28 March, 2007

Jess Franco's MACBETH?

"I've also got this Macbeth in mind, in which an amateur theatrical troupe are rehearsing the play in a theatre until the power of the tragedy starts to take over and they begin to act for real."

A quote from a recent interview with Jess Franco published in the Barcelona leisure guide "Guia Del Ocio" [n.158]*

Interesting that Franco also mentions making a new version of the classic "Medea" set in the present era. He also has been working on [circa 2005] his "Nathaniel Hawthorne" project, THE HOUSE ON TOP OF THE CEMETERY. He described this last project (not to be confused with Lucio Fulci's 1982 Lovecraftian HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) to me in some detail during a phone conversation in 2005. His ideas sounded pretty exciting. I hope it works out. I'm still not sure, though, on WHICH Hawthorne story he has based this project!*

Why is Jess Franco taking on such heavy duty literary projects at this stage in his long career? I think it has something to do with his relationship to his favorite director, Orson Welles. Welles directed his own low budget MACBETH in 1948. Maybe even more to the point is the fact that Jess Franco was second unit director on Welles' CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965), and helped stage the famous battle sequence, often praised as one of the best ever filmed. I find that CHIMES... only gets better over the years and strikes me as the best-ever Shakespeare adaptation simply because of the creative risks it takes with the Bard's works, composting several major plays with bits of Holinshed's Chronicles. Welles' gives his most moving performance as the tragi-comic Falstaff, the role he was born to play. Welles' interpretation stresses the relationship between age and play. Falstaff is the eternal child, who despite his advanced age leads Prince Hal astray until the young man has to assume the role of King. Childhood's end is perhaps the great Welles theme, or one of them. It also may be one of Jess Franco's less examined preoccupations, playing a large role in EUGENIE (1970), AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (1973) and BROKEN DOLLS, three of his best films. The adventure (and terror) of growing up is in all of his films from WE ARE 18 to SNAKEWOMAN.

Let's all pray that the complex rights issues can be cleared so we get a decent R1 DVD of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT sooner than later. The Spanish DVD is simply unacceptable in terms of video quality and sound.

"Macbeth" may have been a primary source of inspiration for the Santiago Moncada scripted LA ESCLAVA BLANCA, a microbudgeted jungle yarn Franco made in 1985. And, of course, the sometimes magnificent BROKEN DOLLS is shot through with elements from KING LEAR and THE TEMPEST. In any case, Franco's MACBETH, with the play taking over the actors, has a Rivette-like** resonance, also evoking Ronald Coleman in George Cukor's A DOUBLE LIFE. "Macbeth" has been filmed an unlucky 13 times since 1916.

We'll have much more to say about the complex relationship between Shakespeare, Orson Welles and Jess Franco in future blogs.

* This eventually was completed and released as the two part CRYPT OF THE CONDEMNED (2012).

**Image at the top of the blog from Jacques Rivette's OUT ONE (1970).

Thanks to Nzoog Wahrlfhehen for providing the reference and translation.

(c) Robert Monell, 2007


Tim Lucas said...

"I've also got this Macbeth in mind, in which an amateur theatrical troupe are reherarsing the play in a theatre until the power of the tragedy starts to take over and they begin to act for real."

It sounds like it could be Jess's take on Carlos Saura's CARMEN!

Robert Monell said...

I hope he finds the money and time to make it. It could put a different spin on his career. Welles' himself believed that in old age an artist did his best work.