On Becoming Our Own Gods
Oftentimes in life we’re presented with turning points that put us in a position of having to make some crucial decisions, including those involving hard choices. They represent significant developments that will likely affect us for a long time to come in myriad profound ways. We may feel as though we’re out of our league in these instances, unable to proceed because the choices seem to be too big for us to make. Yet the power of choice in these matters rests with us, essentially making us the masters of our destinies. And, if we examine and embrace that capability sufficiently enough, we’re likely to discover that we can effectively chart our own paths, no matter how daunting they might seem, as a disillusioned god and pair of mortals learn for themselves in the surprisingly thoughtful new summertime blockbuster action-adventure, “Thor: Love and Thunder” (web site, trailer).
After abandoning a directionless retirement in which he grew fat, lazy and despondent, Thor, the Norse God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), has toiled to shed his dad bod and regain his statuesque physique. He’s also resumed his mission to partake in heroic deeds, such as helping King Yakan of Indigarr (Stephen Curry) liberate his world from evil forces with the aid of his friends and fellow Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, with whom he sought refuge in the early days of his retirement. And, for his valiant assistance, Yakan rewards Thor with a pair of enormous, powerful chariot goats, an unusual but impressive and valuable gift. However, to get back the personal autonomy he needs to be truly independent once again, Thor amicably parts ways with his Avenger colleagues and returns home to New Asgard, the settlement he and his followers established after the destruction of their ancestral home.
As Thor has worked to get his life back on track, his onetime romantic interest, astronomer Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has done the same. In the eight years since they broke up, Jane has made a name for herself as a scientist and author. However, in more recent times, she has, sadly, been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, and her conventional treatment regimen hasn’t been working. With her days dwindling and nothing to lose, she decides to pursue an alternative therapy – tapping into the power of Thor’s magic hammer, Mjolnir, which is said to possess tremendous healing capabilities. And so, with that objective in mind, she heads to New Asgard to find Mjolnir to see what she might be able to make of it.
Meanwhile, as Thor and Jane pursue their respective agendas, a troubling new development arises that threatens the entire pantheon of the gods. When Gorr (Christian Bale), a devout, contrite follower of the gods, tragically loses his beloved young daughter to a fatal illness, he’s consumed by sorrow. And, when he stumbles into a chance encounter with the deities to whom he once so diligently prayed for his child’s recovery, he learns of their self-centered indifference toward the supplications of mortals, including those he so sincerely made. He becomes enraged and, when he unexpectedly acquires the ability to do in those who betrayed and mocked him, he vows to brutally and indiscriminately slay all of the gods in the Universe. This thus poses a tremendous threat to the gods of all stripes – Thor included.
In waging his war against the gods, Gorr eventually makes his way to New Asgard, where he attacks the settlement, a way of getting Thor’s attention. But, in the midst of this battle, an unexpected development occurs – the sudden appearance of a substantially rejuvenated Jane, who has assumed the name Mighty Thor and has successfully learned how to wield the power of Mjolnir. Needless to say, Thor is stunned at the reappearance of his former love interest. Yet, as glad as he is to see her, it distracts him enough for Gorr to kidnap all of New Asgard’s children. Thor and Jane are now confronted with the dual challenges of retrieving the kids and keeping themselves alive in the face of Gorr’s determined plans to do them in – along with all of their divine peers.
Undeterred, Thor and Jane begin making plans to rescue the children and stop Gorr. They learn that he is on the verge of gaining access to a powerful force on a distant planet that could readily enable him to carry out his threats, presenting Thor and Jane with a daunting task. They believe they need help to combat the god slayer, so they decide to seek assistance from the pantheon of deities, a divine sanctuary housed on a world en route to Gorr’s stronghold. And so, with their plan set, Thor, Jane, Mjolnir, the chariot goats, and their colleagues King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi) begin their heroic journey.
Their stop at the pantheon proves disappointing, however. To their dismay, they find that the gods who reside there, under the rule of Zeus (Russell Crowe), king of the deities, are just as self-centered as those Gorr encountered after the death of his daughter. Zeus and his cohorts offer no assistance and even challenge the powers of Thor and his colleagues, forcing a heated confrontation and hasty retreat. But Thor’s skirmish is not without its rewards, as he makes off with the powerful lightning bolt that Zeus uses as a weapon against his enemies. It’s an acquisition that could prove helpful in Thor’s impending encounter with Gorr.
