& Guildenstern Are Dead
by Tom Stoppard
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.
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
Roundup: This Week's DVD Releases
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