Writer Michael Bracewell examines the importance of being Oscar Wilde, through the events and works of the great poet’s life.
Here, Wilde is compared to an Existential hero, a man who was brave enough to set an example for all of us - to relish in the essence of who we are.
Wilde was rarely modest, and best explained himself in a letter to his lover Alfred Douglas, Jan-Mar. 1897:
‘I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age…The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colors of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder.
I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.’
First aired in 1997, this is a fascinating documentary explaining why Oscar Wilde still really matters, with contributions from Tom Stoppard, Stephen Fry, Neil Tennant and Ulick O’Connor.
The fabulous Divine in highlights from The Neon Woman, Tom Eyen‘s sequel to Women Behind Bars, which was specifically written for Divine. The footage is a bit raw and gritty, but still gives more than a fair idea as to why Divine was so loved as a performer.
Produced in 1978, The Neon Woman is an “outrageous murder mystery” set in a run-down Baltimore burlesque house managed by a retired stripper, Flash Storm (Divine). The story was inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee’s classic burlesque thriller, The G-String Murders. Directed by Ron Link, and co-starring Helen Hanft, Brenda Bergman, William Duff-Griffin, Maria Duval, and Sweet William Edgar. The production ran for eighty-four performances at the Hurrah Discotheque, New York.
Dangerous Minds reader, Eric Kleptone kindly shared this early film Made, by the late and sadly missed director, John Mackenzie, best known for the exceptional The Long Good Friday and his work with brilliant playwright, Peter McDougall. Made is adapted from a play by Howard Barker, one of the most prolific and original playwrights in modern English theater.
Barker is a writer of secrets, who sees theater as a place where secrets can be shared. What he is not interested in is enlightening the audience with “truths”::
“When I write, I am not giving a lecture, I am speculating on behavior. Sometimes this is dangerous, but it should be. As I say often, theatre is a dark place and we should keep the light out of it.”
This is true of Made (1972), in which Barker speculates on the behavior of single mother, Valerie Marshall (played by Carol White), and her relationships with a musician, Mike Preston (played by folk singer/songwriter Roy Harper, yes, The Roy Harper), and a priest, Father Dyson (John Castle), while dealing with her family and elderly mother (Margery Mason). It’s very much a film of its time - a mix of social observation and exploration of identity, sexuality and independence, which often promises more than it delivers. But MacKenzie draws good performances and keeps the film moving.
Roy Harper contributed to the soundtrack, which became his classic album Lifemask.
In November 1964, Pinter appeared at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center, New York, where he read a selection of his poetry and short stories. This audio recording is the full program of Pinter’s reading and includes:
“New Year in the Midlands”
“A Glass at Midnight”
“You in the Night”
“The Drama in April”
“The Anesthetist’s Pen”
“The Error of Alarm”
“The Black and White Selection”
This is followed by a Q&A where Pinter:
...talks about literary influences, point of view, his opinion of Edward Albee’s Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the classic Beatles vs. Rolling Stones debate.
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…
It started when producer Barry Hanson asked writer Barrie Keeffe, one night, what film he’d like to see? Keeffe said he wanted to see an American gangster film set in the East End of London. There was nothing like it on at the cinema, so Hanson told Keeffe to write it. The result was The Long Good Friday, a movie regularly voted the greatest British gangster film, and one of the best British films, of all time. High praise for a movie that was nearly re-cut, dubbed and pumped out onto TV by its original parent company, ITC, who hated it.
I was lucky enough to see The Long Good Friday, when it was screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1980 as the highlight to a mini-retrospective of director John MacKenzie’s work. It had an indelible effect.
MacKenzie was established as a major talent, having made the films Unman, Wittering and Zigo with David Hemmings in 1969, and Made with Carol White and Roy Harper in 1972. He had also achieved further success directing Peter MacDougall’s brilliant dramas Just Another Saturday, which won the Prix Italia, Just A Boys’ Game, which starred rock singer Frankie Miller, and MacDougall’s adaptation of notorious hardman, Jimmy Boyle’s biography, A Sense of Freedom. Now he had just completed a film that captured the essence of 1980’s Britain under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Written by Barrie Keeffe, a former journalist who made his name writing political drams for TV and theater, Scribes (1976), about newspaper workers during a strike, .Gimme Shelter (1975–7), a powerful trilogy that dealt with deprivation, frustration and anger of working-class youth, and the tremendous BBC drama Waterloo Sunset, starring the legendary Queenie Watts.
