The Virtues of VHS

I remember the day in the early 1980s when my father unboxed our family’s first VHS player: a wood-grained Panasonic Omnivision with a top-loading tape bay that was like a machine from the future. Soon our trips to the video-rental shop were a regular event, even though the shop had just five shelves that were mostly empty. A bead-curtained alcove at the back was for adults only. And all we would rent, I remember, were repackaged Disney cartoons and Roger Moore-era James Bond movies — which are my favourites to this day. Continue reading “The Virtues of VHS”

Film Diary: Branagh’s *Hamlet* (1996)

For my English 311 course this term, I’ve been watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 full-text of Hamlet while I read the play in Robert Miola’s Norton edition.

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That edition includes an excerpt (176-82) from Kenneth Branagh’s introduction to the play, in which he describes the full text as offering more contextual richness than typically abridged performance versions: the background story of Polonius and his agent Reynaldo, and the plotting scene between Claudius and Laertes that sets the stage for his climactic duel with the prince.

The latter is an intense, whispered, conspiratorial conversation in which the grief-stricken Laertes (Michael Maloney) delivers the line “Thus didst thou” (4.7.55) as “Thus diest thou” — through gritted teeth, and with steely resolve. And when Claudius (Derek Jacobi) ruminates on their backup plan to kill Hamlet, it’s his upraised glass that makes him think of the poisoned chalice (4.7.155-61).

In short, this scene in the film made me appreciate how choices of text, of setting, of props, and of performance can influence my interpretation of a line like this one.