I am writing an essay to compare the opening scene of Macbeth as directed by Orson Welles in 1948, Bogdanov in 1998 and Polanski in 1971. There are many ways in which these scenes could be compared, but I decided to restrict it to camera movement, setting, props and sound.
All three directors use the idea of nature as the first shot. Orson Welles uses a distant castle shaped rock, Polanski uses a sun setting on the horizon, and Bogdanov uses a beautiful green valley. This first shot demonstrates the wild and untamed beauty of nature and its sheer size.
In Orson Welles’ version, the scene opens with the view of some menacing clouds above the mist. In the distance we can see a castle shaped rock.
The next shot shows three silhouetted figures high up on a rock face. These figures need to be seen if the viewer is to understand the scene. Showing them up high gives us a sense of their power. We can’t actually see the witch’s faces. This makes the viewer feel tense, as you don’t know whom they are. Everything around the witches is dead or dying, which gives us a feeling of despair. It also makes viewers think that the witches make everything die whenever they go near or touch anything, which suggests that if they go near Macbeth, he will die. I think that the director showed everything around as being dead because he wanted to show the viewers that were evil, although outside of events and circumstances.
We next see a close up of the witch’s cauldron. It’s bubbling violently as they’re listing the ingredients to put in. They then start chanting. This makes the scene very intense as it sounds like the witches are building up to something big. They start to pull, what looks like a clay statue out of the cauldron and start wiping all the contents of the cauldron off it. This shot is very intensive and secretive, as we want to know what the witches are doing. When they finish cleaning the statue, we hear the quote ‘ there to meet with Macbeth’ and a clash of cymbals. Once we hear this, we can guess the witch’s evil plan. The witch’s are after Macbeth. He’s the one. He’s their evil creation.
I think that Orson Welles chose this particular setting for his play because it gives the viewer the sense of intensity.
Polanski starts with a peaceful beach as his first shot. In the background we can see a red sky, which could suggest blood or danger. The sky then starts to turn to a blue-grey colour, which makes the viewer calm. The shot stays with this view for a while as we see the sun rising. We then see feet and a walking stick appear as three people walk in front of the camera. The camera then zooms out to show these figures properly. One of the figures is a young woman and doesn’t look at all witch like. The other two are old and withered, and one is missing an eye. I think Polanski has shown the witches like this to show that not all witches look old and withered.
In the next shot, we see the witches start to dig a hole with their hands. When they finish, they take a wrapped up package from their cart and start to unwrap it. The director has shown the bundle as wrapped up to make the scene tense. We, as the viewers, are waiting in anticipation for the witches to open the bundle so that we can see what is inside. When they’ve finished unwrapping it, we can see a severed hand, a noose and a dagger.
The witches put the hand in the hole and surround it with the noose. They then pour blood into the hole and make the hand wield the dagger. I think the director put this in to show the fact that daggers are going to be used later in the film. It could also suggest that the person who owns this hand will wield that dagger and will de because of it.
When the witches have put the contents of the package into the hole, they bury them with the sand they dug up. The witches spit on the patch and start to chant. This could be a curse or spell of some sort. After their chanting, they decide where to meet with Macbeth.
The scene ends with the witches walking off into the distance. As they get further and further away, mist covers the set. I think Polanski used mist to cover the set to add the mysterious and scary effect to the scene.
Bogdanov’s scene opens with a view of a beautiful green valley, but this view doesn’t last long. As the camera moves left, we see fire over a large plain of land and hear the sound of guns and drums. This builds up the tension for the viewer as we wonder what’s going on.
The viewers don’t expect to see a war going on, they expect to see the three witches and what the director’s shown them as doing. In this case it’s acting like street urchins. The camera shows, what looks like three bagwomen. We know they are the witches as soon as the camera shows them because they start talking about where to meet again. The witch’s voices are modern and east-end sounding, which makes them not sound like witches at all. We see them surrounded by broken televisions and burning cars. This makes them look isolated and the place around them desolate. Putting the witches here is misleading because of how they’re dressed and where they are. It doesn’t make them look important, but they are because they are the ones that torment Macbeth.
When they say they’re going to meet with Macbeth, the camera shows a man on horseback. This is the first version where we’ve actually seen Macbeth. In the other two, the witches just spoke about him. I think the director showed Macbeth because it shows that Macbeth is a brave war-hero. It also shows what Macbeth looks like now -tall and proud. I think the director has shown this so that later we can see how much the witches have changed him. The only downfall of showing Macbeth is that you lose the mystery effect of not knowing whom Macbeth is. Bogdanov also has very little tension as shown in the other two, because the scene isn’t really frightening, and everything happens too quickly.
The scene ends with the camera showing a broken television. We hear lively music as the television switches on to show the credits.
Bogdanov has changed Macbeth from a historical role-play into an action packed film. He’s brought Macbeth to a modern audience who wouldn’t usually watch role-play dramas such as Macbeth or Twelfth Night, but the way Bogdanov has transformed Macbeth might make people watch these type of programs if they were all like this.
I think that each of the opening scenes is successful in their own way because they all have their good points and their bad points.
Orson Welles’ film opening is excellent because there is a lot of suspense and the set is very isolated. When we see the witches, they have a cauldron in the centre of them which they are putting the ingredients into, but when we can’t see them and don’t know what they’re making it adds mystery and suspense. We think something bad is going to happen as the set shows mist and dark skies. The only reasons why I wouldn’t choose this one is that it’s in Black and White and I personally prefer films in colour, but its still good to watch.
Bogdanov’s version is good quality because it is for modern audiences and has some good props and sound. When we see the first shot, we think that its beautiful, but then we get a shock as we see a burning plain and realise that it’s a battlefield. When we see the witches in a junkyard, we aren’t sure who they are. They could have been anyone, but when they say the famous quote, we realise that they’re the witches.
Polanski’s is good because it has more interest. We see the witches holding a hand, noose and dagger, and we fell that we want to watch more to see what’s going to happen next. This adds tension to the feeling of the viewer. Also, the witches look a lot more like witches and do more things than the other two, for example, once the buried the objects, they performed a ritual or a spell of some sort over it. This could be a curse towards Macbeth. The unsatisfactory things about this version is that it isn’t as scary or horrific as the other two were, so the impact that was supposed to be in this scene is lost because there’s nothing much there to set the scene. There could also be more props and scenery to make the scene more appealing.
If I did have to choose one, I would probably choose Orson Welles’ one, as it has more mystery and suspense in it. Although there aren’t many props used, we know that they are witches because they have a cauldron and are wearing rags. The witches in this version also sound like witches. Their voices are muffled, which people from the past thought witches sounded like. Another reason why I’d choose this one is because there is a terrifying effect at the beginning, which then turns into suspense as you wonder what they’re making and what the they’re going to do as they pull the statue out of the cauldron.