Saturday, August 27, 2016

King Lear (1971)

Year 8, Day 240 - 8/27/16 - Movie #2,435   

BEFORE: That version of "Macbeth" was sort of a linking dead end, but I'm going to use the Shakespeare connection to get back on track, and the fact that Orson Welles was in the film "A Man for All Seasons" with Paul Scofield (last seen in "The Crucible"), who plays Lear in this film.  For a long while I think I was confusing Paul Scofield with Paul Winfield, which is sort of worse than mixing up Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton.  

I know even less about "King Lear" than I did about "Macbeth", so I'm going to follow along with the plot on Wikipedia, to keep track of everything.  But I know they're both about kings who go mad, and they're both tragedies by Shakespeare, so by the end nearly everyone will be dead.  Whoops, spoiler alert. 

With this film, I've only watched 9 straight Shakespeare adaptations over the course of this project, but that number rises to 13 if you count the modernizations, like "10 Things I Hate About You", "O", "My Own Private Idaho" and "Gnomeo & Juliet".  It just leads me to conclude that I haven't really given old Billy Shakes his proper respect.  I'm trying, but it's not easy.

THE PLOT: King Lear has not one but two ungrateful children, and it's especially galling because he turned over his entire kingdom to them.

AFTER: I only made it about a half-hour into this film before falling asleep - and this would have been at about 12:30 am early Saturday morning.  I'm usually wide awake at that time, so that's not a great endorsement for this film.  Hey, at least Orson Welles cut "Macbeth" down to about 90 minutes, so what if he had to jettison a few characters, he kept that baby rolling.  This adaptation of "King Lear" clocks in at 2 hours 17 minutes, and it drags considerably.  

So after a solid 8 hours of sleep (4 in the recliner, 4 in the bed after feeding the kitties breakfast) I set out to finish "Lear" - which was a struggle, I'll be quite honest.  It took a lot of caffeine and effort to make it through.  Despite a number of killings, suicides, and one graphic eye-gouge, it's still a lot of "tell" and a little bit of "show".  

I have to hold Shakespeare accountable for a great deal of the problems - like having too many characters, and one with similar names, like Edmund and Edgar.  Then there are three daughters, two earls (Gloucester and Kent) and two dukes (Albany and Cornwall) - three if you count the Duke of Burgundy, but he only comes in at the end.  

The plot in a nutshell: old King Lear divides his kingdom among his three daughters, but first wants to hear how much they love him.  Only two, Goneril (married to Duke of Albany) and Regan (married to Duke of Cornwall), are able to express their love, so they each get half, and Cordelia gets squatola.  She's forced out, but she'll be back later.  Lear then travels around with 100 knights, but when he goes to visit Goneril and Regan, they each say that he can't stay with all of his men - 25 appears to be their limit.  Lear flies off the handle and wanders the heath with his Fool during a storm.  

Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester has two sons, Edgar (legitimate) and Edmund (not so much).  Edmund gets rid of Edgar by leading the Earl to believe that Edgar's plotting to kill him, so Edgar disguises himself as a beggar and also goes out to wander the heath.  Also meanwhile, the Earl of Kent, who was exiled for sticking up for Cordelia, comes back disguised as a servant and works for Lear (Shakespeare used this "disguise" thing a bit too much in one play, if you ask me...)

Another betrayal happens as Edmund drops a dime on (his father) Gloucester, implying that he knows something about the impending invasion by the French.  Gloucester then gets his eyes gouged out, and is thrown out of the castle to, you guessed it, wander the heath.  Eventually everyone who's out wandering on the heath gets together, and you might think that they rally together to defeat the evil power, but they can't quite get it together.  Blind Gloucester is aided by his son Edgar (still disguised as a beggar) but Gloucester just wants to go to the cliffs of Dover and jump off.  

The French army conveniently arrives, and along with it comes Cordelia (see, I told you she'd be back) and they gather up everyone who'd been wandering the heath and try to sort it all out.  Edmund's been working all the angles, cuddling up to both Goneril AND Regan (doubling his chances, no doubt) even though one's a widow by now and the other's still married.  The battle happens (off-screen!) and Lear and Cordelia are captured.  But Edgar challenges Edmund to trial by combat, so finally someone gets taken down for their sins.  

And then comes a rapid succession of poisonings, suicides, and people dying from shocks of joy, (which I admit is a nice change, but still a little weird) as all of the disguises are removed and all of the plans revealed.  Lear realizes too late that he exiled the wrong daughter (umm, I think) and that maybe he should have waited until he died to give up his land.  And maybe not to show up to visit his daughters with 100 hungry men in tow.  It's called being a good guest, Lear.  

The original ending for this story had Lear being restored to his throne, with Cordelia inheriting the kingdom as sole heir.  And that seems only logical, I mean, if she were the only daughter that was faithful in the end, shouldn't she get something?  But then along came William "Kill 'em All" Shakespeare who really went over the top with the death scenes.  Then Shakespeare's version was altered during the 17th century so that Cordelia would survive and marry Edgar, but then in 1853 they restored Shakespeare's tragedy-upon-tragedy ending.  At this point, I guess it doesn't really matter - all of the best action was saved for the ending, and it takes a LONG time to get there. 

Shakespeare needed to learn a thing or two about pacing - and spreading out the action over the course of the whole play, just to keep the audience interested.

Also starring Irene Worth (last seen in "Deathtrap"), Cyril Cusack (last seen in "Harold and Maude"), Susan Engel, Tom Fleming (last seen in "Mary, Queen of Scots"), Anne-Lise Gabold, Ian Hogg, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Jack MacGowran (last seen in "The Exorcist"), Patrick Magee (last seen in "The Masque of the Red Death"), Barry Stanton, Alan Webb.

RATING: 3 out of 10 rickety carriages

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