Upon resuming their journey, Thor, Jane and company embark on a quietly anguishing voyage. They’re uncertain they have enough firepower to carry out all of the aspects of their mission. But, on top of that, there are other issues hanging over them, such as the uneasy, unresolved romantic feelings between Thor and Jane, conflicting signals over who actually controls Mjolnir, and Jane’s wavering health status, a definite source of distraction for Thor. Will they succeed in their quest and resolve all of their other outstanding questions? Whatever the outcome, the results are sure to be epic, heartfelt, and, above all, surprising.
The odyssey that Thor and Jane experience is one that we all undergo at some point in our lives. They’ve each reached significant turning points, and they’ve come through them having to decide where they want to go next. Such decisions may not come easily, either, given that we may not be ready to give up what we already have for an uncertain future. In other instances, we may be ready to move on, but we’re not sure to what, given the myriad choices we have. And, in yet other cases, the potential changes could be so large and significant that we might not feel ready for them, perhaps even afraid of the consequences.
So what are we to do in these situations? That’s when we need to look to our beliefs, for they characterize what we think and feel and what’s about to unfold. Being presented with such free rein over our choices represents a tremendous opportunity, for our beliefs can conceivably make virtually anything possible. However, we must be careful in how and what we choose, because the beliefs we select will be faithfully reflected back to us through what we experience.
In the case of Thor and Jane, their reunion represents an opportunity for repairing their relationship and moving forward into the future together. At the same time, though, given that they’ve been apart for some time and have started down different paths, that option may not be feasible, and this act of coming together once more could instead be an opportunity to achieve closure with one another, a chance to resolve issues that were left unaddressed and unfulfilled. Which will they choose? That remains to be seen, but both possibilities are attainable, along with a host of other hybrid alternatives that incorporate elements of both scenarios, depending on the specific beliefs they each hold individually and collectively.
The same could be said here for Gorr. He’s been devastated by the loss of his daughter, but that development also represents a potentially significant turning point in his life. In his case, that has to do with his understanding of his personal power and with his relationship with the divine. For years, he believed the gods determined his fate, but now he’s come to realize that it’s in his own hands, that he, too, can operate with the power of a god. But what will he do with it, and how will that impact his relationship with those he once so devoutly worshipped? Will he use this newfound ability for the betterment of his circumstances (and possibly those of the world at large), or will he employ it in acts of petty retribution? Again, it comes down to his beliefs and what he chooses to do with them. But, before acting, he should take a close look at his options, given that some things won’t change – like bringing back the child he lost – no matter which path he selects. Does he want to commit himself to a future of unrelenting bitterness that fundamentally won’t change anything, or would it be preferable to pursue something more meaningful, perhaps a course that reflects the feelings he held for his daughter and that he can now share with others?
Obviously there are some significant choices to be made here, and they may represent hard ones. But such is what comes from life, and judiciously exercising our power in making them is a big part of what makes us human – or, apparently, gods – which, in its own right, might be one and the same, even if we’re only functioning at the apprentice level. When we consider what it takes to stridently engage in such a practice, it shows us just what heroes we innately are, and we shouldn’t be scared in making use of an ability that is inherently part of our own birthright. This film helps us to see that, and we should follow its guidance if we hope to make the most out of this experience we call existence.
These are not the kinds of questions one typically expects a movie like this to address, which is what helps to set “Love and Thunder” apart from many other superhero offerings, particularly those that come out of the Marvel Universe. Indeed, in an age when many of the films in this genre are becoming predictable and cookie-cutter in nature, it’s refreshing to see one of its franchises pulling away from the pack and distinguishing itself as something fresh and different. Following up on its charming breakout predecessor, “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), this latest installment in this series further defines and delineates the franchise’s character, presenting a work that’s thoughtful and touching, but it does so with an approach that’s whimsical, funny and often delightfully silly without being stupid. Much of the credit for that goes to writer-director Taika Waititi, who has successfully crafted an identity for this series that’s distinctively all its own, one that incorporates elements different from its cinematic cousins, doesn’t rely exclusively on action sequences to be entertaining, isn’t needlessly overlong and doesn’t take itself so damned seriously.
