Joel Coen discusses The Tragedy of Macbeth

Director Joel Coen discusses The Tragedy of Macbeth

December 19, 2021 DGA Membership Screening Q&As

Intrigue. Murder. Blood. Madness. The classic “Scottish Play” gets a dark new life in Director Joel Coen’s drama, The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Based on the timeless work by William Shakespeare, Coen’s film reweaves the tale of the power-hungry Thane of Cawdor who sets his sights on the Scottish throne after receiving a prophecy from three witches and must deal with the aftermath of his treachery.

On December 12, after the DGA membership screening in New York, Coen discussed the making of The Tragedy of Macbeth during a Q&A moderated by Director Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story). He also spoke about the film during a conversation moderated by Director Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley)  following the Los Angeles screening on December 19.

During the New York conversation, Coen spoke about the challenges of bringing to the modern screen a play that was written to be performed in iambic pentameter.

“In one respect it is a foreign language because this is the English that was spoken 400 years ago so people can get intimidated by that. But if you just listen to the music of, it you don’t need to understand everything, and it is accessible to everyone. I think this succeeds to a greater or lesser extent. The text is edited so this is only about maybe 80% of the actual words in the play. What Shakespeare does in lots of scenes is he makes a dramatic point and then he elaborates. It’s in the elaboration that you can sometimes get lost in the language. So, this is a sort of version that’s to some degree stripped of the elaboration. It just moves along and that hopefully gives the play a sort of propulsion that it doesn’t always have on stage.”

Coen’s other directorial credits include the feature films Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona and Blood Simple. Alongside his brother, Ethan Coen, Joel also directed the features, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Hail, Caesar!, Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit, A Serious Man, Burn After Reading and The Ladykillers. Joel Coen was nominated for the DGA Award for his 1996 feature, Fargo. He and Ethan won the Academy Award and the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film for their 2007 production, No Country for Old Men.

Joel Coen has been a member of the DGA since 1996.

You can listen to Coen's Q&A by clicking the podcast episode embedded below. You can find more DGA podcast episodes here.


Q&A photos by Marcie Revens (New York)  & Elisa Haber (Los Angeles) – Print courtesy of Apple Original Films

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