The everyday genius of Harold Pinter
07.01.2011
03:49 pm

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
History
Movies
Heroes
Theater
Harold Pinter

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I started reading Pinter when I was about 12, and found his work strangely reassuring, for here was the dialog of the adults all around me, full of peopled silences and casual menace. Whether it was The Caretaker or The Birthday Party, it all seemed so normal, only as I gained a year, did I realize that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be so normal after all.

Pinter observed and refracted the world around him through the prism of his experience - a repertory actor caught in digs, mixing with landladies, traveling salesman, became The Room, The Basement, and The Birthday Party. As Pinter told his biographer, Michael Billington:

“I went to these digs and found, in short, a very big woman who was the landlady and a little man, the landlord. There was no one else there, apart from a solitary lodger, and the digs were really quite filthy ... I slept in the attic with this man I’d met in the pub ... we shared the attic and there was a sofa over my bed ... propped up so I was looking at this sofa from which hairs and dust fell continuously. And I said to the man, “What are you doing here?” And he said, “Oh well I used to be…I’m a pianist. I used to play in the concert-party here and I gave that up.” ... The woman was really quite a voracious character, always tousled his head and tickled him and goosed him and wouldn’t leave him alone at all. And when I asked him why he stayed, he said, “There’s nowhere else to go.”

Or, the start of family life, married to the actress Vivian Merchant, living together in a threadbare flat in Chiswick, the location which inspired The Caretaker:

“a very clean couple of rooms with a bath and kitchen. There was a chap who owned the house: a builder, in fact, like Mick who had his own van and whom I hardly ever saw. The only image of him was of this swift mover up and down the stairs and of his van going . . . Vroom . . . as he arrived and departed. His brother lived in the house. He was a handyman . . . he managed rather more successfully than Aston, but he was very introverted, very secretive, had been in a mental home some years before and had had some kind of electrical shock treatment . . . ECT, I think . . . Anyway, he did bring a tramp back one night. I call him a tramp, but he was just a homeless old man who stayed three or four weeks.”

Then there was his sexual and romantic relationships Landscape, Silence, Betrayal; and even his influences - a moot point that without Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane, he wouldn’t have written The Homecoming.

In 1963, Pinter wrote an essay about his theater and his plays:

I’m not a theorist. I’m not an authoritative or reliable commentator on the dramatic scene, the social scene, any scene. I write plays, when I can manage it, and that’s all. That’s the sum of it.

I’ve had two full-length plays produced in London. The first ran a week, and the second ran a year. Of course, there are differences between the two plays. In The Birthday Party I employed a certain amount of dashes in the text, between phrases. In The Caretaker I cut out the dashes and used dots instead. So that instead of, say, “Look, dash, who, dash, I, dash, dash, dash,” the text would read, “Look, dot, dot, dot, who, dot, dot, dot, I, dot, dot, dot, dot.” So it’s possible to deduce from this that dots are more popular than dashes, and that’s why The Caretaker had a longer run than The Birthday Party. The fact that in neither case could you hear the dots and dashes in performance is beside the point. You can’t fool the critics for long. They can tell a dot from a dash a mile off, even if they can hear neither.

Nigel Williams directed this superb two-part film biography on Harold Pinter for BBC’s Arena strand, which explores:

Pinter’s life, work, and political passions - from his East End childhood to his work as an actor, his experience of both early critical rejection and adulation, his screenwriting, and his love of poetry and passion for cricket.

Part One explores Pinter’s key theme - the room - through the very rooms in which he wrote his first great series of plays. Arena reveals the links between the plays and places, and meets the people who live there now. We visit the East London terraced house room where Pinter grew up and first wrote poetry; the theatre dressing room where he began to formulate his ideas about playwriting and language; the sitting room in the London cold-water flat where he wrote his first hit, The Caretaker, and his study in the bow-fronted house in Worthing, where he lived in the sixties with his first wife Vivien Merchant, and wrote The Homecoming.

