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Monitor: The Prince of Denmark (1963)

Monitor: The Prince of Denmark (1963)

Astonishingly Internal

This is a BBC interview show that has Orson Welles, Peter O’Toole and some other older fellow (Ernest Milton) talking about ‘Hamlet’. Orson was well into retirement from attempting film masterpieces, including two ambitious Shakespeare productions. His ‘Othello’ is really something. He’d been in two stage Hamlets at this point which he disparages. O’Toole on the other hand was just off “Lawrence” and clearly had been deep into the play.

You have to know the play — as well as the work of these men — to enjoy this.

Hamlet is one of the richest experiences to discuss, and it affords many angles. My own preference is simply to read the play. That puts as few obstacles between me and Shakespeare as possible. I lost years of connection to the play simply by being exposed to Olivier’s reading. But these are meant to be performed and that — in Shakespeare’s case — falls 100% on the actors.

Here we have Milton, who can be described as in the Victorian tradition; not human at all but a dancing piece of elaborate furniture.

And we have O’Toole, who is a brilliant, earnest mind, profoundly committed to the craft. His approach is to study, get in the head of the writer, and convey his intent. He goes so deep in this that Welles is taken aback in admiration and some rare humility.

But Welles bounces back. His goal is to use the play as an instrument to get into the lives of the audience, to wranckle their souls. It is all about connection and directness in the line between actor and audience.

These could not be more opposed. Milton assumes that layers of tradition — folks smarter than himself — know better and he must perfect that traditional role.

O’Toole is committed to discovery so he can invent his own vehicle.

Welles trusts his innate ability to connect and runs everything through that.

What’s interesting about this is how graceful each of the three are in adapting the situation to whoever is talking. There’s precision in the listening; no one exceeds their bounds and always signals the end of the thought. I would make this required viewing by marking it a four but alas that would require me bending my own rules. Welles already has his maximum two films on the list.

Now, this is just him as a guest on an interview show. But if you watch closely, he controls the dialog even when not speaking. I used to hire people for my lab based on this ability, the test being: go into a lunch and dominate the conversation by saying that absolute minimum and having no one know what your role is.

Posted in 2022

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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