds. I very much enjoyed my stay in the land of the Danes and can assure you there is nothing “rotten in the state of Denmark”.


This piece of Shakespeare was up against “Johnny Belinda”, “The Red Shoes”, “The Snake Pit”, and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, none of which I’ve seen.

MOST MEMORABLE LINES:

“To be or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet is contemplating suicide in this scene… He is debating whether it’s wiser to “man up” and face conflict (per his ghost father’s request) or rid himself of the pain by ending his life. Ironically, neither choice would yield good results. I think Hamlet should have expressed his feelings in a responsible and appropriate manner and then forgiven his uncle and mother… but then again, my play wouldn’t have sold many copies I’m sure.


“Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” While its Hamlet’s dear friend and confidant, Horatio, who speaks these words to him upon his death, I think it is the most romantic line of the play. (Perhaps that is because when I was in high school, a platonic male friend of mine said it to me before going bed (inserting the word ‘princess’). I thought it was super sweet and I became a fan of Shakespeare after that. J)

LESSON LEARNED:

Jealousy, greed, and anger…. all traits that will lead to trouble. Avoid them.

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