Action Bill

Date: 2014
Posted: AMAA Productions
Cast: Kent Pool (William Shatner, Patrick Stewart), Kenneth Haney (William Shakespeare)
Credits: AMAA Productions. Producers: Dustin Butler, Rachel James; Director: Gareth Witte; Writers: Gareth Witte, Kenneth Haney, Dustin Butler, Rachel James; Animation: Kenneth Haney, Gareth Witte; Sound design: Gareth Witte; VFX: Gareth Witte; Editor: Gareth Witter; Cinematography: Gareth Witte; Music: Nick Longoria;
Duration: 5.07

William Shakespeare is seated at home in Elizabethan England, struggling with writer’s block (literally expressed in this Lego film as a block of Lego) when his peaceful Stratford existence is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a time-travelling, angry William Shatner in a giant robot. Who will save the Bard from impending annihilation? Well, Patrick Stewart, of course, though Bill himself proves himself more than willing to take on a robot adversary, and to derive inspiration from the consequences.

This is a particularly strong example of brickfilm animation, which won first prize at the Short Bricks short competition at Cine Bricks in 2014. Settings, camerawork, lighting, music and special effects are all of the highest order, and though the dialogue is a little unclear in places (I don’t think the real Shatner would recognise himself), the pace and inventive silliness prove the film to be a worthy winner.

Brickfilms, or Lego animations, thrive through cutting down our pretensions to size while simultaneously indulging them. What we elevate they miniaturise, yet their affectionate nature confirms that we were right to elevate the subject in the first place. They mirror the confused view we have of culture at this time. Shakespeare is brought down to size and lifted up at the same time – it is a badge of honour, after all, to be commemorated in Lego. If there’s a message to the film, it’s that to be indestructible is to be immortal. Shakespeare can take on all that the future can throw at him, and still survive.

Visual effects breakdown of Action Bill

Links:
YouTube page
AMAA Productions (with behind the scenes photos etc)

Urban Shakespeare

Date: 2007
Posted by: jenng7325
Cast: Svetlana (Barnado), Ted (Francisco, Polonius), Jenn (Horatio, Hamlet, Ophelia), Emily (Marcellus, Queen, Laertes),
Credits: None given
Duration: 7.03

What is it about taking Shakespeare out into the streets that so appeals (at least to me)? It’s something about placing poetry among the mundane, a flowering of feeling amid the everyday, as though anyone of us has a Shakespearean that lurks within, much as we might dream of how plain passers-by could suddenly believe themselves to be in a musical and start to dance and sing. All the world’s a stage, as someone once said.

At any rate, it’s a form of Shakespeare that is particularly suited to online video. It brings together amateurism and opportunity, charm and sincerity. The example here isn’t entirely street, but effectively so. Three young women and one young man from St Albans, Vermont, put on scenes from Hamlet outside then inside their local Price Chopper, and on the steps of the city hall. The plainness of the performances matches the ordinariness of the locations, and there’s a clever touch when the ghost of Hamlet’s father is portrayed by car headlights. Plus it must be something of a first to have the one performer play Hamlet, Horatio and Ophelia (albeit in different scenes).

In a bravura final scene the players invade a clothing store and recite a cacophony of soliloquies while the camera swirls about them, to the apparent bemusement of the staff. Though the video’s scenes seem to have been shot while the general public was nearby (certainly so in the Price Chopper sequence) their reactions are not seen. That would be true street Shakespeare – discovered accidentally by those who pass by, looking on a bit bewildered, but secretly just possibly moved.

Links:
YouTube page

The Tempest – The Missing Scene

Date: 2015
Posted by: Noor Ghuniem
Cast: Maryam (Sycorax, The Lucifers), Maryam’s brother (Caliban, Sycorax’s Dad), Friend (Sycorax’s Mom), Friend (Ariel)
Credits: Noor, Maryam, Alexis (writer and directors), Noor (video editor), Alexis (cameraperson),
Duration: 9.00

So, who wants to know Caliban’s back story? Certainly Shakespeare doesn’t give us much to go on. All we know is that his mother Sycorax was a witch, came from Algiers, arrived on the island pregnant with Caliban, and died before the action of The Tempest begins. Now here’s a video to fill in this lamentable gap left by the bard.

