The Shakespearian Bedrock
It may have been the Polish director Andrej Wajda who made a film called Man of Marble but there is in Grigori Kozintsev's adaptations of both Hamlet and King Lear the idea of men of stone, as though we aren't descended from apes but from granite. We needn't use the term to mean a statue that someone is created out of (as Wajda does), nor to indicate metaphorically that some people are made of firmer stuff than others. It rests more on the mineral quality that is apparent in both of Kozintsev's films but most especially 1971's King Lear. One need only think of the scene at the beginning where the peasants pass through the hard, rock-landscape and look on at the castle in the distance. While Shakespeare's play immediately introduces us to Kent and Gloucester, and then Gloucester's bastard son Edmund, before introducing us to Lear, the film suggests that what we need to attend to first is the harsh environment and the poor who look like they can only make the most modest of livings off the hard land. As they peer towards the castle, they aren't so much looking towards civilisation as rock more formed, given shape and focus in a citadel that provides shelter but also, as we will soon find out, harbours false emotion, hubris and manifold scheming. Imagine, the film appears to say, what it would be like to assume one's form comes out of rock, of nature at its hardest and most solid, yet is capable of shattering, breaking, even of frangibility? While a 'soft' Shakespeare adaptation like Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet proposes affiliations with the flower and a world constantly blossoming, and Roman Polanski's Macbeth (made like Kosintzev's film in 1971) indicating the constant coursing of the blood, Kozintsev's adaptation insists on making the element mineral rather than herbaceous or liquified.
Kozintsev hasn't been shy in expressing his interest in the elemental. As Ronald Hayman says, "Grigori Kozintsev's first book, Shakespeare, Time and Conscience contained a diary of his work on the Hamlet film and threw a great deal of light on his use of elemental imagery in the film stone, fire, sea and earth." (Grigori Kozintsev: Talking about his Lear and Hamlet Films ) Yet while the sea plays a very prominent role in Hamlet, intermingling with stone as the main element, in King Lear, set in an earlier period, it is stone that is singularly pronounced, even if the film is clearly set many centuries after the stone age. One can take the man out of the stone age, the film proposes, but you cannot take the stone out of man. When Lear says, "is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts," Kozintsev might reply that it is our elemental nature: it is our stoniness. When Ronald Hayman says of Kozintsev's work that it manages to "coax a new imagery out of the Shakespearian bedrock", this is metaphorical but can also be quite literal. However, we will notice as well that the sea proves of vital importance to the image structure Kozintsev sets up, and the metaphysical surplus the film seeks. Rock may be the most central image but Kozintsev is a more broadly elemental director than that.
Shakespeare was of course not impervious to the importance of the elements upon us but had the advantage of language within the disadvantage of the stage: the words had to carry the images that the stage sets could only mimic. When Lear says of Goneril that "to make this creature fruitful/into her womb convey sterility/dry up in her the organs of increase/and from her derogate body never spring/a babe to honor her," the playwright must convey in the brilliance of the language this most brutal of sentiments. Kozinstev instead shows a Lear environmentally rather than linguistically, and the stone-heart doesn't only become a metaphorical image but a filmed record of stoniness. When we see how cruel and blunt Lear can be we aren't surprised given the world he has carved himself out of and that others are left behind in. As the film shows us the castle after showing us the nearby stony scrubland, we see how precarious civilisation seems to be even if other minerals and elements become evident in the castle: in the wood beams, the oak tables, the adorned metals and precious stones, the fur-lined clothing. People have made something of themselves, in common parlance, but what are they made out of? Kozintsev conveys to us that the costumes and the comforts are all very well but they show how weak this civilisation happens to be when pressure is placed upon it by those stone hearts, and most especially, and in the first instance, Lear's. Kozintsev reckons: "In King Lear the whole history of human civilisation is summed up, from the pre-historic hearth to the modern irony and the modern understanding of the possibility of catastrophe and of what is necessary to stop this catastrophe." ('Grigori Kozintsev: Talking about his Lear and Hamlet Films') Yet it is the pre-historic hearth that interests us the most.
