Weird Sisters, Silver Screens, and Meeting Your Heroes During Mercury Retrograde
Plus: Two Great Films From NYFF and One HBO Movie I Didn’t Finish During Mercury Retrograde
This week, I want to talk about tragedies. No, not my unfortunate GrubHub order or my feelings. I’m talking about Macbeth, which just premiered at NYFF, plus one other NYFF film and an HBO movie I didn’t finish.
Film is back! It’s New York City, baby! And during Mercury Retrograde1! What a time to be alive. Also, did you know that HBO still has streaming shows?
In the past 24 hours, I have been in the company of Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Joel Coen, Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth and Patti Smith—and none of them gave me COVID. Thank god. You really take a chance being around such talent. I only died of being mortified of how I act around Patti Smith. She is both intimidating and unwelcoming, unlike Fran Lebowitz—shockingly.
Don’t meet your heroes2.
Patti was at a fundraiser for climate change or something at Elizabeth Street Gardens, just around the corner from the San Genaro Festival. She walked, long gray braids and oversized coat she miraculously bought on her modest $16 million income and presumably raised a fist to give power to “the people.” Of San Genaro? Just kidding.
I say “presumably” because I already died from speaking words to her unlike the hoards of aging BoomXers with more chill, so I missed it. She is not my contemporary; she is an elder. Don’t make my mistakes. Everyone in her company seemed thoroughly intimidated with the kind of “Hey Patti” that sounded like a defeated roadie who just wants to get the gang back together one more time. I’m literally terrified of ever meeting her again.
I know you think I’m being glib about the $16 million, but really is so much less than I would have assumed for her.
The next day, I took a long walk with my friend down the Hudson to Battery Park to avoid Little Island, which was just awful. Not my friend, the sunshine, the public works. Just the overall vibe of Battery Park. Why do people live in this neighborhood? The greenery is beautiful but it’s otherwise vacant and lacks any discernible character. And you thought Bachelor in Paradise was tough.
I thought about writing a song called “Love on Wall Street” about virtual bears, bulls, and finding the courage to R-E-S-P-E-C-T whether or not I can turn this into an NFT3. Here, take my microphone. I’m done.
Sorry, I just vomited a little in my own mouth and I hate to waste wine. Thank you for joining me from these “Scenes From New York” that’s slightly less tragic than “Scenes From A Marriage.”
Onto the cinema!
The Tragedy of Macbeth
“I want to point out just because it’s a tragedy it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time,” Coen said as he introduced Macbeth, his first film without brother, Ethan.
Was he talking about the film or the past two years?
So many iterations of William Shakespeare’s iconic play, Macbeth. There’s the 1976 version with Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian Mackellan. The experimental riff at “Sleep No More” at The McKittrick Hotel in New York City (the only production I’ve seen three times). The John Cale song. The $20 million Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard blockbuster version. The Roman Polanski, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, and Akira Kurosawa versions. And the latest solo breakout from Joel Coen, one-half of the Coen brothers fame.
I’m getting verklempt just thinking about this creative split, for what is a Coen without a brother? An unexpectedly dramatic film and theater production, apparently.
Though you’ll have to wait until December, this is incredibly weed witch appropriate given that there are indeed witches (Kathryn Hunter delivers a chilling interpretation of the Weird Sisters with impressive shape-shifting contortions that also looks like something styled by Rick Owens), along with ghosts (“Out damn spot!”) and Frances McDormand, a supreme witch queen if I’ve ever seen one. (Speaking of, quick virtual fist bump to my other original true Supreme Queen Barbara Kruger, who just earned a spot on TIME’s 100 list).
Plus, I had taken 5mg of a mint chocolate square of Incredibles that was a real chef’s kiss moment for sitting with a few hundred people in masks at the Alice Tully Theater. Talk about anxiety!
This is a horror film noir with cutting chiaroscuro, tight close-ups leaving you breathless with the rapid incantations of Shakespearean rhetoric and the kind of drama that has “Oscar contender” written all over the trailer. Bra-vo!
Unsurprisingly, Denzel Washington was phenomenal as Macbeth. McDormand gave a stunning performance as Lady Macbeth. They both really stuck it out together and you have to applaud that, even if they’re sociopathic. A power-hungry love without any sort of healthy dynamic that truly spans time! Eat your heart out, Romeo!
Regrettably, I did not get to see Washington in Mississippi Masala, also playing later that evening and looks phenomenal, but it’s wonderful to see him return to the screen.
What’s interesting is the age of the characters. They’re old.
I think a very important thing about Joel’s adaptation is that we are not calling it Macbeth,” McDormand said. “We’re calling it The Tragedy of Macbeth, which I think is an important distinction. In Joel’s adaptation, we are exploring the age of the characters and in our adaptation the Macbeths are older. Both Denzel and I are older than what is often cast as the Macbeths. We’re postmenopausal, we’re past childbearing age. So that puts a pressure on their ambition to have the crown. I think the most important distinction is that it is their last chance for glory.”
