Monday, August 3, 2009

Act I Scene 1 - Fodor (2007)

Alexander Fodor's Hamlet is billed as "Shakespeare in the extreme!", which basically means it's highly experimental, made on the cheap, and at times doesn't work at all. And yet, there's a lot of interesting stuff in here. Act I Scene 1 isn't used, leaving a gender-swapped Horatio to tell the tale at the wedding banquet, but we do get a Ghost scene as prologue.It's a scene that reappears later and that I will explore more fully in its proper context: Ophelia's death. In this modernization, she drowns not in a river, but in her own euphoria, as what appears to be a heroin overdose. The Ghost appears to us, if not to her, as soon as she's injected herself with the potent opiate.
This is part of the film's use of horror, taking the "ghost story" to its next obvious level, with horror, lighting and mood to match. Simple effects that are nonetheless unnerving. What is the Ghost doing there? Well, if she dies, seeing a native of the after-life isn't too surprising, but because he appears earlier, it may be at he is a hallucination. Is the entire play then a hallucination at death's door? Is everything in Hamlet to be filtered through Ophelia's dementia? This interpretation makes everything before her madness suspect, and everything after it a dream. Ophelia as narrator has potential, but she is less reliable than Horatio. The scene makes us plunge into the surreal universe of the film and in a sense, may excuse any of its "extremes".

Whether Ophelia is meant to be the narrative filter or not, this is a Hamlet where the Ghost is a lot more prominent. He is often seen lurking, observing his family as it descends into its own decadent hell.

Though the scene is pulled from later in the play, Fodor still gives us a ghostly appearance to start off the story. Ophelia replaces Horatio and the soldiers, and doesn't live to tell of what she saw, but the feeling is much the same for the audience.

As with Hamlet 2000, Elsinore seems to be a hotel or estate, one that is grubby and in a state of decay. Using what looks like disused buildings works as much to the play's advantage as it does the film's budget. Outside, we can hear seagulls and the sea, though these sometimes seem illusory. If it's daylight, the bright light bleaches everything (as in this scene). This creates a dream-like Denmark as much as fog would.

Opening Credits
Indicative of the rest of the film, Fodor uses a number of different ideas in his opening montage, not a single concept. First, there are scenes from later in the story which serve to introduce the cast. On a gender-swapped Polonia, Hamlet's "rash intruding fool" line, and on Ophelia "I shall obey, my sister" are simple, revelatory lines about those characters. However, no one else gets this treatment. The credits also use outtakes where you can sort of hear the director speaking to the actors, and footage of actors diving off the pier. Breaking the fourth wall is allowed, since Hamlet is very much about being an actor in the world, but it tends to hurt the very thing Fodor was trying to do by throwing us in the deep end with that first scene (the Green Fairy moment, if you will). And there are also dramatis personae shots, again not given to everyone.
The cumulative effect of these is still one of apprehension. The last two shots show a murder and a scare, leaving the viewer in the right frame of mind, I think, to be disturbed both by form and content.

The Song
The song playing over the opening credits is You Love Me to Death by Hooverphonic. Lyrics here. The song starts with "Face your fate" and the refrain goes "You love me to death, but death may love you more", which supports the idea that this is Ophelia's take on the story (or since she just died, that this is "her song"). It speaks both to Hamlet's tragic doom and to Ophelia dying because of love. It has a haunting quality and isn't too much on the nose.

As you can see, there's probably too much going on and pulling in different directions even in a single sequence. Extreme!


snell said...

Hope you saw this news.

Siskoid said...

I'm hoping this makes it more likely to come out on DVD in Region 1, because my area doesn't get PBS anymore.

snell said...

If not, I'll burn you a copy...