King Lear (1987)
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Quite a bit of philosophical sophistication is presupposed, so let's start with some basics. When Plato says that what you hear does not come from what you see he is perfectly correct. The colors that are produced in your mind by a message from your optic nerve do not cause the sounds that you hear. The green is not in the grass, only in your mind. The grass absorbs various radio waves, and your eye picks up on the unabsorbed reflected waves. The green is your body's miraculous way of letting you know about the radio waves around you. You are actually experiencing a series of still pictures, approximately 24 per second. If they were significantly faster than that, you would experience a movie as a series of still pictures. You are active in this process, because you organize the raw sensations. This can be seen in a gestalt shift.
In everyday experience we are isolated people. All we relate to are the images that are in our minds. Zen Buddhists think we can have direct contact with the mysterious outside reality--not merely contact with images that those objects helped produced (satori). Godard is concerned with satori, but he is also concerned with experiencing the projector of the series of still pictures that he is experiencing. Your mind is working incredibly hard organizing everything you are experiencing 24 times a second. The incredible amount of organization it takes for you to read this sentence is but a small fraction of what your mind has just done.
If a child were very bored with a movie, he might look around and see that it all comes from this light in the back of the room. If you had no interest in the images thrown up on your private movie screen by the ground of your being, perhaps you too could turn around and experience this projector. I take the projector to be Atman. Brahman (which I take to be the same as nirvana) would be actually going into the projection room. This is what they are trying to do in the movie theater. But (Oh no!)they are not innocent, and we get caught up with these images (which together their relationship to other images Kant calls reality); they are like the child who is too interested in the movie to look around.
Now it is like choosing the first fruit from a cornucopia. I had some understanding of the ending this time, so let's start there. Here comes the spoiler: a seagull calls. It is trying to make it's presence known for some reason or other. We experience merely the result of a message from the nerve from our ear. It significance is just that: it's merely in our minds, but it comes from an outside reality that is trying to makes its presence known. It is part of the world that is not mere representation. That world (sacred to Godard) is really out there. The movie ends with that reminder.
The visual image at the end is merely the words: King Lear A Study. Godard is saying that he has figured out something about King Lear. What that might be is indicated by the preceding lines read by a female voice: "Lend me a looking glass, if that her breath will mist or stain the stone, why then she lives." A looking glass presents images that are recognized as images. Lear is hoping against hope that Cordelia is still alive. He would have been satisfied if she could have heaved her heart into her mouth, if the unseen reality could become manifest to him. But now there might be something that is not a mere image on the looking glass--the mist or stain. This mist would represent Cordelia's life. Of course it is just a representation or image of her life, but for Godard their are images and images. An image is strong (which means that it has greater emotive force) if the association of ideas is distant and true. The opposite of this would be a flat image, as if perspective had been abolished. When Godard goes back and forth between images that tend to merge into each other, we are relating to them as two dimensional. Cordelia could not heave her heart into her mouth, but if Lear had been perceptive her silence could have shown him about her inner reality. The mist on the stone would show her that she lives, and would thus have strong emotive force. He could relate to her inner reality through the representation.
It is not Lear's voice that reads the lines at the very end of the film, but the same resonant female voice that is associated with the symbolism of the white horse. The horse would be the emotion that finds its occasion in the strong image. There is something within us that wants to break out of our isolation and rises to the occasion when an opportunity to do so presents itself. This wholehearted response to an image allows me to be without reservation, and thus for my solitude to know yours (satori).
Right before that we have Lear saying "She is as dead as earth." This corresponds to the image of Lear with Cordelia's dead body looking out at the source of the waves. The pebbled shore would be the private movies screen with its many objects. The waves would be the 24 times a second movement that throws itself onto the movie screen. Lear is not letting death defeat him. He's using the emotive power of her death to try to succeed to turn toward the projector. Wait Cordelia. The earthly reality is not the only reality, and he would relate to that reality that now has Cordelia.
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.
Well, it goes far beyond that, as far as strangeness is concerned... seeing Molly Ringwald in a Godard film is just bizarre, first of all (keep in mind she was HUGE at the time; Pretty In Pink and all that stuff). Second of all, Godard's narration is absurd. I mean, you can barely even tell what he's saying, in English (this is also his only English film from beginning to end!). He might as well have been recorded through a voice box. Godard plays a guy with a headdress made of hi-fidelity wires, so he can jack himself into the unknown at any time. He is looking for "The image". Since Godard never actually read King Lear, the film instead asks if King Lear is even an important work of art, if it's even valid a radioactive, post-Chernobyl landscape. So, the main actor (who actually says the line, "Oh yeah, by the way, my name is William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth." in a comical tone) is "searching" for, uh, something, and he encounters a bunch of crazy characters, in an extremely, EXTREMELY fractured narrative, with scenes ending abruptly, double (sometimes triple) voices of characters constantly on the soundtrack, and pretty much everything crashing, colliding, and being completely out of sequence, out of time, out of tune. Oh, let's not forget the soundtrack, which is made of slowed-down and electronically-manipulated versions of Beethoven symphonies; also, there is a loud, annoying, seagull sound about every 3 minutes in the movie.
