Close Up

28 January 2018: Take Two: Macbeth / Throne of Blood


Orson Welles
1948 | 108 min | B/W | Digital

"Attempting to rise above their standard B-movie fare, Republic Pictures agreed to produce Orson Welles’ adaptation of Macbeth. The extremely low budget compressed shooting into a brisk twenty-three days and most likely intensified the film’s raw, stylized edge. Dramatically angled within stark, jagged sets, Welles’ Macbeth cinematically wrenches Shakespeare’s original into an eerie, brutally expressionistic nightmare featuring an exquisitely choreographed ten-minute tracking shot of the play’s initial transgression. Here, the dark soliloquies hang in the looming fog and the curse of the three witches echoes to point toward a dark cycle rather than an end. Feeling cursed himself, Welles once again endured the studio’s disfiguring his creation with crude edits and replacing the actors’ quavering Scottish burrs with English-accented dialogue. It was not until 1980 that UCLA and Welles’ assistant Richard Wilson fully restored Welles’ original vision and also restored his reputation in the eyes of critics who immediately switched from complete dismissal to an embrace of the timeless tragedy as one of the director’s finest creations." – Harvard Film Archive

Throne of Blood
Akira Kurosawa
1957 | 104 min | B/W | 35mm

"Although the script uses not a single line from its source, Kurosawa’s celebrated transplantation of Macbeth to the lawless realm of 16th-century Japan counts among the finest screen adaptations of Shakespeare ever realised, a faithful rendition of the story that works perfectly within its own historical context. Its title translates literally as "Spider’s Web Castle", and the gothic setting of a deserted castle filled with dark shadows and swathed in fog forms the perfect frame for Mifune’s tortured turn as Washizu, the samurai usurper haunted by past crimes. The austere staging and performances, drawing upon traditional Noh theatre, lend an appropriate note of theatricality to proceedings, blurring the gap between the real and the supernatural, while Kurosawa surpasses even himself with the quite jaw-dropping climax as Washizu’s violent misdeeds catch up with him." – Jasper Sharp

Part of our Orson Welles retrospective