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It might come as a surprise that the American Western adaptation of King Lear should be the product of European collaboration between British Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart and German director Uli Edel. This contribution tries to show how the adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy into King of Texas (2002) is influenced by the problematic relation both to its source, to the chosen setting of the young Republic of Texas and to the cinematographic genre of the Western that the adaptation belongs to. Combining methodologies of source studies and of the theory of adaptation, the chapter examines the numerous questions that the film raises on three fronts: that of authorship, as the genesis of the film reveals an authorial instability that makes the usual tension between source and target authors even more complex; that of the adaptation itself, namely the transposition of a seventeenth-century play text to a twenty-first-century film whose plot is set in a nineteenth-century Texas; and finally that of the interpretation that replaces or displaces the questioning of royalty and nobility and of the social issues related to birth with new issues of race that find themselves grafted onto the play.
This essay explores three turn-of-the-century spinoffs of King Lear: Kristian Levring’s The King is Alive (2000), Don Boyd’s My Kingdom (2001) and Eli Udell’s King of Texas (2002). In each of these films, King Lear becomes a vehicle for the ‘new racism of the developed world’ (Slavoj Žižek). This ideology has been taken to an extreme by US President Donald Trump, whose Muslim ban and plans for a wall separating the USA from Mexico are merely the latest variations on a xenophobic theme. The chapter argues that the roots of this crisis moment, magnified by ‘the immigrant flood’ of Syrian refugees converging upon Europe, are rooted in gender, as ongoing efforts to subjugate and micromanage the female body are becoming the very condition of the state of exception. What the chapter refers to proleptically as the ‘Trump effect’, namely, the definition of the female body as the subject of punishment, or in Agamben’s terms, as homo sacer – a life that can be killed but not sacrificed – emerges in each film’s interpolated scenes of gratuitous violence against women.
Harry and Tonto (dir. Paul Mazursky, 1974) uses the American road movie, a signature genre of late 1960s and early 1970s film, to address the experience of an older man who, exiled from his home, travels through America, coming in contact with the nation’s counterculture and working-class culture, in the process reassessing himself and his place in American society. Though the film was critically lauded in its day, few Shakespeare film scholars afterwards have explored its many parallels with King Lear, even though passages from the play are explicit points of reference in multiple scenes and there are myriad echoes of Lear in characterization and narrative. This chapter examines how and why writer-director Paul Mazursky brought Shakespeare’s King Lear and the American road movie of the early 1970s into productive dialogue with one another. Lear provides a means for broadening the range of the road movie beyond youth culture, allowing for re-examination of relations between generations and suggesting the congruence between Lear’s ‘unaccommodated man’ and those outside the American cultural mainstream. At the same time, the road movie provides King Lear a means to be accommodated to a specifically American sensibility.
In 4.6, Edgar, who pretends to be Poor Tom, guides his blind father Gloucester towards Dover. Gloucester has asked to be led to the top of a cliff so that he can end his days. But the cliff is only an illusion created verbally by Edgar who wants to protect his father’s life. This scene uses the power of the Elizabethan stage to become a moment of pure theatre, calling for a bare stage to retain all its ambiguities. The aim of this contribution is to show how cinema and television can sometimes maintain, and even foster, the scene’s paradoxes of a non-space. The chapter interrogates the possibilities offered by the screen to reflect the complex dramatic and metadramatic tensions in several film productions of King Lear that use Shakespeare’s playtext. These screen productions, emerging from different media and production contexts, all present different strategies to represent the ‘cliff’ scene. From Richard Eyre’s 1998 film, to films made for television and video release, to feature films (Peter Brook’s in 1971), they all attempt, through textual cuts, framing and/or editing, to circumvent the problem posed by a scene that seems to encapsulate the very essence of the bare Elizabethan stage.
The chapter studies three remarkable films of King Lear created in England, Russia and Japan by three directors of international stature: Peter Brook, Grigori Kozintsev and Akira Kurosawa. The films are all set in the past and all are culturally specific. Because the Fool’s role is so central to the substance and structure of Shakespeare’s play, investigating – using a mixture of thick description, cultural appropriation and cinematic formalism – how these three directors reimaged the Fool to speak out from their particular cultures to a global audience provides insight into the ways each reinvents Shakespeare’s bleakest tragedy for the screen.
Godard’s extraordinary, demanding and unremittingly brilliant film, largely mocked and reviled, too often ignored, increasingly inaccessible can act as a kind of metafilmic analogy for the activity in the rest of this volume: its status not as a film of King Lear but as a film about the fragmentary possibility of making – or perhaps more accurately, not making – a film of King Lear, creating for itself a remarkably complex status as critical commentary on the materiality of what it is itself in the process of (not) creating. The chapter offers some brief comments on its commenting as a way to begin to think back over, as well as forward and beyond, the accomplishments of this volume.
Both Boss (Starz, 2011–2012) and Empire (FOX, 2015–) were conceived as modern retellings of King Lear. Tom Kane, the corrupt mayor of Chicago in Boss, and Lucious Lyon, the African-American CEO of Empire Entertainment in Empire, both diagnosed with an incurable neurological disease at the beginning of the shows, are Lear figures who now have no option but to ‘crawl toward death’. From this premise, both Empire and Boss significantly rework the Lear character arc as well as the family pattern derived from Shakespeare’s play, not only by regendering Lear’s children in Empire or subtracting two daughters in Boss, but also by adding a wife and mother. Both shows, then, use material from King Lear in the loose way characteristic of ‘Shakespearean’ drama series such as House of Cards (Netflix, 2013–) or Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–). This chapter examines to what extent each show’s specific production context aesthetically and ideologically informed its appropriation of King Lear, looking at the way each series’s recycling and reconfiguring of material from King Lear contributes to its exploration of family relationships, physical and mental degradation, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and power, and interacts with issues of gender and race.
