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Customer Review

66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare Most Amazing..., October 8, 2010
This review is from: Great Performances: Macbeth (DVD)
Shakespeare Most Amazing...

Firstly, let's understand something: this is cinema art--a motion picture, not a filmed stage performance. Therefore the director (Rupert Goold), cinematographer, set designers et alii are enabled to make brilliant choices concerning the visuals, sound, lighting, and other stunning effects.

There have been many wonderful film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays (since Olivier's 1948 Hamlet).
Personal favourites include Olivier's 1955 Richard III, Olivier's 1965 Othello, Peter Hall's 1968 A Midsummer Night's Dream, Polanski's 1971 Macbeth, Branagh's 1989 Henry V, Greenaway's 1991 Prospero's Books [The Tempest], Richard Loncraine's 1995 Richard III, Branagh's 1996 Hamlet, Julie Taymor's 1999 Titus [Titus Andronicus], Michael Radford's 2004 Merchant of Venice, and Gregory Doran's 2009 Hamlet.

Here Rupert Goold's Macbeth is the summum bonum of all its predecessors.

Goold has taken all the best ideas from the aforementioned film adaptations, added all the latest technical innovations, combined the most brilliant original ideas, and synthesized all into a visually stunning and dramatically devastating presentation of Shakespeare's poetry: it is simply an unnatural wonder of song and Schein (as Wilde and Nietzsche would each term it).

The acting and elocution are fabulous: Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood deserve all theatrical appreciation.

Moreover, the execution of the tragedy is utterly remarkable: Goold and company employ concepts of 1930's totalitarianism and militarism (cf. Loncraine's Richard III) with Greenaway's grotesque details (cf. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) and the creepiness of Alan Parker's Angel Heart, together with the suffocating CCTV effects of Doran's Hamlet and Branagh's Sleuth, and the gritty combat scenarios of Zak Snyder's 300, plus the bunker atmosphere of Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall, resulting in an incomparable presentation and setting for Shakespeare's logos.

(The only thing we're missing is Greenaway's extravagant nudity...)

Oh--and let us not forget the c r a z y twisted Weird Sisters: must be seen to be believed!

Richard III
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Henry V
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Angel Heart
EDIT Nov. 2010: Julie Taymor has just issued a new film version of The Tempest: The Tempest;
see too Ralph Finnes's Coriolanus.

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 27, 2010 1:09:08 AM PST
Suzanne says:
Some names to add to the list of well-directed, cinematic Shakespeare would be: Peter Brook's King Lear, Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear), and Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet and King Lear.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 12, 2010 9:05:00 PM PST
I can't agree that Kurosawa's "Ran" is a worthwhile performancve of "King Lear". For one thing, "King Lear" is a very intimate play, even in the scenes that are set in the open air, but that point escaped Kurosawa. Secondly, Kurosawa fatally downgraded the character of Regan, which suggests that he missed the point of the play. Thirdly, Kurosawa translates the play into Japanese, thereby negating Shakespeare's crowning glory: his mastery of English. Now, there are said to be some translations of Shakespeare, notably Italian ones, which are particularly good, but why would an English-speaker want to to hear a translation (even a good one) of England's greatest playwright? This works in both directions, I should emphasize. Would I, knowing no Japanese, really appreciate the great Japanese poets, by reading them in English translation?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2010 11:01:54 PM PST
I would agree that the Throne of Blood is awesome. The scene near the end with the arrows hitting on either side of Macbeth. Banquo's return especially well done. But... there is nothing like a Hitler-like Stewart explaining to the murderers how and where to kill Banquo (making a sandwich no less) And the little touch where one of the murderers reacts when he is told that they will also have to kill Fleance is genius. (This is done when Macbeth's back is turned). Every instance you name is terrific and is worthy of second looks but... the Stewart Macbeth brings to mind the famous line that goes something like this, "strap yourselves in, it's going to be a bumpy ride."

