Tales that Witness Madness Blog: William Shakespeare and Al Pacino

20th December, 2021

In one of my last blog posts I dissed Shakespeare, saying how I would never read his work etc. Well, I randomly bought Looking for Richard (1996) on DVD (there was no Blu-ray available) as I previously owned this on VHS in the ’90s and I always remember it for its uniqueness.

It’s a documentary directed by Al Pacino, about Shakespeare’s play King Richard III. The documentary is fascinating for the rehearsals and re-enactments with other top actors (like Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, F Murray Abraham, Winona Ryder, etc.) and it was shot over the course of four years. It’s ultimately about the mystique that surrounds the play and how there’s an almost unspoken rule that American actors can’t really do Shakespeare properly.

The whole thing is basically like a well-shot home movie from Pacino, and you really get to see another truer side to him. Pacino was probably one of my top three actors of all time up to that point when it came out, hence why I had it on VHS. I even read his biography in the ’90s as well, that’s how much I loved him.

I think from 2000 onward he took a few roles that didn’t do him any favours, but life is not always black and white and there’s bound to be reasons he took those roles. I think that when actors of any stature get to a certain age they can’t be so choosy with the roles they’re offered and at the end of the day it’s a job and they still have bills to pay. Some even have ex-wives and child-support payments to maintain, production companies to run and finance, yachts to take to the high seas etc. Actors are real people too! Hoo-ha!

After watching Looking for Richard again it reinvigorated my interest in Shakespeare. My mum then gifted me The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for my birthday. It’s a lovely book (see photos) and has all Shakespeare’s plays in it. I’ve been reading King Richard III. Am I enjoying it? Yes, muchly. The thing is though, there’s a secret for reading Shakespeare and enjoying it.

On the face of it, it is very hard to read Shakespeare; the writing style hasn’t been updated or modified, it’s exactly as it was written in the 1500s. Some of it can be very tongue-twisty and a lot of the sentences would appear to be back to front (almost like a passive voice, as opposed to an active voice), but there is a secret that makes reading Shakespeare fun.

That secret is…

Read. It. Out. Loud.

Reading out loud is something that I’ve been doing for the last few months. I try to get in 10-15 minutes a day. It’s one thing I was always terrible at, hence why I’m trying to get better at it. Like most things in life, to be good (or better) at them, it all comes down to repetition. When I got the Shakespeare book I started reading the text internally. By doing that I realised that was the mistake I made years ago (20 years ago, to be precise) when I tried reading his work.

The facts are that Shakespeare wrote plays. Plays with a minimal amount of prose in them and a helluva lot of dialogue. Plays are for actors on stage. Hence why it should be read out loud.

As soon as I started reading King Richard III out loud it immediately brought the text to life. The words have a pace and are fruitful, full of meaning and substance. Speaking them out loud really adds colour and life to them. Honestly, give it a try. Try and put the emotion and meaning into some of his text when reading it out loud, you’ll see it works.

So I’m ¾ of the way through King Richard III. After that, I want to read Macbeth. Being Scottish, this always popped up in School or College once in a blue moon, and besides, it’s got witches in it and is quite dark, or darker in comparison with some of Shakespeare’s other works. I love horror and this sounds right up my alley.

Outside of that, well, I’ve come to a stumbling block on the screenplay I was writing. I’m on page 70 something but I’m having writer’s block with it. I’ve got the ending figured out, and a lot of scenes near the end, I’m just struggling to make certain parts work coherently.

From my own writing experiences, it’s better to have a well-crafted solid first draft that maybe needs a polish after a read-through, and thus it goes through one other draft after that and that is it.

Many writing sites and Twitter threads go on about how about the secret to a first draft is to get it done. I agree with that to an extent, but I’ve written so many things in the past that I’ve come to realise that too many re-drafts can make you lose interest and re-shape it into something that was never your vision when you set out to write it in the first place. It’s all preference, of course.

In Oliver Stone’s memoir, Chasing the Light he talks about how the writer Robert Bolt spent ten years writing the script for The Mission (1986). He says, words to the effect of, that yes, it’s a good script but the film was lacking something (being engaging, perhaps). The point he was making is that a screenplay is not a novel so therefore it shouldn’t take so long to write one. Don’t write so many drafts that it ends up being a highly polished version without the heart of what you wrote it with in the first place.

Moving on, well…I watched Squid Game on Netflix. Everyone was raving about it. I avoided it those first few weeks when the hysteria about it was all over Twitter, so I caught up with it eventually. Yes, it is very good. Is it highly original? Not really. I mean, it’s ripped off Battle Royale, takes elements from other films of a similar nature and yeah, it made it into its own thing. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. I liked the characters, and that’s what always makes a good show or film.

I also watched the three-part documentary: Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. This was on Netflix as well. It’s very compelling. It’s about the true story of an American footballer who had just signed a $40 million contract with an NFL team and he gets arrested on suspicion of murder. That’s just the start of it; the police investigation goes down the rabbit hole further and further into places you wouldn’t expect. Go watch it. Three episodes is a good length.

That’s it for today, I’ll do another post this week as this was actually written earlier in December and I’ve only just posted it now. I’ve got an excellent EXCELLENT book recommendation for yous. One of the best books I’ve read in years! All to be revealed in the next post…

Lastly, here’s some photos I took the other day (17/12/21) at Blackness Castle. Many films have been shot there, many ghosts roam the land. It was very foggy and atmospheric and I never came across another person when out.

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