Friday, May 19, 2006

A Director to Adapt Each of Shakespeare's Plays #23: PERICLES directed by Tim Burton

The Plot:

If you want to marry the king’s daughter, you’ve really got your work cut out for you. You see, the king and his daughter have a special bond. A very special bond. To paraphrase the famed Canadian chanteuse, a bond with benefits. In order to protect his royal perversity, the king has constructed a riddle that must be answered by all potential suitors in order to gain his daughter’s hand. The penalty for answering incorrectly is death. When Pericles is brave enough to take the challenge, he solves the riddle, but discovers why none before him have given the correct answer – it reveals the true nature of the king’s relationship with his daughter. Wisely, Pericles skips town, but he’s marked for death. You would think that he would know enough to lay low, but when he finds out about a king who is going to give away his daughter to the winner of a jousting contest, he enters. What are the odds of running into two incestuous father-daughter relationships, right? This contest turns out much better than the last. Pericles is victorious and claims his bride. However, she has the misfortune to give birth on board a ship during a raging storm. What is worse, she is mistaken for dead and thrown over the side of the boat in a chest! Father, mother and daughter are separated and, shortly thereafter, miraculously reunited.

Why Burton?

Pericles is a strange play that leaps from location to location and tells the story of a man who is eventually rewarded because he remains virtuous in the face of hardships. There is a sort of bizarre logic to Pericles with its unlikely twists and turns that is reminiscent of a dark fairy tale. There is also the noble hero who must be tested in order to prove his worth and be joined with his beloved. There is the child, unaware of her lineage, who discovers her parents under unlikely circumstances. There are good and evil kings, treacherous voyages by ship, mysterious riddles and even pirates. What the play needs is a director who can dazzle an audience with visuals and create an interior logic that will help compensate for the free-wheeling plot. It also needs someone who can give proper weight to the mild unpleasantness we experience on the way to an absurdly optimistic finale. Burton’s films have a kind of ‘surface’ darkness that seems to me appropriate for Pericles. It’s a PG-13 level of darkness. Though some of the events described above might sound disturbing, they exist within a world that has little to do with reality and so they should be addressed in the cushioned, distanced way that fairy tales often approach their darker themes. I must admit to being somewhat less enthusiastic about Burton’s body of work than most. Truth be told, I find his films to be frequently shallow and unsatisfying. But with Ed Wood, I’ve also seen him knock it out of the park and deliver an unusual blend of bizarre humor and genuine emotion. I’m playing a hunch here and guessing that the visual flair and quirky romanticism that is found in his best work, as well as his knack for creating unusual, endearing characters, would be a good match for a play that is also uneven, but strangely compelling.

Burton films I have seen:

1. Ed Wood ****
2. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure ***1/2
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ***1/2
4. Edward Scissorhands ***1/2
5. Beetle Juice ***
6. Big Fish ***
7. Batman Returns ***
8. Batman ***
9. Sleepy Hollow **1/2
10. Mars Attacks! *
11. Planet of the Apes *


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