Four Film Monuments

More time spent reading Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars. The book devotes many pages to surveying filmed Shakespeare. There is a Great Debate (surprise, surprise) in the contentious worlds of Shakespeare scholarship and criticism over the value of committing Shakespeare to film. Rosenbaum spends some time advancing his own view that seeing one or two legendary talents working in a Shakespeare film (actors and directors) is far more satisfiying than seeing a string of mediocre and misguided stage productions which, in his mind, exist in abundance at any given moment. From that position he suggests four film examples. I just want to second his suggestions: Olivier’s Richard III (which features the three 20th-Century “Lions” of the English Stage, Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson); Richard Burton’s Hamlet with Gielgud directing, an early television treatment available now on DVD; Peter Brook’s King Lear with Paul Scofield and Irene Worth; and Orson Welles’s Falstaff saga Chimes at Midnight. Good luck finding the Welles; I ordered a Brazillian import (don’t tell my wife; kind of pricey) because I have heard about the film for far too long and Rosenbaum’s words convinced me to stop waiting for some Criterion Collection edition which may never appear. Happy Viewing!

Please Attach to Previous Post

Dear Reader, I know these posts take as much of a toll on you as they do on me. I need to be cleaning house, but composing the previous post got me to thinking and now I have to post a note if for no other reason than to scratch a sign that new thoughts have entered the picture.

First point. A quick bit of retrospection has led me to confirm that pretty much all of my thinking and writing about theatre matters is an attempt to translate my psychoanalytic study into theatrical enthusiasms. One past feeding a deeper past as I keep dragging everything into an indifferent present. I nuture a comic book fantasy engendered by, no surprise, a play. Don DeLillo’s play The Day Room is in part about a mythical theatre company led by an enigmatic impresario named Arno Klein. The tales and legends spun out about the effect of the company’s work are quite fantastical and legendary. And infective if you are a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind set and already taken with the work of KRAKEN and other groups. Guilty as charged. All of my efforts over the past few years nurture a silly little notion of a company doing radically new work because influenced in part by radical psychoanalytic principles. So I write out my ideas for this imaginary company. I’m at peace with that.

Second point. In my previous post I neglected an element which will become crucial. I am not paying enough attention to the Imaginary Dyad as I sputter on about systems of meaning and signifying chains and formulas. It’s as if I want to deny the basic necessity for the Imaginary Dyad in theatrical matters instead of granting its priviledged place at every level. There is a fundamental “two-ness” in performance which you can’t escape and which shapes all meaning. It’s called Imaginary because it builds on the image of what is out there and our relationship to it. Pretty basic in theatrical issues: me-you, he-she, actor-audience, the observer-the observed, agent-object, “who am I to you and who are you to me?”, etc. It’s an interesting structure because it is so easily reversible: actor can become audience and audience can become actor through one fundamental flip (theoretically). And what occured to me was that members of a group trying to improvise in some radical psychoanalytic way need to understand the Audience as deeply as they understand themselves. In the Imaginary Dyad, performer can be audience and audience performer. You have to find ways to understand what the audience “wants” by understanding what you, the performer, want, and visa versa. So as I continue to think about putting together formulas, I’m also thinking about exercises and strategies which address the Imaginary dimension of the actor-audience relationship. And now my question is: how kinky is too kinky?

Dubious Undertakings

Here I am letting the site know what I’m up to. Thinking about a couple of pages. One will be a page on using and creating text (a script) in creative group collaboration. The other will be yet another quest for formulas to use in improvisation processes. I am a bit obsessed with this, I’m afraid. If I examine my motives for this interest, it strikes me on one level as an elaborate way to wrestle with a permanent creative block, to muscle my way through to something in spite of knowing full well there is nothing. Be that as it may. My current goal is to imagine a group wanting to create a signature style of improvisation focused on the idea of revealing the New Event. What simple formulas could be useful? I’m trying to figure out what New means with respect to creating signification in performance. Yes, that word signification smells of jargon. You can translate to the meaningful. How do you improvise and create new meanings for an audience? I’m fiddling with my hermetic Lacanian equations and formulations, trying to distill, and then I want to translate my conclusions into some kind of everyday language that doesn’t rely on jargon or theory or clinical notions.

Continue reading “Dubious Undertakings”

The Shakespeare Wars

I’ve started reading The Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum (Random House, 2006). I would call it a work of literary journalism exploring trends in Shakespeare textual scholarship and theatrical interpretation. Rosenbaum introduces us to his topic by describing how his life was profoundly changed by Peter Brook’s Royal Shakespeare Company staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the outset of the Seventies. Those of you who are theatre history junkies may know that such an extreme reaction to this production was not an uncommon one. I just wanted to offer a quote from the book about the production and leave it at that:

I’ve come to believe, on the contrary, that what made it so thrilling was not the way in which Brook’s Dream was new but rather the way it was radically old. The way in which it seemed to capture what one imagines was the excitement of the moment the play was first produced four centuries ago. The moment when its lines were first uttered, when its language burst from the lips of its actors in a kind of spontaneous combustion, as if the words were not recited so much as thought up and uttered, freshly minted, for the first time…it had more to do with the language, with the “verse speaking,” as Shakespeareans call it. With a company that had so totally mastered the technical and emotional nuances of the verse that it sounded less like recitation than utterances torn from them. Each line fluid, lightning-like, inevitable. It never seemed, as it does in so many mediocre productions, like emoting. The speech bubbled up, burst out, and then sparkled like uncorked champagne. And it had something of a champagne-like effect on me; I felt as if I were imbibing the pure distilled essence of exhilaration. For me it was like the night they invented champagne. It was like a love potion.

Last Dance worth a look

I just watched a documentary called Last Dance, documenting Pilobolus Dance Theatre‘s collaboration with Maurice Sendak on a new piece for their repetoire. It’s available on Netflix and worth a look. Regardless of what you might come to think of the final piece, you can enjoy watching a bit of creative collaborative process. Pilobolus works in a way very near and dear to my heart in which open improvisation leads to discoveries which are then developed and “interpreted” by the other collaborators (particularly Sendak in this case) in light of their own evolving imaginative interests. For me it’s very easy to take the dancers’ fluid physical and psychological sensibilities and apply them to the work of actors, keeping the possibilities just as open and extreme and transformative. The dancers are already quite accomplished “actors” anyway; they just choose to keep their mouths shut (and not even that restriction holds true if you consider some of the work involving mouths and fingers in the resulting piece). The film also allows you a look at how creative differences are worked through (or at least suffered) in the absence of one Director. It’s an enlightening opportunity to watch what happens when people gather in a room together to make something…