Usually the siblings’ scripts have room for music. “They write the script with space left for me to work with — Shakespeare didn’t do that,” Burwell said. “It’s very dense with dialogue. Joel actually made the movie so that it just rushes forward. There wasn’t a lot of space just for music.”
Speaking during a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: New York along with VFX supervisor Alex Lemke, Burwell added that in order to ensure that his score didn’t drown out the classic Shakespearean text, he employed cello and bass in the lowest two octaves. Burwell said he and Coen also were guided by the natural rhythm of the Bard’s work.
“Joel had written right into the script this sense of rhythm, of beats that he achieves by drips of water or blood or even hallucinations on the part of Lady Macbeth when she hears things beating in the castle,” Burwell said. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how to integrate that with the music.”
Denzel Washington plays Lord Macbeth and Frances McDormand is Lady Macbeth. When Washington delivered the “Is this a dagger I see before me?” speech, Burwell integrated his score with the action of the scene.
“A lot of great monologues like ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ have this pace from Denzel’s boots combined with this rhythm in the cellos and basses,” Burwell said. “It was really scene by scene. Most of those great dialogues have some music driving them, but I’m also trying to stay out of the way of these amazing actors delivering these amazing lines.”
Coen also set The Tragedy of Macbeth amid great fog. That’s where Lemke came in to enhance the fog captured on set. However, he did not want the visual effects to stand out as modern-day technology.
“You shoot that on a stage with a hazer to get an overall amount of fog, but you still want to have that control to make people disappear or the witches to disappear,” Lemke said. “This is basically four smoke elements shot against black, reused, turned upside down, things like that. Very old fashioned Citizen Kane-like.”
Coen’s retelling of the Shakespeare tale from Apple Original Films and A24 closed this year’s BFI London Film Festival. A24 will release the pic, which also stars Alex Hassell as Ross and Bertie Carvel as Banquo, on Christmas Day in North America and January 14 on Apple TV+.
Check out the panel video above.
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