A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)

Translating a play from its theatrical mode into a cinematic one is never easy, but Justin Kurzel and his screenwriters, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso, do several smart things in their adaptation of Macbeth. They open the film with a scene not in Shakespeare's play, the funeral of a small child presumably born to Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and his Lady (Marion Cotillard), an extrapolation from Lady Macbeth's later claim that she has "given suck" to an infant. It establishes the sense of unsettling loss and grave disorientation that feeds the Macbeths' ambition. The film also scraps the witches' cauldron scene, its "double, double, toil and trouble" and "eye of newt" incantations, which can become ludicrous even in a well-done modern production, turning the witches into Halloween hags instead of the eerie prophets Shakespeare portrayed. In their place, the witches become three peasant women, one of whom has a baby in her arms, accompanied by another child. They seem indigenous, gifted with the air of prophecy attributed to those close to the land. Another problematic element of the play, the movement of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, which can look silly on stage, with soldiers carrying branches in their hands, is resolved into something terrifying: Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane in the form of ashes and sparks, after the forest is set fire to by the troops of Macduff (Sean Harris) and Malcolm (Jack Reynor). This also creates a hellish landscape for the final duel of Macbeth and Macduff. There are some other touches that, though cinematic, don't work quite so well. Lady Macbeth's line, "screw your courage to the sticking place," is turned into a kind of dirty joke: an encouragement for Macbeth to penetrate her sexually. The banquet scene and the appearance of Banquo's ghost (Paddy Considine) is awkwardly staged. The lady's sleepwalking scene is shorn of its witnesses, and despite Cotillard's fine performance, it becomes a disjointed monologue in which she returns to the scene of the original crime, the murder of Duncan (David Thewlis). And worst of all, I think, the fear that speaking Shakespeare's verse aloud could become "stagey," leads Kurzel to reduce much of the dialogue and soliloquies to murmurs and whispers. The "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech is barely coherent when Macbeth mutters it as he hauls Lady Macbeth from her deathbed. Fassbender and Cotillard are formidable actors, but they have been done a severe disservice by not allowing them to use their voices to full effect.

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