I saw the new adaptation of Macbeth tonight and it was great. It was one of the most visually arresting pieces of cinema I have seen in a long time. Which considering how explosive and visually overwrought many Hollywood blockbusters are these days it is amazing that none of them achieve the level of awe and scale this film achieves. Something didn’t quite gel for me though. The speeches and dialogue asserted themselves as the truly brilliant literature they are, affirming Shakespeare’s genius cannot be dimmed with time or interpretation and the performances were universally great, Cotillard and Sean Harris as Macduff were of particular excellence, and as I said the visual style and choices in direction were unique and powerful. The music is also sensational written by Jed Kurzel whom I assume is related to the director Justin Kurzel. And yet somehow it didn’t quite knit together for me, the text and the film seemed to operate on different levels. Everything about the film was wonderful and we all know the play is a masterpiece but the film seemed to sit on top of the text. It by no means ruined or broke the film it just wasn’t as deeply satisfying as I would have hoped. The most satisfying and intriguing moments were the first and final shots which are entirely of the films invention: a scene depicting the Macbeths holding a funeral for their own deceased child as prologue and an epilogue I had never considered but has now forever coloured my entire reading of the play and I mean literally coloured it, Red. There were many liberties taken with the text in that a lot of speeches were rearranged or moved entirely to suit the plot and whilst this gave some truly unique takes on popularly regarded moments and scenes it did occasionally wrench the action, meaning many moments that would normally require dialogue had to remain silent to adhere to the text. Interpretations of many scenes were also delightfully off kilter: Lady Macbeth’s plot plaid out as sex scene, Lady Macbeth’s madness and death scene transposed to wholly different locales and time frames, the Weird Sisters’ removed of their ‘witch’-like appearance, the dagger scene played out very differently, the introduction of a whole new character, all were excellent and surprising choices. It was Macbeth as directed by Bergman which for me is a perfect match. I think my problem with the film was revealed in the credits. I spent the whole film wondering how such a slow, methodical, dark, brooding, challenging film could be made and released so successfully despite a (relatively) low budget. And then there they were, executive producers, the Weinsteins. I audibly groaned. That pair can’t seem to keep their grubby mitts off British heritage can they? The Iron Lady, The King’s Speech, Coriolanus, the Imitation Game, Paddington all bloody Weinsteins. I think that’s where the disjunct comes for me, the American oscar-bait filter that the Weinsteins impose on these admittedly massively successful films. Despite the fact there did seem to be complete creative control on this one and it was funded by the BFI (gawd bless em) and Film Four the hairline fracture comes with their presence, I doubt this film would have got made let alone released without the presence of the terrible twosome and their cultural hoover of a production company. In spite of them, it was still a great film and I loved it. Do you know why…?
It was my idea. Or rather it’s aesthetic and delivery were something I thought of years ago. I wanted to make a film called the ‘Harrying of the North’ based on the events of 1069-1070 where William the Bastard laid waste to the north of England. In my head it told the tale of three characters: a knight who had fled to the north after defeat at Hastings and finds himself a simpleton as squire, a father who leads the guerilla rebellion against the Kings army when they appear in the North and William’s Captain whom he leaves up North to do his dirty work. A year or two later a book called The Wake came out that basically took the father and guerilla army plot set at the same time and made a Booker nominated novel out of it so I shelved the idea. Then upon seeing Macbeth I gave up on it altogether as that was basically the film I wanted to make. It sounds hard to believe but every aspect of that film I had already conceived: The use of the colour red throughout, in particular an opening scroll in red text explaining the back story, opening shots of grey mountainscapes accompanied by a howling wind, a finale wreathed in flame, the soundtrack of discordant folk strings, I even (seriously) had mentally cast Fassbender as the Knight. In short Macbeth was the film I wanted to make so I don’t need to make it now.
If this was a one off I wouldn’t mind. Only last week Bill the Film was released in cinemas, about Shakespeare himself and his lost years. Interesting fact, I had been talking to friends about wanting to make a comic called ‘The New Adventures of Shakespeare’ set during Bill’s 12 lost years where he becomes an action hero. I also wrote a short story about a pub crawl at the End of the World called The World’s End named after a pub. I began writing a novel about someone waking up on a beach and finding the whole populace disappeared which was then released whilst I was writing it by Patrick Ness called ‘More Than This’. I could go on. This seems to happen to me a on a pretty regular basis. Yes the ideas will differ in the details but the broad strokes are always exactly the same, something that if I were to pursue as a creative project would mean I would be laughed at for ‘copying’.
