'The Tragedy of Macbeth' is a horror story, says filmmaker Joel Coen

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Writer/director Joel Coen hopes that streaming his critically acclaimed "The Tragedy of Macbeth" movie on Apple TV+ will bring it to audiences who might not have given it a shot.

Denzel Washington in
Denzel Washington in "The Tragedy of Macbeth"


Apple bought the film after it was completed, but in a new interview with the New York Times, writer/director Joel Coen says he wasn't sure it would ever be finished. Famous for his theatrical films made with his brother Ethan Coen, he found production on "The Tragedy of Macbeth" halted by the coronavirus.

"I was actually fairly certain that we weren't going to be able to finish the movie," he says. "I thought, this is going to be this strange thing where three quarters of the movie was shot and it never got finished."

The pandemic also saw streaming services getting films that would otherwise have first premiered in movie theaters. "The Tragedy of Macbeth" did get a premiere and short theatrical run, but it's become a critically acclaimed hit for Apple TV+.

Coen says that Apple TV+ and all the streaming services are "fantastic because they bring the movie to all kinds of people who ordinarily might not have given it a shot."

"I watch as much as I can [in theaters] and would like to see more things, and see them be in the theater longer," he continued. "But I'm also as guilty as the next person of going, oh, I'll turn the streaming service on and see it there."

He also says that the streaming services are conscious of making the most of event films, and all productions.

"[They are] aware that this can't just be a business where you're dumping 40 new titles every other day on your service," says Coen, "[not if] you want any of them to make a ripple in terms of people's awareness."

A new take on "Macbeth"

Coen was first asked by his wife and producing partner, actor Frances McDormand, to direct Shakespeare's story as a stage play. In not wanting to do it as a theater piece, however, Coen did see his movie as being theatrical in every sense.

His screenplay, originally titled just "Macbeth", sets out from the first moments that it is a stylized tale, but perhaps even more so than in his movies with Ethan Coen. The dialog is Shakespeare's, for the most part, but the script specifies that it starts with an opening theater curtain.

The film's starkly black and white look is also there from the first page, with a description of a location as "nothing but milky white from floor to ceiling."

So it's as much a deliberately non-realistic world that the film is set in, and Coen is not unnecessarily reverent of William Shakespeare's original.

"I wanted to go as far as I could away from realism and more towards a theatrical presentation," continues Coen. "I was trying to strip things away and reduce things to a theatrical essence, but still have it be cinema."

"I came to [Shakespeare] as an amateur," he says. "I'm still an amateur. [But it is] a murder story. In a way, it's even a horror story."

"The Tragedy of Macbeth," starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington, is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,034member
    "I wanted to go as far as I could away from realism and more towards a theatrical presentation," 

    In that respect iI guess t would be more like the Orson Wells version. I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t want to jam it in between shopping and getting the taxes together. I want to make an evening of it.  But I am so looking forward to this film. 
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 2 of 15
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.
    ravnorodomlkrupp
  • Reply 3 of 15
    Wesley HilliardWesley Hilliard Posts: 65member, moderator, editor
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.
    It is a great film. But yes, you do have to some level of understanding Shakespearean language. If this is your first time really diving in outside of a high school english class, it might be a bit daunting. Subtitles still help though!
    patchythepiratemute_swan_of_avon
  • Reply 4 of 15
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.
    It is a great film. But yes, you do have to some level of understanding Shakespearean language. If this is your first time really diving in outside of a high school english class, it might be a bit daunting. Subtitles still help though!
    The subtitles are what got me from 10 min to 15 lol
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 5 of 15
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,449member
    It is a long time since I studied Macbeth at school. I had forgotten the incredible use of language that I enjoyed, and this production brings that to life in a truly exceptional way. Their concept and production quality is absolutely amazing.

    it is a telling illustration of the paucity of modern education that so many struggle with how English was expressed back in the day. It is worth the time and effort to sit down and work it out, it doesn’t take as long as you think and suddenly you are into the mitre.
    And yes subtitles help.
    edited January 28 hucom2000
  • Reply 6 of 15
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.

    I haven't even tried watching it.  I always found Shakespearean language to be more work than its worth.

