Review : Teller's Macbeth

Something awesome this way comes,” I wrote back in August 2009 when I heard that “Teller’s Macbeth“, as I’ve come to call it, was going to be released on DVD.  Teller is perhaps most famous as the quiet partner of the Penn and Teller magic act, which in itself is known for special effects and lots and lots of gory violence.  People don’t realize that he’s actually an accomplished scholar.  Put together Macbeth with an illusionist who specializes in gory violence?  How could you not love it??  Note that, in conjunction with the Folger, that this is actually a book that is packaged with a DVD.  So if you go hunting for it look in the book section.  Honestly I bought it entirely for the movie, so I can’t tell you much about the book.

The DVD is fascinating. It’s not a movie version, it’s a filmed version of the stage performance.  So you can see and hear the audience.  Right off the bat you know what you’re in for, as even the woman who comes out to announce that the plays about to begin ends up getting run through with a sword.  (Truthfully this special effect was fairly weak, as she was holding a folder in front of her that was pretty obviously there to hide the prop sword.)

The special effects later are more interesting.  The witches seem to be where they put most of their effort.  There’s a fairly neat scene where Macbeth goes to grab at one and it disappears underneath him, leaving him holding an empty cloak.  Not movie quality stuff here, but then again they’ve got CGI and all Teller’s working with is live actors on a stage.  When Macduff’s wife is murdered it’s downright chilling, as you don’t see anything, we just leave her in the clutches of a ski-masked bad guy who is … singing.  Something right out of a horror movie, that was.  

Hard to tell the time period of this performance.  Everybody’s wearing leather jackets, for instance.   Some, but not all, wear kilts.  The backdrop appears to be like an iron fence of some sort, some pedestals and a staircase, giving the illusion of  castle.

As for the performance, I’m surprised that it gets a good number of laughs.  The porter is one thing, sure.  His scene is practically stand up.  He comes right out and hangs with the audience as he does his very long scene.  But there are other times as well where even Macbeth gets the occasional laugh.  Not sure that’s always right.  (Right now, for instance, the doctor’s just come in to report that Lady Macbeth is not well, and the audience is laughing?)

I’m actually watching as I’m typing right now, and digging the performance Macduff provides as a man just told that his family was murdered.  All my pretty ones?  Somehow he manages the trick of monologuing about his feelings while still *looking* like somebody that’s about to go on a murderous rampage.  Later he loses the leather jacket and dons a blue bandanna, which is a mistake because it makes him look like a pirate.  When he takes off the shirt he looks like Lord of the Dance meets Last Temptation of Christ.

How are the leads? I don’t love Lady Macbeth, but I suppose it’s a very hard role.  She reminds me of the wife from The Sopranos, for some reason.  I don’t mind her shrieking, but I’d like to think of them as scary psycho shrieks, and not just bitchy ones.  You know?

Macbeth’s good.  They don’t go with the “monstrous” interpretation.  He’s just a normal looking soldier.  He wears a t-shirt while most wear jackets, so you can see his muscular build a bit more, I’m sure that’s intentional.  I’m enjoying the way he’s playing the last scenes.  Some lines are completely confident in that “Nothing can hurt me, I’m immortal” way – while the very next line is screamed like a man afraid of his shadow. He’s nuts.  He’s got that sort of maniacal laughter thing going just right.

I don’t want to give away all the good stuff, so I have to stop now.  I like it.  It’s not going to go down in history like an Orson Welles, but it’s a nice addition to the collection.  The laughter is bugging me.  I’m scenes from the end, the climax is building, bodies are falling, and people are laughing.  I think that if I was in the audience that would have bugged the heck out of me…. yeah, you know what?  I’m gonna change that, and say it’s ruining it for me.  That’s a shame.

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