Saturday, 18 May 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1948: Orson Welles in Macbeth

Orson Welles did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Macbeth.

Welles's Macbeth is not the definitive version of Shakespeare's tragedy, but it is a version with some merit found in its visual style.

A Shakespearean performance is always something interesting to examine as you can see how an actor not only delivers the language but as well as their interpretation of a character who has been played countless times before and since. Macbeth the Scottish Thane who becomes a murderer to gain the throne of the king is a character open for unique interpretations particularly in the how much hesitation and how much guilt he feels for his crimes, as well as how much of a villain Macbeth becomes later on in the story. It is interesting to see how exactly the actor will play each of the famous scenes and soliloquies as Macbeth descends into darkness.

Welles as a Shakespearean actor is very competent with the language itself, and it is clear that he has a strong grasp of it. The only problem in terms of the vocalization of the language is the accent that Welles uses. Now this is a somewhat difficult point to talk about as supposedly there are two versions of this film one where Welles does a Scottish accent and a different one. I believe the one I watched was the Scottish accent version, but I have not watched the other version so I cannot be sure what the exact difference is or if the two versions really do exist. Having said that the accent takes a little getting used to, and because the thickness of it the speeches never quite have that poetic quality.

As a director Welles simply has the soliloquies thought out loud rather than the way Olivier interwove them through narration and speaking that gave them almost a mystical quality. One could try to argue that Welles is trying a rougher approach it being Macbeth and all, but really this isn't the case. Now I probably should stop comparing Welles unfavorably to my favorite actor as Welles himself wanted to avoid comparisons to Olivier's Hamlet. Welles to his credit though still finds power in the language even with the accent, and the somewhat more standard method of handling the words on screen. None of the soliloquy fall flat, and they all fit their function in the story.

Where the strength lies in Welles's performance though really is in his facial reactions. This would have been an incredible silent Macbeth performance because Welles's conveys a great deal with his expressions throughout the film, and in the expressions is where we see the path of Macbeth. Welles takes a fairly traditional approach in terms of the character in that he begins as a decent enough man but with great temptation he soon finds himself a murderer. Welles at every step changes his appearance quite effectively. At the beginning a stern straight face nothing to note, but when he hears the prophecy the perfect amount of confusion and concern sets in changing him to a less assured man suddenly.

As Macbeth goes along with his wife and begins the killing Welles shows the ambition but along with it the hesitation. When he first commits the act Welles powerfully expresses the regret in his eyes showing that Macbeth barely can believe what he has done. As the story proceeds though any hesitations quickly move aside as everything seems to be going his way in terms of both his power growing as well as the witches prophecy that seems to show Macbeth a path to unbeatable glory. At this point Welles makes Macbeth the true villain in his face. He is a man of sin now and it is quite remarkable how any goodness in the man is wiped away within him leaving him only as an evil villian.

This is an interesting performance to examine as physically Welles is outstanding in the part. His last scene is incredible as Welles portrays a modicum of humanity emerge in Macbeth as he is faced with death showing a very human fear as he realizes that he will die after all. In terms of his vocal performance though he does not make as much of an impact. I was always fascinated by what he was doing silently but when he spoke he does not carry nearly as much power. Of course this is more of because how good he is silently, and he isn't really bad at all in his verbal performance. The lack of synergy between the two parts keeps him from being the greatest Macbeth on film, that would be Toshiro Mifune, but the greatness there is in aspects of his performance still leaves this as a memorable portrayal of the treacherous Thane.


RatedRStar said...

I really liked the look of the film, its very foggy and grim looking, also thought Welles looked truly cool when he had the crown on, he looked completely deranged lol.

Also this might be quite a tricky question for you Louis, but out of all of Toshiros performances, which has been your favorite so far =D (I asked 2 many questions dont I lol)

Louis Morgan said...

Yes the look is the best part of this version I would say. Welles's films pretty much always are great just to look at.

I have to say that is a very difficult question to answer. All of his performances that I have reviewed so far, besides the Idiot which I still liked, I have loved without any reservations. I think they are all great, and have some trouble really saying one is better than the other. I am not even sure if I definitely should give him the win for the Quiet Duel or Stray Dog for 49 even. I'll tell you what give me some more time and some more of Mifune and maybe I will have a better answer then.

RatedRStar said...

Remember to get some popcorn and an ice cold drink for when you see Yojimbo and High and Low because you ll love them I reckon =D.