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Live! from Capitol Hill: Bertolt Brecht’s Folkways LP
02.17.2017
07:24 am

Topics:
Art
History
Literature
Politics

Tags:
Bertolt Brecht


 
On October 30, 1947, Bertolt Brecht gave a command performance for Congress. The House Un-American Activities Committee summoned the German playwright, poet, and Doors lyricist to the Cannon House Office Building to examine him about matters of the direst urgency and the gravest possible consequence to the Republic, such as the name of the leading actor in Hangmen Also Die! and the lyrics to Brecht’s song “In Praise of Learning.” By what vile, McCarthyist tactics they extorted from Brecht these most closely held secrets of the Third International, I dare not print.

The recording is presented by the critic Eric Bentley, whose narration bridges edits in the tape and provides historical context. Like most Folkways records, the LP comes with a booklet; this one reproduces the transcript of Brecht’s testimony and Bentley’s voiceover along with a facsimile of the hand-corrected statement Brecht prepared for the occasion but was not allowed to read. From the booklet’s introduction:

It is an encounter that rivals in drama some of the great trial scenes in Brecht’s plays, and it will fascinate equally both those interested in Brecht and those interested in the HUAC.

Although tantalizing fragments of the recording have been heard in Brecht on Brecht, and the complete transcript has been printed by the government, this is the first time that the encounter has been brought to the public. Bertolt Brecht’s voice was recorded few times in any language, and this is almost certainly the only recording of Brecht speaking English.

You know you’re talking about an old record when its subtitle includes the phrase “an historic encounter” (or, in the cover artist’s words, “an historical encounter”). But the interests of these ghosts’ voices, speaking in the Caucus Room 70 years ago, are not so remote. Over a decade before this engagement, Brecht had addressed Germans’ perplexity about truth in politics under the Nazis and what the Führer really believed in his heart in “On the Question of Whether Hitler Is Being Honest,” which cut the Gordian knot in its concluding sentences:

Certainly, Hitler could be honest and mean well, and yet still objectively be Germany’s worst enemy. But he is not honest.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘William Shatner Live’: William Shatner pretends to be a serious actor, 1977
07.07.2016
02:04 pm

Topics:
Literature
Television

Tags:
William Shatner
Bertolt Brecht


 
I was in a record store the other day when I noticed an LP I’d never seen before—a sealed copy of a 1977 album called William Shatner Live with a $25 asking price. We’ve all heard about Shatner’s sublime 1967 album The Transformed Man, of course, but this record was another animal altogether. For one thing, it’s “a talking album only,” to quote the disclaimer on Elvis Presley’s 1974 album Having Fun with Elvis on Stage.

One of the hilarious things about William Shatner Live is the back cover, which has some of the most over-the-top liner notes I’ve ever seen. Here it is:
 

 
The overwrought, hyperbolic text is credited to Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath:
 

It is the first time the man has come out, alone to confront his legend.

And the legend has come out to confront him.

The audience, six years old and yet unborn when the ENTERPRISE flew—the rerun generation.

They came, college students—and college professors. Pre-schoolers—and Ph.D’s. Doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers. Truck drivers, dockworkers, drill sergeants. Both sexes. All ages. Every shade of difference, every degree of diversity. Feeling no generation gap at all.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the legendary Kirk is finding a place in the history of heroes which is unique, one-of-a-kind, unprecedented.

And the rerun generation is growing up never having known a world in which there was not at least one example of a hero who was profoundly open, willing to be real to himself and others.

On stage now the man who broke that trail a decade ago has gone on, WHERE-NO-MAN… The dramatic performance speaks of the flying, and is the flying. Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergerac, Galileo on the need for the freedom of man’s mind. Some of the rerun generation may not understand the words fully. It doesn’t matter. Their eyes never leave his face.

He shifts from the dramatic performance. He loves to let the audience reach out to him with questions, with a love which would register on the Richter scale. Now he is fast, funny, light, loving, with anecdotes from the STAR TREK years and now.