In the early hours of 28th September the moon was at its orbit closest to the Earth and directly opposite the Sun with Earth in between, this created a lunar eclipse of an uncommonly large moon combined with the reflection of our atmosphere off its pale white face. This was called variously a Super Moon, the Blood Moon, the Harvest Moon or the Super Blood Harvest Moon. This is a rare occurrence and won’t happen again until 2033 and due to its genuinely haunting and uncanny nature it is small wonder that myths and speculation have surrounded this lunar event for millennia. I have read enough books and seen enough films to know that a red moon and a lunar eclipse can mean only one of several things, or all of them: the werewolf uprising, the end of the world, the turn of mankind, aliens landing or just some form of general apocalypse. In practical terms it will be interesting to see where we are in 2033 when the next one comes… I stayed up till 3am to watch the spectacular cosmic display and it was a life changing experience. I walked to Preston Park and stood in the middle where the least amount of streetlight glare could reach me. The night was clear and pristine, I could plainly see the stars and the moon was so huge and bright it looked like a white daylight lit the park. It grew darker then as the penumbra dragged across the moon’s face. The town was silent and no one else could I see. The moon only turned a shade of red, not Blood, but like spilled wine on cloth, a red and orange iris around the umbra pupil in its centre. I, like many others tried to capture its grandeur but failed miserably so I simply stood and stared in the silence, dwarfed by the immensity of the universe and the movement of celestial objects that knew nothing of me and cared even less but profoundly effect me and my home. When you think all life is derived from the sun which burns millions of miles away and our seas are literally tugged around the globe by the pull of the moon, our skins are photoreactive and our bodies are 80% water. I do not believe in astrology but you would be just plain ignorant to think that the Universe at large had no effect on our lives.
The definition of Prophecy is ‘a prediction of what will happen’. Not would could happen but what will happen. Astronomers then are prophets, meteorologists are then prophets. The notion that something will happen, when examined, brings into question the very nature of time and if it really is as linear as we say. There is a theory that Time dilates the denser the Gravity, given dense enough gravity in one area we could witness the future. This is not currently possible but on a basic level if you are adept at pattern recognition you could simply take the idea of probability and prediction and redefine yourself as a prophet. With little or no effort I prophecise there will be another school shooting in America this year and there will be another Blood Moon in the decades to come. Lo, I am as prophet! Cassandra was probably just a blamelessly gifted and intelligent woman with a vivid imagination who could use these abilities to make accurate predictions given prior evidence but alas, cursed to never be believed. Somewhere in the bible Jesus said “A prophet finds no honour in his own country” (something most detractors of Gun Laws in the USA are daily made aware of). Celestial, lunar and solar events are almost always used to signify a huge change of cataclysmic size happening despite their arbitrary and random nature. And yet we KNOW these planetary movements effect us in a practical, even visible, way. Extending beyond that and looking at higher physics like M-theory, were we to look at the universe from the outside we’d see all matter were connected and the dark energy passing between us possibly in constant movement. The idea of prophecy surrounding the Blood Moon would make sense if you were to assume time as a flat circle, as M-theory may imply, and that these events are actually the exact same event repeating.
At the heart of Macbeth lies a paradox. A conundrum that still puzzles. Would Macbeth have done all he did without the Wyrd Sisters’ suggesting it? Were the Wyrd Sisters using foreknowledge, information gathered by spies, that the Thane of Cawdor had betrayed the King and knew Macbeth would inherit the ‘borrowed robes’? Thus with one accurate prediction made Macbeth certain of his fate, setting him on his path? Could they have known Macduff was born by caesarian? Were they knowledgable enough to understand military manoeuvres and that Birnham would be the most practical way of approaching Dunsinane? Or was Macbeth always set on a path of destruction and madness? Or is this, as the new film suggests, a path that shall be trod again and again? Memories, ghosts, prophecy all are collected in Macbeth as they are in some fashion in all our lives but are we truly walking in that shadow of the past and the future, all time happening at once, strutting and fretting our hour upon this stage?
Fate has the same etymology as fatal, it literally means ‘an end’. Destiny has the same etymology as destination, literally ‘where we are going’. We all have a destination and we all have an end. We are all going somewhere and we are all going to die. To say there is no such thing as fate or destiny is foolhardy, an implication Macbeth makes clear. Be it that Shakespeare saw this as magic (the M in M-theory is often referred to as ‘magic’) or we see it as a metaphysics based on cosmological movements or just simply as plain, real-life, lab-tested physics, this life of ours, this tale told by an idiot, has all the auguries and portent of any powerful play as it goes on. Whether it be that I ‘prophesied’ the various books and films that got made or that Nasa foresaw the Super Blood Moon or that we see our own ends, our deaths and those of others, in the finale of other’s lives I do not think that Prophecy is as much a nonsense as modern thought would have us believe and, like most things, Shakespeare knew that 400 years ago.