Even Shakespeare might not understand 'Prospero's Books'

November 27, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

YOU WATCH ''Prospero's Books'' wondering where in the world director Peter Greenaway (he did the script and directed) got the money to do it. It had to cost a small bundle. It is, without a doubt, one of the most demanding, least commercial films you will ever see.

Yes, there is nudity. There is probably more nudity in this one film then there was in all the films that played the Rex when it was a skin house.

The nudity, however, becomes boring, like the rest of the film.

''Prospero's Books'' is Greenaway's version of Shakespeare's ''The Tempest.'' It stars John Gielgud, who always wanted to do the play as a film. He may still want to do it as a film.

''Prospero's Books'' is one of the most dense films ever made, but then this should come as no surprise to those who know Greenaway's work (''The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover'').

Gielgud plays Prosper and just about everyone else in the play. His work is virtually a monologue. For three quarters of the film, he does the talking for all the characters. Toward close, others begin to speak for themselves, but they don't have too much to say, something they can't regret all that much since anyone connected with this film might choose to shrink from it.

There may be a plot, but don't try to find it. For the most part, ''Prospero's Books'' is a kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic version of the play, one that piles image on image, each as bizarre as the next, and most punctuated by visions of nude men, women and children who clutter this production.

The film, for example, opens with a little boy urinating into a pool. Of course, it's a sham. There is a hose attached to the child, but by this time, Greenaway has made his point, if he has one.

Every time Gielgud appears, he is surrounded by nude players, some of whom may or may not be dancing. If this is dancing, it is someone's impression of Elizabethan-style break dancing.

Books are the theme of the film, the books Prospero was allowed to take with him when he was banished and sent into exile in a leaky craft. We get descriptions of some of them, all of which are accompanied by visual excess that is almost staggering in its daring.

As the descriptions continue, those nude actors reappear and reappear, and when they move off camera, they are replaced by a male dancer who may be wearing a prosthesis.

Why so much discussion of the nudity? Well, this is primarily what the film is about, that and little more.

It was rumored that the studio was intending to tack a synopsis of the play onto the film at the beginning. That might help, but ''Prospero's Books'' needs a lot more than that.

''Prospero's Books'' opens today at the Rotunda.

''Prospero's Books''

** A phantasmagorical interpretation of Shakespeare's ''The Tempest.''

CAST: John Gielgud, Michael Clark, Michel Blanc, Isabelle Pasco, Mark Rylance

DIRECTOR: Peter Greenaway

RATING: R (nudity, sex)

) RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes

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