Sunday, June 22, 2008

Haitian Macbeth?

http://sounds.mercurytheatre.info/mercury/macbeth.mpeg

Wow, now this is interesting.  From the main page:  The only surviving footage from Welles and Houseman’s first stage production, a version of Macbeth set in Haiti with an all-black cast. That'd be Orson Welles and John Houseman, for the curious.

Some of the directorial choices are interesting, like killing Macbeth on the "untimely ripped" line (and apparently foregoing the entire "lay on macduff" speech), or the fact that the wyrd sisters are right there on the platform with Macduff the whole time.

7 comments:

Craig said...

Yeah...I've seen that clip. Like he does with his Macbeth movie later, he makes the witches much more of a presence, ending with that "Peace! The charm's wound up," line in both cases. It gives a little shiver, but I think you ultimately undercut the power of the story if Macbeth is literally nothing but a voodoo doll for the witches to stick pins in. The other thing I notice is, even given (a) staged drama always looks bad on film, and (b) tastes were different 75 years ago: those actors are just plain bad. Laughably bad. I mean awful. It must have been the novelty of the concept and the power of the production design that earned this Macbeth a place in the history books, because it sure wasn't Macbeth's powerful, informed and nuanced delivery.

Craig said...

Oh, and how about that narrator? "Every line in the play has remained intact." ???

Alan K.Farrar said...

I wonder if you get the importance of this production?

This is why 'contemporary' Shakespeare is now done - before this, 'Historic' - after, Romeo and Juliet amongst the skyscrapers.

Welles is totally re-inventing the staging of Shakespeare.

As to the performances - not bad, not awful, just a different style - is Kabuki 'bad' because it is not understood and thus laughable?

Craig said...

I have some notion...but the "plus fours Hamlet", for instance, predates the "voodoo Macbeth" by a number of years. What this Macbeth may have been instrumental in giving us is the "stunt setting," which has been a force both for good and evil. We'll set Two Gentlemen of Verona in the Wild West...or the Tempest in Nazi Germany...because, hey, why not?

Duane said...

Slings and Arrows reference noted, and approved. :)

He set THE TEMPEST in NAZI GERMANY!

Alan K.Farrar said...

Didn't say first - said the one that caused the effect (this is the one that stirred things up).
The acting is stylised - hence the difficulty with a filmed close up of something destined for a distant audience from the live stage.
And Peter Brook could never have done his 'Dream' without Welles having done this Macbeth, ... so, 'stunt setting'?

Craig said...

By "stunt setting," I mean setting a production in some historical time and place that is neither (a) Elizabethan England, nor (b) "modern dress" for the audience, whatever that is (and I would argue that this is the most authentic representation of the 'original' staging), nor (c) the ostensible place and time of the play itself. Welles' Macbeth, transposed to the Haiti of Henri Christophe, is the perfect exemplar. Sometimes they're brilliant, sometimes they're head-scratchers. I think they're more often head-scratchers.

Brook's "Dream" doesn't fall into that category, as it was not set in any identifiable place or time in the history of Planet Earth: it was set in a landscape of pure imagination. To the extent that people wear recognizable clothing, I guess you could kinda sorta call it "modern." Maybe. The 1500's fairies would have been dressed in "fantastical" fashion for the time, and so were the 1970's fairies. I don't know how indebted Brooks would say he was to Welles, but for my part, I would place that "Dream" much more in the "plus fours" tradition (Shakespeare as a "modern" writer) thn the "voodoo" tradition (transpose Shakespeare to a separate historical context to create new resonances).

As for those actors, just look at the way they move around the stage! That's not broad or stylized--it's just clumsy, like high school actors looking for their marks on the floor, shifting around nervously. Look at Macbeth and Macduff's body language--unless they're actually swinging swords at each other, they never look like warriors menacing each other with weapons, guarding themselves, looking for openings. Watch Macbeth just stand there and wait to be stabbed for no good reason.