Lear decides, as we all know, to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters (Cordelia, Goneril and Regan) but while Goneril and Regan proclaim their unequivocal love for their father, Cordelia tells him directly that whatever love she has for him will no doubt be divided when she marries. Her sisters claim to love the king exclusively, so why have they married; do the husbands not receive any of that love? We shall find out later that the lack of love for their husbands isn't because of their great love for Lear but their burgeoning lust for Edmund, yet what infuriates Lear at this stage is that Cordelia humiliates him in front of everyone as she lacks the subservience of her sisters. A pragmatic man might see in her statement an obvious reality but not Lear. At one moment we see Cordelia, Regan and Goneril in the background in an odd shot, as if the camera were looking out from the back of the huge fire that Lear is sitting beside. The three daughters come towards him as he poses his question and the image is a swirl of smoke. Where is the camera placed we might wonder as no person could position themselves under the chimney without getting consumed by the flames they are all but standing amongst? But rather than answering that question, what interests us is why Kozintsev would go to such lengths to create such an image: an image perhaps of that prehistoric hearth that is confirmed when the director says: "It was an ancient fireplace, which introduces a touch of pre-historical fire. A father and his three daughters the family, the clan, near the fire. It is only a touch. It would be very bad to explain this in a heavy way." ('Grigori Kozintsev: Talking about his Lear and Hamlet Films') The impossible shot he offers captures very well the primal nature of the fire and smoke without turning it into a symbolically heavy image, the sort of metaphorically categorical cliche when characters kiss and the film pans to the fireplace. The shot remains elemental rather than symbolic.
While King Lear is a brilliant play about the intricacies of human folly and greed, ambition and hubris, Kozintsev's film is only concerned by these things as a secondary dimension to the matter out of which man comes. 'In my view Shakespeare on the screen must become more a tragic poem than a play, more of a relationship between characters and landscape, a historical and geographical representation" (Grigori Kozintsev: Talking about his Lear and Hamlet Films) What Kozintsev emphasizes is Lear's relationship with the earth; that the kingdom he controls is only as good as the ground with which he can reunite himself. From one perspective this is a tragic loss as Lear falls out with Cordelia, is manipulated by the other daughters, and by the end of the play will be reunited with the three of them in death. But there is in Kozintsev's adaptation the tragic and the primal and what he opens with is raw life before introducing us to social life. While the play emphasizes the tragic nature of the familial and the social, with the numerous intertwining motives of the various characters and their determination to outdo each other, save face, continue surreptitious affairs and feign feeling, the film takes full advantage of the landscape in which such social affairs are contained. If plays are usually social things it is because they cannot be primal things except metaphorically and this is where the genius of Shakespeare's language has no equal. The playwright tries consistently to find in language the means to convey a more primal aspect than the situation ostensibly demands, evident in so many asides we find in the play. Gloucester's remark, for example: "as flies to wanton boys are we to gods; they kill us for their sport." Or Edgar's "and dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!/The crow and choughs that wing the midway air/Shows scarce so gross as beetles." The world beyond the social is constantly invoked and Kozintsev can give to such language images that match them literally rather than figuratively by showing us that world. It might not be true that an image is worth a thousand words but Kozintsev's camera must nevertheless find images worthy of a handful of Shakespeare's. When we see Lear crawling in the long grass he has become the very creatures the playwright often puts into metaphor; when we see him mounting a stone it is as though he is trying to find the lizard inside him. The tragedy isn't that Lear loses his kingdom and looks like he is losing his mind, it is that he seemed before unable to see all that he had gained when he expected everyone to be at his service, including his daughters and how they ought to praise him. That blindness is itself a certain type of loss. When Kozintsev shows us the image of the flames and smoke from the hearth and chimney, it functions a little like a foreshadowing. The elements await a man who thinks that he has moved beyond them, that his wealth and comfort, his manifest civilization, mean he needn't concern himself with them anymore. The image proposes that he must, as Kozintsev films as though from nature's point of view.
