KING LEAR (Jean-Luc Godard, 1987)
200 Hudson St. at Canal St.
Friday, January 11, $12, 7:00 & 9:30
At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, producer Menahem Golan, who would go on to make several movies nominated for the Golden Raspberry (Cannonball Run, Cobra), somehow got French auteur Jean-Luc Godard to agree to direct a new version of King Lear, signing the contract on a napkin. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned, resulting in Godard’s incomprehensible, unintelligible, extremely hard-to-follow Shakespeare flick. Theater director Peter Sellars — he of the Eraserhead-like hairdo — stars as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, a descendant of the Bard’s who is trying to put his famous ancestor’s plays back together in a post-Chernobyl world. After Norman and Kate Mailer get in an argument about turning the script into a gangster picture, Sellars meets Learo (a muttering Burgess Meredith) and his daughter, Cordelia (a monotone Molly Ringwald). Also on hand for this twisted fairy tale are French director Leos Carax (Pola X, Holy Motors) as Edgar, Julie Delpy as Virginia, Woody Allen as Mr. Alien, and Godard himself as the wacky Professor Pluggy. Elements of the play occasionally show up, but it is nearly impossible to figure out just what the hell is going on. By the time it all starts making the least bit of sense and even becomes intriguingly poetic, it’s over. In his inimitable style, Godard subversively defies all expectations, making a film that is about everything, nothing, and no thing. He takes on virtue and power, art and nature, text and image, and storytelling itself, but in this case he ends up with an unwatchable mess. Still not available on DVD, King Lear is having a rare screening January 11 at 7:00 and 9:30 at 92YTribeca, with the early show followed by a Q&A with critics Simon Abrams, Bilge Ebiri, and Richard Brody. When he selected the film for the 2009 New Yorker Festival, Brody wrote, “I consider Godard’s King Lear to be his greatest artistic achievement; in a Y2K poll, I ranked it among the ten best movies ever made.” It should be quite interesting hearing him defend that choice on Friday night.