Lights, Camera, Theatre: 'Macbeth' at the movies

by John Moore | Oct 06, 2017
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Get out the popcorn for flicks that mimic the sound and fury of Shakespeare’s tragedy on our stage

By Carolyn Michaels
For the DCPA NewsCenter

By now you’ve probably heard that The DCPA Theatre Company's presentation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Director Robert O’Hara is retelling the classic with a staging where “sex and tragedy meet in a mosh pit” – a difficult image to clearly understand until you see it for yourself.

For those in need of a primer before your performance or who are hungry for similar fare after the curtain call, here are five films that hearken to the themes, artistic elements or straight-up source material that continues to inspire storytellers to this day.

Macbeth (2015)

As one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, it’s no surprise that there have been many, many Macbeth adaptations for stage and screen over the centuries since it was written. But if you’re looking for a true-to-form telling that blends historically accurate elements with gorgeously modern visuals, look no further than the 2015 movie by Justin Kurzel. His filmography often centers around intense human stories set against bleak backdrops, so it comes as little surprise that he would choose a story set in 11th century Scotland. Gorgeous costumes by Jacqueline Durran mimicked simplistic fabrics, forms and techniques that would be natural in the frontier society in which the story was set – a far cry from the futuristic leather-clad lads you’ll ogle in the DCPA’s present production. But the treatment of grand fights as gripping slow-motion action sequences holds true to both takes, and sometimes it’s nice to refresh your memory of the play’s original form before diving into to something completely new.

The Neon Demon (2016)

What do an aspiring model and an aspiring king have in common? A lot more than you’d think! Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s take on the cutthroat world of fashion follows a seemingly innocent young woman as her quick rise to fame and recognition feeds the jealousy of others, as well as her own appetite for power. Stylistically, the two pieces feel like sisters from another mister. As with the DCPA’s Macbeth, conflicts in Demon reach their bloody ends with some suspiciously witchy elements at play. Both feature hypnotic moments filled with thumping music and geometric neon lights, some enviably hip parties and forward-thinking fashion straight out of Vogue. The film is abstract, raw, sexual and symbolic. It may be too much to take in for your average moviegoer, just like Macbeth may surprise and startle the average Shakespeare fan. If you don’t think you’ll be dipping your toes into the glitter anytime soon, at least listen to Sia’s slow burn track written for the end credits.


Scarface
(1983)

While the departure from having actual kings played a role in America’s independence, we’ve had our fair share of mini-monarchies that have made their way into our history books and pop culture canons. One sector in particular has basked in the glow of Hollywood for their moments of high glamour dissolving into unflinching violence: The Gangster. And no film seems to embody the story of a simple man’s ruthless rise to power quite like Scarface. Tony Montana’s ride to the top is glorious, but as our drug-and-dancing-infused Macbeth can attest, a leader getting too wrapped up in cocaine, tigers and babes (oh, my!) is liable to lose his footing and temper faster than you can say “yayo.” If you want to enjoy the story with less f-bombs and more beer, try the tamer 1932 version of the film, which feels more like an unlicensed story of Al Capone over the modern movie it later inspired.

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Hollywood in the late 90s and early 2000s was all about sneakily making Shakespeare’s stories cool with the kids. 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man, O, Romeo Must Die and Get Over It slyly cast teens as players on the grand stage of high school as they loosely get tangled in the drama and comedy of The Bard’s source material. But one standout jumped on the bandwagon while leaving the text perfectly intact – Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. He knew that iambic pentameter always goes down sweeter when it’s sprinkled in between kisses from Leo DiCaprio, interrupted with interludes of high-gloss trippiness and sped up in zippy, quick-cut gun fights. O’Hara’s world in the DCPA’s production attempts a similar feat of world-building, injecting the untouched words of the original play with a visual feast of bright lights, thumping remixes and diction that smacks of the present day. You won’t see Leo on the stage, but there are plenty of gorgeous guys worthy of a spread in Tiger Beat magazine.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Even if you’ve never seen a film by director Akira Kurosawa, you’ve probably felt his influence somewhere else. His revolutionary artistry impacted the language of film forever and often drew from Shakespearean elements. He is best known for his prolific creation of samurai epics – stories of honor, revenge and retribution in feudal Japan. A lifelong student of drama, Kurosawa believed Scotland and Japan in the Middle Ages shared similar social problems and set out to adapt Macbeth in his wheelhouse. While elements of modern dance and choreography make the entire room pulsate with life in The Space, Throne of Blood draws from Japan’s traditional noh theatre. Masked characters, an emphasis on body language and open staging add a beautiful minimalism to the film while peppering in battles of a massive scale. It is considered one of his greatest films, and for many critics, the greatest adaptation of Macbeth ever seen on screen. If you’re okay with spoilers, the finale (and how it was made), is the perfect example of his creativity.

carolyn_profilepicAbout the Author: Carolyn Michaels

Carolyn Michaels is the copywriter for the DCPA’s Marketing Department, acting as voice of the organization through everything from Facebook posts to mail via snail and internet. Though she works for the stage, she is a cinephile at heart, spending her free time badgering friends to watch arthouse films that could change their lives (if they would just stay awake until the end).
 

Macbeth: Ticket information

Macbeth_seasonlineup_200x200At a glance: Forget what you know about Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy. Director Robert O’Hara breathes new life (and death) into this raw reimagining for the grand reopening of The Space Theatre. To get what he wants, Macbeth will let nothing stand in his way – not the lives of others or his own well-being. As his obsession takes command of his humanity and his sanity, the death toll rises and his suspicions mount. This ambitious reinvention reminds us that no matter what fate is foretold, the man that chooses to kill must suffer the consequences.

  • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
  • Performances through Oct. 29
  • Space Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $25
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
Macbeth: Previous DCPA NewsCenter coverage
Director Robert O'Hara: Can Macbeth transcend gender?

Tattoos, video and opening-night Macbeth photos
Video, photos: Your first look at Macbeth
Perspectives: Macbeth director's recommendation: 'Invest in yes'
Video: Adam Poss on a man playing Lady Macbeth
Video: Ariel Shafir on the young new warrior face of Macbeth
The masculinity of Macbeth
Macbeth
at a time when everything is shifting
Cast announced for Robert O’Hara’s reimagined Macbeth
Video, photos: Our coverage of the Space Theatre opening

Video bonus: DCPA Theatre Company's Macbeth:

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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