Prospero and Caliban in the Meadowlands

Date: 2010
Posted by: Mustafa Sakyra
Cast: Carlomagno Baldi (Prospero), Jim Jurado (Caliban), Derek Gifford (voice of Prospero), Don Mayo (voice of Caliban), Paul Strickwerda (voice of Steedam)
Credits: Film by Mustafa Sakarya
Duration: 30.47

Two men, one in 17th century Dutch costume, the other an overweight and shirtless figure with dark glasses and video controllers hanging about his neck, are found underneath a road bridge in the deserted space of New Jersey known as the Meadlowands. The costumed man sits at a table, a pile of books and a tape player beside him on a table, listening through headphones. He spray paints messages in Dutch, while the other man underlines phrases in planning documents that are plastered over the bridge’s pillars alongside pornographic images. They walk through greenery. They find insects. A collage of sounds plays throughout, mostly quotations from The Tempest, but also snatches of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the works of Dutch poet and New Amsterdam colonialist Jacob Steendam, and assorted pieces of music. They say not a word, but their words are spoken for them. Planes occasionally fly overhead.

What is going on here? The filmmaker tells us that this is a

mash up of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the 911 attacks and Dutch colonialism. After surgically editing Shakespeare’s text, I added an audio collage of references – all of this to surface some of the play’s many subtexts.

So it is a critique of colonialism of some kind, with a hint of retribution to come.The man in the frock coat is Prospero, the man with the video controllers is Caliban, and the island that they occupy is New Amsterdam, the colony on the tip of Manhattan island that was to grow into New York. Maybe we are seeing Prospero and Caliban alone on the island before the others came, maybe they experience the narrative of Shakespeare’s play through their headphones. It is hard to say.

The Tempest is frequently understood as a commentary on colonialism, but what exactly the point being made here is unclear. The video expects the viewer to pick up from the welter of visual and aural references thrown into the mix, yet it doesn’t really signify anything. That’s a shame, because with a clearer exposition and less maladroit technique it could have been quite interesting for what it wants to say about American past and present seen through the prism of Shakespeare’s play. The weakness is that we do not end up thinking about the state of America, but rather about what on earth the passers-by in their cars must have made of these two quaint figures and the camera operator earnestly filming them beside the highway. But it is undoubtedly different, and merits seeing on that account alone.

This title was first published on YouTube in 2008 as a 2 minute extract, when it was originally added to BardBox, then as the film 30-minute film in 2012. It is dated 2010 on the Internet Movie Database.

YouTube page