The numerous low shots in the film exemplify this as well. Whether it happens to be the opening of feet struggling along a path, an umotivated shot from the sky to the earth or the moment where Kent, Lear and the fool are scrambling around on the ground in a ferocious rainstorm, the director suggests man as root vegetable. Theatre may show the human rise in social circumstances and may be able in a great playwright to invoke through language the breadth of being, but Kozintsev can give us images of that earth and all that comes out of it. If stone seems the predominant aspect for us it nevertheless does so in the context of the other important elements, of what Heidegger would call the fourfold: In the gift of the outpouring earth and sky, divinities and mortals dwell together all at once. These four, at one because of what they themselves are, belong together. Preceding everything that is present, they are enfolded into a single fourfold." ('The Thing') Of this, he sees "the earth is the serving bearer, blossoming and fruiting, spreading out in rock and water, rising up into plant and animal. When we say earth, we are already thinking of the other three along with it, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four." Heidegger was always interested in one's thereness as a being amongst beings but such a thought on the stage is difficult to convey directly and so surely any such adaptation of so potentially elemental a work as King Lear needs to take advantage of the nature it can depict simply by finding the locations that will convey it. Yet at the same time, these will not be 'realistic images', where the operative word is realistic, but a conjunction of the two words to create a compound aesthetic between the realism a location will provide and an image structure a director will insist upon.
If we wish to emphasize very strongly the stoniness of Kozintsev's King Lear, while acknowledging the importance of fire, water and wind, the significance of rain and sea, the divinities and the mortal, it rests on this mineral element, giving Kozintsev an imagistic grounding that escapes a literal rendering of place. While many of the great filmmakers make clear they are working with a reality filmed, they know too that the contingencies they seek in location specifics might not always yield the images sought. This is true even in the most rigorous of directors, those who might seem to have little interest in the 'cheating' studio productions would take for granted. Fred Kelemen, who shot Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse said, "We had a huge crew and they were all blowing. (Laughs.) We had some old wind machines and sometimes we used a helicopter." (Cinemascope) Gilles Deleuze noted how saddened the critic Serge Daney initially was when he went to Japan to see the making of Ran, Kurosawa's take on King Lear. "...there is no wind that particular day, you find wretched wind-machines standing in for it and, miraculously, contributing to the image the indelible internal supplement..." (Negotiations)
It is this indelible internal supplement that Kozintsev seeks and what partly allows him to escape the realistic. Interestingly, both Hamlet and King Lear were shot in more or less the same place: in and around Narva on the Russia/Estonia border, yet the films are very different works because the image structure adopted in each instance is quite distinct. Kozinstev says, "Hamlet needs a kind of Elizabethan ethos, absolutely different from that of King Lear, which is more timeless and universal." ('Grigori Kozintsev: Talking about his Lear and Hamlet films ) A more straightforwardly realistic filmmaker would seek the image out of the places in which they shoot, knowing that the truth of their film lies strongly in the truth of locale. Kozintsev needs found realities also but isn't beholden to them. They must be places that contain within them the images that can be extracted from them but that doesn't mean anybody will immediately recognise the place as a consequence. Someone watching Hamlet and King Lear might understandably feel that they were different locations but that rests on the director's interest in an Elizabethan retreat in the former instance and an early Medieval exposure in the latter. While the prince is claustrophobically inside the castle and in his head for most of the film (no matter the voyage Hamlet takes to fight the enemy), Lear is exposed to the elements. Hamlet indicates a place that insulates and isolates; King Lear a place that expels and exposes.
