Monthly Archives: October 2015

  • Macbeth Justin Kurzel (UK 2015)

    Macbeth Justin
    Kurzel (UK 2015) Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard

    viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle 6 Oct 2015; ticket: £3.75


    I thought this offering of Macbeth by Kurzel was closer to Mad Max Fury Road than to Polanski’s or Wells’ versions of the bard’s Scottish play. That is to say the film was a very contemporary offering, a take on the tragedy in which the tensions and psychic contradictions of the text were of secondary order to the immersive quality of the experience.

    This Macbeth owes more to contemporary forms, video game and the art installation, than it does to the textual theatrics of Shakespeare’s drama. As movie, the question is not the integrity of the production to its theatre provenance but whether the material can be structured and moulded to the new forms of distraction. The nature of the multiplex audiences inclines them to demand something in the presentation of material that meets their visual expectations, approximates to the nature of other kinds of media to which they are habitually exposed.

    So this Macbeth doesn’t take us into meaning but into experience. And in this experience Shakespeare’s writing ceases to exist as series of psychic signs and symbols; it operates more simply as a pointer to the state of the game, the action and psychological states that are in play. The text is subsumed in the sound track and image. One key element of video gaming that is replicated is the continuous stream of sound, mostly percussion driven. In this Macbeth the music has a direct physiological quality, an elemental somatic effect on perception, bonding eye and ear to the affective material on screen: locating the viewer in-screen. The effects tracks likewise highlight the body: the foley effect of the sound of Duncan’s ribs cracking open as Macbath plunges his dagger into his heart.

    The control element of game consuls cannot be duplicated with current technology, but the use of heavily edited big close ups is a partial simulation of the game idea, which together with the music, fuses the audience with the characters.

    The two main characters in the kind of movie Kurzel is making, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, don’t work through identification in the classic movie association, rather they work as sort of avatars. They don’t actually represent us, but the experience is mediated through them. In relation to the idea of filming Shakespeare, this is advantageous. Olivier in his time on the back of post war elation could work Henry V, as an interpretation of nationalistic identification. But often Shakespeare translated on screen, with honourable exceptions such as Kurosawa’s Ran, hits the twin buffers of difficult language and characters with whom it is hard to identify. Medium shots, long shots lay bear the naked difficulty of Elizabethan language. Kurzel castes us right into Macbeth’s whiskers, into the follicles, overwhelming the meter of soliloquy and dialogue with the physicality of his being. Where there are medium shots often there is an overwhelming sense of body in play. Most obviously in the scene, mostly one long duration shot, where Lady Macbeth persuades her husband into betrayal and murder. But it is the subtext,to coin a phrase, that arrests the attention. As this key dialogue takes place, Lady Macbth explores its tantric possibilities, opening her legs and tilting towards her husband who fucks her as she corrupts him. The words slip away from the attention of the audience, as they do from Macbeth, who in the time honoured tradition, simply says “Yes dear!”

    Landscapes are much abused in current cinematological use. Gratuitously often out played, durationally over long and often trying to suggest states of mind. Kernel uses them to effect here. The scape shots appear like a installation, a walk through experience which leads into a situation. The panoramic shots in Macbeth work with dramatic effect to set up the situation, so that in a film that is dominated by close shots, we can see where we are, we understand the location is a vastness.

    If in form and style Macbeth pitches into a quasi world of game like experience, Kurzel understands that the three weird sisters cannot be part of this world. In renderings both theatric and filmic that I have seen of Macbeth, the witches come from an ‘other’ world. In this movie, the ‘other’ world, the larger than life game dimenrsion, is already occupied. Kurzel draws his ‘witch’ women from the realm of the ordinary. Their appearance and presence, (usually long or medium shot, is as simple cottars: in fact women come off the local Highland Council estate. What is important is that they stand in a separate location to the kingdom of Macbeth, that they occupy a different reality. This is their purpose, and with effect Kurzel has understood this. Adrin Neatrour

  • Palio Cosima Spender (It; UK; 2015) doc

    Palio Cosima Spender
    (It; UK. 2015) doc

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 2 Oct 2015; ticket: £8.75

    Horse feathers

    Cosima Spender’s Palio works at the level of spectacle and tourist brochure bravura. Otherwise it presents as a confused statement uncertain of its focus. It is able only to come to terms with its key spectacle, the bare back horse races of Sienna, but not with the elements and the forces in play that constitute this event. And of course, well shot as it is and as photogenic as are the horses, spectacle is not enough to fill out the film which seems over long, tendentiously edited to fill out its ‘feature film’ slot length.

