Tag Archive: Lear

Through gloom and shadow look we
On beyond the years!
The soul would have no rainbow
Had the eyes no tears.
John Vance Cheney (1)



Reflecting on how King Lear’s “stormiest part” (2) (229) could be filmically realized, Grigori Kozintsev intriguingly alludes to the “visual acoustic” (229) aesthetic upon which Le Corbusier erected Notre-Dame-du-Haut, his Ronchamp chapel. (3) That Kozintsev appropriates this crucial Corbusian concept to make Lear resonate within the space of tragedy like Ronchamp chapel does within its Vosges setting becomes however more evident from his “visual acoustic” comment about Lear’s “thoughts and feelings [having to] sound like an arrow in the mist” (142). Admittedly, Kozintsev owes this poetic simile to Alexander Blok, (4) but he just as clearly echoes what Christopher Pearson calls Le Corbusier’s “lyrical account” (179) of how the Parthenon subsumes the Acropolis plane through its “arrows bursting away like rays” (5) (179). Far from remolding Lear in terms of Peter Brook’s “delocalized space” (6) (26), Kozintsev envisions him as a Corbusian landscaped figure whose radiating influence modulates his ambience to his tragic resonance. Hence John Collick’s astute remark that “[in] Korol Ler, as in Noh, the diegetic space barely exists in a concrete physical form” (145), for it functions essentially as Kozintsev’s Corbusian analogy to what Shakespeare’s Lear describes as “this tempest in my mind” (7) (3.4.12). Collick’s Noh reference is in fact deadly accurate, since what Kozintsev’s landscape radiates, while “contract[ing] or conflat[ing]” (145), to use Collick’s verbs, in resonance with his Corbusian Lear is the “light emptiness” (3) Kozintsev sees characterizing Soami’s Kyoto garden. What Kozintsev’s Lear shares with Soami’s garden is “the rhythm” (3) of its stones and gravel from which emanates its Nohlike musical evanescence–for Kozintsev attunes Lear to a parallel immateriality often through Dmitri Shostakovich’s “tragic forte passages” (51). Keyed at a phantom pitch, Kozintsev’s landscaped Lear resonates beyond the storm scenes to engulf other parts of the film as a hollow echo of what Shakespeare’s Fool labels “Lear’s shadow” (1.4.222). By intermeshing Corbusian and Noh influences, Kozintsev transforms what Lawrence Danson terms “the nothings of King Lear” (131) into the visual acoustics of an insubstantial Shakespearean realm.



Consider, for instance, the battlements sequence where Kozintsev’s Lear, blaring Cordelia’s banishment, unleashes his fiery essence by radiating it through his turreted belching beacons. Just like his Shakespearean counterpart whose “wheel of fire” (4.7.47) impels him “Every hour / [to] flash […] into one gross crime or other” (1.3.4-5), Kozintsev’s Lear instinctively bursts into elemental turbulence by appropriating the “walking fire” (3.4.111) aspect that Shakespeare’s Fool attributes to the Bedlam Edgar. Significantly, what Kozintsev’s Lear earlier unmasks when he removes what Kenneth S. Rothwell rightly identifies as “a Noh-like mask” (A History 189) is a seething affinity with his hearth. Kozintsev instantly underlines Lear’s scorching nature not only by having him conduct the heated division of his kingdom sitting near his crackling hearth but, as Douglas Radcliff-Umstead points out, by “catch[ing] Lear’s face in a shot taken through the flames of [the] high fireplace” (268). Equally ominous is Kozintsev’s suggestion that Lear’s smoky self trails from the battlements to disperse into what Jack J. Jorgens describes as “a clouding sky” (239). Inspired by Gordon Craig’s Lear sketches, with their “confusion of perspectives [and] threat of emptiness” (228), Kozintsev smolders Lear into a celestial incarnation of what Shakespeare’s Fool tells his literary equivalent: “I am a fool, thou / art nothing” (1.4.184-85). What Kozintsev skyscapes then is Lear’s Corbusian warping of his country into the “empty geometry” (174) of his psyche–a nebulous terrain that Rothwell evocatively charts as “the imaginary realm of Gog and Magog, which, if nothing can be about something, is pretty much what King Lear’s about” (“In Search” 145). Once Kozintsev’s Lear unmaps his kingdom, Nothingness threatens. Again, Rothwell timely hears this threat in Lear’s racking of his map: “[he] shakes it and rattles it so fiercely that it rumbles like distant thunder” (“In Search” 140). Rothwell’s simile sharply clinches Kozintsev’s prolepsis of Lear’s impending tempest that Shostakovich’s orchestral crescendo equally heralds by propelling Lear’s stormy scaling of the battlements. As Erik James Heine observes: “it grows from a single cello line at a dynamic of pianissimo to a full orchestra at fortissimo” (277). Significantly, Shostakovich’s “Approaching Catastrophe” movement, with its mounting musical eruption, abruptly ends with what Heine calls “a tam-tam attack” (277). Since the tamtam frequently figures, as Heine emphasizes, in “funeral ceremonies” (278), its conclusive cadence accrues the foreboding effect of tolling what Shakespeare’s Kent later terms Lear’s “promised end” (5.3.26). Pitched by the death-gong’s final note to Kozintsev’s reworking of Gloucester’s “extreme verge” (4.6.26), Lear likewise annihilates himself by scaling analogous heights of emptiness. For what Lear’s Corbusian edge fatally resounds is the immaterial might of thunderclouds.