Keeffe wrote The Long Good Friday in three days, over an Easter weekend. Originally called The Paddy Factor, the story dealt with East End gangster Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) who plans to go into partnership with the Mafia to redevelop London, only to fall foul of the IRA. The film co-starred Helen Mirren, (who battled to make her character, Victoria, stronger), a young Pierce Brosnan, and Eddie Consantine, as the Mafia don.
The script came from all the stories Keeffe heard growing-up and working as a reporter on the Stratford Express, as he told the Arts Desk last year:
The seeds were planted then; it was a very fertile time, just before the end of the Krays’ empire, and a lot of my plays, and some of the incidents in The Long Good Friday, came from my experiences. For instance, one of the gangland punishments, if you strayed into someone else’s territory, was to crucify you to the warehouse floor. As a very innocent junior reporter, a young 18, I was sent to interview a guy in hospital. He was covered in bandages and I asked him what had happened. He said, with that wonderful East End humour, “Do you understand English, son? Well, put it down to a do-it-yourself accident.”
Filmed the same year as Thatcher’s election, The Long Good Friday predicted much of the change Conservative rule would bring to London and the British isles.
The Long Good Friday was obviously about the transformation of the East End. The Bob Hoskins character was talking about the end of the Docks and mile after mile of territory for “profitable progress” - I think that was his phrase. I saw the film again about five years ago and it has a scene showing this model of how the area would look under the developers. It underestimated it completely - it ought to have shown Canary Wharf looking like Manhattan. Looking at it, I was taken by the fact that none of us had foreseen the enormous scale of change.
The Long Good Friday was a film “raging” at what was about to happen to the country, the story of gangsterism / Thatcherism / Captialism coming face-to-face with terrorism / idealism.
Cast and Crew: The Long Good Friday brings together John MacKenzie, Barrie Keeffe, Barry Hanson, actor Derek Thompson, casting director Simone Reynolds to discuss the film, its making and its legacy. There are also interviews from Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren. Watching Keeffe and MacKenzie around a table together, there is still the crackle of creative tension, as writer and director both lay claim to the film’s success.
In the Fall of 1982, Eric Bogosian traveled to Britain, where he performed in his two solo shows Men Inside and Voices of America. His tour took him from London’s ICA, through Cardiff, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Middlesborough, to Glasgow and Edinburgh, during the months of October and November , traveling with just one small suitcase of clothes, a black wool overcoat, and a selection of paperbacks to keep him company. Quite a feat at a time when things were organized without the advantage of the internet, emails, texts or mobile phones. It reveals much about Bogosian’s ambition and self-belief, as it does about his talents.
Bogosian had opened Men Inside and Voices of America that Fall, at the Martinson Hall in New York, where he was hailed as “the best performance artist I’ve yet seen,” by Valentin Tatransky in Arts Magazine. He had also been described as like “a man possessed, a medium, a schizophrenic,” by Sally Banes in the Village Voice, and as someone who could “perform the performer, and out-perform the performance artist,” in Flash Art.
At the time, I was a student, avoiding studies while editing the university magazine. How I’d heard about him, I can’t recall, a press release or flier most likely - my life back then seemed lived from the inside of an aquarium - knowledge, happiness, love and success were always beyond the glass. This disengagement with the external world might explain why I turned up late after his first show at the Third Eye Center, on Sauchiehall Street. Understandably, he was pissed, but I made my excuses and walked him back to his hotel on Cambridge Street, with arrangements to see and meet the following night in Edinburgh. These then are extracts from that interview.
Bogosian performed in a small stage area, surrounded by raised seating. He was imposing, for such a compact figure in black shirt, black pants. A bare stage except for one chair. Everything was suggested, created, from Bogosian’s physical presence. He walked onto stage and became a small child flying as Superman, talking to his father, mimicking adult bigotry before, shockingly, breaking into a stutter. So began the darkly comic Men Inside a carnival of souls from a troubled America - dysfunctional men, unable to interact with the world because of their bigotry and hate.