Harold Pinter has given Arena exclusive access to personal recordings in which he talks frankly to his biographer Michael Billington. Presented for the first time on television, they tell Pinter’s story in his own words, as he remembers it.

In part two of this film biography, Arena explores the relationship between the public and private dimensions of the famous playwright and actor’s life and work; the intimacy of his plays since the seventies; his work in films and television drama; his passion for poetry; and his fervent ‘political engagement’.

Arena accompanied Pinter for two years to film plays and events in America and all over Europe. The wildly funny Celebration features a group of friends celebrating in a restaurant and, over the course of the evening, revealing details of their private lives in this very public space.

Arena reunites members of the cast, including Lindsay Duncan, Andy de la Tour, Susan Wooldridge and Indira Varma, who discuss their working relationship with Harold Pinter.

Other contributors include his wife Lady Antonia Fraser, journalist John Pilger and Pinter’s biographer Michael Billington.

 

 
Part 2 of this excellent documentary on Harold Pinter, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Was Shakespeare a stoner?


 
To toke or not to toke, or rather did he toke, that is the question. That’s right, you heard me, did the Bard smoke weed?

Not to get all “Lord Buckley” on you finger-poppin’ daddys, but is it possible that Willie the Shake was a “viper”? That’s what a controversial paleontologist wants to find out.

After some two dozen pipes were found buried in Shakespeare’s garden, many containing residues of smoked cannabis, a South Africa scientist named Francis Thackeray, with help from Professor Nikolaas van der Merwe of Harvard University, obtained fragments of these pipes via the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. They handed them over to South African Police forensic scientists for lab analysis. Low levels of marijuana residue was found in the pipes.

Cannabis was known to have been cultivated at the time in England and so it is certainly plausible that Shakespeare partook of the herb superb, but it would take looking at bone samples to say for sure. (Two of the pipes also tested positive for traces of cocaine, but this is a more difficult to swallow than the idea of the Bard smoking the “noted weed,” as cocaine first gets synthesized around the time of the Civil War).

Thackery says that his team could get into Shakespeare’s final resting place—he was buried under a church in Stratford-upon-Avon—unobtrusively, because a full exhumation of the body is not required and the remains would not have to be disturbed at all. Good thing, too, because Shakespeare was notoriously wary of anyone screwing around with his skeleton. A curse is engraved on his tomb that reads:

“Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare/ To digg the dust encloased heare/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones/ And curst be he that moves my bones.”

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
V: A musical tribute to Thomas Pynchon by Richard and Mimi Fariña


 
Novelist and folk singer Richard Fariña is the missing link (or “Kevin Bacon” if you prefer) connecting author Thomas Pynchon (the best man at Fariña’s wedding to Mimi Baez) and Bob Dylan. Some have called Fariña an out-sized influence on the young Dylan, who allegedly aped the older man’s world-weary bohemian attitudes and persona. (It was also Fariña who allegedly suggested to Dylan that he hitch his horse to a then-rising star Joan Baez (his sister-in-law), ditch the folk thing, and start a new genre of music: poetry that people could dance to).

Richard and Mimi Fariña (along with Bruce Langhorne on tambourine), recorded this vaguely Near East-sounding dulcimer drone on their 1963 album Celebrations for a Grey Day, as a tribute to Pynchon’s first novel, V. Fariña said of the song, which seems like it was inspired by the Alexandria of V‘s chapter five, in the liner notes:

“Call it an East-West dreamsong in the Underground Mode for Tom Pynchon and Benny Profane. The literary listener will no doubt find clues to the geographical co-ordinates of Vheissu, the maternal antecedents of the younger Stencil, and a three-dimensional counter-part of Botticelli’s Venus on the half-shell. May they hang again on a western wall.”

Fariña, whose claim to fame was the “road” novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, died tragically on April 30, 1966, in a motorcycle accident. It was his wife’s 21st birthday.  Fariña was just 29. Thomas Pynchon later dedicated his classic 1973 novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, to Richard Fariña.