Hence the stunning aerial shot upon whose “unfamiliar and hence more challenging perspective” (55) Lorne M. Buchman rightly sees Kozintsev pivoting his storm sequence. But rather than signifying “[the] perspective of [Lear’s] interlocutor–the skies” (55), as Buchman contends, the aerial shot portends Lear’s enskied self. True to Kozintsev’s Corbusian vision that “[t]hey merge (the storm and man)” (232), Lear waxes into an inclement skyscape. Just as Shakespeare’s Lear liquefies “his little world of man / [into] conflicting wind and rain” (3.1.10-11), so does Kozintsev’s Lear dissolve into a parallel emotional gale that Jonas Gritsus’s camerawork astonishingly emulates. In Kozintsev’s words: “the camera like the wind chased after the Fool and Lear, lost them in the emptiness of space (the lines of the folds alone looked like rushing gusts of wind)” (231). But Lear, even when unseen, rages in the wind, and what he shrills is the nothingness within. Echoes of Noh influence are unmistakable, for Noh landscape, as Collick says, likewise depends for its Le Corbusier-like effect on “the definition placed on it by the tragic characters it surrounds” (145). Paradoxically then, Kozintsev transmutes his maskless Lear into an elemental Nohman or mask of emptiness. For Kozintsev modulates Soami’s Noh-like garden, with its pulsating sandscaped consciousness, to an aeolian spatiality reverberating Lear’s hollowness. That Kozintsev’s Lear distils Shakespeare’s to his “fretful elements” (3.1.4) is further reinforced by Shostakovich’s equally hollowing “Storm” score. For Shostakovich elementalizes Lear by transcribing him into a musical integration of percussive xylophone vibration and a continuous petal tone whose “repetitive, almost trance-like [effect],” to quote Heine’s words, “reflects the swirling and relentlessness of the storm” (289). Fulfilling Kozintsev’s wish that “the voice should belong to music” (51) in the storm scene Shostakovich musicalizes Lear into his Shakespeare an counterpart’s “impetuous blasts” (3.1.8.) that likewise trumpet the latter’s insubstantial substance. Not surprisingly then, Kozintsev claims: “When I hear Shostakovich’s music I think I’ve heard Shakespeare’s verse.” (8) For what Shostakovich’s musical whirlwind intimates is that Kozintsev’s Lear analogizes Shakespeare’s by inflating Edgar’s “unsubstantial air” (4.1.7) that he also shares into the visual acoustics of skyscape emptiness.



Once Kozintsev’s Lear is viewed from this Corbusian elemental perspective, the aerial shot’s Shakespearean significance becomes apparent–for the “light-as-air Leviathan” (64) Theodore Weiss sees in Shakespeare’s Lear suddenly looms large in Kozintsev’s stormy sky. Filtering the “scarecrow Genuis Loci” (82) of his tragic spatiality through the aerial shot’s Shklovskean defamiliarization, Kozintsev dematerializes Lear’s essence to ethereal cloudiness. Hence Kozintsev’s panning shot tousling Lear into the nothingness of an infinite black-clouded firmament. As Kozintsev intuits: “[t]he clouds pronounce soliloquies” (245); and what Lear’s “black […] storm cloud” (245) soliloquizes is that he has swollen with his literary equivalent’s “darker purpose” (1.1.35). Kozintsev aptly draws our attention to how Shostakovich initially suggests the cloudy Lear’s thundering hollowness through “a growing resonance without any material element” (246). Keyed at the very low pitch of “The Storm’s Beginning,” Kozintsev’s Lear fades with the timpani as, to quote Heine again, it “descrescendo[s] to nothing” (284). What Rothwell astutely claims about Kozintsev’s camera, that “it is an x-ray, not a mirror” (“Representing” 221), is also applicable then to his soundtrack, and particularly to its musical unleashing of what Shakespeare’s Fool dubs “an O without a / figure” (1.4.183-84). Karol Lier resounds with Shakespearean metaphysical gusts, for what Shostakovich musicalizes is Lear’s existential eclipse, whose “rumbling darkness” (51) Kozintsev evidently conceives from the implied “thunder-bearer” (2.2.416) threat that Shakespeare’s Lear hollowly hurls at Goneril. Elementalized to the “Darkness” (1.4.243) that his literary counterpart thunderously invokes, Kozintsev’s Lear likewise becomes, to use Macbeth’s phrase, “[a] sightless courier of the air” (9) (1.7.23)–for he similarly mutates into what the Knight terms the storm’s “eyeless rage” (3.1.8). Blinded into a Stygian cloudscape that incarnates Kent’s faithful belief that “Things that love night / Love not such nights as these” (3.2.42-43), Kozintsev’s Lear musically swirls to the shrieking tune of his Shakespearean equivalent: “Why, this is not Lear. / Does Lear walk thus, speak thus? Where are his eyes?” (1.4.217-18). It is through this cloudscape Lear thundering his nothingness that Kozintsev reaches the dark abyss of his Corbusian revisioning of Shakepeare’s visionless Lear–a revisioning that evokes Le Corbusier’s ineffable integration of the Acropolis temples and their landscape into the visual acoustic of “closely-knit and violent elements, sounding clear and tragic like brazen trumpets” (Towards 190). Nothing can be further from the “Marxist perspective” (93) Wayne Schmalz attributes to Kozintsev’s film adaptation than this Lear’s nihilistic plunge into “[t]he black hole of night” (191). Collick’s view of Kozintsev focusing “less upon the mechanism of social order” (144) is more thematically revealing, for Kozintsev’s is a Shakespearean tragic vision that thrives on “a strongly spiritual mystification” (144) of Lear’s characterization.