Shatner has said, “They’re not the screamers. They’re the people who say ‘thank you.’ They remember something I did many years ago. I’ve grown from a boy to a man on television in front of everybody. And now here they are, turning out in torrential rains to say ‘thank you.’ And I am—moved to tears, many times.”

The response was so tremendous that there will be other tours, other albums. The man will go out to greet the legend again—and undoubtedly astonish it yet again.

 
Recorded at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, William Shatner Live recalls a time when Shatner’s status as a universally beloved icon of movies and TV was considerably more in doubt than it is today. The original Star Trek series had been cancelled eight years earlier, in 1969, and the 1970s were proving to be a bit rocky for Shatner. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was still two years off, and T. J. Hooker was fully five years into the future. The Priceline ads were two decades away.

Three years earlier, Shatner had appeared in Roger Corman’s Big Bad Mama, and while we’d all think it cool to have a Corman movie on our résumés, appearing in one is probably not a sign that one’s career is heading in the right direction unless it’s your film debut. In 1976 Mark Goodman wanted Shatner to host Family Feud—true story—and Shatner’s most notable acting credit of 1977, the same year William Shatner Live was released, was the tarantula horror movie Kingdom of the Spiders.
 

 
Given these facts, William Shatner Live comes to seem like nothing so much as an extended audition reel to send to Hollywood casting agents, as the former and future Captain James T. Kirk shows off his acting skills, reading monologues by the likes of H.G. Wells and Edmond de Rostand, as well as a less expected author: noted Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht.

To hear Shatner essay the lofty and bracing registers of Brecht’s Life of Galileo is to ponder whether his signature declamatory style is a self-fashioned Verfremdungseffekt, or what we would call an alienation effect.

While the 17th-century scientist Galileo seems an odd choice for the originator of the space-traveling Kirk role, it makes a bit more sense when you realize that Galileo, as the astronomer par excellence, has reason to discuss the celestial bodies of outer space and the possibilities of the human mind. Indeed, it’s probably the most Roddenberry-ish thing Brecht ever wrote.

For those who want to read along, a similar (not identical) translation of the monologue can be found here.
 

 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Having Fun with Elvis on Stage’: All banter, no songs, this is the weirdest Elvis album ever
The (very short) true story of William Shatner’s ‘The Transformed Man’ album

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
David Bowie stars in Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Baal,’ 1982
07.07.2015
01:13 pm

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
David Bowie
Bertolt Brecht


 
Baal was the first play written by Bertolt Brecht, in 1918 at the age of 20 as a student at Munich University. It’s a strange piece of work, a hybrid of the classic nineteenth-century drama of Strindberg and Ibsen and Chekhov and something rawer that belongs to the twentieth century. Brecht had not hit on his radical methods yet, but his basic bitterness and skill with words is already present.

The title might lead one to expect a play about topics bestial and Biblical, about the Canaanite god of thunderstorms, fertility and agriculture or a 17th-century demon “said to appear in the forms of a man, cat, toad, or combinations thereof,” but no. While it shares something of that Biblical feeling in the chorus’ allegorical songs and the main character’s wanderings in the middle of the play, the play is set squarely in the 20th century and is about an ostensibly mortal man, a poet in fact.

It is my belief that Baal, in addition to whatever other virtues it has, also served as some kind of wish-fulfillment for Brecht. The main character, Baal, is a poet of enormous talent who is irresistibly attractive to women and who also is willful enough to scorn several benefactors in the face of his own short-term self-interest. Here are two lines that illustrate the point. Early in the play a man says to Baal, “I can understand men giving their hearts to you . . . but how do you manage to have such success with women?” Yeah, right. Later on a woman tasked with looking after his garret whines about discovering yet another young woman in his bed: “Dawn to dusk – his bed not allowed to cool off!”
 

 
In 1982 the esteemed TV director Alan Clarke filmed Baal for the BBC with David Bowie in the title role; he also sings the songs of the chorus that punctuate the play. It’s fair to say, I think, simultaneously that everyone involved did a fine job and that it doesn’t really work. Baal is part of the distant past, and therefore it requires extraordinary efforts to make it resonate in our age, otherwise you are left with a bunch of senseless declaiming. Bowie has a number of songs in the show, and I think it’s not unkind to say that he succeeds as a singer and not as an actor. The skills required of a flamboyant rock star are antithetical to quality acting—as good as he is, Bowie never quite gets lost in the role.

