Comparing the openings of 3 film versions of Macbeth which do you think is the most successful and why

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Shakespeare wrote the play Macbeth with the king in mind. He chose to include the death of a good king and then a fall of a bad king, to illustrate the break in good and evil and to show that the good will always win in the end. This appealed to the king. James 1, who was on the throne at the time had also been known to be interested in witches, so Shakespeare centred his first scene around the witches. We watched a number of different versions of this first scene and chose three to comment on and compare. The first thing I noticed when I watched the three openings was that there was a vast contrast between the settings.

Palanski’s version which was set on a deserted beach had a very simple setting. I think this is a good thing to have as it causes the audience to concentrate more on the people involved rather than the setting around them. The witches first appear when a camera follows a stick marking a circle in the sand. This builds tension with the audience as they want to know who the stick belongs too. The audience do not fully understand what is going on, as everything is kept very quiet and mysterious, as it is a while before the witches begin to speak.

The witches put a range of items into the hole they have just dug, one being a previous victim’s hand. This immediately shows the audience the witches’ power over people, making the audience aware of what the witches are capable of. The witches were all at different ages, the younger one hardly speaking, this shows that the witches have some kind of pecking order, the oldest being the most important and the youngest the less. The witches were dressed in rags, the oldest one wearing a white headscarf, perhaps to represent her importance. The Second version I compared was made in 1998 and had a more modern approach.

The setting was very different and was full of activity. I found that each time I watched it I could pick out something different I had missed before. It was set in an old quarry which appeared to have become a waste ground. I thought the setting was very effective as it was dramatic, which was good for the beginning scene. The camera scanned the whole of the landscape before closing in on the witches in turn as they spoke. This is good because it gives the audience time to pick out detail and concentrate fully on what each witch is saying. The witches were dressed in rags, but looking more modern than the witches in the Palanski version.

In the Orson Welles version, the witches are standing on a skull shaped cliff, adding to the suspense. You cannot identify the setting at the very beginning as the camera focuses very closely on the cauldron, this gives it a sense of mystery as you cannot see fully what is going on through the mist and smoke so instead, you are forced to listen intently to the witches voices. You do not see their faces but only their silhouettes which gives the beginning a very sinister feel. They are dressed in what look like long sweeping cloaks, which you would expect a more traditional witch to wear.

I think this type of costume carries more affect than the others because you could easily mistake the three witches in the Bogdanov version for beggars. By dressing the witches as Welles does, it makes them seem much more frightening and threatening, giving the effect that I feel the Bogdanov version is lacking. However, I do think the use of sound and music in the Bogdanov version is very effective. Sound is particularly important in Macbeth as owls, shrieking etc play a crucial role in the play. The dominant sound in the Bogdanov version is the drum beat, which you hear right up in till the witches begin to speak, when it becomes quicker.

It builds tension, almost sounding like a heartbeat speeding up at the thought of danger causing the audience to become tense. The sounds of gun fire can he heard in the background, making the witches seem very cold and not affected at all by what is going on around them. The sounds of the crackling fire can be heard and the crashing and banging of the witches. With so much going on the audience feels anxious and on edge throughout the whole of the beginning scene. I think Bogdanov uses sound effects very well creating the right tension and feeling of dread the scene needs.

Although Palanski has a different approach I still think the use of sound has equally the same effect. The scene begins with ‘otherworldly’ music building tension. The music is very supernatural sounding, which is ideal for the beginning scene. It creates just the right sense of uneasiness amongst the audience, showing them that something important and mystic will be coming next. After the music it becomes quiet, you can only really hear the sounds of the seagulls screeching, as if they were swooping down threateningly, creating the feeling of suspense.

The lack of sound, causes you to concentrate on what the witches are doing more so, than you would in the Bogdanov version. As the witches are leaving the paranormal music starts again as the witches fade into the distance. Another effect I thought was particularly good was the cloud of mist covering the screen while the sounds of battle can be heard. This creates suspense because the audience can’t see what is happening but can only hear what has gone on. The Orson Welles version has a different approach, starting with the sinister chanting of the witches.

You can hear the faint sound of music in the background and also the bubbling of the cauldron. The music begins to get louder nearing the end when the witches pull out a clay shaped figure, representing Macbeth. The witches mould the figure with their hands, this is significant as it shows the witches power and control over Macbeth. It seems as if they are moulding Macbeth’s life to how they want it, before it has actually happened. When the witches hold the figure out, there is a clash of symbols creating a feeling of shock amongst the audience.

I think this beginning was the most effective because it was dramatic and managed to create the feeling of dread the best. You can really feel the importance that this scene brings. The use of colour and lighting in the scenes, are important because it adds to the atmosphere. Palanski uses the dramatic effect of colour during his opening scene to capture the audience’s attention. The sky is red, almost as if to represent blood creating a feeling of unease. The sky then changes to the normal blue and the music stops, as if they are trying to cover up the fact that something evil is happening.

When the witches have finished speaking they walk away into the distance, the colour fades gradually into a mist. This leaves the audience intrigued to find out where they are going and what they are planning to do. The Orson Welles version is different from the others as it is in black and white. This creates effect because it makes the setting very dark and mysterious, so the audience aren’t entirely sure what is going on. Welles uses studio lighting to stage his opening scene even though it looks like it has been done outside.

I think this was the best use of colour and lightening, even though it was the simplest. It created the most effect because it gave the scene a sense of suspense and tension. I think Bogdanov’s use of colour and lightening was good but I didn’t think it created the tension amongst the audience like the Welles version did. I think the sound created the tension the most as the colour and lightening gave the scene a very ‘normal’ feel. They used bright, natural light and also had fires burning around the set. It looked like a lot of effort had been put into this scene, when it really hadn’t been needed.

I think that the simple use of black and white created the most effect, even though at that time it was all that was available. Palanski’s version was also effective because it used almost supernatural colours, which I feel made the scene seem very mystical, telling you something very bizarre was about to happen. In general, I think the Orson Welles version was the best. I thought that it was the most effective as it was in black and white which made it mysterious. Also it was the only one that did not show the witches faces, making it even more effective.

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