From Superman, Bogosian became a young man masturbating before declaiming his loneliness by saying “I love you” to a centerfold. Then on to a bored teenager, a stud, a bully, a sleaze-ball, a down-and-out, a Blood and Sword evangelist. It was loud, noisy and funny. Bogosian’s performance was as brilliant as his characters were low:
“Each character, each scene, flows into the next presenting different aspects of man gone wrong: his sexism, his racism, his hate.
It’s my effort on my part to try to communicate from a man’s point of view, trying to be sympathetic to men, saying this is how it happens, this is how a man ends up with these perspectives about women, about life - what can we do about it?
The thing I’m trying to lay out on women is the whole discussion of Women’s Liberation, Feminism, and the like, is all very complicated and that’s the first thing - it’s a complex issue, it’s not black and white. Women are perfectly justified in complaining about their situation, however, in different times men have also been put into situations that are not so great, the biggest one I can think about is certainly war.
War is Hell on Earth, and nobody should ever have to go through that. And of course, now, here in Great Britain people are thinking of the Falklands thing. I mean, it has to be thought about, if anything is sexist, it’s men should have to go off and die, that is sexist thing too. All I’m saying, we’re all people, let’s try and be a little sympathetic to each other, while we try to find out what exactly is going on.
I was in a restaurant on a Sunday morning in Vancouver, on tour, and I came in and had my breakfast around 10 o’clock in the morning, and there was all these men in the place, all by themselves: smoking a cigarette, reading a paper, eating a breakfast, looking kinda glum, kinda down. And these two couple came in, both in their sixties, and each guy was very dapperly dressed with his wife. And the women were happily chatting with each other and the men were sort of ushering their wives in. And you had a very strong feeling that these women were in some way protecting these guys, they were giving them something to do with themselves, yeah know. They weren’t like every other guy in this place, and you got the feeling that these guys were kinda looking across at these two couples, how these guys’ clothes were clean, their clothes were pressed, and how, how they had something to fucking do.
And all those other guys were just crumpled up pieces of paper. And here are these two guys, who because they stuck it out with a couple of marriages, now that they were in their sixties, had something to do. And somehow I wish people would admit this: that mean and women are different, and that for whatever reasons, whether they’re cultural or whatever, they are complimentary aspects of one another.
Bogosian was concerned that some of the Scottish audience was offended by certain aspects of his performance thinking they may have confused the views of the characters with the performer’s. After all, this was dangerous stuff to bring to a city more attuned to the Royal Lyceum’s revival of Noel Coward, than an act billed as a cross between Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor.
“I don’t expect anyone to be so critical about performance or experimental theater as I have been. I mean, it’s my life, it’s all I’ve been doing for the past 12-13 years, it’s all I’ve been doing - working in theater and complex theater. I don’t expect everyone who walks in off the street to understand about that - they’re taking it at face value, and they may not even notice the technique I’m employing.
For instance, the exotic dancer and the Led Zeppelin thing seem very alike, but their movements are very complex. You just can’t jump out and do that stuff, it’s all choreographed, and all rehearsed a lot, it’s just subtle. Someone might watch and go, ‘Hmm, not bad, that’s good movement.’ But not everyone’s going to understand that, what it’s about. They’re going to go ‘Ha-ha. look at that, he’s playing guitar,’ you know?
I can’t say if that’s something formal or theoretical in my work, it’s just something I’ve always done as an actor. It comes through from the inside. I don’t think any good actor can explain what happens when they become Someone. I become them totally and I know I’m inside them, and somehow it reads, and that’s the funny thing because at acting school they teach you how to relate what’s going on inside your head to what you look like outside. I don’t know what I look like, I’ve seen photos and stuff, but somehow what I look like is corresponding to what I’m feeling.
In a way that’s very direct and without any real training on it, I just hit the stage and it starts happening to me. But that’s just me, it’s like something I’ve got to my advantage, that I should make the best use of.”
