Ophelia drowns

Date: 2011 (2007)
Posted by: Amy L.
Cast: Amy L. (Ophelia)
Credits: Music: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 14
Duration: 6.10

Here’s a particularly strong example of the many Ophelia fan videos to be found on YouTube. That feels the best way to describe them: videos that recreate Ophelia’s death by drowning that appeals to filmmakers/performers who want to emulate her by imitation. In this example a young girl in a white dress wanders through a wooded landscape (in Northern Ontario), following the path of a river. Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata plays. Gertrude’s lines about Ophelia’s last minutes are spoken over the images, as we see Ophelia stumble, cling for a while to a rock, then slip into the water and drown.

The video is interesting for exemplifying a romantic conception of Ophelia, one with which some identify quite intensely. It also interesting for its literalism. It doesn’t just show us the drowned Ophelia; it tries to show us how she drowned. In doing so it teeters on the edge of the absurd, but to judge from the comments that accompany the video some have found its visual exposition useful. The amateur status of the video, with its faltering technique, makes the Ophelia’s tumbling into a stream close to ridiculous, while at the same time convincing many in its audience through its sincerity. As one comment puts it, “That creek is BEAUTIFUL. I’d drown there. I mean, if I were to drown, that’s not a bad place to be.” The video exemplifies Ophelia as death wish – not something to be indulged in, but as a satisfying fantasy.

The video is dated as 2011, but it appears originally to have been published in 2007 with an introduction by the filmmaker/performer that has been removed from this version and is no longer available on YouTube.

Links: YouTube page

SHAKES

Date: 2014
Posted by: SHAKES
Cast: Victoria Smith (Beatrice), Ellis Oswalt (Benedick), Anna Stone (Ophelia), Tim Childers (Hamlet), Cathy Koch (Juliet), Cody Sparks (Romeo)
Credits: Writer/Producer/Editor: Kathryn Orsmbee; Writer/Director: Destiny Soria; Production assistants: Rebecca Campbell, Katie Carroll; Marketing: Nicole Williams; Dramaturg: Clare Thomson
Duration: 12 episodes plus two extras

It is interesting to see what has been happening to the online Shakespeare video over the past four years. In 2012 I stopped adding to this site because I thought it had gone on long enough and there wasn’t much that was new that I thought I could add (I returned in 2016). In part the aim had been to trigger academic interest in an area of Shakespeare film production which wasn’t being considered at all, at least not with any seriousness. But gradually people were starting to take a serious interest, which culminated in the first book on the subject, Stephen O’Neill’s knowledgeable and stimulating Shakespeare and YouTube: New Media Forms of the Bard (2014). But what I hadn’t realised was round the corner, and which O’Neill missed, because the phenomenon was only just starting as his book went to press, was the Shakespeare web series.

It was the great success of the Emmy award-winning web series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012/13), with its setting of Pride and Prejudice in modern times told through the individual characters’ vlogs, with social media spin-offs, which sparked a small explosion in web series which treated other literary properties in the same way. Here was a sparkling way in which to use the special features of the online world to bring the classics to a new audience. It was also great fun to produce, as is clear from the spirit of enthusiasm that leaps out from the dozens of these kinds of web series that have now been produced.

Many of these series are adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. I’ve listed the main ones in a new Web Series category on the right-hand column of this site, and I’ll be posting something on most if not all of them, in time. I’ve already written about Not Much To Do and Lovely Little Losers, produced by the premier exponents of this new Shakespearean form. But coming close behind them, and with a slightly different apporach, there is SHAKES.

SHAKES is the creation of two Americans, Kathryn Ormsbee and Destiny Soria. It started out as a web series entitled Shakes that mashed up characters from Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet, featuring modern characters living in the fictional American town of Shakes. When they decided to move on to a second series, the first was renamed The Town’s the Thing, with the second given the name Weird Sisters.

The Town’s the Thing shows us the interaction of three couples: Beatrice and Benedick, Hamlet and Ophelia, and Romeo and Juliet. Unlike Nothing Much To Do, which follows the path set by the Lizzie Bennet Diaries in telling the story through direct addresses to the camera (vlogs), The Town’s the Thing is a more conventionally composed drama, without any confessional moments to us the audience. The six main protagonists are a group of friends with different backgrounds (Hamlet’s a lawyer, Benedick is a journalist, Beatrice runs an online news service, Ophelia works in a pharmacy, and so on), with traits that link them loosely to their characters as Shakespeare imagined them (though Juliet as sassy kleptomaniac seems more removed from the original conception than some).

