February 1st, 2008

Michael Hoffman's A Midsummer Night's Dream 1999

According to this essay I've been reading (by Jay Halio) Kevin Kline was originally slated to play Oberon- but then the director had a brainwave and moved him sideways into the role of Bottom.  The director's brainwave was that the story should be rejigged so it's Bottom who's doing the dreaming. Well, some of this comes across on screen, but it's only half-realised- because if this is Bottom's dream what are Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius doing in it? There are interpolated- wordless- scenes that establish Bottom as a melancholy, small town poseur with a nagging wife- but the production is too mainstream to attempt the radical editing of the text that would have been necessary to make the concept stick. Kline's Bottom seems sensitive and intelligent and the clowning the script demands of him out of character.   To muddle and confuse things further the action has been explicitly moved to early 20th century Italy- which allows for grand opera on the soundtrack and some happy business with bicycles and gramophone records but means- again- that certain things Shakespeare wrote just don't fit. Did Italian cities in this era have local laws on the books that condemned daughters to death for disobeying their fathers? I don't think so. And why are we crossing our selves and saying a Hail Mary at one moment and invoking Diana the next?

The fairies are fun; they're modelled after the fairies in the paintings of English Victorian artists like Dadd and Noel Stratton. The lovers are all very pretty- Callista Flockhart plays Helena, Christian Bale is Demetrius- but maybe they'd have been funnier if they hadn't been such icons of physical perfection.  Rupert Everett is menacing as Oberon, Michelle Pfeiffer oddly underwhelming as Titania. Roger Rees as Quince projects the decency and dignity of a workingclass autodidact.  Stanley Tucci's Puck-  part Pan, part Mephistopheles--  two little horns and a quizzical air- is the the best thing in the movie.