Saturday, November 05, 2005

A Director to Adapt Each of Shakespeare's Plays #16 -- MACBETH directed by Terry Gilliam

The Plot:

Coming home from battle, Macbeth encounters three witches who tell him that he will one day be king of Scotland, but also that his friend Banquo will have heirs who are king though he will not be king himself. Hmm, well that’s a puzzler. Macbeth is skeptical, but his wife is already taking a tape measure to the Queen’s chambers and planning where to put her furniture. She wants to be Queen yesterday and convinces her husband to off the current king in order to speed up the process. Macbeth assumes the crown, but the witches never said anything about how long he would be king, so he continues to plot the deaths of all those who might take the crown from him and their children. The Macbeth reign, however, is comically short and comes to a screeching halt when another absurdly unlikely prophecy comes true.

Why Gilliam?

I’ve always thought that as tragedies go, there’s something very funny about Macbeth. I’m not saying that it’s filled with jokes, but rather that the mess the central character plunges himself into is funny to me in its absurdity. Macbeth’s coup is so ill-conceived and his treachery so incompetently planned that the audience witnesses not so much a noble figure’s tragic fall, but the Machiavellian schemes of a paranoid bungler and his crazed advisor – his wife. That’s not to say that Macbeth is a failure as a tragedy; in fact, I think it’s a very good play. It just has a very peculiar mood with moments that are just as likely to make you chuckle as anything. When the specter of Banquo returns to haunt Macbeth in the middle of a glorious feast and no one else can see it, there’s something humorous about the way that the schemer is being tormented. When Lady Macbeth wanders around in her sleep and tries to wash imaginary blood from her hands, it makes me smile because she is getting what she deserves. I also enjoy the way in which Shakespeare sets up a final prophecy regarding the woods traveling to Macbeth’s castle that you know has to come true somehow, but seems impossible. The solution and the associated image are glorious in their absurdity. Kurosawa understood this when in Throne of Blood he has a scared Toshiro Mifune attempting to elude a barrage of arrows. I think Gilliam would understand this as well. Macbeth is a play filled with supernatural effects and unusual characters. I would love to see how Gilliam envisioned the witches, the floating dagger, the moving woods, etc, etc. He is a director that loves to take on large projects and he has a talent for exciting action and inventive visuals. But he’s also a smart director and knows when it’s appropriate to lay off the humor and go for a mood that’s more sincere. He can also capture the pervasive level of paranoia in Macbeth that sometimes reaches farcical levels. Macbeth isn’t a tearful tragedy like Lear; it’s the tale of one man’s glorious disaster. It gives me great delight to give a play that is notoriously cursed to the director whose projects are notoriously cursed. Maybe the curses would cancel each other out and we’d get a damn fine film.

Gilliam films I have seen:

1. Brazil ****
2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (with Terry Jones) ****
3. Time Bandits ****
4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ***1/2
5. The Fisher King ***1/2
6. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen ***
7. Twelve Monkeys **1/2
8. Jabberwocky **

Short film worth watching: The Crimson Permanent Assurance


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