We see this for example in the speech Lear gives and also in Cordelia's marriage to the king of France. Lear takes to the castle walls and stands high above his subjects before the film cuts to Claudia's wedding beside a cross and on stony ground. While the castle in Hamlet shows the solidification of civilisation; the castles in King Lear suggest a more precarious existence: that civilisation is far from yet established and Lear must go out amongst the people, see their poverty and desperation, and feel his own despair, at losing his kingdom and his daughter, in the destitution of his subjects. If stone remains the most important element it rests on an aridity the director constantly searches out, as though through a mixture of luck and deliberation he kept finding the hardness he sought.
Assistant director Boris Frumin talked about the difficulties Kozintsev had keeping his cast. Kozintsev hired people from the local factories but the production moved so slowly that many had to go back to work since they took vacations to appear in the film. The local army unit would no longer help him. "We started to recruit local alcoholics as Lear's knights. Narva was one hundred kilometers from Leningrad. Alcoholics and bums from Leningrad would often be expelled to Narva as "social outcasts" parazit elements. They became our resource for 'soldiers.'" (Cineaste) The faces Kozintsev films resemble the rocks that he shows us: at the beginning of the film when we see the poor in Lear's kingdom travelling towards the castle, the people look like they have been hewn from the most difficult of circumstances, granite visages complementing the landscape that we can believe they have struggled to make a living out of for years. They have been constantly exposed to the elements, with such a remark offering a fundamental meaning in Kozintsev's King Lear as it might be no more than a phrase in somebody else's work. By suggesting the exposed and the expelled the film constantly seeks to find a King Lear that exists not on the stage and not simply on film but in and out of the elements that would have brought all else into being. If people may often talk of a love for Shakespeare in the context of the stage, the acting and the language, Kozintsev reconfigures this relationship by making it about the land, the faces and the sounds. By filming around the barren area of Narva, by suggesting the faces matter as much as the language used, and by using sounds that often indicates struggle and hardship, the director decontextualises Shakespeare not only in filming it in Russian (using Boris Pasternak's translation) but also by making it the opposite of a play.
No matter how traumatic the situations in a theatre production happen to be they are still experiences that indicate distance and observation: after all 'theatron' means a place for viewing. Aristotle may have proposed a cathartic response in the theatre but this was centrally so that the viewer could experience tragedy at one remove, a means by which to learn from experiences they themselves wouldn't have to endure. Thus Peter Levi reckons "one of the most important features ...of early Greek tragedy that we should notice...[is] its extreme formality in performance..." (The Oxford History of the Classical World) Kozintsev gives us a Shakespeare shorn of the theatrical and the formal, not only by using locations so vivid that the stage recedes completely (the way in Olivier's Hamlet it remains a presence throughout as a studio set) but also by using an actor who is cast more for his capacity to reflect the harshness surrounding him over his mastery of the Shakespearean. If in Shakespeare, language is so often seen as the thing, not a word of it is spoken by the Estonian actor Juri Jarvet who was dubbed into Russian. If the English tradition demands that when Shakespeare is filmed he will be played by an actor who has command over the language and the play, then Kozintsev reckons what matters more is that the actor fits into the filmic landscape. When thinking of English adaptations, usually they cast an actor well known for their familiarity with the playwright: Olivier in Henry V, Hamlet, Richard III; Branagh in Henry V, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, films in which they were also the director. Orson Welles cast himself in Macbeth and Othello. Even the often innovative Peter Brook cast Paul Scofield as King Lear in his adaptation, made around the same time as Kozintsev's. But rather than casting an actor who suggests the dexterity of the language, Kozintsev casts someone we could see broken by the harshness of the environment. When we first witness him it is when he is warming himself by the fire, his thin and reedy body looks like it has no fat to protect him from the cold. When we see him later fighting against the harshest of storms we have in mind that moment by the fire just as we have in front of our eyes a light and frail man who looks like he could be blown away by the wind.
