Tuesday, March 6, 2012

SHAKESPEARE HIGH--Alex Rotaru's look at the works of Willie as student competitions

Lovers of Willie the Shake, as one of my best friends from drama-school-days used to call the guy (or maybe gal) who wrote the work attributed to William Shakespeare-- Anonymous, by the way, despite its "theory" of attribution having been discredited, is a huge amount of fun: fast-moving, gorgeous to view, well-acted and full of energy and surprise, and Roland Emmerich is to be congratulated for bringing it to the screen. Don't believe those "incensed" critics. Rent it, if you haven't already -- will be of two minds (often at nearly the same moment) while watching SHAKESPEARE HIGH, the new documentary by Alex Rotaru (shown below) about a fairly famous annual high-school competition that takes place in Southern California, during which scenes from the plays of The Bard are acted out.

The two minds will come as a result of seeing the language of Shakespeare either given its due as best these students are able or made nearly unintelligible via various gimmicks from rap to acrobatics. Face it, please, those of you in the gimmick crowd: it's the language from which everything great in Shakespeare springs. The language leads us to the meaning, and from there to the themes and the emotions, comic and tragic. The events of the plays are fairly standard; you can find these in most soap operas, action movies, war stories, or historical fodder. So, to see and hear Shakespeare's language gimmicked up beyond recognition may displease you.

However, the kids are often delightful (and sometimes quite sad) in their various manners, actions and ideas about life and art and their place in it all. But I am not so sure that they have gained much appreciation of The Bard's work by only keying into the situations in the plays, rather than wrestling with the language and its meaning and conquering these (even somewhat).

Along the way we meet a nice range of students, discover why they're at this competition and what they hope to gain from it. We watch their instructors and learn how they feel about the competi-tion. And we see and hear actor/celebs like Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, Val Kilmer and Richard Dreyfuss explain, cajole and remember former days. Spacey and Winningham (both shown below) were winners of these competitions in decades past, and as they return to the venue now, they clearly have a soft spot (and a keen mind) for what this event can mean to fledgling drama students. Spacey, in particular, is impressive and moving as he talks about his own youth and what drama and theater brought him.

Compared to a competition such as the one found in the recently released (and decorated) documentary, Undefeated, the competition here might seem small potatoes. But Shakespeare never is. Whoever he was, whoever wrote what is attributed to him, does not matter. It's the work itself that survives -- and creates and enables even competitions such as this one, which Mr. Rotaru has brought to the screen with enough energy and thought to make it worth your time.

Shakespeare High (81 minutes, a Cinema Guild release) opens this Friday, March 9, in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, with other openings in cities around the country to follow. By the way, Movieline is giving away two free tickets to the 6pm screening of the film this Friday, March 9. Click here for more information.

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