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In Lear’s kingdom


- Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear is finally screened, 15 years after it was made. The distribution was stopped in 1987

Spirit became flesh when Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear was finally screened in Paris and recently in Rome, fully fifteen years after it was made. It is considered to be the most controversial of Godard’s many films.
The story of Godard’s King Lear has taken on the stuff of cinema legend. The initial contract to make the film was struck between the founding father of the French Nouvelle Vague movement and Cannon’s producers, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, with the French director signing a paper napkin. The producers trusted Godard to such a degree that their only request was that he finish the film in time for the next Cannes Film Festival. Norman Mailer wrote the screenplay and was scheduled to play Lear but pulled out without warning. He was replaced by an eccentric stage actor called Peter Sellars who played William Shakespeare Jr. The rest of the cast soon followed: Leos Carax (who directed Mauvais Sangue and Les amants du Pont Neuf), Julie Delpy (Three colours: White), Burgess Meredith (Renoir’s The Maid’s Diary and Preminger’s Storm over Washington) and Woody Allen. Godard decided he would play the bizarre Professor Pluggy who explains the supremacy of images (cinema) over words (Shakespeare’s play) while wearing a multi-coloured wig.
The first press screening at the 1987 edition of Cannes so angered the producers that the film was never distributed. (The film ends with Allen as a film editor called Alien sewing bits of film stock together using a needle, thread and safety pins). That, together with the colourful wig worn by Godard’s character, were the very obvious symbols of the film’s narrative structure. Cannon threatened Godard with legal action. Cannon’s subsequent bankruptcy a few months later meant that the film was forgotten about and a legal loophole prevented thd film from being screened in theatres, broadcast on TV or distributed in homevideo form.
Even though King Lear does not have a distributor, it is finally possible to see Godard’s movie and experience film history head on.

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