Hamlet – The Fall Remix

Date: 2008
Posted by: SteveR
Cast: Johnston Forbes-Robertson (Hamlet)
Credits: Edited by SteveR. Music: The Fall, ‘There’s a Ghost in My House’
Duration: 2.34

Shakespeare films cut to pop music are legion on YouTube, so one looks for something with a little more imagination than the usual matching of heartfelt scenes to maudlin ballads. This example is not all that adroitly constructed, but its bizarre juxtaposition of classical actor in silent Shakespeare with the Fall catches the attention.

The actor is Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, one of the greats of the English stage of his time, who at the end of his career chose to have his Drury Lane Company’s production of Hamlet immortalised by the cinematograph. Directed in 1913 by Hay Plumb for the Hepworth Manufacturing Company, and filmed at Walton-on-Thames studios and on location at Lulworth Cove (seen here), the feature length film – an hour-and-a-half long – sought to capture in amber a famous theatrical performance. It did that to a degree, with Forbes-Robertson showing sufficient signs of greatness in his sensitive reading of the part, for all that he was sixty at the time of filming. But film is never a simple reflection of reality. Hepworth’s Hamlet captured a moment of change, in which the plausibility of the theatre was challenged by the credibility of the screen. Much of this filmed Hamlet was absurd – illogical as narrative, creaking as performance – exposed by the camera that was supposedly mere servant to the greater art of theatre. Yet Forbes-Robertson transcends this – he gives a film performance, alert to the particular needs of the camera (if one makes allowance for some histrionics and the limited camera technique). We see what he is thinking, and believe it to be true, which is the key to cinema. It is a performance that has enough about it that is timeless, which can therefore bear screening today, and trial by mashup: though the few scenes here do not show the theatrical knight to his best advantage.

The music is post-punk band The Fall’s 1987 version of Holland, Dozier and Holland’s “There’s a Ghost in My House”, originally recorded by R. Dean Taylor in 1967. It’s a characteristic rendition of a catchy original, with Mark E. Smith’s flat, deadpan delivery offset by the punchy musical accompaniment. It is used here as jokey counterpoint to the creaky ghost scenes from the 1913 Hamlet. But what a marvellous cultural crossroads is revealed. An actor born in 1853, who achieved greatness in the late-Victorian theatre, was filmed in 1913 and preserved thereafter, married to music by the composers of so many 60s pop hits, specifically a song from 1967, reimagined in 1987, then mashed-up together in a video in 2008. The breadth of reference in a two-minute video is huge, and all in the service of a play from 1600. Art is eternal, so long as we are able to replay it.

Vimeo page
The full 1913 Hamlet can be seen on BFI Player (without music of any kind)

Shakespeare (“Shayla” by Blondie)

Date: 2010
Posted by: historyteachers
Cast: Not given
Credits: Not given
Duration: 3.18

History for Music Lovers is a YouTube channel put together by a couple of history teachers from Honolulu with the intention of making the teaching of history of fun. They take historical events and figures, and put them to re-worded versions of pop songs with appropriate vidoe to match. Goodness knows how it is resourced, but the results are great fun indeed: Leonardo Da Vinci and the Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’, Roman history told to ‘Mambo no. 5’, the French Revolution to Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’, Elizabeth I to The Zombies’ ‘She’s Not There’, and – sure enough – William Shakespeare sung to a version of Blondie’s ‘Shayla’. It’s not one of the best of the series, and it doesn’t tell prospective students much beyond the titles of plays, but what the heck?

Also in the series there’s Marianne Faithfull’s version of ‘As Tears Go By’, rewritten to tell the story of the Battle of Agincourt, with scenes from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V:

YouTube page

H to the Rizzo

Date: 2009
Posted by: juicymedia
Cast: Horatio ft. The Crew
Credits: Directed by Anthony Wong for Juicy Media
Duration: 3.56

There are plenty of Shakespeare raps out there, mostly performed with a snigger by American high school students and not telling us a great deal beyond the realisation that fashion does not necessarily equate with relevance.

