Our revels now are ended

I am closing down BardBox. I launched the site back in May 2008 as a means to start curating the many inventive forms of Shakespeare videos which were starting to appear on YouTube, and which seemed to me to be as creative, distinctive and worthy of praise as any other form of Shakspearean production. Four years on I have posted on some 150 videos, which is just a small proportion of the tens of thousands out there, but I hope that the few that I have selected justify the endeavour and have encouraged others to explore some of these works for themselves. Now it is time to stop, because I have said what I want to say, and I am reducing much of my online writing to a single outlet, at www.lukemckernan.com, where you may find more of my thoughts on filming Shakespeare in the future.

This final selection, made in 2010 by A-level student geoggers6, is as good an example of the genre as you might hope to find – a quite delightful animation loosely inspired by Prospero’s parting words. Our revels now are ended, but the videos live on. BardBox will therefore remain online as an archive (so new comments will be blocked), in which form I hope it may be an inspiration to some. I’m also keeping the BardBox YouTube channel (and its successor channel) going, where you will find more videos that I have been able to comment on here.

Thank you to all the creative filmmakers whose work BardBox has highlighted, and to the loyal few who have followed and sometimes kindly praised the site.

Romeo & Juliet, 2553 A.D.

Date: 2007
Posted by: mcdonaldjm
Cast: Meaghan Sloane (Chorus), Richard Jau (Sampson), Mitch Ryan (Gregory), Jeff Heilman (Abram), Jim Raley (Benvolio), Jordan Gebhardt (Tybalt), Fred Tollini, S.J. (The Prince), Bruce McDonald (Montagu), Victoria McDonald (Lady Montagu), Jon McDonald (Romeo), Arbiter (Juliet)
Credits: Directed and edited by Jon McDonald, music from the score to Titus (2000) by Elliot Goldenthal: Philimelagram, Arrows of the Gods, and Tamora’s Pastorale
Duration: 8.53 (part 1), 4.36 (part 2)

There is a whole genre out there of machinima versions of Shakespeare. Machinima are animations usally made using video game software, where fans of games such as Halo, Call of Duty, Second Life, World of Warcraft etc., and repply the figures and backgrounds to their own narratives. An increasing number have chosen to recreate scenes from Shakespeare in this form, frequently emphasising battle sequences, and mostly playing on the comic disparity between Shakespeare’s scenes and the outlandish figures of the fantasy worlds of video games.

This school project adaptation of Romeo & Juliet Act 1 Scene 1 uses imagery from the game Halo 3. It is both typical and distinctive among the genre. Typical, because of the comic effect of bizarre science fiction figures uttering Shakespeare’s words and the time devoted to the battle scene. Distinctive, because so many of Shakespeare’s words are heard. Unike other examples of the genre, which either paraphrase the text or use just a few key lines, here the filmmakers offers us reasonably long stretches of dialogue (albeit with some modern paraphrases) that draw us all the more into this unearthly world where Montagus and Capulets are luridly coloured robots from 500 years hence. The brawl between the two camps is well chosen (the Spartans and the Elites from the original game), though the absence of Juliet herself (beyond a wordless appearance portrayed by the Halo 3 character Arbiter) tends to render the video’s title an irrelevance. There are two parts, taking us not very far into the play, but far enough to recognise that an imaginative work has been realised.

Links:
Part 1
Part 2
Wikipedia on Machinima

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

Hour to Hour

Date: 2011
Posted by: Double G Productions
Cast: None
Credits: Double G Productions
Duration: 0.52

‘It is ten o’clock:
Thus we may see,’ quoth he, ‘how the world wags:
‘Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’

Jacques’ words on time and mortality are the inspiration for this roughly executed clay animation, which takes the idea that we rot and rot literally with a comically horrific ending. Part of the joke is the nature of stop-animation itself, which speeds up and collapses time into whatever space it eants to, so that a young man may become a corpse in seconds.

The anonymous filmmaker has some pedigree in this field, since as GroeneG he was responsible for 2007′s Hamlet’s Egg, one of the first videos to be posted on BardBox. The animation technique has not moved on greatly in those five years, but the fondness for using Shakespeare as black humour remains.