Thomas Pynchon on Richard Fariña
 

 
Thank you, Elixir Sue!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Steve Aylett’s ‘Lint: The Movie’ with Alan Moore and Stewart Lee

 
According to his biographer, Steve Aylett, writer Jeff Lint was “the most imaginative and inconvenient SF writer in modern history.”

Aylett’s new film Lint: The Movie documents the life and perplexing work of Jeff Lint with participation from the likes of Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Robin Ince, D.Harlan Wilson, Jeff Vandermeer, Leila Johnston, Andrew O’Neill,and enigmatically creative literary/comics genius, Aylett himself.

Featuring clips from Lint’s books, cartoons, music, comics and films, plus interviews with fans & critics, the movie follows Lint’s life from the days of vintage pulp, through his adoption by the psychedelic counterculture and disastrous scripts for ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Patton’; to his status as an enigmatic cult figure. Never-before-seen archive footage and recordings of Lint himself, and commentary by those who knew and read him, results in a compelling portrait of the creator of Clowns & Insects, Jelly Result, The Stupid Conversation, The Riding On Luggage Show, the CATERER comic, and Catty and the Major, the scariest kids’ cartoon ever aired.

Lint’s was a career haunted by death, including the undetected death of his agent, the suspicious death of his rival Herzog, and the unshakable ‘Lint is dead’ rumours, which persisted even after his death. Like his contemporary Philip K. Dick, he was blithely ahead of his time.

Steve Aylett will premiere Lint: The Movie this weekend, Sunday, June 26th at the Kino Club in Brighton. The very wonderful ceremonial magician/transvestite stand-up comic, Andrew O’Neill will performing live and Aylett will do a Q&A. More screenings are coming up, so follow Steve Aylett’s Twitter feed for more information.

What I find amazing is that a talent like Tim Burton fucks around with unnecessarily remaking Planet of the Apes and Alice in Wonderland when he could be making one of Aylett’s multi-level works into a truly modern 21st century film. Aylett’s work is terrific source material for Hollywood (and if not, then certainly for Adult Swim!), but they just haven’t realized it yet. Burton’s oeuvre has needed a shot of new energy for years (if you ask me) and Steve Aylett would make a fantastic collaborator for him. How amazing would it be if Tim Burton directed The Caterer, huh? Just saying…
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Martin Amis interviews Norman Mailer: ‘I can see a war starting within capitalism itself’
06.23.2011
09:58 am

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
Norman Mailer
Martin Amis


 
Irascible literary figure Martin Amis interviews legendarily irascible literary figure Norman Mailer on the BBC in 1991. I have a love/hate relationship with both writers, so I enjoyed watching this on a number of levels. It’s not often that you see a conversation like this on television, sadly…

Harlot’s Ghost, Mailer’s CIA novel, had just come out. American politics, advanced capitalism, communism, why Christians side with the rich against the poor, writing, the Cold War and homosexuality are topics that get covered. (It gets really good in part two, which is what I am going to link to here, but you can find the other segments on YouTube).
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Are the Smurfs Communist Nazis?


Image by Bit Weird.

I’d heard the theory that the Smurfs were a ploy to get us used to the imminent arrival of little blue aliens, but this is news to me. A French academic has published a book claiming that the Smurfs were both Communist and anti-Semitic, claims that have met with a backlash from fans of the little blue guys. From The Guardian:

Antoine Buéno, a lecturer at Sciences Po university in Paris, makes the claims in his new book Le Petit Livre Bleu: Analyse critique et politique de la société des Schtroumpfs, in which he points out that the Smurfs live in a world where private initiative is rarely rewarded, where meals are all taken together in a communal room, where there is one leader and where the Smurfs rarely leave their small country.

“Does that not remind you of anything? A political dictatorship, for example?” asks Buéno, going on to compare the Smurfs’ world to a totalitarian utopia reminiscent of Stalinist communism (Papa wears a red outfit and resembles Stalin, while Brainy is similar to Trotsky) and nazism (the character of the Smurfs’ enemy Gargamel is an antisemitic caricature of a Jew, he proposes). A story about the Black Smurfs, meanwhile, in which the Smurfs are bitten by a fly which turns their skin black and renders them unable to speak, has colonial overtones.

