Seminal Image #990


King Lear
(Jean-Luc Godard; 1987)

10 comments:

Matthew Flanagan said...

Very fine image, but more than a wee bit cropped, no?

Ed Howard said...

Nice! I love this weird, goofy movie, and I love Woody's cameo at the end.

Ed Howard said...

I'm guessing the image is from the recent Italian DVD, which is apparently cropped like this. King Lear is of course an Academy-ratio film.

Tom Sutpen said...

Matthew:

It's possible. I've only seen this film in full-screen VHS copies and the DVD from which I capped this image (directly). If there's any cropping, I'm sad (and also glad) to say that I didn't do it.

Ed:

Same here. I remember when King Lear finally played in the US (nowhere near me, sorry to say), everybody, at all critical levels, wrote it off as a either a disaster or a mere trifle (as if a trifle from Godard isn't by itself something worth our attendance).

I think some were expecting a more conventional film (if not a conventional 'Lear'), simply because the cast had so many recognizable names . . . unlike most of Godard's mid-80s work. In a way, this has been the story of Godard's life. People bringing their own expectations to his work, their own ideas of what this or that film might be, then tagging the work a failure when he doesn't deliver.

Tom Sutpen said...

Yes, it's from the Italian DVD, but this is the first I've heard that 'Lear' was Academy ratio (again, I never saw it theatrically); which would mean that this is seriously cropped.

That is . . . not good.

Matthew Flanagan said...

Tom, Ed - yeah, just dredging up the old Godard aspect ratio debate (which not all DVD distributors pay attention to). Rule of thumb: 1.37, 'scope or bust.

Ed Howard said...

Tom, I totally agree that films like this suffer from the weight of expectations. Even Norman Mailer apparently had expectations that weren't satisfied, precipitating his angry departure from the film, as dramatized in the introductory scenes. The other obvious expectation is that of fidelity to the source material, which Godard clearly had no interest in — by some accounts he never even read past the first few pages of the play, becoming fascinated with the early scenes and dynamics and basing his film around those. By this point, moreover, Godard was totally uninterested in delivering anything "conventional." Even Detective, supposedly a commercial film made with big French stars in order to finance his more personal Hail Mary, bears little resemblance to anything "conventional" and is very much of a piece with everything else he was making at this point in his career.

Of course, it's not hard to see why people would be baffled by Godard's take on King Lear, which is really goofy and strange no matter what you're expecting. If you're not attuned to Godard's weird near-slapstick sense of humor, it'd be easy to miss the gags. And equally easy to get lost in the dense tangle of Godard's ideas about sound, image, narrative, history and culture, which become clearer on multiple viewings and in the context of his other work.

And yeah, Lear is supposed to be 1.37:1. So there's obviously major cropping on that disc, a real shame with such a carefully composed film.

Matthew Flanagan said...

Although, saying that, Socialisme is apparently shaping up to be 16:9 (like the trailer). But no presently completed work should be, I don't think.

Tom Sutpen said...

Matthew:

Whatever idealism I might have had about distributors and their fidelity to things like aspect ratios flew out the window (never to return) with the 1998 'Touch of Evil' debacle.

Fernando said...

Oh, man, I have been so desperate to see this movie for so long. I tried a few years back to arrange a showing through the Film Series at my college but it never quite panned out. I know nothing about it, aside from a small capsule review I saw in "The New Yorker" one time who knows when, and the wild casting (Woody! Mailer! Molly Ringwald! [Right?]); I'm actually heartened to hear that it's goofy.