Links:
Vimeo page

Ophelia among the flowers

Date: 2011
Posted by: Csongor Dombovari
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

The Winter’s Tale Shakespeare for Kids

Date: 2009
Posted by: bubbales
Cast: Peirce (Leontes), Nazim (Antigonus), Thomas (Camillo), Lauren (Hermione/Perdita), Braden (Polixenes), Barbara (Paulina), Trevor (Old Shepherd), Buttercup (bear), Michelle, Ben
Credits: Directed by Michelle, Barbara, Trevor; set design by Nazim, Ahmet, Braden, Peirce; music selection Barbara, Michelle; camera Barbara, Ben, Nazim, Trevor; film editing Barbara; pupeteers Michelle, Lauren, Nazim, Trevor, Barbara; costumes Michelle, Trevor. A Later Shakespeare Production
Duration: 11.00

On the eve of Shakespeare’s birthday, BardBox’s latest discovery is this this delightful, extraordinary, weird and stylistically rich version of The Winter’s Tale. Delightful, because it is an American schoolchildren’s production of the play (in modern language and condensed to 11 minutes) which is done with such happy enthusiasm that it is a cast-iron argument all by itself for introducing Shakespeare to children at any age.

Extraordinary, because there is nothing else out there quite like it. It is unusual among online Shakespeare videos in attempting to express all of the plot of one of the plays in the short space available. It also stands out for its invention, with child and adult actors, video and still images probably employing some sort of software designed for schools projects, interiors and exteriors, with several surprise inventions, including the handy use of a map to show the distance between Sicilia and Bohemia.

Then weird, because in some respects it is a really quite peculiar experience. Seeing young children performing Shakespeare always makes you wonder if they know what it is they are doing, and if the adults involved had really thought it through, with the odd plot, odd names, odd settings, odd everything (except the language, which is not Shakespeare’s). Just what were children of six or seven supposed to make of what they were being asked to do? Except that everyone seems to be enjoying themselves so much, the exercise seems more than justified, certainly to be more than just being ‘cute’ for cuteness’ dubious sake.

And then stylistically rich, because there are so many of the particular tropes that BardBox has highlighted over the years bundled up in one video. Children speaking Shakespeare, school projects, Lego figures (Yoda as the oracle), Star Wars references, puppets, animals (a small dog plays the bear) – they are all there. Coupled with wooden acting (though Leontes expresses his rage rather well), shaky camerawork (some of it by the children) and erratic sound, this is the quintessential YouTube Shakespeare. And it all ends in a happy dance, just as such a play should do.

Happy birthday, William.

Links:
YouTube page

TO BE

Date: 2012
Posted by: The Voices Project
Cast: Emma Campbell, Melanie Araya, Dianne Kaye Aldé, Patrick W Richards, Izzy Stevens, Reece Vella, Ebony Vagulans, Lavinia White, Kathy Nguyen, Leo King Hii (all Hamlet)
Credits: Director: Damien Power, Producer: Bec Cubitt, Co-Producers: Eva DiBlasio, Eleanor Winkler, DOP: Guido Gonzalez, Editor: Nikki Stevens
Duration: 2.16

The multi-voice Hamlet ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy has become, if not quite a cliché, then if a familiar, even instinctual video response to the play. I think it was the South Bank Show in the UK, in a 1989 programme on the history of Hamlet in performance, which first edited together clips from different renditions into one soliloquy (Olivier, Gielgud, Burton etc.). What looked like a witty one-off has turned into a way to demonstrate how these are the words of everyman or woman being spoken to everyman or woman. The speech becomes not just one person’s thoughts, but anyones.

Such video intepretations find a natural home on Vimeo or YouTube, where the space available is best suited to the soliloquy. The prime example of the multi-voice soliloquy is the Hillside Student Community’s Hamlet’s Soliloquy, already praised on BardBox, where schoolchildren share the words with uncanny knowingness, and there are several examples on YouTube where someone has edited together clips from different feature film versions

Now we have TO BE, courtesy of the Fresh Ink programme of the Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp), which is looking at monologues through its Voices Project. As part of the project they have produced this video with ten young performers from Sydney who take it in turns to speak Hamlet’s words – on the beach, on a subway platform, on a basketball court, in a car, and so on – the monologue as multilogue. It has a particularly effective opening, in which each of the actors gets to say their ‘to be’, before the rest of the soliloquy is spoken by each in turn. The peformances are fresh, varied and meaningful, making us hear and see the words anew.

It is interesting to see how the online video medium encourages close engagement with the camera, the performers either looking directly at us or turning their heads towards us mid-shot. Feature film Hamlets seldom look us in the eye; stage ones never; online video ones continually. It is because they know that we are looking closely, on our laptops, smartphones or tablets. Online video is encouraging a more personalised, sharing form of Shakespeare, one in which we become as much a part of the performance as the performers – through watching, through our comments, through blogging and embedding, through sharing links, through the intimacy of address. The online video reaches out to a multiplicity of platforms; a video with multiple voices such as this is therefore emblematic of the whole genre. It is Shakespeare that can come from anywhere, and can be anywhere.

