Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Bard in the Movies

I was going to snark at the Cornucopia of Idiocity but it's too rainy. The rain is shutting down my snarking abilities, as is the hot chocolate and crackling fire. Instead, I will review Merchant of Venice which I watched yesterday while folding laundry.

Merchant has often been criticized as anti-Semitic, and as such doesn't get the attention that some of the other plays do. In fact, the Bard is called anti-Semitic because Shylock, the villian, is a Jew. I have always thought those criticisms shallow because Shakespeare more than anything else wrote about people and how they are all the same. In Merchant this very point is made by Shylock, in his famous "have Jews not hands" speech. Shylock is actually the most sympathetic of Shakespeare's villians. Iago, Don John were villians just because it pleased them to be. Macbeth was weak and manipulated. Claudius was ruled by avarice and lust. Caliban was a drunk. Shylock now, was driven by persecution until he could no longer contain himself, and even then sought recourse thru the law and a bargain foolishly made.

I love Merchant though, because of the clever women. Clever and ready to seize the chance for happiness, Portia instigates her future. Lynn Collins is a wonderful Portia. She is lovely, with a roundness that is refreshing from the stick-like qualities of Cate Blanchette, Gwenyth Paltrow, and other Hollywood stars. She has a clever gleam in her eye and delivers Portia's careful parsing of words convincingly. She seems to melt at Bassanio's words of impatient love, he is "on the rack" of love and must win her immediately. One criticism, I had always invisioned Portia directing the song full of hints more obviously than portrayed in the movie.

Jospeh Finnes is great as Bassanio. He has the same intensity with the love language that makes him a treat in Shakespeare in Love. He makes you realize how passionate and romantic the words are all over again.

I was a bit disconnected from Jeremy Irons' Antonio. Antonio has always been the most inexplicable character, there seemed no motivation for entering into so foolish a bargain with Shylock. Irons gives him motivation, a change from ennui and a steadfast refusal to believe it would actually come to pass. Irons is so languid and so withdrawn that you don't have much empathy for him, beyond the knee jerk cringe of having flesh carved off you.

Pacino shines as Shylock. Shylock is so full of depth and motivations and Pacino explores all of them. You can see him whipping up the passions of all Venice and exposing the double standards applyed to Jews. He also shows how Shylock also has his own brand of intolerance when his daughter runs off and marries a Christian. You can see how Pacino is an Oscar winner in this role.

So three out of four stars. Bring on the Swan of Avon!

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