skip navigation
Scorsese Screens - July 2017
Remind Me

July Highlights on TCM

In partnership with The Film Foundation, Turner Classic Movies is proud to bring you this exclusive monthly column by iconic film director and classic movie lover Martin Scorsese.

SHAKESPEARE (July 11, 8pm)--Shakespeare is always with us, whether we know it or not. He's a part of us. You can find echoes of his plays and poems everywhere--from Hamlet alone we have "Brevity is the soul of wit," "What a piece of work is man," "Woe is me," "hoist with his own petard," and "To be or not to be." Hamlet even gave Alfred Hitchcock the title for one of his greatest pictures: "I am but mad north north-west." And you could say that the idea of character as something truly complex, as always changing and evolving, more or less originates with Shakespeare--I think that's why the critic Harold Bloom called his remarkable book-length study The Invention of the Human. Iago, Benedick and Beatrice, Prince Hal and Falstaff, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus...they're more than just archetypes in the history of drama. They give us models for understanding ourselves.

On July 11, TCM is doing a night of Shakespearean cinema--six very different pictures made between 1948 and 1993. Of course, Shakespeare was a part of cinema from the beginning, but it wasn't really possible to represent the plays properly before the talkies. The first sound adaptation was the Douglas Fairbanks/Mary Pickford version of The Taming of the Shrew in 1929, but the 1935 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, co-directed by the great German theatrical impresario Max Reinhardt and his former disciple William Dieterle, is a stunning film experience made with the Warner Bros. stock company. Laurence Olivier's Henry V, made in wartime England, is a cinematic milestone, a visually exquisite and emotionally stirring picture shot in vibrant Technicolor by Robert Krasker and Jack Hildyard with a design and color scheme based on medieval books of hours. It also takes a unique approach to the question of adaptation, beginning as a film about an Elizabethan-era production of Henry V at the Globe Theatre and then magically opening out to a greater world. Olivier's Hamlet, made just a few years later, is a different kind of picture, shot in rich black and white--a "film noir" version of the play (Olivier consulted with the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, a close associate and biographer of Freud). Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 version of The Taming of the Shrew, featuring the Fairbanks and Pickford of their day, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, represents a very different approach to adapting Shakespeare: like his enormously popular Romeo and Juliet, the picture is lush and colorful (interestingly, both versions of the play cut Shakespeare's play-within-the-play framing device). By contrast, Peter Brook's 1971 version of King Lear, based on his 1962 theatrical production, was shot in stark black and white, much of it on RÃ¥bjerg Mile in northern Jutland in the dead of winter: it's a harsh, brutal and very physical experience with a brilliant performance by Paul Scofield as Lear. Perhaps the greatest picture in the line-up is Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight, a genuine masterpiece. Welles took most of the Henry IV plays, a bit of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V and Raphael Holinshed's historical chronicles, and in the process made something that was at once truly and essentially Shakespearean and just as truly and essentially Wellesian--a collaboration between two artists born 350 years apart.

by Martin Scorsese