But this looks and sounds like the real deal. Made by a Los Angeles video production company, it has all the moves, poses (guns pointed at the camera), flash style (DeLorean car), clothes and locations (sunny Los Angeles with the Hollywood sign in the background), plus a fine music track. But then the words reveal that what is being played out is the relationship between Hamlet and Horatio, and not in any superficial manner but one in which real psychological dilemma is displayed through poetry. The text for the rap is helpfully given with the video:

I walk poetic with a bop in my step,
With a hip-hop heart beat pounding in my chest
Manifest smooth moves and work through the grooves
Yea, so suave they never catch me on review
Never one to intrude, calm collected and cool
As I, master the challenge and discover the balance
That provides me with talent to amaze the town with,
Level headed and steady as I keep my mind grounded
Cats torn between reason and passion, while I’m straight maxin
With the walkman blastin word, and I fused the views
Inked em in my skin, respect em like they kin
As they flow deep within, sweep through my veins to
maintain my persona from here to barcelona, cuz I’m my only owner.
And I stay low-key, and show the new kids how its supposed to be
Play premier, fresh fitted with gear, state of mind stays severe
Represent for the crew, Rearrange the frames of old flicks
of wicked kick it scenes yo of me and team, before we reigned supreme
and I swerve and I merge outta memory lane, supports the key to the game
I got yo back kid in fact thats automatic, so chill with the whack shit

Whaddup H, fresh fit, my boys got taste,
But yo the streets is calling, snakes forever crawling

(Horatio Phone)
Yo I just seen Claud with the federalis, back of the black denalis, handshakes with the jakes

Oh for real?

(Horatio Phone)
Word, he probably bout to squeal, so keep ya eyes on the trap and watch for the phone tap.

Damn, livin wicked and my man broke the code
Commited ultimate sin and shattered the oath
Composed on the road where our homie’s ghost rose.
Exposed and betrayed, the fucks wrong with today
Yo the parks where we played, the blocks where we stayed, the nikes fresh suede, and damn I’ve slayed
word life..feel like ive been tossed a grenade, pulled pin, im no longer in it to win it,
Yo I just hit my limit, H can you check into it?

(Horatio Phone)
Word, right this minute kid

Yo Ive had enough of the crew, its too much about you
Cuz im in need of cream, want more chains to gleam,
push bigger machines, fine dine quisine,
appear on everyscene, man fuck the low key
Only got one option, need Hamlet’s body droppin, outlined in chalk and locked in a coffin,
Devils swarming in my brain, but yo rebels maintain
G&R you got a mission, have techs split em hard, and make sure theres chance for a D&R

(Horatio Phone [To Hamlet])
Yo inside information, you needa watch your location
They plannin to attack armed with techs and macs
Best go grab ya vest and jet just like that

(Hamlet Phone)
Word is bond, pray I still see dawn

Deep sleep, dreams of reminicin, missin old times when rhymes was our only crimes and no one held a nine
Pager starts beepin, non stop, check the clock
4:07 now im stressin as I return the call, whats poppin?

(Phone Voice)
The guns went off and Hamlets body dropped

As the sun begins to raise and blaze across my face,
Lost in deep space, empty place left in my chest,
Frozen blood halts my breath, cuz my main man left
Whats the next step? Feel like I should follow,
fuck tomorrow, cuz I could hardly swallow, hallowed and cold,
But nah I cant leave the story needs to be told
I carry on tradition, no emissions, withs strictly poetic compositions, and I miss em
But I hold em on back, like ya’ll gold plaques
RIP Hamlet….

“Deep sleep, dreams of reminicin, missin old times when rhymes was our only crimes…” This reads like a compelling re-imaging of Hamlet to a hip-hop world, all the more startling for choosing to make Horatio the central figure rather than Hamlet. What is being said may not be clear to everyone, and it is a video to watch once for its own sake, and then again after reading the words and seeing that real drama is being played out. A smart imagination was at work here.

Note: The full on-screen title is H to the Rizzo – Horatio ft. The Crew – The Soliloquy

Vimeo page

To bleed or not to bleed

Date: 2009
Posted by: metalshakespeare
Cast: Viceroy Matthew [Matt Stikker] (lead guitar, backing vocals), Lord Simms [Jason Simms] (vocals, rhythm guitar), William Sly [Randy Bemrose] (drums), Sir Raleigh the Valiant [Riley Geare] (drums), Duke Luke (‘Bottom’) [Luke Dennis] (bass)
Credits: Not given
Duration: 4.58

The Metal Shakespeare Company bringing together Shakespeare and heavy metal music. They may not do so entirely seriously, but they certainly go about their business with skull-banging gusto. This full-blooded assault on Hamlet (chiefly Hamlet’s lines on Yorick’s skull, from Act 5 Scene 1) shows as much respect for the tenets of heavy metal as it does for Shakespeare’s verse. The costuming and settings are pure heritage Shakespeare, but the energy of the performance takes the video beyond a mere comic sketch. Chiefly, it demonstrates how neatly Hamlet works seen through the music of modern tortured adolesence (though the addition of an ass’s head from A Midsummer’s Night Dream is a bit odd).

