Just got back home from a double dose of the Crucible on screen. My friends doubt my sanity but that went long time ago in the summer 😉
This will not be a repeat of the impressions about the play itself, i may in time go back to that, but for now i just want to talk about how it translated to the big screen. Let me just say this for starters: it is incredibly well done!!
I was so anxious about how it would translate, if it was even possible to capture the impressions i had inside the theatre. And seeing very recently the Frankenstein from the NT in the cinema my anxiety only increased. I was so disappointed with the myriad technical problems and faults in that one that i was really afraid of seeing this and somehow damaging my impressions from seeing it live during the summer.
All my fears have been dispelled and all my expectations have been exceeded! Everyone who hasn’t had a chance to see it live and will see the video, you are in for a treat. It doesn’t feel as if there is a stage, you don’t even notice the round per se. And that is a great thing because in situ we didn’t either. You will feel immersed in the action completely, just as the audience was, especially from the first few rows. Robert Delamere and his team have taken the best possible views of Yael Farber’s production and captured them on screen.
I’m lucky i managed to see it twice as i was so fixated on dissecting the translation to the screen the first time around i only managed to relax properly the 2nd time. Didn’t help i was rushing from work and we had the most obnoxious of neighbours i’ve had in a while. Not only was the women very unpleasant, refusing to budge to let us to our seats but she brought ceramic cups with saucers and spoons into the cinema (with all the bloody related rattling), then she moved on to some wine glasses and finally she spent the entire acts 3 and 4 constantly checking her mobile phone, texting and reading texts and opening and closing the leather cover of said phone with its respective popper! Needless to say that wasn’t conducive to letting go emotionally and reliving it.
So i did notice some more ‘technical’ things, which i am only mentioning in the hope that those who decide to read them will then know and will be able to ignore them then, especially if they see it only 1x, instead of spending their time being surprise by some things or noticing them. I am not sure it works for everyone, but it worked perfectly for more, i ticked these off the 1x and then never noticed them again when i saw it for the 2nd time, which is a great sign.
I the first act i noticed some cut off tops f heads at the beginning, but they are very few and then disappear. There are a couple,very few, instances where you see the camera actually focusing, but sometimes the movement of people was very fast so it’s understandable. By these i don’t mean the sharper focus on one of the characters while either some in the background or some in front are our of focus, this is deliberate and it mimics very well how one would have focused the attention when being literally next to actors on stage. Same goes for a few interesting perspectives across people’s backs and shoulders. It will feel very different from how you would see things in a movie, but it is very true to how our view would have been from very close up. But of course, unlike next to the stage backs never really obstruct the view as they did sometimes in the theatre.
I only noticed one tiny tiny rub against a microphone, and i am not even sure that was an actual one, could have been another noise. This is amazing considering the actors moved as they always had, with no inhibitions whatsoever, brilliant sound! It’s wonderful to hear actors breath so acutely and there is no background noise which should be there. The downside of using body microphones is a higher volume of sounds than you would experience in a hall. But i’d like to point out that this is unavoidable. It’s a tough choice, you can only capture the way the voices feel in the space with microphones in the hall, but then you get the coughs, shuffles, etc. You really can’t have that with theatre, it’s important to preserve the clarity of the voices, so i absolutely think using body mics is right. But i think some people may find the whole thing a bit shouty and loud. In the theatre it was slightly more subtle and there were many times where Proctor was close to whispering, and not only him. The dynamics of voices are somewhat reduced and geared towards loud. But i understand there is nothing that can be done about that, some things like the way we perceive sound in space, simply cannot be replicated. But it is excellent sound, as said you don’t hear the voices being produced, it’s not too close to the mouth, just right and very clear. And i’d recommend to sit farther away from the screen and then the volume impact will likely be less 🙂 In the 2nd cinema the sound was all from the front and i was farther away and it was ok.
Still speaking of microphones, everyone has one and there is 1 which you will notice, and that is Proctor. I just want to point out again that Delamere has done incredibly well with a situation that is simply impossible and totally against them. Proctor’s open neck shirt and the lack of scarf beyond act 1 make hiding it incredibly difficult. Add to this Armitage’s long (and beautiful 😉 ) neck and very short hair and it just becomes impossible. Still they do incredibly well and you get to see mostly the profile or side of his face which hides the mic. But we are in the round and we will see his back often, his neck almost all the time and you will see it. I don’t think it could have been hidden any better or taped in any other way which wouldn’t have made the actor very uncomfortable and conscious of it. To be honest i forgot it was there when i saw it the 2nd time and it didn’t bother me in the end one bit.
