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Shakespeare 400 - The Taming Of The Shrew

Part of Shakespeare 400 On Screen, presented in association with the University of Ottawa

Shakespeare 400Franco Zefferelli’s raucous, rambunctious interpretation of Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes borrows from the topsy-turvy mayhem of a Venetian carnevale to complement the hints of Italian commedia dell’arte in Shakespeare’s script.

poster art for The Taming Of The ShrewFilmed on location in Rome, the cinematography is a lengthy love letter to Zeffirelli’s own Italy, with its vibrant colours, lush landscapes, and painterly light. Abundance – of costumed extras, of detailed sets resplendent with wedding gifts and lavish banquets, of gorgeous lighting effects – is part of the charm, establishing a context of no-holds-barred licence that allows the shrewish Kate to give as good as she gets in the taming plot that lends the play its title.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, tabloid fodder at the time for their tumultuous real-life romance, radiate both star power and sizzling sexual attraction. From the outset, their verbal and physical sparring seem precursors to an inevitable romantic match, the oscillation between fiction and reality distracting from the rather objectionable fact that the plot glorifies domestic violence.

Still, some of the patriarchal elements of the film are mitigated by an emphasis on Kate’s point of view. The camera does linger on Taylor’s glorious skin and ample attributes, to be sure, but its closeup of one of her famous violet eyes zooms out to show what that eye is looking at, and repeatedly throughout the film it’s her eye that shapes the spectator’s view of events. While this doesn’t make Shrew a feminist film, it does suggest, even for a 1960s audience, both a nostalgic fantasy of female submissiveness and its contradiction.

– Kathryn Prince, University of Ottawa

 

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