Archive for Shakespeare

The Scottish Play

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , on May 12, 2018 by dcairns

I borrowed William Packard’s book The Art of Screenwriting from the college library to see if it was worthwhile. Interesting passage where he takes the first scene of Macbeth, the witches’ meeting, and fleshes it out into screenplay form. A worthwhile exercise.

The scene looks like this in the original play.

ACT I  SCENE I  A desert place.
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]
First Witch When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch That will be ere the set of sun. 5
First Witch Where the place?
Second Witch Upon the heath.
Third Witch There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch I come, graymalkin!
Second Witch Paddock calls. 10
Third Witch Anon!
ALL Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
[Exeunt]

Packard does things like adding EXTERIOR, though oddly he doesn’t give a full slugline (EXT. HEATH – DAY or should it be NIGHT?) and adds some scene-setting description. He sets the action in the aftermath of the big battle{“broken swords, armor pieces litter the ground”), which seems to me to fly in the face of strong textual evidence that the witches are meeting before the battle, or anyway before it’s finished. But some kind of addition is necessary since Shakespeare doesn’t give us any scenic description — even the sparse exits and entrances provided in the text were added by other hands (so, sadly, we can’t credit the Bard with “Exit, pursued by a bear.”)

Then Packard adds parentheses to each of the first lines ~

First Witch (cries out) When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch (quickly) When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.
Third Witch (knowing) That will be ere the set of sun.

I don’t really see the point of that (and I normally LOVE parentheses) and you shouldn’t really add so many hints to the actors. Leave the director something to do.

Other action seems under-described. Shakespeare has his witches crying to their offstage familiar spirits, Graymalkin and Paddock, which are presumably meant to make some sound, but Packard doesn’t mention this. Maybe the spirits’ sounds are only audible to their respective witches, but that seems to me missing a trick.

At the end, he has the witches “vanish into nowhere,” but I feel here he’s leaving too much room for interpretation. There are a lot of ways of vanishing into nowhere.

Packard notes that the scene being short, it’s unnecessary to trim it, but *I* note that didn’t stop Polanski and Kenneth Tynan, who couldn’t resist ending the scene on the hero’s name, thus cueing the main title. Welles also ends the scene on his character’s name, as well as trimming the lines “Where the place?” and “Upon the heath,” which unfortunately makes “There to meet with…” less sensible. But changing plays into films often involves lopping off entrances and exits, since these can to make things seem stagey: Polanski allows his weird women to wander off, stressing their mundanity as he did with the Satanists in ROSEMARY’S BABY, whereas Welles just ends the scene on the clay homunculus — a touch of voodoo — birthed from the boiling cauldron (his witches are evidently flame-retardant, which must come in handy for them).

I thought I’d have my own stab at it scripting this scene,

EXT. CAVE MOUTH, MOUNTAINS – DAWN

A barren expanse of rocky mountains. Thick fog rolls across the peaks. In the foreground, a cliff ledge juts out.

On this outcrop, a small fire smolders at a cavern mouth  Round it huddle three ragged, withered old women. One of them gets to her feet.

FIRST WITCH: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Another looks into the fire.

SECOND WITCH: When the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.

The third woman throws handfuls of dirt onto the fire and extinguishes it.

THIRD WITCH: That will be ere the set of sun.

The seated witches stand.

FIRST WITCH: Where the place?

The other witches are wandering away separately along the mountain ledge.

SECOND WITCH: Upon the heath.

THIRD WITCH: There to meet with Macbeth.

An uncanny feline noise echoes across the mountains, catching the First Witch’s attention.

FIRST WITCH: I come, graymalkin!

As she disappears into the fog, her silhouetted figure is abruptly snatched upwards, like a rag doll, rising into the mist until she vanishes.

A bizarrely loud frog croak echoes from the other direction.

SECOND WITCH: Paddock calls.

Her shape is likewise snatched up from view.

THIRD WITCH: Anon!

She vanishes the same way, as if yanked on a string from above. We follow her into the fog bank, swirling clouds billowing past us.

ALL (V.O.): Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.