“Love and Thunder” truly establishes Thor as both the lovable goofball and bona fide rock star of the superhero universe, setting the God of Thunder apart from his many stoic, bland, uber-noble counterparts. The picture’s impressive all-star cast (including an array of hilarious uncredited cameo appearances) provides an excellent vehicle for actors to show off comedic talents that they don’t often display in other works. And the primary rom-com storyline will pull at the heartstrings while simultaneously providing more than its fair share of laughs. Several sequences stretch on a tad too long, but there are so few of them that it’s hard to notice. While this may not be the “Thor” or Marvel movie that many hard-core diehard fans are expecting, that doesn’t matter. Like the “Deadpool” movies, it serves up something that breaks the tedium of a genre that has been growing progressively stale and tiresome, and any film that does that is certainly OK in my book. This is without a doubt the class of the summertime action-adventure theatrical releases to come out thus far.
Some may look on the prospect of becoming our own gods as overly audacious, perhaps even sacrilegious or heretical. However, if we truly are the masters of our own destinies, doesn’t it stand to reason that, if we’re to rise up to that challenge, we must take charge of the direction our lives will go? And isn’t that what an empowered god would do? Why should it be fundamentally any different for us, especially since, as so many spiritual traditions maintain, we’re made in the image of our gods? That being the case, we should start acting like them and not cowering in fear of our own personal power. Of course, we must be prudent in our exercise of these abilities, as the disappointing self-serving examples set by Zeus and his pantheon of cohorts so demonstrably illustrate. It may indeed be acceptable to make use of a little thunder at times when it’s warranted, as long as we temper our beliefs and actions with a whole lotta love, examples that Thor and Jane so aptly demonstrate. After all, what better kinds of gods could we possibly ask to be?
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Hot Times at the Movies in July
Join guest host Ishita Sharma and yours truly for a wealth of new movie reviews on the next edition of Frankiesense & More! The show, to begin airing on Thursday July 28, will feature reviews of nine new movie offerings, as well as two new releases on home media. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!
Igniting a Feminist Manifesto
To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, it takes a spark to light a fire. But sometimes such blazes don’t take on the first strike, because there’s not enough initial energy behind it to catch flame. In fact, it may take multiple sparks before a conflagration erupts. And it’s a concept that’s applicable both literally and metaphorically. But, when things finally come alive, watch out – a message delivered home with hard-hitting force in the new Indian drama, “Fire in The Mountains” (web site, trailer).
India is a land at a cross-roads in terms of embracing modernization while preserving tradition. It’s an often-uneasy mix that struggles to find a suitable balance. And, while one might think that the efforts aimed at modernizing are designed to benefit everybody, not everyone does, especially with the tug of traditionalism fighting against progressive change in certain segments of society, particularly among women.
These conditions are especially prevalent in the nation’s rural areas, such as the State of Uttarakhand in the country’s north, a beautiful region often compared to Switzerland with its scenic Himalayan backdrop. In the village of Munsiyari, a popular tourist spot for adventurous travelers, married couple Chandra (Vinamrata Rai) and Dharam (Chandan Bisht) run a home stay facility for visitors while supplementing their household income from a number of other sources. But, for various reasons, it’s often a difficult, frustrating and volatile way of life.
As the pragmatic voice of the household, Chandra bears the brunt of these conditions. She suffers under the tremendous weight of responsibility for keeping things afloat at home and in the family business, despite Dharam’s constant empty contentions that he’s the one in charge simply by virtue of being a man. She frequently must deal with his abusive alcoholic ways, his irresponsible behavior, and his traditional religious beliefs and practices, many of which she sees as bordering on foolish superstitions. His obsessions with obtaining spiritual dispensations from a local guru (Lalit Pandey) and participating in the traditional Jagar ritual – activities that drain precious funds from the household coffers – leave Chandra scrambling to figure out how to make ends meet, especially paying for the expensive medical care of their physically paralyzed and psychologically withdrawn young son, Prakash (Mayank Singh Jaira).