The second half of the show was Voices of America a relentless tour of America’s airwaves, where every speaker, no matter how cheery or inane, seemed obsessed with death:
“If you had a choice to die from a nuclear holocaust (oh no!) or, a heroin overdose (oh wow!), which would you choose?” - ‘Voices of America’
This was all very much a hint of Bogosian’s Barry Champlain in Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio.
“Voices of America started out as a sort of finger exercise, so I could practice my voice, and it ended up as a piece.
At the time I was trying to get into advertising, so I made this demo tape of adverts and jingles and stuff, but the company thought it too cynical.
It’s very black. I’m interested in the way society’s fascinated with the lives of its stars and superstars, with its violence and consumption, its decadence.
Like how Keith Richard’s habits became published or how real death and real suffering are treated. How things are mass produced indifferently, and people’s suffering doesn’t come through, but is just forgotten.
Though I don’t think my philosophy or my ideas about anything are social or profound or anything, they’re just basic, mundane, liberal ideas, what we call liberal in America. It’s just like everyone else should be nice to everyone else, and how you can do it and go vote and I’m against the death penalty and for social programs. It’s just dumb stuff - I don’t mean these things are dumb - I mean I’ve got nothing to tell anybody that they shouldn’t already know. I’m just making stuff I’m interested in, it’s the piece I’m interested in - how can construct them and how can I act them out, it’s just all that stuff is in my head and it all might as well come out in the show, it might as well be there, as not be there.
And I know they’ll never put me on TV for saying these things, that’s the funny thing about it: I don’t think there’s anything radical about what I’m saying or doing, but they’ll never put me on a TV station saying this kind of stuff.
The current comedians in the States are just zany, they’re just crazy guys. Comedians with a conscience are not wanted in the mass media.
It’s just intuitive, a whole set of things are interesting to me, things that operate in my life. It’s like my face, if I get a nose job, and get my nose to be straight and my chin to be stuck out and stuff like that.
If I’m eloquent in expressing my particular set of perameters in my frame of mind they start to seem universal, or interesting or something like that, or, somebody at least might identify with them. I don’t start off with a theory and try to work it all out, it’s just that I try to express myself as best I can.”
Later, we walked out into the Georgian cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s New Town. It was late and cold, and the evening’s silence reminded us of our own past experiences of walking around empty streets at night listening for parties to crash.
Bonus clips of Eric Bogosian in performance, after the jump…
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.
ONE FLEW OVER THE
January 7, 1964
From: Ken Kesey, [Redacted]
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.
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.
In 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater, in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.
The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:
David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….
...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.
The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempt to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.
After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968.
Bowie’s career throughout the sixties exemplifies Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” as the young hopeful musician worked hard and toured the length and breadth of the UK under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as:
“The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody”
Even at this early stage, Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair - from beat thru Blues to Music Hall and Pop. With hindsight, you can see where he was going, but by 1967, the teenager’s first recording career had come to a halt after the release of his oddment Laughing Gnome after which, Bowie didn’t to release a record for another two years.
During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer, Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:
“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.
“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”
The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV, came to film this rather strange theatrical show is, no doubt, a tale in itself, but thankfully they did, even if one cataloguer at Scottish Screen Archives “found this quite creepy,” it is still well worth watching.
David Bowie as Cloud
Lindsay Kemp as Pierrot
Jack Birkett as Harlequin
Annie Stainer as Columbine
Michael Garret as Piano Player
It was filmed at the Scottish Television’s Gateway Theater in Edinburgh, and was directed by Brian Mahoney. Now if only STV made programs like this today…
Jack MacGowran was a frail-looking, bird-like man, whose frame belied his power and talent as an actor. You’ll recognize him from The Excorcist, where he played alcoholic director Burke Dennings, or perhaps from Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac, or as Professor Abronsius, in The Fearless Vampire Killers.
If Billie Whitelaw was Samuel Beckett’s favorite actress, then MacGowran was his favored actor. The pair met in the bar of a shabby London hotel, an unlikely start to an “intimate alliance” that saw MacGowran collaborate with Beckett on the definitive versions of Waiting for Godot and Endgame. From this, their partnership led to a further legendary collaboration Beginning to End. As Jordan R. Young noted in his book, The Beckett Actor:
...Jack MacGowran in the Works of Samuel Beckett (aka Beginning to End) [is] one of the most highly-acclaimed one-man shows in the history of theatre, [which] changed forever the public perception of Beckett from a purveyor of gloom and despair, to a writer of wit, humanity and courage. It also brought the actor widespread recognition as Beckett’s foremost interpreter. “The first time I saw Jack, in Endgame… I came away haunted by the impression he made on me,” said Paul Scofield. “I have remained so ever since.”