Hearts may sink to see that this is another sock puppet video, but stay with it because it’s actually rather good. It’s a school project (age of the students unclear), and they have gone to a considerable amount of trouble to imagine a sustained and plausible prequel to The Tempest, explaining what made Sycorax so bitter and how she ended up on the island. There’s a substantial amount of pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue which hopefully got them good marks for effort. It’s a genuinely creative piece of imagination, conducted as best they could with the tools at their command. It ends with Sycorax’s death and Caliban taking over the island, leaving us still with the question of her influence on him, but for the rest of the story you’ll just have to watch – and hopefully applaud.

Links: YouTube page

Macbeth: The Witches

Date: 2013 (filmed in 2011)
Posted by: Amy L.
Cast: Not given
Credits: Not given
Duration: 4.15

This is rather fine. Three young American women perform the three witches’ main scene from Macbeth in some backwoods area by a lake. The setting, with its stark remainders of sacrifice (a skull, a stretched bearskin, the cauldron) and particularly a startling opening sequence of speeded-up travel through the wooded waters, suggest the strong influence of modern horror films. That it all takes place in bright daylight only accentuates this, and contrasts interestingly with the gloom though usual for settings of Macbeth. The appearance of the witches themselves take us back to amateur reality, but the more than enough care is taken over variety of shots to keep up the interest (including an ambitious overhead shot and overlaid images as the tension builds up). It is unclear, though, whether the shifts in light are an artistic choice or simply a reflection of the fact that it took all day to film the sequence. Whatever the background, the result is disorienting and quite effective.

Modest, but memorable.

Links: YouTube page

Julius Caesar’s Cell Block Tango

Date: 2009
Posted by: KiteShiro
Cast: Marlon Brando (Mark Antony), James Mason (Brutus), John Gielgud (Cassius), Louis Calhern (Julius Caesar) etc.
Credits: Music composed by John Kander, lyrics written by Fred Ebb
Duration: 7.22

Well, you can look at the phenomenon of YouTube Shakespeare and get all critically serious, coming up (you hope) with some telling observations which will advance the state of human knowledge, or you can just have fun. And this is great fun. It’s a fanvid, or the product of vidding (Wikipedia: “the fan labor practice in media fandom of creating music videos from the footage of one or more visual media sources, thereby exploring the source itself in a new way”). In this case someone has taken the 1953 MGM film Julius Caesar, and cross-fertilised it with ‘Cell Block Tango’ from the musical Chicago. Though the video quality is not that great, the re-cutting on the film to the music is spot on. What does is matter if the spoken sections don’t even remotely synchronise with the mouths? It’s funny. It makes you smile because you know the film, the musical and the play, and they come together beautifully. This is what 400 years of popular culture can do for us. And, let’s face it, Shakespeare would be kicking himself for not having come up with these words first.

He had it coming
He had it coming
He only had himself to blame

If you’d have been there
If you’d have heard it
I betcha you would
Have done the same!

Ending with the MGM logo is a nice touch too.

Links: YouTube page
Lyrics to ‘Cell Block Tango’ at Metrolyrics.com

Bright Summer Night

Date: 2016
Posted by: The Candle Wasters
Cast: Meesha Rikk (Puck Goodall), Kalisha Wasasala (Lena Balavu), Dani Yourukova (Deme George), Maddie Adams (Mia Selene), Shane Murphy (Zander Makau), Thomasin McKenzie (Petra Quince), Gala Baumfield (Nicky Xing), Nova Moala-Knox (Frankie Piper), Brendan King (Taylor Sutton), Jack Buchanan (Bryn Alberich), Neenah Dekkers-Reihana (Awhina Parekura), Mouce Young (Poppy Hóu), Freya Milner (Thea Quince)
Credits: Main credits: Elsie Bollinger (director, editor, script writer, music supervisor), Sally Bollinger (script writer, post production supervisor), Bevin Linkhorn (producer), Minnie Grace (producer), Jess Charlton (Director of Photography), Jen Smith (1st Assistant Director), Nicole Winer (1st Assistant Camera), Jordan Beresford (1st Assistant Camera), Jordan Beresford, Blair Berg, Ross Dredge, Alex Marie, Alexandra Farley, Anne van der Pasch, Michael Young, Mark Papalii, Andy MacRae (all 2nd Assistant Camera), Jessi Golding (Sound Recordist), Claris Jacobs (Production & Costume Designer), Nic Learmonth (Art Director), Robbie Nicol (Script Supervisor)
Duration: 10 episodes

The third Shakespeare web series by the New Zealand production team The Candle Wasters is its most polished and courageous work yet. The company’s first two series adapted Much Ado About Nothing (Nothing Much To Do) and Love’s Labour’s Lost (Lovely Little Losers), the second serving as a sequel to the first, with much of the same cast. Bright Summer Night, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shows some significant changes: a glossier production, a move away from the vlogging style in which characters spoke confidentially to the camera to a more usual dramatic style, a shorter number of episodes (a trim ten), and a new cast. The tone is also darker, the style more assured, the production credits that much longer. What was charmingly amateur has become ever more meticulously professional.

