Archive for Roman Polanski

One scene, three times. (3) Coen.

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2022 by dcairns

As mentioned before, the new THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is very good, at least much of the time. There are lots of things about it I don’t think work, but lots that do and in unfamiliar ways. It has a nice blend of the cinematic and the practical. Its version of the Macduff news scene (Act IV, Scene II) isn’t the most interesting, but the bland shot-countershot approach is actually fairly good for clarity. I shows the three versions of this scene to my students and they found the cutting helped them read it as an argument, back-and-forth, question-and-answer. They found the Polanski version more emotional though.

Joel Coen seems to have copied Polanski & Tynan’s idea of making Ross a traitor, but takes it even further and makes him the third murderer who lays in wait for Banquo. Alex Hassall plays him as one sneaky bastard. Harry Melling is Malcolm and Corey Hawkins is Macduff.

In keeping with the film’s grey, misty, stylised look, Coen sets the scene along an avenue of curiously 2D trees. Any time you have an avenue of trees, you want to track, so that’s how he starts the scene. He’s also making a nice transition from the previous scene, the massacre at the Macduff home, so we start with smoke filling the screen, which becomes mist, which lifts to reveal first the trees and then Malcolm and Macduff.

It could be a little hard to figure out why these two guys are out for a stroll in this cultivated area, if we were encouraged to think about that, but we’re not. Shakespeare doesn’t really provide any clues, though it’s likely he imagined a road, but probably not one that’s had the services of a landscape gardener. We can dimly see other trees, so the idea seems to be that this path is cutting through a forest, but the evenness of the foreground trees make them seem deliberately planted, not wild.

Our chaps stop as they notice someone approaching. It’s Ross, power-walking in their direction, with long floppy sleeve-ribbons flapping by his sides. He’s apparently out for a stroll too — since it makes sense that we’re safe in England, he’s apparently power-walked from Dunsinane, a distance or a hundred or so miles, depending on how far south we are. But again, this needn’t matter.

The effect of Ross’s costume is oddly priestly, harkening back to the Welles version.

Coen has now set up a symmetrical shot/counter-shot scenario. He has a gentle track towards Ross, which suggests the POV of Malcolm and Macduff but isn’t, since they’ve stopped walking. Ross stops in medium shot and decides that M&M are a little ways screen right, so that’s where he looks. When we cut to them, the view is no longer so symmetrical and they look screen left. This ties these two shots together and means we don’t feel the immediate need for a master shot showing all three dudes.

As in the Polanski, Ross’s speech about how terrible it is in Scotland has to be played convincingly, but the audience knows it’s not really sincere, since Ross is playing both ends against the middle.

This creates a difficulty, potentially, when Macduff asks “How does my wife?” Ross looks very uncomfortable, as well he might, and says she’s fine. Well, he has to, because that’s what Shakespeare’s written, but asides from it being in the script, WHY? In both the Polanski and Coen, Ross has been rewritten as a traitor, so it’s a little hard to impute to him the delicacy of feeling that could cause him to fail to break the bad news at his first attempt.

I don’t hugely like Hassall’s perf, which mostly seems to telegraph sinister intent and insincerity. And, as in the Polanski, psychology gets flung out the window at this point, with Ross dithering about the facts for no good character or narrative reason. Hassall does at least get to be on camera for this moment, though, which was more than John Stride got in the Polanski, and he shows discomfort, uncertainty, which helps.

Unlike in the Welles and Polanski versions, there’s no attempt to provide visual evidence that Malcolm is raising an army in England. Welles inserts a chunky English knight and throws him some secondhand dialogue, Polanski comes up with an entire army in training, even if it’s quite small (maybe a hundred men?). Coen just has the principles stand and talk about it in the abstract.

So far the coverage is quite boring, I have to say. You can hardly imagine Coen being bothered storyboarding this. We now get a closeup on Macduff, balancing Ross’s shot for the first time. Melling also now gets a CU. So we have three talking heads in front of a photograph of trees. In fairness, there are much more interesting scenes in the Coen film. It’s like he resents having to leave Macbeth’s moral decay behind in order to carry on the plot here.