The technique and performances are a little faltering at times (though you can see them learning as things go along), but the overall conceit is capably maintained. The story moves comfortably between comedy and tragedy (with sprinklings of Shakespeare’s words every now and then). The overall effect is to shed new light on Shakespeare’s appeal, as a creator of archetypes whose perennial qualities are proven by how adaptation into this very early 21st-century form seems so natural. A delight to the imagination.

Date: 2016
Posted by: SHAKES
Cast: Channing Estell (Fiona), Melanie White (Octavia), Beth Posey (Tabitha), Alec Beiswenger (Jack), Matthew D. Whaley (Hector), Garrett Bass (Mark)
Credits: Writer/Producer/Editor: Kathryn Orsmbee; Writer/Director: Destiny Soria; Production assistants: Rebecca Campbell, Katie Carroll; Marketing: Nicole Williams; Dramaturg: Clare Thomson
Duration: Ongoing

The follow-up series, Weird Sisters, is more confidently filmed and performed than the first series. It features a new cast and a change of style, with much more camera-consciousness, the central conceit being that the story is being filmed by social psychology student Imogen, with the characters providing her with vlogs. It describes itself as a loose adaptation of Macbeth, focussing on three women roommates – a radio broadcaster, an artist and a law student, each of them residents in the town of Shakes – who gradually reveal that things are rather stranger than might first appear, as they admit to their connections with the supernatural. Having established that they are modern versions of the three witches, the connection with Macbeth rather fades away, which is a disappointment – and a missed opportunity. The series is ongoing, so maybe more connections with Macbeth will emerge. It would give the work more direction and purpose.

These web series productions represent a consideration commitment from amateur teams on a minimal budget, and are reinventing Shakespeare. That’s quite an achievement, and more of us should be taking note (sadly Weird Sisters has attracted few viewers so far). It’s just worth remembering that the more use you make of Shakespeare, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Links:
The Town’s the Thing play list
Weird Sisters play list
SHAKES website
SHAKES YouTube page
SHAKES Tumblr site

Ophelia of Shakespeare’s Hamlet Demo Speed Paint by Leilani Joy

Date: 2014
Posted by: Leilani Joy
Cast: None
Credits: Presented by Leilani Joy
Duration: 12.26

One of YouTube’s major functions – though probably not a function originally considered by its creators – is instructional. There as millions of videos on the site offering illustrated advice on anything from cookery tips to bathroom repairs. The most successful videos are those that combine visual clarity with engaging personality, as many are presented by the expert in question.

Shakespeare sometimes features in such videos, and here’s a good example. Leilani Joy in an American artist offering instruction in how to produce figurative illustrations, of the large-eyed kind. The distinctive touch she uses is speeded-up action (‘speed paint’) of the process. She has a large following, as can be gathered not only from the viewing figures, number of subscribers and the number of comments on each of her videos, but in the confident way in which she addresses her audience.

Her subject for this video is Ophelia (one of her ‘Muses’ series). She introduces her audience to earlier artworks on Ophelia (some classical, so less so), with the assumption that many of those in the audience will know little if anything about the play. She then goes into painting the drowned Ophelia (with tips on water effects), without any further comment on why she has chosen this scene or why it would have any particular appeal. The trope of Ophelia drowned is so embedded in the consciousness that it needs no further explanation. You don’t have to know Hamlet to know Ophelia. The video is striking testimony to Shakespearean iconography and and the handing on of myth.

Oh, and the finished artwork is available for sale.

Links: YouTube page
Leilani Joy’s website

Dog Hamlet

Date: 2012
Posted by: Picuco09
Cast: Hamlet (Hamlet)
Credits: Created by Eduardo J. Diaz, Mark Leydorf
Duration: 2.32

It is the 23rd of April, 2016, and all the world over people will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the passing of one of the most successful of all YouTube contributors. William Shakespeare was an Elizabethan playwright with extraordinary insight into what would appeal to a twenty-first century audience with a mobile in its hand and only a few minutes’ attention span. As of today, should you type in his name into the YouTube searchbox, you will get 1,580,000 results. That’s more than any author’s name that I can see (Dickens? a paltry 474,000. J.K. Rowling? a mere 203,000). This is a writer who remains right on the button, with a name worth searching for.

