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

Friday, August 26, 2016

Macbeth (1948)

Year 8, Day 239 - 8/26/16 - Movie #2,434    

BEFORE: Orson Welles carries over from "F For Fake", he had a hand in a lot of productions of Shakespeare's plays, whether on radio, stage or on film.  And this one was made back when he was thin Orson Welles, not the larger ironic parody of Charles Foster Kane that he became in the later years. 

THE PLOT:  11th-century Scottish nobleman Macbeth is led by an evil prophecy and his ruthless yet desirable wife to the treasonous act that makes him king. But he does not enjoy his newfound, dearly-won kingship...

AFTER: Let's see, a nobleman gets ahead by eliminating or bad-mouthing all of his rivals, encouraged by his beautiful but ruthless European wife, until he is finally made the leader of his country, but is driven mad in the process.  Oh, if only there were some kind of current political situation I could use to draw a parallel connection to...

Look, it's not that Macbeth promises to "Make Scotland Great Again" or vows to build a wall and make the Anglo-Saxicans pay for it, it's more that Shakespeare had a real grasp on the ruthlessness of politics.  Just like Trump, Macbeth gets ahead by putting all the other Thanes in Scotland down.  Trump came up with "low-energy Jeb" and "lyin' Ted Cruz", and now he's working the "crooked Hillary" name.  Macbeth did exactly the same thing, really - he just used "Dead King Duncan" and "Dead Banquo" and then "Dead Lady MacDuff" until he became king himself.  

And then we get to the insane part - Macbeth is driven mad, first by visions of a floating dagger, then by Banquo's ghost (who can't be seen by anyone else in the room - and this was centuries before "The Sixth Sense" worked this angle...) and finally it takes MacDuff and Malcolm and an entire army sent up from England just to take Macbeth off the throne.  (and come November, it's going to take an army to knock Trump off the Republican throne - so don't forget to register...)

I'm honestly surprised that more satirists and news organizations haven't made the connection between Trump and Macbeth - it seems kind of tailor-made.  The witches' prophesies are kind of like polls, and the problem with both prophesies and polls and any kind of predicting science is that by telling the prophecy, or printing the poll results, you can change the outcome of the future.  I mean, what's the point of telling someone the future if it CAN'T be changed?  But the prophecies that Macbeth gets from the witches are like riddles, they tell him that "No man, born of woman, can defeat him" and that he'll be king "until the Great Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane" - well, every man's born from a woman, and what are the chances of a British forest coming up to a Scottish castle?  So Macbeth believes he's in the clear - no one can defeat him, and he's going to reign for a long, long time.  

Now, if we're re-casting Donald Trump in the Macbeth role, the twist in the prophecy is quite easy - the witches (or medium, or fortune cookie, or whatever) says that no MAN can beat him in his quest for the White House, then of course he has to run against a woman. D'oh! But Shakespeare had to go a different way with it, because back then queens only got to rule if there were no male heirs, and the thought of a woman challenging Macbeth in combat was unthinkable.  

(Back then, you could also commit a murder with little chance of being caught - because there were no DNA tests, surveillance cameras, or ways to detect fingerprints.  Boy, those were the days, huh?)   

But I guess that's where the similarities end, because there's nobody that Trump has killed (that we know of...) and I doubt Melania is the Lady Macbeth type ( she?).  If she can't even write a decent speech, what's the chance of her being the mastermind behind the plan?  But I thought this Orson Welles version really minimized Lady Macbeth's role - sure, she's in on the plan, but didn't they teach us in high school that she was really the evil force behind her husband's reign?  But I guess Shakespeare was a product of his times in the end, his women are really only seen marrying men or committing suicide, sometimes both.

Macbeth's final verdict on life is that it is "a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing."  And if that doesn't call Donald Trump to mind, then I don't know what does.

Also starring Jeanette Nolan (last seen in "Psycho"), Dan O'Herlihy (last seen in "100 Rifles"), Roddy McDowall (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Edgar Barrier (last seen in "Irma la Douce"), Erskine Sanford (last seen in "The Best Years of Our Lives"), Peggy Webber (last seen in "The Wrong Man"), Keene Curtis, Alan Napier (last seen in "Julius Caesar").

RATING: 5 out of 10 oversized crowns

Thursday, August 25, 2016

F For Fake

Year 8, Day 238 - 8/25/16 - Movie #2,433    

BEFORE: And just like that, I've reached the end of the documentary "not quite a week" chain.  Oh, sure, I could have tracked down that one where Johnny Depp interviewed Ralph Steadman, but that's not really my thing.  Plus I sort of know where that was going, after watching Lena Dunham interview Hilary Knight.  No, it's time to move on after this, because there are only 67 movie slots left in 2016, and I've still got a lot of ground to cover.  

I've got 9 days until the next nexus film, which will the next opportunity to check the chain and make sure I'm on track.  I haven't added too many films lately that would affect things, so I think the chain is still good. And then in about three weeks I'll go on break for a while, because I'll hit an obvious lead-in to the horror chain, but it only seems natural to start the horror chain in October, not September.  Even with a break to work at New York Comic-Con, I think I'll have a hard time filling up all of October. 

