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Everything returns to normal after Chernobyl. That is, everything but art. Most of the great works are lost, and it is up to people like William Shakespear Junior the Fifth to restore the lost artwork of the human race. He finds strange goings-on at a resort enough to remind him of all the lines of the play, dealing with mob boss Don Learo and his daughter Cordelia, a strange professor named Jean Luc-Godard (sic), who repeatedly xeroxes his hand for no particular reason. He is followed by four humanoid goblins that keep tormenting Cordelia. There is also the gentleman whose girlfriend, Valerie, isn't always visible. Then the film is sent off to New York for Mr. Alien to edit. Written by
Scott Hutchins <email@example.com>
It's interesting that director Jean-Luc Godard flashes up the title card King Lear: Fear and Loathing throughout this film, as he himself appearing on the screen looks like Hunter S. Thompson...that is, if HST was French and on a mix of downers and trippers. Upon watching Godard's King Lear the first time, I understood this much - William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth (Peter Sellars) is in the process of writing something for the Cannon Group in a post-Chernobyl mind-f*ck parallel universe, where art and movies are faded memories and where Don Learo (Burgess Meredith) and his daughter Cordelia (Molly Ringwald) talk of separate philosophies and emotional struggles. Then, other than that, I was totally befuddled by the cinematic approach Godard was taking to the material. And yet there was something about the film that intrigued me, how there was such a height of intellectualism going on from Godard's head to the celluloid that it almost reverberated to ludicrous-ness, so I watched it again, giving it another shot.
What King Lear does accomplish, at least up to a point, is that Godard's trying to get inside the mind of a writer (if not himself, which is more than likely the case, then of the spawn of Shakespeare), as he tosses about various ideas and nonsense to pound out a story and characters. The film also gives some interesting and true improvisation time for an actor like Meredith, and once in a while Godard's Professor Pluggy makes a point of fascination (i.e. the significance of images and emotions). What King Lear doesn't accomplish is some sense, even sense that intellectuals could be able to latch onto. Godard's basically making a film for himself, delving into themes and stylistic techniques that only he would understand, and since he limits what the audience can latch onto and comprehend of what philosophical goals and meanings he's derived from Shakespeare's classic, it's pretentious more often than not. The mis-en-scene is a bizarre contrast, as everything in the camera-work is clear and lovely, while the audio side of things almost works to annoy the viewer. The sounds of seagulls are practically inexplicable (unless he's trying to have the POV of the character every time a seagull chirps, which is over-the-line for me), the over-lapping of puzzling Shakespearian-esquire philosophy over some of the dialog is too much to concentrate on and digest, and the way Godard talks he might as well be speaking through a voice box.
So, I think that King Lear is a bit of a mess, but for some reason I don't think it's a failure. It's the kind of mess that only a director like Godard could go for and make his own. A hack wouldn't even KNOW how to use such weird narrative devices like this man does. The film could even be of use to be dissected by someone scene-by-scene (although it could perplex someone enough to destroy the videotape their watching and curse Godard for all eternity), and as an experiment of treating Shakespeare it's not the worst in history. But I would not want to test myself with this again. Even Woody Allen (who bookends the end of the film with only minimal Shakespeare dialog and hands amusingly fiddling on the film) must've been scratching his head through most of this. So it's recommendable not so much as an enjoyable poetic musing like Band of Outsiders or even Pierrot Le Fou's oddball mixture. Reall, it's a challenge for a film buff that'll at best intrigue and get thinking and at worst be something to throw up in the air and shoot at with a bebe gun.
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