Hubble, Bubble, Toil, and the problem with Macbeth’s film adaptations


Toshiro Mifune in “The Blood Throne” by Akira Kurosawa

I’m starting to think I have a Macbeth problem. Over the past three years or so I have watched at least twelve different adaptations of the Scottish play, and with Joel Coen’s play Macbeth’s tragedy on the horizon I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. With all this time spent watching over and over again what is seemingly the same thing, let’s take a look at what really makes a great movie adaptation of a play: what works in these movies. and what is not working?

“… the greatest tension in a film adaptation of a play: how to reproduce the effect of a live performance on a screen? “

First, I think a semblance of regrouping would be helpful. During my observation, I saw three main types of adaptation; the direct import of the scene to the film, the film reminiscent of the scene and the transplantation of the plot. The first two of these are relatively self-explanatory – versions such as Trevor Nunn and Rupert Goold are essentially filmed versions of a stage production, literally on set or in a theatrical form respectively, while the The stage-reminiscent adaptation largely includes the stage – concepts centered but presents them in an immersive way, much like the versions of Orson Welles or Justin Kurzel. While these first two forms are largely focused on the reproduction of the experience of watching the play on stage but on a screen – with direct monologues in front of the camera for soliloquies, effects and scenic movements or close film substitutes – the latter form focuses on making the experience as cinematic as possible. This means that the plot is most often transplanted into a “different” set of characters and contexts in order to distance itself slightly from the play. Movies like Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood Where Men of respect are the best examples; the plot is clearly that of Macbeth, but the film still has a certain sense of its own identity.

These categories demonstrate what I think is the greatest tension in a film adaptation of a play: How do you reproduce the effect of a live performance on a screen? Perhaps the simplest answer is the first: put the performance on screen. Yet it is far from ideal. Take the aforementioned idea of ​​monologue versus monologue; on stage, a soliloquy allows you to get into the heads of the characters and allows you to feel directly involved in their thoughts, but on screen, it often feels like you are being spoken to rather than with it. The natural replacement for soliloquy in the film is monologue – both allow you to listen to the characters’ inner thoughts – although that too isn’t always perfect; having been written in the form of soliloquies, their presentation often seems too separate for an internal monologue. A balance between the two also has its own problems: that of Polanski Macbeth oscillates between the voiceover monologue and the characters talking to each other, giving a sense of disconnection each time each technique comes up. Similar comparisons could be made with the phantom banquet scene; the question is not just the usual “how do we want to represent this?” “But should also be” how will this work as a movie? – and here the simpler adaptations tend to fall.

“… the best moments of adaptations come when the filmmaker abandons the direct text or the representations of the directing and instead focuses on the cutscene”

In my opinion, the best moments in adaptations come when the filmmaker abandons direct text or directing representations and instead focuses on the cutscene. By far the best scenes of Polanski Macbeth are the sequence of prophecy and the death of Macduff’s children – the former embraces the dreamlike, dreamlike power of the film, while the latter simply lets the scene unfold like it never would on stage, embracing the horrific intimacy of the movie. scene. Now, that’s far from stating that just transplanting the movie makes it better – both Men of respect and Scotland, Pennsylvania aren’t particularly well-made or good films, let alone adaptations of Macbeth – but when it’s done right, it’s far more powerful on screen.

Michael Fassbender in Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth”

That’s why in my mind no adaptation of Macbeth so far has been as powerful, well done and simply Well like Throne of Blood. The characters are all there – Taketoki as Macbeth, Yoshiaki as Banquo, and The Spirit of Spider’s Web replacing the Three Witches – and the tone and imagery matches the play better than many simple adaptations. In one scene, Taketoki is faced with a shower of arrows that he barely misses, creating a sense of “Macbeth” paranoia better than the worried screams of Chris Ecclestone or Patrick Stewart ever could on your TV.

To put it simply, the best movie adaptations, at the end of the day, aren’t the best because of their focus on the source material, but rather their ability to use the tools of the new medium to convey the original. What works directly for the audience does not work the same in the film’s strongly internal visual medium; when you watch every little movement, Fassbender’s gasps are more effective than Orson Welles’ exaggerated horror at the mention of his children. All the Macbeth I watched ironically showed me that the most important thing in adapting is not Macbeth but how it is used – not that it will prevent me from looking at other versions.

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