Saturday, February 26, 2011

MACBETH, Take One (Welles)

Consensus seems unduly weighted toward the demeaning notion that Welles's 1948 Macbeth is but an amateurish experiment of little worth except to film schools. Watching it, I understood instantaneously why Godard and Rivette spent eight hours on a single day watching repeated screenings. It is the grandest synthesis of theater and cinema I have yet laid eyes on. The sequence in which Macbeth, plotting with his malevolent lady, mulls over his predestined murder of the king, shot from a fiercely low angle that is transfixed on the king's cavernous quarters engraved in the side of a craggy, gothic spire even as the silhouetted performers occupy two-thirds of the frame, single-handedly renders Bazin's analysis of the staircase murder in The Little Foxes obsolete. It is theater at its most grand and artificial, even as the filmic space transforms the hovering themes of guilt and psychological oppression into indelible images, the cavern of the king standing for a forbidden place in Macbeth's mind where he dares not go, a moral threshold to ascend and from which he can never return. The whole film is drenched in such soundstage imagery of gargantuan thematic proportions, and the chiaroscuro lighting that is Welles's trademark forms the textures, obfuscations, and oppositions that are at the heart of Shakespeare's play and this masterful interpretation of it. It is ripe for theoretical deconstruction even as it is infinitely more visceral and intense than Olivier in his tepidity could ever hope to aspire.

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