But these aren’t the only household challenges Chandra faces. She also struggles to deal with her intelligent and self-reliant but flirtatious teenage daughter, Kanchan (Harshita Tewari), who’s smitten with an “eager” neighbor boy, Neeraj (Monaj Kumar). Kanchan possesses a curious mix of personal attributes, some of which are indeed admirable, but others of which are decidedly exasperating – and that only add to Chandra’s burden. Then there’s Kamla (a.k.a. Didi) (Sonal Jha), Chandra’s unappreciative, scheming widowed sister-in-law, who has come to live with the family at Dharam’s invitation. Being that Kamla is Dharam’s sibling, there’s little Chandra can do about the situation except put up with her, something that frequently and seriously tries her patience.
Challenges from outside the household are formidable, too. For quite some time, Chandra and her neighbors have been attempting to get a road built connecting the main highway that runs through their village to their hilltop homes, residences that are otherwise only accessible by a treacherous footpath that’s been etched out of the steep, rough terrain. Chandra has made many appeals to the local village chief (Mukesh Ghasmana) about this project, asking him to take this request to the federal government, which claims to be supportive of such infrastructural improvements in underserved areas. But no matter how often she asks, the proposal falls on deaf ears. The patriarchal attitude and inept, self-serving ways of the chief keep the project from moving forward. And his dismissive, condescending approach to dealing with the “little lady’s” request not only leaves the proposal unaddressed, but is also personally insulting.
Chandra receives the same kind of treatment from Prakash’s doctor (Madan Mehra), as well as from the owner of a competing home stay business (Uma Shanker Madi). However, given the prevailing nature of the local culture, that’s to be expected. It hits Chandra from all directions, including at home and in the outside world. And it constantly places her in a position of having to fight for the fulfillment of her needs, wishes and sometimes even her own personal safety. The feeling of continually being beaten down angers and frustrates her, ever prompting Chandra to have to fight to maintain her sense of personal power.
Moreover, the path to Chandra finding and preserving that sense of personal power is far from clear. Because she’s often on her own in this regard, she has no handbook or role models to draw from. Knowing how to proceed can even be baffling and conflicting at times, such as when this strong-willed woman seeks to rein in her own free-spirited daughter, seemingly squelching the valued sense of independence that one might think she should be proud of Kanchan so courageously and freely exhibiting. But fight on she must, exercising her determination to be herself and to press her case when the need arises.
The result is the emergence of a personal feminist manifesto, one given life in an environment where its leanings have rarely been afforded such free expression. Chandra is serious about seeing those intentions fulfilled, too. In fact, there’s a part of her that’s determined to see that those who have wronged her (and those like her) will have to pay for their transgressions, thereby opening up space for a new society and the creation of a new world. And, in a land like India, with its well-known tradition of the Mother Goddess Kali, whose violent trembling so shook the world that she destroyed it, there’s no telling what might happen if Chandra and her kindreds suddenly decided to comparably let loose their power on an otherwise-unsuspecting world.
Considering how Chandra is routinely treated, her confrontational reactions are entirely understandable. She knows that she deserves better than what she typically receives, and she sincerely believes that attaining such respect is possible, an outcome achievable through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in manifesting the reality we experience. She may not know exactly how to go about this, and she might not even know of this school of thought’s existence. Yet she appears to have a handle on its basic principles and never hesitates to employ them when needed to pursue what she wants.
However, because this all seems to be new to Chandra, she’s still finding her way through it, which accounts for the variability in the results she realizes. Sometimes, for example, she’s quite adept at manifesting what she needs, such as sufficient cash to cover the most important household expenses despite Dharam’s woeful financial management skills. At other times, though, she meets with less satisfying outcomes, such as her interpersonal dealings with men, including everyone from her husband to Prakash’s doctor to the village chief, all of whom inflict their own forms of abuse on her, ranging from disrespect to outright physical harm. Such mixed results show she still has much to learn, an outcome that can only come with more practice and experience.
