gs I Hate About YouChoose one of the various film versions of The Taming of the Shrew, the musical Kiss Me Kate or the recent film Ten Things I Hate About You, and critically evaluate the success or otherwise of this film as an appropriated text.
The 1953 film of the musical Kiss Me Kate is successful in many aspects as an appropriation of the Shakespearian play The Taming of the Shrew. These include: the transmission of Kiss Me Kate from the live Broadway musical to the film version; and the clear portrayal of the play The Taming of the Shrew onstage, and the mirrored story backstage. Other successful features are: the contribution of song lyrics which add clarity to the plot; and the fact that the score can still be enjoyed today since the mood and lyrics of each songs are varied. Unfortunately, some aspects of the film do not contribute positively to its success. For example: the obvious fact that the film is a 1950s piece results in the audience being slightly distracted by the abundance of post-war American values and ideas and renders it less attractive to current viewers. Another negative feature are the frequent dancing scenes which are entertaining, but in which it is not always clear why the performers are dancing, other than the fact that it is an obligatory component of the musical genre. Before the film version, Kiss Me Kate was an incredibly successful live musical-performed on Broadway and around the world. It is still performed as a live musical today. Thus the smooth transmission from live performance to film in 1953 enabled the film version to retain the loyalty of the live musicals fans whilst gaining more viewers with the distribution of the video. The greatest achievement in the adaptation is that virtually all the live musicals songs are retained, with the addition of one song from another play, Out of This World. In fact, this addition proved so successful that the song was included in all subsequent productions of the live show. Hence, the film versions success as a product confirms its success as an appropriation of The Taming of the Shrew which is enjoyed and studied by thousands of people.
Another great achievement of Kiss Me Kate is the play-within-the-play idea. The movie follows the story of a bunch of actors who are performing a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. The cast includes: Fred Graham, who is both the director and the male lead, Petruchio; Lilli Vanessi, who plays Katherine and also happens to be Freds ex-wife; Lois Lane, who portrays Bianca and is Freds current love interest; and Bill Calhoun, who plays Lucentio and is also having a fling with Lois behind Freds back. While the actors are performing The Taming of the Shrew on stage, each character is more or less living out the play in real life, backstage. For example, backstage, Lilli Vanessi is known to be a difficult actress to work with. She argues and fights often and is seemingly never happy-these are similar traits to her character Katherine. Backstage Fred is arrogant, cocky and egotistical, and is obviously still in love with Lilli Vanessi-similar to Petruchio. The backstage drama unfolds as Fred tries (more subtly than Petruchio) to win Lillis love. There are moments when they seem truly in love, such as whilst reminiscing about past musicals, and also moments when Lilli becomes enraged at Fred. Entire backstage scenes can be recognised from The Taming of the Shrew, such as the scene when Fred advises Lilli not to eat before going onstage, to prevent indigestion. He does this under the pretext that he is looking out for her best interests, when in reality, he is attempting to show his dominance over her. This scene can be compared with one in The Taming of the Shrew where Petruchio deprives Katherine of food, claiming that the meat is not cooked. Not only does their on-stage performance come backstage, but the characters utilise their backstage issues to add emphasis and meaning to their onstage lines. When Lilli discovers that flowers she received from Fred before the performance were actually meant for Lois, she becomes enraged-onstage. In Act 2, scene 1, Petruchio encounters Kate. Although she is meant to be angry, Lilli uses her own bursting anger towards Fred to enable Katherine to lose all control onstage, adding more ferocity to the rehearsed violence. She violently slaps and elbows Petruchio, all the while remaining using her Shakespearian dialogue. Fred eventually decides that he has had enough, and, to the delight of the audience, flips her over and spanks her bottom centre stage while the curtains are being drawn. The naive audience members simply see Petruchio punishing Katherine, however it is also Fred teaching Lilli a lesson for her feisty attack on him. At the end of the film, Katherine apologises to Petruchio in her famous speech about loyalty to husbands. Backstage, Fred and Lilli are also reconciled. Another example of the play-within-the-play. Thus, this integration of two separate stories into the one play is a success, as it flows smoothly and is easy to follow and understand. This adds an extra dimension to the main play The Taming of the Shrew and contributes to making the film a successful appropriation. One of the most important features of the film are the songs, and more specifically, their lyrics. Obviously music plays a major role in musicals. In Kiss Me Kate, the significance of the songs is even greater as they contribute more to the plot. There are two main types of songs in the film: those sung onstage and those sung backstage. The lyrics of the onstage songs tend to be comprised of quotes from Shakespeare, intermixed with contemporary english. Backstage songs are generally more modern and consist of contemporary english. However, both types of song have a purpose in the film, as they provide easily understandable insight into what the characters are feeling. One example can be found onstage shortly after Petruchio has wed Katherine. The Shakespearian dialogue provides some clue as to how he is feeling but the song Where is the Life that Late I Led? clarifies Petruchios longing to return to his life as a single man. As can be seen, the music supports and elaborates on the dialogue, greatly aiding viewers to comprehend the Shakespearian play, resulting in a good, understandable appropriation of The Taming of the Shrew.
Not only does the music contribute to understanding, but it has also been written and performed in such a way that it can still be enjoyed today, approximately fifty years after it was performed. It is apparent that the music is appropriate to the style of music popular in the fifties. Swing, jazz and opera are some examples used. However, the fact that the composer, Cole Porter, varied these styles, and created different moods and lyrics for each song enabled them to remain exciting and fresh. The songs have moods ranging from satiric and witty, to nostalgic and sensual. At the beginning of the film, Lois sings a sassy, rhythmic and vibrant song entitled, Its Too Darn Hot. This is an excellent example of a song which can be played repeatedly without becoming dull. Once again, music adds to the films success by keeping viewers alert and interested in The Taming of the Shrew.
Unfortunately, there are two factors which drag the film down. Firstly, the film is unmistakably recognisable as a work of the fifties. This reduces its appeal in todays society and also causes viewers to become distracted by the strong values and stereotypes of post-war America displayed throughout the film. For example, the make-up and clothes are outdated and often look silly or even ugly. This can be seen in the overly enthusiastic application of blue eye shadow to the entire area under the eyebrow of every female character. The audience is also aware of 1950s American stereotypes, such as two gangsters who appear in the film after Bill Calhoun fails to repay an IOU. The two gangsters have the typical Italian-American accent associated with the Mafia; they are lovable even when threatening a woman with a gun; and they are easily manipulated, yet extremely articulate. As the movie revolves around romance, sex is ever present. However it only appears in the form of Lois provocative bare legs, some colourful lingerie on a clothesline and a few double entendres care of Shakespeare. These aspects of the film dampen the success of it as an appropriation, as it has been entirely adapted to the environment of 1950s Baltimore, and is therefore not as enjoyable to todays viewers. Finally, the frequent dance scenes in the movie are cause for confusion, as the dancers rarely have a motive for their dancing. It seems that many of these scenes, although entertaining, had simply been placed in the film to fulfil the dancing requirement of the musical film genre. After all, whats a musical without dancing? However, the scenes are not well integrated and appear somewhat awkward, once again, reducing the success of Kiss Me Kate as an appropriation of The Taming of the Shrew. Kiss Me Kate is a successful appropriation of The Taming of the Shrew in the following ways: the adaptation of the Broadway musical to a film format; the play-within-the-play idea onstage and backstage; the contribution of the song lyrics to meaning in the musical; and the ability for everyone to enjoy the score. Some aspects dampen the films success as an appropriation, including: the 1950s American culture, which has a very strong presence throughout the film; and the awkward dancing scenes.