Shakespeare400 - Shooting Shakespeare


Barnaby Eaton-Jones has unearthed a treasure trove! After many, many minutes of searching he has finally discovered the undiscovered celluloid from whose viewing no traveller returns...


Shakespeare is 400 years old. He's still looking pretty good, I have to say. Of course, 'looking good' is also a pre-requisite with being involved in movies too and Shakespeare's plays have been used to good effect up on the silver screen. Elsewhere, I'm sure, you'll find a list of who thinks what Shakespeare films are the best and in what order but this list is not that one. Oh no. This is Shakespeare's lost works. These were adaptations that failed to set the box office on fire and have been out of circulation so long that nobody remembers them. No VHS, no DVD, no Blu-Ray, no Netflix retrospective. There's not even a Sky Arts documentary about them. So, here, for your pleasure (and to say a very happy birthday to the Bard of Avon, or BOA as he's known for short because his words are a little constricting), is a definitive list of the Top Five lost Shakespeare films. Which may be as true as saying that Christopher Marlowe adapted them for shooting...


Eddie Izzard gets everywhere

5. TWO GENTLEMEN CALLED FIONA (1998)

Based on the Two Gentleman Of Verona – which many believe to be Shakespeare's first play and, indeed, his first attempt at themes that he would develop later (like the heroine dressing as a boy) – and starring Eddie Izzard. This tour-de-force of comic campery has Izzard attempting to adapt, star, direct and produce – as well as subverting the text by having the hero dress as a girl, rather than the other way round. In many interviews, Izzard attempted to suggest that this was his tribute to the multi-roled playings of Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Sadly, it mainly consisted of many variations of James Mason impressions and a desperate need to show that he could do comedy in any language, as half of it is in French due to the location he set it in. Coincidentally, the subtitles for the French section are hilarious for the wrong reasons as a mix-up at the DVD mastering factory meant that the first 100 pressings feature subtitles from a cross-dressing, low-budget pornographic version of Shakespeare's play bearing the same name.

HIGHLIGHT: The CGI dog, called Crab, who steals every scene he's in. Not because it's the only character not played by Izzard, but because it looks like it's been animated on a ZX Spectrum.

QUOTE: Launce, the clownish servant - 'Fivesooth... er... which is one better than forsooth...'


Carry on Learing

4. CARRY ON LEARING (1992)

This bawdy King Lear parody was prepped and filmed before Carry On Columbus hit the screen (and that film's subsequent failure led to the non-release of this film, which was only shown in one cinema and to an audience of two pensioners and a small Scottie dog called Angus). This modern-take mashing of the Carry On style with the new wave of Alternative '80s comics failed even more spectacularly than Columbus did. In the title role, Jon Pertwee gurns and rolls his eyes under perfectly coiffured hair and a huge fisherman's beard that looks like its made from cotton wool. His 'blow winds and crack your cheeks' speech is punctuated by him breaking wind, after his daughters have tried to poison him by feeding him constantly on baked beans. This is the level this film is pitched at. His three daughters are Gonorrhoea (Barbara Windsor), Roundbum (Angela Douglas) and Coppafeelia (Samantha Fox) and there's a special cameo by Paul Merton as a deadpan Lear's Fool. The final scene is a glitzy song and dance number where Coppafeelia's corpse dances topless and King Lear's death is a masterclass in mugging for the camera, as Jon Pertwee expires in the fashion of a balloon slowly deflating.

HIGHLIGHT: The obligatory call-back to Pertwee's Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge days, when he passes a field with a scarecrow in it that's dressed in a velvet jacket and frilly shirt. His double-take almost unsettles his beard.

QUOTE: King Lear, speaking directly into the camera - 'This film's a tragedy.'


