The Film Versions of Macbeth

Roman Polanski, Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa have all directed their own versions of Macbeth the play. This demonstrates the plays timeless appeal to so many different cultures. The reason for this timeless appeal is that it is relevant to so many cultures. The theme of ambition is one of the key themes of the play; it is relevant to all cultures even now as everyone holds the ambition to succeed in life, it is a part of human nature. Another major theme of the play that is relevant to all cultures is violence. Violence has been rampant throughout all times and all cultures.

All people understand violence and are interested in one way or another in it. That is why Macbeth has such an appeal to all cultures. Both of these themes are still relevant today and are still seen today. At the time when the original play was created and performed the topic of witches was a big topic of discussion. Courtroom cases were held for accused witches and many innocent women were killed for allegedly being witches. This meant that the audience would have believed in witches making the scene more effective to them and it could have scared them also.

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Also James I would have been interested in this topic of witches so the play would have attracted him. Act 1, scene 1 automatically raises tension, this tension is caused by the witches as they are seen as evil and grab the audience’s attention. They talk about their familiars, this heightens the view that they are evil by linking them to the underworld. Also when the name Macbeth is mentioned it connects him to evil also. It reflects the major themes of the play using references to the future, it mentions the power that Macbeth will have in the future which links to ambition and also mentions a bloody battle linking to the theme of violence.

The witches use language such as ‘hurly burly’ this links to the violence theme and anticipates the dreadful deeds to come . The flowing rhyming speech of the witches’ keeps the audience’s attention fixed on the witches and gives the audience the impression that they are chanting a spell. The witches use oxymoron’s to make the audience have to think e. g. ” when the battles lost and won” and “fair is foul, and foul is fair”. The interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays on film as opposed to at a theatre holds many advantages as well as disadvantages.

Some of the main disadvantages are it depersonalises the characters making the contact with the audience less direct. Another major disadvantage is that the director must strip down the play to the bare minimum in doing so some words are cut which loses the complexity of some themes and characters. The main advantages are special effects can be added to make the scenes more realistic. Also editing is a major advantage of converting the play to film as scenes can be added removed or touched up e. g. the voices can be edited.

Roman Polanski uses a naturalistic style to direct his interpretation; the setting is a realistic view of a medieval landscape. In the opening scene of Roman Polanski’s version of Macbeth the witches begin walking along the seashore. The witches enter and begin to dig in the sand with their hands in the hole they place a rope, then a hand holding a dagger, then they cover it with herbs pour blood on it and spit on it. While they do this they say the same speech as in the play but say it in a different order, instead of “When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain? the incantation “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air” is the opening speech in this interpretation.

Also lines 10, 9and 8 are cut. This is the ending of the scene played at the beginning. I think having the incantation first is effective as its like they are doing a spell which heightens the evil feeling about them straight away . The text cuts may have been to condense the film, which is one of the disadvantages of the interpretations on film. The setting is a deserted windswept seashore this is an effective setting as it adds to the build up of the moment.

It is a similar setting to Macbeth’s original as they are both deserted and windswept but the Macbeth one is on a moor whereas the Polanski one is on the seashore. I think that the moor is more effective as the seashore isn’t really connected with evil and is visited a lot but a moor is not a place that is visited a lot. The witches are wearing plain dull colours mostly black but one witch is wearing a white shawl the black clothes add to the dark view of the witches and their evil.

This is effective as it builds on the audience’s view of the witches and makes them more interested in the film. The shots in this version are effective as they help the audience establish where the witches are with the close up of the sea gull, the time that passes by the lighting and when they are leaving a long shot is used to show what direction they leave. These are all quite effective I think. He creates a kind of eerie atmosphere as the witches are surrounded by fog and as they leave they disappear into the fog eerie light adds to this effect.

The music is at a slow pace and is a crescendo. It uses violins, which adds to the eerie effect. Overall I think that this is an effective interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and has kept most aspects the same as the original so kept the basic plots and storyline. It shows the themes of violence and ambition well in the references to the future. In Orson Welles version of the opening scene the witches begin on a cliff edge they are casting a spell in a cauldron and drop something into it while saying lines three and four of the play.

They then put their hands into the cauldron and pull out a figure of Macbeth. The figure is like a voodoo doll. This shows they are supernatural as they can put their hands into a cauldron of boiling water. The spell they are using comes later in the play from Act 4 scene 1. Also lines 19, 30-32 and 63-66 are transposed to the beginning “Like a hell-broth boil and bubble” this is line 19 I think that the director must of transposed it to the beginning as it holds words e. g. hell that immediately link the witches to evil which will straight away grab the audiences attention.

Line four and lines ten to thirteen are cut. This may have been done as the director may of thought that the spell at the beginning may of looked better at the start rather than at the end and also the lines that he has transposed. He may of cut some of the lines again to condense the film. Orson Welles uses a abstract directional style. The setting, which Orson Welles has used, I think is very effective. There are swirling storm clouds in the sky, it is misty and dark there is a old tree with twisted roots sticking out the ground.

It is like the perfect setting for a witches ground it has an old eerie feel to it and is deserted. The costumes show a typical view of a witch they are dressed in black head to toe, long clothes with wide sleeves and shawls covering their unkempt hair. This is also very effective as it is the classic view of a witch so would have been believable. The cauldron is effective as it helps to build the typical picture of the witches. The voodoo doll of Macbeth that is taken from the cauldron links Macbeth to the evil of the witches.

As it looks like a voodoo doll it almost gives the sense that the witches will control the future actions of Macbeth. The colours used in this version use a strong contrast of light and dark. Also the use of silhouettes adds a kind of mysterious sense to the film. The use of abstract images such as the flames and the bubbles make you more involved. The jumble of abstract images also creates an intimidating, nightmarish atmosphere. There are a few special effects that add to the setting for example the mist in this scene creates an eerie feeling.

The music was also effective I thought, it was at a low tempo with a squeaky crackling noise. It is a mysterious kind of sound, which I think is effective as it adds to the atmosphere. The interpretation by Akira Kurosawa is different from the two western versions in many different ways. Firstly the witches’ scene isn’t at the start of the film but roughly ten minutes into it, also there is only one witch rather than three. The witch has white/grey hair and her costume is also different. There is no music but the witch does sing.

The witch doesn’t walk or hover to exit but she waves her shawl and disappears. Kurosawas witch is dressed in white, which is uncharacteristic of a western witch. The usual views of witches are in dark usually black clothes, this difference is probably due to the cultural difference in the directors. During the witch scene the witch is spinning something on a spinning wheel, it is a symbol to show that the witch is ‘spinning the thread of life’ this is trying to show that the witch is controlling the fate of Macbeth.

This is similar the voodoo doll in Orson Welles version the different ways that this is shown is a give away of the cultural differences. The similarity between these two is that they are trying to show that the witch/witches are controlling the future events, like in the original. I thought that Orson Welles version was the most effective. I thought that Akira Kurosawa’s version, as a whole was too melodramatic. The Orson Welles version uses a very typical view of the witches, which I think adds to the atmosphere of the scene and the setting also is typical of the medieval era.

All this adds to the atmosphere. Roman Polanski’s version was also effective but I thought that the setting could have been better. It could have been set in a dark gloomy place like Welles version as I think the seashore isn’t really associated with evil. Compare and contrast the ways in which Roman Polanski, Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa dramatise the first witches scene in Macbeth. Which Director do you consider interprets the key ideas in Shakespeare’s text most effectively.

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