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A Royal Premiere!

A Merchant in London's Leicester Square! 

The screening of The Merchant of Venice comes to the United Kingdom.



The Prince of Wales has enjoyed an evening at the cinema with an old friend-Hollywood star Al Pacino.  Charles hosted a charity premiere of Pacino's new film The Merchant of Venice in London's Leicester Square.  The two have been friends for years and Pacino has been a house guest at Highgrove.  The premiere was a chance for Charles to introduce Pacino to his partner, Camilla Parker Bowles.  "How very nice to see you-I've heard so much about you," Parker Bowles said as she greeted the actor.  Pacino stayed at Highgrove in 1997 and was reportedly astonished when he bumped into Charles and found him clad in a full-length muslin robe.  They have remained friends and Charles stays in contact with the actor by letter.  The film has a mostly British cast including Jeremy Irons, Joseph Finnes and "The Office" star Mackenzie Crook.   "The British have encouraged us Americans, but I don't think anybody will ever have the elocution and the taste of words the way some of your actors have," said Mr. Pacino, who plays moneylender Shylock in the Michael Radford-directed movie, according to Associated Press.



Arrivals in Leicester Square

Monstrous though Shylock's conduct is, Shakespeare and Pacino makes us feel both sympathy and respect for him. Pacino's Shylock is a man of stature. His reading suggests that Shylock, so clever and so rational, had become unhinged over the years by the atrocious way in which he had been treated by the Venetian Christians.   
* from the UK review..."It’s Gold and it Glistens" 12/06/2004 "Islington Express Editorial"


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Jeremy Irons is also on top form as the spoiled, sensitive Antonio, whose devotion to the beautiful young playboy Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) is lent a frankly homoerotic dimension by Radford's telling.

This capacity to make fresh work of imposingly famous lines extends equally to younger members of the cast, notably Lynn Collins, the little-known actress who plays the formidable Portia. A fresh, wise, funny presence, Collins triumphs in her role.


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Merchant comes to the "Big Apple"!


Do you like Shylock?

"It would be hard to play a character you don't like - for me anyway - or can't find something in them to like. I got a lot of help from Michael Radford. Together we tried to figure out the back-life of Shylock and what led him to his state when the movie opens and how he got to where he is now. Of course, when you do that you're likely to come across stuff that is relatable to our life. With Shylock he was alone, his wife died recently, he was a victim of an abusive life, of a restricted life, and he had a daughter that he loved. Generally, the tone of his psyche was, I think, sad and despairing. It was in his nature but also it was activated by the world around him. Of course it was really agitated by the flight of his daughter, I think. So it was trying to find things that justified his behavior, really. That's what I spent a good deal of my time trying to connect to."

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A view from the red-carpet; Shakespeare style!

Boldface Names: Do We Not Bleed?  A Play in One Act   **from the NY Times/"Boldface Names Column" December 8, 2004



Scene I: A movie theater in a great cosmopolitan city.


"The Merchant of Venice", directed and adapted by

MICHAEL RADFORD and starring AL PACINO as SHYLOCK, is having its premiere.


Reporters, including one from Boldface Names, are

talking with celebrities in the lobby.



Boldface Reporter: (Aside) In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. The queer assortment of celebrities at these events, perhaps! Those employed in the film like JEREMY IRONS (ANTONIO), LYNN COLLINS (PORTIA) and JOSEPH FIENNES (BASSANIO), I do understand. But what brings ZAC POSEN out on a freezing night?


Enter Mr. Pacino.


Boldface Reporter: (Aside) Anon, here comes Pacino. Verily, he causes my hands to tremble. Would he yell at me harshly I would dissemble. I know well how it might go: "If I was the man I was five years ago, I'd take a flamethrower to this place!"


But tonight he doth have a ready smile and a merry manner.


The hair once fashioned to stand straight up, in a manner which hath frightened the horses, is now swooped prettily back.  His gray shirt is of the finest cloth; he wears a tie.


Female Reporter: You smell so good.

Mr. Pacino: Years of bathing.


Mr. Pacino: I never felt I would make a good HAMLET.



Boldface Reporter: (Stepping out to address audience as Mr. Pacino and the cast stand frozen) In truth, I did not bring a tape recorder. The quality of mercy is not strained but droppeth as the gentle rain, except in the city room. So I shall paraphrase.


Exit Mr. Pacino.


Boldface Reporter: (Checking notebook) Mr. Pacino did say he was attracted to Mr. Radford's vision of Shylock as a tragic, flawed figure: "You can understand where his rage is coming from."


Enter Mr. Fiennes, a heartbreakingly handsome man in a beautifully tailored dark gray suit, silver gray tie and matching pocket square.


Boldface Reporter: (Aside) Hark! There is Mr. Fiennes; I swear, he is a pretty man! He played WILL SHAKESPEARE in "Shakespeare in Love," which makes him an expert.


Mr. Fiennes stops.


Boldface Reporter: (Aside) Oh, right!

No tape recorder. So I said that some have used Shylock to promote anti-Semitism, particularly in Nazi Germany. Mr. Fiennes agreed that some have bastardized the Bard for their own interests but bristled at the notion that Shakespeare was anti-Semitic.


Exit Mr. Fiennes, shooting an annoyed look at the reporter.


Boldface Reporter: He also said - of the current world

situation and the relevance of the play - "We are all

witnessing a bit of fanaticism." And what he wants for Christmas: "Everlasting happiness." 


Scene II: Aer, a new club in the meatpacking district. It is jammed.


Boldface Reporter: (Aside) I see naught here. I recognize but DR. RUTH WESTHEIMER. So young a head in so old a body!  I leave her to your gracious acceptance.


