Gary Dretzka
Noah Forrest
Leonard Klady

David Poland
Douglas Pratt
Ray Pride

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Directed by Tom Stoppard

Two interchangeable actors, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, star in Tom Stoppard's witty take on what was going on in other rooms at Elsinore while the drama depicted in Hamlet was taking place, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which has been released as a two-platter set by Image Entertainment (ID2562MBDVD, $25). The play is about many other things as well, using Hamlet as a starting point to examine language and the nature of drama, and also including ironic reflections on what was known about the physical world in Shakespeare's time. Stoppard wrote and directed the 1990 film, based upon his play. Roth and Oldman are terrific and evocative of the comedy teams of old, especially when they get caught up in Stoppard's elaborate word games. Richard Dreyfuss co-stars, as the head of the acting troupe that also enters Hamlet for a key sequence. At its most metaphysical level, the film reflects upon that aspect of existence that occurs outside of a person's cognitive intake, but it is also just a funny, comical romp with marvelous performances and witty exchanges, kind of an engagingly silly 'Abbott & Costello Meet Hamlet.'

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The image transfer looks fine. Once in a while there is a hint of age and instability in a shadow or a darker color, but generally the hues are crisp and finely detailed. There is both a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track and a DTS track, but the film's original sound mix is not particularly elaborate and the best thing the DVD's audio tracks do is to give it a solid delivery. The 118-minute program is not captioned.

The second platter contains four lengthy interviews, with Stoppard, Oldman, Roth and Dreyfuss, each in conversation with an unseen interviewer. Each segment is outstanding, as the subjects are allowed to take their time answering and really open up, sometimes pausing for 20 or 30 seconds before responding to a question. Each one talks about the play and the film, and about his own life and career.

Stoppard's interview runs 59 minutes. "I ended up directing it myself because, paradoxically, it seemed to be easier to get the money for the movie if I were doing it. I'd never directed a film, and therefore, I suppose, since nothing was known about my talents as a film director, there was just a possibility that I was Orson Welles, whereas somebody who actually had directed a film before, you know he isn't." If you are at all familiar with Stoppard's interviews in print, you know he can be erudite, humorous and insightful on almost any subject pitched to him, and given a whole hour to talk away, well, he could probably sell out for months on Broadway doing precisely that.

Oldman also speaks for 58 minutes, with absolutely no movie star façade to filter his emotional responses to the course of the conversation. He's like a neighbor hanging out at a barbecue while the kids are in the yard playing. He talks about the joys of acting, about the people he's worked with, about the different manifestations his profession can take, and about how, in the time that he has been working, the process had changed, with fewer chances to prepare for a part or nuture it during filming. He shares anecdotes about making the movie and admits that he can no longer watch Hamlet without giggling at what he 'knows' is happening off stage, particularly when Polonius is killed. As established a star as he is, however, he recognizes that the hierarchy is so tightly dictated by economics that his opportunities are limited because he doesn't care to promote himself with publicists and appearances and those sorts of things. "There are things that maybe I'd like to do, or I'd like to play, and I just don't even, can't even get in the door. I don't go to premieres, really, I don't go to parties, I don't go to the Golden Globes, I don't network. I don't do all of those things. I'm not interested. You've got to work at being famous. Being good isn't good enough. Being talented isn't good enough."

Roth is a little more guarded than Oldman, but talks for 33 minutes about many of the same things. Both he and Oldman recall how they loved the dialog so much that they continued to rehearse scenes after those scenes had been shot, and basically exchanged dialog with one another whenever they could get a chance, whether it was between takes or at the bar in their hotel. Roth even addresses bringing the show back to the stage with Oldman, and laments not getting to weasel into a feature film version of Hamlet that was also being shot at the time.

Dreyfuss has a more practiced interview routine, replete with his shifts into that high pitched giddy laugh that suggests, only as an act, that his mind might be teetering on madness, but he opens up for 45 minutes and talks about the pluses and minuses of the type of stardom that Oldman has actively avoided. He also speaks about his dabbling at directing for the stage, revealing that he was shocked to recognize himself becoming precisely the kind of micromanaging director he despises, and he talks about the brilliance of Hamlet, his favorite work, and how he would still like to do it-for the radio, where you can't see how old he is.

June 3, 2005

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