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Shakespeare Behind Bars
By Tuxxer

You see a movie in order to enjoy yourself. You watch horror movies to get that rush of adrenaline, comedies so you can hopefully laugh your ass off. You pop in a romantic comedy in order to put your girlfriend in a good mood.

Then there are documentaries. You watch a documentary in order to learn something; maybe to see something you're already familiar with from a unique perspective. You don't go into any of these movie genres expecting to be moved. Shows how much I know.

I've never seen anything quite like Shakespeare Behind Bars. Thieves, drug dealers and murderers genuinely strive to explore a work of art and find something for themselves in it: expression, something to relate to, a release.

Inmates tackle The Tempest: A play about people stranded on an island. The choice was deliberate, as the director wanted them to benefit from their own feelings of isolation.

This film is about prison—Many of the players are looking forward to parole, but more than one of them is serving a life sentence or more. The warden, not surprisingly, is a bit of a prick. Their first Antonio, a repentant child molester, memorizes his lines in solitary confinement before he is ultimately moved to maximum security. The role is recast.

This film is about theatre—They warm up for rehearsal playing movement games I've known for over a decade. They talk about the language Shakespeare used, and confess they don't understand it all. The man playing Caliban believes inmates make good actors: men prone to lying, burying their real feelings, and replacing them with something else, men with high levels of emotional passion to vent. He's not wrong.

Aside from the outstanding merits of the subject; the film itself is likewise excellent. More than 170 hours of footage were pared down into a cohesive, touching film that's barely longer than 90 minutes. If it weren't enough, the DVD also has commentary by some of the prisoners and filmmakers, deleted scenes as well as additional scenes of their performance.

If you have the slightest interest in Shakespeare, see this film. If you have the slightest curiosity of what it's like to go to prison, see this film. I can't recommend it highly enough.

10 out of 10.

If you dig stories from behind bars, read our own interviews with an inmate. How to play games in jail, and How to prepare before going to jail.

You can buy Shakespeare Behind Bars from

Review ©2006

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