Verily, the director Radford has shown the most sense by staying away from this party. Nor do I see Pacino, and he be hard to miss. But distant, beyond yon velvet rope, is a darkened area where persons frolic.


The Boldface Reporter approaches a bodyguard at the velvet rope.


Boldface Reporter: Hi, I'm with The New York Times. Can you let me in?


Bodyguard: Nope.


Boldface Reporter: (Aside) Me thinks a big soliloquy is

coming on. Whether it will, play's the thing. But as JOHNNY CARSON did say, if they buy the premise, they buy the bit.


(To audience, with large gesture to Bodyguard.)


He has disgraced me; scorned my nation; heated mine enemies; thwarted my bargains; and what be his reason? I am a gossip columnist.


Has not a gossip columnist eyes? Has not a gossip columnist hands, organs, dimensions; even if they be not as pretty as a movie star, for the gossip columnist has not a personal trainer?


Is not a gossip columnist fed with the same food (though not necessarily at every event), warmed and cooled by the same summer and winter as celebrity is? (Though a celebrity has the place in the Hamptons and the place in the Vail).

has the place in the Hamptons and the place in Vail.)

If you prick us, do we not bleed? Though if you prick us really bad, we have not the same access to plastic surgeons. And, of course, being out of work for a while can really hang us up. Come to think of it, gossip columnists have nothing in common with these people.


Exit Boldface Reporter


With Marc Santora and William Shakespeare!

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December 29, 2004 - "Merchant"
Opens in New York and Los Angeles!
"The Merchant of Venice is yet another reminder of what a versatile and powerful actor Al Pacino is, and how he continues to grow.  Shakespeare's play is classified as a "'comedy,'" and indeed the farce of Portia's courtship is funny, but the story of Shylock, which it contains, is a tragedy.  The film, directed by Michael Radford, creates a Shylock who is strangely, perversely sympathetic; Pacino's readings of the famous speeches vibrate with fierce, wounded pride, and the cinematography creates a Venice of night, shadow, decadence and deceit, to set eside Portia's sunny world."
Review by Roger Ebert for The New York Times

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"Directed by Michael Radford...The Merchant of Venice...is better than average Shakespeare: intelligent without being showily clever, and motivated more by genuine fascination with the play's language and ideas than by a desire to cannibalize its author's cultural prestige.
..."Merchant is, for the most part, faithful in letter and spirit to its source material.  I say for the most part because The Merchant of Venice has become, over the past century, perhaps the most vexed single play in the Shakespearean canon, and the first task of any modern adaptation is to confront the anti-Jewish bigotry that propels its plot and informs its poetry...."
"But every production of Shakespeare, however well designed or sensitively directed, depends finally on the quality of the acting.  I must confess I approached this film, in which Mr. Pacino's name figures so prominently, with some trepidation, preparing myself for the latest installment in his scenery-chewing parade of Jewish Monsters Through the Ages.  Since he had done Herod on Broadway and Roy Cohn on HBO, Shylock was only to be expected...He restrains himself here, however, emphasizing Shylock's grief as much as his viciousness.  More than that, his estrangement from the other actors, a liability in more conventinal movie dramas, makes sense, given Shylock's status as an outsider, who speaks a rougher verse than his Christian antagonists...."
Excerpts from "The Merchant of Venice:"  Putting a Still-Vexed Play in a Historical Context by A.O. Scott for The New York Times, Published December 29, 2004.

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"Al Pacino does some of his finest film work as Shylock...But when it comes to Shakespearean characters, Pacino is in his element.  Sure, he screams and yells, but the context warrants it.  His evocative, Yiddish-tinged English stands out from the rest of the cast's clipped British accents.  The movie's best moments are undeniably when he's on the screen...."
..."The story's potency lies in the oppressed Shylock's attempt to become the oppressor, then suffering even more abuse as he is forced to become a Christian and turn over all his worldly goods to arch-enemy Antonio.
"The movie is worth seeing for its lovely Venetian settings and evocative score but most of all for Pacino's spectacular rendering of Shylock.  We can have compassion for him because of the cruel way he is treated without condoning his own terrible desire for vengeance.
"Given the story's focus on religion and the intolerance that still rages in today's world, The Merchant of Venice remains deeply meaningful."
Excerpts from 'Merchant' pays off with Pacino by Claudia Puig, USA Today, Published December 29, 2004

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From all appearances, there was a sell-out crowd  at the Loew's Multiplex in the Chelsea District of Manhattan on Saturday night of New Year's Day 2005, where my husband and I went to see The Merchant of Venice.
What also seemed apparent was  Merchant's attraction to a well-heeled, "literate" crowd and not the Saturday night "date" crowd seen in so many other audiences.
As the credits rolled, this audience fell into silence and maintained it throughout.  Not a cell-phone was heard, not a candy-wrapper crackled, nor did it seem like many gave into the call of nature during the entire length of the film.  And rightly so, for there is not a boring nanosecond in this film.
The words of Shakespeare, made more accessible by Michael Radford's adaptations and abbreviations are spoken beautifully by Al Pacino, and permit no inattention or daydreaming as he spits out his rage at the hypocrisy and treachery of the Christians who take his money on loan when required, but revile him as a dog nonetheless.  Lynn Collins ranges widely and winningly in her role as Portia, from helpless orphan to temptress to passionate young lover and finally, to glib advocate of Antonio's salvation.  Her lead, and Al's, are well supported by Jeremy Irons' Antonio, and Joseph Fiennes' Basanio.
This is also a visually wonderful film as it goes back and forth from color to drab and always appropriately - the color of the streets and the canals and the Rialto to the drab of Shylock's ghetto home, to the color of Portia's Palace. The drab is always as vivid as the colorful.
Go see it! - Iris Frank, co-owner, Pacinoworldwide.com

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