Shakespeare has once again be translated to the world and language of the young in modern day New Zealand, though such is the actors’ mixture of names and cultural heritages that it could be – and is meant to be – any place. The action takes place over the few hours of an all-night house party. All episodes bar the last are named after one of the characters and broadly shows the story from their point of view. The parallels with Shakespeare are amusingly made without being too forced: from the names of the characters (Hermia becomes Mia, Nick Bottom become Nicky, and so on), to the fancy dress theme which allows some of the players to wear fairy wings, to the rude mechanical becoming The Mechanicals, a band who put on a song for the rest of the party in the series finale. The four young lovers are now a heterosexual pair and a homosexual pair, Bryn (Oberon) and Awhina (Titania) a bickering senior couple, and Puck an ambiguous figure, whose personal uncertainty emerges as the series’ underlying motif.

The most striking is the use of recreational drugs to stand in for magic, a pill named Idleness being the cause of the lovers’ confusion, distributed by Puck. It is a practical dramatic solution, but a little shocking to see it applied so frankly.

360-degree promo video for Bright Summer Night, following Puck through the house party

The tone of the piece is far from the traditional light view of the play (such as the BBC’s recent production, produced by Russell Davies, kept to, for all its surface radical invention). No one is happy. The students are torn apart internally by the complexity of relationships, and externally by the problems of the world, especially climate change. Both are summed up in the Mechanicals’ song ‘Relationship Problems and the Environment’, which says “There’s so much wrong with the world, we’ll never make it better” but also declares that “We have to do something”. That becomes the message of the series, that, as difficult as things are, you move on, because you have to do so. The only character that cannot move on, it turns out, is Puck, and Bright Summer Night makes its strongest mark on Shakespeare’s play by turning it into Puck’s tragedy, as the memorable tenth episode makes clear.

Bright Summer Night benefited from a Kickstarter campaign, then gained support from NZ on Air and the British Council. it is a slick, confident production, impressively shot (all of it at night) and performed throughout, with particularly good integration of music into the scenes. It lacks the happy charm and ramshackle invention of its predecessors, and like some of its subjects perhaps takes things too seriously with insufficient reason for doing so. But overall this is inventive, thought-provoking and multi-layered filmmaking. Shakespeare, in his quatercentenary year, is proven to be as relevant and adaptable as ever.

Series of behind the scenes videos, with the points of view of the different groups of characters

Links:
YouTube series page
Behind the scenes series
Bright Summer Night section on The Candle Wasters’ site
Kickstarter page

Prospero’s Dream

Date: 2010
Posted by: petrarchian
Cast: None
Credits: Not given
Duration: 2.51

Online videos that show a truly imaginative response to Shakespeare, rather than simply reflecting that which was already there, are rare. Here’s one. The filmmaker (presumably petrachian) has produced an interpretation of Prospero’s speech “Our revels now are ended” without using a single word of that speech. Instead it offers a hypnotic interweaving of images (dripping water, ice floes, text, film clips, fading in and out of one another), music and muffled speech. The video is specifically a tribute to Peter Greenaway, as the filmmaker notes on the YouTube page. Greenway’s films include the idiosyncratic feature film interpretation of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books (1991), in which, as petrachian puts it, Greenaway “layers all artistic modes into an expression that denies simple narrative”. The video imitates Greenaway’s style (particularly his fascination with the look of electronic video) and the film clips referenced are from Greenaway films, though so buried in the visual mix that it is not easy to distinguish them.

The result feels like the kind of dream we would expect Prospero to have, both Shakespeare’s creation, and the dream of Greenaway’s Prospero: the homage and the thing itself. The filmmaker calls this video response “simply a dream narrative, a wrestless [sic] subconscious, a churning of impressions which mean nothing at all”. There is meaning, though, in showing through mysterious video imagery and sound how the insubstantial pageant of the drama has faded, and with it certainty and belief. A small work of art, impeccably formed.

Links: YouTube page