Friday, October 19, 2012

Capsule Reviews: Macbeth (1971), The Book of Mary, They All Laughed

Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)

Polanski's Macbeth, made in the wake of his wife and unborn child's brutal murder, manages to extrapolate its settings from the limits of the stage into something even more ascetic and and stripped-down. It takes place in hollow, filthy castles and frigid, craggy hills, and Polanski fills this howling void with blood. The director, grimly exorcising the demons of his own trauma, translates the violence of Shakespeare's drama in viciously straightforward terms. One of the first images is of a dead foe's shirt splotching with more and more blood as a soldier whacks his corpse with a flail, and the murder of Macduff's wife and son is so hellaciously rendered that no one could fail to see shades of Sharon Tate's death. Amending the source text only to make it, inexplicably, yet darker, Macbeth leaves one wondering why anyone would fight so savagely to rule such a realm. In a final stroke of nihilistic despair, Polanski frames the climax not as duel among nobles but little more than a street fight filled with cheap shots and the wild swings of insensible men, one driven mad by paranoia, the other by grief. Grade: B+

The Book of Mary (Anne-Marie Miéville, 1984)

A sort-of precursor to partner Jean-Luc Godard's Hail Mary, Anne-Marie Miéville's The Book of Mary shows what may be the childhood of Godard's protagonist. An intelligent, withdrawn child blotting out the sound of her parents' divorce, Marie gives lectures to imaginary pupils, using an apple half as a stand-in for an eye during a lecture on ocular surgery and later dictating from a pocketbook to her bedroom wall, even instructing the class to "be quiet" when her mother knocks at the door. Her parents encourage her to accept what has happened, but Marie finds denial and expression in art, hearing a conversation of voices in a concerto and later dancing with aggressive pain to Mahler's 9th. This dance, a naked response to the intellectualism of Mahler's composition, serves as a bridge between childhood and adulthood, a naive but beautiful interpretation of the music that seems to drain the last bits of her innocence before she can start to cope with her upheaval. The final shot, of her slicing off the top of an egg with a swipe, still confounds and teases me. Grade: A-

They All Laughed (Peter Bogdanovich, 1981)

I expect to do a full piece on this at some point in my life, but it is a film that uses all of its style toward such an overwhelming feeling of delight and retroactive regret that I only occasionally noted its almost tossed-off mastery. Check out this excellent piece by Sheila O'Malley that breaks down an early scene and how Bogdanovich's quick eyeline matches establish character relationships before anyone has been properly introduced. That scene confounded me when I watched it to the point that I kept dwelling on it as the film played out, until slowly all the pieces fell into place and revealed how that one sequence served as a map for the rest of the movie. There is a balletic choreography to that and other scenes that reminded me strongly of the work of Johnnie To, similarly able to impart an overwhelming deal of information visually with delicate shot patterns. Poised perfectly between the improvisational, naturalistic style of Cassavetes and shamelessly Old Hollywood depictions of the City That Never Sleeps. Grade: A+

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