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HAMLET X



Cast: Tom Wright, Helen Hopkins, Faruk Avdi, Ian Scott, Shelley Lasica.


In this digital film, made in 2003 by Melbourne artist James Clayden, there are dread-filled images reminiscent of the gruesome crime shows that are so popular on our television screens at present: a man's naked body on the floor; a starkly neon-lit tram stop; a woman looking into the camera and undressing; two men standing over a third, interrogation-style; the grainy flash of a small child's face; an abandoned loft that seems to simultaneously receive and empty out all who pass through it. But the narrative of sex, violence and power comes to us in splinters (is it remembered, dreamed, reconstructed?) as does the faint echo of Shakespeare's Hamlet. A powerfully atmospheric and suggestive work, with luminous performances from Helen Hopkins, Tom Wright and Shelley Lasica, and a haunting musical score by Ad Hoc.

Adrian Martin, film reviewer for The Age.



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Melbourne International Film Festival program note

James Clayden, described by Adrian Martin at this year's Rotterdam Film Festival as "one of Australia's best kept artistic secrets", returns to MIFF following the screening of his highly acclaimed Ghost Paintings series in 2003. His latest audiovisual collage is a meditation in image and sound on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Employing a symphonic structure, this latest UFO (Unidentified Filmed Object) from Clayden is a haunting and atmospheric work. Unconcerned with narrative constraints, the 'plot' of Hamlet X is both brief and almost incidental to Clayden's motives: a man (Tom Wright) is released from prison and moves into a deserted city building with a woman friend (Helen Hopkins), where he reluctantly becomes involved with a production of Hamlet. Haunted by the uncertainty of his past, together with his guilt for existing, he becomes more and more like Shakespeare's infamous Dane.

"Australian James Clayden belongs to a race of artists that in the absence of a better term, we could call (total) filmmaker, playwright, plastic artist and video artist, his works in audio visual medium seem to defy all definitions, as shown by his Ghost Paintings." - Buenos Aires Film Festival

Digi Beta/Col/2004/118mins



Variety review

Richard Kuipers

An auteur work in the truest sense, Hamlet X is an uncompromising collage on themes of guilt and identity. Created by Australian multimedia maverick James Clayden, pic hangs its sensory assault on an ex-prisoner whose personality gradually assumes that of Shakespeare's Dane. Fests and art galleries are the likeliest venues for this striking and strictly outré offering.

Trippy assemblage is only incidentally concerned with narrative. What little there is centres on an unnamed ex-con (Tom Wright), who's located in a deserted office block with a woman friend (Helen Hopkins) and is apparently rehearsing for a production of Hamlet. Flashbacks of the man's past are intercut with his unstable present and growing identification with the Shakespearean character. Pic propels auds into the fragile mind of the protag with a relentless accumulation of jagged sound and image. Repetition and reprocessing of footage and a soundtrack mixing dislocated dialogue with industrial noise gives the film a genuinely haunting quality. Resulting heavy trip is a touch overlong and will polarise audiences, but does display Clayden as a creative force to be reckoned with. Tech credits are pro, with audioscape a standout.



Senses of Cinema reviews

Bill Mousoulis

In the crowd filing out after this film, one punter labelled Clayden's latest opus "masturbation". As stupid as this description is (for Clayden clearly loves the screen – and the spectator), it indicates the kind of hardline attitude the film evinces. Its juxtaposition of charged poetry with fragmented visuals is audaciously inscrutable – and all conventional dramatic and emotive power is taken from the lap of the viewer. It would be easy to simply label this daring mosaic "experimental narrative" and move on...to the next safe cinema experience, be it Iranian or Hollywood. But we, as citizens of cinema (and life!), need to question and grow – as little "pleasure" as Hamlet X actually affords, it is artists like Clayden who help us reconfigure the tired domain of representation.

We all know there are only (pardon the pun) x number of stories out there – but how many ways of representing those stories are there? Hamlet X smashes its characters (not to mention Shakespeare) into many jagged little pieces – there is no "cathartic drama" to be played out here, with a set beginning, middle and end, only shards of personality, ghosts of identity, and a disorientation that, yes, the viewer feels. In the context of Australian cinema, this is indeed a truly "X" film, as it fires a negating salvo to the morass of conventional works out there. One could even compare Clayden to Godard on the style of this film. Kudos to MIFF for programming it.

Rolando Caputo

Real innovation is more in evidence in independent local films made on the fringes of the industry, such as, for example, with James Clayden's Hamlet X (2003) .... Shakespeare's Hamlet is the ghost in the machine of Clayden's Hamlet X, though not as adaptation, but rather fragments of the text weave their way through a very illusive and fractured narrative. The mood of the film seems close to film noir - dark and tense, and full of constricted spaces - as a small ensemble of characters are either rehearsing a play, or, plotting a robbery, or both and more at the one time. Betrayal and murder may also be involved. At best, the plot and characters remain opaque as if like pieces of a puzzle whose overall design escapes us, though wonderfully evocative in its layering and repetition of text and imagery. Hamlet X is one of the few feature films in the Festival that could genuinely be called experimental.