Much Ado About Much Ado About Nothing


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The difference between most film critics and the late Roger Ebert is that the former often seem naggingly worried about sounding clever and erudite, whereas Ebert foremostly adheres to the maxim: "A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man." I miss Roger Ebert and his writing. But anyway, here's A.O. Scott praising Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, which I watched, and which I thought was not nearly as great as Scott's gusher, which seems to highlight more the greatness of the source material... which is a giant "no, duh, it's Shakespeare", which ergo appears as Scott wanting to show off how well cultured he is.

I went into the screening with high expectations, due in some part to the lamentable A.O. Scott piece, and due to the fact that I, like most '80s children, came of age on a solid dose of Whedon-produced pop culture. Whedon shot this in between wrapping The Avengers and its post-production as a weird form of catharsis. I suppose there is only so much disappointment to be suffered when a script is verbatim Shakespeare, but the fact that it was verbatim (i.e. thee's and thou's) and was thoroughly modern (Leonato was, in the opening scene, talking while scrolling through his iPhone) and featured a Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse/Avengers potpourri cast and was rendered in 100% B&W made for a strange cocktail that I felt distracted from what should be the focus of any Shakespeare production: its dialogue.

The whole thing felt like an inside joke, an exaggerated wink-wink, that I was not quite party to, and indeed, it's apparently a time honored tradition of Whedon's actors to gather at his house (where the film was shot) and read Shakespeare together. The camaraderie of the cast is obvious, but their collective thespianic talent fell a bit short and failed, for me, to achieve full immersion and failed to consistently deliver the full punch of Shakespeare's wit.

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But with all that said, Whedon deserves mad kudos nonetheless for even trying this. Steven Soderbergh's now famous State Of The Cinema talk defines the difference between "movies" and "cinema", which is essentially the age old distinction between "commercial art" vs. "artistic art". All great things are born from the latter, but capitalism inevitably erodes it with the former. Thus a conscious effort is required from those who wield the power provided by commercial art to leverage it, to exploit it for meaningful art and risk the "failure" of it. I haven't read any Shakespeare in years, and as much as I'd like to say I re-read Much Ado About Nothing in preparation of watching this, I didn't -- I Wikipedia'd it. Still, it's something. It got me thinking about it again at least. It got me a little more curious about how I'd react to Shakespeare now vs. back when I read it because I had to. And so might all the Buffy and Angel fanboys. In that respect, I highly recommend checking out this piece of Cinema.
 

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