MICHAEL KAHN, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, enjoyed a full house Monday night at the Uptown Theatre. But it wasn't for one of his productions.

The Uptown was screening "Hamlet," the new movie by Franco Zeffirelli, as part of a fund-raiser for the Folger. Although Zeffirelli filmed his castle scenes at three locations in England -- the most likely model for Hamlet's Elsinore home is now a Danish tourist attraction -- the Danish Embassy graciously hosted a dinner for Folger patrons before the movie.

Introducing the film, Kahn noted that the sellout crowd meant several hundred people had to be turned away.

"That's a great tribute to the enduring interest in this extraordinary play," he said.

According to Kahn, each film or stage production of "Hamlet" updates Shakespeare's tragedy in its own way.

"The mystery of the play strikes a different chord in us at each time," he said. "I was taught that it was about a crisis of inability to act. And Hamlets were always in black, they were always thin and tall."

In 1948, however, Laurence Olivier cast himself as a blond Hamlet with a different ax to grind.

"{Olivier} was influenced by the book 'Hamlet and Oedipus,' and was fascinated with a Freudian interpretation," Kahn said. "He cast a very young Gertrude -- Eileen Herlie -- who was almost the same age as Jean Simmons, who played Ophelia."

Olivier believed Hamlet's crisis "stemmed from an unresolved Oedipal fixation on Gertrude," Kahn said. "Freud was right up there with the director at every rehearsal."

By 1969, the year Tony Richardson released a "Hamlet" movie with Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, people's perceptions of "Hamlet" had changed again.

"Hamlet was a very angry young man, and Hamlets had very little romanticism, very little poetry. They were very modern," Kahn said.

Zeffirelli's version "pulls together a lot of different strands of our ideas of Hamlet from the last 40 years," Kahn said. "It's something to do with our age. We celebrate ambiguity, we celebrate complexity. There's no one way to think about things."

But Kahn recognized that Monday night's crowd may not have been drawn solely by "Hamlet's" appeal to the Zeitgeist. "The other reason you've come tonight is the casting of Mel Gibson," he chuckled.