So what accounts for Chandra’s uneven performance? As noted above, she still seems to be new at this. And, having been raised in a culture steeped in traditions that still persist, she may likewise have some difficulty getting past the notions she was raised with and subsequently embraced and internalized. This illustrates the power and endurance of our beliefs and how difficult it can be to rid ourselves of them, particularly when we’re not as aware of them as we need to be to rewrite them into more suitable forms. Thus this accounts for what makes this metaphysical undertaking a work in progress for Chandra.
This becomes apparent, for example, in her dealings with Kanchan. Theoretically speaking, Chandra should be proud of the independence that her daughter asserts as it makes for a valuable life skill and serves as a model for what Chandra is trying to achieve for herself. But, when Kanchan seeks to follow her own inclinations, she’s often met with ridicule from her mother – evidence that those old belief tapes are still playing in Chandra’s mind and still emerge when she thinks they’re relevant to the circumstances at hand. This might appear counterproductive to some, but, when persistent outmoded beliefs surface in knee-jerk reactions like this, they can be hard to get past.
In light of this, Kanchan’s presence could be seen as a source of inspiration to nudge Chandra into another way of thinking, one that helps implement the beliefs she needs to put in place to move forward with the fulfillment of her ambitions. The same could even be said for Kamla to a certain extent, even though the example she sets is not exactly the best compared to Kanchan. Nevertheless, in both instances, these influences are in place to help show Chandra that she needs to eliminate what no longer serves her in order for more beneficial beliefs to fall into place. This principle should help Chandra find her way more effectively when it comes to attaining what she seeks to achieve, both in terms of the beliefs she needs to implement and the outcomes that ultimately result.
It’s important to heed such advice, too, for if we willingly or unwittingly fail at this, our goals and the beliefs behind them can become “stuck” inside us. This can lead to them building up to an “unhealthy” level. And, when they finally emerge, they can manifest in an exaggerated, almost fanatical form. When we witness Chandra’s initiatives continually stifled, we can also see the frustration building within her, leading to her attempted manifestations taking on an almost toxic quality. Is that what we really want? Indeed, is that what she really wants? It’s at times like that when we need to look for ways to liberate those stagnant beliefs, not only to attain what we want, but also to prevent them from emerging in ways that could potentially do more harm than good. We all know what kind of fury can be unleashed by a woman scorned, and we’d be wise to do our best to keep such an eventuality from coming to pass.
Director Ajitpal Singh openly avows that his debut feature is based on experiences that he witnessed with relatives who were subjected to the kind of treatment Chandra undergoes. In that sense, then, this is a film intended to make a strong social and personal statement about the unacceptable nature of such circumstances. This picture often packs quite a punch and seldom holds anything back, making for a sometimes-difficult watch (sensitive viewers beware), thanks in large part to the authentically convincing lead performances of Rai and Bisht. Admittedly, some of the narrative’s story threads don’t feel as fully fleshed out as they could have been, making it difficult at times to see exactly how everything connects, no doubt a shortcoming attributable to the film’s scant 84-minute runtime. Nevertheless, for a first-time outing, the filmmaker has laid down an otherwise-impressive and noteworthy cinematic gauntlet, an admirable start to what one can only hope will be a promising movie career. The film is available in a limited theatrical run and for streaming online.
Simmering embers can be ignored for only so long. At some point, they’ll spring to life, spreading over everything in their path and wiping out all that they encounter. And it’s a concept that’s as applicable metaphorically as it is literally. But, either way, when it’s fueled by a massive amount of pent-up energy, the impact can be sweeping. That can yield positive results in the long run but not before putting everything in its way through tremendous turmoil. This thus begs the question, “Which is preferable – a wildfire or a controlled burn?” Choose wisely – the character of the outcome and the quality of the future rest on it.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Extolling the Virtues of Cooperation
Pulling together for the sake of a common objective is undoubtedly a worthy ambition. The spirit of cooperation that goes into such ventures can be tremendously satisfying, especially upon fulfillment. With challenges and obstacles melting away, everyone involved comes one step closer to attainment. But remaining committed to the mutual nature of the endeavor is essential as a group of would-be theatrical professionals discovered for themselves in the staging of a landmark production, the subject of the engaging new historical docudrama, “Voodoo Macbeth” (web site, trailer).
