Monday, March 21, 2016

Macbeth is very, very good

The new film version of Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender in the lead, is astonishing. In its various slow-slow motion sequences, which come across as most painterly, it has a familiar visual aesthetic - not unlike that of A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness from a couple of years ago, or certain romantic paintings that inspired that film; or, say, the cover art for certain black metal and dark ambient records. It's an unsubtle, excessive, almost rock'n'roll version of moodiness, maybe just slightly cliched, slightly obvious at times, but undeniably powerful, effective, potent no less. Musically, it reminded me of the more haunting passages on Kronos Quartet's Black Angels, or maybe Tony Conrad's collaborations with Faust, at times quite droning and dark (not unlike the score for The Witch, but less discordant). Cinematically, on the other hand - in its edits and flows of images and relationship to dialogue, it has a language far more Malick than one might expect, especially in the way Shakespeare's words are sometimes used like the stream-of-consciousness narration of The Thin Red Line. Evil Malick, then? I'm not sure, but as a whole the experience is gripping, one of the greatest film adaptations of Shakespeare that I have seen (tho 'there is only one other filmed Macbeth I've taken in, which would be Kurosawa's Throne of Blood; a very, very different film, needless to say, as apple to this orange as one can get while still being a Macbeth adaptation). And some of the line readings - God, what a way to breathe life into Shakespeare! Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are very, very good, and make vividly, painfully real some of these quotes, in ways that they had previously never been for me. It's a film that makes you want to see it again as soon as possible, to soak up the power of the language, the acting, the images, maybe even memorize a bit or two (because none of the most delightful bits of language I encountered were passages I had noticed much before). And you know it's only going to get better with repeat viewings...
Understand that I grew up hating Macbeth, having been forced to study it in high school, at a time in my life when I was completely unable - naive, idealistic, and innocent, even at my cruelest and most egocentric - to appreciate the very adult emotions the play describes. I've never understood why any curriculum would deem it suitable Shakespeare for teens (as compared to Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, both entirely appropriate; as for Macbeth, one might just as well heap on Richard III and King Lear, two of my other favourite Shakespeare plays, but also completely unsuitable for young readers. These are songs of experience, folks, not innocence, and should be kept from those too young to begin to comprehend them). Anyhow, I'm very grateful for an English language adaptation of this play that sings to me.
I haven't much else to say about it but if you've noticed this new version of Macbeth out there and wondered if it's any good, oh my yes, it is. See the film, then compare my reaction with Ken Eisner's, for the fun of it (he describes it as a "blood soaked snoozer", and was paid to do so!).

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