A great resource for the enthusiast
Vincent Toolan | London United Kingdom | 06/07/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"According to the Internet Movie Database, "Bill" Shakespeare is the most prolific cinema contributor of all time, with writing credits in at least 400 known movies. If the medium is around 100 years old, he's "done" four films a year for ever; and, as Ethan Hawke, Michelle Pfeiffer and Charlton Heston can confirm, he's not slowing down any time soon.I have this collection, endorsed by Martin Scorsese, on VHS. It is a tremendously worthwhile set - for the collector. The films are (in some cases) barely recognisable tributes to the plays they're based on. They are generally short sets of interpretations of key scenes.As with most silent cinema, the overacting is a little excessive. But the point is really to see (1) the first faltering steps when film was first invented, and (2) a reminder of Shakespeare's timelessness.Hardly accessible, and of minimal literary interest, you should buy this if (like me) you're an afficionado of Shakespeare on the screen."
Beautiful strutting actors that talk with their bodies
Jacques COULARDEAU | OLLIERGUES France | 02/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of course these silent short movies are not what anyone could expect about Shakespeare who is the king of speech and the god of soliloquies. But these films are real gems in our library because they represent what could be done with a camera, black and white and all, one century ago, between 1899 and 1911. It is brilliant and it also shows how the body was used to express what could not be heard. One of the best I think is Twelfth Night. Body language is just as strong as words if we really want to use that body to say something. What's more the technique or techniques used in some of these films show how they wanted to go beyond these black and white moving pictures, how they longed for colour, even to the point of adding some with some crayolas or so. What was so strong in these pictures to ignite the imagination of so many people, technicians, directors, actors or audience, to the point of moving en masse to this new art, to this silver screen that went beyond anything anyone had ever dreamt. We may have lost some of that art with one century of progress and technicalization of every single aspect of the film industry, to the point of wondering at times if we have not lost the art and the creativity along with the poverty and the novelty of this medium.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University of Paris Dauphine & University of Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
Not too shabby considering
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 02/22/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Certainly this isn't the ideal place to start if one is just getting into silents, nor is it ideal for those who aren't very familiar with Shakespeare, but for those who are well-acquainted with both, this disc is rather a treat. These 7 short films were made between 1899 and 1911, in England, the United States, and Italy, and were made at a time when the average moviegoer would have been already well familiar with these plays. So much of Shakespeare's beauty and genius come from his language, but in spite of the handicap of not being able to use speech (apart from intertitles), these films actually cover most of the major events of these plays. It does help if one is already familiar with the stories and characters, particularly with so much having to be left out in the interest of time (just about all films from this era were only one or two reels long), but if one looks at them as examples of early film instead of judging them against modern films or the actual plays, they actually don't seem too shabby. It's really a wonder how these early film-makers managed to cover most of the important events in works of literature they were adapting and condensing for the screen. The production values for some of them also seem pretty good; 'King Lear' and 'The Merchant of Venice' are even beautifully hand-colored. It's really pointless to say these are bad films if one is only judging them against more modern films. Of course the acting styles are going to be different, as well as the constraints of time and a camera that was very rigid. Films were still a developing artform at this time, and many of these early films that tell stories instead of just being actualities, such as those done by the Lumière Brothers, were indeed more like filmed versions of stage plays than actual moving pictures. The ones I liked best were 'Twelfth Night,' 'Richard III,' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' The other two films are 'The Tempest' and 'King John.' The former can be a bit hard to really follow if one hasn't read the play, though it still has that charm and sweetness that so many films from the Aughts do, and the latter, being from 1899, is only about two minutes long. Naturally it doesn't even cover the entire story, but rather solely depicts the death of King John at the end. It's most notable for starring the legendary English actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree in the title role.
While not the type of thing that a silent novice would most benefit by seeing, it does hold immense historical value to those who are interested in film history and who have seen enough silents to know that these are not representative of the lost artform. Watching films this old is kind of like looking back in time, and these early film adaptations of Shakespeare are no exception. And in spite of missing all of the wonderful poetry of Shakespeare, the actors still manage to convey the stories through subtle nonverbal communication."