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Compare and contrast the opening scenes of Polanski’s 1971 film variation of ‘Macbeth’ with Geoffrey Wright’s 2007 adaptation.
Roman Polanski’s and Geoffrey Wright’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth are recorded in different designs in spite of being based upon the very same play. This may be to suit a various audience or convey a various message to one another.
Roman Polanski’s 1971 reproduction opens on a wide angle shot of a beach with a daybreak coming up over the horizon.
This develops a sensation of morning, and that this is just the start of a story. After this, three old, weathered ladies appear and dig a hole in the sand- allowing a strange environment to establish, which leaves the audience wishing to know more. The witches then bury a dagger framed in a severed hand and a hangman’s noose. These products enable the audience to consider upon the connection of the products.
The witches then say their bye-byes and wander off along the beach, the only sound being the squeaking of their cart used to haul the routine products in.
This shot is quite easy, but it creates a feeling of anticipation.
Geoffrey Wright’s 2007 adaptation opens in a more 21st century blockbuster design, with attractive young schoolgirls enacting the witches who vandalise a graveyard by gouging out the eyes of statues of angels and spraying the eyes of the statues with red spray paint. This is rather an aggressive scene to begin with, and sets the pace for the rest of the movie.
Compared to Polanski’s variation, this intro offers a more up-beat feel, instead of the more sombre design of the 1971 film.
The video camera then pans round to a close-up of Macbeth’s face whose attention is drawn to the young schoolgirls as they roam previous him. He then looks at his other half who is kneeling over their dead boy’s severe sobbing. Once again, another close-up, however this time of Woman Macbeth’s face which at this point is not especially appealing. This could show Macbeth’s desire for a prettier woman in the schoolgirls, and truth- the less appealing sight of his partner; but in the end, no-one understands what he is thinking, simply that he is not comforting his better half.
Here, the atmosphere is quite tense- lots of things are happening at one time which makes you feel like you are there, in Macbeth’s hectic, confused mind. In relation to Polanski’s film, this film is less mysterious and makes you expect fewer twists because there have been not many so far.
The title graphics in Polanski’s film are set in a Roman style font, Seriffed and coloured black. The aged font emphasizes the fact that the film is very traditional. This style of writing is often used in newspaper articles. The 2007 adaptation uses a much more modern, contemporary sans-serif font. The text is coloured red- a recurring theme in this film.
In the 1971 version, a wide angle shot of the beach is the start of the film. This wide angle shot is used throughout the first scene to depict the bleak landscape that the film is set in. The wide shot could also be showing us the “bigger picture”- that there are many little thing that make up the plot of Macbeth, and this is just one little thing on a wide, open beach.
Geoffrey Wright’s film does not include many wide- angle shots in the first few scenes. This is most probably because of the action-packed nature of the film. Therefore the camera follows the action intensely- for example following the witches around the graveyard. This gives the audience an adrenalin rush- especially in the action scenes where the audience can perceive themselves to be taking part in the violence.
In both films however, close-up shots of the faces of the main characters are shown. In Polanski’s film this is to show mainly emotion- the creepy expressions of the witches, and Macbeth’s blank expression when shown in a close-up. When Macbeth is first shown, invaders are being hung in the background- but Macbeth retains his blank facial expression- suggesting that he has no feelings for those being hung.
Geoffrey Wright’s film shows close-ups of the faces of the witches defacing the statues at the graveyards. These shots show the determination that the witches show by their facial expressions to destroy all that has to do with God and heaven in the graveyard. The close-ups of Lady Macbeth’s face show her weakness in her love for her dead child.
Polanski’s film uses very weak morning light as a setting for the beach scene. This gives a dull, grey, washed out look to the beach. The beach seems quite uncomfortable, as it is daybreak and there is almost no light and the open beach makes you feel cold inside creating an atmosphere that hints to you that something bad is about to happen.
Similarly, the 2007 version seems to be shot in the day, but there is very little light as the graveyard is overcast. Despite this, the graveyard feels more comfortable due to the auburn hair of the witches which seem to emit warmth and light- allowing the audience to feel more relaxed and enjoy the action scene that follows.
Polanski’s film opens with the witches burying strange items that all link to death and suffering- a dagger, a noose and a severed hand. Blood (possibly a symbol of murder) is then poured over the items. The witches then spit on either side of themselves, possibly to bind themselves to the witchcraft they are taking part in. the weather at that time is bleak ,and a thunderstorm is brewing- possibly suggesting a little cheaply hat something bad is about to happen. At that point, after the title sequence, the king gallops onto the beach to the sound of trumpets- symbolic of royalty and fame.
In Geoffrey Wright’s adaptation, a recurring theme of red is used from the start of the film. This colour represents blood, murder, death, danger, and the underworld. For example, the witches hair is Auburn, suggesting that they pose a mild danger to Macbeth. Also, “The Cawdor”- the bar which is used as a drugs den, has red wallpaper- suggesting that it is part of the underworld.
