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Shakespearean Heritage and the Preposterous "Contemporary Jacobean" Film: Mike Figgis's Hotel


Mike Figgis's Hotel (2001), which contains a film-within-the-film adaptation of John Webster's Duchess of Malfi, is representative of an emerging corpus of screen versions of Jacobean drama that aggressively pitch themselves against the conservative nostalgia characteristic of mainstream screen Shakespeares. Hotel is deliberate in its use of anachronism, narrative disjunction, and irreverence toward its source text, troping the revival of Webster's play as both cultural cannibalism and the production of an easily digestible "fast-food McMalfi." The contemporary Jacobean aesthetic it espouses is preposterous, in George Puttenham's terms, in its deliberate misplacing of temporal and spatial relationships to articulate transgressive female desire that challenges the structures of the film industry and early modern society alike. Tracing its descent from Derek Jarman's queer Tempest (1971) and Edward II (1991) and setting itself against the Shakespeare heritage industry as represented by its immediate predecessor Shakespeare in Love (1999), Figgis's Hotel employs digital technology, improvisation, and intertextual dialogue to challenge not only Shakespeare's cultural hegemony, but also the domination of the heteronormative male gaze in conventional cinema. If Hotel is a film "about" how to produce a fast-food McMalfi for a contemporary audience, Figgis's use of the preposterous contemporary Jacobean aesthetic makes The Duchess of Malfi "about" the making of Hotel and "about" man's control of transgressive female sexuality in the medium of film.

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