Nowhere is this more evident, however, than in the hovel sequence where Kozintsev utilizes Lear’s actual meeting with the “houseless heads” (3.4.30) that never materialize in Shakespeare’s play to transcend his less crucial Marxist concerns. For Lear’s hovel interaction with both his Fool and the Bedlam Edgar towers above the “Poor naked wretches” (3.4.28) as a darkling babel echoing the raging tempest. Radcliff-Umstead strikes the right absurdist note when he writes: “All three seem to be babbling, not truly to each other or to any of the drenched vagabonds, [for] the cacophony of their voices takes language and meaning beyond a zero-degree of comprehension” (270). Theirs is disturbingly Nothing’s conversation, for Lear once again keys his ambience at the pitch of emptiness. That Kozintsev imbues the beggars’ hovel with the Brook-like absurdity of Lear’s darkly empty language is however only half the point. For Kozintsev equally pivots the hovel sequence on his ardent belief that “when darkness reaches its utmost limits, an almost invisible spark begins to burn, and the darkness loses its power in comparison with this tiny fragment of light” (222). Kozintsev’s interplay of conflicting light and shade should alert us to the thematic relevance of Radcliff-Umstead’s comment about “[t]he hovel scenes [being] shot in a chiaroscuro contrast” (269). For what Kozintsev’s hovel sequence elementally celebrates is Lear’s Rembrandtesque birth from the ecliptic darkness of his stormy self to the light that Shakespeare breaks into his Edgar’s reeling mind: “The lamentable change is from the best, / The worst returns to laughter” (4.1.5-6). Equally revealing is that Lear’s darkness modulates to light in resonance to his alter ego’s sound for, as Schmalz cogently observes, Lear “discovers his own humanity [by] the jingling of [the Fool’s] bells” (92). Accurately conceived by Barbara Leaming as “aspects of a single self” (132), King and Fool truly intermesh at this birthing stage when Lear, jingled by what Kozintsev explicitly labels “the call sign of conscience” (72), finally accrues in Sergei Yutkevich’s words “[a] value in and out of himself [when] he possesses nothing” (195). Quoting Kozintsev again: “The shadow becomes conscience. The Fool has begun to give utterance to Lear’s most secret thoughts.” (10) It is Kozintsev’s Fool then who answers the Shakespearean Cordelia’s musical plea to the gods to “wind up” her father’s “untuned and jarring senses” (4.7.16) by jingling out of Lear’s reason-in-madness a lucidly humane essence. By resonating to his jingling conscience, Kozintsev’s Corbusian Lear becomes its living visual acoustic, thereby incarnating what Shakespeare’s Lear recommends to Gloucester: “A man may see how this world goes / with no eyes. Look with thine ears” (4.6.146-47). It is indeed by seeing it jinglingly that Kozintsev transforms his FEKS carnivalistic Fool (11) into Lear’s conscientious truth. Jingled initially into a crackling hearth that smolders its heat into an inclement sky, Lear finally jingles out of his dark thundering cloud into the light flooding his broken heart.




Hence Kozintsev’s notion of reimagining Craig’s drawing of a “willow-branch[ed]” (228) hovel as a thatched one leaking rainwater. For the hovel clearly looms in Kozintsev’s mind as “[a] space [that] howls and cries” (196) Lear’s tragic plight. Significantly, just as in The Miserable Beggar, a Noh play Kozintsev admires, “the tapping stick create[s] the feeling of blindness” (7), so does the dripping hovel suggest the parallel emotional effect of a silently weeping Lear. Barbara Hodgdon rightly focuses on what is probably Karol Lier’s pivotal image: “a mid-closeup of Lear, his face suffused with light, raindrops running down his face” (“Kozintsev” 296). For Lear’s aural sight filters this light into a literal flood by keying it at the pitch of raindrops whose rhythmic dripping becomes, like the Fool’s jingling, the visual acoustic of conscientious grieving. Radiating its sobbing music like Wordsworth’s dripping nave at Furness Abbey, (12) Kozintsev’s hovel tearfully thaws Lear’s lament into the ocular “garden water-pots” (4.6.192) of his Shakespearean equivalent. As Shakespeare’s stocked Kent discovers: “Nothing almost sees miracles / But misery” (2.2.163-64). It is this poignant paradox tha inextricably intermeshes Kozintsev’s Lear and Shakespeare’s. Echoing Shakespeare’s Lear who thunderously declares




I have full cause of weeping, but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws
Or e'er I'll weep. (2.2.473-75),

Kozintsev’s Lear echoes him again by melting into his inwardly ” cadent tears” (1.4.277). It is through this “voice of tears” (252) which Kozintsev defines as “[a] ringing moist sound” (252), that the hovel Lear intuits his Shakespearean counterpart’s answer to the existential problem concerning “the cause of thunder” (3.4.151). For once Kozintsev’s Lear comes to his Shakespearean equivalent’s realization that “men of stones” (5.3.255) really cause thunder, he liquefies the stony self of his rock-riddled realm into the dripping rain that tearfully etches his facial terrain. As Anthony Lyons claims: “Water in the film is wholly good” (34). It is as if Kozintsev finds an aquatic corrective to the political poison that his Gamlet’s Elsinore oozes in Karol Lier’s edifying liquidity. Hence Kozintsev’s touching image of the Fool collecting the dripping rainwater in his cupped hands and drinking it. What Kozintsev movingly suggests is that Lear radiates back the spiritual sustenance that the Fool, whom David Gillespie rightly considers “a Russian Holy Fool or iurodivy” (85), initially jingles into Lear’s existence. Reaching the apotheosis of their integration in rainy tears, Kozintsev’s Fool/Lear ironically “make content,” to quote the literary Fool’s words, “[t]hough the rain it raineth every day” (3.2.76-77). True to Shakespeare’s Lear who ultimately realizes that “The art of our necessities is strange, / And can make vile things precious” (3.2.70-71), Kozintsev’s Lear likewise sheds silent “tears [that] scald like molten lead” (4.7.47-48). For only by becoming the visual acoustic of burning tears can Kozintsev’s Corbusian Lear paradoxically extinguish his flaming kingdom.



Significantly, Kozintsev reworks the “unbearable” (223) Lear/Cordelia meeting by enhancing the purgatorial effect of the literary Lear’s liquid question to her: “Be your tears wet?” (4.7.71). For not only does Kozintsev’s Lear feel Cordelia’s moistness by touching her cheek, but he actually tastes her tear from his fingertip. Echoes of the Fool’s drinking gesture signify the final stage of Lear’s tearful redemption. Having thunderously rumbled to Cordelia his Shakespearean counterpart’s belief that “nothing will come of nothing” (1.1.90), Kozintsev’s Lear parallels him again by ironically finding his sustaining self in the immaterial materiality of her tear. Kozintsev’s film tearfully suggests that something comes of nothing in King Lear. It is in fact by gazing into the archway’s emptiness after Cordelia’s hanged body is removed that Kozintsev’s Lear attains the mutual evanescence of his Shakespearean equivalent. Dollying away from Lear’s “Nyet” screams, Kozintsev’s camera charts the fivefold “Never” (5.3.307) path of his Shakespearean counterpart through the waters beyond Cordelia’s empty arch. As Hodgdon remarks: “Kozintsev’s ending also describes a move toward Lear’s absence” (“Two” 148). Hence the self-effacing Lear/Cordelia burial, whose trajectory into the inapparent evokes that of Caspar David Friedrich’s monk mystifyingly proceeding beyond the Oakwoods Abbey cemetery. Quoting Shakespeare’s Edward, “the wheel is come full circle” (5.3.172), but it comes trailing Lear’s transcendence. For by liquefying Lear into Cordelia’s tear, Kozintsev immerses him into an elemental nothingness whose essence parallels that of Shakespeare’s Cordelia by “reverb[ing] no hollowness” (1.1.155). Significantly, just like Shakespeare keys Cordelia’s “Nothing, my lord” (1.1.87) at the melancholic pitch of her “low sounds” (1.1.54), so does Kozintsev transcribe her “Nichevo” into the plaintive cry of her seagull soul in flight. What absorbs Lear’s echoing screaming is in fact the seagull’s mournful mewing. Reciprocally, however, Kozintsev’s Lear emanates from his thundering nothingness by resounding Cordelia’s avian requiem. True to Shakespeare’s Lear then, who musically endures in his woeful vision of Cordelia and himself “sing[ing] like birds i’ the cage” (5.3.9), Kozintsev’s Corbusian Lear likewise abides as the visual acoustic of Cordelia’s lament by modulating it to the Fool’s piping dirge.



