Looking for Richard Comparative Studies | HSC English

Looking for Richard Comparative Studies

  • Looking for Richard - 1996

    Al Pacino, born in 1940, is an American film and stage actor and director. He is best known for his roles as Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1992 for his role in Scent of a Woman after receiving seven previous nominations in Looking for Richard.

    Pacino was born in Harlem, the son of Italian-American parents Rose and Salvatore who divorced when he was two years old. His mother subsequently moved to the Bronx. Pacino attended a school officially named High School of Performing Arts. Pacino flunked nearly all of his classes except English and dropped out of school at the age of 17. His mother disagreed with his decision; they had an argument and he left home. He worked at a string of low-paying jobs, including messenger boy, busboy, janitor and postal clerk, in order to finance his acting studies.

    He acted in basement plays in New York’s theatrical underground. During this period, he was frequently unemployed and homeless, and sometimes had to sleep on the street, in theaters or at friends’ houses.

    It was the 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park, in which he played a heroin addict, that would bring Pacino to the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as Michael Corleone in the blockbuster 1972 Mafia film The Godfather. Pacino’s performance earned him an Academy Award nomination, and offered a prime example of his early acting style, described as “intense” and “tightly clenched”.

    During the 1970s, Pacino had four Oscar nominations for Best Actor. He continued performing on stage, and performing the title role in Richard III for a record run on Broadway, despite poor notices from critics. He would finally win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his portrayal of retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman in 1992. In 1996 he directed and starred in Looking For Richard, a documentary film which is both a performance of selected scenes of William Shakespeare’s Richard III and a broader examination of Shakespeare’s continuing role and relevance in popular culture. It was the first film Al Pacino ever directed.

    The actors comment on their roles. Pacino also features other actors famous for performing Shakespeare, such as Kenneth Branagh, and Kevin Kline. He also interviews Shakespeare scholars and ordinary people on the street.

    The interviews with pedestrians are used by Pacino to establish some of the issues the film will approach such as how there is a barrier for American actors between them and Shakespearean acting, and the connections that society does or doesn’t have with Shakespeare. There is juxtaposition between the established and acknowledged Shakespearean actors and the toothless man that was interviewed on the street. There is also irony, in that the toothless American found on the street is explaining the same idea that without Shakespeare, society cannot learn to feel for each other, as the learned Shakespearean actors and analysts.

    The film tries to explain that the role of the actor is that they have to be able to relate Shakespeare to their audience and how no matter how bad a script may be, the actor is instigator of how successful their performance will be.

    The film tries to explain the words are the pathway to greater understanding of the world around us, its societies, its cultures, and its people. Without words, and in particular those of Shakespeare, people have no feelings, and without feelings, people have no care for each other. The words are the most important part of a person’s understanding of one another.  

  • Purpose the film

    Through its multiple layers of meaning, the title of the film Looking for Richard reinforces the goals of the film’s creators. It suggests their search for the most effective way to bring the world of King Richard to life for a contemporary audience. It also points to their conviction that Shakespeare’s characters and themes are timeless: Students can look for Richard, and find him, in the world around them. Finally, the title, through its very phrasing, reminds students that the English language, both in Shakespeare’s time and their own, is rich with imaginative possibilities in Looking for Richard.

    As the camera moves rapidly from one scene to another, viewers are caught up in the excitement, pleasure, and energy of the actors making the film. Their conversations about character motivation and the meanings of certain phrases raise important issues for students to explore. By shifting quickly between rehearsal scenes and interviews with ordinary people on the streets of New York and London, the film introduces students to a Shakespeare who speaks to all people, not just a select few, dispelling the notion that the plays of Shakespeare have no place in the modern world.

    This educational guide gives students an opportunity to explore their own attitudes toward Shakespeare, to come to grips with his themes, and to engage in imaginative language and performing activities whereas Looking for Richard.

  • Background of the film

    For the first time in his lengthy career, Al Pacino dons three hats as creator, director and star of Looking for Richard. Pacino’s impassioned project intertwines the telling of Richard III — Shakespeare’s gripping drama of power, lust and betrayal — with an intimate look at the actors’ and filmmakers’ processes as they grapple with their characterizations and with translating their enthusiasm for the play on to film. Pacino takes the cameras on a free-spirited comic romp through the streets of New York, to the birthplace of Shakespeare, and finally, to an emotionally-charged production of Richard III.  

