Monday, May 20, 2013

My Interview with "Hamlet Supercut" Creator Geoff Klock

Last week a good part of the Shakespeare fan universe was knocked on its collective Bottoms (see what I did there :)?) by the discovery of what's best called a Hamlet Supercut - a 15 minute retelling of Hamlet made up entirely of 200+ movie and television references.  If you've not yet seen it, you're in for a treat.  Warning, there's a bit of NSFW dialogue so you might want to grab the headphones (more on that later):

Amazing, right?  Everybody I showed said the same thing.  I got a number of "I thought I knew a few references to add but he already had them!" and even one professor who said, "I teach this stuff for a living and I only knew about 60-70% of those!"

When the creator Geoff Klock introduced himself on Twitter I jumped at the chance to interview him by email.  I sent him half a dozen questions, all set to the tune of Hamlet quotes (hey I gotta show off my geek skills somewhere!), and he sent me back his answers.  Enjoy.

1) "What's Shakespeare to you, or you to Shakespeare?" Tell us about yourself and the context for this project. We've all got "high school teacher" but what grade? Is this for honors/AP? Where in the world are you? How did the idea for this project come up and how long has it taken you?

I am actually not a high school teacher, though I have a lot in common with one. I teach at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, which is open admissions. I teach the two term freshman writing course, and also film and Brit Lit 1, where I teach Hamlet. To get my students interested in Hamlet I started collecting clips quoting it. It got out of hand. At a show called Kevin Geeks Out in NYC I saw a guy do a mash up Christmas Carol. I thought "That's what I will do with the clips!" It took years, but that feels misleading, since it only took a few minutes a day, and then a handful of days to put it all together. I was doing other stuff!

2) "Tell us about the method to your madness." There's obviously a ridiculous amount of overlapping between all the references where you have to decide which reference to use for which line, or whether to do a whole bunch of them strung together. Any method to how you decided which clip goes with which line?

I tried to go with the most entertaining / recognizable clip I could. Given a choice in one show between a line I already had (such as "To be or not to be") and a more obscure one (such as "I'll call
the king, father, Royal dane!") I tried to go with the lesser known one. In some Platonic Ideal Universe I could build the whole play out of quotes, I imagined. Also I had to cut all references to Hamlet in music and each show only got one bite -- a lot of folks want to know where the Star Trek "Conscience of King" episode is but for that generation of Trek I wanted Christopher Plummer as a Klingon. Cause, obviously.

3) "F-words, f-words, f-words." I've already heard a few people comment that they'd love to show this to their students, but several of the quotes drop that big f-bomb that is know to set parents aroar. Any particular reason why you chose to leave those in (since they're not Shakespeare's text)? Did it even come up when you were making this?

If you are teaching high school you are doing the Lord's work. I could not hack it at that job. And if you have that job you don't want to lose it and I get that. But too often teachers present intelligence
to students as something antiseptic. We imply that to be smart they need to dress like J Crew ads, put away childish pleasures like Batman, and talk and write like goddamn news broadcasters. Then we are shocked that they do not want to learn. I have a doctorate from Oxford, I wear converse with suits, and the two things I love best in this fucking world are Hamlet and The X-Men, and my students know that. And honestly, while "fuck" may not be in the text, Hamlet says to Ophelia that he wants to lie in her lap. He clarifies that he means his head upon her lap, and then asks her if she thought he meant "country matters." Are we to leave students, who are always a single click of their phones away from every manner of Hard Core Porn, with the impression that Shakespeare is above a pun on the word "cunt?" The Hamlet Mash Up demonstrates that intelligence can coexist with trash culture, and that both are kickass. Cf. any movie by Quentin Tarantino for a further lesson on this subject.

4) "I have entreated geeks along with me to watch the 15 minutes of this video." You've already told me that you've got more than a dozen clips to add and that your goal is "all of them." I told a friend that if this was two hours long I'd invite people over and serve popcorn. How long do you think you can make it, and still have it be a useful teaching tool?

More than 15 minutes and it can't be on YouTube. If you are not on YouTube you are not getting to all the people you can. Plus there is a tradition of the "15 minute Shakespeare" I want to stay in. It's too long as it is. If I could start over I would just do To Be Or Not To Be.

5) "Well spoken, with good accent." Several of the clips appear to be foreign language versions of Hamlet productions. Isn't that cheating? If you open up that door couldn't you do an entire video of nothing but versions of Hamlet from around the world? That's really a different thing, isn't it?

Are there a lot of foreign movies quoting Hamlet? I don't know that many. If there are too many the foreign language ones will be the first thing cut in a next edition.

6) "I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i' the Capitol; Brutus killed me." Does this only work for Hamlet, or could you set your sites on other Shakespeare works? What would your second choice be? Do you think it's possible to find enough cultural references to, say, Midsummer Night's Dream that you could make a similar video?

I am not doing any more of these. This was hard enough and I am clearly missing 15 things at least. I will keep this one as up to date if I can, maybe releasing an update a year or something. I tried to do it with MacBeth but MacBeth is not as sound-bite-y as Hamlet as so the clips had to be longer, and it was a mess. You could do one of Romeo and Juliet maybe but the whole thing would be pop culture characters saying "A rose by any other name" and "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art
thou Romeo."

Thanks very much Geoff!  I apologize for assuming you were a high school teacher, I don't know where I got that. Maybe somebody else will pick up the gauntlet and make another one of these, just as you suggest!

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