Forced to come to the point, it’s Hassall who turns his back on us, pirouetting away in angst and bounding back to deliver the fatal thrust.

Hawkins as Macduff now follows the familiar pattern or retreating into a longshot, rear view, but not before a long lingering reaction in closeup. Which I think he does quite well. You see the tremors as he tries to maintain control. It’s a subtle, intelligent rendering of an emotion that would, in reality, be much uglier, more unbearable to see, but it’s not certain that Macbeth would benefit from hysteria at this point. And does it make sense to do iambic pentameters while hysterical? The underplaying seems like a smart choice.

A reverse angle eventually shows us Hawkins’ face again, with everyone lined up geometrically. Malcolm consoles Macduff with a hand on the shoulder, just as Stephan Chase had done for Terence Bayler in the Polanski. Hawkins delivers “HE has no children,” with real rage, and better still, Melling shrinks back from this in mild alarm and shame. As well he might.

Hawkins does the rest of this with a smart study in grief and rage, building nicely to the determination to seek revenge. He turns away again so we can go back to the figures in receding sequence, then turns back and strides forth into a fresh composition, over Ross’s shoulder.

This is very stand-and-deliver standard delivery. It’s just basic coverage. Nothing is really emphasised by creative or expressive choices, though elsewhere in the movie there is more of this. It does foreground the performances though, even if the people seem sort of nailed to the ground, occasionally moved around like chess pieces, which is maybe a downside of storyboarding everything and just shooting the boards.

There are better scenes in the Coen film — some are inspired. Maybe I should compare the second witches visits in each film? At any rate, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little sequence of posts. Something I might do again with different film adaptations of a different source.

One scene, three times (2) Polanski

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2022 by dcairns

Polanski’s approach to Macbeth, Act IV, Scene III in his 1971 adaptation is, we have to think, informed by the fact that, unlike almost anybody else attempting the scene, he had lived it. A man receives the news that his wife and child/ren have been murdered while he was out of the country. What’s that like, Roman?

Polanski is, quite understandably, extremely annoyed by critics who try to impose a simplistic autobiographical reading onto this film, and his work in general — my friend Mark Cousins walked boldly into this issue when he interviewed RP for the BBC. It was a pretty lively, rebarbative chat — some of the most feisty stuff got cut out, but Mark wrote about it for Sight & Sound: Polanski doing a big snore noise when he didn’t like a question, that kind of thing.

RP has said that he chose Macbeth to adapt precisely because critics couldn’t claim he was making a film about the Manson murders, since all the violence is already in the text. A naive supposition, admittedly. The only way to have escaped the armchair shrinks would have been to make a film with no violence whatsoever. Instead, Polanski and co-scenarist Kenneth Tynan created a world where bloodshed is the norm, so that it arguably loses much of its moral dimension, becomes all-pervasive.

While Welles repurposed Ross as the Holy Man, Polanski & Tynan work some character redesign of their own. Rather than being a sort of Basil Exposition figure who turns up and delivers information, their Ross is a two-faced traitor, making nice with Macbeth while meeting his enemies on the sly. In this film’s world, honour is an illusion (it ends with another betrayal, another thane* off to meet the witches). Shakespeare typically ends his tragedies with (a) a bloodbath but (b) the restoration of order, which is to be viewed as stable, balanced, good. Not so in Polanski’s films, where the natural order IS chaos.

Unlike Welles, Polanski has a bit of a budget, though it’s still quite tight. But he can afford locations — Wales being closer to the UK production centre than Scotland, he shoots there. So the meeting of Malcolm and Macduff with Ross can happen on an actual road, in an actual valley. This is a film full of production values and realistic detail (Polanski spat a mouthful of breadcrumbs onto a dining table to illustrate the level of authenticity — and grunge — he required) so we open on the sight of what appear to be refugees fleeing their terrible lives north of the border. Pan onto Malcolm and Macduff.