The Metal Shakespeare Company hail from Portland, Oregon, USA. Previously known as Dagger of the Mind, they describe themselves as “70% metal and 30% theater”. They cite their influences as being Iron Maiden, Manowar, Dio, Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate, while they feel that their sound can best be described as “Shakespeare turning in his grave”. Turning rhythmically, at least.

Metal Shakespeare Company site
Myspace page
YouTube page

Crank that Shakespeare

Date: 2008
Posted by: zman15601
Credits: composer Jake Lehman, lyrics Bronson Domasky
Cast: Jake Lehman (singer, Hamlet, King Claudius, King Hamlet), Connor Downs (King Hamlet, Hamlet’s Friend, Ophelia, Gertrude, dancer), Jeffrey Moon (Horatio, crying spectator), Clayton Smoker (Shakespeare, Hamlet’s friend, dancer, backup singer)
Duration: 2.10

It is all too easy to sigh at yet another American middle school English project where the class has been encouraged to demonstrate that Shakespeare can be fun by producing a YouTube video. You may sigh even more at the all-too-obvious choice of rap, something whose novelty factor wore out years ago.

And yet, and yet. Look again. This is a terrific video. It displays such enthusiasm for the task in hand, which is to make a rap video out of the story of Hamlet. The lyrics are sharp, the editing is good, the music is strong, and the performances are goofy but dedicated to the cause. Care has been taken to make the individual scenes varied. In common with many such video spoofs, the titles are done in MTV-style, while the subtitles are helpful. Shakespeare himself turns up in the car for the chorus (“Hamlet here with my boy Shakespeare”) – he’s the one with a skull in his hand. It’s a fine English project that brings out such delight in recognising the vitality of the play.

YouTube page

Shakespeare does Sweet Home Alabama

Date: 2007
Posted by: billyharper11
Credits: Created by Billy Harper
Cast: Billy Harper (William Shakespeare)
Duration: 3.05

William Shakespeare, he likes nothing better when he’s relaxing at home with some friends to start singing songs and playing some air guitar. Here he invites us all to join in the party and sing along with Lynryd Skynryd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.

British comic performer Billy Harper has played Shakespeare in a variety of comedy music modes on YouTube, miming to songs with some skill. There’s Shakespeare rapping to Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’, Shakespeare doing his Barry White impression, and Shakespeare as Snoop Dogg. Irresistible stuff.

YouTube page

Me Vs. You

Date: 2006
Posted by: BuddhaRhubarb
Credits: Created by Joe Boyce Burgess, for Blind Hill Pictures
Cast: Emil Jannings (Othello), Ica von Lenkeffy (Desdemona)
Duration: 1.26

A strange, borderline disturbing, mashup of the smothering scene Dimitri Buchowetzki’s 1922 silent film Othello with loops of music from an unnamed ‘garage band’ and sounds from the horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What is it meant to signify? Perhaps it is best not to think about that too deeply. Its creator, Joe Boyce Burgess, has created other such bizarre juxtapositions of film and alien sound, though only this one with a Shakespearean touch.

YouTube page


Date: 2006
Posted by: bhilldesign
Credits: Film art direction, creation, music composition, recording, and film editing by Brandon R. Hill, production assistance by NNU Mass Communications Department
Cast: Kirstin Irwin (Desdemona)
Duration: 4.53

Othello seen from Desdemona’s point of view and then put into pop video form. Apart from from a few reverse-view shots which include Othello, we see only Desdemona, who sings, plays piano, looks sorrowful, and gets smothered. Soft focus photography, strawberries and white sheets abound. The song is the filmmaker’s own.

YouTube page
Brandon R. Hill’s website

Geto Boys/Macbeth Mashup

Date: 2007
Posted by: Scartol
Credits: Created by Scartol
Cast: Jon Finch (Macbeth), Francesca Annis (Lady Macbeth)
Duration: 5.13

A logical fusion of Macbeth with Gangsta rap, in this neatly-edited mashup of shots from Roman Polanski’s 1971 Macbeth (in widescreen), with Jon Finch as Macbeth and Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth, to the music of the Geto Boys’ ‘Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me’. There are numerous adroit matches between lyrics and action; note, for example, the timing of the lines (from the song) of ‘my hands are all bloody’.

YouTube page