Monday, April 23, 2012

Retro Review: MACBETH (1971)

- Rated R for extreme graphic violence, disturbing images and full frontal nudity.
- Starring John Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Terence Bayler, John Stride
- Written by Roman Polanski & Kenneth Tynan
- Directed by Roman Polanski
- Running Time: 2hrs 20min

The more I see of Roman Polanski's films, the more respect for him I gain.  I still have a few more movies to view, but he's definitely becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.  The only one of his films I haven't cared for is OLIVER TWIST, which wasn't terrible and had a wonderful look, but I just couldn't connect with it.  CHINATOWN remains one of my all time favorite films (just like many other film geeks), THE PIANIST becomes more of a masterpiece with repeat viewings.  REPULSION is chilling, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS was offbeat fun, ROSEMARY'S BABY is beautifully haunting, FRANTIC is a solid thriller.  Heck, I even liked the wacky THE NINTH GATE.

I was curious to see his version of Shakespeare's MACBETH, a story of which I haven't seen or read in any form.  This was Polanski's first film after the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate, who was a victim of the Manson clan.  I'm not sure if the incident impacted the way he conceived the film, but this is a bleak, grim and shocking tale, almost playing out like a horror movie.

I love the idea of Shakespeare.  I love how the story is driven with poetic dialogue that has to be deciphered.  But to be quite honest, it usually takes a couple of times seeing the film to fully understand it.  I'm just not as smart and sophisticated as I like.  After watching this, I immediately went to Wikipedia to read the full plot of Macbeth.  Now, knowing what happened, I can say that it's a pretty darn good movie.  One that I definitely want to watch again, because I know I'm going to enjoy it so much more.

Some of you may know the story of Macbeth, but for those who don't I'll do my best to explain (remember, this is the movie version, so I'm not sure how faithful it was to the original source).  Of course this takes place in Medieval times, and Macbeth is a soldier for the king of Scotland.  After a great battle, he meets with some witches that foresee he will become king.  When he's not named heir to the thrown, he gets pissed off.  He and his wife, Lady Macbeth, scheme to throw a party with the King and his men.  At night, Macbeth kills him and frames 2 servant girls.  The king's sons, fearing for their own life, flee the scene.  Macbeth becomes heir to the throne, and he's not a very good king.  He pretty much tries to eliminate any other threat to his crown, which starts a bloodbath of revenge. 

Like I said before, you really have to pay attention to Shakespeare (unless of course for someone who is used to the Bard's way of telling a story) to get everything going on.  And it took me awhile to figure things out.  But, now that I understand everything that happened, it's a pretty kick ass tragedy.  The story is very compelling.  It's a shocking tale that is very violent.  I was surprised by how gory this movie was.  Throats are punctured, people are hung, heads are cut off, etc.  The swordplay, mainly in the finale, is very realistically choreographed.  It's not perfect.  It's sloppy, like how a real fight should be.  And it's slightly sped up, which was oft-putting at first, but I think it works. 

Polanski has made a gorgeous film and an ugly film at the same time.  The colors are bright, but somewhat faded.  The art direction is fantastic in how it depicts the time period as a dismal and filthy place.  It's not glossy like some big budget Hollywood productions have fantasized about the period, but probably more historically accurate.  The scope is epic, but condensed by the intimacy of the story and camera placements.  Polanski also plays up the fantasy and dreamlike elements (the naked witch scene is crazy) of the story with some psychedelic editing. And that cinematography is amazing.  It's subtle enough that it doesn't distract the viewer from the story, but if you pay attention, you'll realized that there's many long takes and tracking shots, as well as slow zooms and carefully framed images to symbolize certain things. 

The acting is good all around, from mostly an unknown British cast.  John Finch is outstanding as Macbeth, perfectly displaying his slow descent into madness.  Francesca Annis is beautiful as Lady Macbeth and is just as good as Finch.  The other notable actor is Terence Bayler as MacDuff, who seeks revenge on the newly appointed king after his family is murdered. 

If you're a fan of Shakespeare or Polanski, you won't want to miss this.  If you're not too familiar with the famous playwright, you might want to familiarize yourself with the story first so you won't be lost, that way you'll be able to enjoy it much more.  Macbeth is a great film that deserves to be rediscovered. I would love to see this on a big movie screen. 

***1/2 (out of ****)

No comments:

Post a Comment