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Friday, March 27, 2015

Martin Scorsese and Shakespeare

I just read an article that Martin Scorsese may direct Kenneth Branagh in a film version of Macbeth.

The film is inspired by Branagh’s stage version of Macbeth, which premiered in 2013 for the Manchester International Festival, and which later came to New York City in 2014 — which I saw, my review here.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth

There are no details about this film, if it will be a filming of the play, or whether it will be a more expansive film, with sets, locations, etc. 

From what Mr. Branagh says, it is up to Martin Scorsese how he wants to translate this stage production, and how he wants to direct his first Shakespeare adaptation.

I am thrilled that Mr. Scorsese will finally interpret Shakespeare. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too many Shakespeare productions, for stage or screen, and especially for screen. So, I can’t wait to see this film.

Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull

Mr. Scorsese’s films are filled with Shakespearean characters, from Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (who resembles King Richard III, who is something of a Raging Boar!), to Henry and Loretta Hill in Goodfellas (which resemble the Macbeths), to The Departed, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy and Matt Damon’s Colin are like Edmund and Edgar from King Lear, and Jack Nicholson’s larger-than-life Frank Costello is a modern-day malevolent Falstaff.

Martin Scorsese with LeonardoDiCaprio and Matt Damon
on the set of The Departed

Mr. Scorsese is not one of the greatest filmmakers in history because he knows how to use a camera. He understands that richly defined and all-too-human characters, the good and the bad and the ugly, fascinate and entertain us. None of us may live lives like the characters we see in Scorsese’s films, or Shakespeare’s plays, but we want to watch them, and learn about ourselves in the process.

Is Mr. Scorsese the modern-day Shakespeare? Maybe. But he certainly understands how Shakespeare made plays that have endured for centuries, and for that Mr. Scorsese’s films will endure.

My only concern for this proposed film is the production of the play I saw. I saw it in person in 2014, but I also saw the televised film version of the 2013 Manchester production. It was not a successful production in my personal opinion. 

Perhaps the greatest mistake was performing the play in 2 hours. This decision, to rush the play along, was unfortunate. 

All of the actors, including Mr. Branagh, whom I admire greatly, spoke and acted as quickly as they could, as if they had a plane to catch.

With Alex Kingston, as Lady Macbeth

I have read the play many times, and I have seen it performed before, so I am very familiar with the story and the characters. So, I can follow it very easily.

However, wheneverythingisspokensoquicklythatyoucanhardlyhearonewordfromanother, it makes the experience not entertainment, but rather dull, a chore.

The play and the actors barely had a chance to catch their breath, and the result was a play that didn’t breathe and was hurried, and never allowed us to explore the action of the play as it unfolded.

Why is the pace of the play so important? Because the Macbeths are cold and calculating, and commit premeditated murderer. If the pace is too fast it makes them appear like people who rush headlong into murder without stopping and thinking about it. 

The more time we watch the Macbeths plot murder, the more horrible it is. To speed the play up is to rob us, the audience, of the vicious thrill of the play.

With the Weird Sisters

So, while I am very excited and eager to see this film version, I do hope that it does not hurry the play, and gives the actors every opportunity to pull us into, immerse us in the horror of this tragedy.

I am optimistic that Mr. Scorsese will take his time. His films are often long, and I have no problem with that. When he has characters and stories as compelling as The Wolf of Wall Street, for example, what's the hurry? 

What do you think?


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