Having initially functioned as Kozintsev’s non-diegetic musical reworking of the tearful truth Shakespeare’s Lear tosses at Gloucester–“We came crying hither” (4.6.174)–by analogously wailing Karol Lier’s universe into existence, “The Fool’s Pipe” diegetically resurges in its mourning player as the “Finale’s affirmation of the cathartic weeping of Lear’s “Cordelia” spirit. What Tatiana Egorova claims in fact about Shostakovich’s Brecht-like “Fool’s Songs,” (13) that “[t]here is something [in them] akin to a philosophic parable” (221), also applies to his elegiac “Fool’s Pipe” music. For by relying on what R. B. Parker terms “a Noh borrowing” (76) of framing flute laments, Kozintsev intermeshes Lear’s “coming hither” and his “going hence” (5.7.10) by attuning them to the grieving rhythm of the dripping hovel’s silent weeper. Just as the Fool’s jingling propels Lear to his sobbing sanity, so does the Fool’s piping finale transfigure the Lear/Cordelia memento mori into de profundis music. The Fool’s “sorrow songs,” with their sad irony echoing through Goneril’s castle, find then their lamentable sublimation in his own cadential piping. For not only does the Fool’s elegy exalt, as James M. Welsh aptly says, “his anguish translated beyond words into music” (156), but it just as achingly moans the Lear/Cordelia swansong. Awakening from the nothingness of his hollow rumbling into Cordelia’s streaming tears, Kozintsev’s Lear resounds in the Fool’s lamenting pipe. True to Kozintsev’s belief that “in Shakespeare’s world […] nothing perishes without trace” (222), Cordelia’s Lear rises phoenix-like from the Fool’s ashes to herald his Corbusian plight by radiating his tragic humanity through the sighing fife. Keyed at this plangent pitch, what Kozintsev’s Lear trails in his absent-present wake is the wisdom of his wail.



Texto Original: Saviour Catania.

Universidad de Malta




(1) See Vance Cheney, “Tears” in The Century 44 (1892): 538.

(2) Unless referred to other sources, all quotations are from Kozintsev’s film diary King Lear: The Space of Tragedy.

(3) For a detailed discussion of Le Corbusier’s concept of “visual acoustics” whereby an architectural work and its environment create a reciprocal resonance, see Pearson (1997).

(4) See Kozintsev’s comment in his King Lear diary on how Blok himself reworks the image of “an arrow in the mist” from Gogol’s Diary of a Madman 42.

(5) I use Pearson’s translation of “des traits jaillissant comme par un rayonnment.” See Pearson 179.

(6) See Kozintsev’s letter to Peter Brook published in his King Lear diary 26.

(7) All quotations from King Lear (in parentheses) refer to Foakes’s Arden 3 edition.

(8) See the interview with Kozintsev in Hayman 15.

(9) The quotation from Macbeth (in parentheses) refers to Muir’s Arden edition.

(10) See Kozintsev, Shakespeare: Time and Conscience 81.

(11) For further information on how Kozintsev recreates Shakespeare’s wise Fool by nostalgically integrating the subversive “clown” concept of both FEKS (the Factory of the Eccentric Actor that he had founded in 1922 with Leonid Trauberg) and Bakhtin’s vision of the grotesque, see Collick 108-48.

(12) See the “Wren” spot of time in Wordsworth’s The Prelude 2 (11.115-218) 47.

(13) Only two of the ten “Fool’s Songs” Shostakovich composed for Kozintsev’s 1940 stage production of King Lear feature in the 1970 film version.

Works Cited

Buchman, Lorne M. Still in Movement: Shakespeare on Screen. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Collick, John. Shakespeare, Cinema and Society. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1989.

Danson, Lawrence. “King Lear and the Two Abysses.” On King Lear. Ed. Lawrence Danson. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981. 119-35.

Egorova, Tatiana. Soviet Film Music: An Historical Survey. Australia: Harwood, 1997.

Foakes, R. A., ed. King Lear. Surrey: Nelson, 1997.

Gillespie, David. “Adapting Foreign Classics: Kozintsev’s Shakespeare.” Russian and Soviet Film Adaptations of Literature, 1900-2001: Screening the Word. Ed. Stephen Hutchings and Anat Vermitski. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005. 75-88.

Hayman, Ronald. “Grigori Kozintsev.” Transatlantic Review 46/47 (1973): 10-15.

Heine, Erik James. “The Film Music of Dmitri Shostakovich in The Gadfly, Hamlet and King Lear.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. The U of Texas at Austen, 2005. Available at <http://dspace.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/2152/782/1/heineel4212.pdf&gt;.

Hodgdon, Barbara. “Kozintsev’s King Lear: Filming a Tragic Poem.” Literature/Film Quarterly 5:4 (1977): 291-98.

______. “Two King Lears: Uncovering the Filmtext.” Literature/Film Quarterly 11:3 (1983): 143-51.

Jorgens, Jack J. Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1977.

Karol Lier. Dir. Grigori Kozintsev. Perf. Yuri Yarvet, Oleg Dal, and Valentina Shendrikova. Videocassette. Tartan (PALTVT 1262).

Kozintsev, Grigori. Shakespeare: Time and Conscience. Trans. Joyce Vining. London: Dobson, 1966.

