Thursday, May 29, 2014

Macbeth - PBS, 2009

Macbeth – PBS 2009

Rupert Goold’s 2009 film of “the Scottish play”, based on his triumphant stage production, is mighty fine.  Original, witty at times, more earthily human than most interpretations, its avant garde mood gives the familiar material a fresh and new tone.  At times it also clashes absurdly with the text of the masterpiece, but we can overlook that as minor in the main.

The film opens not with the three witches as is the universal norm but, rather, with the hand of a wounded soldier being wheeled around on a gurney in a kind of weird subterranean hallway that seems to be part of a hospital.  This introduces a visual motif that Goold employs throughout, which is that of a hallway or passageway.

The film uses actually war footage and, later, actual footage of mindless crowds in Communist nations cheering the dictator.  This interpolation of stock war footage is a worn out device, ancient really, but was probably done here due to budgetary limits.  Compare the use of such in a film like Clint Eastwood’s HEARTBREAK RIDGE.

“What bloody man is that?”  Goold’s version inserts the three witches into the principal action of the story, a totally new innovation as far as I’m aware.  Here they turn up as nurses attending to the “bloody man” of Duncan’s question.

The witches.  “…in thunder, lighting, or in rrrrrrrrrrrain?”  This witch is overly angry.

This is one place where the ultra mod setting shrieks a little bit against the text – “Upon the heath…” but they don’t meet Macbeth and Banquo on the heath – they meet with him in a conference room/banquet hall.

Macbeth and Banquo emerge from battle.

The execution of Cawdor.  I suspect this might baffle anyone not familiar with the play.  Compare with the execution of Cawdor in Polanski’s film.

Kate Fleetwood, very strong in the role.  “Hold! Hold!”

Here Paul Shelley as Duncan and Fleetwood shine with nuance.  Brilliant.

“We will proceed no further in this business.”  Patrick Stewart puts a new and unique explication on the role.

The Porter, played by Christopher Patrick Nolan, is given a weighty role in this film above and beyond the original Shakespeare, as the witches are.  Here is an example of Goold’s visual ‘tunnel’ motif alluded to earlier.

Faucets that appear and reappear throughout – an important visual anchor.

“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”

Face to face.  The couple is shot various ways throughout the film.  One of the most important is the through the bars of a mysterious elevator we keep seeing throughout.  Shots through bars are another favorite prehistoric device of many directors.

Two examples – she is shot in sharp focus up front; he, in blur in the background.

Another of Goold’s original touches – The Porter interacts with the Macduff family.  This makes it easier for the novice to easily catch on to who they are much later in the play.

The Porter watches crowds on TV.

Banquo addresses the large image of Macbeth: “I fear thou played’st most foully for ‘t.”


Banquo and Fleance.  The framing motif again.

The ghost of Banquo.

“Have you considered of my speeches?”  Macbeth prepares a sandwich while he plots the death of Banquo and Fleance with The Murderers.

Ross is differentiated from the others by means of the suit he wears – why?

The Witches more in depth prophecies late in the drama.

“Beware the Thane of Fife.”

Goold’s staging of the murders of the Macduff family members is brilliant and scary.

Scott Handy as Malcolm – an actor with an unusually expressive face.

Macduff framed as Banquo and The Porter were earlier.

Blood, blood, and more blood – in the climactic scene Macbeth and Macduff fight not with swords but knives, which means that Macduff would have to sever Macbeth’s head from his body with a knife.  No wonder Goold chooses not to show this.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Killers

These are very general remarks; Starbucks, Hell’s Kitchen, 49th and 9th, May 2014.

1. All promo material screams ERNEST HEMINGWAY'S THE KILLERS - but that story only provides enough meat for about ten minutes worth of movie (it is rendered very faithfully here). Here's the problem: The Killers is one of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories. It is meant to be a chapter in the overall development of Nick Adams into a mature adult. In the film you no way, no how get this impression at all. Nick Adams is there, he serves a function (he runs to the Swede to warn him about the killers, thus giving us the opportunity to see the depth of the Swede's apathy), but, like the rest of the original source, he's gone almost instantly. The screenwriters are therefore forced to take the picture into areas that Hemingway never had any desire to investigate. As Gary Fishgall wrote in his biography of Burt Lancaster: "Screenwriter Anthony Veiller and his unbilled collaborator, director-screenwriter John Huston (who was still in the Army and technically unable to take film assignments), effectively turned "The Killers" into the basis for a film noir classic." Hemingway was one of the few authors who has ever had movie star type name recognition - everyone else connected with the picture was essentially a no name with the general public from Lancaster to Gardner to Siodmak to Hellinger. Thus it was absolutely necessary to have his name there in a big way.

2. It can be argued that Edmond O'Brien is really the star of the picture. At the very least, in a perfect world, he would get equal top billing. And doesn't the opening scene make you want to run out and buy some DVDs of a certain Quinn Martin production?

3. The Prentiss Hat Company robbery scene is absolute knockout bravura filmmaking - it alone is worth the price of admission.

The long, unedited tracking shot of the Prentiss Hat Company robbery scene is awesome filmmaking. The serious student will want to analyze and compare it with the long shot that opens Robert Altman's The Player and the one in the middle of David Fincher's Panic Room.

About The Film: Fishgall's bio of Burt Lancaster; Server's bio of Ava Gardner; The Mark Hellinger Story; bios, and the autobio, of John Huston; and, obviously, Hemingway's story. For Comparison: check out another film by Siodmak, The Rough and the Smooth, for some perspective.