The hardships of the Great Depression hit Americans hard. To help compensate for this, under the leadership of President Franklin Roosevelt, the government established the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency charged with stimulating the economy and creating jobs for the unemployed throngs looking for work. It was a broad-based initiative that launched a wide array of undertakings, including in the arts. One of the most ambitious of these efforts was the Federal Theatre Project, whose wide-reaching scope sought to provide opportunities for many segments of the acting community, including minorities. And it was through this effort that the Project’s Negro Theatre Unit was established in 1935, a program aimed at promoting stage productions featuring African-American casts, a notably progressive venture for the time.
The Unit was formed by esteemed actress Rose McClendon (Inger Tudor) with the collaboration of seasoned producer/director John Houseman (Daniel Kuhlman). To give the Unit respectability, they were committed to staging quality productions featuring talented casts and crews and distinctive works with innovative elements. And it was with these ideas in mind that they came up with the idea to launch an all-Black version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The narrative was to be roughly the same as this classic work, but the setting was to be switched from Scotland to a mythical Caribbean island (presumably Haiti), one with a long tradition of voodoo, mirroring the witchcraft element present in the original work. This premise thus gave rise to the nickname often attributed to this production, Voodoo Macbeth.
The film chronicles the many diverse challenges that went into the creation of this auspicious piece of American theater history. Much of it centers on the play’s aspiring but inexperienced director, 20-year-old drama prodigy Orson Welles (Jewell William Bridges), who had established quite a name for himself through his radio theater work, quickly becoming one of Houseman’s favorite rising young talents. Welles was initially skeptical of accepting the offer, concerned that it would cut into his emerging (and lucrative) broadcast career, but he was coaxed into taking the job by his wife, Virginia (June Schreiner), who saw it as a tremendous opportunity. However, as Welles found out, the hard work of pulling off this project was just beginning.
Even though the Negro Unit was established to help provide opportunities for Black actors, few classically trained performers were available, even in New York, where the play was to be staged. This meant Welles had to get creative to fill out his cast. He began his search by looking for individuals who were accustomed to performing in front of various types of audiences, such as nightclub singers and boxers, a plan that proved remarkably successful.
But, even with success in finding his share of suitable performers, Welles still had to deal with cast issues, such as the rapid and unexpected departure of the actor who had been selected for the title role, Juano Hernandez (Ephraim López), who left the production to take a radio drama job. Then there was the unreliability of the director’s substitute protagonist, Jack Carter (Gary McDonald), an alcoholic and petty criminal, who would often vanish during rehearsals. Welles also had to find a replacement to play the pivotal role of Lady Macbeth, a part that was supposed to be portrayed by McClendon but that she had to forego due to serious illness. The role was recast with Edna Thomas (Ashli Haynes), an under-confident actress who was unsure she could convincingly play the part. As a single mother, Thomas also had concerns about raising her young daughter, Clarisse (Kelsey Yates, Skyler Yates), while devoting herself full time to a commitment as demanding as this.
Not all of the problems Welles faced were of a theatrical nature, either. He and Houseman came under pressure from Texas Congressman Martin Dies Jr. (Hunter Bodine), who railed against the government spending precious monetary resources on a project that he saw as “Communist propaganda.” It also didn’t help that the play was an undertaking that involved minorities, a prejudicial attitude that was clumsily veiled but nevertheless all too obvious. The potential withdrawal of federal funding thus constantly hung over the production, leaving Welles and Houseman wondering if the rug was going to be unceremoniously pulled out from under them. Some residents of New York’s Harlem neighborhood took issue with the play, too, contending that Welles made his cast members look like insultingly comical versions of Shakespeare’s characters, a claim that led to public protests.
The strain of these issues, coupled with his lack of theatrical production experience, weighed heavily on Welles. He often sought refuge in the false comfort of a bottle, a problem that grew progressively worse over time. That, in turn, led to marital problems with Virginia, adding more fuel to an already-blazing fire. And it didn’t help that his own ego kept getting in the way, the source of frequent feuds with McClendon, the cast and the crew. But, with the April 1936 opening at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre looming, Welles would need to pull it together quickly if he hoped to avoid interminable embarrassment and disappointment. And, thanks to a no-nonsense sick bed conversation with McClendon in which she extolled the virtues of cooperation and setting aside one’s ego, Welles had the tools to turn things around – provided that he would allow that to happen.
