Mel Gibson Goes Back to School (1991)
* * * - Good
This may have started as a promotional video for the feature film Hamlet starring Mel Gibson and about a third of this documentary is movie clips, but it rises above being a lengthy advertisement in many ways. And while the filmed school lessons don't allow for Gibson to demonstrate any cinematic technique, it still manages to be insightful about the person and his directing skills as he walks the class through Shakespeare's dramatically rich play.
"It's a great story. It's got some great things in it. I mean there's something like eight violent deaths. There's murder, there's incest, there's adultery, there's a ghost, a madwoman, poisoning, revenge, sword fights. It's a pretty good story."
By now, I have a reflexive recoil to Gibson's bloodlust. Opening with these words, Gibson condenses the play into a Mel Gibson film. He may be doing this to show the excitement lurking beneath the poetic surface, but I can't help hearing the joy of Gibson describing the play as further proof of his obsession with violence. At the same time, Gibson's passion for the project comes through because he's a naturally charming presence on camera. I'm watching this through the prism of all that we've learned about Gibson, his demons and his despicable behavior. He's a psychopath who can come off as very likable. It's difficult to wrap my head around what seems like two different personalities, but Gibson doesn't appear to be masking who he is, just choosing what to reveal.
In terms of directing, Gibson has the students act out some scenes, changing the language as they choose so long as the meaning is conveyed. He also talks about the character of Hamlet and the play in a way more insightful than anything you can find in a press interview. Early on he talks about the different ways an actor can approach the part, and as a fan of Kenneth Branagh's version I understand that Gibson is talking only about his take on Hamlet, not some definitive claim on the way the character should be approached.