The Reel Hamlet

She's been restored and rescored.

I'm heading out to catch a rare screening of a restored nitrate print of Hamlet (Germany, 1920) tomorrow. It's part of the Girls Will Be Boys series, at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

Shakespeare in Performance says it's "based on Edward P. Vining's eccentric book, The Mystery of Hamlet (Philadelphia, 1881), it features a prince who, though actually a woman, for reasons of state has been raised by Gertrude as a young man. Burdened with this secret, Hamlet at Wittenberg falls in love with Horatio. Naturally Hamlet rejects Ophelia but still feels pangs of jealousy when Horatio falls in love with Ophelia. Only at Hamlet's death when Horatio holds her in his arms is the prince's true gender revealed."

Critic Cole Smithey has more on the unusual find, "When the German Film Institute (DIF) was offered a toned and colored nitrate copy of HAMLET (D 1920/21, directed by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall) with Asta Nielsen in the title role, initially the restorers didn’t realize what a treasure they had chanced upon. The film, which had previously only been available in black and white, has since been carefully restored."

Alternative Film Guide has this to say, "Nielsen may have liked this sort of gender-bending role. She also played an androgynous character at least once before, in Urban Gad’s Zapatas Bande / Zapata’s Band."

Asta must have felt strongly about taking this role, since she decided to produce the work herself, forming her own company to do so. In the 20s, when gender bending was almost as popular as in the androgynous 80s, critics theorized that Hamlet had in fact been a cross-dressing woman.


Brian said...

I'm so bummed I had to miss this. But it was my last chance to see my friend acting in a play (which was a lot of fun itself).

How was the film? Was there a strong turnout?

SisterRye said...

The film itself was more unique (the woman who introduced it said "unique" about 50 times in her speech), and divine than I'd expected. The audience (full house) was audibly responsive to the humor and psychedelic beauty of this hand-colored print, and delighted to know we had a chance to see it BEFORE it d├ębuted in NYC.