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1. Shakespeare's Shylock Solved 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel Solved 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Malvolio Solved 6. Shakespeare's Real Petruchio

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Al Pacino!


Today is Al Pacino’s birthday.

He's an amazing actor. I have seen just about every single film he has ever done, and he is one of those rare actors you can watch again and again.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the Godfather films. I saw Heat in the movie theaters 4 times!

Even when the movie isn’t very good, he is great.

I loved the documentary he starred in and directed, Looking For Richard (1996) which is really a love letter from Pacino to Shakespeare.

I even saw him on stage in Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar in 1988. 

I guess you could say that I would watch anything he does.

That is why I decided to watch him portray Shylock in the film version of The Merchant of Venice (2004) by Michael Radford.



I had never wanted to watch any version of it, or even read the play. I had learned long ago that it portrayed Jews badly, and while Shakespeare may not have been anti-Semitic, the play itself certainly was.

I loved Shakespeare. But I couldn’t bring myself to read it or see it.

Until Al Pacino made the film.

If he could make sense of the play, then I would watch it.

Pacino was great, and I really enjoyed his performance. He is a master at what he does, and he made Shylock jump off the screen. He made this character fully three-dimensional and very human.

But what really confused me were the other characters.

Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynn Collins as Portia were all great. 

But it was like they were in an entirely different movie. It was like what they were doing was entirely mismatched with the story of Shylock. 

And while Irons, Fiennes and Collins are all fine actors, but they were falling flat.

It was hard to watch at times. It was as if each actor was struggling to make sense of their part.

Jeremy Irons was trying to make Antonio noble and vulnerable -- when in fact Antonio is arrogant and scheming.

Joseph Fiennes was trying to make Bassanio virtuous and romantic -- when in fact Bassanio is a hustler and lothario.

Lynn Collins was trying to make Portia beautiful and wise -- when in fact Portia is ugly and bigoted.


The Bassanio and Portia stuff was like a light romantic comedy.

The Shylock stuff was very dramatic.

Why were these two stories combined?

Nothing made sense.

Why was I rooting for Shylock and rooting against Antonio, Bassanio and Portia?

Why do Antonio, Bassanio and Portia win at the end -- and Shylock loses everything?

The answer came to me very suddenly. The film was all wrong.

This wasn’t part romantic comedy and part drama.

This was one big bawdy farce.

The whole play is a comedy, but a rude and politically incorrect one.

I started to see the film in a completely different way.

The Merchant of Venice has been Shakespeare’s most problematic problem play for centuries. On that night, as I watched the DVD, I could see a solution. It would take me several years to create that solution.

Nothing I could say can describe how the play should be performed. You have to read it for yourself.

I am eternally grateful to Al Pacino.

Had it not been for him, I may never have seen or read The Merchant of Venice.

Had I not seen his version when I did, I wouldn’t have written my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant.

I think the film version he did was made with the very best of intentions, but ultimately it was misguided. 



I recommend you watch it yourself. You should make up your own mind. 

But after you watch it, read my version of the play. I am confident that you will agree with me that my version is as close to a definitive understanding of the play as we may ever know.

I admire Al Pacino. He once went looking for Richard. (Who knew that he should have looked in a Leicester carpark?)

By the way, did you know that it was a screenwriter who actually located Richard III's remains? Funny but true.

Pacino was looking for Shylock. He didn't find him, but it did inspire me to look for myself.

Cheers,


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