They can afford horses, too, so Ross comes trotting over the horizon line, suitably mounted for the trip. (We’ve just seen him in Dunsinane with Macbeth, so he’s had to travel at least a hundred miles to get here.) Welles’ rebels would have been lucky to get coconut shells.

Instead of saying “My countryman; but yet I know him not,” Malcolm says “Our countryman who seems a stranger to us,” a line NOT IN SHAKESPEARE. Pure Tynan, intended to suggest that Malcolm and Macduff don’t quite trust Ross, feel he’s been a bit too pally with the usurper. This seems somehow like cheating to me. You can impose a personal interp on the play, even if it means distorting some scenes. But just making shit up seems sort of… not legit. Still, Macduff arrives in a wide and dismounts into medium shot all smiles. He is John Stride, and he is a sly one. (Stride is a fine, underused thesp, excellent as the unctuous man from the ministry in JUGGERNAUT.)

Ross bows to the pretender to the throne (we have to call Malcolm that: for now, he’s just pretending) and greets Macduff with a manly hug. As his horse gets led off to presumably have some hay put in it or something, Stride/Ross makes his report on the state of the nation. Said state being absolutely dreadful.

The three walk off into an encampment. Ah-hah! This isn’t a random meeting by a roadside, but a visit by Ross to the enemy’s base. As we get a long shot, a huge swathe of text is conveniently cut, allowing Macduff to cut to the chase and ask after his wife and kids. Still in the wide shot, Ross says they’re fine.

This is a weird choice. Ross knows full well that the whole Macduff household has been put to the sword or worse. As a tiny rear view, Stride can’t inflect the lie with any kind of psychology, so we’re left at a loss as to why he does it. And I do think, even if we’d seen his face, seen a sneaky or uncomfortable look cross it, we’d be a bit puzzled by this behaviour. On his trip from Scotland he’s had plenty of time to think about what to say to Macduff.

I suspect Polanski covered this dialogue with the next shot, but then lopped a big speech out and overlapped some lines to pick up the pace, with the unfortunate result that part of the scene’s meaning becomes a bit blurry. But speed is usually your friend, and he can get over the problem by just rocketing forward to the next good bit.

With the bigger budget for extras, Polanski can show what they’re talking about, vis-a-vis the plans for invasion, so Malcolm stops to have a look at two warriors having a practice bout. The younger one is the film’s brilliant fight arranger, Bill Hobbs. Polanski covers most of the dialogue here with a handheld shot following the men through the mud. Polanski had developed this neat approach to handheld, using the trudging figures to, in effect, stabilise the shot. The actors and camera wobble as one. John Alonso talked about quarrelling with the director on CHINATOWN about whether handheld was appropriate, and found Polanski winning him over with this effect.

Continuing on through the camp, towards where the archers are doing target practice, Ross now decides to tell the truth about Macduff’s family tragedy. We don’t know why he lied before, and so we can’t really understand why he changes tack now. Never mind, onwards! as Boris Johnson is always saying. Leave your calamities in the rear view mirror then blame your critics for fixating on the past, while you line up a fresh disaster.

Polanski’s theory about casting, as expressed to his PIANIST screenwriter Ronald Harwood (in David Wilkinson’s excellent interview book), is that you basically choose actors for what they look like. This is bananas, and dumb, but also true. You can’t get away with useless actors, you need far more essential qualities than appearance, but still, an actor who is the correctly carved block of wood will get you a lot of what you need. It’s essential that they photograph right, that their look suggests the character. I guess Polanski gets the rest of the way by screaming at them, by doing lots of takes, by showing off his karate chops (he was taught by Bruce Lee).

Stephan Chase, then, as Malcolm, has presumably been cast for his long, noble, sensitive, rather sorrowful face, because Malcolm is always at the scene of bad news. John Stride is playing a sneak, but he has to appear trustworthy because on the whole people trust him. He has a bland, mild, round-edged face.