The witches vandalise a graveyard at the start of the film, showing their hatred towards God and heaven. They gouge out the eyes of the angels- possibly making them blind to what is about to happen. Red spray paint is forcefully sprayed in the eyes of the statues, also making them oblivious to the witchcraft about to take place. Crosses are also defaced- possibly a reference to Macbeth’s worries about his afterlife. After the vandalism, the girls quieten down, possibly showing an ounce of respect seen as though the place they just demolished is a graveyard. Macbeth is dressed in casual attire, but in black, as in the introduction, he is supposed to be mourning his son’s death. Macbeth’s wife also lays down white roses- symbols of love and innocence- ironic as in the end, nobody seems to be innocent!
Later on, as Macbeth and his gang chase a drug dealer from the underworld (with the prevailing colour of red), yellow street lights and buildings are shown- this separated the real world from the underworld. This shows the audience that Macbeth’s actions are not within the realms of what a “normal” person would do, and that in order to carry on with his normal life; he must keep his actions inside the underworld.
Music is an important part in setting the scene for a film, and in Roman Polanski’s film, a droning, repetitive, chaos-inducing tune is used which shows the kookiness of the witches. When Macbeth is shown, a drum beat, not dissimilar to that of an army march beat is used. This shows how Macbeth is a soldier and will fight for his king. The King has music played on a trumpet- vey regal and flattering, this shows his position clearly as a monarch.
The music played for the different characters is mostly to show who they are in terms of status; and the music is used instead of a lengthy introduction, allowing the audience to apply stereotypes to the different characters via the music and paint a picture in their minds about the character, but on a deeper level than shown on screen.
While the title graphics are showing, fighting sounds are played- simulating the sounds of a battlefield. Plus with swords clanging and maces clashing, the audience are allowed to recreate their own battle in their minds without the help of visual hints.
The 2007 version uses similarly annoying, grating noises for the witches- but this time using hissing sounds- possibly a link to the devil posing as a snake in the Bible story of Adam and Eve, where the snake fools Eve into eating the Apple, who then fools Adam into also eating the apple- an uncanny resemblance to the tragedy of Macbeth.
Instead of showing a blank screen while showing the title credits, Wright preferred to show a gung-ho showdown between Macbeth’s gang and an Asian gang. Here, the music is loud and upbeat in contrast to the hissing beforehand- just like the 1971 version. Possibly in an attempt to entice the audience of the 21st century, Wright uses very violent scenes- such as depicting men being shot with submachine guns by Macbeth.
Again- this may have been done to excite the audience; and instead of letting the audience make up the fight in their minds, a graphical representation has been put on a plate for them. This was not done in 1971 due to the social taboos against showing excessively violent scenes in films- a theme that runs right through the 2007 version as nowadays, these types of scenes are generally being seen as more and more acceptable; despite many believing that suggesting is much more powerful than stating- as could be the case in Wright’s version.
Roman Polanski’s film shows witches dressed in ragged clothes, unwashed and with no shoes. This allows the audience to see immediately that these women are strange, and not very wealthy. The king on the other hand is shown to wear a fine suit of armour, with a polished helmet- showing his social importance and wealth. Macbeth lies in the middle of the two extremes- not exuberantly poor like the witches- as he wears chainmail and shoes; but not very wealthy and important- as he has no banner or shiny helmet. This simplistic method of categorising people shows the simplistic way in which Polanski is trying to depict the characters and show the audience how Macbeth is lodged between the two extremes of wealth and social status.
When Macbeth meets up with his gang for the action sequence, all of his gang are dressed casually in dark clothes. All except the gang’s Consigliere (the Kings son) – who is dressed in a smart black suit with a red tie- again, with reference to the recurring theme of red, this time showing him as royalty, and as having a higher social status than the other gang members.
Hair is an important part of first impressions- in Polanski’s film, Macbeth’s hair is not shown in the introduction, and is hidden by a chainmail hood. This could hint at Macbeth being sheltered from evil and guarded due to his hood acting as a “safety blanket”. The King wears a crown- a symbol of true royalty, and his hair is uncovered- possibly showing that he is weak. Geoffrey Wright’s adaptation also depicts the King as being weaker than the other characters when his hair colour is looked at. The King is shown as having very fair, blonde hair- again being a symbol of innocence and weakness.
The witches in Polanski’s film have different hairstyles- two have hoods- like Macbeth’s but made of cloth, and one has dirty, unwashed brown hair. This array of hairstyles allows the audience to realise that the witches are individuals, and are not all identical in the way they behave. On the other hand, the 2007 version shows all of the witches having the same hairstyle and colour- that being red- with connotations to blood and death. This also is trying to show the audience that they are quite aggressive and possibly have links to the devil.
Roman Polanski’s film depicts Macbeth with 1970’s style censoring- no explicitly violent or sexual scenes; but traditional “hints” at what is happening. Wrights’ version is essentially a film from a totally different time period- showing excessive violence to “help” the modern audience understand what is going on.
I think that despite the sometimes cheesy details of the film, Polanski has created a classic that really entices the audience and makes them wonder what is going on when subtle hints are dropped directing the viewer on the right direction in terms of their mental picture of the scene. The 2007 version shows how complacent modern-day audiences have become with violence and nudity in films. I think that this is mostly down to the filmmakers wanting to make the film more exciting- in some ways they have, as the action scenes in the film can be quite gripping. But as a teenager, I think that more needs to be done in order to let my imagination get to work and try to think of what is really happening, and what is the film trying to tell me beyond the gratuitous violence.
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