    But, on the flip side of that, I feel the same about Hamilton:  I have no interest in trying to decipher the hip-hop "modern" language.

    If you have something to say, just say it please.
    edited January 29 patchythepirate
  • Reply 7 of 15
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,570member
    Yeah you really have to listen and pay attention to understand it, but it was an amazing production.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 8 of 15
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,063member
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.
    Different strokes - am a Coen fan but The Ballad as entirely dull here, we quit watching it after a few of the vignettes. 

    Counterpoint here, but one thing about Shakespeare for me - you don’t need to understand every word or phrase. You can watch the scene and the performers and very much receive the emotional communication and feel the power of the characters, conflict, and drama, without parsing it entirely. That’s part of what makes it such a lasting force in stage theatre. Most english speakers don’t use that form of english, but the gist suffices, the performance is what makes it work. 
    edited January 29
  • Reply 9 of 15
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,365member
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.

    I haven't even tried watching it.  I always found Shakespearean language to be more work than its worth.

    But, on the flip side of that, I feel the same about Hamilton:  I have no interest in trying to decipher the hip-hop "modern" language.

    If you have something to say, just say it please.
    Good point. Shakespeare is best left to those who don’t need to be told what or how to think. Shakespeare, like poetry, requires focus and concentration to read. “Deciphering” the meaning of the language is half the fun of reading them. It’s too bad you’re unable to grasp it, because this truly was a beautiful film that will hopefully win Apple a few Oscars. Especially another one for Denzel. 
  • Reply 10 of 15
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.
    This may help:
    http://www.shakespeare-online.com/glossary/
    edited January 29
  • Reply 11 of 15
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,143member
    Shakespeare gets recited at middle school here.  If adults can't understand it then they're not trying.
  • Reply 12 of 15
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,034member
    crowley said:
    Shakespeare gets recited at middle school here.  If adults can't understand it then they're not trying.
    It wasn't until I was an adult and did some Shakespeare scenes in acting class that I realized how badly they teach Shakespeare in school. Reciting lines in class, out of context, when the words mean nothing, is the best way possible to get kids to hate Shakespeare. It sucks all the life out of it. It only means something in context. live, on stage. That's where you see the power, the passion, of the words.

    edited January 29 GeorgeBMacpatchythepirate
  • Reply 13 of 15
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,143member
    DAalseth said:
    crowley said:
    Shakespeare gets recited at middle school here.  If adults can't understand it then they're not trying.
    It wasn't until I was an adult and did some Shakespeare scenes in acting class that I realized how badly they teach Shakespeare in school. Reciting lines in class, out of context, when the words mean nothing, is the best way possible to get kids to hate Shakespeare. It sucks all the life out of it. It only means something in context. live, on stage. That's where you see the power, the passion, of the words.
    This film does a pretty good job too.
    DAalseth
  • Reply 14 of 15
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    Japhey said:
    Looks amazing, tried to watch it, but only made it 15 min in because I can't understand what tf they're saying. They should have an option for closed captions to translate Shakespeare into modern language.

    I was really disappointed because I love the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a must watch.

    I haven't even tried watching it.  I always found Shakespearean language to be more work than its worth.

    But, on the flip side of that, I feel the same about Hamilton:  I have no interest in trying to decipher the hip-hop "modern" language.

    If you have something to say, just say it please.
    Good point. Shakespeare is best left to those who don’t need to be told what or how to think. Shakespeare, like poetry, requires focus and concentration to read. “Deciphering” the meaning of the language is half the fun of reading them. It’s too bad you’re unable to grasp it, because this truly was a beautiful film that will hopefully win Apple a few Oscars. Especially another one for Denzel. 

    Still trolling huh?
  • Reply 15 of 15
    The movie was very well made and the performances were great. The stark, distorted sets reminded me of the German Expressionist films from the 1920s - like Nosfaratu or The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari. 

    I have read my fair share of Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth. However, the subtitles did help!

    I did enjoy the movie, but given a choice, I'd rather watch Kurosawa's Throne of Blood/ Spider-web Castle, which is another brilliant take on Macbeth. 
    edited January 31
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