Another Sucky Hamlet

Hamlet Ethan HawkeI was the more deceived.

I recently gave the Patrick Stewart modern Macbeth a view, and was delighted. So when I saw a modern rendering of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke, I allowed my expectations to rise and rented it. I should have known better.

Macbeth is a good play. Hamlet is not. There are so many problems with Hamlet that even under the surest of guidance, it is a mixed bag. I can’t remember ever liking a performance of it. Strangely, the New York Shakespeare Festival version with Kevin Kline works the best. It succeeds in providing what the play itself does not: consistent motivation of the title character.

The Ethan Hawke production is a mess. In order to make this morally ambiguous play more dramatic, writer/director Michael Almereyda over simplifies most the characters. Claudius is almost unrecognizable; apart from a few brief scenes of self accusation, it seems his main crime is making out with Gertrude in public. (Old love is disgusting!) Despite some fine acting on the part of Liev Schreiber, Laertes has a very one-note fifth act. Perhaps most annoying, all context is removed from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who become nothing buy lowlife thungs of Claudius.[1]

The film has much else against it. The production design is cluttered without being interesting, and there is far too much use made of video screens. It kept bugging me that this movie was about the royal family of Denmark, even though it all took place in New York. (Maybe I’m being petty.) And some of the acting was what, struggling to be nice, I will call bad. In particular, Bill Murray as Polonius was all wrong. Karl Geary also seemed bad, but it is hard to say because Horatio is a bitch of a part; I pity any actor who must do it.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is not all bad. In fact, the film shows every sign of being a very creative endeavor. I don’t think it works, but the producers were trying to do something new and I applaud that. It has a number of moments that made me rethink scenes. When Hamlet’s father is about to leave, the film does not do the usual ghost fading away saying, “Remember me…” Instead, the ghost embraces Hamlet and tenderly whispers in Hamlet’s ear, “Remember me.” That was great. And there were more, although not many and not as good.

I cannot see how Hamlet can ever really work. Increasingly, I think that theater people like it because it is undramatic. It is a story that could easily work as a novel. That would allow the writer to really question Hamlet’s sanity. This alone would be a great advantage, because if Hamlet’s father’s ghost is real, what’s the play about? Why doesn’t Hamlet just kill Claudius and get it over with? A novel would also allow for a more vague ending. We can’t know for certain that Claudius is guilty, because that makes the whole story a sham. Or it could go in a different direction. For example, Hamlet could know that Claudius is guilty but not certain if Gertrude was. As a play, the only hope is to make Hamlet crazy and instead of the fifth act match, have Hamlet kill himself without resolving the culpability of the others. (Then he could haunt Horatio in Hamlet II: Return of the Prince.)

[1] This is a very personal thing to me. By my reading of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are trying to be helpful to their friend. And note that Hamlet never says anything to make them think but that he is crazy. His claims that he is not are phrased as riddles. He never expresses his belief that Claudius murdered his father. He never even says that he’s bummed out that his mother married so quickly. In short, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dealing with a bad situation with their asshole friend.

The Commercial Crapper

One need not be a follower of Nostradamus or Pat “Crazy Bastard” Robertson to know that we are heading toward, not a mere 1,000 years of darkness, but the very end of civilization itself. Some will argue that Western society began it’s decline in the psychodelic 1960s, while others mark the hedonism of the 1920s Jazz Age as the point where the scales tipped away from decency to descent into hell. I suspect Madonna’s 1984 MTV Awards performance was the death knell for tasteful entertainment.

Today, thanks to television, radio, and social media, the world can giggle its ass off while society swirls down the toilet. I could go into further detail by pointing at our brilliant 24-hour spew cycle, or cable television diversions such as Call of the Wildman and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child, or even Extreme Narcissism: It’s ALL About Me! Not today. Today I want to point my disapproving glare at television commercials. I hate them all – with the exception of the 1 out of 500 that make me laugh. Those I can tolerate. Here are a couple of examples of commercials that I find insulting, crass, and even worse, typical.

Let’s start with Liquid-Plumr Double Impact.

I shudder to think of the commercial concepts that were rejected in favor of this retarded attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor. First of all, let’s address the issue of the unkempt, harried, and apparently delusional housewife. Have I ever used Liquid-Plumr? Yes. I have, on rare occasions, used this vile, environmentally toxic goo rather than cope with removing slimy, nasty filth from a pea trap. Have I ever gone to the grocery store looking like someone who needed to shop one last time before killing myself? You bet. Have I ever read the words “Double Impact” and then fantasized about two brawny gay men showing up at my door offering to “snake my drain” and “flush my pipe”? Never.

The logical conclusion is that the commercial was written by a gay man with the subtle humor of a 13-year-old boy. Does he really think that there are a sad gaggle of neglected, undersexed housewives trolling the aisles of shopping stores and whose every thought is a double entrendre? How many women, outside of Kentucky, find drain snaking and pipe cleaning are sexually titillating?

In conclusion, I found this piece of portfolio-filling crap to be stupid and insulting at the same time. Even if Liquid-Plumr makes a product that is as useful as a plunger and as gentle as baby tears, I won’t buy it.

My second commercial complaint is with an Axe dropping entitled, “Office Love”. While I have yet to see any commercial for ANY Axe product in which the tagline, Made by and for douche bags, would be inappropriate, this one is particularly puerile.

The soundtrack doesn’t help. No offense to Daniel Johnston, but his song “Love Will Find You In The End”, while charming in a grating way, sounds like something Droopy Dog would have on his iPod.

What brilliant advertising genius said, “You know what would be awesome? To have Cousin It’s dwarf cousin pining for a pair of boobs with feet! It might be a little oblique until the romantic ending and we’ll ad the tagline, ‘HAIR. IT’S WHAT GIRLS SEE FIRST’ so the dumb asses will get it.” From that we can draw the already well-established conclusion that “Boobs. They’re what guys notice first”. Unless they’re ass men, but that would make for a really gross ad.

The soundtrack doesn’t help. No offense to Daniel Johnston, but his song “Love Will Find You In The End”, while sweet in a grating way, sounds like something Droopy Dog would have on his iPod. Had the characters been complete human beings throughout the commercial, it could have been a rather charming ad.

So forget sense of humor, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a nice smile. For guys who were gypped in the genetic lottery, no worries! Slather yourself in lounge lizard slime and the girls won’t even notice.

These are just a couple of examples of the low-brow humor, profligate commercialism, and unabashed assaults on self-esteem that cause me to despair for the remnants of our pathetic civilization.