CANNON MONTH: King Lear (1987)

Yes, Cannon gave Jean-Luc Godard the money to make an experimental French New Wave Shakespeare adaptation written by Peter Sellars and Tom Luddy. It was originally to be written by Norman Mailer, who was also making Tough Guys Don’t Dance with Cannon and that’s a totally different story.

Famously, Golan and Globus signed the contract for this film with director Godard on a napkin at the Cannes Film Festival. Golan refused to sell the famous contract napkin for $10,000 when asked by the New York MoMA, which seems like a low figure.

Only three characters from the story — Lear (Mailer), Cordelia (Molly Ringwald) and Edgar (Leos Carax) — are in this. It’s set in and around Switzerland where William Shakespeare Junior the Fifth (Sellars) is trying to restore his ancestor’s plays in a world where civilization and culture has lost after Chernobyl.

Much of the dialogue isn’t spoken by the characters on-screen, but heard in voice-over or spoken, whispered or echoed by someone else off-screen. If that seems confusing, King Lear deliberately does not use conventional filmmaking techniques or even try to be watchable.

I definitely think that the beginning, where Menahem Golan complains about how long Godard is taking to make the film and demands its completion by the 1987 Cannes Film Festival is completely real.

King Lear did make its premiere at Cannes on May 17, 1987. It played U.S. theaters for two weeks and then disappeared for fifteen years. How many people actually saw it? Well, for years, Quentin Tarantino’s resume claimed that he had appeared in it, as he correctly figured that nobody would have seen it and known he was telling a lie.

You know who is in it? Burgess Meredith and Woody Allen.

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