Shakespeare, Pacino and the power of the stage
One element that both Looking for Richard and Richard III share is the direct relationship their protagonists have with the audience. Pacino’s film is a masterful blend of commentary, rehearsal and performance in which he collaborates with the camera to share candid thoughts and vulnerabilities with his audience. It is through the Shakespearean soliloquy that the duplicitous Richard poetically reveals his political plot to the audience while he alone takes the stage thus hiding his true intention from the other characters of the play.
Pacino and Shakespeare are acutely aware of the power of addressing the audience directly. Pacino uses a variety of channels to communicate with his audience. The film is intercut with Pacino switching from playing the dramatic role of Richard to that of commentator. In the latter role, he detaches himself from the play at various points to make comment that stresses the theatricality of what is being witnessed (Freeman, 2000 Methuen). His commentary varies from analytical discussion with fellow actors, to the vox populi on the street, to the formal interview with scholars who are framed by a wall of volumes in the background.
Frederick, Pacino’s collaborator on this project, has an outburst (40 mins) in which he reinforces the power of one type of monologue used in the discourse of Richard III. In the debate over whether ‘Actors are the proud inheritors of the understanding of Shakespeare’ as opposed to scholars, Frederick makes a passionate speech in which he confronts Pacino and credits him with having more knowledge of the understanding of Shakespeare than any scholar from Columbia or Harvard. He challenges Pacino’s decision whereby a scholar gets to explain Lady Anne’s marriage to Richard with the question: ‘but why does he get to speak directly to the camera?’
Pacino presents us not only with a documentary which explores the play, but a drama which has its own life and its own protagonist who experiences his own challenges and catharsis as an artist. The audience is queued to this idea in the opening scene after the word ‘Action’ is directed, Pacino takes on the role of ‘actor’. Looking for Richard works on a meta-theatrical level in that Pacino makes ‘constant direct and indirect reminders that what we are watching is a play’ (Freeman, 2000) and there is no denying that he knows how the medium of film works. Thus, a unique experience is created for the viewer. There are key scenes where the drama and documentary converge, such as the death of Richard in which Pacino’s colleagues comment on the vast amount of footage shot. The wry commentary at the dramatic point of Richard’s death is a reminder to the audience that a comment is being made on the production of art. However, the incongruity between the two genres creates an ‘ironic distancing’ which begs the question as to whether this commentary ‘reduces, or even destroys the tragic impact’?