Reactions to the book were immediate and hostile, with commenters on Smurf fansites calling Buéno a “dream breaker”, an imbecile and a crook with “paranoid delusions”, who is ruining childhood memories.

 
Is this strange video perhaps more proof of a connection?
 

 
Thanks to Nicola Blackmore.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Papa Oom Mow Mow: The Hemingway Way


 
Dangerous Minds pal and “America’s Luscious Beacon of Truth” (that’s what his press kit says) Marty Beckerman has a new book out: The Heming Way: How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within… Just Like Papa!, a satirical look at Ernest Hemingway’s life and many misguided ideas:

Fifty years have passed since the death of Ernest Hemingway, history’s ultimate man, and young males today—obsessed with Facebook, Twitter, and Nintendo—know nothing about his legendary brand of rugged, alcoholic masculinity. They cannot skin a fish, dominate a battlefield, or transform majestic creatures of the Southern Hemisphere into piano keyboards.

It was not always this way. We can undo this descent into vegan emasculation. All we need is a teacher, a savior. Not a messiah, but a mansiah. All we need is Papa.

With chapters such as “For Whom the Beer Flows,” “Death in the Afternoon… Lunch is Served,” “A Farewell to Smooth Arms, Backs, Faces, Taints, etc.,” and “The Old Man and the See You in Hell,” former Esquire editor Marty Beckerman demonstrates how modern eunuchs—brainwashed by PETA and Alcoholics Anonymous—can realize their full potential as drunken, unshaven, meat-devouring, wife-divorcing, gloriously self-destructive manimals.

The Heming Way is a difficult path, and not for the weak, but truth is manlier than fiction.

Read an excerpt from the book:
How to drink, the Hemingway way: The self-destructive drinker knew what he liked when it came to alcohol. Here are some of his hard-learned tips (Salon)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Chris Stein interviews William Burroughs, 1987
06.01.2011
10:52 am

Topics:
Literature
Music

Tags:
William Burroughs
Chris Stein


“Towers open fire.”
 
Here’s a short but compelling clip of Blondie’s Chris Stein and William Burroughs having a chat in 1987. Wish there was more. 

Chris describes the scene:

This is a pretty simple discussion here, (i was trying to sound intelligent)... Bill is just saying that war is part of the natural plan, universe whatever… he drops a lot of phrases that come from Buddhism, he and Kerouac, Ginsberg and co. were all enthusiastic followers… i dont really think that Bill was a devoted practitioner… he was more of a mystic or animist in my opinion.

This was shot in the basement of the last and biggest Warhol factory which was the old Con Ed building on Madison and 33rd street for a segment of Andy’s cable tv show hence the models who were directed to wander through the shots.”

“This a war Universe.”
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner sing ‘G’Bye Lou’ from the Creem sessions


Lester Bangs at Coney Island in the early 1970s. Photographed by Chris Stein.

Recorded in the mid-1970s in the offices of Creem Magazine, here’s Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner taking the piss out of Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground homage/parody “G’bye Lou.” 
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Shock treatment: Ken Kesey hits back at critics of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

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In the winter of 1963, Kirk Douglas returned to theater in the first stage production of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Douglas starred as McMurphy, with a supporting cast that included Gene Wilder as Billy Bibbit, and Ed Ames as Chief Bromden. What should have been a triumphant return for Douglas and a theatrical success for Kesey’s novel proved to be a disaster, which was savaged by critics and closed after 11 weeks.

On January 7th of 1964, sickened by the relentless stream of invective from the press, Kesey wrote the following letter to the New York Times, defending the production, its cast, and in particular, responding to the journalists who had criticized the play for its “unrealistic storyline”. Little did these reviewers know the truth of Kesey’s novel. Now read on.

