Until this week, Whedon’s legion of fans were salivating over the recently released preview for The Avengers...
This being a theatre column, I don’t usually get to talk about Joss Whedon, which is a shame, since he’s one of my favourite artists. Unfortunately (at least for me) he’s working in film and TV, which means that I don’t get to bring him up in theatrical conversations. I’m sure Joss knows this and I’m equally sure that this is why he just finished shooting a film version of Much Ado About Nothing.
Joss Whedon, for those not in the know, isn’t the most obvious person for the hardy Shakespeare fan to rally behind. He’s better known as the creative force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, four television shows known for the mashing of genres and the defiance of a single label that TV execs find remotely comfortable. The Cult of Joss is widespread across the world, not the least because of his characteristic writing style and his self-imposed mandate to create strong, unconventional female characters – in 2006 he was even honoured at an Equity Now benefit devoted to championing men who promote gender equality. He’s also revealed himself to be a fan of musical theatre, composing a musical episode of Buffy and the score for the award-winning Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, one of the best musicals written in the last ten years.
Readers of this column will know how much I detest modernization of Shakespeare...
Until this week, Whedon’s legion of fans were salivating over the recently released preview for The Avengers, the comic book flick which Whedon wrote and directed. But Whedon has decided to step on his own toes with the revelation that his modernized Much Ado About Nothing has finished shooting and will begin touring the festival circuit in the spring. Readers of this column will know how much I detest modernization of Shakespeare, so I’ll come right out and say that this aspect of the production is more then a little un-exciting. I’ll also confess to having never cared much for Much Ado - although unlike The Merchant of Venice, I can at least understand its appeal.
On the other hand, Bellwether Pictures (Whedon’s company) is completely open with the fact that the show has been both modernized and adapted, which is more then I can say for most of the people producing Shakespeare. Equally hopeful is the implication that Joss has at least some respect for the text, something that is also becoming a rare commodity in those who produce the Bard. “The text to me is a deconstruction of the idea of love,” states Whedon in the press release. Later, while talking to Entertainment Weekly, he went even further:
“[The text] is very modern. The language, the jokes, and the attitudes translate really, really easily. [The actors] do say the words as they’re written [in the play], but they connect to a modern audience in a way that portions of the other comedies don’t necessarily.”
Filmed versions of Shakespeare’s work have always had mixed results, which is surprising considering how cinematic Shakespeare’s plays can be.
I usually can’t get very excited about a new Shakespeare film. I’ve simply been burned too many times. Even Kenneth Branagh, once fairly dependable, can no longer be trusted, thanks to his atrocious Love’s Labor Lost and stunningly dull As You Like It. Filmed versions of Shakespeare’s work have always had mixed results, which is surprising considering how cinematic Shakespeare’s plays can be. Yet too often the script gets cut to shreds (as in the Mel Gibson Hamlet ) or the director’s mise-en-scène gets in the way (see Julie Taymor’s Titus). And while we’ll have to wait and see what Ralph Fiennes does to Coriolanus (coming out in December), the preview leaves me cold.
Whedon has bankrolled this project himself, even filming it in his house. It’s also shot in black and white, an act which these days has become the mating call for the pretentious artists. These things have all the earmarks of an artistic masturbatory disaster – and yet I remain oddly thrilled by the marriage of Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare. Unlike all the other adaptors, Joss is first and foremost a writer. When it came to adapting the script, he even remarked that he had trouble because “it had the words ‘about Nothing’ in the title. So I was like, ‘I don’t have anything to say about nothing’.”
Shakespeare’s own canvas is just as peculiar...
Although Whedon has his artsy-fartsy side, his work has always shown an inherent understanding of character. Though his canvas involves superheros, demons and vampire slayers, he has always used it as a means of exploring the human condition. Shakespeare did the same thing. Shakespeare’s own canvas is just as peculiar, featuring as it does a rogue’s gallery of cross-dressers, drunks, lunatics, murderers, sprites, fairies, magicians and monsters. But he mined these extreme characters to uncover their emotional truth. And like Whedon, Shakespeare also preferred his women fierce and his genres mashed tightly together.
So if anything, the unveiling of Much Ado About Nothing does not have me saying “Why?” but rather “Why didn’t this happen years ago?” And even if it’s a glorious failure, it still remains an inspiring example of an artist challenging himself to create something entirely new.