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2010 2:03:50 AM PST
Suzanne says:
[[[I can't agree that Kurosawa's "Ran" is a worthwhile performancve of "King Lear".]]]

Well, I disagree with a few things you said. Namely, I don't think of Lear as an "intimate" play. It has a fairly large cast, it has at least four distinct settings separated by a significant amount of implied space, and it certainly has a lot of big emotions and pathos, certainly some of the grandest in all of Shakespeare. Yes, it's all contained in a familial context, but I still don't think of Lear as an "intimate play" in the same way I think of, say, Othello being an intimate play (where most of the action is contained in the interactions of three characters). In fact, I feel that Lear is the least intimate of all of Shakespeare's great tragedies.

I can semi-agree with your second and third point, but I think you missed the point of my recommendation; the original reviewer was discussing CINEMATIC Shakespeare. As a tremendous lover of both cinematic art and Shakespeare (and literature, in general) I've written frequently on the chasm that separates a playwrite and medium whose genius is based in language and a medium whose greats are defined by their mastery of the moving image. Literature/Theater and cinema are worlds apart despite the fact that they share the common element of drama, character, narrative, etc. With that in mind, I tend to feel that Shakespeare is a bad fit for cinema. The best Shakespeare adaptations I've seen tend to be those that are, more-or-less, quasi-theatrical productions that merely keep the camera functional without using it in any really artistic/narrative manner (IOW, the farthest thing away from great cinema). This helps put the focus directly on the language and the performance, without letting the medium get in the way.

That said, such adaptations frequently make for great Shakespeare, but poor cinema. It's telling that the most well-respected cinematic adaptations amongst film critics and cinephiles are those that took a much more liberal approach to the language and drama and chose to make the camera the primary expressive device. IE, they tried to translate linguistic expression into visual expression. On that front, no director did more cinematic justice to Shakespeare than Kurosawa. Kurosawa remained the most faithful by not tying himself down to being faithful to the text at all. As a result, he produced perhaps the two finest films ever made that used Shakespeare as a jumping-off point. Some might also mention Welles' Chimes at Midnight, but I haven't seen it yet.

Anyway, I do think there are some good middle-grounders, ie, films that try to find a balance between the literary and the visual. I think Peter Brook did that with his Lear (and it has a more intimate quality to it that you might prefer; I wrote a review for it on Cinelogue if you care to read it), but it's still less "faithful" to the text than a more straight-forward play would be, like, say, an entry in the BBC Complete Shakespeare series.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2010 2:06:46 AM PST
Suzanne says:
[[[I would agree that the Throne of Blood is awesome... But... there is nothing like a Hitler-like Stewart explaining to the murderers how and where to kill Banquo]]]

Make no mistake, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this Macbeth (hopefully it will be released to Netflix soon), but I suspect that it's going to fall closer to the "quasi-cinematic" Shakespeare adaptations than the genuinely cinematic adaptations. You know, more Doran/Hamlet than Kurosawa or Kozintsev.

Posted on Jan 2, 2011 12:43:55 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 2, 2011 12:45:03 PM PST
O. G. M. Morgan says:
I can't agree that Kurosawa's "Ran" is a worthwhile performancve of "King Lear".

This is really an absurd comment. Ran is a great film. It is not and was never intended to be a line-for-line translation of King Lear into Japanese. How could it be? Kurosawa was creating his own epic. He expanded the outdoor scenes as can be achieved in cinema but not on stage, but the requisite intimacy in the appropriate scenes is still there. He switched Shakespeare's three daughters of Lear for three sons of Ran! This automatically makes Ran different from Lear and creates new possibilities for the action. Ran is not a literal adaptation of King Lear but a new drama inspired by King Lear. Morgan's comments about the language are even more absurd. Of course Ran is in Japanese--this film was created for Japanese audiences. If anyone wants to experience the original English, see or read the play! Or watch it on DVD in which it will surely be edited.
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