KIRK DOUGLAS
ONE FLEW OVER THE
CUCKOO’S NEST

January 7, 1964

From: Ken Kesey, [Redacted]

Drama Mailbag:

The answering of one’s critics has always struck me as doing about as much good as fighting crabgrass with manure. Critics generally thrive on the knowledge that their barbs are being felt; best to keep silent and starve them of such attention, let them shrivel and dry, spines turned in. So I have tried to keep this silence during the attacks on the Wasserman play of my novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…figuring that the people who saw the play as being about a mental hospital, because it is set in a mental ward, are the sort that would fault Moby Dick for being an “exaggerated” story about a boat, also figuring that such simplemindedness is relatively harmless. And even keeping silent when the play was condemned because the subject of mental health as a whole was treated disrespectfully, or irresponsibly, or—god forbid!—humorously.

But when the defenders of “Cuckoo’s Nest” begin to show signs of suffering some of the same misconceptions as the critics, I feel I must speak out.

Mr. Friedman’s letter last Sunday was as good an argument as I’ve read for judging a work on it’s own terms. Still, by comparing the reality of the setting of “Cuckoo’s Nest” with “1984” or “The Trial,” he does injustice to a number of people connected with the research that went into that setting. First, the director, Alex Segel, who created an atmosphere so faithful to the wacky-weird world of a nuthouse ward (faithful to the real wards, not the public conception of what a hospital should be like) that a friend of mine, (a Speech Therapist in a V.A. Hospital who took time off to fly back to the opening), remarked after the final curtain, “I feel as though I just put in a hard day at the office.”

Second, the actors. Who capture that nuthouse feeling so completely with their characterizations that I found myself wondering where some of them had been sprung from. Just, for a small example, their movement: inmates have a way of walking that is both piticully random and terribly purposeful, and peculiar to no other place I know of save the mental ward. The cast has this peculiar movement. Watch Ruckly when he shuffles onto stage; he’s been shuffling that same path in those same slippers for centuries. Or watch Billy Bibbit’s neck contortions, or the caged-squirell frolicking of Marini’s madness. And Kirk Douglas..after watching his performance, in which the usual Douglas’ gestures and gyrations were secondary, to subtler actions (the way he will playfully punch another character’s arm as he passes, a gesture barely noticible, familiar, reinforcing..) I asked if he had visited any hospital in preparing for the part. “Spent a lot of time in Camarillo,” he told me. “Got to know a lot of the guys. I still correspond with one. “Quite a place. And different, you know? then you think it’ll be…”

And last, the notion that this setting is only a fictional and fantastic one does an injustice to thousands of patients in hundreds of wards almost identical to that ward on the stage of the Cort. While Cuckoo’s Nest is, as Mr. Friedman rightly points out, about more than just a mental hospital, it is also an attack on tyranny of the sort that is perhaps more predominant in mental hospitals then any place else in our land. It is by no accident that the acute ward was picked for the setting; after working for close to a year as an aide in two hospitals in California I could imagine no better backdrop for my parable. I only needed describe what I had seen and heard, what I had felt after endless swing shift hours talking with the broken and defeated men of our society, and what I concluded to be the stress thar broke them. McMurphy is, of course, fictional—a dream, a wild hope fabricated out of need in defeat—but the men he comes to save, and the menace he battles, these are real, live human being. While this world may be fantastic, it is not mere fantasy. Neither is it an exaggeration; when I hear of someone accusing the book, or the play, of “exaggerating the bad” I think of my last days at the hospital: the first draft of the book almost finished, I had handed in my letter of resignation (a day before, incidently, I received a letter from the superior nurse advising me I was being discharged for “a lack of interest in the hospital…”) and I had only one bit of research left: I wished to try shock treatment to get some idea why the patients thought it so bad. And I did. And I found out. And to those who think it is fictionally exaggerated I only say try it first and see.

Because it can never be as bad in fiction as it is in real life.

 
See Ken Kesey’s letter, after the jump…
 
Via Letters of Note
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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