Terence Bayler is Macduff. He’s very dark and baleful of countenance, rather like Welles’ choice of Dan O’Herlihy, in fact. His eyes peer out of a black scowl. Very effective, and little to do with acting. He has a mobile mouth, which is common to classically trained British thesps with good diction. The American mumblers make better tough guys. Ken Campbell worked out that to be threatening on stage or screen, you have to be as good a ventriloquist as possible. You scare the enemy by saying things without seeming to. Bayler is fiery and baleful but doesn’t seem convincingly tough here, because of his flapping, twirling lips. He more than makes up for it in the final duel through sheer physical exertion.

Billy Wilder, asked if he was going to go see ROSEMARY’S BABY, replied “I wouldn’t touch it with a five foot Pole.” But Polanski apparently bore no grudge because he follows Wilder’s dictum about not showing a character’s face when they get bad news. Or almost. He has Bayler turn quickly away as Malcolm mutters “Merciful heavens,” all so quick it’s possible to get confused about who spoke. It’s quite a weak effect, I think. The bold and effective way would be to have his back to us because they’re walking, and then have him stop. Or he turns away to brace himself and we just see him stiffen. Anything direct, anything requiring an expression, an action, or a line, is kind of doomed to be inadequate to this awesome moment. Giving him an expression an action compounds the inadequacy.

But when Bayler trudges off into the middle distance to deal with the shock alone, that works very well, I think. From here on, by sticking to the script more or less, Polanski & co are on firm ground. Macduff keeps asking if his wife is dead too? And his kids? And his wife? It’s absurd and nightmarish and true.

When Polanski throws us a reverse angle, going from three back views to three frontal ones, it’s very effective, and Malcolm’s “Ne’er pull your hat upon your brows,” is occasioned by a very effective stance from Baylor. In the Welles film, Macduff doesn’t have a hat so he can’t pull it upon his brows. Polanski’s adaptations always take blind fidelity as their starting point: assume that everything is there for a reason, and assume you’ll find it out by sticking to it. He apparently filmed ROSEMARY’S BABY exactly as written in the novel, then had to reshape the film to get it to be a releasable length. His OLIVER TWIST includes characters and bits everyone leaves out of their adaptations. The bit about the hat, a strange line which is hard to picture, becomes THE BEST BIT. A psychologically true displacement activity.

(The other filmmaker who had this sort of experience for real was the late Peter Bogdanovich. His response to the news of his partner’s death was to fall to the floor and attempt to claw his way through it. Now there’s a displacement activity. The right actor might be able to do that in a scene, but probably the majority wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I was also very impressed by Abbie Cornish’s performance in BRIGHT STAR: sudden, shattering grief. It’s a difficult thing to show, and your audience may shrink or even giggle. Which is why artifice could be your friend. When the truth works, it’s better. When it doesn’t work, it’s much, much worse.)

When Malcolm proposes revenge as the cure for this tragedy, Baylor’s flat rendition of “He has no children,” is magnificently despairing. You can’t repay Macbeth for this. Revenge doesn’t actually work. But sometimes it may be essential anyway.

Macduff staggers about. He gets into a solo shot, viewed from the side, and when he wonders if heaven looked down at his family’s slaughter, he looks up at the bleak, bleary Welsh clouds.

The rest of the scene plays out in a continuation of this shot, as Macduff sinks to his knees and then, offered a sword by Malcolm, rises to his feet again. Despair is followed by the urge for justice which propels us forward into the next part of the story.

Surprisingly, Malcolm’s cynicism in using Macduff’s bereavement for his own ends isn’t greatly stressed here. He seems genuinely sympathetic.

