Discuss the openings scenes of the Polanski and Welles' film versions of "Macbeth", considering their use of audio and visual techniques and their presentation of the witches. How do you personally respond to them?

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Discuss the openings scenes of the Polanski and Welles’ film versions of “Macbeth”, considering their use of audio and visual techniques and their presentation of the witches. How do you personally respond to them?

On first viewing both Polanski’s and Welles’ opening sequence of Macbeth you will immediately think them to be very different. However as we analyse them you will notice the similarities. Both openings occur before the credits and even though they are from different times they both include Shakespearean text.

Both films reflect on their era accordingly: Welles’ version, which was made in 1948, is in black and white and relies heavily on music. This is needed to liven the atmosphere when the film got more exciting or to give out eerie, sombre music when the film makers wanted the audience to be anxious or scared. Welles’ dramatic crescendo at the end is typical of its time.

Polanski’s version has hardly any music at all and because it has colour technology it can rely on the warm, glowing orange of the sunset or the gloomy grey, blue of an isolated beach to set its atmosphere. Consequently the opening lacks the intensity of Welles’ version.

In Orson Welles’ adaptation of Macbeth the atmosphere is set straight away by a menacing looking cloudscape. The cloudscape then changes to a landscape view. It illustrates a dead tree (which carries on from the dead/hell theme) and a large rock. On the large rock there is a silhouette of three withes grouped round a cauldron. Directly behind them is a bright light on a dark background: this is so you focus on the withes.  The lighting in this scene is misty, making the place seem like a surreal underworld where your nightmares take place; also the sombre music adds to this. It makes the viewer feel anxious. The dark silhouette of the witches is on a light background. This attracts the viewer’s attention.

        In the cauldron section the camera angle is pointed down to show what exactly is in the cauldron; as if we are looking into it. The liquid looks thick, like tar or porridge and it bubbles, it is accompanied by a steady, thudding sound, like a heart beat. After this, the liquid gives a sharp hissing sound and white smoke drifts out of the fluid to diffuse into the air. Following this, blinding, white flames appear on the dark liquid as the hissing noise dies down to be replaced by the sizzling simmering sound. All these different audio and visual effects give the viewer a lot to think about in quick succession causing them to feel dizzy and worried. The camera angle helps to make us feel drawn in.

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        When the witches pull out a clay lump and scratch at it to form the clay model a series of loud, high pitched, screeching sounds are used. This puts the audience on edge. After this one witch holds up the model and says ‘Here to meet with…’ Then there is a long pause as the camera focuses on the model’s head as the witch hauntingly says “Macbeth” which is then followed by swift, dramatic music. This makes the reader anxious to find out who he is. The overall effect of Welles’ opening sequence made me feel uncomfortable as well as excited.


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