An ambitious idea which is paying off with a consistently high standard of short films from a huge pool of artists
It was only a few months ago that I heard of this project by chance and I was immediately taken by the idea. I am not a huge Shakespeare fan but do enjoy the odd film or visit to Stratford once every few years, but my experience is limited to the main plays that everyone knows and have never ventured out into others, far less into the sonnets; despite that though the project interested me enough to take a look. The project has the goal to film all 154 of the sonnets in a different New York City location, with a different set of artists responsible for each one, although with support from the New York Shakespeare Exchange, who are behind the idea. It is a project that is ambitious and, as you might expect it has been ongoing for about 16 months now and they have just passed the halfway mark (which is sort of what motivated me to write this comment).
Having watched all of the short films thus far, it is impressive to me that the standard of them is very high. There are a few weaker ones in there as you would expect, but they are generally well made pieces of work which, at worst, are often just a solid delivery of the sonnet text to a camera, but generally are so much more. To help my viewing I decided to read the text for myself, to get the words in my head and to allow myself to draw my own conclusions. I have so far lost count of the number of times that the short films have helped me to understand the text better or, in some cases, to present me with a whole new interpretation of it that never occurred to me while reading. To me this is one of the most exciting things about the films because so many of them really do brings the words alive – I may not agree with all of them, but the vast majority are insightful or funny or touching or thoughtful or all of the above.
For sure there are some films that I think really didn't work for me, but even with them it is fun to see what they tried to do and I enjoyed these ones, albeit in a way other than that which was intended. At the other end of the spectrum there are a good group which really standout and which I have found myself going back to many times to enjoy again. In the middle the rest are still of a high standard and there are very few indeed which are just solid and unremarkable. The fact that the films are mostly about 2 minutes or so long means that this doesn't matter as much as it would if they were longer, since if you wish to watch and move on then you can do – but for me it is surprising how many I'll watch at least a few times. Technically the films are also of a high quality, looking and sounding good. There are a few where it feels like the film has had to work around restrictions (by using narration rather than street recordings for example) but there are only a couple where they are poor – again, the quality is high but, more importantly, it is consistently high.
The films are all free to watch online and they are more than worth your time whether in a short time like I did, or in periodic small bites. I came to the project out of curiosity but it is the high standard of films and engaging delivery that kept me watching through the first half of the films, and I am very much looking forward to the second half of the films.
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