Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

Macbeth - Royal Shakespeare Company 1978

MACBETH (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1978)

            I’ve considered a couple of other adaptations of Macbeth that are available on DVD here on this blog – the 2009 PBS production, the 1987 BBC one – in some level of detail, and have not ventured much into some other well known efforts such as Orson Welles’ (which is in my view guilty of editing Shakespeare beyond justification, a deed that works in the director’s Othello because of the great beauty of the film, but not here), Roman Polanksi’s (which I will  have some things to say about, eventually) and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.  Of these major DVDs of the play I suppose this 1978 offering, directed by Philip Casson and produced by Trevor Nunn, is the most theater like – and perhaps nothing can bring out the differences between film and theater, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of both, like Shakespeare can.  This RSC effort requires, and deserves, several careful viewings.  Nuance is the order of the day, from a heavily Christianized Duncan to a Macduff who (silently) assumes the role of chief caretaker and bodyguard to Duncan.
            Here are some observations, by no means exhaustive.

  1. An overhead shot of the playing space begins the film.
  2. The actors appear on stage and take seats in a circular arrangement.  The same church music, on organ, that will play when Macbeth is crowned plays on the soundtrack.  Defining the space this way helps establish boundaries and perspective for the viewer.
  3. The weird sisters emerge from different parts of the circle and join together, chanting and moaning.
  4. Simultaneously Duncan, his sons, and a few lords pray in an indentifiably Christian way.  Notice that Macduff stands with his arms folded while the others pray.  Duncan wears a large cross around his neck and blesses himself with the sign of the cross.  Director Philip Casson in this way makes a comment about ceremony and ritual, clashing Duncan’s Christianity against the witches’ paganism and occult activities.
  5. “What bloody man is that?” 
  6. Greeting Ross.
  7. A truly fascinating take on the scene, and one that helps upset A.C. Bradley type views that Shakespeare exists mainly on the page.  Duncan gives the instruction to tell Macbeth he is now Thane of Cawdor.  Most directors show this as Duncan speaking directly to Ross, however he is speaking the order to Malcolm, who is visibly shaken.  Malcolm hesitates and stammers; Ross gently touches him on the arm and comfortingly says, “I’ll see it done.” A bravura visual reading of the written scene.
  8. Macbeth and Banquo come upon the witches.  This is a powerful Macbeth-Banquo pairing that other productions seem to lack.  McKellen and Woodvine are perfect together in the roles.  The chemistry of a loose, edgy Macbeth with the much more dignified Banquo is stunning.
  9. “Two truths are told…”
  10. “Look how our partner’s rapt.”  The word “rapt” appears often in the early scenes.
  11. The Prince of Cumberland scene is about the only one in which the dark, ominous tone of shadow is replaced with brightness, most especially in the form of Duncan’s robe and the crown.  Notice the light shining on Malcolm but not on Duncan or Macbeth.
  12. She reads the letter and starts in with her “milk of human kindness” fretting.  Dench is much stronger in the role in every other scene than she is in this one.  The circular twirls and the little “Oh!” she throws in don’t seem to me to quite fit.
  13. The lighting of her face is sensational.  Awesome cinematography.
  14. “Our gentle senses.”  Duncan exudes more cluelessness.
  15. “If it were done when tis done…” Professor Peter Saccio, giant of Shakespeare study, says this is the best performance of this passage that he has seen.
  16. Notice the difference in perspective in this shot-reverse shot framing.
  17. “How goes the night, boy?”  Banquo in silhouette.
  18. Off to kill Duncan with his sleeve rolled up.
  19. The Porter scene in this film is quite funny because of the camera movements.  A great touch of humor!
  20. “Thou hast it all now…” Banquo on the cusp.
  21. “Have you considered of my speeches?” Was Banquo really the enemy of these men, or is Macbeth just stirring up trouble?
  22. The best of the cutthroats. 
  23. With the witches a second time.  They use dolls, candles, and tattoos,  again pointing up the ceremonial, ritualistic nature of their practice.
  24. The Macduffs.  A problem – Lady Macduff is too easily identifiable as one of the three witches.  This playing of multiple is true of a few of the cast members.  I understand all the reasons for it, but in the cinema it is problematic.
  25. Malcolm and Macduff plot the attack.
  26. Sleepwalking grief.  “Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?”
  27. One of the weird sisters’ dolls – Macbeth keeps it with him.
  28. A break with the heretofore strictly kept “filmed play” aesthetic.
  29. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” McKellen is presented in a perspiring, fever like manner.