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WRITTEN BY MIT Global Shakespeares regional editor (Italy) Anna Maria Cimitile
30 April 2016
Director, screenplay, scenography, costumes, music-collage: Carmelo Bene
Cinematography: Mario Masini
Editing: Mauro Contini
First cameraman: Maurizio Scansani
Make-up: Gloria Fava
Production: Anna Maria Papi for Donatello Cinematografica
Production director: Rodolfo Frattaioli
The labyrinths at Elsinore are by Alberto Paoli
Carmelo Bene (Amleto), Lydia Mancinelli (Kate, first actress at Elsinore), Alfiero Vincenti (Claudio, King of Denmark), Luigi Mezzanotte (Laerte), Franco Leo (Orazio), Pippo Tuminelli (Polonio), Sergio Di Giulio (William, ‘capocomico’ or lead actor and manager of the theatre company at Elsinore), Isabella Russo (Ofelia, ‘a prototype of Ophelia’), Luciana Cante (Gertrude, Queen of Denmark)
Shakespeare’s play and Jules Laforgue’s fin-de-siècle Hamlet ou les suites de la piété filiale (1887), a version of the Hamlet story, are merged in Carmelo Bene’s film Un Amleto di meno (One Hamlet Less; Italy, 1973). From Laforgue, Bene takes some speeches as well as the characters of Kate and William – two actors of the theatre company arrived at Elsinore, with William also being the capocomico or lead actor and theatre manager – and the title of the film, which is from the French text’s conclusion: ‘Un Hamlet de moins; la race n’en est pas perdue, qu’on se le dise!’. Intertextuality is a mode of the film: Bene’s Hamlet also recites an excerpt from Guido Gozzano’s poem La signorina Felicita ovvero la Felicità (1909) (20’18” to 20’41”), containing a verse that Bene must have perceived as crucial for the Shakespearean Prince, even or especially in the context of his very personal, dismembering adaptation of the play: ‘Ed io non voglio più essere io!’ (‘And I don’t want to be myself anymore!’); Kate duets with another character to deliver a second text, a poem this time, by Laforgue: Complainte de l’époux outragé (1885) (34’52”); the Knights of the Round Table appear at one point in the film (21’49”); and, the death of Ophelia is announced by a print copy of John Everett Millais’s painting floating in the sea (49’02” and 50’02”).
The opening of the film offers a black and white sequence of a somehow violent sexual intercourse between Hamlet’s father and Gertrude. The texture or grain of the film in these scenes makes them look like the memory or even a video recording of a past moment. As those scenes alternate with other scenes, in colour this time, in which Hamlet, alone, appears, the impression is reinforced that what we see in black and white is but a trace, either technological or just imprinted in the ‘table of [Hamlet’s] memory’, of a past time. During the sequence the voiceover recites the sentences: ‘Io sono l’anima di tuo padre’ (‘I am your father’s soul’), ‘Se mai mi amasti’ (‘If you ever loved me’), ‘Vendica il mio assassinio’ (‘Revenge my murder’), ‘Addio’ (‘Goodbye’), ‘Ricordati di me’ (‘Remember me’), each individually repeated over and over again before the next one.
Bene retains the metatheatrical dimension of the Shakespearean play, as his Hamlet likes to spend time with the actors of the theatre company and also occasionally acts as the playwright for them, as testified by an exchange between himself and Kate. Indeed, Hamlet is quite taken with the tragedians, and at one point he even plans to go to Paris with Kate, to whom he declares his love.
In Bene’s film Hamlet is at times colorfully dressed; he delegates his most famous parts to his friend Horatio, who is always dressed in black, in contrast with the young Dane’s attire and as if wearing the mourning cloak and playing the inconsolable character in his stead. The two have a special relationship, in which the written text plays an important part. In fact, the Prince keeps passing on to Horatio crumpled notes, pieces of paper scribbled on by himself and ripped off from any one of the books which are often on stage; in one instance, he gives his friend a small fragment torn from what is presumably a copy of the Bible, a book over which Claudius was praying a moment earlier. One of those notes, read aloud by Horatio, contains the ‘The play is the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’ speech, which is uttered by Hamlet in the Shakespearean text (28’47”); another note contains the even more famous “To be or not to be” speech, again read aloud by Horatio, to which Hamlet replies, from a distance: “Avere o non avere, ecco il problema” (“To have or not to have, here is the question”; 29’52” to 30’16”). Indeed, Horatio appears as a substitute for Hamlet in the film – at least for Hamlet as we know the character from Shakespeare’s play.
