Sir Tyrone Guthrie's famous production of "Oedipus Rex"
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 05/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This version of "Oedipus Rex" is Sir Tyrone Guthrie's famous 1957 production, which had the actors wearing masks just as the ancient Greeks did when first performing this classic tragedy by Sophocles. The masks, designed by Tanya Moisewitsch and Jacqueline Cundall, are slightly oversized and quite stylized: Oedipus (Douglas Campbell) wears a gold mask with a crown atop and a golden cloak; blind Tiresias (Donald Davis) appears entirely in white; each of the members of the chorus has a distinctive mask as one of the old men of Thebes. As befits the masks and costumes, there is a stylized formality to the acting. No one would argue that this is how the play was first performed in ancient Athens but it does suggest the general approach to Greek tragedy.The story is well known to most audience, but attention should still be paid because the key to the Sophocles version of the tale is that the prophecy from Delphi that was told to the king and queen of Thebes is not the same that was told to Oedipus years later. A plague has come to Thebes and Creon (Douglas Rain) has returned from Delphi with word from Apollo. Creon is the brother to Jocasta (Eleanor Stuart), wife of Oedipus the king as she had been the wife of king Laius before him. He reports that the gods are angry that the murderer of Laius has not been brought to justice. Oedipus vows to do so and utters a curse upon the unknown killer. But when Oedipus demands that Tiresias reveal the identity of the killer, the blind prophet of Thebes says the king is the very man he seeks. Thus the primal crime of the man who killed his father and married his mother is reveal step by tragic step. The English translation is by the poet William Butler Yeats, which provides its own touch of the classical for the language of the play, which has been cut down to 90 minutes for this filmed version (which is essentially of the stage production); there is also so additional dialogue, primarily an introduction by the Chorus that provides an introduction to Oedipus as the hero who bested the Sphinx and saved Thebes. There is also an introduction by an actor before the play that explains the basic idea of Greek tragedy and also draws a connection between the story of Oedipus and the Christian sacrament of communion. I like a more naturalistic approach, even with Greek tragedies, but there is something compelling about this particular production. Because this is a streamlined version of "Oedipus Rex," viewers will get a good idea of the basic structure of a Greek play, and at 90-minutes in length you can show the film in two standard class periods. Final Note: The part of the Priest in this Canadian production is played by a very young William Shatner, not that you can tell because he is wearing a mask. This is rather ironic given that the world would come full circle when a painted William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask was used by Michael Myers in the original "Halloween" film, which would sort of be a contemporary Greek tragedy in a lot of ways."
Feel the Pain
Richard Posner | Long Island, NY USA | 09/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw this film (in a movie theater) in 1962 and had no idea what I was watching. Years later, as a high school and college English instructor, I knew lots about Greek tragedy and this version of Oedipus the King remains one of my favorite dramatic experiences. You can't find William Butler Yeats' translation in print anymore because the (ahem) "scholars" have decided it's not totally accurate. Ever read any of the "scholarly" translations of Greek tragedy? Those professors can't write poetry to save their lives. They make tragedy boring and stuffy. Yeats makes it breathe. And Tyrone Guthrie made tragedy "pop" in this thrilling 1957 production. In tune with Aristotelean requirements, there is a bare stage with a representation of Oedipus' palace. The actors and chorus members wear masks (very close to the spirit of original masks found by archaeologists), and they chant and move in dance-like cadences. At first, it may seem bizarre, but when you understand that you are being transported 2000 years into the past and watching drama being born out of religious ritual, you can sense the raw power of watching arrogant Oedipus fall into ruin. The performances are visceral and dangerous, the colors beautiful, the effect shattering. And you also get to see a boyish William Shatner before he became Captain Kirk (you'll see him in the brief introduction; once he puts on a mask you'll have no idea which one he is). Unlike the pretentious film auteurs of today who meander on and on, Sophocles packed his cautionary tale of human frailty into 90 taut minutes. I used this video for years in my Advanced Placement English classes, but I've also watched it many times just for entertainment."
A new old performance of a Sophoclean master piece.
Laura Almandos | Bogota | 05/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent movie, highly recomended, more so for people who are interested in greek theatre as well as Shakespearen theatre. An original interpretation of Sophocles' work which still perserves the tradition on the classical antiquity of using masks and the dramatism of Shakespearen theatre. It would be even better if subtitles where included in other languages for the people who speak no English. However the English actors' is flawless."