Category Archives: Film

Maxine Peake as “Hamlet”. March, 2015.

I saw Maxine Peake play Hamlet today, in a screening of Royal Exchange Theatre’s production.

It wasn’t cinema (though I was watching in a cinema), it wasn’t theatre (though it was filmed in a theatre).

The acting was superb. Peake was amazing – as were all the cast, actually.

It looked amazing – superb staging, and excellently captured on film. The way the set worked, and the lighting transformed the stage, was amazing.

It was way too long. I have long though Shakespeare needed an editor, and that was emphasised today – the first “half” came in at over two hours, the second at over an hour.

The strange way that Shakespearian language works by osmosis – if you stop and ask “what was just said?”, you can’t answer, but you know the meaning, if not the words – was the same as in the theatre.

I have not been to any stage production in the cinema before, and I’m not sure if it wholly works. Theatre demands more attention than cinema; cinema works in a different way. One’s “willing suspension of disbelief” is far greater in the theatre, and it took longer for that magic to work, watching the theatre in a cinema.

Peake was totally convincing as Hamlet. The rest of the cast were switched in terms of gender, too, and that was fine – completely irrelevant. Race too. It didn’t matter – the acting made it completely believable.

All in all, a very good way of watching a performance I would otherwise not be able to see. But neither theatre nor cinema – instead a kind of bastard hybrid, that works to the strength of neither medium.

And Maxine Peake is wonderful, and inhabited the role of Hamlet totally.

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Silent Films at “Playtime”.

Last week I went to the fifth evening on the Playtime series, and my fourth visit. (I missed one… And I’ll miss tonight’s show, too.) It got me thinking why it was that I was so keen to give it my support when, for instance, I only make it to the other Edinburgh small jazz venue every few months (maybe five times a year).

In part it is the musicians. With the same roster of players each week, more or less, it actually feels as if one is watching an evolving process, as they experiment with new ideas and spark off each other. As Rob Adams said after the inaugural gig, “that was four creative people being creative.”

They don’t play standards, so (so far) there is no opportunity for them to coast.

It also means that the audience builds a relationship with the musicians, seeing them change week by week.

This is helped by the small venue. There is no physical barrier between the musicians and the audience, either during their performance or before and after. The musicians recognise and know their audience.

Another reason, of course, is that Playtime is local to me, and it feels like a privilege to have this music so close to home. I want to make sure it keeps going!

* * *

Two of the shows I’ve seen have been “silent” movies, a trio of musicians providing the soundtrack. Thus head been a very interesting experience. Personally, the first – a showing of Nosferatu – worked better than the second – the Cabinet of Dr Cagliari. I think this is largely down to the films rather than jazz accompaniment. Nosferatu is a naturalistic film; Dr Cagliari very studio-bound, with clearly stylised sets. For me this meant that the music and film seemed indivisible for Nosferatu whilst Dr Cagliari almost forced me out of the film, so I was more aware of the music being separated from the film.

It is possible that this was also down to the two scores – both by Graeme Stephen: Cagliari was scored for guitar, drums and saxophone; Nosferatu featured guitar, bass and drums. Cagliari was more jarring, strident, than Nosferatu.

But both have also emphasised quite how important music can be (and almost always is) to the way one feels about any film. In modern cinema, music is an integral part of the production: there are times in the cinema when the music is telling you how to feel.

Watching a film with a live accompaniment, as happened in the early days of cinema feels really special, better perhaps than either would be alone. (I doubt I would have gone to a cinema to see either of these films without the live music.)

Well worth giving it a try!