Dig out that Complete Works of William Shakespeare anthology you have buried in your bookshelf and brush up on your “Romeo and Juliet,” because from July 15-26 the Walter Reade Theater will be playing eighteen film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays — ranging from the tragedies (“Macbeth,” “King Lear”) to the comedies (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Merchant of Venice”), histories (“King Richard III,” “Henry V”), and beyond — as part of the Bard Goes Global series.
While the excellent and expected such as Laurence Olivier and Franco Zeffirelli make appearances, the series offers a wide-ranging international palette through which to re-experience once familiar works, including films from India (Maqbool), New Zealand (The Maori Merchant of Venice), Russia (King Lear), Finland (Hamlet Goes Business), and Japan (The Throne of Blood). At the same time, a sampling of British and American directors make their presence in the series with a handful of English-language classic and revisionist works: Charlton Heston’s Antony and Cleopatra; Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard; Orson Welles’s Macbeth; Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet – and others. The varying cultural lenses allow new light to be shed onto Shakespeare’s plays, keeping the canonical works fresh and relevant.
Questions of how to transcend the stage-oriented material to suit the filmic world or when to show an image in place of one of Shakespeare’s perfectly-crafted lines are at the center of these films, exploring the boundaries set between great literature and great cinema in the attempt at arriving at a symbiotic whole. Moreover, specific issues relating to Shakespeare’s language and history present unique challenges which these international directors tackle in order to adapt the deeply-rooted Englishness of the Bard’s works without sacrificing their own national identity and history: consider Akira Kurosawa’s samurai interpretation of “Macbeth” in Throne of Blood or Don Selwyn’s Maori twist on “The Merchant of Venice” in The Maori Merchant of Venice. Without a doubt, the Bard is alive and well.
The summer Shakespeare slot starts this Wednesday, June 15th when the series kicks off with Laurence Olivier’s ageless Henry V.