Looking For Richard (1996)

I had no idea Al Pacino was such a fervent Shakespeare fan but I suppose it makes sense for an actor of his caliber to love such an influential playwright as Shakespeare. In hindsight, it’s no wonder his debut documentary film is entirely about Shakespeare, in this case he himself working on the production of Richard III and trying to get inside the skin of the role. Were one a cynic, you could try debase the film as nothing more but a vanity project, but Pacino’s passion over the subject burns bright and he manages to create something that has real merit.

Pacino’s unconventional style of mixing dramatized portions of the story of Richard III (shot with medieval costumes and props, etc.) between segments of his quest to understand the play better form together an intriguing meta-narrative that makes the film more than just your average making of documentary. The rehearsals, table readings of the play and the following discussions of what the scenes mean add quite a bit of insight and ideas as how to read and understand Shakespeare, helping even those of us that are very novice on the subject (i.e., yours truly) to understand the play better. Pacino also explores the significance of Shakespeare to us through talking to scholars, letting famous performers such as Kevin Cline and James Earl Jones talk about their personal feelings about the author and his writing, and what to me at least was the most interesting part, interviewing random people in the street and asking them about whether or not they knew Shakespeare, had read his work, what he meant to them personally, etc.

Where the Jeremy Whelehan’s documentary about Kevin Spacey’s Richard III production was more about the experience of doing the stage play and touring the world, Looking For Richard on the other hand is far more artistically led endeavor about the author and the process of understanding and interpreting the text and figuring out what kind of a portrayal they will go for in their production. Pacino seems far more fascinated by (and heavily emphasizes) the need to get into the heads of the characters and understanding what drives them in the play, and that is what made  it to me personally more engrossing. His process and passion about the craft of acting and finding the truth in the characters really appealed to me and I genuinely feel for the first time I kinda have some resemblance of understanding Shakespeare.


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