The offering of the sword, however, seems to echo Macbeth’s earlier encounter with the phantom dagger. This is emphasised by the fact that Polanski frames him as headless, making the sword seem less attached to a person. Fate, or witches, or kings, are always handing us weapons and telling us to get busy. Macduff/Baylor’s fighting stance at the end seems less aggressive, more defensive and wary — he’s not exactly enthusiastic about the coming battle. But he seems to be trying to hallucinate it into being.

(The next scene, fittingly, shows Macbeth riding in long shot from right to left, as if towards Macduff and his vengeful sword.)

One thing Polanski and Tynan do that Welles oddly doesn’t: they end on a line and a moment and a command to go forward, rather than on an EXEUNT, which Shakespeare absolutely had to do in order to bring on the next scene, and which Welles chose to retain. Cutting Shakespeare is absolutely essential for the screen (and quite often necessary or advisable on stage), both to eliminate description of things that we can’t avoid SEEING, and therefore don’t need described, and to propel us forward with a cut.

Endnote: Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD isn’t a favourite of mine. It has stunning scenes, but Kurosawa seems to have no particular sympathy for Macbeth, which maybe you need. No sympathy translates into little interest. Anyway, Kurosawa is excused wrestling with the verse because he’s doing it in Japanese, and rather brilliantly he manages to tell the story entirely without Macduff, so this scene doesn’t appear at all.

*Don’t know what it means.

One scene, three times. (1) Welles.

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2022 by dcairns

Let’s do a CLOSE ANALYSIS!

I was struck by one particular scene that appears in the Welles, Polanski and Coen MACBETHs — Ross delivers the bad news to Macduff.

Billy Wilder said that there are two occasions in dialogue scenes where the director ought to arrange it so that the character has his back to the camera: when he is getting a brilliant idea (“I have just invented the light bulb!”) and when he is receiving terrible news.

Macduff strikes me as quite an easy part: like Banquo, he’s just a solid sort of bloke. But this scene is tricky, because all of a sudden the actor has to play something that’s very nearly unplayable. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done really successfully, even though Shakespeare certainly gives the poor strutting and fretting player some help.

Before we go in, we should note that Welles, Polanski & Kenneth Tynan, and Joel Coen have not only interpreted but rewritten the text in markedly different ways, so we could argue it’s not even the same scene. Welles’ changes are, in a sense, the most extreme — he’s eliminated Ross entirely and invented a holy man, who has Ross’s lines and some other characters’ lines. This goes towards a theme about the old and new religions that Welles wanted to get in there, but that Shakespeare hadn’t thought of providing. I think it creates some problems here…

Still, it gives this scene a nice image, the Celtic cross standing in the middle of nowhere — a Star Trek landscape with low horizon and big cyclorama.

The most noteworthy thing about Welles’ version of Act IV, Scene III is that it’s a sequence shot — the whole scene covered in a single unbroken take. All the more remarkable since Welles apparently recorded the dialogue first, then had the cast lipsync to it, a bizarre technique more associated with musicals, apparently intended to save time on the set by eliminating the need to record sound.

FADE IN. Roddy McDowall strides up as Malcolm, saying some lines stolen from Macduff, and beginning three syllables from the end of a line, iambic pentameter be damned. Still, the lines work well with Roddy’s mournful, poetic delivery: “Each new morn new widows howl.”

Along with Malcolm and Macduff is a third bloke, no idea why. Probably there should be a whole gang of them, but Shakespeare only gave lines to two, plus Ross who has yet to appear. This guy is, I guess, an attendant lord, to swell the scene, and I note Welles has cast a fairly fat bloke to that purpose.

Malcolm strides forward into medium shot, but Macduff has the sense to keep going, meaning he gets a closeup. Macduff is Dan O’Herlihy, and he knows what’s what. But the CU only lasts a second, as with typical restlessness he heads back into the distance, pulling the camera rightwards. “I am not treacherous,” he remarks, apropos of nothing — Welles has stolen the line from later on. Then the mysterious extra dude chips in a line, “But Macbeth is,” which has been stolen from Malcolm, to give this interloper something to say I suppose.

