Nobody's really sure if Richard III was the scuzzbag that Shakespeare painted him as, but he really goes to town in the play, cackling over his own villainy, rejoicing in turning our everyday morality upside down.
This documentary, directed by Al Pacino, cuts back and forth between actual scenes enacted from the play and real-time contemporary scenes in which the actors and others wrestle with the play's meanings and execution.
And what a cast of characters. Yulin, Pacino, Spacey, Irons, Ryder, Parsons, Baldwin, Redgrave, Branagh, Gielgud, inter alia. All the principal actors are American, which brings up the question of accent. Mostly we're used to hearing Shakespeare done by English actors -- Gielgud, Olivier, Maurice Evans. Well, let's say, "British" actors. The Americans in this production don't come off too badly. Every male principal has played a modern criminal, either on the wide screen or on TV, but they adapt rather well to their roles, as they should, being actors. Even the performers with New York accents either manage to disguise them or use them effectively. Pacino, for instance, does Richard in a precise, hoarse whisper, which is okay. British and New York accents have lost the medial "r". In both New York and England, "garden" is pronounced "gah-den."
The plot -- I usually get lost somewhere along the line, although the play is Shakespeare's second shortest I think, next to MacBeth. Basically, Shakespeare has Richard exploit, murder, and betray everyone who stands in his way during his climb to the throne. It's full of well-worn lines. "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
And both the play and the documentary are pretty funny. It's the end of the War of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. In his opening soliloquy Richard is shambling around, a rude lump of foul deformity, and comes up with, "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York." The sun turns winter into summer. But "York" is also one of the families involved in the conflict and it has just been settled by the Duke, a member of the house of York. "Sun" = "son." Get it? It's called a "pun." And now you know why a pun is the lowest form of humor. The play's full of witticisms, most of them better than that, despite being imposed, as they are, on some pretty grisly proceedings. Richard is one of those heavies that's so outrageous that he's engaging, a shameless moral idiot, like Vincent Price in "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" or "Theater of Blood." Hitchcock might have rooted for him.
The documentary is funny too. Pacino and Freddy are having an argument about how the "experts" should be shown during their interviews for the film. Fred feels that the actors know more than guys with PhDs, so the experts should not be shown talking directly into the camera. Cut to an "expert" being interviewed. He looks into the camera and says, "Why does Lady Anne walk out on the street and meet Richard at that particular moment?
And he answers himself: "I -- well -- I don't know."
Al and Fred visit WS's house in Stratford and enter his bedroom. We get a shot of the not-especially-comfortable-looking bed that WS was supposedly born in. "THIS is the BED?" asks Freddy. "I was expecting something more. I wanted an epiphany when I walked through the door, and I expected to brim over with inspiration." Pacino: "Why don't you go back out, then walk through the door again?"
The documentary also gives us an amusing party at which the intellectualizing guests are made fun of. The well-bred women carry on about the Jungian implications of the play or something -- one mentions "the yin and the yang of it". Pacino leans over to Fred and whispers, "Fred, you gotta get me outta this. It's gone too far." (The only significance the actors seem to find in the play is strictly political.)
Yeah, I can see a cast like this pulling the play off.