An exiled magician finds an opportunity for revenge against his enemies muted when his daughter and the son of his chief enemy fall in love in this uniquely structured retelling of the 'The...
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An exiled magician finds an opportunity for revenge against his enemies muted when his daughter and the son of his chief enemy fall in love in this uniquely structured retelling of the 'The Tempest'. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
Prospero was John Gielgud's favorite stage role and he had attempted to mount a film of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" for decades, contacting Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman about directing and Welles and Albert Finney about playing Caliban. The version with Welles directing and playing Caliban was in preparation until the financial failure of Welles' and Gielgud's film of 'Falstaff (1966)' forced the project to fall through, where it laid dormant until Gielgud finally convinced Peter Greenaway to make this version. See more »
I'm attracted to competence, and especially when the vision is unusual and moving. But I love self-referential art, in this case a movie that includes as part (in fact the center) of its message some perspective on what the movie is all about.
This film is one of my most valued experiences, and here, I'll just write about the self-reference. For this, you have to know the context of the play itself. `The Tempest' was written at the end of Shakespeare's career. Earlier, he had composed some of the richest drama that may ever be created. In so doing, the technique -- at least in the great plays -- was to grapple with great forces and ideas and project then into stories. The theatric convention of the days was one of sparse presentation: few props, sets, costumes.
But towards the end of Shakespeare's life, the conventions changed. Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones had introduced the notion of lush, magical special effects, and even popularized productions that consisted of nothing at all but the effects themselves. Shakespeare's prior efforts were deep structures which use the sparse conventions of the theater, without undue obfuscation from those. But here he was asked to produce, even compete, using techniques whose very nature is to distract. So he wrote a play ABOUT visual effects that obfuscate and manipulate, while USING visual effects to the same end.
But there's a deeper irony. Some think Prospero was modeled after John Dee, but this is likely not so, Instead the model was Magus Thomas Harriot who actually did visit the New World and report strange happenings. (In the winter of 1585, he wintered with Algonquian priests probably on, certainly near the land I'm writing from.) Harriot was the age's greatest scientist, but we hardly know him because he never wrote any books as he was under constant examination for heresy. There's lots to his story, all which Shakespeare would have known and partly lived, and the notion of Prospero's Books would have been especially rich at the time of writing.
Cinema is a medium which is all effects, nothing but illusion, and thus is nearly impossible to use as a lens for true visions of the world. So here we have Greenaway's film in which illusion is the point of the immensely clever theatric notion of Prospero's Books. The books are both the illusions and the distorted lens, and turned here into a means to make a film purely about what it means to be a film, and to do so with specific reference to Shakespeare's structure about the similar problem in the effect-laden theater. Moreover, Shakespeare's reference is to Harriot's earlier, similar conundrum between the motions of the great world and the imperfect lens of logic that is required to capture some image of those laws in books.
It's all so well conceived. I'll let others comment on the execution, which seems masterful to me. This film will live very long, and you will be less impoverished by seeing/experiencing it.
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