Sunday, August 26, 2007
Shakespeare in Translation: Foreign Film Versions of Shakespeare's Plays
Shakespeare is unquestionably one of the most distinguished writers of all time, possibly even the most distinguished.
Since the time when he wrote his plays, however, they have been interpreted in many interesting and unique ways. This is a result of the varied ways in which Shakespeare’s plays resonate with their directors, and each of these directors, despite their differences of interpretation, can justify their interpretations of the text based on what each of them has discovered written between the lines.
The last eighty or so years have seen a new medium for these interpretations, that of film. Since the early days of silent film, directors have sought to interpret the words of Shakespeare into the heavily visual medium of film, with varying success. An additional problem presents itself in the very language, however. What if the director literally does not speak the Bard’s language? How then do the plays of Shakespeare speak to these directors?
A translation, no matter how good, always changes the original in some way. A foreign director also has another problem. The culture of Renaissance England often differs greatly from modern English culture, let alone the modern culture of foreign nations. Thus a foreign film director who wishes to film Shakespeare is presented with a three-fold problem; transferring the dialogue-heavy Shakespearian text into the visually intensive film medium, translating the English text into an accessible form for the foreign audience, and making cultural concessions in order to keep the context of the play understandable to the audience.
I intend to examine these problems in the context of two directors and three plays: Grigori Kozintsev’s Hamlet (Gamlet, 1964), Akira Kurosawa’s Macbeth adaptation, Throne of Blood (Kumonoso jô, 1957), and both directors’ adaptations of the play King Lear, Kozintsev’s King Lear (Korol Lir, 1969) and Kurosawa’s Ran (1984). At times these can be extreme examples of the problems in translating Shakespeare, but I often find that extreme examples are often the most informative.
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