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—are 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.
Before you comment
The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.