This is a remarkable video in the annals of popular culture.
The 24-minute excerpt is from a 1964 BBC-TV discussion that’s largely between Orson Welles and Peter O’Toole talking about Shakespeare, theater and mostly Hamlet. I suspect I could stop right there and just jump right to the video. Making it all the more notable (if that's possible), though, is that its timing comes around the time when O’Toole was doing his infamous production at the National Theatre, attention-getting for its uncommon interpretation of the role and directed by Laurence Olivier. (There’s a third actor involved in the conversion who I don’t know, though perhaps others reading this do, a veteran actor named Ernest Milton.)
To be clear, "remarkable" doesn't mean always riveting. There’s a great deal of pretentiousness here, and smug self-satisfaction -- though that's part of its fascination. And eye-rolling as it sometimes gets, it is always fascinating. However, it just overwhelms with history and fascination, and even insight. A New Yorker magazine remembrance of O'Toole after his passing even referenced this video, and the article notes how remarkable it is, among other things, that "O’Toole seems willing and able to discuss seventeenth-century Catholic doctrines of the afterlife." (Welles, too.) Mr. Milton seems mostly willing to discuss theater.
Adding to the sometimes-challenge of this is the surprisingly lousy camerawork, though at a certain point, who cares? This is theater history, and I'm just glad it exists. Even if you only watch 5-10 minutes, it's so richly worth it. And you might well stick around for the whole thing. And to round out matters and give full credit to everyone involved, the show is Monitor, and the host is Huw Wheldon. A thanks to Clarence E. Jones III for the heads-up about this.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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