The distinction of “child-bearing” as an age demographic is not lost on me as an “old Millennial.” Never forget: our children’s generation is Gen AE-X. Our generation will not be forgotten or deleted! We remember it all!
Something that was also weird? The digitalization of seeing an Apple/A24 film on the big screen. Something only an old Millennial would say. Guilty as charged!
British actor and theatre director Kathryn Hunter’s entrancing Weird Sisters have rightfully drawn comparisons to the similarly bird-like Yubaba in “Spirited Away,” as a surrealistic and ethereal wedge between life and death. Gasp.
Everyone looked TIRED. Please don’t let this be a last glory film. We need more Coen/McDormand/Washington films. The children of thespians are already making art films being showcased at NYFF. This is theater! Shakespeare!
Outside the theater, we were handed purple flyers about unionization efforts by Lincoln Theater employees. I felt instantly guilty by how much I was loving it and wondering what AOC would do. I guess attend the event? By the way, it looks like a strike is imminent.
An interesting and topical fact about Macbeth was that in 1936, a decade before his film adaptation of the play, Orson Welles directed Voodoo Macbeth using black actors centered around Haiti with Voodoo rituals for the witch scenes for the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. This was done in the wake of the Harlem riots during the Great Depression and considered a controversial cultural faux pas, though Welles insisted and eventually persuaded crowds to consider the production for its cultural statements.
Meanwhile, the movie version was all white. Go figure.
Can you believe these people had lives without TikTok?! No wonder they went mad.
Before I jump about Bergman Island, I want to talk about Igmar Bergman. Because I can’t stop talking about Scenes From a Marriage, the recent Bergman HBO adaptation with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac. Will this descend into a modern Karpman Drama Triangle?
There’s something interesting happening in modern adaptations of classics—they’re actually good. I really hated modern adaptations for many years, but there’s an intensity of about the subtle nature of these extended programs that feels contextually relevant. Like, how many reboots do we need before Michael Bay will go away?
The new SFAM switches the power dynamic and characterizations with a decidedly modern bent with Chastain as the homewrecking villain (and a much more emotive performance than the subtleties of the original). It’s such a painful watch that several friends have refused to watch it out of fear of “jinxing it” so to speak.
(As I type this, a group of drunkards presumably from the Governors Ball are whooping at living their most obnoxious selves in New York City. Get outta here!)
What I loved about Bergman Island is that it captures the visceral moodiness, lowkey humor, and overall process of researching on sabbatical as a writer trying to find inspiration from other writers. There are many layers to this subtle patchwork of a film-within-a-film-within-a-film. Ingmar Bergman almost serves as a comedic device.
On one hand, you have the surface level of this writer couple (Chris and Tony, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) living through Ingmar Bergman on the isle of Faro, Sweden. As they arrive, a tour guide brags how Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage was the movie responsible for thousands of divorces. This is a dark comedy, not a tragedy, by the way. The tragedy is that I didn’t write anything as poignant.
They write and live, separately and together. Bergman is present mostly as a a ghost. A looming figurehead and subject of investigation. The couple lives vicariously through the boring, repressive fantasy of Sweden and producing something prolific. Or anything, for that matter.
On the other hand, there’s the plot of Chris’s screenplay, centered around an inconvenient love between Amy and Joseph (played by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie—the former also making a cameo in fellow NYFF film, The Worst Person in the World). Lie stabs at our heartstrings as a true fuckboy and Wasikowska for being unable to let him go despite the palpable disrespect. How Mia Hansen-Love fit this plot within a plot is beyond me, but I loved it.
It’s challenging to watch this subplot and not take it personally with the palpably quiet tension of a Bergman film (but with the charming comedic moments like a moment of “fuck Bergman” lovingly inserted into the dialogue as a reminder that with great power comes even greater criticism). Also, because I, too, had my heart painfully shattered in Sweden many years ago in a similar fashion over that Familjen song and never produced anything of it. Can you believe that song came out 14 years ago?
The movie is full of complexity and layers, and I felt high off spending two hours in a room full of masked strangers focus on a tremendously special moment. A winning joint!
A Promising Young Woman
This movie is very promising. It isn’t new. It’s on HBO. I just haven’t finished it yet. This has a promising cast, promising reviews, a promising dysfunctional romance, a promising revenge, and a promising shot at me finishing it. I just haven’t yet. Because I fell asleep. A promising film with the promise that I’ll finish it before Mercury Retrograde ends.
Which movies are you excited to see? Plug your favorite fall flicks in the comments.
Astrologers no longer want you to fear the typical technological disruptions of a retrograde period and it’s a bit more “on trend” to consider this a period of reflection and review. Old ghosts may pop up during this period, or a time to “go backwards” to move forward. But this is mysticism sampler platter and I’m not Miss Cleo, so I digress.
Footnotes are great. The exception to meeting your heroes is to prank calling them, which I did as a teenager with JD Salinger and Kris Novaselic.
Are NFT still a thing?