This chapter focuses primarily on two films that use King Lear to comic and romantic ends: Hobson’s Choice (directed by David Lean, 1954) and Life Goes On (directed by Sangeeta Datta, 2011). In remediating Harold Brighouse’s play about a tyrannical, incontinent Lancastrian boot maker and his three daughters, Lean not only captures its Shakespearean echoes but adds new filmic ones, primarily through his visualization of situations only narrated in the 1915 playtext. Datta’s transference of Lear’s familial discord to a first-generation Bengali family in contemporary London goes even further in quoting Shakespeare’s play at crucial moments in the narrative. In each film, the juxtaposition serves to isolate the unreasonable father to the benefit of the daughters’ narrative fates, while also allowing a dimension of sympathy (comic and sentimental, respectively) for men mentally unmoored from a lost political order. Moreover, the chapter enlarges on these patterns by citing family resemblances with other comic Lear intertexts on both small and large screen. These latter draw further attention to media specificity, format and distribution. The analysis not only illuminates the productions but can also enrich current scholarly conversations about genre, gender and Shakespeare’s movement towards tragicomic romance.
The introduction offers an overview of the various destinies of King Lear on screen, providing a reflection on the filmic objects themselves but also, through a review of the state of the art, on the ways they have been received by academia. The introduction justifies the organization of the volume in four sections (Surviving Lear; Lear en Abyme; The Genres of Lear; Lear on the Loose), contextualizing the subsequent chapters and precisely pointing to their original contributions in the field. The concept of ‘dislocation’ is used to explore the ways in which the Lear films have worked on crisis, vagrancy, geographical displacement, migration (both in their following of the characters’ wanderings but also in their placing the play in other cultural environments) and on fragmentation (with dramatic motifs being dismantled and appropriated in ‘free’ adaptations). By revisiting ‘canonical’ versions, translations and free retellings in the Anglophone zones but also those beyond the US/UK axis, as well as ‘mirror’ metanarrative films, their genres and receptions through time, the introduction announces chapters that take part in the ceaseless investigation of what King Lear means and the way its ‘Learness’ continues to circulate and inform our contemporary cultures and especially to mirror the predicaments of today’s ‘unaccommodated’ men and women.
Set in a fictional Shakespeare festival, Slings and Arrows, a short-lived Canadian series produced on a constrained budget, is often cited by US and Canadian critics and fans as one of the best television series of recent decades. The three seasons revolve around a main-stage production of a Shakespearean tragedy (Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, respectively), the themes of which infuse hilarious and heartbreaking backstage plots interweaving the festival’s actors, directors, stage crew and business staff. The main arc of the show involves the festival’s struggle to stay culturally relevant and financially solvent, resulting in a paean to the power and importance of live theatre. Even as it knowingly winks at its own status as a television series, Slings and Arrows – which, in the decade since it originally aired, has garnered far more viewers and far greater critical acclaim through rebroadcasts, DVD releases and streaming digital availability – embodies the tension between the ephemeral nature of live theatre and the lasting media of film and television. This chapter conjoins an examination of the tension between television and live theatre with the exploration of culture; ‘culture’ both in terms of ‘high culture’ artistic productions such as Shakespearean theatre, and national culture.
Akira Kurosawa spent fifty years, from 1943 to 1993, making films that attempt to look at life and its complexity ‘straight on’, in an unflinching, uncompromising way. However, none of his films forces us to stare into the potential for humans to create hell on earth quite as formidably as one of his final masterpieces, Ran (1985). This chapter focuses on Kurosawa’s troubled humanism, alongside his didacticism. It is no accident that three such Kurosawa films are his adaptations of Shakespeare tragedies: Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and Ran, adaptations of Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, respectively. Kurosawa uses Ran to express his belief in the compelling need for individuals to transcend the unending cycles of violence that plague this world, rather than embrace the dubious otherworldly salvation provided by supernatural powers, such as Amida Buddha, who appears as a helpless symbol in Ran. The film is a majestic pageant full of symbols and abstractions – including many elements of the Buddhist Noh theatre – which ironically signify unity and harmony in a collapsing world where icons have lost their power to cohere. Ran, in all its beauty and horror, tells us that we have the power to face the inevitable hells on earth and choose not to perpetuate them.
Since the National Theatre launched its NT Live scheme in 2009, three large-scale productions of King Lear have been broadcast live from theatre auditoriums to cinema screens around the world: NT Live’s 2011 collaboration with the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Michael Grandage, their 2014 production, directed by Sam Mendes, and, most recently, a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, directed by Gregory Doran and broadcast in October 2016. Smaller companies have also begun experimenting with live streaming their theatre online, including the 1623 Theatre Company’s King Lear adaptation, Lear/Cordelia, which was live streamed in November 2016. This chapter examines this corpus of live broadcast Lears, drawing on close analysis of the filmed productions and on critical and public responses in order to think through the specific challenges of producing King Lear for live broadcast, as well as the particular opportunities that arise when the play is mediated in this way. Considering the ways in which live broadcast distribution methods create new layers of meaning, the chapter explores how the rhetoric of ‘accessibility’ becomes part of these productions, questioning how the cinema broadcasts create a kind of access that implies a hierarchy of ways of experiencing King Lear – a hierarchy that places live, unadapted, stage productions firmly at the top.