    The opportunity to present Shakespeare in an untraditional format and make it as accessible as possible for a modern audience charmed a dedicated and benevolent cast including Estelle Parsons as Queen Margaret, Alec Baldwin as Clarence, Kevin Spacey as Buckingham, Winona Ryder as Lady Anne and Aidan Quinn as Richmond. With contagious enthusiasm and the assistance of such respected actors as Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Kevin Kline, Pacino seeks to prove that everyone can enjoy Shakespeare, and that his tales are timeless in their exploration of human nature.

    While throwing themselves into their characters, Pacino and his actors had to break down centuries of barriers surrounding one of Shakespeare’s most complicated and intimidating works. “You don’t need to understand every single word that’s said, as long as you get the gist of what’s going on. Just trust it and you’ll get it,” says Pacino. In defiance of tradition, the viewer is allowed to go behind the scenes and witness the actual process of acting. The weightier aspects of Richard III are leavened by informal shots of the actors digging their teeth into their roles in an often comic and sometimes heated forum. Pacino’s methods of analysis are insightful, amusing and engrossing. As he stands in London’s legendary Globe Theatre and in the austere halls of New York City’s Cloisters Museum, Pacino transcends the barrier between actors and their audience. His devoted pantheon of performers evidently had their own heartfelt enthusiasm for the project. “Some of these actors returned the checks we gave them and told us to put the money into the film instead.”

    While Looking for Richard journeys with the actors both in and out of character, following their struggles, debates and revelations about the play, Pacino also takes to the streets of New York to measure public opinion about Richard III. Pacino’s wild energy receives a range of responses from “Richard who?” to opinionated preaching on Shakespeare, as one street person proclaims: “He helped us and instructed us in the art of feeling.” Pacino notes, “by juxtaposing the day-to-day life of the actors and their characters with ordinary people, we attempted to create a comic mosaic – – a very different Shakespeare. Our main goal with this project is to reach an audience that would not normally participate in this kind of language and world.”

    Throughout Looking for Richard, Pacino’s appearance undergoes a variety of metamorphoses, visually illustrating the number of years it took to complete the film. His devotion to the project kept him focused, even during the protracted periods he was unable to work on the film due to commitments on other movies. The completion of the film marks the culmination of a journey begun decades ago. Pacino first realised that Shakespeare could be de-constructed if patiently explained when he was touring colleges in the late ’70s. “When I first let the students know I was going to read Shakespeare, they were reluctant to listen to it. But we would talk informally about the play and then I would read an excerpt. Soon, they found the equinox from their world to the world of Shakespeare.”

    Through his film, Pacino searches, along with the observer, to understand the work’s historical background, the methods employed by Shakespeare to develop a captivating portrait of a despot, and even explains the true definition of “iambic pentameter.” He manages to lay bare the methods of involving oneself in a part without utterly demystifying it by also presenting the play itself, done in period costume as a darkly atmospheric meditation on one of England’s most notorious kings. “We are calling this an experiment,” he says “which I think means that we’re trying to find a cure for something. 

  • Values of the Time

    • Inclusivity – Pacino wants to take Shakespeare and make it accessible for popular culture. The film also considers the idea that we all have something valuable to contribute, as the actor’s opinions are considered as valid as the academics. The vox populi approach of asking the average man on the street is also part of this inclusive idea.
    • Third wave feminism, where there was no one feminist principle and women were considered free to express themselves and make individualist choices is reflected in Winona Ryder’s impassioned speech about Queen Anne.
    • The overall message about the power of words to express our emotions and link humanity together is a very touchy-feely 90s approach – that is, to consider the social messages and social implications of texts.
    • The consideration of American exclusion from Shakespeare because it is an English-based text considers cultural assumptions and the influence of our backgrounds and experiences on what we are able to accomplish academically and what we are able to access through literature. Overcoming these barriers – the idea that with enough consideration and help, anyone can do anything, and ought to be allowed to achieve anything they desire, is a decidedly 90s attitude too.
    • The cultural styling of Pacino and his filmic background make him a very individualist, even tough character. He wears leather jackets and backwards baseball caps. The idea here is that Pacino represents “cool alternative culture” so if anyone can make Shakespeare accessible for a hip young audience, it should be him – after all, he starred in the cult film “The Godfather”.

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