    The crux of Cosima Spender’s problem was that the race is ultimately just a spectacle, these days a tourist spectacle attracting visitors from around the world. And the Palio as spectacle has of course its own built in tendency to degeneration, hence might need a little refreshing.

    One of Spender’s scripting ploys is to scratch a little below the surface of the Palio. But it is difficult to arouse audience interest in the strata of reality that underlie the race, in part because it is in everyone’s (i.e. the parties and the players of the Palio) interest to minimalize the other layers of reality that may be orchestrating the illusion presented to spectators. The interested parties in Sienna will have a vested interest in trying to control and misdirect the probing eyes of outsiders. And Spender’s film does seem a little coy in following up lines of investigative probing. For all the statements made throughout the film that beyond the spectacle there is another game going on, Spender never gets to grip specifically with what this ‘game’ might be. In fact it starts to feel like she doesn’t want to ‘go there’. Where? Into the heart of the tourist trap…?

    Palio, the movie, seems content to palm off its audience with nods and winks that the race is corrupt, that the the jockeys are paid off, the horses doped out without really advancing through of the fog of vague assertions and expressive Siennese shrugs. As the movie clomps about in the mire of allegation, viewer interest dries up. There doesn’t even seem to be any gambling associated with the Palio. Is it so corrupt that even gamblers won’t touch it?

    The movie turns increasingly to the competition between Gigi, the rogue old time rider and the new jockey on the block, Giovanni. The movie segues into a familiar archetypal myth: the intergenerational saga of the old making way for the new. The problem for Spender was that neither of her two respondents are able to make good claim on the audience’s interest. They both seem remote, content with trotting out formulaic and occasionally gnomic answers to her questions, giving little away. The respondents drabness leads us back to the spectacle and to myth: the agonistic contest between the old and young jockeys that the director with a little help from the organisers of the Palio had set up. At least with myth we know where we are.

    And what a set up! Hollywood could not have fixed it better! (well today you’d have a young woman first time rider flicking horse tail dust into the eyes of the old male champ) The contest between the young virtuous innocent and the old corrupt fixer. But attaching to the film’s set up, with its constant re-iterations of the heroic nature of the race, was a feeling of fake build-up, like the tub thumping of an old fairground boxing booth.

    It was at this point I felt the lack of the voice of the director. I’d have liked to have heard her voice. because…

    The situation of the filming seemed increasingly problematic. The film had presented a state of affairs where it was suggested, albeit coyly, that the race was corrupted and had often been fixed. We then have director Spender come along, and with permission and cooperation of the organisers of the Palio, shoot her film. Of course she wants a story, we all want a story; the organisers of the Palio probably wanted a story. Now far be it from me to suggest that it might have been in everyone’s interests to have a story, but I began to wonder if it was entirely implausible that the Palio people had not only given her the characters of story, but had they also written the script? Surely this was totally impossible: to fix the result of the Palio so that it had the dream mythic ending, with victory for the young pretender? In the 2014 Palio filmed by Spender, the young tanist Giovanni toppled the old king Gigi, beating him twice and supplanting him. Had the Palio organisers got their horse feathers together and given Spender’s movie the perfect climax. Surely not!

    The parties involved in organising the Palio were surely righteous men and women with no interest in ensuring that this film would be successful, that the Palio would be seen as a clean horse race. And of course Cosima Spender surely had no interest in ensuring everyone was a winner: herself, all the people involved in the Palio, all the good people of Sienna and the Italian tourist industry.

    Of course I am not actually suggesting the races filmed as part of them movie’s climax were ‘fixed’ in any sense. But it is remarkable that the forces the movie documents as being in play in the mounting of the Palio, looked more than capable of arranging reality. And the arrangement of convenient realities is part of the history of documentary film making. (Leni Riefenstahl – who made interesting use of spectacle) Which is why I would like to have heard the voice of Cosima Spender. Sometimes viewed on other terms than its own, a staged documentary can be more interesting than a straight one. Adrin Neatrour