Friday, August 20, 2010

I.v. Swearing Oaths - Zeffirelli '90

Zeffirelli continues to frustrate with important cuts to the lines, which makes it at times difficult to glean some new understanding of the play from his version. As in the Olivier version, there are three men accompanying Hamlet on this journey into the supernatural, and the prince seems ready to tell them what's going on. The bird call seems an earnest invitation to learn the secret. Hamlet quickly changes his mind, fearing they will reveal it, though Gibson doesn't really play the next lines as obfuscation. He's matter of fact when he talks about the errant knave and it's only Horatio's frustration that turns it into a dodge. Hamlet makes sense to himself, but his words don't carry any meaning to his friends who are out of the loop.
Regarding the swearing, the Ghost's voice comes from above, as per its location in the previous sequence, motivating the cut of any line to the contrary. As day breaks, there's no reason it couldn't have returned to the ground, but in this version, the Ghost of woefully unambiguous. There is never any real indication that it might be an evil tempter or in any way dangerous. Making the voice from above makes it heavenly rather than hellish, and removing Hamlet's subsequent mockeries insures a son's respect. They run off to swear on more removed ground, leaving the walls of Elsinore and going outside where it is now light.
Hamlet is exhilarated by this point. The staging makes this new morning an entry into a new world, although one of light rather than darkness. It does not portentously foretell the tragedy to come. I'd call it ironic if it wasn't so wet and overcast. As is, the director's intent isn't clear. Horatio drops to his knees in fear, and the giddy Hamlet has cause to chide him about his philosophy ("your" is used). Gibson doesn't let us in on when he decided to act crazy, which is a shame. There's just not enough insanity in the sequence to warrant his getting the idea from his own behavior. The idea comes out of nowhere.

I feel the next cut most strongly. In this version, Hamlet ends the Act with the rhyming couplet, but does not preface or follow it with an invitation to go in. There's almost a sense that he speaks the couplet to the camera and that we are in a soliloquy-type space at that moment, but that's uncertain. I suppose Horatio and the soldiers hear him, though again, they have little context to make sense of it. By not looking to draw his friends back in - and perhaps he didn't ostracize them enough to warrant such a gesture, which is a problem in and of itself - he makes them unimportant. The cumulative effect of Act I's cuts is to turn these characters into ciphers. Zeffirelli might as well have cut them entirely from the film for all the importance they seem to have for Hamlet. Perhaps someone should stage a Hamlet where Horatio and Marcellus are ghosts themselves. Cut Scene I and it's rather doable. And then you have the whole of hell scheming against the prince of Denmark.

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