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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Looking for Richard

Terry Teachout's List of Shakespeare Flicks ain't awful...except for 
"Looking for Richard" which I've always found
a humiliating excercise to behold.

It makes American actors look like Shakespeare
is utterly beyond them. 
I've never understood why it's considered worth a look. 
Unless you like to watch a car wreck. 


david d. said...

I always thought it was a dumbed down, MTV Sports approach to Shakespeare. The worst parts are when Pacino pretends to not know essential things about the character so that others can explain it to him for the benefit of the camera, even though he had already played the role onstage before. I think the movie had its heart in the right place, it just tried too hard to be fun and ended up feeling false.

parabasis said...

I think Looking For Richard is a great film to show people just experiencing Shakespeare for the first time, like Freshmen in high school. I think there's nothing wrong with it filling that purpose-- it's about a bunch of talented people trying to come to grips with doing Shakespeare and reveals a lot of the challenges inherent therein. And it's funny.

What I was surprised by was the total lack of Branaugh on that list. KB's Henry V is far superior to Olivier's stodgy regional matinee version, and his MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is (with the glaring exception of Keanu Reeves) flawless.

parabasis said...

Oh wait. He has MUCH ADO on there. I wonder if he added it in to the post later... or if I'm just a sloppy ass reader.

Ian said...

I just saw "Looking For RIchard" again on cable and was slacked-jawed in astonishment at just how awful it is. I mean, I remember not loving it when it was first released, but I honestly don't remember it being this bad. Of course, I was much more clueless then.

Pacino and company spend the film making the dumbassest mistakes and justifying them with the dumbassest reasoning. Don't get me started about their brilliant idea to change "G of Edward's heirs" to "C of Edward's heirs" - I nearly threw s shoe through the TV. I agree with you, but I'll go even farther - I think the film made Americans look like anti-intellectual dunderheads who find all that "wordy crap" just too much work and who believe that Shakespeare makes the most sense when it's yelled with feeling. Winona Ryder displeased me so much I actually rolled on the floor.

Teachout's list shows his age. Almost none of my favorite Shakespeare films made it, though for the love of God will Criterion please put "Chimes at Midnight" on DVD already? But I can't believe he neglected:

1 Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet". Yeah, most of the acting is poor. But the film is the only one that ever portrayed Verona the way I imagined it - overheated, ugly, and hyper-violent. You may love or hate the modern dress, but I'd rather a bloody Palm Beach nightmare over a cozy Zeffirelli costume drama any day.

2. "Titus" - The tragically underappreciated but arguably best English-language Shakespeare film ever made.

3. "Prospero's Books" - OK, I dunno if this should be filed under "Shakespeare" or "inspired by Shakespeare", but it is one gorgeously filmed ride. And also not on DVD, though every Blockbuster in the land has "White Chicks".

4. OK, if we're gonna praise Olivier, how can Teachout leave out his one truly great Shakespeare film, "Richard III"? Sure, it shows its age a bit, and Claire Bloom's performances is straight out of a telenovela, but Olivier was using the "queer eye" approach to memorable character creation long before America's movie critics thought Johnny Depp invented it.

5. And for a change of pace, watch Ian McKellen's "Richard III". Sir Ian can do no wrong.

6. Kurosawa! The two greatest Shakespeare films of all time are "Throne of Blood" and "Ran", and they contain not a single word of Shakespeare between them. Discuss.

And there are many others, like the recent melancholic "Twelfth Night" with Nigel Hawthorne and Mel Smith, or the bloated Branagh "Hamlet", much longer than God or Shakespeare ever intended, but full of good performances, particularly Derek Jacobi's. I've also developed a real affection for two silent-film Shakespeares now on DVD: Frederick Warde's "Richard III", the first full-length American movie ever made (it was shot in White Plains) and "Silent Shakespeare", a colection of ten or so early films, each about ten minutes long. I dunno, there's something really compelling about them.

What we have never had is a truly great American SHakespeare film. Even the ones made by American directors feature a high proportion of British actors, and the ones with mostly American casts are poorly acted, mainly because box office concerns demand stars, and stars generally don't know an iamb from their elbow. As a result, most people only hear Shakespeare spoken "Shakespeareanly" (i.e., with plummy English accents) and they feel intimidated. A truly great American Shakespeare film could be made, but it would have to use actors the film world would consider unknowns. And if anyone is inspired by this post to actually make one, you must cast me or suffer seriously bad mojo.

Freeman said...

Ian -

I completely agree.

I actually used to defend the Baz Luhrman R&J simply for its effectiveness alone. Snobs don't like it ("Wherefore?" doesn't mean "Where?") but my Mother teaches high school English and that movie had more teenage girls writing Shakespeare quotes in their lockers than you could shake a sharp stick at. It got the INTENTION of the thing: Exciting, dunderheaded, beautiful kids who aren't grown-up enough yet NOT to love with all their moronic hearts. It's passionate and heated. God Love It.

LOOKING FOR RICHARD has one moment that makes me laugh very hard. It's when they ask Peter Brook how to find a good actor (or something) and he says "Someone who can speak truthfully...and loud!" Perfect.


Anonymous said...

I agree with David D. I just saw this film after my niece watched it as part of an 8th grade drama program. I got the sense that they were playing devil's advocate and playing dumb (a bit like Columbo) and also at times just being blunt.

Remember the point is that Al Pacino wanted to make it more accessible to people in the US, in particular. People who were not educated about Shakespeare, people who hadn't already been exposed to it for so long that they've got set opinions.

The thing about it all is that some of the few gems in the movie are things you can't find anywhere else, or are buried in books rendering them inaccessible to kids and the uneducated. I think this actually works well for certain audiences and therefore has merit.

Based on what I've seen from my niece's friends, Pacino's done something for Shakespeare that most others can't: Inspired young people to love Shakespeare who would not otherwise be inspired by Shakespeare.