Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Macbeth" (1948)

"Macbeth! Be bold, bloody, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man; for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth."

In my ocd stupor over the play "Macbeth", I decided to check out some of the film adapatations including this one and the Ian McKellan/Judi Dench version. I expect both to be extremely different.

In this adaptation, Welles has a stipped down set, with aspects of expressionist architecture. The costumes and props indicate a more primitive culture than one would expect to find in Scotland in 1040. Also, Welles provides a powerful performance with a modified script that was not well accepted at the time.

Made for $700 000 and shot in 23 days, the fact that Welles managed to pull this together at all, is amazing. The sets are a little strange and look like a combination between paper mache and the Batcave. As well, Welles cut and pasted the dialogue, giving lines to different people, introducing new characters and aspects not in the play. When it debuted, the public did not take well to the changes, resulting in a box office disaster. Today, there are a variety of adaptations of Macbeth, not all strictly following stage directions and settings put out by Shakespeare and I think they're the better for it. I love the fact that Welles was willing to experiment with the source material and make it his own.

One of the weirder aspects I encountered was some of the costuming. This is especially true of Welles. At the beginning his hat seemed more suited to a film set in the Far East. It felt out of place for Scotland but that wasn't the first or the last strange piece of headgear seen in the film. Look out for Welles with two strange-looking crowns and one on Lady Macbeth played by Jeanette Nolan.

Another aspect changed in the film was the introduction of Christianity alongside the witches. Modern religion played no part in the play, instead reaching back into the shadows of time for paganistic riturals. Here, it provided a counterpoint to the supernatural aspects of the film but it felt a little stilted. The holy man takes many of Ross' lines, a nobleman who accompanies Lennox in the play, as well as the lines of the Old Man. Welles shows Macduff and Malcolm united behind a sea of crosses against Macbeth and his prophesying witches. The march of progress dictates that Macbeth should lose, even without the proclamation of the haggish trio. Note: One of the witches is actually a man. Look out for a voice that sounds more masculine than feminine.

After reading the play and becoming extremely familiar with all the soliloquies and archaic diction, I knew immediately that Welles had messed with the script. I flipped through my copy of the play, as dialogue jumped back and forth, was assigned to different people and skipped whole sections altogther. The uncut version of the film ran only 107 minutes and was another complaint voiced by Welles' critics. After settling into the movie I found I actually didn't mind his changes. They cut out some of the other less important sections of dialogue and I was very impressed that Welles managed to make everything fit together so well. He essentially managed to create dialogue that still made sense, was entertaining and tightly woven. He kept all the important aspects of the play and cutting all the excess speech pumped up the action. It must have taken forever for Welles to make the dialogue work which just speaks to his genius as a film maker.

My main complaint about the film was the acting. Welles always was a scene chewer but Jeanette Nolan also goes overboard in the DRAMATIC EMOTIONS! department, especially her spot soliloquy. This, tied in with the fact that the film has a very static feel (ie, it's based off of a play), hurts the film. Just watch the feast/ghost scene and you'll understand what I mean. Welles literally flips a table over!

I enjoyed the film, despite some of its deterrants and thought that Welles did an amazing job with the limited time and budget he had access to. If you're looking for a slightly different interpretation of the play than please check out this film.

Rating: 3.5/5

No comments: