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A Scottish warlord and his wife murder their way to a pair of crowns.
A Scottish warlord and his wife murder their way to a pair of crowns.
My previous viewing of this on DVD on a tiny tube television prevented me from appreciating it as much as I did today. I've always thought of Welles' Othello as Shakespeare Noir, and now I see Macbeth as his Shakespeare Expressionist Horror. It looks more like James Whale's Frankenstein than your average, or even above average, Shakespeare adaptation. As Hannah noted on Twitter, the visual motif in Othello is one of traps and enclosures, while here it is wide open nightmare landscapes, shadows and fog. The rolling mist in the "tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy forms a visual rhyme with the smoke from the chimney in Citizen Kane as Rosebud burns. The search for meaning in identity and actions proves elusive,…
Film #35 of Project 40
”Life ... is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Hamlet wasn’t the only cinematic adaptation of a famous William Shakespeare play in 1948 and while Laurence Olivier’s version pleased the critics and won the major Academy Awards of the year the Orson Welles’ more melancholic and more penetrating adaptation didn’t get much attention and somehow lost the initial battle to its more popular sister. The general mood and atmosphere of Macbeth, like any other Shakespeare tragedy, is gloomy and sorrowful but with the high contrast, shadowy and somewhat mournful visual style of Welles the story of Macbeth and his notorious wife becomes even more tragic. Low-angle shots along…
Deep shadows, smoke, witches, and Welles doing Shakespeare. What more could I want?
What better movie to act as a come-down from a weekend of noir fever than one based on the original noir? Welles (also playing the lead and sporting some Jack Kirby facial hair) seems to dig the connection too, since he fills the movie with a lot of very sharp shadows covering an almost otherwordly environs - this is a land so detached from modern conveniences that they couldn't even make a comfortable crown.
When Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, after signing the most prestigious directing deal in Hollywood history, few would have expected that just six years later he'd be clomping around papier-mâché sets on the back lot of cheapo studio Republic with a saucepan on his head.
I'm exaggerating – the sets (designed by Welles but severely botched in execution) just look like papier-mâché, and the crown is more like a pasta strainer full of penises – but he is at Republic and oh-how-the-mighty-have-fallen.
After the debacle of The Lady from Shanghai, the truncated epic noir (that’s not a thing, Orson, what did you expect?) made via his last major lifeline, his ex-wife’s studio, Columbia, Welles shuffled off to Republic, a minor…
I don't know if I can ever think of a Shakespeare adaptation as a 100% bona fide classic, particularly in the somewhat stodgy pre-1960's era, but this one comes dang near close. This is mostly thanks to Orson Welles' brilliant feel for editing, camerawork, and staging. Welles realized that the audience was there to see A MOVIE, not just a filmed play, and he gives you one hell of a movie. Long tracking shots and creepy angles heighten the encroaching and claustrophobic horror of the proceedings, while sleight-of-hand camera tricks fool your eyes and scatter your brain. Also pretty wild that this is Jeanette Nolan's first film, seeing as how she might be the most fatale-y femme fatale of all time.
“My movie is a bold charcoal sketch of the play.”
With expressionistic direction and a bold hand and stylized vision, Welles shapes perhaps the prototypical Shaksperean tragedy into a wild ride suited to his grandiose artistic impulse. From the craggy, foreboding production design which imbeds Macbeth's castle within a dark, imposing mountain, to Russel's misty, high-contrast black and white cinematography that brings a dank, hellish air of doom to its halls and the vertiginous drops that surround it, the film is a visual spectacle that bridges the stage and cinema with its stark design on a tight budget. The performances too bear Welles's baroque air, resonant, booming delivery tinged by Scottish accents suit the grave, verbose dialogue as Welles saunters bullishly across the screen, a vision of hubristic foolishness undone by his greedy gullibility while Nolan gives a sultry silkiness to Lady Macbeth as temptress and a shuddering jaggedness to her mental collapse.
After studying Macbeth in class it's very difficult for me to feel satisfied with an adaptation that doesn't conform to my own very specific reading of the play. In other words if Judi Dench isn't playing Lady Macbeth I'm probably not going to like it. This definitely falls into that category––I found Nolan's Lady Macbeth to be quite weak––but there is a lot of interest to be found in Welles' rendering all the same. As far as I understand it Shakespeare had very little interest in the settings of his plays––he didn't care much for the history of, say, Ancient Rome, or in this case, medieval Scotland, they were just dressing for his characters. The same cannot be said for…
This movie looks like it takes place in hell.
Having seen Polanskis violent and disturbing vision, and Justin Kurzels extremely bleak take, I’m disappointed at how standard this Macbeth feels. It seems like Orson Welles kinda just translated the play to the screen. There are some cool artistic moments, but most of it is bland dialogues. Welles is quite good in the title role, he suits it very well.
At Home - PLEX
Welles's 3rd best Shakespeare adaptation is still better than 95% of everybody elses.
The sets and costumes look cheap (they are) but the opening with the witches is very sick and although Welles himself doesn't particularly sell his Highland accent, everybody else does!
Bonus points for photography by John L. Russell who pays great tribute to German expressionism here.
My big problem with the film was my usual with Shakespeare - I have trouble understanding the language. Usually with the text before me I can puzzle it out, but my brain can't really parse what's being said in real time with any high degree of regularity. This is, I admit, my problem and not the movie's (and to be clear, my native language is English - I'm just not fast enough for live action Bard).
Otherwise, this is a pretty fantastic Gothic rendering of the story, with layered, opulent, interestingly composed shots (albeit unfortunately cramped into an Academy ratio) and a lot of really astounding expressionist production design. The actors, while a bit theatrical (naturally enough for the occasion),…
"30 Rock" once mentioned an art house film called HARD TO WATCH. That came to mind during my viewing of this. But that's partly on me, for watching it on an, ahem, popular video sharing service, which makes the shadowy black and white pretty muddy and does no favors to the sound mix.
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