This is the fifth post-’68 Godard movie to put me to sleep, after Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du Cinema (in installments), In Praise of Love and Notre Musique (in a theater). In this case, I was tired and angry at the movie and fell asleep on purpose, to make the movie feel bad about itself (assuming Godard doesn’t take it as a compliment when you sleep through his movies, like Guy Maddin does).
Tried to watch it without paying heed to the stories surrounding its production, which turn out to be more interesting than the film itself. Godard signed the “contract” on a bar napkin, over a year later got calls from the “producer” asking where’s our film?, JLG read the first few pages of King Lear and got bored with it, hired a bunch of overqualified actors and pissed them off. Writer/actor Norman Mailer walked out after one day, and Godard put this and his voicemails from the producer into the final cut. Something like that, anyway – I can’t be arsed to look it up.
Shakespeare Jr. or whatever:
Burgess Meredith (in his follow-up to a Dudley Moore Santa Claus movie) is apparently the King, talking some nonsense with Molly Ringwald (her inexplicable follow-up to Pretty In Pink) in a hotel room. Downstairs in the restaurant, a wiry, spike-haired Peter Sellars (dir of something called The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez) is real interested in what everyone else is doing. As I drifted awake again later, Godard (with RCA cables wound through his hair and indecipherable English speech) and Woody Allen caught my attention for a few moments each. Might be a nice-looking movie – the DP had shot the last couple of Eric Rohmer movies – but you can’t tell from my VHS copy. And I doubt it, anyway.
from Canby’s original NYTimes review: “a late Godardian practical joke . . . as sad and embarrassing as the spectacle of a great, dignified man wearing a fishbowl over his head to get a laugh. . . . After making what is possibly the most lyrical film on language in the history of the cinema (Le Gai Savoir), Mr. Godard has now made the silliest.”
Rosenbaum would disagree: “It may drive you nuts, but it is probably the most inventive and original Godard film since Passion,” and he talks about the complex surround-sound mix, which again, I’m sadly missing on my VHS version.
Typically, JR has put more thought into the film than anyone else, his analysis revealing the film’s fundamental link to the spirit of the play.
Sellars “introduces himself offscreen as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, and roughly describes his job as restoring what he can of his ancestor’s plays after a massive cultural memory loss was brought about by Chernobyl.”
As the film proceeds . . . we get snatches of Shakespeare’s Lear, snatches of what appears to be Mailer’s Don Learo, and snatches of what appears to be an earlier, unrealized Godard project, The Story, about Jewish gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in Las Vegas. (Three Journeys Into King Lear, as one printed title puts it. But does “King Lear” in this case refer to the play, the character, or the Cannon Films project?)
For Godard, it’s a legitimate source of pride that he won’t film anything to illustrate a scriptwriter’s point or provide continuity; his disdain for ordinary filmmaking practice becomes a creative challenge, and, in terms of his limited capacities for story telling, a calculated risk. . . . This originality often seems to be driven by hatred and anger, emotions that are undervalued in more cowardly periods such as the present, just as they were probably overvalued 20 years ago. It is a source of energy that remains crucial to much of the avant-garde.