Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Macbeth (1948)

Macbeth, 1948
Dir: Orson Welles
September 20, 2009

I wasn't quite sure if I was going to get to this one (or even be able see to see it), but I downloaded it so I could throw my two cents in and continue on my filling out the Welles filmography. So after going bonkers again in The Lady From Shanghai (1947), Welles was not going to get any funding from a studio. He began trying to find someone who would let him film a Shakespeare adaptation, and eventually got one. He was only given a shoestring budget however, and eventually shot this in 23 days (!!).

I'm not going to go through what Macbeth is all about, since you probably know, but it is of note to know that the (few) people who saw this when it was released were scandalized. Shakespeare buffs were incensed that anyone would have the audacity to change lines, reassign lines to other characters, shave scenes, and even, God forbid, add a character. This stuff is commonplace now, given what it takes to make a visual adaptation of something literary, but the changes that were made is the biggest reason that this was shit on when it was released, and why it's only being rediscovered (and reevaluated) recently.

The first thing that really gets me about this film, is that despite what Welles does with the camera (close-ups, low-angle shot and off/deep focus), it still just feels like a play is being filmed on a stage most of this time. That, and the weird, hulking set is made out of paper mache. The costumes are ridiculous and the Scottish burrs that everyone speaks in only work for a few (the native Scots, and Welles). Jeanette Nolan, a radio actress who got the part of Lady Macbeth, sounds pretty retarded trying to pull it off.

There are also a lot of good things to say about the film, especially the way the Witches were dealt with. At the beginning of the film, they create a clay figurine of Macbeth, which is obviously used to symbolize his rise and ruin. They are kept in shadow, and you never see their faces. Like the rest of the cast, their lines are delivered in typical overblown, Shakespearean splendor. What makes this different is that Welles seems to want the audience to believe that the Witches have been controlling everything since that fateful first meeting with Macbeth and that he had the choice to not mention the prophecy to any one, and just forget it. According to Welles, maybe he didn't. In the end, the film is probably a lesser work. It is still fascinating and effective however, and should probably be sought out if you dig what Welles was all about.


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