The blocking goes a bit wobbly now, as McDowall stands in front of Third Bloke for the next bit, turning what should be a lopsided A composition into a dirty two-shot. Realising he’s being completely hidden, Third Bloke edges round a bit so we can see him, which only draws attention to the error. Bastard.

(But remember, Welles shot this in 23 days. If a long take like this was mostly acceptable, they couldn’t keep at it in search of elusive perfection. Getting six and a half minutes shot in a oner would certainly have helped them stick to the schedule, though.)

Malcolm now refers to England’s offer of thousands of troops, so we surmise that Third Bloke is a representative of England. I guess that makes sense: you want to visualise what they’re talking about somehow, and showing a lot of troops would be costly. Now the Holy Man comes striding through the background and approaches. This is Alan Napier, Batman’s butler, giving one of the film’s best performances and best Scottish accents. As noted, he’s delivering Shakespeare’s lines but he’s not playing a character Shakespeare actually wrote.

Everyone bows to the Holy Man, then they head off into a new composition — this is all one shot, mind. Another new composition, and then another.

Inevitably, when Scotsmen meet abroad, the one who’s just come from there is asked how things are going, and inevitably he answers: fucking awful. Macduff now asks how his wife is — he moves closer, but behind the HM, which allows us to see the anxiety in the HM’s eyes when he lies and says Mrs. M. is fine.

This I find a little hard to accept. If this was Shakespeare’s Ross, a simple thane*, it would be easy to interpret: he’s not used to delivering this kind of tragic news, and he postpones the inevitable and makes things worse (but only slightly: things are already about as bad as they can get) by deflecting his duty with a pathetic lie. The Holy Man, it seems to me, would not be this bad at what is, after all, a major part of his job, or so I presume. I mean, I don’t think Welles is intending some critique of the church here, it’s just that he’s saddled with the scene as Shakespeare wrote it (though, given everything else he’s changed, he COULD presumably have just chopped this bit and had the HM get straight to the nub).

Now the HM realises he’s failed at one of his main tasks, a task he’s presumably been thinking about all the way from Scotland — he’s actually walked the hundred miles or so precisely to give this bit of news. So he turns to face Macduff, man to man… and changes the subject.

Everyone gets into a discussion about the upcoming invasion while Macduff cannily heads for the foreground, his expression telling us that he’s not satisfied he’s gotten the whole story.

Now that the death of the Macduff household has been left safely in the dust, the HM steps off into a solo shot to raise the subject again, something which now seems to lack any psychological impetus. He hints that there’s some terrible news, and O’Herlihy comes smashing into frame as an over-the-shoulder jump scare out of a late Wes Craven movie. Napier pivots, and we have a flat two again, but closer than before. Properly intimate, the other characters nicely offscreen.

Still, the HM is really bad at this. Having created the sinking sensation in all our stomachs by telling Macduff that he has really awful news and it mainly pertains to Macduff, he then pleads that Macduff won’t hold this against him. An acceptable line for a thick thane*, but really poor work from a priest.

In another clever bit of staging, O’Herlihy doesn’t stay to hear the news, but walks off, stopping with his back to Napier, Malcolm and English Third Bloke standing staring helplessly in the b/g. And yes, this is STILL all one shot.

Macduff is gazing into the backcloth, alone, in a private space, as he gets the news, but unfortunately, I think, Welles has the HM jump-scare into shot and SNARL the news at Macduff, who whirls to face him with wild surmise. Little Roddy has got himself into the background to make it an A composition in which he sort of upstages the principals, but not in a bad way. I guess the purpose of the central figure in an A composition (picture the scene from above, with the edges of frame as the feet of the A, the two profile characters and their eyeline as the A’s horizontal strut, and the third character as the tip or zenith) is so that the middle guy can show the emotions on his face suggested by the two profile characters.

