Directed by: Peter Greenaway
Starring: John Gielgud, Michael Clark, Michel Blanc, Erland Josephson, Isabelle Pasco
Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991) came at the tail end of the brief vogue for this difficult and rather coolly detached filmmaker. The wave of interest in Greenaway peaked with his 1989 film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, which briefly propelled him beyond the realm of the art house and into a broader pop-culture consciousness. Prospero’s Books was his next feature and did nothing to continue the trend. Why? Well, it’s among the most radical of all radical Shakespeare adaptations. Considering that this is a version of The Tempest, which had already seen some pretty radicalized interpretations, that’s saying something. It is also one of the director’s most challenging works. This isn’t merely a version of The Tempest, but a meditation on art, theater, Shakespeare, Greenaway’s own work and the very nature of film. And that’s just on the surface. In Greenaway’s world, Prospero (John Gielgud) and Shakespeare are basically the same person—Prospero standing in for the writer and his approach to art. The fact that Gielgud gives voice to all the characters and is seen writing the play makes it all essentially a drama of the mind. Making things even more difficult for some viewers is the film’s “pervasive nudity” (as the MPAA called it). Generally speaking, it’s not erotic, but the chances of finding a movie with more full-frontal nudity—male and female—is pretty slim. But hey, critic John Simon called the film “contemptible and pretentious,” which means it did something pretty darn right! Plus, it’s simply one of the most phantasmagorical blends of music (by Michael Nyman) and image ever made.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Prospero’s Books Tuesday, July 19, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the A.F.S.