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An astounding rediscovery of the cinema, Richard III is the earliest surviving American feature film, newly discovered and restored to its original brilliance through the American Film Institute, with a haunting orchestral score by composer Ennio Morricone. Produced as a vehicle for Frederick Warde, a legendary stage actor of the 19th Century, Richard III was the most ambitious Shakespearian adaptation to date. The film not only attempts to honor the intricacies of the original play, it flavors the drama with spectacular crowd scenes and rich color tints. Richard III offers a fresh glimpse at a time when Shakespeare wasn't strictly the domain of scholars but was a source of popular entertainment, "when Americans didn't have to be spoon-fed a great dramatist but were united in their passion for one who gave them characters who mirrored their own complex humanity, not to mention sublime poetry, along with requisite doses of sex and violence." (Frank Rich, The New York Times)
A genuine treasure for film collectors, this 1912 version of Richard III is an artifact to cherish. Donated to the American Film Institute by film collector William Buffum in 1995, this hand-tinted vehicle for noted thespian Frederick Warde was thought to have been lost forever. Restored to remarkably good condition (despite some ghostly shimmering due to nitrate deterioration), it now survives as the oldest American feature, still impressive in the way it distills Shakespeare's play, through action and descriptive title cards, while retaining its dramatic essence. Director James Keane's camera is hopelessly static compared to D.W. Griffith's innovative work from the same period, and in the title role Warde is prone to grandiose theatrics that were unnecessary even in 1912 (after all, film acting was still in its infancy). And yet, with its evocative latter-day score by Ennio Morricone, this is a vivid and valuable film, offering ample proof that movies were rapidly maturing. --Jeff ShannonSee all Editorial Reviews
- "Rediscovering Richard": a 17-minute documentary
- Frederick Warde on Richard III (quoted from The Brooklyn Eagle, 1912)
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Top customer reviews
The DVD transfer of the film is remarkable. The color tints (mostly yellow and red) are effective and the print is pristine for the vintage. The period intertitles are intriguing with Gloucester spelled phonetically (Gloster) for some reason. The commissioned score from Ennio Morricone is powerful, relentless, and highly effective. I strongly recommend this title to anyone interested not only in early movies but also in theatre history. This is a rare opportunity to see a genuine 19th century performance and the oldest surviving American feature film. However, be advised that this film isn't for everyone not even fans of Shakespeare. Now that the remains of Richard III have been found, the more discerning among you should give it a try in his honor.
The film starts and finishes with Frederick Warde, the actor who plays Richard, taking a bow before the audience. He appears in modern dress looking congenial and thus distancing himself from the character he plays. This device also emphasises that we are watching a play and thus anticipates the framing device used in Henry V (1945). The story of Richard III is conveyed with brief titles describing the action of the scene. There are no dialogue titles as such. Thus some of Shakespeare's most famous lines are not even hinted at. In this film there is no sign of Richard saying `Now is the winter of our discontent', and perhaps more surprisingly, because it could easily have been filmed, his despairing cry of `A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!' Nevertheless the film on the whole follows Shakespeare's play quite closely. Some of the detail may be lost but this is still clearly Shakespeare.
The acting in the film is different from the style of later silents, not least because the actors do not appear in close up. It is thus not as subtle as later acting which could make use of the eyes and close ups of facial expressions. Nevertheless Warde's performance especially is good, conveying the menace of Richard without descending into caricature. The acting is helped enormously by the amount of effort and money spent on lavish sets and costumes. The film even has a full size galleon.
The quality of the surviving print is first rate. Richard III looks better than many silent films from the twenties. The print is tinted using mainly pinks and blues and although at times the image is somewhat faded for the most part it is wonderfully sharp and clear. The film is enhanced by a moody score composed by Ennio Morricone. The DVD includes a short documentary Rediscovering Richard which is mainly of interest because it introduces the collector William Buffum who preserved the print of Richard III. Everyone who is interested in film should thank this man, for without him a fine film from 1912 would certainly have been lost for ever.