Sunday, July 17, 2011

Korol Lir

Kozintsev, 1971, 132m

This is the Soviet version of Lear, which I abandoned just where Edmund steps in. The script is faithful to what must be a standard translation of the play, going by subtitles. The movie starts with a grandiose panoramic spectacle of the age of feudalism, duly populated with lepers, beggars and hunchbacks. The aim obviously is to inform us how bad things were in the pre-socialistic days. You have the the prols in their worn tatters crawling in a biblical  procession, to the almost grotesquely primitive palaces of indeterminable vintage owned by those in control of the reins. The lot of the exploiters would seem to have been equally pathetic. It is an age of wood, from wheels to walls to ramparts. We have beggars, the maimed with their crutches, and sick being dragged in wooden trolleys. This mournful vista, duly trumpeted by a pompous musical score of Shostakovich, is supposed to remind us of  Lear's words in the play:

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

In fact, the herds of people are more reminders of the Communist and Fascist regimes than of a pre-modern age.

This is for one thing too spectacular for a Shakespeare drama. The power of the bard is entirely in the words, even more than the acting. Spectacle detracts from the essence. Shakespearean drama is about individuals, not aggregates--the humblest of minions and underlings are persons. To make the play into a statement of political ideology is really twisting it out of shape. The subject matter is an individual's journey through life. Further it makes little sense to see a literal translation of something you know in the original. Kurosawa's trans-creations of Lear and Macbeth are not bound by the original and depart freely in plot, language to transmute into the idiom of cinema. This is stilted, melodramatic, an unsavory reminder of an oppressive era, providing little insight into the great play.

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