If Bene physically rips books on stage, he metaphorically tears to pieces the early modern text, combining the fragments with more fragments from other texts of different epochs, thus producing an apparently disrespectful version of the original Hamlet, and most certainly one which offers little insight into the play for those who are not familiar with its plot. In fact, even for those who know the Shakespearean plot, the film may be experienced as a disturbance more than anything else. Bene proceeds by amputation of the playtext, subtraction, desacralization, dissonances; as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze noted in his essay on Benean theatre, the artist adopts a subtractive method in order to stage an anti-representational theatre. Yet, almost paradoxically, as Deleuze also noted, ‘the movement of subtraction, of amputation […] gives birth to and enables the proliferation of something unexpected, as in a prosthesis”. In the specific case of One Hamlet Less, the result is therefore a film that is excessive and grotesque in appearance, notwithstanding its minimalist heart. Hamlet becomes Bene’s own play/film, a carnivalesque circus where characters, cues, costumes are brought together in a kaleidoscopic and messy assemblage under a destabilizing cinematic gaze, in which besides there is offered a parody of what has possibly been the most influential interpretation of the tragedy for the twentieth century: Freud’s reading of the play. In the film, Polonius is the psychoanalitical interpreter who, in a brief scene with a silent Gertrude dressed as a nun, appears to be helping her as she takes off her black habit, while whispering Freud’s comment on the Oedipus myth (21’29”); Polonius resumes his Freudian musings in another scene, when he offers the interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in comparison with the Oedipus myth (39’05”).
As is often the case in Bene’s theatre, there is throughout the film an insistence on the naked bodies of the actresses and female characters. They are dressed as nuns, or wear the essential parts of the religious habit (the cornette, the veil) while leaving most of the body naked and exposed to brief but direct close-ups. This may be read as part of the more general project of his theatre to show the obscene, i.e. what is off the scene and therefore invisible, what is beyond theatre itself. Bene always disliked eroticism, which he defined as a ‘vulgar representation of the I’, and preferred instead what he called ‘il porno’ (‘porn’), about which he stated: ‘I have always been in porn, which is etymologically the obscene. […] In porn one is at last reduced to an object. A body onto which to transcribe a pathological calligraphy. Frozen. Two objects. You and the other.’  Porn reduces all subjects to objects and is for this reason preferred to eroticism, which instead preserves the ‘I’ in its controlling and dominating role. For all its naked female bodies One Hamlet Less is never erotic.
The cemetery scene is at 57’35”. Hamlet was already here earlier in the film, in the brief shots alternating with the black and white scenes in the opening sequence. In the cemetery scene he is again alone, among crosses and statues of little angels, skulls and bones, in a cemetery by the sea. He recites his ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ speech and then gets into a chariot, which has in the meantime arrived to take him away.
The final scene is of Fortinbras and his army eventually come to claim the throne of Denmark. Fortinbras’s face is interestingly wrapped in a white cloth. On his faceless head he places the crown. Power is an empty space, a desired blankness or nothingness that has only caused destruction and death.
Un Amleto di meno presents some of the key features of Benean theatre; above all it shows how Bene intended his art as a process of amputation. For theatre to exist, for theatre to be a truly expressive art, free from the restrictions that are otherwise necessarily imposed on it by the original text, the latter must be brutally violated, amputated, mixed with other texts from different arts (music, painting, poetry), to the point of non-recognition. In 1938 Antonin Artaud wrote: ‘a theater which subordinates the mise en scène and production, i.e. everything in itself that is specifically theatrical, to the text, is a theater of idiots, madmen, inverts, grammarians, grocers, antipoets and positivists, i.e. Occidentals’, and Bene expressedly agreed with this concept. In One Hamlet Less the originary text is but one of those chosen and brought together in a ‘cut’n’mix’ fashion; parts of it are selected, at times redistributed among the characters, and rearranged in a new order and therefore text. Yet Hamlet proved to be inexhaustible matter for experimenting the theory/practice of a theatre of subtraction and parody, as Bene adapted and re-adapted the play throughout his career.
Mark Fortier has given a brief but useful account of Bene’s experimental theatre which is worth quoting at length:
Bene, in conjunction with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, has a project to disrupt the imposition of invariation and homogeneity, the domination of the text over theatre, text being first the drama text that dictated the performance but also the performance text that functions as a systematic set of controls and limitations in the service of clarity and reason. Bene wants to create a crisis or impasse, a disarticulation whereby the performance would ‘stop making text’ (Bene and Deleuze 1979: 89). This is accomplished by perpetual variation, turbulence and excess […] in light, sound, movement and speech, whose purpose is not to clarify but to create a ‘congestion of signs’ (Bene 1977: 67) and a breakdown in communication. Although the domination of the text over performance is like the domination of langue over parole (Bene and Deleuze 1979: 97), of abstract and unchanging pattern over the concrete and particular, for Bene parole is the enemy too, inasmuch as words have fixed meanings. Bene wants the actor to sing incomprehensible words (1977: 78), to articulate like a troglodyte (Bene and Deleuze 1979: 15), so as to become not a source of meaning but a disruptively ‘intolerable presence’ […].
Film-making is no less subversive in Bene’s hands. The shoot of One Hamlet Less is done in such a way (for example in terms of camera angles and duration of shots) as to enhance the ‘congestion of signs’ of the Benean Hamlet. Bene was as suspicious of ‘traditional’ ways of doing cinema as he was of the traditional notions of dramaturgy and auteur theatre, with the latter intended as one definite if creative interpretation of the originary text; recalling his 1970 pamphlet on cinema, L’orecchio mancante (The Missing Ear), Bene stated that it had been written ‘against the horror of the image and of the script, what is commonly known as the subject’.
