Prospero’s Books was my final film text for chapter 4 of the diss. I went in skeptical about it. I had read about it, but I hadn’t actually seen it. And most of what I had heard about it was about the nudity. Don’t you see Sir John Gielgud naked? Well, yes.
It’s very very strange. I will give it that. It is definitely an art film. Yet somehow, underneath the layers and in spite of the nudity, it is The Tempest. Had I gone to a theater when it was first released and watched it–fully absorbed in it–I would have appreciated it. Watching a digitized video copy on a small screen was not its best showing, but once I really let myself concentrate, I liked it. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone other than the obsessed Shakespeare or art film buff, but it really is thoughtful and has some interesting ideas. It’s not a narrative and it’s not easy to follow and if one does not already know The Tempest it would not be a way to learn it, but it is a meditation on the play and Shakespeare and life and the written word. It’s thoughtful and thought-provoking.
I have to admit, though, I was put off by the sheer volume of nudity. The director has suggested that he included the nudity in the way Renaissance art included nudity. Maybe. But somehow that part of it did not come off as high art (at least in my opinion.) Give the men loin clothes. Give the women sheaths. And let the provocation come through the ideas–not the genitals.