Once I saw this production of Julius Caesar starring Ralph Fiennes. Despite my deep hatred for Fiennes’ face, I thought the production was pretty cool. I had never seen Shakespeare done so big live. It was put on in a giant theatre in London called the Barbican that held over 100 cast members on stage at once. I mean look at this:
They basically staged a political campaign/riot complete with security guards and press. It was kind of amazing. At the end of the play they staged a battle that was very Desert Storm that took place in the background of Brutus’ confrontation with Caesar’s ghost.
My point is that I think Julius Caesar was meant to be big. Huge. But writing for the Globe Theatre, it was obviously limited.
I think, had Shakespeare lived a few hundred years later he might have written Julius Caesar for film. Unfortunately, theatre is a dying art – even in the 50s – and Shakespeare, we’ve been told, wrote for the masses. He’s so crude and funny, it seems logical he would be more of the Ruth Gordon type than the Harold Pinter type.
So I think Shakespeare would have been pretty happy with Mankiewicz’s version of Caesar. It is big big BIG. There is even an actual battle scene with hundreds of extras. When Mark Antony (Brando) delivers his masterful display of rhetorical trickery, it is to a giant, raging crowd. In a story about war heroes, attempting to do heroic things, this form of narrative just seems to make sense.
I love how action-packed this version of the play is because rather than absorb all of our attention into the bloody, action sequences, we’re actually less distracted for the character building scenes. When I’ve seen Caesar done in more intimate settings, my imagination starts to wander. I want to know what these battles between Brutus and Antony might have looked like, and the play doesn’t give me the time to think about that without missing most of the important monologues. It’s nice that the film is a good half hour longer than a straightforward production of the play would be. It gives me a chance to actually figure out how complex these characters really are.