In a reading of Bene’s theatre Lorenzo Mango has written of it in terms of ‘abysmality’ (‘abissalità’, the quality of being abysmal), which is an evocative figuration for the artist’s aesthetics. Bene envisaged what he termed the ‘non-place of theatre’ as the space where one must necessarily perform ‘an impossible research, intended precisely as a preclusion of the possibility of finding something’. In Bene’s theatre, dramaturgy is ‘abysmal’ in the sense that it cannot be pinned down to one clear-cut interpretation. Bene’s destructuring practice of theatre is therefore by way of an ‘abandonment of oneself to all the possible deviations of dramaturgy […] an immersion into its abysm’.
Bene, Carmelo, L’orecchio mancante, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1970
Bene, Carmelo and Giancarlo Dotto, Vita di Carmelo Bene, Milano, Bompiani, 2002
Chiesa, Lorenzo, ‘A Theatre of Subtractive Extinction: Bene Without Deleuze’, in Laura Cull, ed., Deleuze and Performance, Edinburgh, Edinburgh U. P., 2009
Deleuze, Gilles, ‘Un manifesto di meno’, translated by Jean Paul Manganaro, in Carmelo Bene and Gilles Deleuze, Sovrapposizioni, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1978 (English version: ‘One Less Manifesto’, translated by Timothy Murray and Eliane dal Molin, in Timothy Murray, ed., Mimesis, Masochism and Mime: The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997)
Mango, Lorenzo, ‘Quattro passi in casa Amleto. Carmelo Bene e la macchina della drammaturgia’, Annali dell’Università di Napoli L’Orientale. Sezione romanza, XLVIII.2, 2006
 Jules Laforgue, Hamlet ou les suites de la piété filiale, in Moralités Légendaires (1887). The quotation is from the 1922 edition (Paris, Éditions de la Banderole, 46).
 Guido Gozzano (1883-1916) is the most important and influential of the Italian poeti crepuscolari (‘twilight poets’), whose work was characterized by nostalgia and disillusion, a taste for simple things and an unadorned style. This is the excerpt recited by Bene’s Amleto: ‘Ed io non voglio più essere io! / Non più l’esteta gelido, il sofista, / ma vivere nel tuo borgo natio, / ma vivere alla piccola conquista / mercanteggiando placido, in oblio / come tuo padre, come il farmacista… / Ed io non voglio più essere io!’
 The poem is contained in Laforgue, Les Complaintes, 1885.
 In Laforgue, Kate is in a sense Ophelia’s double: ‘Elle a, comme Ophélie, cet air collet-monté’ (Hamlet ou les suites de la piété filiale, 40).
 See Gilles Deleuze, “Un manifesto di meno”, translated by Jean Paul Manganaro, in Carmelo Bene and Gilles Deleuze, Sovrapposizioni, Milano, Feltrinelli, 1978.
 Deleuze, “Un manifesto di meno”, 86. My translation. For an interesting critique of Deleuze’s reading of Benean theatre see Lorenzo Chiesa, ‘A Theatre of Subtractive Extinction: Bene Without Deleuze’, in Laura Cull, ed., Deleuze and Performance, Edinburgh, Edinburgh U. P., 2009.
 The phrasing of the interpretation of the Oedipus myth is from the Italian translation of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1899).
 Carmelo Bene and Giancarlo Dotto, Vita di Carmelo Bene, Milano, Bompiani, 2002, 16. My translation.
 The quotation is from Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, translated by Mary Caroline Richards, New York, Grove Press, 1958, 41. By his own admission, this was the only passage in Artaud’s Le Théâtre et son double with which Bene agreed. See Bene and Dotto, Vita di Carmelo Bene, 313.
 Most of the times he combined the Shakespearean text with Laforgue. His first production was Amleto, in 1962; after that, among the most famous productions and alongside One Hamlet Less, there were Amleto di Carmelo Bene (da Shakespeare a Laforgue) in 1975, Hommelette for Hamlet in 1987, Hamlet Suite in 1994.
 Mark Fortier, Theory/Theatre: An Introduction, Second edition, London and New York, Routledge, 2002. This quotation is from the e-book edition in Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2005, 34. The bibliographical references given in the excerpt are respectively to: Carmelo Bene and Gilles Deleuze, Superpositions, Paris, Editions de Minuit, 1979; Carmelo Bene, ‘L’Énergie sans cesse renouvelée de l’utopie’, Travail Théâtral 27 (1977), 61-89.
 Bene and Dotto, Vita di Carmelo Bene, 229. My translation.
 Bene cit. in Lorenzo Mango, ‘Quattro passi in casa Amleto. Carmelo Bene e la macchina della drammaturgia’, Annali dell’Università di Napoli L’Orientale. Sezione romanza, XLVIII.2, 2006, 330. My translation.
 Mango, ‘Quattro passi in casa Amleto’, 331. My translation.
Un Amleto di meno (1973)
Note: The film was shot in Cinecittà (Rome) in 1972 and shown in the Official Selection at Cannes in 1973.