Looking for Richard
directed by Al Pacino
(Fox Searchlight, 1996)

From the opening moment when Al Pacino, wearing his trademark backwards baseball cap, bursts through the stage curtains and utters a single frustation-impelled expletive, we comprehend the overwhelming intimidation of the Shakespeare's works. Pacino's Looking for Richard is a triumph of documentary storytelling intercut with a stellar production of the bard's Richard III.

Pacino surrounded himself with a brilliant collection of actors, including Alec Baldwin as the doomed George of Clarence, Kevin Spacey as Richard's henchman Buckingham, Estelle Parsons in a delightful turn as the prophetizing Queen Margaret, Winona Ryder as the grieving Lady Anne and Aidan Quinn as the avenging Lancastrian Henry Tudor of Richmond.

Under Pacino's direction the actors gather to read and discuss the play, the characters and the language that often daunts performers. The process, which sometimes seems haphazard, results in their -- and the audience's -- understanding of the scenes. Often the explanation juxtaposes with the performance, yielding a flow of language that is at once beautiful and comprehensible -- even for Shakespeare novices.

The most accessible aspects of Looking for Richard involve Pacino and co-writer Frederic Kimball planning upcoming scenes, scouting locations, questioning iambic pentameter, discussing Richard's motivation, visiting Shakespeare's birthplace in search of an epiphany and rehearsing death scenes on city sidewalks. Wry comments from the two writers and co-producer Michael Hadge infuse humor into the filming of a dark tale.

The documentary format also includes interviews with Shakespearian scholars and actors often associated with Shakespearian productions, including Kenneth Branagh, Sir John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave and Kevin Kline, who shares a high school experience making out while ignoring a performance of King Lear. The best interviews, though, are the ones on the street where people admit to a lack of knowledge, try their favorite lines and dance their way onto film. One man's insight into language and truth is worth the price of the video.

Pacino's directorial debut Looking for Richard brings these actors' love of Shakespeare to the screen. By making this difficult play comprehensible, that love may become as encompassing as one of Richard's murderous plots.

- Rambles
written by Julie Bowerman
published 22 March 2003

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