Additionally, the production is rather stagebound—I presume it was some species of a filmed stage production—and the quality of the transfer ain’t great either. I found it very hard to get into until I downloaded the approximate text of the play (.doc download) and read along as I watched the play, and then it began to cohere far more.

It’s easy to see why Bowie was attracted to the material—it’s a Brecht play in which he’s an artistic genius/super-stud and he also gets to sing and act. In 1982 Bowie released an EP entitled David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s BAAL, whose primary purpose in life has been to puzzle crate diggers momentarily as they hunt for a mint copy of Aladdin Sane.
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
David Bowie’s 1982 film “Bertolt Brecht’s Baal”
05.12.2012
06:51 pm

Topics:
Art
Literature
Music

Tags:
David Bowie
Bertolt Brecht
Baal

image
 
My co-conspirator here at DM Paul Gallagher covered this last year, but I found a nice new high quality upload of the video in full and thought I should update the article and share it with you all once again. I’m sure our new readers will appreciate it.

Here is David Bowie in the BBC production of Brecht’s play Baal, from 1982. It was directed by Alan Clarke, the talent behind such controversial TV dramas as Scum with a young Ray Winstone, Made in Britain, with Tim Roth, and Elephant.

Baal was Brecht’s first full-length play, written in 1918, and it tells the story of a traveling musician / poet, who seduces and destroys with callous indifference.

Bowie is excellent as Baal and the five songs he sings in this production were co-produced with Tony Visconti, and later released as the EP David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.
 

 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Kurt Weill: Here’s Lotte Lenya

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The composer Kurt Weill was born today March 2 1900. Best known for his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht on The Threepenny Opera,Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Der Jasager and The 7 Deadly Sins, Weill was a committed socialist, who believed music must serve a socially useful purpose. However, it was politics that eventually split the brilliant partnership of Brecht and Weill, as the musician felt the playwright was pushing too far to the left without question, or as Weill joked, he felt unable to set the Communist Party Manifesto to music.

Weill was married to the brilliant actress and singer, Lotte Lenya, who starred in The Threepenny Opera and later played the SMERSH assassin, Rosa Klebb in the Bond movie, From Russia With Love. With the rise of Hitler, the couple quit Germany and moved to America, where they worked in Hollywood (as did Brecht).

Though Weill’s music is best associated with cabaret and political theater of Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s (influencing John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical Cabaret), he also wrote two symphonies, several cantatas, a great number of songs, set the poetry of Rilke and Walt Whitman’s Song of Myslef to music, and worked with Ira Gershwin on the Hollywood musical Where Do We Go From Here?. Weill died of a heart attack in 1950.

To celebrate Weill’s birthday, here is the brilliant Lenya from 1962, in fine form, singing a selection of her husband’s best known songs “Mack the Knife”, “Pirate Jenny”, “Sarabaya Johnny” and “Alabama Song”. This clip has sub-titles, but that’s unimportant, when compared to the quality of her voice and performance. The production was filmed by Ken Russell for the BBC’s arts series Monitor, and the segment was introduced by legendary arts editor, Huw Weldon.
 

 
Previously on DM

Happy Birthday Bertolt Brecht: Here’s David Bowie


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Bertolt Brecht: Here’s David Bowie in ‘Baal’

image
 
To celebrate Bertolt Brecht’s birthday, here is David Bowie in the BBC production of Brecht’s play Baal, from 1982. It was directed by Alan Clarke, the talent behind such controversial TV dramas as Scum with a young Ray Winstone, Made in Britain, with Tim Roth, and Elephant.

Baal was Brecht’s first full-length play, written in 1918, and it tells the story of a traveling musician / poet, who seduces and destroys with callous indifference.

Bowie is excellent as Baal and the five songs he sings in this production were co-produced with Tony Visconti, and later released as the EP David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.
 

 
More of ‘Baal’ starring David Bowie, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment