Saturday, May 17, 2014

Thou'lt Be Afraid to Hear It

Guest blog by the Emperor

We recently completed a huge study of Macbeth!  The Scottish Play is a particular favorite of mine, and I've seen probably eight different versions of it.  I also teach it at my public school, and have done so since the late '90s, so teaching it to my own kids was an interesting experience.  Mxyl, Klenda, Zorg, and Leena embarked upon the quest with great enthusiasm.

We started with a taped stage production of Jeremy Brett (Sherlock Holmes in the '90s BBC productions) playing Macbeth.  We'd chosen this production, a rather traditional one in full medieval garb, because we had fond memories of having seen a production of this version when we were younger, but it wasn't as strong as we'd remembered.  It turns out that's because it isn't the same Jeremy Brett Macbeth we'd seen--I distinctly remember two scenes, the banquet and the fight with Young Siward, being significantly different.  Here's a small clip, just to give you the flavor of what we ended up seeing:

It was good enough to give them the plot, anyway.  They then watched the hard-to-find post-apocalyptic version of Macbeth starring Sean Pertwee (Alfred in this coming fall's Gotham TV show).  The only way I know of to see this is to rent the DVD from Netflix.  The special effects for Macbeth's second encounter with the witches is pretty wretched, but aside from that, it's one of my favorite versions--Pertwee is excellent, and their Lady Macbeth is probably my favorite of all time.  Here's the chillingly-fantastic banquet scene, which you simply must watch through till the end:

We then watched the animated half-hour Shakespeare Tales: Macbeth, just to recapitulate everything, and then a few carefully-selected five-minute highlight scenes from other versions, including Roman Polanski's 1971 version starring Jon Finch, Trevor Nunn's 1979 version starring Sir Ian McKellan, Rupert Goold's 2010 version starring Sir Patrick Stewart, and the trailer for Kenneth Branagh's 2014 stage version starring ... ahem ... himself.

Youtube was very helpful in selecting these scenes.

The last thing all of us watched was Shakespeare Uncovered: Macbeth, featuring Ethan Hawke, which is available on both Youtube and Amazon Prime.  Deep and informative, penetrating and psychological, this video was extremely helpful in helping my kids (both here and in school) think about the play on a whole new level.  Nevertheless, it does include a few moments of bare behind and one brief but semi-approving mention of a lesbian, so you may want to preview it to decide whether you want to edit it before sharing it with your kids.

Finally, I waved Leena goodbye, for the final version of Macbeth the rest of us would be viewing was the filmed version of the Folger Shakespeare Theater's 2008 version directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller, the stage magicians) and Aaron Posner.  It costs $12 (plus shipping), and it's quite bloody (!), but it also has more comic relief than usual.  Their Lady Macbeth is rather poor, but their actor for Macbeth is simply the best I've ever seen, as are their witches, their porter, their incidental music, and their special effects.  Their costuming is an interesting amalgam of authentic middle ages and leather trenchcoats, with excellent blocking and camera work.  I don't agree with every directorial decision they made, but at least they took risks.  As for the kids, they were fascinated to see that going through Macbeth a third time, they weren't bored, but instead invigorated, keyed in, curious, filled with anticipation and imagination. I highly recommend this version for teenagers with strong stomachs--it is indeed very bloody.

The kids left the Macbeth unit with a greater understanding not only of that one play, but of the power of a director to interpret any play.  Perhaps more importantly, though, they left with an understanding of the danger that comes with ambition, of following temptations, of being too easy a sell to an argument you'd rather agree with anyway.  They understand, through the power of story, that trying to get whatever you want by whatever means necessary may be "the way the world works"--but it's also the way the world falls.

1 comment:

Sue Elvis said...

We also like to see multiple versions of a Shakespeare play, plus any documentaries. We can never get too much! We love comparing the different versions. Yes, always lots to discuss and enjoy!