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PNFS: Hamlet

PNFS: Hamlet

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  • Wed 20 Jun ’12, 5:30pm
  • Wed 20 Jun ’12, 8:00pm


Downtown Cinemas, 70 Broadway Ave, Palmerston North


All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Waged membership: $85.00
  • Unwaged membership: $70.00
  • Triple feature card: $30.00
  • High school student: $30.00

Directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall
Germany, 1921, 111mins

Scenes from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqHtkY9jllM

Although shot in Germany in 1921, this Sven Gade and Heinz Schall version of Hamlet is one of the most bizarre and revisionist film versions of Shakespeare's tragedy you are likely ever to see. In this version, Hamlet is a woman, played by the early Scandinavian and German film star Asta Nielsen.

One of the joys and revelations in seeing the film is Nielsen. One of the first international film stars, most of her films are now either lost or hard to find, which is what makes Hamlet such an unabashed surprise and delight. Nielsen (then 37 years old) in Hamlet overturns any stereotypical thoughts of silent film acting as a style of over-wrought theatricality and facial contortions. Nielsen's acting is completely modern and naturalistic, her great dreamy, haunted eyes speaking for her soul.

Nielsen's subtlety and quiet intensity carried over into the film performances of her contemporary Lillian Gish and in the films of Greta Garbo (who said about Nielsen, 'She taught me everything I know'). Her influence continued past the silent era into the films of Carl Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman. This naturalism is on display throughout Hamlet in her tiny, quiet gestures, calm movements, and evocative expressions.

With Hamlet being the perfect showcase for Nielsen, Nielsen as a woman playing a famous male theatrical character had to be addressed. As a result, Shakespeare is pulled and stretched and contorted to explain a female Hamlet. The film begins with a curious prologue citing various authors and literary critics criticising the inconsistencies of Shakespeare's character (the best of the bunch featuring a Goethe quote calling Hamlet an ass). Then a pre-credit sequence begins detailing Queen Gertrude (Mathilde Brandt) giving birth to a daughter and, thinking the king has died in battle and not wanting to relinquish the crown, decides to tell the population of Denmark that she has given birth to a son. Ultimately, the King (Paul Conradi) survives, showing up at Gertrude's bedside, but they both decide to keep the fiction alive.

Nielsen makes her first appearance in drag as the male Hamlet and this gender warp tightens like a fist as the film progresses. As the story unfolds, this gender bending gets creepier and creepier. Horatio is strangely attracted to his best pal and likes to put his head in Hamlet's lap. For Hamlet's part, he/she is attracted to Horatio but is stymied. Gertrude then eggs Hamlet on to make nice with Ophelia in order to keep the secret alive. - Paul Brenner (2007 New York Film Festival)

Did you know?
On 19 January 2007, the producers of the Berlin Film Festival announced that they would premiere the original colour version of this movie. This version was previously thought to be lost.

Two screenings 5.30pm and 8pm at Downtown Cinemas

Members only. Palmerston North Film Society Membership is available at the door before each screening and lasts for one full year.

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