And so, to celebrate this quatercentenary, here is as good an online Shakespeare video as you could hope to find. It is the Hamlet “to be” soliloquy, as seen through the eyes of a New York fox terrier by the name of Hamlet (is he the first Hamlet ever to play Hamlet?). Shakespeare’s somewhat altered words are spoken for him, but we see the world through his eyes (the camera remains at dog height throughout). It’s a delightful jeu d’esprit, with some obvious but excusable punning (“must give us paws”, for example), smart camerawork and editing, a tasteful harpsichord soundtrack, and central performance of great feeling. Yes it’s mostly cute, but it is also a little wise in its way it takes Hamlet from resignation to contentment, and artful in how it marries affection for Shakespeare with affection for a pet.

No other author could have inspired such a work. That’s what we should be celebrating.

Links: YouTube page

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.

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

Infinite Monkey Syndrome

Date: 2012
Posted by: James R. Ford
Cast: Not given
Credits: Produced by James R. Ford
Duration: 1.30

A few months ago it was reported that US programmer Jesse Anderson had set up a virtual set of some millions of monkeys (using Hadoop), all of them tying at random on virtual typewriters, and had managed produce something that was 99.99% Shakespeare – the first text to be achieved in this way being ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. Anderson had cut corners however, because every time the random typing came up with words that roughly matched something from the Shakespeare canon then they would be retained, if not then discarded. With this and other constraints, Anderson could achieve his goal. The purely random production of Shakespeare by an infinite number of monkeys remains something for the philosophers and theoretical mathematicians.

Or for a videomaker. This droll piece, made by British artist James R. Ford, is an extract from a 9 minutes 8 second loop (therefore designed in principle to run forever). It shows us a woman in a monkey suit, typing Shakespeare, as the tags to the video tell us, because otherwise we would not know (a photograph of the typewriter on the artist’s website indicates that only gibberish has been produced – so far). Is is a Shakespeare video? I say that it is – and so it is (and just to make the point this post has been tagged with all of the plays and poems). A video to watch, infinitely.

Jesse Anderson explains more about his project on this video:

Links:
YouTube page
BBC online news item on Jesse Anderson’s project
Jesse Anderson’s Million Monkeys Project
James R. Ford’s personal website

Ophelia among the flowers

Date: 2011
Posted by: Brian Kawimbe
Cast: Harriet Carter (Ophelia)
Credits: Directed by Csongor Dombovari. Produced by Pinja Tenhunen and Brian Kawimbe. Director of Photography Joel Honeywell. Camera operator Wei Kong. Focus puller Nikki Rosen. Gaffer/Grip Pano Kimbigelis. Sound Emma Hill. Edited by Lotti Jones and Laura Fegan. Production design Aimee Bick. Costume design by Danae Stamatiou and Holly Whitefoord. Make-up and Hair Lucie Snow.
Duration: 3.33

Here is a painting in motion. The camera pans slowly along twisted branches and fallen leaves while just off-screen a woman sings. The pan continues until it finds her muddied and scratched feet, then reveals a young woman in a stained white dress, lying among rocks and reeds, weaving a crown of twigs. The camera track further to her face, at which points we hear water starting to rush in. Gradually water begins to pour over her, her expression ranging back and forth from fear to delight. Fade to black as she breathes her last, the whole film just the single shot.

Unlike many Ophelia visualisations, this was not inspired by Millais but rather by painting “Ophelia among the Flowers” by Odilon Redon. The painterly quality lies not just in the inspiration and the lateral composition, but in the acute eye for detail, accentuated by sharp Super 16mm photography (we don’t get too many online videos which originated on film these days). This is cinematic, mysterious, a work to be read by what it make visible, not in words (there are none). It’s the sort of short film from which one can extrapolate a greater narrative, like an extract from an imagined feature film. A very professional piece of work.

Links:
Vimeo page
“Ophelia among the flowers” at the National Gallery