Tuesday, October 09, 2007

16 David Meyer

Hamlet played by David Meyer.
Hamlet played by Tony Meyer.
Directed by Celestino Coronada.

Balanced precariously between art piece and feature film, Celestino Coronada’s Hamlet is not for the faint hearted. Sometimes described as ‘The Naked Hamlet’, it cuts the poetry to ribbons has little regard for the story (Ophelia’s madness is shown even though Polonius’s death isn’t) and instead sets about emphasizing every shred of the apparent homoerotic and incestuous subtext present in the play almost to the point of parody -- no sorry -- crashing straight into parody and galloping even further. It’s one of the most difficult interpretations of the play I’ve had to deal with so far and between my shouts of ’Oh come on’ and ‘Oh for goodness sake’ (substituting the g-word for the f-word more often than not) it’s the first time since the abbreviated National Youth Theatre Production that I was happy to get to the end of it.

Obviously it’s of its time and that being the case I’m very pleased that was too young to notice what that time was like. The mood is set from the off when Hamlet is shown nude on a slab being visited by his father, also bollock naked, to deliver the story of his murder. It’s not clear whether the man is supposed to be a ghost or in his son’s dreams but what is clear is that implication is that something rotten was going on in the state of Denmark even before Hamlet Snr’s murder. From then on we’re greeted by an approach to the play which is on the one-hand sub-Jarman on the other sub-Passolini (the film is dedicated to Pier) and is mostly the kind of thing which would be shown late on Channel 4 when it first started, probably with a red-triangle slapped on the front and as a lead in to Naked Yoga.

Funded by the Royal College of Art in London and filmed on a shoe-string in a darkened studio with the acoustics of a community centre (throughout you can hear doors opening and closing and people chatting off camera) there isn’t much room for scenes changes and most of its costume design and presentation takes elements of the burlesque and camp, silk costumes in primary colours (when people are wearing them) and hair and make-up perhaps influenced by Restoration stage craft, mixed with the sensibilities of the seventies. Frankly, Quentin Crisp as Polonius looks like Batman’s Joker all green hair and white face paint and Barry Stanton's Claudius seems to have wandered in from Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax video.

There is a good idea at the centre of all this though. Coronado’s casting of the brothers Tony & David Meyer (which means I can add two Hamlets to the list this time) allows them to emphasize the dual nature of Hamlet’s character playing the obviously mad and feigning madness versions off against one another and sometimes they appear in a scene together, fighting each other for supremacy. In this production ’Now is the very witching time of night’ becomes a two-hander the two actors demonstrating that Hamlet is very much in two minds. Unfortunately this is all undermined because clearly one of the brothers (it’s difficult to tell which) is clearly a better actor than the other and they also both have the extra weight of having to portray Laertes and it all becomes desperately confusing.

Given the circumstances of the production, you can’t really blame the actors for being inconsistent and just plain bad but the the Emmy, Bafta and Oscar winning Helen Mirren saddled with playing both Ophelia and Gertrude (that duology again, hey) is just awful, blankly regarding the other actors and doubtless wondering what made her sign up to this. Quentin Crisp looks equally bored and it’s unfortunate that with all of the emphasis on symbolism and imagery that the director has forgotten to take care of his cast. Coronado is more orgasmic over the possibilities inherent in the then new video mixing technology with a montage sequence which resembles a Top of the Pops Pans People filler directed by Ken Russell and each and every scene features some kind of super imposing of one character over another. This was a year after the premiere of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody video and it shows.

Obviously this was not created as an exercise in drama -- like Stoppard’s fifteen minute distillation, the audience isn’t supposed to be able to follow the narrative in a traditional way. It’s the filmic equivalent of an academic essay written for the International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies and I'm sure just that kind of essay could even be written about the film explaining the emblematic relevance of everything. In the end though, the whole fancy leaves a nasty taste of misogyny in the mouth; the inference is that none of this craziness would have happened if Gertrude and Ophelia hadn’t been quite such tasty propositions and although the thing ends with the naked bodies of the two acting brothers (one playing Laertes this time not that it matters by then) writhing around one another as the duel is substituted for some Greco Roman Wrestling in one of the worst examples of confused homo-erotic testosterone since Kirk fought a shirtless clone of himself in the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within. Mirren is variously uncomfortably stroked, massaged and snuffed, her make-up smudged all over her face in some kind of ur-version (or more precisely ugh-version) of torture porn. Dreadful.


Anonymous said...

From your account, this sounds a fascinating version. Has it been released on DVD? I looked on amazon.com and .co.uk, but did not find it.

-- PM.

Stuart Ian Burns said...

There was a apparently a VHS released in the US in the 1990s. I recorded my copy from the television ages and ages ago.

Anonymous said...

Thanks -- will seek out the VHS version.