Saturday, September 26, 2009

I.ii. The Wedding Banquet - Fodor (2007)

Fodor intercuts various parts of Scene 2 and Scene 3 as if occurring more or less simultaneously at the banquet (here a cocktail party or reception). Claudius is making his speech in one part of the room, while Horatio is telling Hamlet about seeing the Ghost in another, and Ophilia and Polonia (the transgendered Polonius) give their goodbyes to Laertes near the window. I'll still deal with each part individually in its own article.

The scene (or the film, really) opens with the title card: I say "No more but so", which is a line from Scene 3 (intercut with Claudius' speech). The line has Ophelia acquiesce to her domineering brother's wishes. There's a fatalism about it that doesn't always register, but by placing it at the top of the play (even if it wasn't after a prologue that shows Ophelia's death), it takes on the greater fatalism of the entire play. "This and nothing else," a line that underscores a pervading sense of doom, a sense that there's no changing destiny. Notable since Claudius has just usurped a brother's destiny...

I spoke last time of Fodor's myriad devices in the credits sequence, which included line readings, outtakes and dramatis personae. Add to this a stylish, but ultimately irrelevant device to introduce the characters in the extended banquet sequence. Each time we meet a character, there is a freeze frame and an overlay such as this:(I'll present each one in whatever bit of scene it actually appears in.) Characters are divided into two colors, White (the Hamlet family) and Red (the Polonius family) and into chess pieces (King, Queen, Knight and Pawn). Why? There is no chess motif in the rest of the film, nor does Fodor keep up this visual style (which reminds me of Snatch and the like). The effect is to oppose the two sides of the board, with the Reds being against the Whites, which isn't normally true. I think it interesting to see Polonius as moving against or manipulating Claudius for his/her own personal gain (quite believable from the utterly corrupt Polonia of the film), using other family members in various ways against Hamlet and in some sense, Claudius (moving against Hamlet pushes him ever closer to killing Claudius and gives the king impetus to trust Polonius ever more). However, it falls apart when you examine the White side, since Hamlet and Horatio are NOT on the side of Claudius. Which piece is assigned to which character is also of note, but again, I'll talk about each when it comes up in their scene. Claudius and Gertrude are, of course, King and Queen.
Weaving in and out of various scenes within the same party reduces Claudius' initial power considerably. There is a lot of noise in the room, both from the driving electric guitar music and various groups of people enjoying themselves (and not). Claudius doesn't address the entire "Court", just a couple of people he's mingling with. From a speech designed to manipulate public opinion, his lines become anecdotes - how he came to marry Gertrude, how he got a message from Fortinbras - and the sound drops in and out and we move about the room. It's like it's just an overheard conversation (because we hear it through Ophelia's or Hamlet's ears?). Claudius doesn't thank an assembly, politics seem less important. Probably appropriate since this dreamlike Denmark never quite seems like a country.

Completely cut from this part of Scene 2 is Laertes asking leave of Claudius. More expectedly, Voltimand and Cornelius don't make the cut, nor does the vast majority of the speech about Fortinbras. Again, Claudius' royal power is undercut. In this version, Denmark may just be two intertwined important families (Red and White), of which Claudius is the main patriarch (it was perhaps important then to transgender Polonius so as to remove the Red patriarch). Fodor eliminates the political and regal elements, bringing the play down to its basic familial drama. The father and mother are the king and queen of a family and Fodor's experiment here may show the State is not required to make Hamlet work, though it does reduce the overall feeling from epic to banal (courtly pageantry to tacky cocktail party).

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