This makes sense if we regard the environment the director utilises and creates as at least as important as Lear happens to be a figure within it. On the stage, the actors are real while what surrounds them is artificial; in film there can easily be an ontological equality between things, the sort of ontological aspect Heidegger invokes. The rock on a stage is likely to have been made with papier mache, which gives it a weak status next to the actor who passes it by, but in film it can have the same status: it is a rock just as the actor is a man. The rock has its own rockness that can be acknowledged: by casting an actor who seems more fragile than many a Lear, it is as if the environment isn't a backdrop to the drama but a force within it. A robust Lear who leaves his castle is one thing; a frail Lear who leaves it another. It isn't just that Lear is old it is that he does not look strong. Jarvet was only in his early fifties when he made the film (interestingly Scofield was younger still in Brook's adaptation), suggesting that he wanted a Lear who wasn't chiefly old but brittle: someone who could fall apart in the face of one daughter's semi-rejection and who would promptly look and act like the poor people he governs once out amongst them. "It's an interesting and paradoxical situation: Lear was a great king, the dominant personality in his kingdom, with his will, his thoughts, his feelings. But he's also quite ordinary..." ('Talking about his Lear and "Hamlet Films'). As we see far more of Lear out in the harsh environment rather than commanding his kingdom, it makes sense that the emphasis should be placed less on how he rules than how his survival (even his very being) becomes precarious.
When we speak of the harshness of the environment, of the rocky terrain and the elements that whip about the kingdom, it is to acknowledge the weakness of man that runs through so many of Shakespeare's plays and is often offered in the famous and much-quoted metaphysical soliloquies. Macbeth's "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, /And then is heard no more." Hamlet's to be or not to be, that is the question: "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them." It may be said that such digressions take us out of the drama, that they are asides to the audience as a character attends to their thoughts rather than furthers the action. One offers this as no sort of criticism even if critics may have hinted at dismissal in appraising such moments. Samuel Johnson said, from his edition of Shakespeare's plays, that "the action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it...Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an instrument than an agent." (Early Criticism of Hamlet) However, generally, commentators have seen the reverse, with Voltaire saying, "amidst all these vulgar irregularities, which to this day make the English drama so absurd and so barbarous, there are to be found in Hamlet, by a bizarrerie still greater, some sublime passages, worthy of the greatest genius." (Early Criticism of Hamlet) It would seem that while Johnson sees a retreat from the action; Voltaire observes an escape from the vulgar. Kozintsev almost bypasses the mechanics of the theatrical production by insisting the metaphysical meets with the physical and denies the theatrical. Supposedly, Kozintsev was happiest when out on location, finding in the places he filmed the most profound of thoughts that Shakespeare expressed. When Boris Frumin talks of the production he says: "I know Kozintsev was very unhappy with his studio sets. It was his constant struggle. He couldn't get in the studio the same quality he was getting doing exterior location photography. I do remember his frustration with movie sets." Frumin adds, "The only movie set which he liked was the "beggars' shelter," or hovel, where Lear spends the night during the storm. Kozintsev was satisfied with it because it was not a set. It was a space between three walls filled with dirty human bodies. And this he accepted." (Cineaste)
Nevertheless, King Lear is the most complex of Shakespeare plays, so much so that A. C. Bradley, quoted in the Introduction to Penguin's Four Tragedies, reckoned: "the number of essential characters is so large, their actions and movements are so complicated, and events towards the end crowd on one another so thickly that the reader's attention is overstrained." It isn't only that we have Lear dividing his kingdom up amongst his three daughters, and falling out with one of them, there is also the subplot where Gloucester's bastard son Edmund manipulates his father against Gloucester's legitimate son, Edgar. We have too, this subplot becoming central when we discover that not one but two of Lear's daughters, both Goneril and Regan, have designs on this bastard son, and thus Edmund's story becomes very much part of the main plot. There are also Goneril and Regan's husbands, one of whom is very interested in power (Regan's husband, the Duke of Cornwall), while the other (The Duke of Albany) is more concerned with ethos and learning. As Kozinstev says of Albany: "He has no desire for power in the state: he's not fighting for the throne but in defence of human dignity." ('Talking About His Lear and Hamlet Films') Here we have a couple of men one of whom wants a share of the power; the other who cares little for the court struggles