Looking for Richard, 1996

dir. Al Pacino

 

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Al Pacino’s love of Shakespeare is completely infectious. This semi-documentary, semi-traditional-story-movie is an excellent way of showing the world what needs to be done with Shakespeare. When I watch this, which I do every few years, I get so excited because I realise we have only begun to understand this Shakespeare-on-screen business properly. This film was waaaayyy ahead of it’s time. I particularly like the way he attacks the streets of New-York at the start, quizzing people on their opinion of Shakespeare; as one senior ghetto warrior states with great conviction, ‘We should introduce Shakespeare into the academic. Y’know why?? ‘Cuz then the kids would have feeeeelinggss!’ And if you know the person I mean, you’ll know that man has seen hard times, in the real American hood.

 

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Again, more stars than a deep space constellation. Even the loony Winona Ryder shows us the best she’s made of, especially when she was so young and so hot. Kevin Spacey’s in it too! And exactly my favourite scene from Loncraine’s version with Ian McKellen is also my favourite scene in this; Alec Baldwin really pulls Clarence off and I think more than anything else this film is the hardest evidence we have available that AMERICANS CAN DO SHAKESPEARE AND BLOODY WELL. In fact, acknowledging that Pacino himself is an American icon of the twenty-first century, I think the argument is void.

 

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Another great thing about the film is it’s pace – it’s constantly moving, bang, bang, bang, interview here with some incredibly famous person, scene from Richard III there with this incredibly famous cameo; they even go completely crazy at the end and manage to squeeze in a cool battle-scene.

 

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There’s this astonishing moment when James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader and Mufasa from The Lion King which also, incidentally, is a re-telling of Hamlet) tells the story of how he first came across Shakespeare; this black American grew up ploughing the fields in the deep south. One day his father comes out onto the fields and starts bellowing Friends! Romans! Countrymen! Lend me your ears!' and the look in his eyes when he tells this story is just completely moving and inspiring, as he says “I mean, as a kid, this was the first time I was hearing words with great meaning!” He doesn’t even say ‘from Julius Caesar’, he just jumps straight into the story with “…started Anthony’s funeral speech…” as though that were something everyone knows.

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