Gwynneth

3. McBETH (2008)

In an ill-advised, feature-length advert for the fast food chain McDonald's (and funded by them), a new restaurant manager called Beth (played by 35-year old Gwyneth Paltrow) has to attempt to bring the chain up-top-date by introducing a macrobiotic burger. A McMicro could be heated up in a microwave in 2 seconds and contained no meat whatsoever. Trying to portray McDonald's as a Vegan-friendly, environmentally-aware, health-caring global corporation as never going to win any critics and one wonders why Paltrow took the gamble that nearly ended her career. “Years ago, endorsing a product was considered something a movie actress shouldn’t do,” Paltrow told USA Today, “but now having a contract is almost like a status symbol.” And, of course, the pay-check helped her get these words out sincerely. Sadly, this Shakespeare's adaptation ditches the plot entirely and homages the Bard in a bizarre scene where they create Shake's Spears, which are milkshakes stuffed into long, edible breadsticks.

HIGHLIGHT: Gwyneth Paltrow eating a McMicro and clearly nearly gagging on it.

QUOTE: Beth, waltzing round an empty store as she creates her burger – 'I can never tell whether the ping I hear is the microwave or my happy heart.'


Jerry Lewis is a Martian

2. THE MARTIAN OF VENUS (1957)

Transplanting the classic The Merchant Of Venice parable to outer-space might have sounded like a good idea after the success of MGM's Forbidden Planet (based on The Tempest) but this was actually filmed in 1955 and was the last movie James Dean was working on before his untimely death in a car crash. As he hadn't finished filming, the film was shelved but, two years later a quick re-write and a re-casting of the supernatural role of Antonio, the Martian, meant that it became a Jerry Lewis movie instead. However, the abrupt change from serious space-set drama to madcap space-set comedy meant the film's tone made audience's alienated (no pun intended). Jerry Lewis subsequently bought the rights and stored it away in his vault to be never seen again.

HIGHLIGHT: The transformation from James Dean's Antonio to Jerry Lewis as Antonio, which featured Jerry Lewis wearing a death-mask of James Dean made out of strawberry jelly and then clawing it slowly off for the camera. Both genuinely frightening and entirely inappropriate, this earned the film an 'X' certificate upon initial release.

QUOTE: Antonio (Jerry Lewis) – 'I am a Martian. Hath not a Martian six eyes? Hath not a Martian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same space dust, hurt with the same ray guns, subject to the same laws of gravity as Earth, healed by the sputum of the Bore Worms, warmed and cooled by the Sun as an Earthling? If you lick us, do we not feed? Oh, cut the crud, I've got green skin and I ain't anything like you, brother!'


Ofellow

1. O'FELLOW (1985)

A whimsical tale of a 1930s Irish actor who makes it big on Broadway by appearing in 'black face' and singing about the trials of a black man in love with a white woman. It's played as a light farce and merely hints at the difficult race relations, negative stereotypes and cultural blindness of a time when it was perfectly acceptable for a white man to appear on stage as a black man. Liam Neeson looks uncomfortable in a role written especially for him (they needed someone tall) and his love interest, Grace Jones (fresh from her success on the 007 film A View To A Kill), can't seem to keep her clothes on long enough to deliver a meaningful line. Paradoxically, Grace Jones appears as the made-up white love interest on stage for Neeson's black-faced Paddy O'Fellow. It's a confused film and one can see why it was pulled from release, as the concept seems to be a cross between Shakespeare's Othello and the disk-jumping, strategy-turning board game Othello (which is why the toy company Mattel are major sponsors of the film, as they attempted to market the Reversi game as Othello in many countries).

HIGHLIGHT: In a scene only filmed for the trailer, Liam Neeson is seen taking off his trousers from behind and Grace Jones points at his manhood and exclaims that he's hung like a brother. It's a case of life imitating art, as Liam Neeson doesn't call his 'Little Liam' for a reason.

QUOTE: Grace Jones, in a 1930s-esque jazz number (which sounds suspiciously like a 1980's synth-led pop hit), raps: 'You're black and white, and that ain't right. I'm white and black, so change me back. You Irish man, that is no tan. I'm not a fan, let me be who I am!'

(c) Barnaby Eaton-Jones 2016

We looked for the films on Amazon to share them with you, honest.