Of course, few things in life would come together successfully were it not for cooperation, and the staging of this production illustrates that. So many elements must gel when tackling a project of this magnitude, but this venture was particularly challenging in light of the many unknowns and uncertainties associated with it. Black theatrical presentations of this scale were unheard of at the time, especially when it came to source material so different from the African-American experience as William Shakespeare. Add to that an untested director, shaky funding arrangements, casting difficulties and outside pressures, and you’ve got a mix that could have easily toppled the show before opening night.
Yet, for all these challenges, the show went on. All of the interested parties came together to make it work. And that’s because they believed it could work, thanks to the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in manifesting our existence. Moreover, when the power of the beliefs of numerous participants is aggregated, as here, it tends to be amplified, creating a potent force for use in an act of mutual co-creation. The collaborators on this production probably never heard of this school of thought, but they certainly made effective use of its principles in what they achieved.
Given the many hurdles that Welles and company faced, success truly seemed far from guaranteed. And, if one were to ask why these impediments materialized in the face of such an apparently sincere, heartfelt effort, understanding their presence may indeed be baffling. However, when we seek the fulfillment of an ambitious goal, sometimes it helps to have challenges in place that steel our resolve, to help us galvanize our beliefs and passions to ultimately triumph. In instances like this, if success came more easily, it may not be imbued with the kind of satisfaction and sense of achievement that would result otherwise.
Believing in ourselves and our collective efforts often benefits from the need to employ a little exertion, be it physical, mental or emotional in nature. And that hard work and determined discipline are apparent in the finished product, as evidenced by archive footage filmed during the original production, part of a 1937 WPA documentary titled “We Work Again” that’s been incorporated at the end of this picture. The project was not only a triumphant moment in American theatrical history, but it also solidified Welles’s reputation as a directorial icon. In addition, it launched the careers of numerous African-American performers who may not have had such opportunities were it not for this production. Quite a collective effort, to be sure.
That spirit of cooperation also played a significant role in the back story of this movie. As a project of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, “Voodoo Macbeth” was penned by a team of eight student screenwriters and shot by a directorial crew of 10 top graduate students. Collaborations of this nature are often viewed as potentially problematic, given possible clashes of vision and differing agendas that can lead to the proverbial “design by committee” issue. However, the seamless integration of the work of this team of contributors has resulted in a fine finished product. Admittedly, some of the writing is a bit over the top at times, and some of the acting is rather hammy (and not in the Shakespearean sequences, where one would most likely expect it), but the casting overall is quite solid, as are the period piece production values. It’s gratifying to see a student project turn out as polished as this one has.
Considering the quality of this release and the highly favorable critical reception it has received, as well as 15 competitive film festival awards, the picture genuinely deserves a wide audience and a shot at some form of general distribution. However, at the moment, finding this offering may take some effort, as it has been limited to the film festival circuit and select special screenings. There has been some talk that it may make it to one of the streaming platforms at some point, though nothing formal has materialized as yet. The impact of the COVID crisis, which has seriously interfered with movie distribution schedules, and the potential confusion posed by the 2021 theatrical release of the similarly titled “The Tragedy of Macbeth” have been offered as possible explanations behind this film’s limited release thus far. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, as some pictures made as far back as 2019 are just now coming into circulation as the movie industry seeks to return to normal (or, perhaps more precisely, new normal) operating conditions. Keep your eye out for it.
Teamwork is one of those concepts that sometimes receives a bad rap, generally because of its overuse in such endeavors as trite, vapid corporate employee training programs. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with working together, but there’s more to genuine cooperation than simply paying it empty lip service and spouting vacuous platitudes. It involves the shared beliefs and acts associated with sincerely striving to attain a mutually agreed-upon goal. Welles’s production of Macbeth embodies the spirit of such undertakings, one in which everyone pulled together for the good of the venture. We could learn a lot from this example, and, with its principles applied, there’s no telling what we can accomplish.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Copyright © 2021-2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.