______. King Lear: The Space of Tragedy. Trans. Mary Mackintosh. London: Heinemann, 1977.

Le Corbusier. “Ineffable Space.” New World of Space. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock/Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, 1948. 7-9.

______. Towards a New Architecture. Trans. Frederick Etchells. London: The Architectural P, 1952.

Leaming, Barbara. Grigori Kozintsev. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Lyons, Anthony. “Visible Spirits: Kozintsev’s Cinematic Art in Koral Lier/King Lear.” The Use of English 55 (2003): 27-36.

Muir, Kenneth, ed. Macbeth. London: Methuen, 1979.

Parker, R. B. “The Use of Mise-en-Scene” in Three Films of King Lear.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991): 74-90.

Pearson, Christopher. “Le Corbusier and the Acoustical Trope: An Investigation of its Origins.” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 56 (1997): 168-83.

Radcliff-Umstead, Douglas. “Order and Disorder in Kozintsev’s King Lear.” Literature/Film Quarterly 11:4 (1983): 266-73.

Rothwell, Kenneth S. “Representing King Lear on Screen: From Metatheatre to Meta-Cinema.” Shakespeare and the Moving Image: The Plays on Film and Television. Ed. Anthony Davies and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 211-33.

______. “In Search of Nothing: Mapping King Lear.” Shakespeare, the Movie: Popularizing the Plays on Film, TV and Video. Ed. Lynda E. Boose and Richard Burt. London: Routledge, 1997.135-47.

______. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Schmalz, Wayne. “Pictorial Imagery in Kozintsev’s King Lear.” Literature/Film Quarterly 13:2 (1985): 85-94.

Vance Cheney, John. “Tears” in The Century 44 (1892): 538.

Weiss, Theodore. “As the Wind Sits: The Poetics of King Lear.” On King Lear. Ed. Lawrence Danson. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981. 61-90.

Welsh, James M. “To See It Feelingly: King Lear through Russian Eyes.” Literature/Film Quarterly 4:2 (1976): 153-58.

Wordsworth, William. The Prelude. Ed. Ernest De Selincourt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1950.

Yutkevich, Sergei. “The Conscience of the King: Kozintsev’s King Lear.” Sight and Sound 40 (1971): 192-96.



2008 Salisbury State University

Sin duda, el autor literario que más les ha generado inspiración a los directores de cine, ha sido William Shakespeare. Sus obras más conocidas (MacbethOteloHamletRey LearRomeo y JulietaJulio CésarRicardo IIIEnrique IVEl mercader de Venecia) han tenido numerosas versiones cinematográficas – por supuesto, algunas más acertadas que otras –, lo cual nos confirma que el análisis socio-literario de las pasiones humanas realizado por el escritor inglés, ha logrado trascender el tiempo y alcanzar una presencia dinámica en las demás expresiones artísticas. De los filmes inspirados en alguna de las obras de Shakespeare, el que más nos ha conmovido – aunque nos gustan varios – es El Rey Lear (1969) de Grigori Kozintsev, sobre el cual nos referiremos en esta ocasión.
Grigori Mikhailovich Kozintsev (Kiev 1905 – Leningrado 1973), inició sus estudios en el Gimnasio de Kiev, donde organizó el teatro experimental, Arlekin, hacia 1919. En 1920 se trasladó a Petrograd para iniciar sus estudios en la Academia de Artes. Posteriormente, junto con Sergei Yutkevich y Leonid Trauberg, crearon en 1921, el movimiento vanguardista, La Fábrica del Actor Excéntrico (FEKS), inspirados en las teorías teatrales de Meyerhold y en el activismo poético de Maiakovski. Desde ese momento, empezó su trabajo como escenógrafo en algunas obras teatrales, y en 1924, junto a Trauberg, realizó su debut cinematográfico con Las aventuras de Oktyabrina. Sus primeras obras se mantuvieron dentro de la órbita experimental, con algunos acercamientos al Expresionismo Alemán. De esa época son La Nueva Babilonia (1929) y Solamente (1931). Luego empezó un acercamiento a la realidad de su país, con la Trilogía de MáximoLa juventud (1935), El regreso (1937) y Al lado de Vyborg (1939), una historia sobre el prototipo de obrero revolucionario y combatiente ejemplar, que se buscaba encarnar luego de la Revolución Bolchevique. En 1946, tras la realización de La gente simple, terminó su trabajo junto a Trauberg, con quien hizo doce películas.
Los mayores logros que alcanzó Kozintsev, fueron producto de sus adaptaciones de algunos clásicos literarios occidentales: Don Quijote(1957), Hamlet (1963) y El Rey Lear (1969). En estos trabajos combinó algunos elementos experimentales de su producción silente con elementos formales de la tradición cinematográfica soviética, para construir soberbias piezas fílmicas.

Kozintsev fue señalado como el artista de los pueblos de la URSS y recibió el premio Lenin en 1965. Sus restos reposan en la Necrópolis de los Maestros del Arte en el convento Aleksandr Nevsky de Leningrado.







De la adaptación a la transposición.

Por fortuna, la disputa, tantas veces abordada, sobre la “deformación” de los originales, que conllevaría una adaptación literaria al cine, y lo que más ha estado fuera de lugar, la valoración (en términos de superior o inferior) respecto de las dos versiones del relato, cada vez es menos tenida en cuenta, al punto, que podríamos considerarla ya casi extinguida en los análisis recientes sobre éstas prácticas artísticas.
A la luz de las teorías modernas sobre la literatura y el cine, la preocupación, cada vez es en menor grado, sobre la dependencia de una u otra propuesta, y por consiguiente, sobre la originalidad de las mismas. Sin embargo, para entender cómo es que hemos llegado a las actuales relaciones armoniosas, no deja de ser interesante conocer el proceso de las relaciones conflictivas que sostuvieron los teóricos literarios con los cineastas. Son varios los estudios que nos informan sobre esta persistente lucha, iniciada desde el aparecimiento del cine, agudizada en los años veinte con las diversas vanguardias y reorientada, de forma determinante, en los años sesenta con los aportes de teóricos como André Bazin, Christian Metz, Roland Barthes, P.P. Pasolini, Yuri Lotman, entre otros.
Luego del giro que propició Bazin – al poner en duda el falso dilema de la legitimidad moral de las adaptaciones para establecer una “equivalencia integral” entre los textos fílmicos y escritos – se podía mantener la fidelidad a la obra original o se podían hacer variaciones para encontrarle una mayor unidad al filme, sin que alguna de las dos posiciones fuera problemática. Teniendo en cuenta lo anterior, Bazin concluiría que “adaptar, por fin, no es traicionar, sino respetar”.