Sounds like a disaster, doesn't it? Well, I gotta say, it's one of the best films -- not just by Godard -- but EVER. Even beyond the "strangeness" that attracts me, there is a strange, otherworldly beauty to the proceedings. Godard designed the film to fail, but he did so in a way that's really, really interesting, and is actually extremely experimental, especially when you consider that this was designed to be a mainstream film! Godard himself said he never got page 3 of King Lear, it didn't interest him at all... he said the film was the first 3 pages of King Lear and the rest of it is him trying to "Get past" the rest of the play. Which is hilarious, absurd, and reason enough to check it out...
A powerful film, misunderstood to be certain, groundbreaking and unconventional in every way, I'd say anyone into Jodorowsky and stuff like that should probably want to seek this out and have their mind blown.
It opens with an actual phonecall from the producer giving Godard a roasting for failing to deliver the film. The film that follows is Godard's response and is basically a middle finger to the Cannon Group and everyone else, focussing as it does, on the key word in the play: Nothing.
In the opening scenes, Norman Mailer and his daughter discuss the King Lear script he has just finished. It's unclear whether Mailer's actual script was ever going to be used, assuming he wrote one, or why Mailer himself would want to act the part, or why Godard would ever have agreed to make a film written and acted by Norman Mailer. Obscurities matched only by the resulting film itself. In any case it wasn't going to work. Perhaps to deliberately abort the project, Godard quickly succeeded in pissing off the Mailers who left in a huff. Godard blames the petulance of 'the great writer' and his daughter's inability to handle the pressure from various sides, including her father. That's one hell of an opening for a film, leaving us blinking and wondering what is going to happen, or not happen, next.
A kind of story pops up. A descendant of Shakespeare (Peter Sellars) is trying to recreate the Bard's works after all art has been lost in a nuclear catastrophe. In a Swiss hotel he finds Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald, vaguely recognised as Lear and Cordelia (power and virtue in contest), and from whom he gradually reconstructs the play. Mailer's idea of making Lear a mafia don resurfaces here. Meanwhile, Sellars is in pursuit of the mad Professor Pluggy (Godard, in a truly bizarre performance) who has crucial knowledge of how images should complement the words.
Pluggy's long and solemn thesis on words, images and reality is at the centre of the film. Life and images of life.Telling and showing. There is more than recreating a universe of words (says Pluggy). Images are purer. Images serve to connect two realities and meaning is created by reconciling these two realities. Their coming together in image form releases the emotive power. Contrary realities (Lear and Cordelia) don't come together. The strength of an image lies in the association of ideas it contains. Bringing them together is the function of the artist. This presumably also applies to sound - the use of sound in the film is astonishing - layered, atmospheric, and apparently insane - and presumably explains the seagulls that are heard at random intervals, even during interior scenes. This is all dream-theory. Barely understandable on a single viewing - perhaps complete gibberish - yet key to what the film is about: the struggle of the artist to create.
At the end, Woody Allen is splicing the film with safety pins while reciting an irrelevant Sonnet - a final swipe at the Americans who clearly should never have messed with Godard in the first place. His response was to deliver something that is probably Nothing with an artistic fiendishness ungraspable by mere mortals. According to your fondness for the director, it's either highly entertaining or unendurable punishment.
After watching this film, with mixed expectations I might add I found that it's one of the greatest films I have ever seen. A masterpiece. Now I will not go around hitting other people with my taste but I believe there's a few things that should be said so you know what you're getting yourself into:
1. It's one of the weirdest films of all time - It's not just surreal but a tiny bit minimalistic too. - People speak like they were in Inland Empire.
2. It focuses a lot on technical skills and picture making.
3. As most of Godards films he's trying new things out. And it could be viewed as a project of some kind.
4. One of the characters, the one played by Godard actually, mumbles a lot, also in his narrations, this seem to be more of a comic relief after a while but at the opening it can be found as annoying and it seems to be the most criticized part of the film.
