Saturday, 26 September 2015

Revisiting The Tempest

"These, our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air..." (The Tempest Act 4, scene 1)
October sees the release of James Shapiro's new book, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, the follow-up to his brilliant 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and with that in mind I revisited Derek Jarman's 1979 adaptation of The Tempest earlier today... I've always enjoyed this film for its rich occult atmosphere, with Prospero absorbed in his grimoires and surrounded by magical talismans, and cabalistic writings and symbols. It's widely believed that Shakespeare based Prospero on the English magus John Dee, a notion that Jarman validates by having his Prospero wield a magic wand in the shape of John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica symbol. The film is infused with a visual magic too thanks to Peter Middleton's chiaroscuro lighting, lending a dreamlike quality to the proceedings, and there's a bold use of costumes - if Shakespeare vaguely set his play during the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century, Jarman is even less specific, as various ages casually mesh together, Caliban appearing like a tawdry Edwardian butler, Miranda as a punk princess, her gown perpetually falling apart, and Ariel dressed all in white, anticipating the New Romantics of the 80's. And I like that the film furthers the connection between Derek Jarman and Throbbing Gristle - Elizabeth Welsh's rendition of Stormy Weather for the film's finale was issued as a 7" single by Industrial Records. Interestingly, a flick thru Tony Peake's biography in preparation for this post reveals that Jarman originally envisioned Brian Eno scoring the film and David Bowie singing Ariel's songs... "Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not..."


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