and, before the end of the play, will take on some of its heft as one of its surviving cast. Albany says in one of the final moments in the play: Our present business/Is general woe./ Friends of my soul, you twain./ Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain. Albany's awareness of his wife's interest in Edmund, and an awareness that her sister is manipulated by Edmund too, would be enough plot for many a film, but Kozintsev has to cram it inside the body of the main story which concerns Lear's love for Cordelia, and Lear's inability to receive a straight answer. When Goneril and Regan lie at the beginning of the film, offering their father complete devotion, it is a lie we later see they can tell because they have already been lying about their devotion to their husbands. Lear can have all their love just as their husbands can: their love is fictitious so can be manifold. Cordelia's is true and must attend to the mathematics of affection. If she marries she feels she must divide her love as Lear divides his kingdom: no one person can claim it all. Cordelia could have been a central figure in another play, just as Edmund may have been, or for that matter Gloucester, Kent, or the Duke of Albany. Gloucester may have fretted over which son he can trust; Kent how obliged he should be to his king; Albany to his love of learning over his position of power, fretting over his wife's infidelity.
To put all these strong and deep motivations into the one play, and coming from various characters, could lead to a film that devotes its time to unpicking the various reasons people have for doing what they do. In the play, there are at least two reversals of expectation: that Lear's daughters are in love with Edmund and that Edmund has plotted against his brother. There are also two characters who disguise themselves: Kent and Edgar. Disguise alone might be a central feature of a play (and was of course in Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night) but here it is but one of many elements of subterfuge and albeit noble manipulation. Kent is determined to stay close to the king who rejects him; Edgar must hide under the guise of another as Edmund wishes him dead. Of course the reason Edgar hides under an assumed identity is because it is his very father Gloucester who has sent out troops looking for him after believing Edmund's claim that Edgar wants to kill Gloucester. Again, this would be plot enough in another play.
Kozintsev doesn't ignore the plot but he does contain it: he suggests that the elements he explores are finally more important than the machinations of the story. It is not so much the story we follow (though follow it we must) but that we witness with astonishment the complexity that comes out of the earth, what problems the human creates for itself, but from the position of creation much greater than the plot problems shown. If vital to Shakespeare is the aside that gives metaphysical proportion to human deeds, surely a filmmaker needs to find the visual equivalent for that containment? One of the main differences between ancient tragedy and modern tragedy, between Sophocles and Shakespeare, is that in the ancient works characters are flawed (or no more than in error) but in more modern works they are often evil. As Hegel says, characters like Macbeth and Goneril and Regan "on account of their atrocious conduct, only deserve the fate they get. This type of denouement usually is presented under the guise that individuals are crushed by an actual force which they have defied in order to carry out their aims." (Hegel on Tragedy) If for example, Edmund, Goneril and Regan all died it wouldn't be tragic; it is the collateral damage that takes place alongside their scheming that leads to tragedy. If Gloucester weren't left blind and Cordelia dead, the play could have ended almost happily. In Macbeth, the title character and his wife are not the only dead in the play; there is too the death obviously of Duncan but also Banquo and several other characters as the Macbeths' paranoia takes over. It may be true that in numerous, films, plays and novels key characters die without the works constituting themselves as tragic, just as there are modern tragedies that have few deaths but which are seen as tragic works for reasons other than the characters' demises. Death of a Salesman is tragic because Willy Loman cannot see himself as others see him and the lies he tells incorporates the family that he supports. He dies a tragic man because he cannot confront himself and the collateral damage is the family that has to suffer his denial, a dishonesty his son Biff has struggled with for years. If in classical tragedy characters usually contain a fatal flaw, and in modern tragedy, there is often actively villainous deeds, in contemporary tragedies like Death of a Salesman and Long Day's Journey into Night, there is pusillanimity, a weakness of character that suggests self-pity and procrastination. Even if Hamlet may be described as a self-pitying procrastinator there is also the fact of his father's murder, a whole villainous plot behind his decision-making. But whether, ancient, modern or contemporary, what might be the metaphysical surplus that the play contains, that can turn it into a world the filmmaker can film without relying on the words to do so and where the images are merely recording them?