The production was filmed to celebrate Beckett’s sixtieth birthday:
Beginning to End [which] features the peerless Jack MacGowran in his one-man show, devised with Beckett and recorded for RTÉ Television in 1966. “Jack’s stage presence stays with me more than anything,” said Peter O’Toole. “This frail thing with this enormous power. He walked a tightrope as if it were a three-lane highway.” Martin Esslin, in The Theatre of the Absurd, commented on Beckett’s deep affection for MacGowran: “If ever there was a perfect congruence between a great poet’s imagination and an actor, this was it ... Jack MacGowran’s individual quality and life story are an essential ingredient in our understanding of the life and work of one of the outstanding creative minds of our time.”
Rarely seen, and long thought lost, this is a must-see, for it is one of the greatest stage performances ever committed to film.
The actress Billie Whitelaw couldn’t imagine what it was like. The theater darkened, apart from a spotlight on Whitelaw’s mouth, as she delivered Samuel Beckett’s babbling stream of consciousness Not I.
It’s one of the most disturbing images in theater: a disembodied mouth, telling its tale “at the speed of thought.” It takes incredible discipline and strength for the actor to perform: the text isn’t easy to learn, its full of difficult instructions, pauses, repetitions and disjointed phrases; add to this the speed of delivery, which means the actor has to learn circular breathing in order to deliver the lines. Jessica Tandy once gave a performance that lasted twenty-four minutes, only to be told by Beckett that she had “ruined” his play. And let’s not forget the rigidity of the piece: the actor’s lack of mobility, the mouth tethered to a spotlight, all of which says everything for Whitelaw’s brilliance as an actor.
Here, Whitelaw introduces Not I in the short documentary, A Wake for Sam, and explains the effect it had on her:
Plenty of writers can write a play about a state of mind, but [Beckett] actually put that state of mind on the stage, in front of your eyes. And I think a lot of people recognized it. I recognized it. When I first read it at home, I just burst in to tears, because I recognized the inner scream. Perhaps that’s not what it is, I don’t know, but for me, that’s what I recognized, an inner scream, in there, and no escaping it.
The Pentagon has organized a trip for a north London theater group to perform its play on Afghanistan to hundreds of its military personnel. It is believed that The Great Game: Afghanistan, a 7 hour production examining 170 years of Afghan history, will help give greater understanding to the cultural, political and historical factors involved in the war - now reaching its tenth year.
The performances have been put together by the Tricycle Theater, in conjunction with the British Council and the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, after an invitation from the Pentagon. The Great Game: Afghanistan premiered at the Tricycle in 2009 and returned last year after strong reviews.
The drama is organized into three sections, each of four plays, and takes its name from the 19th and 20th century “Great Game” played out between the Russian and British Empires for supremacy over Central Asia. The UK feared Russia would use Afghanistan as a staging post to take over India, the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire. This led to the first Anglo-Afghan War in 1838.
The Great Game: Afghanistan is performed by the Tricycle Theater, a highly respected theater company, which has established “a unique reputation for presenting plays that reflect the cultural diversity of its community, in particular by Black, Irish, Jewish, Asian and South African writers, as well as for responding to contemporary issues and events with its ground-breaking ‘tribunal plays’ and political work.” Its director Nicholas Kent said last month to the London Evening Standard:
“I think it shows the open-mindedness of the current military both in the United States and here, that people are willing to learn and try to understand foreign cultures,” he said.
“It is very exciting because you don’t often get the chance as an actor to do something as important as that. I’m very honoured that they want us to do it.
“Anything that means these people know more about the history of Afghanistan can only help the whole intervention there. It’s very important people have knowledge of the story they’re dealing with.”
The Daily Telegraph reports that Douglas Wilson, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Pentagon, “said he faced doubts within the department that the plays would be anti-war and would deliver a counterproductive, negative message to a military audience.”
