Saturday, January 16, 2010

I.ii. Ghost Stories - Fodor (2007)

In Fodor's more experimental contemporary version, Horatio and the "soldiers" board Hamlet during the wedding party (Hamlet does not, however, have a talk with his parents, nor intone his soliloquy). This is intercut with other parts of Scene 2 and 3, all going on simultaneously. Without Hamlet's usual introduction, Fodor is free to rid him of his melancholy, and in fact, this Hamlet seems mostly amused by the proceedings, including the tale of his father's ghost. Throughout the scene, he's distracted by Ophelia (who is in the middle of Scene 3), constantly looking over to her. Our first introduction to Hamlet brands him as the White Pawn.This is an important shift from other versions of the play. First of all, his color is White, as is that of Claudius and Gertrude, whereas Polonia, Ophelia and Laertes are Red - two families pitted against one another in a grand chess game. By making Hamlet the Pawn, Fodor robs the character of his usual power. Usually, Hamlet dictates the terms of the play. We say "Olivier's Hamlet", for example, not because he directed it, but because he played the title role. It's what's inside the actor that changes our understanding of the play because the character IS the play. Hamlet is not a pawn, he rules this universe, and the plot is resolved only when HE says he's ready. But not here. The experimentalism of the film is what often takes center stage, and the unknown actor who plays Hamlet has less to bring to the role. And by this, I don't mean to slight William Belchambers, but rather that the director has cut many of his lines and moments, choosing to make the mise en scène the real star of the show. Making him the Pawn weakens him before the other characters, including his transgendered Horatio, who is more driven than he is.

Speaking of Horatio, I happen to think Katie Reddin-Clancy's performance is one of the better things about this version. She is dubbed the White Knight.
In the film's chess metaphor, that makes her equivalent to Laertes. Both are strong influences in the lives of their respective Pawns (Hamlet and Ophelia) and in this version, both are resentful of the Pawns' relationship - Laertes as scripted, and Horatio from her attitude. The Knight is a "driving" influence, the "motive horse" to the Pawn's more limited movement and better able to see the big picture (the Knight's ability to "jump" over other pieces). The chess metaphor is an interesting way to look at the royal relationships in the play, but is not pursued beyond these introductions. It is doubtful, in any case, that it could have carried through to the end and still made sense.

By virtue of being intercut with other moments, we do not see Horatio board Hamlet. She's already telling the ghost story when we get to her. The scene is played unlike any other version's, being even more cynical than Hamlet 2000's.
Hamlet is dismissive, sarcastic and aloof, punching holes in Horatio's story, while she loses patience with his attitude, rewarding sarcasm with sarcasm. His questions are treated like stupid ones, to be answered in a "you know very well what I mean" tone, rolling eyes and all. They have a very familiar relationship (in the absence of any class system), but argumentative. Part of the reason may be Horatio's new gender. Having Hamlet and Ophelia an item, and Horatio strictly relegated to the "friend zone" creates sexual tension between them. Hamlet isn't just laughing at the ghost story, he's also distracted by Ophelia. He's dismissing Horatio herself, not just her story, and this creates a noticeable spark. In the end, he agrees to do the watch with them tonight, which Horatio accepts with a silent ok. It's the best she's going to get given the situation.

As written, Hamlet is looking for a reason to kill his uncle (and then a reason not to), but in Fodor's Hamlet, we have an oblivious Hamlet who cares nothing about his mother's new husband until the Ghost actually forces a promise out of him.

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