Sunday, June 7, 2009

Late Films at BAM

Godard's King Lear; image from BAM's website.

The last film I saw in the theater was Godard's King Lear, part of Brooklyn Academy of Music's late film series and every bit as head-scratching, meta and generally insane as I imagined. I mean, the cast includes Norman Mailer, Molly Ringwald and Woody Allen and the (tenuous) plot involves a descendant of Shakespeare's trying to recreate his lost works (wiped out in some sort of post-apocalyptic future that looks like the present, or, well, the '80s, when the film was made) and stumbles upon a Lear-like mafia don who is trying to divide his "kingdom" among his three daughters, the youngest being Molly Ringwald, with whom he has a vaguely implied incestuous bond. (The incest bond is further explored--and perhaps made more explicit--with footage of Norman Mailer and his own daughter, which Mailer was reportedly none too happy about.) The film is fascinating, if not entirely conceived or fully formed. Like most of Godard's post-New Wave stuff of the '70s and '80s it is sort of like a collage of fragmented ideas and images; like preparatory sketches and notebooks that would ultimately serve as fodder for his masterpiece and complete deconstruction of the history of film, Histoire(s) du cinéma. The film is more an exploration of the difficulties of trying to capture Shakespeare on film in a new way--of course, every Godard film during this period is an exploration of the difficulties of trying to articulate some kind of notion or idea on film--a task that Godard seems to acknowledge as fruitless but that he is utterly obsessed with attempting to unravel anyway.

King Lear is rarely shown, so I was super excited that BAM was showing it, though I thought its classification as a "late film" curious. Much of the films shown truly were examples of directors working at the tail-end of their careers--Eyes Wide Shut and Autumn Tale, for instance--but King Lear represents, I think, a sort-of middle-period film for Godard. The period after his outward rejection of cinema in the late '60s (after Week-End), when he basically just churned out Marxist propagandist films), and before his heralded return to the mainstream (well, relatively speaking) with films like Nouvelle Vague, In Praise of Love and Notre Musique. I would consider these more narrative-driven films his "late-period" films, but perhaps they would not have fit quite so neatly into the wonderful, strange and controversial head trips that characterized BAM's late film series.

Updated: Godard will try his hand again at literary adaptation, this time with Daniel Mendelsohn's book “The Lost.” Richard Brody reports and adds some of his thoughts about King Lear.

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