Telecommuniculturey

High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bardsploitation, part 1

This will probably be short (for me) and partial, as I have to get into the shower, get dressed, fetch a 12-year-old from the northwest hinterlands, head back down to the Belmont area and take in some musical theatre, but my brane has been working overtime since last night.

Last night, M and I headed downtown to see Shakespeare Behind Bars, a 2005 documentary shot almost exclusively at the Luther Luckett Medium Security Prison in LaGrange, KY. As the title suggests, the documentary focuses on a program begun in 1998 that involves producing a Shakespeare each year within the confines of the prison.

In 2001 the Christian Science Monitor did a pretty extended piece on the program that is worth reading. I skimmed it before we went to the theatre and it greatly enhanced my understanding and appreciation for the documentary.

A while ago my pal M mentioned that she appreciated a certain documentary (Og no remember which) because it evaded a trap into which documentary folks seem to be falling with greater and greater frequency. Namely, the documentary ends up being about the documentarian's search for the truth, difficulties making the film, etc., rather than actually being about the putative subject. Shakespeare Behind Bars most definitely avoids this as well. With one exception (that is made to great effect), we neither see nor hear the interviewers. There is not a second of narration, and explanatory text is minimal, increasing in frequency only later in the film. But overall, the men tell their stories and share their views on the program without intrusion.

Even so, the skill of the filmmakers is quite evident. It's edited beautifully. Often an inmate will offer a bit of insight on himself or others that will be accompanied visually by a snippet from a rehearsal or some other context that perfectly captures his epiphany or admission. The music is also minimal, but powerful, consisting primarily of cello and bass.

I want to ruminate more on the content (which is weighty and even more depressing than one might think) later, but for now it's worth noting that this is a really good film.

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