Bo Bergstrom | A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Spoken Word: With Music Spoken Word: Comedy Moods: Type: Soundtrack
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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by Bo Bergstrom

Shakespeare's most popular comedy portrays the emotional ups and downs of four young lovers and a really bad troupe of amateur actors. As Puck knows, falling in love can make fools of us all!
Genre: Spoken Word: With Music
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DVD factory-replicated from glass masters. All regions. 157 mins.

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"A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” William Shakespeare's most popular comedy, was written around 1595. It deals with the universal theme of love and its complications: lust, disappointment, confusion, marriage. The plot focuses on three parallel stories: the trials and experiences of two sets of lovers camping in a magical forest, the world of the Fairy King and Queen and their elves, and a group of rough craftsmen attempting to stage a production of "Pyramus and Thisby" for the wedding of the Duke.

Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius. To escape the arranged marriage, she and Lysander elope into the woods. Demetrius follows them, and he is pursued by Helena, who nurses an unrequited passion for him. A love quadrangle develops among the young lovers when mischievous Puck plays Cupid. "The course of true love never did run smooth" says Lysander. Meanwhile, a group of amateur actors rehearses a badly-written play in the woods, and soon all find their lives changed by the doings of Oberon and Titania, the warring king and queen of the fairies. Magic, action, love and humor are the ingredients for this unforgettable spell.


“Filled with fun, romance and mischief. The superb acting and the director's skillful framing of nature virtually moves the viewers into a world of fairies, royalty and romance.”—Adriana

“A quirky and offbeat but always illuminating film version of Shakespeare's play. . . . visuals are consistently inventive . . . The film's soundtrack, a specially composed score by Joseph Rivers . . .[ is] notably successful . . .”—Prof. Mark Thornton Burnett

“It's filmed in the wilderness, which offered some beautiful shots.”—Shakespeare, William

“It demonstrates how craft, imagination, skill and patience can work magic from almost nothing . . . Time and again the story rises to a magical plane - notably in the Fairies' Lullaby, in Bottom's transformation and his capture by Titania, Oberon's lair, Titania's fury, the somnambulistic dance of those two . . . It burrows in caves, clings to cliffsides, dances in forests.”—Michael M

“Will make you marvel at the richness of his homespun production and wonder why conventional films are so conservative. There is so much more texture that could be explored that most directors, in their slavish thrall to narrative, simply ignore.”—Brian VT

“It includes virtually all of Shakespeare's words, which is why it runs about an hour longer than most other productions.”—Bruce W. Marold


This independent film made by Virus Theatre and unfolding in the mountains and forests of the Southwest U.S. is a quirky and offbeat but always illuminating film version of Shakespeare’s play. Making full use of outdoor locations – a ruined concrete building and rocky outcrops – the film transforms Shakespeare’s early modern Athenian lovers into squabbling backpackers disoriented by a displacement into unfamiliar natural environs.

Casting is imaginative and, in keeping with the general conceit, purposefully non-conventional: not only are some parts switched in terms of gender, others are given an unexpected twist. Bottom (Sam Bensusen) is a bearded would-be thespian who speaks with an Irish brogue; Oberon (Dominic Dahl-Bredine) is a dreadlocked and Gothicized type; and Puck (Becca Anderson) appears as a distinctly earth-bound spirit in glasses and dungarees. Even if most of the language of the play is retained with few cuts, which will make the DVD attractive to students and teachers, this remains a Shakespeare angled towards a radical re-envisioning of the Bard and revelling in opportunities for change and experiment.

Matching the insouciant approach to Shakespearean representational tradition, visuals are consistently inventive, functioning in such a way as to approximate the woozy dream-like experiences of the ‘original’. Shots of seas and lightning, cut into the action proper, dovetail with the dialogue and make available postmodern realizations of Shakespearean language and allusion. Green-tinged filters offer reminders of the role of nature in shaping human action, while inserts of animals, such as fighting stags, reinforce the sense of primal erotic conflict. Stylistically, the film is trick heavy; indeed, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM turns into a veritable showcase of imported cinematic artifice and graphic expertise. Colourful compositions show fragments of Shakespeare’s text illuminated on screen as if in acknowledgement of the reputation of the work that is being adapted, the effect of which is to place characters’ anxieties and motivations in another register. The speeding up of the physical business of the ‘mechanicals’ – hand-held camera work is to the fore – makes them akin to silent film comedians and grants their rehearsals a slapstick emphasis, while the superimposition of images gives to the whole a pronounced self-consciousness. Indeed, at several points, not least in the mechanicals’ performance, cameras are glimpsed, which highlights the labour that informs the filmic product. All is anti-realist and off-key; the stress is on surprise and provocation and on keeping the spectator in a heightened sense of critical engagement.

In diegetic terms, it is consistently centred on placing word and sound together in a productive relation. The film’s soundtrack, a specially composed score by Joseph Rivers, makes a virtue of its polymorphous influences, for Gaelic strains combine with twangy lullabies in an evocative invocation of non-western aural effects (helped by the use of the Indian flute) and Elizabethan-style musical accompaniments (sounds of the viol bring a Shakespearean world to mind). Notably successful is the way in which the film deploys music to draw attention to dialogic specifics; for example, the recreation of an early modern soundscape matches shots of beetles, snakes and spiders, apt images for Shakespeare’s preoccupation with natural denizens. The to-and-fro synthesized strains of the score also approximates the unpredictable nature of a character’s experience, as is reflected in Helena’s (Teresa Dahl-Bredine’s) constant manipulation of a yoyo, an index of her emotional vicissitude. When, towards the close, the characters appear in smarter dress, having left behind their student-type identities, the suggestion is that, via a dream-like transformation, a greater calm and stability have been achieved.

--by Mark Thornton Burnett. Professor Burnett teaches at Queen’s University, Belfast. His books include Filming Shakespeare in the Global Marketplace (Palgrave, 2007) and The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts (Edinburgh University Press, 2011).



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