What do you say when the film adaptation of a Shakespeare play doesn’t just slightly alter the original–it’s a whole different animal? I guess you could say that that is the case with every film adaptation: the movie courts a whole different set of triggers and associations than we get from the text. It might open us up to experiences that have nothing to do with the original version and these new impressions might be altogether accidental, yet stick in our minds as if dictated by a naked all-seeing eyeball.
Well, what to make of Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It’s a perfectly fine film with good acting by Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Stanley Tucci, and Calista Flockhart, among others. We’ve got lovers careening through a stage-set forest on bicycles and then wrestling in a mud bath–two new additions. Then we have the homoerotic complicity of Oberon and Puck (played by Everett and Tucci) as they plot dastardly deeds. (A nice twist that I didn’t see in the play.) And we’ve got the fairy world that has its own artificial feel with caked-on makeup and sparkles and a lot of fake foliage. Besides this, what to report?
Harold Bloom raves about Bottom in his essay about Shakespeare’s play: “Bottom is Shakespeare’s Everyman, a true original, a clown rather than a fool or a jester. He is a wise clown, though he smilingly denies his palpable wisdom, as if his innocent vanity did not extend to such pretension. One delights in Falstaff (unless one is an academic moralist), but one loves Bottom, though he is the lesser figure of the two.”
Kevin Klein’s Bottom comes across as bumbling and awkward, certainly, but otherwise he mostly seems sheepish and silly and ashamed. There is a scene towards the beginning of the film in which after avoiding his stern (shrewish?) wife in the town center, he ends up getting drenched in wine. After repairing back to his house, he starts to unpeel his ruined white suit from his body when his wife suddenly appears. She looks cross and disappointed. Klein gives the film-version of Bottom a look of shame that is tinged with self-hatred. I would argue that Bottom would be too innocent for this self-evaluation. What’s more, in the play there is no disapproving wife. Is this a modern attitude–the idea of so much hostility directed towards the self? (Well, Hamlet isn’t exactly full of compassion for himself.) Is Klein’s Bottom simply not manly enough? Does he need therapy for low self-esteem? The movie version took the magic out of Bottom. I felt sorry for Bottom in the film version in a way that erased the pleasure I felt during his scenes in the play version. Bottom is supposed to be “innocent,” not “pathetic.”
The book was better than the movie.