Ran

The Criterion Collection sure loves Shakespeare. Turns out so does Akira Kurosawa, though sometimes by accident? Throne of Blood is rather objectively the best adaptation of MacBeth that exists. Soon we’ll watch The Bad Sleep Well which could be Hamlet but it might be better to not think of it as Hamlet — we’ll get into that in a few weeks.

This week in the middle is Ran, which Kurosawa wrote, then someone pointed out that it sounded a lot like King Lear, so Kurosawa rewrote it to lean into the comparison.

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My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant originally started writing the film that would become My Own Private Idaho in the 70s, and wrote the other two films that would become My Own Private Idaho sometime before the film came out in 1991. Somehow despite the fact that it is very clear which portions of the final film come from the Shakespeare modernization script the film works cohesively -- just with wild changes in tone.

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Richard III

Laurence Olivier plays a power-hungry outsider with a distinct physical feature and speech patterns whose ascension to power allows him to imprison his political enemies and ultimately leads to war.

There are no parallels.

Just kidding. Olivier based his portrayal of the title character in Richard III (1955) on Hitler, as he'd done when he first played the role in this Shakespearean play on stage in 1944. Surely there are no new lessons to be learnt from this.

Olivier also directs and adapted, and what a job he did at each. A fantastic job. The best job.

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Throne of Blood

There's an old theater superstition that you should not utter the name Mackers, er, MacB. The Scottish King? MacBeth.

If we shadows have offended

Akira Kurosawa seems to have taken the Scottish Curse a bit too literally, transposing his adaptation of the Bard's play into his usual feudal Japanese setting, infusing it with Noh theatre tropes, and editing profusely, the last of which everyone needs to do when adapting Shakespeare to film.

Good thing, too. Because if 1957's Throne of Blood had been cursed, our beloved Toshiro Mifune definitely really would have died during his final scene.

Oh, and friend of the show Donovan Hill stops in for this episode, as well. What a treat!

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Hamlet

We've seen Laurence Olivier nationalistic take on Shakespeare before in Henry V, but in Hamlet (1948) he runs a different approach, casting the moodier play in German Expressionism-like starkness. Like any filmed Shakespeare there's a lot of editing from the source material, but the end product is representative of the play, at least Olivier's interpretation of it. But that's how adaptations work, right?

The Peter O'Toole and Orson Wells discussion on Hamlet that we refer to can be seen here. It's a great chat from a group of people who really know what they're talking about but can't all agree.

Henry V

Laurence Olivier's 1944 propagandist (at the behest of Churchill himself) adaptation of Henry V is not only Olivier's first film directorial, it's also the first time in film history that an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's plays actually made money. It was nominated for four Academy Awards but only managed to garner Olivier an Honorary Oscar for "for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen." Honorary Oscars are, as you know, even more masturbatory than real Oscars, though that doesn't lessen Olivier's feat here. It's a fine production with a lot of smart choices behind it. If only Pat and Adam could make it through a Shakespearean History without losing focus.