On the upside, i have to praise them endlessly for the creative way they have dealt with the wash scene. Talk about creative hiding and not making the view of the scene awkward. We get the most beautiful perspective possible of it (and near identical as i was able to see it in the theatre just from the other side) and the microphone stays 95% hidden, bravo Mr Delamere!
And these are pretty much the only things i noticed from a sound/cut perspective that could raise questions. They are very very minor and proof of very creative shooting and cutting. To have so few things noticeable from just 3 performances captured is amazing.
Everything else works really well.
The lighting was really special and the managed to work the darkness in favour of the camera, it’s surprising how well they managed to capture it without it feeling overly dark. Faces are lit in most interesting ways and you get very eerie, very beautiful and very varied perspectives of faces and shades of light. The lower than normal light has the incredibly riveting impact of making eyes sparkle and it only enhances the glances and emotions expressed. Every subtlety becomes identifiable and that is wonderful, we weren’t able to see all this detail there and it’s lovely to discover it on screen.
The costumes were dark and plain, but colours are clearly visible on screen and cloth textures add to it, patches, roughness’s, stitches become visible and tell their stories. Thanks to Farber’s direction and concept there is no make up to bite you through the screen, no wigs to look like dead animals on somebody’s head, no excessive sweating due to wigs. Actors looks absolutely natural, grime, wounds, grey hairs and all. If you think Proctor is too grimy, think again! He works the fields, he walks through dirt roads and he’ll be full of dirt and dust on every exposed bit of skin and in hard to reach places which he wouldn’t see or wash off necessarily unless he had a mirror, which is not this man’s priority. So there is no surprise the edges of his hairline or the back of his neck may be dusty. There are even thoughtful details like his grimy nails. And the make up in the final act is very effective without looking like too much.
The subtlety of the production translates very well on screen and makes everything feel very real.
The music is well embedded and you even get some of the sense of vibration across! If only somebody would go round the cinema before the start spraying some incense 😉 And the transitions between the acts are done in slow motion, on the background music, and i really liked this choice, paired with the recurring motive of floating ash they suggest passing of time and let you process the emotions of the previous scene without a clear break which helps keep the atmosphere.
I like the way the filming becomes increasingly intimate from act to act, i’m not sure if this is true in practice, but i felt like i got closer and closer or saw more faces the closer we go towards the end. May be just an impression… The movement in the first act is incredibly hard to capture i think but they’ve done a reasonably good job, it’s so fast you couldn’t show every twist from every angle. I think it is the only place where i would have maybe wish for a slightly larger perspective so we could see more of the floor, but that is compensated by incredible views of bed and Betty’s twist and movements. And by very relevant close ups to Proctors Abigail’s and everyone else’s faces. It’s all about choices, do you show the body language showing the full person or do you zoom in to their faces to show the contradictory expressions in their eyes? I think they got the balance right and it couldn’t have been easy, especially in this act.
I do think this is appreciated better by sitting away from the screen, the low light makes the images not be HD sharp in all cases (natural trade offs) so you don’t need to be stuck on the screen and notice the image get blurry or pixelate 😉 It’s better at a distance anyways to avoid feeling a bit claustrophobic and all too trapped. I was in row B for one and mid way for the other and much preferred mid way.
It is interesting how through performances slightly magnified on screen some aspects become less subtle while in other cases the subtlety only gets highlighted. Abigail becomes slightly more obvious whereas Proctor reveals a whole treasure of subtleties underneath that glare. It’s much more obvious how the glare, the deliberate stand off posture is more than anything else a defensive and protective mechanism and we can glimpse every so often through the cracks the myriad of emotions going on underneath. Same goes for Elizabeth.
I think everyone is captured both beautifully and naturally (i’ve rarely seen skin, eyes, hair, beards look so beautiful and translate naturally from stage to screen) and moreover, truthfully. I experienced a lot of deja vu feelings due to images that seemed to come directly out of my memory! Maybe just one mention, Proctor’s last act was in the majority of times that i have seen it more decomposed/liquid than this 🙂 But the snot+tears+blood version would have been too amplified on screen. They absolutely made the right choice of images, you get the full emotional impact as we got every night because you get it much closer up than we got most of the time, slightly closer up than 1st row perhaps and for that you need to choose a version that will draw attention to the emotion and not to the bodily fluids. The emotional truth was absolutely preserved.
I really think this is as close to the actual experience as possible, it’s a marvel! It truly captures both my memories and my experience and i am very grateful this was handled by very gentle and artistic hands. I tip my hat to you and say an enormous thank you Robert Delamere + team & Yael Farber.
And to the actors and particularly one Mr Armitage, i am so happy all your incredible performances from this summer are captured for the future and for many more people to see. I hope you enjoyed watching it, i hope you surprised yourselves watching what you are capable of, you should really be proud 🙂