By Greg Mucci
First published in 1623, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has seen a myriad of adaptations, stemming from its cultural relevance within political history. The great Orson Welles, a decade before turning to the silver screen, directed Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Unit in 1936, which stirred controversy within the black community of Harlem, accused of mocking black culture. Though on a grander scale, Welles’ production can be viewed as a telling tale of evil abroad, as Europe became engulfed in strife with the rise of Hitler’s regime, it quickly became an imperative reflection on the duality between reality and fantasy–how difficult it must be to sympathize with a character that so greatly reflects a tyrant’s hysteria.
By Jessie McAskill
Raiders of the Lost Ark is at once timeless and transient. Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1981, there is something specific to the styling of the film that makes it inextricable from the time period in which it was produced. Like many other pre-millennial Spielberg action films, the current of adventure in Raiders is traversed by a rugged male lead who forsakes convention and assistance. He is motivated to embark on his journey by self interest, but ultimately he embraces the role of hero. In 2019, we’ll have the opportunity to witness Spielberg and Disney again revive the franchise for the contemporary audience, but part of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark distinctive from its counterpart productions is that it strikes a chord that balances the seriousness of a formidable, realistic enemy against an almost juvenile insistence that the romp will be fun in spite of its gravity.
By Victoria Large
When the twentieth anniversary of director Baz Luhrmann’s audacious Shakespeare adaptation Romeo + Juliet recently arrived, people took notice. Articles popped up in publications large and small, and fans reminisced and celebrated on social media. Like Scream and Trainspotting – two other youth-oriented films from 1996 – Romeo + Juliet, which relocates the classic play’s action to a surreal, contemporary urban landscape while retaining an abridged version of the Bard’s original text, is iconic and epochal. There are images from it that are not only instantly recognizable for swaths of filmgoers, but also powerfully evocative of an era. So why, on this auspicious anniversary, am I feeling a bit defensive regarding the film?
By Kerry Fristoe
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
–Othello by William Shakespeare
In Basil Dearden’s 1962 film All Night Long, the writers shift Shakespeare’s Othello from 16th century Venice to 1960s London. Set in the black and white world of jazz clubs and smoky back rooms, All Night Long has a cool cocktail party vibe and a fantastic score. It also has a vicious plot full of innuendo, plotting, and lies. The writers obviously used Othello as a guide, but they may also have watched All About Eve once or twice.
By Shayna Murphy
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” — Jack Kerouac, On the Road
The road is both a refuge and a prison in My Own Private Idaho, the seminal 1991 drama by director Gus Van Sant. It stretches out, vast and infinite in its scope, clouded by the memory of the cars all whizzing past, of the turns not made but longed for, and the journeys not quite finished yet well remembered.
Teetering on the edges, the street hustlers of My Own Private Idaho seem inclined at first to see the road as a form of salvation. Here, the space they claim is their own, and it’s paved with opportunity, teeming with potential Johns. They’re all just one car ride away from the next great score or disaster. But who wants the real world when you’ve tasted this kind of freedom?
By Bridget Foster Reed
I believe there was a monument missing on my recent trip to the glorious ancient city of Rome: a great orator statue of the Orson Welles. Yes, a bronze cast of the bearded bard with a benevolent grin and his right arm would be purposefully lifted in the air. Many ancient Roman rulers, such as Marcus Aurelius, requested the sculptor to depict their right arm raised on their propaganda statues as the symbol of a great orator who has the approval of the people. Orson Welles won over audiences early on in his storied career as the booming voice on the radio programs March of Time (1935) and The Mercury Theatre on Air (1938). His mastery of storytelling achieved celebrity status, which was uncommon at the time for radio personalities.
By Gregory Mucci
Our film opens in a spacious and decadent turn of the century study, the looming windows holding the horrors of a storm at bay. Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) stands looking out, noting how it is “the crudest savage exhibition of nature”, a commentary nonetheless on Mary Shelley’s noteworthy success of Frankenstein. Or perhaps it’s both a meta-statement that also works to scrutinize the societal place women must adhere to, one that still resonates to this day.
Our Lord, who proclaims himself England’s greatest sinner amongst an angel, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), regards the frightful storm as nature’s applause for both a sinner and a poet, Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton). It’s Mary, sitting quietly underneath the presence of men, who finds the thunder alarming. Her gown’s aura, angelic in quality, contrasts the dark nature of Mary’s mind, which pieced together the monster that terrorized a village in James Whale’s 1931 precursor, Frankenstein.
By Shayna Murphy
Pet Sematary is one of the most terrifying novels Stephen King has ever written. After finishing it in 1978, King famously put the manuscript away in a drawer, where it stayed for years because he believed it was too dark and bleak to be published. Although it eventually was in 1983, King wasn’t happy about it. He did it begrudgingly to fulfill the final terms of his contract with Doubleday Books.
“If I had my way about it,” King said in a 1985 interview, “I still would not have published Pet Sematary. I don’t like it. It’s a terrible book—not in terms of the writing, but it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.” Continue reading
By Christian Whitworth
What does one make of a film whose construction is so tinged with the reminder of its near erasure? At once an incomplete balance of filmic orthodoxies and a political retention of Polish re-Stalinization, Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe (Na srebrnym globie) faced the prohibition of its own production when, in 1977, the Polish director was confronted by an opposing political ideology that ceased funding, blocked filming, and attempted to destroy costumes, materials, and the film itself. But fragments survived—of the film and of Zulawski’s desire to complete it. He reconstructed On the Silver Globe, filling its gaps with commentary and footage rooted in the harsh realities of 1980s Poland. These bits contrast with the fantastical, fictionalized landscape of the film’s telling, but they differ to both social and political ends. Here, erasure allows for a film troubling yet compelling, achieving its wild ambition across history and screen.
By Kerry Fristoe
“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” – Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest
Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation