As much as I love Orson Welles, I was surprised by how much I loved his 1948 adaptation of Macbeth. It's no substitute for watching the pure play being performed, but it's a fantastic interpretation of the story. It's like going home after seeing a production and then having a really intense nightmare about it.
Shot with a lot of very dark, expressionistic shadows on studio sets with strange jagged edges, dark against grey painted skies or shockingly white against black background, the whole movie feels like a hazardous, smothering interior. This brilliantly reflects the paranoia of the story, accentuating the madness that goes along with belief in prophecy. When Macbeth accepts the narrow, simple reality crafted by the witches' prophecy, he becomes bound then by a narrow trolley car of fate. Welles uses a low angle shot of himself as Macbeth to show a low, rocky ceiling above him after learning Banquo's son has escaped assassination, thereby maintaining the witches' prophecy that the child will eventually take the throne;
Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect,
Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,
As broad and general as the casing air:
But now I am cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, bound in
To saucy doubts and fears.
That's the trap of magic, curses, and blessings--if you accept spells can make things perfect, you have to accept they can lead to ruin. That's the nature of Macbeth's Hell.
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence.
Welles recorded the movie's audio first and had the actors lip sync to it. The result is a movie that feels more like one of his radio programmes than his other films, particularly in its timing. During the sequence where Duncan is murdered, Welles uses the animal sound effects rather brilliantly as well as his tendency to have actors deliver lines almost before another actor has finished speaking. This particular sequence, an almost ten minute take, is a show all on its own.
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