Con anterioridad (hacia la década del treinta), el cine había adoptado el “Modelo de Representación Institucional”, asimilando varios elementos de la narrativa literaria decimonónica – lo cual según el análisis de Deleuze, equivaldría al desarrollo de la Imagen-acción –. Aquel postulado, precisamente, empezó a entrar en crisis luego de los análisis de Bazin, que se extendieron a disciplinas como la semiología y la lingüística, con Metz y Pasolini a la cabeza, quienes retomaron varias de las preocupaciones de los formalistas rusos.

Respecto de la tradición de análisis, una de las tendencias metodológicas que más se ha afianzado, es el estudio comparativo de las obras individuales (literaria y cinematográfica), teniendo en cuenta que, tanto la novela como el cine son artes del relato – exceptuando los filmes no narrativos –, cuyos puntos de encuentro nos permiten homogeneizar algunos elementos a la hora de hacer los respectivos acercamientos. El término más aceptado hoy día por los analistas, es el de transposición, al considerar el paso de una expresión a otra. La transposición implica el paso de elementos formales de un sistema semiótico a otro, susceptibles de ser confrontados en una relación de equivalencia. Según el discurso narratológico, lo más importante que debemos indagar es sobre el cómo se cuenta la historia, no sobre la historia en sí misma, pues en ese “modo” de contar, es donde aparecen los puntos de semejanza y de diferencia, que nos permiten ahondar en el estudio comparativo.
Del formalismo a la poética.

“Un filme no es un hecho natural y dista mucho de ser vida fotografiada”
(José-Carlos Mainer)

Para empezar a adentrarnos en la versión que, de El Rey Learrealiza Kozintsev, es importante remontarnos al entorno cultural de los años veinte, cuando el director empezaba su trabajo, ya que varios de los elementos que logra conjugar en su última obra cinematográfica, provienen de esas intensas discusiones sobre los alcances del cine como expresión artística que buscaba el afianzamiento de sus experiencias. Por esos años, en la URSS aparecieron escritos teóricos del grupo de los formalistas, que enfatizaban en el estudio del cine, tales como, La literatura y el cine (1923) de Sklovski y, La Literatura y el film (1926) de Eichenbaum. Con estos estudios se pretendía darle al cine el carácter de lenguaje, para, de esa forma, definirle unos códigos propios y una metodología de análisis.
Desde la FEKS (Fábrica del Actor Excéntrico) – que constituía la vanguardia teatral y cinematográfica del momento – Kozintsev tuvo un gran conocimiento de los postulados formalistas, debido a la amistad que sostuvo con Tinianov. Fue así como, luego del enriquecedor intercambio, logró asimilar el material formalista y transformó la teoría en una auténtica poética – algo similar a la diferenciación que hacía Tinianov entre la lengua práctica y la lengua poética o literaria –. De esta forma, el cine encontraba un sendero abierto para explorar algo más que la representación directa de la realidad. Para Eichenbaum, la percepción fílmica suponía, más que el reconocimiento de lo representado, la exigencia de una interpretación: “para poder estudiar las leyes del cine (y, sobre todo, del montaje) debe reconocerse que la recepción y la comprensión del filme están indisolublemente unidas a la formación de un discurso interior que se conecta con los distintos planos entre sí”. Sin duda, lo que Kozintsev logra en la transposición que hace de El Rey Lear, es afianzar la dimensión poética, que nos sugiere una tragedia dinámica, abierta y que trasciende el tiempo lineal.
Desde la primera secuencia (en la cual unos vagabundos, con los pies descalzos, harapientos y visiblemente agotados, se desplazan lentamente, sin rumbo fijo, en medio de un escarpado territorio) se nos introduce en una atmósfera densa, acentuada por el blanco y negro, con una propensión hacia las sombras. Algunos de estos desdichados apenas pueden arrastrarse en medio del polvo agitado por el furioso viento, bajo el abrigo de un cielo gris. El perturbador escenario se nos vuelve más agreste con el desgarrador sonido de una flauta que completa una potente voz masculina. Este preámbulo que adiciona Kozintsev en el relato fílmico, evidentemente, tiene una carga poética que nos conduce por los abismos humanos, y sirve como presagio del desplazamiento y de la muerte. Sobre el viejo Rey Lear caerá el peso de la crueldad, el engaño y la locura. Poco a poco, asistimos a su transformación, desde el autoritarismo y egolatría inicial, pasando por la desnudez y la pérdida del juicio, hasta llegar al arrepentimiento y el descubrimiento de la bondad, pero cuando ya la suerte estaba echada en su contra.
Es curioso que Kozintsev no nos presente una corte con la opulencia característica a que estamos acostumbrados. Tanto el rey y su familia como los condes, duques y demás personajes, se caracterizan por la sobriedad. Además, cuando el rey padece el rechazo de sus hijas mayores y se convierte en un vagabundo más, logra conocer la realidad de su reino, en el cual abunda la pobreza, la aridez de los territorios y la sensación de desgano arraigada hasta en la densa atmósfera. Este elemento que logra la transposición fílmica, inscribe más allá de un tiempo determinado a la historia de Lear, la hace extra-histórica. Fácilmente podemos ver a través del reflejo de ese reino, una vivencia antigua o contemporánea, donde la desmesura que genera la ambición de poder se hace ilimitada. Esto confirma lo que anotábamos anteriormente sobre la importancia fundamental que tiene para el análisis narratológico, la concentración en el cómo se cuenta la historia.

