I revisited Orson Welles' film version of Shakespeare's Macbeth and was again enamored with the sheer style of Welles' visual storytelling.
He opens with smoke, mud, shadows, and Shakespeare's witches. He moves forward with murky lighting (mostly beautiful on the restored Blu-ray, with some notable exceptions where it's clear they just didn't have good materials to work with), using voiceover for the soliloquies. The framing feels very film noir — odd angles and jagged edges.
One great bit that stuck out at me: at the execution of the previous Thane of Cawdor, the guard just shoves the Thane's head down face first onto the chopping block. There's no need to be gentle, as the guy's about to have his head chopped off, but I've never seen such rough treatment of a to-be-executed man. It feels like a brutally truthful detail.
The way Welles uses long takes is always masterful, from Citizen Kane to Touch of Evil, and there are two standout examples of that technique in this film. One is a three-person scene that's so seamless that most viewers wouldn't even notice that there's no cut due to the way the camera and actors fluidly move around the playing space. The other is the big murder scene, keeping the audience (as Shakespeare does) outside the room the crime takes place in. Welles moves from one strong composition to another, using the actors, environment, and camera movement without cutting for a full reel — we go just over ten minutes without figuratively taking a breath. It assists the scene itself, and it reminds me that Orson Welles is not only a great artist, but also an artist's artist who other artists can learn from.
One of the wonderful things about being alive today is the wealth of old films, comics, and music that's being restored and rereleased, sometimes after being out of print for ages. Welles' work in particular has benefited from this, and we Welles fans have benefited likewise.
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Thanks for reading,