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Macbeth (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

Some of the discourse around Roman Polanski's 1971 film adaptation of Macbeth has revolved around shaky parallels to the Charles Manson murders that may or may not be there. This relies too much on discussion of Polanski's personal life (his wife Sharon Tate was one of Manson's victims) and not enough on the movie itself. Polanski's Macbeth, adapted with the famed British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, is a fairly faithful, but deeply depressing, adaptation of Shakespeare's play. Many of the deviations come in the tone and mood of the movie. The play isn't exactly cheerful, but Polanski casts an unmistakably suffocating atmosphere of dismal pessimism over the whole film, thick as the fog on the moors. The film's air of sustained loathing partially comes from its cinematography and scenery (the film was shot in the north of England during a sustained period of terrible weather, and feels bitterly wet and cold throughout), and from the Third Ear Band's deliberately discordant soundtrack. But it mostly comes from the direction. Polanski focuses on the most nihilistic elements in the original story and expands them into an overpoweringly dour worldview. Jon Finch plays Macbeth as a sociopathically small-minded opportunist with the charisma of a wharf rat, and Francesca Annis' Lady Macbeth seems to flit between the hollowest archetypes with every new situation—temptress, hellion, devoted wife, imperious royalty. Her rendition of the famous mad scene, done nude for supposed reasons of historical accuracy and possibly to feed audience prurience, feels empty, but also in line with the rest of the portrayal, since Annis' characterization makes it clear that hunger for power doesn't tend to fill out a personality. The film was, unsurprisingly, a bomb upon release (for some reason, overwhelming monotonous nastiness didn't make for popcorn sales), and does pale somewhat in comparison to a few other adaptations, notably Kurosawa's Throne Of Blood, which featured Isuzu Yamada's astonishingly insectival malevolence as the Lady Macbeth analogue. But Polanski's Macbeth has lived on as a good, unpleasant cult film, the type of movie scholarly Criterion essays are written for, and is worth watching at least once. —Mike Noto

Earlier Event: October 4
Ryley Walker, Mike Mangione & The Kin
Later Event: October 5
Thievery Corporation, City Of The Sun