Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the swinging spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It seems like forever since we’ve met in this space, but we’re glad that we can get together again. Please make yourself at home. No dress code tonight. Bring your own beverage. The hostess will seat you now, and we still have a few good tables available.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last week I asked you what you thought about a reunion with free agent Kris Bryant and whether or not the Cubs should sign him. The vote was extremely close, but by a vote of 41 percent to 39 percent, you thought it was time to move on from Bryant and spend the money on other needs. Another 20 percent of you were on the fence with the “meh” vote.
We’re still locked out in MLB. This may go on for a while, so I welcome anyone who wants to join in with the music and movies.
Here’s the part where I discuss jazz and movies. Feel free to skip to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
In honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday today, I thought I’d present the iconic Billie Holiday anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.” This performance appears to be from 1959, so it would be just a few months before she died.
I didn’t watch one old movie over the past week. Instead, I binge-watched director Louis Feuillade’s 1915-16 silent serial masterpiece, Les Vampires. Some people binge-watch Squid Game. I binge-watch a 105-year-old French movie serial.
I don’t have a lot to say about Les Vampires at the moment. What I can say about it is that it’s not about vampires, but rather about a Parisian organized crime syndicate called “Les Vampires.” It’s also a lot of fun and the single-named actress Musidora absolutely steals the show as the main villain, Irma Vep. (Irma Vep is an anagram of “vampire.”)
But I think I’ll refrain from saying any more about it until I watch the 1996 film Irma Vep, directed by Olivier Assayas. Also, I’m guessing that if you aren’t familiar with the character of Irma Vep now, you will be by the end of 2022 as Assayas is producing an Irma Vep mini-series for HBO starring Alicia Vikander. So what I’m saying is that I predict that 2022 is the year that “Irma Vep” becomes a thing.
So instead, I’m going to say a few things about 2021’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, directed by Joel Coen, working for the first time without his brother Ethan, and starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. The short review is that it’s a very strong adaptation of a well-known Shakespeare classic that’s very heavy on style. It’s designed for casual Shakespeare fans, but its approach should even appease Shakespeare scholars.
In writing about The Tragedy of Macbeth, I’m incorporating some thoughts that my wife had on the film as well. She’s an English teacher who has taught Macbeth several times in the past, although she’s not currently teaching 11th grade so she hasn’t taught it recently. But I mention this because she is much, much more familiar with the source material than I am, considering that I don’t think that I have read it since college. I will say that my wife liked the new Joel Coen version very much, although she did have a few nits to pick about it.
There are a lot of different directions you can take a production of Macbeth. Coen very much leans into the horror aspect of the play here, with just a touch of neo-noir. (After all, what is Lady Macbeth but the original femme fatale?) But Coen shoots the film in a very high-contrast black-and-white that makes for a stark and scary world. Coen also eschews any attempt at realism, instead choosing to shoot in an obvious (but very beautiful) stage setting. The look and angles of the film evoke the German expressionism of the silent era, but Coen makes the style his own. It’s not a direct copy of expressionism—for example, Coen’s use of shadow is much different than in those old silent pictures.
The sets evoke the look of a stage and they make the entire production seem closed in and claustrophobic. This is right in tune with the horror aspect that Coen is going for. The murder of King Duncan by Macbeth is an intimate affair, shot in closeups in a way that brings focus to both the personal betrayal going on here as well as the horror of a bloody murder.
My wife had extreme praise for the cinematography and the overall look of the film. She just loved that and felt that it was a very appropriate approach for the play.
Coen also streamlines the play, cutting out several lines and combining several minor characters into one. This keeps the play moving along quickly. Macbeth is already the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies (Many scholars think we only have an incomplete copy) and Coen finishes it up in a breezy 105 minutes. So many filmed adaptations of Shakespeare drag on, especially in the middle, but this one doesn’t.
My wife was very much against the combining of several minor characters into Ross (Alex Hassell). Personally, I didn’t even remember that there even was a Ross in Macbeth, so it didn’t bother me. But that was my wife’s biggest complaint about the film.
Much has been made in the discussion of this film about the casting of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the role of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. For one, Washington and McDormand are a lot older than the two characters are normally portrayed and that gives the film a very different feel. Rather that a young couple whose ambition gets the best of them, the Macbeths come across more as an older couple who finally feel the wheel of fate has landed on them. I mean, it has, but not in the way they think it has. But I got the impression of an older couple looking at each other and saying “We’ve earned this” (meaning the throne) after a lifetime of hard work and service to an ungrateful king.
Both Washington and McDormand play their characters more understated than a lot of previous actors have. Washington does bring that trademark “Denzel” swagger to the part of Macbeth, and even at his age, Washington seems like the coolest Thane in Scotland. His Macbeth isn’t a hot-headed young man but rather a measured and calculating killer.
Even when he’s screaming at ghosts, Washington’s Macbeth never fully loses control. I admit that I sometimes saw “Denzel” on screen rather than “Macbeth,” but that feeling passed quickly. Plus, that’s always a problem with big-name actors anyway. Washington turned in a great performance.
McDormand smartly portrays Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness as a much more intimate affair than it can be portrayed. One thing that my wife points out about the play is that at the start, Lady Macbeth is the one who goads Macbeth into the regicide and Macbeth is reluctant. As the play goes on, Lady Macbeth gains a conscience and Macbeth loses his as he keeps ordering more and more deaths. But McDormand does grasp that character’s realization of the inner horror (I keep coming back to that word) about what she’s done and what is going to happen to her and her husband.
My wife had special praise for the performance of Kathryn Hunter as all three of the three witches. She said Hunter was creepy and that with Coen’s choice to have the same actress play all three witches, it made the witches especially creepy. I agree with my wife. (I have to say that even if I didn’t agree, but I do in this case.)
All-in-all, Joel Coen’s first attempt at directing without his brother is a success. Film productions of Shakespeare plays are always filled with landmines, as the plays were intended for the stage and not for the screen. Coen smartly splits the difference between the two media. The Tragedy of Macbeth has a cool look and brisk pacing that should make it a crowd pleaser and satisfying to all but the most-doctrinaire Shakespeare fans. The fact that it has a great cast headed by two of the best actors of their generation just makes it all that better. Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood may yet be the best filmed adaptation of Macbeth, but this one may be the best one that actually sticks to the words of the Bard.
Here’s the official trailer for The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and the movies.
Today I’m going to ask you a simple question: Who is your favorite current Cubs player?
It doesn’t have to be the best player or even a good player. If Michael Hermosillo is your favorite Cub because you grew up with him, then that’s fine. (Although you’ll have to list him as “Someone else” because he’s not making the poll.) If Brad Wieck once autographed a baseball for you, that’s cool too. But you can also pick someone like Willson Contreras or Kyle Hendricks or Jason Heyward because they’re what is left from the 2016 team. There are no rules here.
So who is your current favorite Cub?
Who is your current favorite Cubs player?
This poll is closed
Someone else (Leave in comments)
Thank you again so much for stopping by this evening. We hope you were able to get warm and relax for a little while. I’ll have someone fetch your hat and coat. Tip your waitstaff. Drive home safely. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.