[VFF ’16] The Grubstake Gets Revisited for Shakespeare!

13 Feb

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By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempet)

The Grub Stake is a 1923 action-adventure silent film produced by Nell Shipman and directed by Bert Van Tuyle which never saw distribution when it finished production. The distributor went bankrupt and its fate even now is uncertain. Technically, it’s now in the public domain, and perhaps this early Canadian pioneer of the Hollywood scene cannot be any more happier to know from Heaven that it’s been reimagined and titled The Grubstake Remix.

A new musical score accompanies this product and instead of inter titles, performers recant the dialogue with Shakespearean splendour as the film plays in the background! The film takes on an entirely new dimension with dialogue from nearly every one of this bard’s plays — The Tempest, King Lear, Richard III and MacBeth being the most familiar — and no knowledge of each of this playwright’s material is really required to understand what’s going on.

This movie within a play within a live show is best experienced live where possible. The story in itself revolves around Faith Diggs (Nell Shipman) who is caring for her invalid father, Skipper (Walt Whitman). In a story set in the Klondike, this woman is forced into a marriage with Mark Leroy (Alfred Allen) that she does not like. There is another whom she meets, a French well-to-do man, Jeb (Hugh Thompson), and in the triangle that forms, only the wilds of the Yukon can save her.

In the live orchestral performance that’s been captured and directed by Daniel Janke, he presents a show that bounces between the film and the live-show, recorded onto film for prosperity. Cast Roy Ness, James McCullough, Eric Epstein, Jordy Walker, Andrea McColeman give an epic radio-drama style performance, complete with live foley effects (we never get to see these artists at work) and closeups of the musicians at some moments to give the sense that a fifth wall is being crossed. The fourth-wall usually means interacting with audiences, but in this case, it’s the time-space barrier between the silent film projection on-screen and the performers intersect in a grande way to make the presentation cosmic. The dialogue used from Shakespearean plays flows with the imagery reasonably well. There’s a few odd hiccups here and there, but that depends on how well folks going to this performance understand Elizabethan English when overlaid into the plot of this film.

This presentation is certainly unique. It’s not quite a documentary and nor is it simply a recording of live cinema. The laughs people make in the theatre matches those seen in the film of the audience laughing there. At least we, as a viewer know, we are all in good company.

3½ Stars out of 5

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