Links:
Vimeo page
Fresh Ink
The Voices Project on Facebook
Behind the scenes photos on Flickr

Google+: Tom

Date: 2012
Posted by: GoogleChannelUK
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (voice)
Credits: Not given
Duration: 1.31

Google in the UK has produced this sweetly sentimental advertisement for the Google+ social network, which uses Jacques’ ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech for As You Like It. We see Tom as infant (actually it’s Tom’s son William – the plotting is a bit muddled), schoolboy (William again), lover (we’re back to Tom), soldier, justice and ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’, and … and then nothing. For Google has given us just the six ages of man. Now is this because Google would rather not show us Tom “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”? Or is some subtle insinuation being made that in the virtual world there is no such thing as death or its approach? Is this bowdlerisation or simply variation?

Links:
YouTube page

Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act III, Scene 1

Date: 2009
Posted by: Mike Knish
Cast: Zak Engel (Bottom), Mike Knish (everyone else)
Credits: None given
Duration: 9.52

How many ways are there to film the high school assignment to make a Shakespeare video? Not nearly enough, to judge by the evidence. So many lame Hamlet raps, so many juvenile Star Wars parodies, so much poverty of the imagination (poverty of the props we must excuse, of course). Though a few of these videos do demonstrate some filmic skill (as recorded from time to time on BardBox), and through that an appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare, it is just a few.

Then we get this production, made by Mike Knish as a school assignment for Music History, it says. To say that it is good or bad is irrelevant – it’s just plain different. Two male students stand side-by-side in front of a large photograph of woodland in sunlight. One draws markings on his face, then other intones wordlessly. They then reads out lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the most wooden manner possible, reading from papers in their hands, making not the slightest effort to impart character or interest. The camera remains static, bar the occasional close-up of a face. They play music from a laptop when music is called for. One reads the part of Bottom, the other all the other characters, clumsily changing costume for each.

And so it goes on, and on, and on, for ten minutes. It is the antithesis of performance, a stoner’s Shakespeare, a Warholian school exercise, an end to pretension. I wouldn’t care to watch too many other videos like it, but I rather like this one. It has knowing ignorance.

And he got an A for the assignment.

Links:
Vimeo page

Ophelia

Date: 2009
Posted by: Book MMS
Cast: Sofia Mesquita (Ophelia)
Credits: Made by Anaïs Dujardin, Chrystel Orsati, Mélodie Simon. Music by Julien Ruggiero, Amandine Glauser
Duration: 5.07

There is only one Ophelia, and she is drawn to water. Were this film and its protaognist given any other name we would probably see no Shakespearean connection at all, but with the name the film turns into a tantalising, mysterious gloss on Shakespeare’s character. A young woman, in distress at thoughts unspoken (there are no words), gets out of bed and wanders through a house littered with empty water bottles. She is desperate for water (what exactly for is not made clear) and eventually climbs into an empty bath, where she would appear to fall asleep. The camera tracks back, revealing a trail of the empty bottles.

This rough-edged film has a rawness to it, a sense of something personal that had to be expressed but equally needed to remain hidden (the comment function on Vimeo has been disabled for the video). It is also slightly absurd, so that the film teeters on the edge between sorrow and silliness. It is a striking example of the considerable number of Ophelia-themed videos out there, part of a larger online cult that had spread across forums, video and photo-sharing sites in which young women variously inhabit the character Ophelia. Alan R. Young’s essay and website Ophelia and Web 2.0 usefully analyses the phenomenon (including comments on the convenience of choosing bathtubs over rivers or ponds in which to recreate Ophelia’s end). He concludes:

If treated with something like the same intellectual respect now increasingly given to film and television appropriations, the Web 2.0 images and videos of Ophelia’s death will be seen, not as a mere interesting digression away from a Shakespeare-centric world, but as a valid contribution to an already large and ongoing commentary upon Ophelia and upon Gertrude’s speech describing her death.

Indeed this is no digression but rather an extension of Shakespeare’s art into our post-modern world (even if it is arguable whether the greater influence may be Millais rather than Shakespeare, as it is the image of the drowned Ophelia in Millais’ painting – midway between life and death, midway betwen air and water – that so often provides the template for these imaginings). As with online video Shakespeare overall, we see his plays spilling out naturally into the media of our times. If we are looking for Ophelia today, she will be as much on YouTube as she is on the stage or printed page.

Links:
Vimeo page
Ophelia and Web 2.0