Macduff advances to face us, giving us all a chance to see that O’Herlihy can’t really act this devastating emotion, as who could? Malcolm/McDowall comes up behind him to, rather insensitively I would have thought, urge him to pull himself together.

Rather than smack his silly face for him, which seems warranted, Macduff claps him affectionately on the arm and heads off into empty air again, which works better because we can now IMAGINE his emotions, projected onto his back. When Napier comes back into shot the angle sensibly favours him, again allowing us to project the appropriate emotions onto O’Helihy’s three-quarters-rear-view.

It’s not ALL projection, though that is a powerful and underrated component of acting, where the audience can actually help the performer. But in a rear view, depending on wardrobe, an actor can really deliver a lot of emotion. Olivier, often derided as a bit of a ham, which he could be, was really really good at this. The costumes in Welles’ MACBETH are mostly pretty unfortunate, and Macduff’s sticky-oot shoulders probably cut down on his potential expressivity in rear views.

If the audience is helping here, Shakespeare is also giving the actor a leg up, because the way Macduff keeps asking about his wife and kids is really heart-rending, a fantastically authentic bit of writing, even allowing for the stylisation of blank verse in which Macduff begins an iambic pentameter with “At one fell swoop?” and Malcolm finishes it with “Dispute it like a man.” Imagine if you were replying to someone but you had to fit it into six syllables because they’ve already used up four. It’d make everything tricky.

Welles continues with the complex staging, all crosses and turns, justified by Macduff’s state of uncomprehending grief. O’Herlihy isn’t a back actor (backtor?) of Olivier’s quality, though, so when he wanders off into long-shot he just seems like a guy walking over to a tree. Welles, incidentally, while agreeing with whoever said “tragedy is close-up, comedy is long-shot,” added that an extreme long-shot becomes tragedy again. The character alone, surrounded by space. Maybe here the problem is that we’re not wide enough. Maybe the cyclorama’s too close, or, with this single-take approach there isn’t time to let Macduff get far enough away.

Having walked dramatically into long shot, O’Herlihy now has little choice but to walk back dramatically into closeup, which he does, and it works better because he’s more of a front actor. There’s a nice moment when all the supporting cast are clustered over his shoulders, but then two of them sort of shuffle awkwardly out of view, having apparently been told by Welles that he didn’t want them there. Third bloke stays put, equally awkwardly, and soon becomes the point of another A composition.

Malcolm, clod that he is, keeps urging Macduff to get over his grief, and is satisfied by the end of the scene that the grief is turning to anger, which he can use. Shakespeare, writing to please the current King of Scotland, now ruler of the newly formed United Kingdom, is probably NOT consciously smuggling in some critique of cynical monarchs and their politicking, but somehow he suggests it anyway, because he’s too good a writer not to sometimes risk getting himself in trouble.

Macduff, finally coming to terms with the awful truth, heads out of shot almost at a run, seemingly on his way somewhere important, so that it’s rather a surprise when the others, having exchanged some expository remarks, walk a few paces screen left and find him standing there. They all walk off together, intent on their single purpose, the liberation of Scotland, for their varied personal or political reasons. The church bell which had sounded at the start of the scene rings again, and we fade out.

The scene is reasonably clear, brilliantly complicated and yet somehow simple. I don’t think it’s very emotional, though. The moment when Welles seems most interested in Macduff is when he becomes a righteous avenging angel at the end of the film, which is, not coincidentally, the point at which Welles thought Macbeth actually shows some greatness by defying his fate, even though all seems lost. Welles mainly seems interested in this sequence as a bravura staging opportunity. But then, the question of emotion in Welles is always complex — he tends to like creating sympathy for villains, gets bored by heroes, likes to create tensions between conflicting, disturbing emotions (all the icky sexual stuff in TOUCH OF EVIL) in a way that’s anti-Hitchcockian, anti-Spielbergian, closer to Kubrick or even Lynch.

Tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow) we’ll look at another take on this scene, with its own strengths and weaknesses.

*Don’t know what it means.