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Let’s argue about American Gods.

Because nobody ever did THAT before.

Ryan Oswick | Unsplash

Do you remember arguing about purity of book-to-film adaptations? Purity and quality. Those seemed to be the main issues. Like, whether the clearly ignorant and careless film makers remembered to tell Alec Guinness that in the book his character usually got described as “like a frog,” and could Sir Alec Guinness kindly throw in a croak or two, thank you very much, since obviously le Carré meant that literally and authors who write books are infallible übermenschen whose work bears neither improvement or scrutiny.

Remember those conversations? Happened all the time. I remember them. I lost friends over them. People arguing about whether that particular sword — never once even mentioned in the book — should be straight or curved. People arguing that Tom Cruise isn’t enough of a beefcake. People arguing about how Edward Petherbridge is too “cool,” or that Colin Firth just talks WAY too much.

Or how, in the story, the only way you could tell anything weird was going on was how it was all in italics, and that was so compelling by it’s simplicity, and how disappointing it was that in the movie that tried — ha! tried — to accomplish the same effect by using non-linear storytelling and a different filming style, which just seems like such an unnecessarily complicated and expensive solution when they could clearly have just turned the camera crooked.

Or, my favorite, “This movie is just, like, a recitation of this two-page long Ernest Hemingway story for the first five minutes. All the other two hours of the movie aren’t even in the story at all! Didn’t they see genius when they read it? Why did they have to add all this stuff?”

I just didn’t know what to say.

The fault, as I see it, is with the writers more than the filmmakers. The filmmakers are just doing their jobs, but it was the writers who forgot that the whole point of literature is to provide something to argue about. And if any of these writers expected to inspire argument about the exploration of the themes or characters or whatever, rather than minor details that might have only a small bearing on the story, then clearly the writers should have taken into consideration the persnickety nature of the human mind.

Writers who had their stories adapted to film should have followed the example of the greatest producer of film-appropriate material of all time: William Shakespeare. Shakespeare had the measure of the industry, you know? He knew how to maneuver Hollywood and all the corporate executives and profiteering and what have you.

You could argue that the wisest thing that he ever did to help the imaginative interpretation of his work was to die. As soon as you establish your reputation as a solid screen-writer, then dying is probably the most sound marketing move you can make, you know?

I’m not going to take that angle, though. I mean, I am, but I’m going to claim that I’m not, because it’s kind of a cheap shot, you know? It’s obvious that he’s not here, so we can do whatever we like with his intellectual property. Aside from a handful of Shakespeare scholars, who one might go so far as to describe as “frumpy,” arguing for the purity of interpretation, who’s to argue with whatever interpretation of Shakespeare we like? No one. That’s who’s to argue.

So someone else can make that jab. I’m not going to.

The thing is, though, what Mr. Speare did for himself more than that was he made himself interesting enough that a lot of people want to figure him out. They want to get inside his head. They want to become one of that elite few — and there are only a few — who can really claim to get Shakespeare.

It’s true that there aren’t many of us. And you’re lucky that I’m the one you found because, unlike all those other people with alleged ability to “get” Shakespeare, I’m not an elitist.

Aren’t you lucky?

He said in the driest possible tone of voice he could conjure. Because all those elitists would say the same thing, and aren’t we all lucky that they’re in our lives?

Lord, I hate everything about my brain sometimes.

Anyway, to be entirely frank, I have devoted a considerable amount of my internal hard drive to Hamlet. I’ve read it several times, and I’ve seen about eight or nine productions, three or five of them live. I’ve written papers about Hamlet every chance that I could get.

And I never once felt ashamed.

I never will feel ashamed about it. No matter how boring it may or may not be, as a piece of literature, Hamlet has a lot to offer if you study it. I don’t think I’m the first person to observe that Hamlet has a few layers to it.

I don’t even know for an absolute fact why I’ve spent so much energy on Hamlet. I don’t even find the play particularly entertaining. There are no — few, depends on the way you play it — explosions. The jokes are the worst puns in the world. There’s no sex, except if it’s depressing and realistic and “pertinent to the plot” and indulging in other buzzkills like that. And just when you think everything might turn out all right in the end, it turns out that the whole point was that moral compasses can’t be trusted and sometimes the moral of the story is that we screwed ourselves a long time ago and maybe we should reexamine our life choices before we make our in-laws go nuts, not after.

So I’ve thought a lot about this.

I care a lot about this.

So you’d think — or I’d think — that I have strong inclinations toward certain productions of the play and aversions from other ones. I figure that it would be inevitable that this material, as close to my heart as it is, would have taken on some sort of “right” performance on the stage of my mind’s eye. Now I feel that I know who Horatio is and why a you need a soft moral center in your emo-tragic dark-chocolate truffle. I know why Fortinbras comes in at the end and that leaving him out of your production leaves out most of what makes the play relatable and not just dramatic.

Since I know all this, I figure that, given what I know about myself, I’d be the first guy to tell you that Branagh’s did it wrong in most respects except thoroughness and that Hawke’s is honestly a better bet for you if what you want is a good sense of the emotional landscapes involved, and that if you want to sing along to all of Claudius’ whining then I know just the right Jeremy Irons’ song for you.

Knowing what I know about myself, I would assume that I would definitely tell you that this one is right, and that one is a pile of gobshite best avoided by the sane.

But I don’t feel that way.

What I feel is that there’s a piece of literature that I love, and that I can tell a lot of other people love it too. It’s a piece of literature that has depth and complexity to it. Even the deniers can’t completely deny that Hamlet has a lot of material, even if it is a bit far up its own bum hole at times. And because it has so much complexity to it — because it has so many layers — I would never presume to be able to claim to have the last, best say on how it should or should not be interpreted, especially by other people who feel something like the same way.

So I don’t get upset about any production of Hamlet. Some may please me more than others, but to be honest I find that all the productions that I’ve seen of Hamlet offered something for me. Every single one brought something to the conversation — even if all it brought was “what are you doing, Kate Winslet?”

I might not have ever experienced the satisfaction of seeing a production of Hamlet that answers to every little nitpick about how I would have done it. I may, in fact, have only seen productions of Hamlet that never once did it how I would have done it. The second option is the case, as it happens.

That said, every production of Hamlet I have seen, both staged and filmed, have given me something about the material to make it richer and more interesting.

And so when I say that, in a way similarly peculiar to how Hamlet fascinates me but does not entertain me, American Gods takes up a similar amount of my internal hard drive to Hamlet, I hope you get an idea what I mean. I hope it is clear that I would simply love to point out every reason that I can think of why the American Gods adaptation on Starz “might make you think that.”

No pressure though, you know?



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Oliver “Shiny” Blakemore

Oliver “Shiny” Blakemore

The best part of being a mime is never having to say I’m sorry.