For Reel

Macbeth (1971)
August 16, 2017, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roman Polanski
5 Stars
MacbethIn bringing Shakespeare to film, directors such as Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier have hyper-stylized the material in order to visually demonstrate the depths of conflict wracking the characters. In Welles’ highly expressionistic Macbeth, for example, the kingdom is rendered as rubble scattered throughout the hazy landscape. In Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation of the same play, on the other hand, he humanizes Shakespeare to the point that few directors have managed. When Macbeth (Jon Finch) and Mcduff (Terence Bayler) have their final duel, they clumsily struggle to maintain balance as they swing their weapons in bulky armor. Similarly, the violence in the film is rendered horrific through its bluntness—when Macduff’s family is slaughtered, the burning village with rape and murder in the streets is genuinely frightening. Beyond taking a grimly realistic approach to the violence, Polanski grounds the film significantly by having the soliloquies delivered in voice over rather than spoken aloud. In previous filmed Shakespeare adaptations, this had often been a problem—that is, the nature of soliloquies is counter-intuitive with what the audience expects of film language. When Macbeth is plagued by self-doubt prior to the murder of the king, however, Polanski allows Finch to convey the emotion of the scene simply through his facial expressions while the voiceover plays on the soundtrack. In bringing the audience further into the character’s heads and by filming violence in a realistic way, Polanski furthers one’s understanding of the gritty, raw heart at the center of the play, bringing greater horror to the story of Macbeth’s figurative descent into hell.

Macbeth (1948)
July 9, 2016, 8:59 pm
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Director: Orson Welles
3.5 Stars
MacbethOrson Welles’ hastily filmed and micro-budgeted adaptation of Macbeth for Republic Pictures will likely insult those deeply attached to the Bard’s language—many of the actors perform their lines too hurriedly and insecurely, damaged further by an audio track that leaves much to be desired (having been recorded after the fact in a studio). Much of it is simply unintelligible. And yet, this adaptation is nonetheless a remarkable piece of expressionism, with Welles focusing on atmosphere more than the specifics of the story—the entire film feels claustrophobic and crushing, the prophecy-imposed dread manifesting in a kingdom that is demonstrated through small pieces of rubble and destroyed buildings. The way that Welles dramatizes the delirium through the sparse sets and exaggerations in scale has the feel of a fever dream. One could imagine that Akira Kurosawa was inspired by the resulting images when he adapted the material into Throne of Blood, which similarly uses extraordinarily high contrast black-and-white cinematography and a surreal atmosphere characterized by smoke and intricate lighting. If one is unfamiliar with the source material, this is a great demonstration of how the play feels more than the content of the soliloquies.