La segunda parte marca el inicio de la renovación de Lear. La primera secuencia nos muestra al rey y su bufón en un campo abierto, sufriendo el azote de una fuerte tormenta. Lear, ahora, tras haber abandonado la nociva ceguera, se siente totalmente desnudo, desplazado, engañado e impotente; y ante esta fragilidad, lo único que prefiere es invocar el castigo divino para sus hijas y el abrazo de la muerte, luego de presentarle elocuentes reclamos a la existencia. Es muy notable la profundidad poética que alcanzan estas escenas: hay riqueza plástica en los planos, fuerza actoral intensificada, exaltada producción de sonido y belleza en los

simbólicos textos.
Otro de los grandes aciertos en el filme es la actuación de Juri Jarvet en el papel de Lear. El actor encarna con solvencia y seguridad, los desplazamientos internos que sufre el personaje y los magnifica, llevando al espectador a una profunda conmoción. De igual manera, se destacan la actuación de Oleg Dal, en el papel de bufón, quien se convierte en una especie de alter ego del rey, invitándolo constantemente a reconocer la realidad que no quiere aceptar; asimismo, es notable el trabajo de Leonard Merlín, como Edgardo, quien realiza una dramática transformación, al pasar de la corte a los polvorientos caminos junto a los desarrapados, fingiendo estar poseído por numerosos espíritus malignos.
No podemos pasar por alto la colaboración de Dimitri Shostakóvich en la musicalización del filme, para el cual construyó una música incidental (que bien podría ser apreciada con independencia de las imágenes, pues tiene consistencia propia). Shostakóvich se había conocido con Kozintsev desde los años en que fue creada la FEKS. A partir de ese momento, trabajaron juntos en varios proyectos. La música (extradiegética) del filme, al no formar parte de la acción (narración) cumple una función más bien descriptiva en las diversas imágenes subjetivas que acompaña. Referente al discurso musical propio de la película, podemos decir que responde a concepcionesanalíticas – al establecer una concordancia rigurosa entre los motivos musicales y los efectos visuales –, contextuales – al servir para crear una atmósfera envolvente –, y dramáticas – al actuar sobre el universo de las emociones, logrando intensificarlas –.
Time and again people have asked me which movie is my all time favorite. I have often said without much hesitation: the Russian film Grigory Kozintsev’s King Lear. Even close friends wonder if I have lost my wits because they expect my favorite would be Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane or a work of Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, or even Terrence Mallick, my favorite directors.

I fell in love with the Ukranian-born director Kozintsev’s King Lear some 30 years ago and I continue to be enraptured by the black-and-white film shot in cinemascope each time I see it. Each time you view the film, one realizes that a creative genius can embellish another masterpiece from another medium by providing food for thought—much beyond what Shakespeare offered his audiences centuries ago. Purists like Lord Laurence Olivier and Peter Brook offered cinematic versions of the play that remained true to what the Bard originally intended, only refining performances within the accepted matrices.

But Kozintsev’s cinema based on the Russian translation of Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak added a “silent ghost” that was always present in Shakespeare’s play—nature. Mother nature is present as a visual and aural force in the two Shakespeare films of Kozintsev, more so in King Lear. Shakespeare had intended to draw parallels in nature and human beings—only Kozintsev saw the opportunity in highlighting this. The team of Kozintsev and Pasternak took another liberty—the last shot of the film includes the Fool playing his pipe, while the Bard had got rid of the Fool in Act IV of the five-Act play. Kozintsev had more than one reason for it—the Fool is akin to the chorus of Greek stage and much of Dmitri Shostakovich’s haunting musical score for the film involved woodwind instruments. Further, the poor, beyond the portals of the army and the courts, occupy “screen-space” never intended in the play. Kozintsev and Pasternak remained true to the basic structure of Shakespeare only adding details that offer astounding food for thought.

Today, many know of Shostakovich’s music and few about Kozintsev’s cinema. The fact is that both were friends and close collaborators. While the Communist world was in raptures about the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Kozintsev was making path-breaking experimental cinema (FEX or the Factory of the Eccentric Actors) in the 1920s—the most notable being The New Babylon (1929) with music of Shostakovich added to the footage later and Shinel (an unusual film made in 1926 combining two literary works of Nikolai Gogol). The New Babylon, a tongue in cheek look at life in the Paris Commune, now a film considered to be a major work by scholars, was promptly banned by the Soviets as is did not conform to the accepted norm of social realism. Kozintsev’s creative freedom diminished under Stalin’s dictatorship but his talents revived during the Khrushchev era. Kozintsev’s cinema was banned in the US (Communist propaganda was considered immoral by the Censors in Michigan) and within USSR had an equally rocky ride (for not conforming with accepted political views of the State) with very few getting to see his non-propaganda films. Kozintsev is arguably the only filmmaker to get his different cinematic works banned in both the former USSR and the USA, on both occasions for their “political” content and/or approach!!! (Luckily I got to see some of his early works at the Pune film archives in India, courtesy its then curator Mr P K Nair). I am convinced Kozintsev would be the toast of the cognoscenti if only they could access his works.

Many assume I like Kozintsev’s King Lear because I like Shakespeare’s plays. I do like King Lear as a monumental play but the Kozintsev film offers much more than the sum of the virtues of the play. Now many worthy directors have adapted Shakespeare on screen including Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski, and Julie Taymor. Kozintsev made two Shakespeare adaptations Hamlet and King Lear. The first went on to win awards at Venice Film festival and in the UK. While Kozintsev’s King Lear offered much more substantive cinema, awards eluded this movie. Yet, it was a film version that Lord Olivier himself found to be brilliant….

A generalized picture of a civilization heading towards doom“, is how Kozintsev described his King Lear. A close look at Kozintsev’s King Lear gives glimpses of political criticism beyond the obvious references within the original play. Kozintsev possibly saw parallels between the king and himself, an aging director who once made films that must have rankled him in later life and career. One must recall that Kozintsev courageously and openly supported Boris Pasternak at a time when the Soviets were trying to decry the Nobel laureate. Is Cordelia merely a character, a loving daughter, or is she personifying truth, innocence and unpolluted nature? Is King Lear more than a king–is he representing all the mistakes of humankind?

Kozintsev himself wrote to friend and filmmaker Sergei Yutkevich after makingKing Lear, “I am certain that every one of us . . . in the course of his whole life, shoots a single film of his own. This film of one’s own is made . . . in your head, through other work, on paper . . . in conversation: but it lives, breathes, somehow prolongs into old age something that began its existence in childhood!