In Kozintsev's film, it is by finding analogies between nature and human nature. He says "it is necessary to explain all the figures in the play not only as characters but as materialisations of cruelty or goodness, the worst parts of human nature or the best. There are many characters - like Cordelia, the Fool and Albany - who explain the good side." But this human nature is also natural as well. As he says, "I try to show Lear himself as a part of nature, in a field of flowers. His hair spreads like moss, the grey hair of nature. Once man is seen as a part of nature, the movement towards regeneration can begin. Cordelia too had her own landscape sea and a very wide landscape with waves and seagulls." ('Talking about his 'Lear' and 'Hamlet' Films') When we witness Lear crawling through the grass or see cut rope that Cordelia was found hanging from, the land and the sea give context to the character's existence as a theatrical production cannot. Shakespeare must use all his genius to create in words what a great filmmaker can achieve with images that capture the materiality of things. Filming next to the sea won't initself achieve it but cutting back to the cut rope and seeing the sea through a stony frame captures brilliantly the hardness and softness simultaneously. It shows us the fixity of the stones against the movement of the water and somehow reunites Lear and Cordelia elementally as it acknowledges her loss narratively. There is no 'reason' why Kozintsev adds this shot. While a little earlier he has shown us Cordelia hanging from the spot in a thoroughly motivated image that makes clear the horror of the situation, this later image as the camera zooms in on the space now showing her absence is unnecessary to the drama but vital to the image structure Kozintsev has set up. An image structure that can only be cinematic as the world of stone and sea are accessed.
Over the years there have been hundreds of Shakespeare adaptations: Stephen Fellows says "There are 525 films which give Shakespeare some sort of writing credit...of those, 294 are full adaptations of Shakespeare plays"(Film Data and Education), with Hamlet the most filmed. But with many an adaptation we might think: what have they added to the play? If Shakespeare is regarded by many as the greatest playwright who ever lived, why would a filmmaker want to mess with that genius? Many come to him with modesty or virtuosity humbly adapting the bard or acknowledging their skill in handling the language. Olivier's adaptation of Hamlet is a perfect example of humility and adroitness: the film is a visually functional account while Olivier's performance suggests complete control of the words. Kozintsev comes with neither modesty nor virtuosity here. He casts an actor unfamiliar with Shakespeare speaking Estonian, and where another actor post-synched the dialogue. He also uses Pasternak's adaptation, saying: Pasternak produced a very Russian version of Shakespearian tragedy. Only a truly great poet could be so courageous. He translated Shakespeare into contemporary Russian." We are very far away from the Shakespeare of Olivier, Branagh and even the more innovative Orson Welles who was seen in the American context as Shakespeare's great defender of the faith. The New Yorker titled a piece: 'Orson Welles, Our Shakespeare', saying: "Welles's sense of selfand sense of his own prodigious powersare connected with Shakespeare." But what interests Kozintsev is what he can do with Shakespeare as if acknowledging what Shakespeare couldn't do himself. Shakespeare could do wonders with words but could do only so much with images. It would be four hundred years before film could make vivid those images, turn the symbolic function they possess on stage into the elemental in cinema. It is all very well for a filmmaker to understand Shakespeare but if they understand Shakespeare better than they do film, if their respect for Shakespeare's language is greater than their need to comprehend film language, then the playwright's words have been respected but the potentiality of the image underused. Kozintsev gives those images their cinematic due, more than four and fifty years after they were first written.
© Tony McKibbin