Shakespeare Behind Bars was a strangely uplifting documentary despite its content. Convicts at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky who have raped, murdered etc and surrounded by bad people in an obviously depressing environment find something they genuinely enjoy and can become important, popular and celebrated in acting. There are paralleled themes to 'Shawshank Redemption' with their institutionalised natures and search for forgives and redemption for their past lives. As we follow a generous, non judgemental Director, who gives up his time each year to Direct certain inmates in a chosen play by William Shakespeare (this time around, the 'Tempest', that was cleverly portrayed with the inmates who could relate to it so much with its penetrating focus on forgiveness and redemption in which they confide and relate to) we are introduced to each actor in formal interviews that are nicely paced with break up footage of them rehearsing. Each actor has their own story and tell of their regrets and reasons why they are there in emotional fashion with melancholic music over each in a traditional documentary sense. The strongest and most respected inmate (it would seem) is Sammie. The Director appears to immediately realise who the most interesting inmates were in Sammie (and later, Hal) and allows a longer, more in depth observation into the man and his personality. His presence is felt on screen and his personal revelations come as a shock to the audience, but give him such appeal in his emotional personality and a particular empathy is felt toward him. Hal is the same at the beginning of the film. He has other things that he does to pass the time that's shown as a comfortable hobby as it were in running an on site news broadcast programme. Again, through personal interviews and revelations self admitted by Hal (and nicely shot cutaways of Hal's body language, not the close-ups of his uncertain hand movement not only observed with him but others as well,) in particular his heart felt story about being unsure and scared of his true sexuality in a society that purely would not accept him as a homosexual until later on in the film where he is shown to be quite snide and rude to other inmates involved in the play as though he deems himself above all of them, in particular to Ron who already has a frustrating temperament in his acting. The relationship between all of the inmates involved in the play is shown as one of respect and unity to achieve something great for themselves. With nice (if not clichéd) motions of time passing by with titles etc everything seems to go right in the first act, and then on the build up to the public performance, things predictably go wrong. An induction of one of the actors being transferred and his character being replaced by a younger, newer inmate gives the narrative a nice subplot into someone who promises big, but in the end disappoints all and does not live up to their expectation. One inmate in particular (Big-G) welcomes the new inmate actor (Rick) with an evident will to nurture him into their beloved practise and hopefully become a good role model. The film seems to capture each inmates passion so well with something the audience can relate to especially when Rick is put in the 'Hole' for getting new tattoos (something nicely hinted upon earlier in the film when the warden stops a random inmate in the yard and asks him when he got a tattoo that's on his arm and we learn it's a punishable offence in the facility) and Big-G's disappointment is understood deeply. A happy ending? It all looks great when they are performing successfully (even being invited to perform elsewhere) and a sense of real unity echoes around them, but in the end, the film brings everyone back down to earth that this is short lived and everything they ever had or wanted was and will always be taken away from them. It is back to prison to pay for their crimes and no matter what redemption they seek in acting these plays, they won't be free men, their proud performances and recognition is undermined by the fact that they are the lowest of the low criminals and a nice halt in the uplifting music that plays in a shot of a long corridor that coincides with the lights turning off and doors shutting is a powerful image of their oppression. The Director seemed to be aware he was watching likable people in the documentary by given additional information at the end of the film into each actors future from the end of the film about where they are and what's happening to them now.
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