And then maybe we could break through the clouds and soar down over a battlefield or something as the title appears. Hopefully, this is a scene the reader can visualise, with drama and cinematic interest. I haven’t done anything original with the witches’ appearance, as Polanski did, but I think the manner of their exit suggests something spooky and interesting about their relationship with “graymalkin” and “paddock.” But I’d be interested in any suggestions readers may have.

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The Shakespeare Sunday Intertitle: You cataracts and hurricanoes!

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2017 by dcairns

Last week’s intertitle from an Italian KING LEAR of 1910 was in English, so it makes just as much sense that this week’s, from 1909 American adaptation of the same play, is in German.

An interesting contrast, in other ways: while the Italians enacted their arm-waving al fresco, the American film is wholly studio-bound. Though even shorter than the Italian abridgement, it packs in more of the plot, so we get Gloucester and his sons in their subplot, complete with sleight-of-hand blinding. And this one rightly considers the storm a key set-piece, something you can’t just leave out and replace with your lead actor talking to  a rock. They break out the special effects kit to give us interior rain and lightning-bolts. In this case, the SFX equipment seems to consist of a wire brush to produce multiple diagonal scratches on the negative (rain) and a scalpel to etch in little S.S. style symbols (lightning). The backdrop also lights up from behind, and the FX “team” seems to change their style of thunderbolt as the film goes on. The top image shows a long, thin fellow zapping in from top right, whereas the frame-grab below has a chubby little fellow aiming right at Lear’s head (well, he did ask for it).

Oddly, the interior filming makes this one seem a lot less sophisticated than last week’s. Even the beards are inferior. Maybe it’s just that transferring a play to scenic settings feels more “cinematic” than doing it on cheap sets? If so, that’s really just an illusion.

The megalithic backdrops put me in mind of the Granada TV version with Olivier, whose Stonehenge chic look always seemed rather kitsch. I slightly prefer the Elizabethan approach of Jonathan Miller’s rival BBC production, but both approaches unavoidably raise questions, since Shakespeare is never consistent about period (bad Shakespeare!). Maybe the best way to build a world for Lear would be a mix-and-match design.

William V. Ranous stars and co-directs with J. Stuart Blackton. The IMDb credits are wondrously woolly, with two Gonerils and two Regans credited and one woman playing both. Thomas H. Ince and Maurice Costello are supposed to be in it too, but we don’t know what as.

Google translates:

Because Gloster helped the King Lear, his eyes were cut off and he was driven away.

The Sunday Intertitle: A Fellow of the Self-Same Colour

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , on July 16, 2017 by dcairns

This 1910 Italian KING LEAR is gorgeously hand-coloured, and Time has enhanced its beauty with little golden bullet-holes of decay, a form of decomposition I’ve never previously encountered — a cross between golden snowflakes and dancing stigmata.

Giuseppe de Liguoro stars and directs.

We’re in the era when the intertitle held illimitable dominion over all — each scene is synopsised by a title card before it redundantly unspools. Cramming Shakespeare’s masterpiece into fifteen minutes is still quite a trick, but this approach (summary–gesticulations–summary–gesticulations…) does let them race through the plot. All they lose are the Gloucester-Edgar-Edmund subplot, all the emotional effect and absolutely all the poetry. But the delicate tinting does produce a poetry of its own.

Those unfamiliar with the play would likely be lost: Kent is banished and reappears in unrecognizable disguise but the fellow writing the captions doesn’t see fit to mention him for three scenes. But confused Italian audience members at the time would be compensated by the spectacle of vigorous, beefy types facepalming themselves to express high emotion, IN LIVING COLOUR. Where else could they see that, apart from outside?

The colour runs out just before the last scene, so it plays a bit like the desaturated shoot-out in TAXI DRIVER. You can feel trouble coming.

I was surprised we don’t get Nahum Tate’s happy ending along with the rest of the bowdlerisation (a storm scene was evidently considered too expensive or difficult, so Lear rants at a handy rock instead). But the very end of the film has dropped off at some point in the last hundred and seven years, so Lear is still alive at the end, just barely, despite his prophecied-by-title-card demise. He doesn’t look happy though, so we can definitely say it’s a tragedy.

From the BFI’s excellent SILENT SHAKESPEARE.