The first time I saw a Jackson Pollock in the flesh, I had to sit down, dumbfounded, in my attempt to take it in. I was staring at just one painting (and there were several) for a good 15-20 minutes before I had to force myself to move on. While the artist's famous splatter paintings seem random there's such an intricate hypnotic depth to them once you're in their presence, like it's possible to slip right inside them and get lost. Each flick of paint, every solid drop, on top of another streak and another spill gives the impression that the painting goes on for years underneath no matter which detail pulls your eye in.
I kept thinking of that Pollock painting - bear with me through this unexpected reference point - while watching Throne of Blood (1957)...
It's Akira Kurosawa's brilliant Japanese riff on Shakespeare's MacBeth. The more you look at each image the more it seems to offer, and Kurosawa employs brilliant depth of field through its visual chaos. That's especially true of Spider-Web forest where Lord Washizu (Toshirô Mifune) and his lifelong friend Miki (Minoru Chiaki) first encounter an evil spirit after getting lost in the woods. The spirit is not so much in an actual clearing but just in a magically overexposed layer of the woods which appears to be a break in the confusing thicket. Only it's not. The closer the warriors get to the spirit and its prophesies (which double as ambitious promises), the sooner their souls will be lost.
Enough cannot be said of the brilliant reprisals of this thick wooden chaos throughout the film, as with tree tops that appear to move like armies and the terrifying finale when arrows (surely carved from the same woods) come at Washizu from everywhere.
Yet for all of the mysterious violent foreboding courtesy of the film's exquisite deployment of nature throughout, and the theatrical lighting of cinematographer Asakazu Nakai (a Kurosawa regular), it's the corrupt nature of man that's most compelling.
Even the birds cry ominously."
My favorite sequence in the film is between the soon to be Lord and his strategizing Lady (Isuzu Yamada) which is preceded with a short sequence in which a servant enters "The Silent Chamber" to prepare it for his masters. The room has not been used for some time because the former ruler, Lord Fijimaki, commited suicide right there and the stains would never come out. It's a creepy foreshadowing of Lady Macbeth's "out damn spot" descent into madness.
The servant's supersized matches (or are they miniature torches?) light this reveal of the space that everyone at Spider Web castle is already spooked by, the servants saying that the chamber never fails to send a chill down the spin. It's a simple but startlingly effective way of moving the leads beyond the point of no return and the film into its sick web of treasonous murders. The Lord and Lady will enter, separately, each unable to resist staring at Fujimaki's own splatter-painting, before making their fateful bloodsoaked decision.
If you're looking for the glories of Shakespeare's word-play in your MacBeth adaptations, then Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa's interpretation is not the wise path. But if you're looking for the glories of cinema and visual storytelling, pull up a chair. Or, rather, sink down like you're not even moving - ala Lady Washizu in her kimono -- and watch this thing with awe. And a chill down your spine.
In a couple of hours we'll share the complete list of players in this week's best shot party