Kozintsev’s choice of actors in the film is truly remarkable. For true film buffs, it is perhaps not surprising to find Juri Jarvet (Lear) and Donatas Banionis (Duke of Albany) were to play, a year later, the lead roles in Tarkovsky’s Solyaris. Estonian actor and national hero Juri Jarvet has been compared to Klaus Kinski, but the wail of Jarvet (King Lear) on finding Cordelia dead is perhaps the most riveting sound bite in cinema history for me. Kinski could not have done that ever. Kozintsev’s choice of actors was immaculate. I have often wondered about the creative relationship between Kozintsev and Tarkovsky–but very little is on record. Kozintsev died soon after making King Lear.

For lovers of quality cinema the emerging grey hair covered head of a fallen king among the grasses, the sea gulls and waves that add punctuation and “color” to the Bard’s words in profound selection of camera angles by cinematographer Ionas Gritsius are true gems of good cinema. Many directors have tried to copy facets of this remarkable film but failed. The poor and landless emerge as silent but powerful characters.

Kozintsev teases our senses by getting Gritsius to capture the face of Cordelia against a tapestry painting of an older woman–is it Cordelia’s mother that Shakespeare never discussed? These are cinematic touches that make this version more complex than those of Brook or Olivier, for an attentive viewer.

At a time (1971) when directors would have opted for technicolor extravaganza, Kozintsev reverts to his own expressionist style of the twenties using back and white to bring color to the viewer’s imagination. Each frame of the film has the quality of a well thought-out painting, combining light and shade and and give thought to balance. The maturity of the camera-work is staggering.

Black and white cinematography of Ionas Gritsius, the music of Shostakovich and the enigmatic face of Jarvet, make all other versions of King Lear smaller in stature. Oleg Dal’s Fool lends a fascinating twist to the character. The “Christian Marxism” of Kozintsev can knock-out any serious student of cinema and of Shakespeare. Kozintsev is one of least sung masters of Russian cinema. His cinema is very close to that of Tarkovsky and Sergei Paradjanov. Kozintsev’s Lear is not a Lear that mourns his past and his daughters–his Lear is close to the soil, the plants, and all elements of nature. That’s what makes Kozintsev’s Shakespearean works outstanding. Thankfully, even if the DVD of the film is difficult to obtain some sequences are available on the U-tube for the casual viewer to taste the remarkable cinematic work. It is time the world wakes up to the cinema of this unsung genius from Ukraine (or former USSR, depending on your personal perspective).

Some people say the greatest Shakespeare movie is Russian.That would be the Hamlet (“Gamlet”!) of Grigori Kozintsev, first shown in the spring of 1964. Kozintsev, had been exploring his topic one way or another throughout his adult life, and this capstone performance counts as a kind of trifecta: himself as director with a script by Boris Pasternak, and music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Or a quadrifecta; the title role went to Innokenty Smoktunovsky, perhaps the most highly regarded Russian actor of his generation. Apparently the film counted as an important cultural event in its time but I wasn’t paying attention; I learned of it only last year and saw it for the first time last night on the big screen at Il Teatro Buce. My judgment is that it is not the greatest Shakespeare movie ever, but it is an interesting and worthwhile endeavor, and I think I can understand why it made such a splash in its time.



The film cries out for comparison with the benchmark Hamlet for that generation—Lawrence Olivier’s, released in 1948. No, not “cries out;” rather “insists upon” comparison, dressing Smoktunovsky in Olivier-esque black, with his close-cropped hair, his voice-over soliloquys, and his general air of moodiness and introspection. This comparison may not have been obvious at the time because Kozintsev also did so much to distance himself from Olivier: in particular, to showcase the political context that Olivier virtually excises.




The result is a Hamlet (or a “Hamlet”) hemmed in by posturing and intrigue, claustrophobic inside Elsinore, cut off by the vastness of the ocean and the great featureless northern plains. It must have carried a powerful message outside of (and in) the Soviet Union, at the end of the great thaw, and the beginning of the mean mendacity of the Brezhnev years. Apparently it still carries force today: some of the strongest framing scenes appear as theft homage in the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet of 1996.




Actors in a good many of the supporting roles function admirably to drive home the point: an intriguing, fussy Polonius, short and round and bearing what appears for all the world to be a rubber nose, would be comical if he did not remind us so much of the sinister supernumeries of the Kremlin in its time. King Claudius is a chillingly smooth manipulator and thug. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are no better than they ought to be. And the gravedigger looks like he has been waiting all his life for just this chance.



The script—or rather the subtitles, because I can’t read any Russian—is a mixed bag. It’s Shakespeare only by courtesy, which it may not deserve—mostly a collection of Shakespearean snippets assembled almost as if in a word game out of magnetic panels on a refrigerator door. Yet one has to concede that a straight translation just wouldn’t have worked in context. And you have to concede that even if he took snippets, still Pasternak seems to have found the right snippets for a lot of individual moments. Shostakovich’s score doesn’t seem to add a great deal. At some points, it threatens to intrude; at best it seems simply to remind us of other things that Shostakovich has done better (and more generally, perhaps, for his heroic presence in Soviet culture).



But the real trouble here is the star, though once again, I suspect the guilty party may be Olivier. It was Olivier who taught a generation of moviegoers that Hamlet is a young man in a permanent sulk. He is that; the catch is that he is so much more. John Gielgud called him “a great renaissance prince” (Gielgud pronounced it “ruh-NAY-sance,” the first time I ever heard it pronounce it that way). And that he is: sometimes sulky, but often ebullient, sometimes jaunty—and sometimes very close to downright brutal. It’s the reason I like Branagh so much: imperfect as he may be, he is the only film Shakespeare who seems to me to come close to capturing the full range of his possibilities.



So Kozintsev’s Hamlet is a Hamlet with a hole in the center—a hole we might not even have noticed in 1964, dazzled as we were by Olivier and gripped by mesmerized by the shadow of the Soviet Union. It remains a worthy achievement and an important artifact of its time. I like it well enough that I think I’ll go on and watch his Lear and even his Don Quixote. I might even watch this Hamlet again. But I wish it were better.


Texto Orginal: http://underbelly-buce.blogspot.com/2008/01/appreciation-kozintsevs-hamlet.html