About seven years before Kevin Spacey became artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre Company in London, he appeared in Al Pacino’s immensely enjoyable and satisfying 1996 documentary “Looking for Richard.”
Pacino’s film, a search into the heart of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Richard III” via a series of informal rehearsals with several actors and conversations with the likes of Derek Jacobi, Vanessa Redgrave and the brilliant Spacey, was driven by its director’s infectious passion, restless intellect and joy in theatrical discovery.
Now it’s Spacey’s turn to release a documentary — “NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage” — about looking for Richard anew, and it’s an enormous letdown.
Here’s the context: In 2011, Spacey and Sam Mendes, who directed the actor’s Oscar-winning performance in “American Beauty,” reunited to mount “Richard III” at the Old Vic, then take the play on an international tour ending in New York.
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Spacey’s film company, which has been involved in making “The Social Network,” “Captain Phillips” and the Netflix hit “House of Cards” (starring Spacey), shot behind-the-scenes footage, directed by Jeremy Whelehan, of getting “Richard III” up and running and on the road to Italy, China, Istanbul and more.
Here’s the problem: “In the Wings” plays very much like a DVD extra, one of those breathless whooshes of bite-size insights gleaned from reality-television-like interviews, and intercut with fleeting images of creative people doing their jobs. There is nothing that drives this film except a tone of inward-gazing self-importance, sweetened by the sentimental bonding of the play’s cast and crew and Whelehan’s touristy location shots.
Yes, there is appetizer-like footage of Spacey in his acclaimed performance as the deformed and malevolent Richard. But that, too, becomes part of “In the Wings’ ” feel of meta-cinema, an experience meant to supplement something else, something real.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org