R: Percy Stow. B: Langford Reed, William Shakespeare (play). P: Clarendon. UK 1908
“Comfortably the most visually imaginative and cinematically adventurous silent British Shakespeare film, Percy Stow’s The Tempest (1908) takes a different approach from that of Dickson’s 1899 film of King John, in that it attempts a complete précis of the entire play staged specifically for the cameras.
Explanatory intertitles link a series of mostly very brief scenes, shot both on location and in the studio, the latter being used to stage some fairly elaborate tableaux reminiscent of the French fantasy film pioneer Georges Méliès (the scene where Prospero summons up the tempest is particularly effective). Shakespeare’s original text is missing, but it captures the spirit of the play most effectively.”
“The film’s major success is its portrayal of Ariel. When Ferdinand chases Ariel in the film and she disappears using a simple Mélièsian trick, film has another one of its pivotal moments. This moment crystallises the difference between theatre and film; to put it simply, film can do things that theatre cannot. Although this is not the first time such a moment occurs in film history, given that it happens during the adaptation of a Shakespeare play, it explicitly confirms that film is developing in a separate direction to theatre. And this point extends beyond technical differences; it allows film to accentuate different emotional currents through such visual trickery. Ariel’s ‘disappearances’ in this scene highlights the playful nature of Ariel, and more importantly, Ferdinand.”
Film: Ab Initio
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