Addressing the apparent culture clash of a liberal theatre and a vast war machine, he said: “There is an assumption that the arts and our men and women in uniform are from different planets. It’s not the case,” he said.
“The arts can provide a means to discuss and explore and in this case learn about the history and culture of a very complicated country. It is tremendous food for thought,” he said.”
Indu Rubasingham, who directed half the plays, said her own “naive” anti-war views had matured while researching the subject matter.
“I realised I was prejudiced and judgmental. The international community has to take responsibility there, otherwise there will be a vacuum,” she said.
Last night was the first night of the production for Pentagon staff, and it received a standing ovation. It will be interesting to see if the play’s examination of the dangers and folly of imperialism will have any effect on current policy.
You wouldn’t mess with Klaus Kinski. He had a look that said it all - a cross between Iggy Pop and a drug-addled psycho. His mental health had been an issue. In the 1950s, Kinski spent three days in a psychiatric hospital, where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. In 1955, having failed to find any work as an actor, he attempted suicide - twice.
By the late 1950s, he had slowly established himself as an actor in Vienna, but the anger, the passions, that fueled his performances meant he was always labeled difficult. To overcome this, Kinski started performing one-man shows, reciting Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Francois Villon.
In the sixties he found some security as a bit player in Spaghetti Westerns such as For a Few Dollars More, but Kinski had an ambitious ego that inspired him to greater, more confrontational things.
In 1971, Kinski hired the Deutschlandhalle to perform his own 30-page interpretation of Jesus Christ. It was no ordinary show, and the audience was a mix of radical students, religious followers and those intrigued to see the “mad man Kinski”. Even then, before his work with Werner Herzog, the public thought of Kinski as either mad man or genius.
Moreover, there was some confusion amongst the audience, who seemed to think Kinski was an evangelist, rather than an actor interpreting a role. This led to constant heckling from the spectators - both the happy-clappy Christians, who thought he was blaspheming; and those on the Left, who though he was soft-soaping Christianity. Kinski was doing neither. His Christ was part Kinski, part Anarchist-Revolutionary, and he repsonded fulsomely to the abuse, as Twitch Film notes:
For example, after someone stated that shouting down people who disagreed with him was unlike Christ, Kinski responded with a different take on how Christ might respond: “No, he didn’t say ‘shut your mouths’, he took a whip and beat them. That’s what he did, you stupid sow!”
In another scene, he brow beats the audience by saying “can’t you see that when someone lectures thirty typewritten pages of text in this way, that you must shut your mouths? If you can’t see that, please let someone bang it into your brain with a hammer!” The evening’s festivities also turned physical as an audience member is shown getting bounced from the stage by a bodyguard. Someone responds that “Kinski just let his bodyguard push a peaceful guy, who only wanted to have a discussion, down the stairs! That is a fascist statement, Kinski is a fascist, a psychopath!”
Kinski continued undaunted:
“I’m not the official Church-Christ, who is accepted by policemen, bankers, judges, executioneers, officers, chruch-heads, politicians and other representatives of the powers that be. - I’m not your super-star!”
The evening was filmed by Peter Geyer, who later assembled the footage together into an incredible documentary film Jesus Christus Erlöser (Jesus Christ Saviour) in 2008. It is a film well worth seeing for Kinski’s powerful, passionate and unforgettable performance, which gives an unflinching insight into the man, the ego and the mad genius that was Klaus Kinski.
While I was never a fan of Anthony Minghella, or his limp entry in the Ripley sweepstakes (for some truly great Ripley action see this, or definitely this, then, if you’re curious about Patricia Highsmith, maybe read this), I’m a huge fan of both Beckett, and the always entertaining Alan Rickman (not that Beckett, too, can’t entertain). The 4-disc Beckett On Film ranges, in my mind, all over the place in quality, but I think the set’s standout is definitely the Minghella-helmed version of Play, starring the melancholy Snape himself. Let’s see…Rickman’s in an urn between the also-urned Kristen Scott Thomas and Juliet Stevenson, and, well…just push “play!” (You’ll need to push it twice, though: Play II follows below.)
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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