Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, April 2, 2001

Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" is among the films being
screened at the Honolulu Academy of Arts
"Shakespeare on Film" series. The film
is an adaptation of "King Lear."

Celluloid soliloquies

Bad marriages, poison
deaths, no wonder
The Bard's hip

By Scott Vogel

Thanks to the Honolulu Academy and its monthlong salute to Shakespeare films, which begins tomorrow night, you can catch some of the best Bard ever put on celluloid. As if that weren't enough, you can also see Judi Dench nude.

Wait, don't storm the box office yet. There's more. Nostalgic for Hollywood's most legendary on-again-off-again marriage? Don't miss the 1967 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton "Taming of the Shrew," directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Liz and Dick fans will relish the opportunity to -- as the academy's film curator Don Brown put it -- "see them stretch themselves as a bickering couple." And Nino Rota's score is a perfect anodyne to the bitchfest, the second-best music ever written for a production of "Taming."

The first best -- also upcoming at the academy -- is "Kiss Me, Kate," Cole Porter's musical based surprisingly closely on Shakespeare's comedy. (Some song titles, like "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" are straight from the text.)

Claire Danes is a modern heroine in Baz Luhrmann's
"William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet."

Fans of musical theater will bemoan the score's butchering at the hands of 1953 Hollywood, but it's a rare opportunity to catch the young Bob Fosse in a before-they-were-stars moment. As one of Kate's potential suitors, Fosse's acrobatics are continually upstaged by Ann ("I'm dancing as fast as I can") Miller, but the great choreographer's hoofing talent still shines.

Speaking of troubled Hollywood marriages (which seems to include all of them these days), the then-married Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are uproarious in another film on the roster, the 1997 "Much Ado About Nothing."

Gorgeously shot and set in a picturesque Tuscan villa, there's no question that the feuding Beatrice and Benedick will rise above the insults and find eternal love in Act Five, even as Branagh and Thompson never quite made it that far in real life.

Leonardo DiCaprio may have emerged from his doomed lovers phase, but not before dying to convincing effect in two films from the period. Baz Luhrmann's 1996 "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" was the first, a hip updating of the classic tragedy, set against a backdrop of gunslinging, Claire Danes and cross-dressing.

Apparently the chronology is this: Young Leo drinks poison here, then scurries off to the set of his next picture, where he immediately begins learning to drown. (We can't remember that second film's title, but it's the one where this big ocean liner hits an iceberg or Celine Dion or something.)

Mention could also be made of the 1995 "Richard III," and especially the fine performance Robert Downey Jr. gave between prison terms, or the 1999 "Hamlet" of Ethan Hawke, the young star delivering his famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy from the aisles of a Blockbuster Video.

Then again, it wouldn't be fair to paint the academy's schedule as merely a rogue's gallery of the wild and wierd. The slate of 12 films also includes a beautiful new print of "Ran," Akira Kurosawa's classic samurai take on "King Lear," and a 1964 "Hamlet" from Russia with an epic score by none other than Dmitri Shostakovich. Brown is particularly proud to include the latter in the academy's program.

"I found out about that through one of the professors at UH, and tracked down the print through the Folger Library in Washington," he said. Like the 1968 Royal Shakespeare Company "Midsummer Night's Dream" -- the one with naked Judi, natch -- the Russian "Hamlet" is very rarely distributed. Both represent coups for the academy's curator.

"Some others are recent films that played only a week in Honolulu or not at all," said Brown. "The 'Othello' with Laurence Fishburne (1995) I don't think ever opened here. 'Richard III' played a week at the Varsity."

It's an eclectic list, full of Elizabethan experiments both successful and otherwise. Still, if the very mention of the name Shakespeare conjures up ancient fears -- along with memories of dog-eared Cliffs Notes, term paper topic sentences and No-Doz-powered all-nighters -- the academy series should be a relatively painless way to reacquaint yourself with the Bard. Notwithstanding their many thousands of interpretations over the centuries, the plays continue to be a source of inspiration for everyone from classical composers to Hollywood poseurs.

Not bad for a guy who celebrates his 437th birthday on April 23rd.

Here's the schedule:

>> April 3-4: "Othello," Dir. Oliver Parker (1995)
>> April 5-6: "Hamlet," Dir. Michael Almereyda (1999)
>> April 7-9: "Ran," Dir. Akira Kurosawa (1985)
>> April 10-11: "Richard III," Dir. Richard Loncraine (1995)
>> April 12-13: "Twelfth Night," Dir. Trevor Nunn (1996)
>> April 14-15: "Taming of the Shrew," Dir. Franco Zeffirelli (1967)
>> April 17-19: "Midsummer Night's Dream," Peter Hall (1968)
>> April 20-22: "Romeo and Juliet," Baz Luhrmann (1996)
>> April 23-24: "Hamlet," Grigori Kozintsev (1964)
>> April 25-26: "Henry V," Kenneth Branagh (1989)
>> April 28-29: "Kiss Me, Kate," George Sidney (1953)
>> April 30-May 2: "Much Ado About Nothing," Kenneth Branagh (1997)

Shakespeare on film

When: Various dates and times tomorrow through May 2
Where: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.
Cost: $5; $3 for members
Call: 532-8768

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