Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Director to Adapt Each of Shakespeare's Plays #25: RICHARD III directed by Werner Herzog

The Plot:

Hey, remember that civil war England had way back in the King Henry VI trilogy? The one with the roses? OK, that’s all been sorted out now and when the dust settled, it was not Richard, but his older brother, Edward, who claimed the throne. Unfortunately for Edward, his kid brother is like a Machiavellian wet dream. He’s determined to take control of the throne by any means possible. In one of the most fascinating of all Shakespeare scenes, Richard successfully woos the woman whose husband he has previously murdered. Later, he helps his older brothers along to early graves, offs the Lord Chamberlain and even whacks Edward’s young boys who are technically in line to succeed the throne before Richard. When his marriage is no longer politically useful, guess what, he kills his wife too. Eventually, pretty much everybody who’s not already dead has turned against Richard and he is killed on the field of battle – significantly sans horse.

Why Herzog?

I’ve seen three film adaptations of Richard III and two of them are quite good. Most recently, Ian McKellen starred in a version that successfully transferred the historical events to a hypothetical 20th century fascist regime. Forty years prior, Laurence Olivier’s Richard set the bar by which all later stage and screen Richards would be measured. The third adaptation was the 1912 silent version that is remarkable not so much because it successfully engages the viewer, but simply because it exists at all. There is also Pacino’s adaptation/documentary, Looking for Richard, that has its moments but is incomplete as an adaptation and unenlightening as a documentary. There is not a pressing need for another film of Richard III, but if a new version were to be made, I’d like to see one that steers away from the polished, slick feel of the 1995 film. It worked very well in that particular case, but a director attempted to follow in its footsteps would run the risk of creating something redundant I fear. For a very different, but equally compelling Richard III, I would turn to Herzog, who with films like Aguirre the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde, has created fascinating portraits of uncompromising ambition. Indeed, Klaus Kinski’s character in Aguirre could be a distant relative of Richard with his peculiar gait and his ruthless tactics. Alas, Kinski is no longer with us; but how cool would it be to see Herzog take an actor like Tim Roth, for example, and take a shot at one of history's most unusual villains? It would be a grittier, more naturalistic Richard and one that would take the time to go beyond the surface and paint a detailed, textured portrait of the crippled king. Herzog’s films always feel just a little bit out of control, like he's discovering the film as he shoots, and it’s that sensation that gives them unusual life and energy. His glory days are in the past perhaps, but his recent Invincible was enough to convince me that he still has a few good films left in him. He also has an unusual sense of humor that I think would be just great for bringing to life Richard’s eccentricities. All he would need was a way to somehow incorporate a large group of small animals to swarm around Richard on the battlefield.

Herzog films I have seen:

1. Aguirre, the Wrath of God ****
2. Stroszek ****
3. Grizzly Man ****
4. The Enigma of Kasper Hauser ****
5. Woyzeck ***1/2
6. Fitzcarraldo ***1/2
7. Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht ***1/2
8. God's Angry Man ***1/2
9. The Wild Blue Yonder ***1/2
10. Invincible ***1/2
11. Cobra Verde ***
12. How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck **1/2
13. Even Dwarfs Started Small *1/2
14. Heart of Glass *


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