This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

24Nov/13

THE MIDDLE AGES ON FILM — SHAKESPEARE: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Warner Bros. production of Shakespeare play is a bizarre classic

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Max Reinhardt & William Dieterle, 2004)
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. at Second St.
Monday, November 25, 6:30, and Tuesday, November 26, 7:30
Series runs November 20 - December 1
212-505-5181
www.anthologyfilmarchives.org

Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle’s 1935 adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one freakishly weird flick. In a misty forest, fairies go around sprinkling love potions on sleeping humans, creating mixed-up relationships that even venture out into the realm of bestiality. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” Lysander tells Hermia, and that sums up this star-studded screwball comedy of a sort. Warner Bros. put together quite a lineup for this big-time production, with plenty of strange casting choices that end up working rather splendidly. James Cagney prances about as Bottom, Dick Powell plays Lysander, Olivia de Havilland makes her film debut as Hermia, Joe E. Brown is Flute, Billy Barty plays Mustardseed, and a teenage Mickey Rooney offers a delirious take on Puck, howling at the moon with sheer glee. The wacky movie also features Ian Hunter, Arthur Treacher, Victor Jory, and Anita Louise as the fairy queen Titania. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, and won for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing, will be screening November 25 & 26 as part of the Anthology of Film Archives series “The Middle Ages on Film: Shakespeare,” consisting of ten cinematic adaptations of several of the Bard’s history plays, set in the Middle Ages, including Grigori Kozintsev’s King Lear, Bela Tarr’s Macbeth, and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Throne of Blood. The twelve-day festival was curated in collaboration with professor and scholar Martha Driver, who notes about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “In Reinhardt’s enchanted forest, the fairies, gnomes, and elves are inspired by German folk tradition. While the bewildered young lovers and the rude mechanicals are imported intact from Shakespeare’s original, the spinning of Titania’s wedding veil (before she beds Bottom) to the Wedding March of Felix Mendelssohn, a modest addition to Shakespeare’s play, remains surreal and haunting. Jimmy Cagney is a crackjack Bottom and Pyramus while Joe E. Brown inhabits the twin roles of Flute and Thisbe with panache.”

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