Which is fine, it just leaves a little more work to be done in November.  The biggest problem right now, however, is that I've checked out the release date for "Rogue One", and since I'm following that with a chain that leads to Christmas, I've calculated that there simply aren't enough days after December 16 for me to reach my Christmas film in time.  I'll have to either rethink things, or I'll have to double-up, or I'll have to cheat. 

Speaking of cheating, here's a whole film about it. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Hoax" (Movie #2,332)

THE PLOT: A documentary about fraud and fakery.

AFTER: This fits rather nicely here, because Orson Welles used nearly the exact same words as James Randi did to describe himself: "I'm a faker, a cheat, a charlatan..."  Orson pulls off a bit of magical sleight of hand near the start of the film, amusing a child by appearing to turn a coin into a key, and then back.  But he's probably also referring to filmmaking, which is also a form of magic and lying, when you get right down to it.  The camera zooms in on Orson in front of a white backdrop in a railyard, and after a quick cut to something else, the zoom-out from Orson and the backdrop reveals he's now in a rural field.  (Say what you will about Mr. Welles, but he was always outstanding in his field...)   

But after this bit of editing fakery, Orson then swears to tell only the truth for the next hour - while neglecting to mention that the following film is 90 minutes long.  When does that truth clock run out, exactly?  We are then later reminded of the stunt that first made Mr. Welles famous, or perhaps infamous - the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' (no relation) "War of the Worlds".  Because at no time while relaying this tale of an alien invasion over the airwaves in 1938 did Mr. Welles reveal that this was only a story, and the Martians were not, in fact, invading.  So, naturally, some people believed that it was real and (allegedly) panicked and headed for the proverbial hills. 

These days, people are much more savvy, right?  I mean, if you turned on the TV and saw footage of aliens attacking, you'd just assume that it was a Hollywood movie, even if you were unfamiliar with the movie and didn't recognize any stars.  (Now, if you pulled that stunt today with terrorists instead of aliens, you might achieve a similar level of panic - but you didn't hear that from me...)  

"F For Fake" turned out to be the last film Orson Welles directed, although after this he went on to make a few TV pilots, appear in "The Muppet Movie" and host a documentary about Nostradamus.  He also did a fair amount of commercial work - his ads for Paul Masson wines, who offered to "sell no wine before its time" were quite successful, while the ads for Findus food products are more well-known for the blooper reel of him complaining about the copy written about frozen peas and the fish with the "crisp crumb coating" - check it out online, you'll thank me later. 

But here Welles set out to investigate a topic I've covered recently, art forgery.  Sessions showing famous forger Elmyr de Hory painting near perfect Matisses and Modligianis over the course of an afternoon, so it CAN be done quickly.  (However, I still maintain that making a perfect Monet forgery could not be done during an all-nighter, as the film "The Forger" suggested.  Why did Welles want to focus on de Hory?  Well, the main theory seems to be that Welles' friend Francois Reichenbach wanted to make a documentary about him, but was having difficulty, so he handed his footage over to Welles, in order so some sense could be made of it. 

A few years earlier, an author had written a biographical book about de Hory, and that man was Clifford Irving - who later got in trouble for writing that FAKE autobiography of Howard Hughes, and then later still he wrote a real book, "Hoax", about making his fake book, and that book got turned into the real film "The Hoax" with the real Richard Gere as the fake Clifford Irving.  Got it?  

The final sequence features Welles and actress Oja Kodar, who was allegedly the muse for Picasso during one magical summer in Ibiza (nearly everyone in this film loves spending time in Ibiza - de Hory, Irving, and no doubt Welles too) and Oja demanded that she get to keep all of the paintings that Picasso made of her.  What's very confusing, though, is that the alleged confrontation between Picasso and Kodar's grandfather is acted out with Orson Welles as Picasso, and Kodar playing her own grandfather.  But this all takes place after the one-hour "truth clock" has run out, so who knows if it ever really happened that way.  

Even in a film that claims to expose fakery, there were facts withheld - like the real reason de Hory went to prison, and it wasn't for art forgery.  Then there's the fact that Oja Kodar was the "muse and companion" of Orson Welles himself (that means he was boinking her) even though he was married to Paola Mori at the time.  Ben Mankiewicz on TCM pointed out that at this point it was a marriage in name only, but still, that doesn't make it right. 

The problem comes with trying to tie together the various threads - "The War of the Worlds" broadcast, the art forgery, the Howard Hughes hoax, and Ms. Kodar pulling a fast one on Pablo Picasso.  Really, the only thing that they all have in common is that Orson Welles found them all interesting, and in the end, that just isn't enough.  We don't learn any larger truth about fakery that comes from finding about all of these things.  I'd rather watch Orson Welles eat 18 hot dogs in one sitting, which he allegedly once did at Pink's in Los Angeles.

So I'm not sure if art is just a lie that helps us to glimpse a greater truth - I just know that this film is on the list of the "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", and watching it brings me one step closer to possibly watching 400 of them.  (I'm now at 393, with 6 others definitely on my watchlist)

Also starring Orson Welles (last seen in "Catch-22"), Oja Kodar, Francois Reichenbach, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving with cameos from Laurence Harvey, Joseph Cotten (last seen in "Gaslight"), Howard Hughes. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 reaction shots of a monkey