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September 9, 2014

Episode 183: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Special Guest: Jim Hunter
Guest Co-Host: Ed Pettit

Shakespeare September continues with the 1990 film from writer/director Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Based upon Stoppard’s own award-winning mid-sixties play, the film tells the tale of Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth), two supporting characters from Hamlet. We see them as characters in their own right as they interact with the goings-on of the melancholy Dane, questioning the meaning of life and their own existence. Sounds like pretty heady stuff but the play, and the film, are clever, witty, existential and amusing.

Listen / Download Now:

Buy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead on DVD
Buy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Buy Tom Stoppard: A Faber Critical Guide: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Jumpers, Travesties, Arcadia by Jim Hunter
Buy About Stoppard by Jim Hunter
Buy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: The Film by Tom Stoppard
Buy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern by William Schwenck Gilbert

"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" - Elvis Presley
"Hamlet" - ABBA
"Spirit" - Bauhaus
"Dang Me" - Roger Miller
"Money" - Sweet Little Band



  1. The Foreign ViewerApr 5, 2015, 4:01:00 PM

    Great choice of topic!

    I've also find out about this movie while searching through Roth's and Oldman's filmographies a decade ago. I finally got to see the movie only recently and loved it, even though I'm not the biggest fan of Shakespeare out there. Even if you don't know Hamlet, the dialogue is hypnotizingly good. Stoppard is making music with words and dialogue here (that game of questions is without a doubt one of the greatest scenes ever shot that revolve around English language itself). And what makes this feat even more exceptional and impressive is that his first language isn't English.

    The concept of the piece is bloody genius, the casting is very inspired, the tone is balancing very well between an existentialist diatribe and absurdist comedy and the now vintage 90s shooting style (which is enhanced if you watch the movie on VHS) hits the nostalgia bone in every fan of 90s indie movie making (the sometimes cheap but inspired technique of 90s indie shooting often creates an organic layer of atmosphere all on its on).

    It really sucks that Stoppard didn't film more stuff like this. I know he didn't love the result, but I know I do, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

    You've covered most aspects of the movie in your discussion, so I'll add just a few trivialities.

    Dreyfuss (who easily has one of his best performances here) says at one point after performing the silent version of the play to the kitchen staff (this scene alone proves that Stoppard new what he was doing when he chose to direct this) that there are 8 dead bodies in the play, but if you count in Hamlet's murdered father, the previous king, there's technically nine bodies.

    You talked about Oldman's proneness to the concept of science, but there's one "experiment" you haven't mentioned and I really liked. When Oldman is taking a bath in a barrel, he discovers that the level of water is higher when he's sitting in there and lower when he's standing. This is a direct reference to Archimedes and his fabled accidental discovery of the qualities of volume while he was taking a bath in a barrel one day. He exclaimed Eureka when he figured it out, but Oldman's character unfortunately never got that far. Stoppard is a freaking genius for adding the ungraspable sense of science to Oldman's character.

    One of the oddest moments in the movie has to be the scene where Dreyfuss is performing the silent play and then throws a skull. At this moment a sound effect is heard that has got to be the same jokey "zoink" effect you made fun of when you talked about the Rollerball remake.


    (continued bellow)

  2. The Foreign ViewerApr 5, 2015, 4:03:00 PM

    (continued from above)

    I've seen Gibson's Hamlet a couple of days before seeing this movie and I was not a fan of Gibson's overly enthusiastic performance (then again, I don't like most Hamlet performances) and I almost hated Zafarelli's often lazy direction. Well, the guy who plays Hamlet here is freaking fantastic. Too bad Stoppard didn't shoot a B-roll whit an actual Hamlet play with this guy.

    The music choices are interesting as well. I never would've guessed that the fitting final string composition with howling dogs at the end of the movie is not some awesome underground blues group, but an actual
    Pink Floyd song "Seamus" from 1971.

    Some of Roth's final lines before the hanging, where he questions the fact that everything had to play out the way it did, and that they were just hapless victims of circumpstances, and wonders if there was a point where they could've just said no and avoided their faith works so well as a coda. However, since the movie was shot in Yugoslavia, there's a completely unintentional eerie undertone to that line, since most Yugoslavians wondered the very same thing just a couple of years later when the country fell apart in a quite bloody way and many bridges between peoples got burned by extreme nationalism for decades to come.

    Finally, why your choice of music for this episode was just fine, Mike & Rob, my personal 80s-fied choice of tune to play out the show would've been:
    Lion - Victims of Circumstance

    Anyway, thanks for another awesome episode and keep up the good work.

    By the way, any chance of you covering some of Mel Brooks movies like 12 Chairs or History vol. 1?