Prospero's Books (1991)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental, Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Surrealist Film  |   Release Date - Nov 15, 1991 (USA)  |   Run Time - 121 min.  |   Countries - France, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jason Ankeny

A radical re-interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books stars Sir John Gielgud as the title character, the former Duke of Milan exiled to a remote island to live with his cherished books and daughter Miranda (Isabelle Pasco). A linear adaptation of The Tempest this is not, however: for Greenaway, the books are more important than Prospero himself. Like its hero, the film is enraptured by the written word, and is densely layered with textual images -- pages, typography, calligraphy and illustrations -- composed in a series of double exposures and transparent overlays with the aid of a device dubbed an electronic paintbox. The soundtrack is similarly complex, an aural tapestry weaving together sound effects, echo chambers and Michael Nyman's neo-classical score. Like so much of Greenaway's work, Prospero's Books is also fascinated with the human form. In the style of Renaissance art, the film examines a parade of naked bodies, luxuriating in a sensuality buried in the original text. A difficult, even scandalous film, but one which pushes the boundaries of the medium to their breaking point.