If you don't object to any of these things and have liked/loved other Godards of the 80's, 90's, you will like/love this. I most definitely love it and I hope you do too.
Lear is about sight and truth, and incidentally about how devilish charms (derived from the audience's participation and perception) bend sight and truth. So it (and the similarly placed `The Tempest') are naturals for film, especially self-referential films about films and filmmaking.
Self-referential filmmaking is an art that the French believe they invented -- and they have a continental tradition of deconstructive semiosis to draw from. So this would seem a natural. Godard is an experimentalist -- a theorist -- but not a great artist, and it shows here. Because he doesn't know, or can't reach, the deep structure of Lear on that matter. For Shakespeare, confusing forces of naming emerge from a capricious aether, drawn forth by the creative process of life.
Modern semioticians hold that this comes from the hidden inner mind, drawn forth by the messy animal processes of life. Godard rattles about with this thin notion, somewhat of a curse for the French, and never touches the deeper notion, which accidentally fell, it seems, on the English. The French have never forgiven them, and here equate the notion (and films about it) to American gangsterism.
But when it's constructed as an endurance test, with the director holding the audience in contempt- I mean, why waste your time? (To the end of making your experience as unpleasant as possible, Godard shows up as a "professor", mumbling unintelligible profundities. And then throws piles of squealing seagulls and vari-speeded music onto the soundtrack. Thanks for reminding us that film is a constructed medium, professor!)
There were a couple effective scenes, but they were immediately undermined by what followed. I did think a little about Lear, but more to keep myself occupied than from any theses the film presented.
And a caveat to anyone considering seeing this because the IMDB credits list Woody Allen: don't bother; he's only in the flick for a few minutes at the end and barely says anything.
To review: avoid.
Rating: 3 out of 10 (very poor)
I gave this film a low rating primarily because of the way I saw it, with a low quality of picture and sound. I think there is a lot of potential here, but I wasn't fully able to enjoy it. Oddly, I don't think any people have seen this film, despite the names involved. Woody Allen? Norman Mailer? Molly Ringwald? This should be a cult classic. Has it received a proper release?
Although some lines of Shakespeare's play are used in the film, only three characters (Lear, Cordelia, and Edgar) are, so to speak, "presented." King Lear is, without any confessionals, a difficult film, and so it is, if we consider Godard an insane director (in the positive sense), we have in this his visual experiment, the apex of human insanity when questioning art in a new world Of a major nuclear disaster (in reference to the Chernobyl episode).
I view Godard's films as a laudable experimentation, which makes it unmistakably unique to each film. Godard is one of the rare, almost sole director who succeeds in affirming cinema through denial, thus more than presenting or affirming what cinema is, Godard discusses the various possibilities of being and making movies. And it does this by laughing and mocking the audience, but not in a gratuitous and unnecessary mockery instead, laughter is in front of our lack of care in assimilating the narratives of a film, seeking understanding and logic for everything, including in art, that historically sought Always breaking with the conventional, taking into account the very incoherence that is humanity and its disastrous way of living.
I cannot contain my contempt for this film (if I dare call it a film). In my opinion this is the worst Shakespeare adaptation committed to any art form anywhere in history. And one of the most egotistical pieces of rubbish in the annals of film.
It has NO USE. You couldn't even use this if you were doing a thesis of King Lear at college because this is faeces. Not to mention that it has hardly anything to do with the play King Lear. It has no plot, no interesting characters or character study and hardly anything in the way of decent direction.
And it is not just the fact that it lacks so much, it is the fact that what it does have is so goddamn terrible. Quotes and sayings repeated endlessly, terrible seagull sound effects that 1) happen in scenes where there are no seagulls and even scenes when we are indoors 2) happen in scenes when there is other dialogue going on and 3) are so loud that your ears begin to bleed (well, nearly).
I went to see this film because 1) I had only seen one other Godard movie Bande à Part (1964) and 2) I am a great Woody Allen fan. Now I mentioned earlier that this was egotistical and I will go further and say that this is sheer celluloid masturbation! Godard (in my opinion the most over rated director in cinema history) has almost become drunk with power, power gained from years of critics kissing his ass, and now believes he can do no wrong as long as he entertain and excites himself (i.e. masturbation). Another celluloid masturbator (for want of a better word) is Woody Allen, this shared hobby probably bringing the two together. But the one difference between these two is this, Woody Allen still has the gift to entertain and excited others as well as himself, whereas Godard lost this gift along long time before King Lear.
Now I have wasted enough time talking about this catastrophe.
I give it 0 out of 10.
P.S. If you want a really good Shakespeare adaptation try Throne of Blood (1957).