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Archive for January, 2003

Classic Christie Adaptation

Posted by acdtest on January 21, 2003

Classic Christie Adaptation

idney Lumet’s 1974 big-screen movie adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, is on my list of Top Ten Greatest Brain-candy Movies. I’ve seen it some half-dozen times, and each time it’s just as delicious as I remembered it. It is, in fact, a movie perfect of its type, and one of the few times the phrase Stellar All-star Cast is no mere hype but the simple truth in that most of the cast are indeed genuine stars, and their performances stellar. There’s Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Colin Blakely, and George Coulouris. Mouth-watering just to contemplate in one movie, and when headed by a skilled and invariably intelligent director like Lumet, a confluence almost certain to result in something well worth one’s time.

I’ve not read the Christie novel, and so can’t comment on how faithful an adaptation was done, but in any case, and for any movie adaptation, it makes no difference as the movie is the movie, the novel the novel, and the two have only the most tenuous of connections. But in this case, if the novel isn’t exactly like the movie, well, it should have been.

The key character in this whodunit is, of course, Christie’s famous fictional private detective, Hercule Poirot, played brilliantly by Albert Finney. Now, I bow to no-one in my admiration for the Poirot of David Suchet in the long-running series on PBS’s Mystery, but one senses immediately that Suchet drew much on Finney’s realization of the character to shape his own, rounding and smoothing the sharp, edgy eccentricities of Finney’s Poirot (which is Christie’s) as when realized in that high relief they’d be intolerable in a weekly series. Finney’s Poirot is fastidious, meticulous, impatient, and vain to a degree bordering on, but never crossing over to, sheer caricature. It’s one hell of a balancing act, and Finney pulls it off without so much as a trace of sweat. Typical Finney, who in this role is absolutely unidentifiable as Finney so perfect in manner and figure has he transformed himself into the great Belgian sleuth.

Classic whodunits are not exactly Sidney Lumet’s specialty, but he took this one, and turned it into a stylish masterpiece of the movie genre. It’s easily the classiest, lushest, and most intelligent of its type ever done on film, and one wonders how the director of such films as The Pawnbroker and The Hill could ever summon the requisite mindset and sensitivities to accomplish such a feat. But summon them Lumet did, and the evidence of his success is indisputable, and also available on VHS (but not yet on DVD) for all to witness without cuts or commercial interruption. So, give your mind a delightful and refreshing two-hour break some rainy evening, and pop it in the ol’ VCR.

Your brain will thank you.


Posted in Cinema | Comments Off on Classic Christie Adaptation

Mysteries Of The Universe

Posted by acdtest on January 21, 2003

Mysteries Of The Universe, Part I

don’t think it inordinately immodest of me when I say I’m a fairly bright guy. So how come on those rare occasions when I’m forced to deal with things involving physical labor I transform into a moron? And not your regular old garden variety moron either, but one prone to any number of multiple wounding accidents.

My new bookcase arrived yesterday. It of course has to be assembled (what else is new?). I look at the instructions, which, mercifully, are clear and straightforward, and see immediately that the design of the bookcase is so clever that anyone with the IQ of a rabbit could put the thing together in less than half an hour, and without more than a moment’s thought. There is, however, one thing those clever designers of this cleverly designed bookcase haven’t anticipated.


I start by preparing the various pieces for assembly, and note they’re really heavy. Six three-foot by one-foot by one-inch thick particle board shelves with woodgrained veneer both sides and front. Ditto the two six-foot by one-foot by one-inch thick side panels. I don’t like the weight of them. Not while I have to work with them, that is.

Putting this misgiving aside, I next begin screwing the 12 so-named cam bolts into the 12 thoughtfully pre-drilled holes in the side panels. Piece of cake. When I finish, I proudly survey my handiwork. The work part is just dandy. The hand part, however, isn’t. In wielding that lethal weapon that cunningly goes by the benign name of Phillips screwdriver, I’ve managed to tear a round, quarter-sized strip of skin right off the palm of my hand in the process of applying pressure to the instrument’s handle.

This is a less than salutary omen.

After surveying the damage, I wash and bandage my wound. Hurts like hell, but John Wayne-like, I courageously soldier on.

Next, I go about inserting the 12 cams into their 12 pre-drilled holes in the three fixed shelves (bottom, middle, and top). This requires no tools except, at times, a light tap with the butt of the aforementioned lethal weapon. I complete the operation, and escape unscathed and proud as punch at how neatly I accomplished the job.

Now comes the fitting of the cam bolts into the cams. I position all the pieces — the three fixed shelves and two side panels — in their proper alignment by the slick expedient of balancing them on their edges against various pieces of furniture which I’ve moved, and pressed into service for the duration. I then proceed to go about inserting the cam bolts of the side panels into the cams of the shelves, a maneuver vaguely akin to the aloft refueling of a fighter jet by a flying tanker.

Instant catastrophe. All the nicely edge-balanced pieces clatter hard and noisily to the floor, one of the side panels smashing down on my stockinged foot, right on that top part the name for which at present eludes me, but the pain of which when struck is all too vivid.

Nursing my wounded and fast-swelling foot, I commence hurling manifold curses at the offending piece and all its brethren, and continue the litany of curses until it strikes me I’m hurling curses at inanimate objects, at which point I decide it’s time for a break.

A cigarette and two scotches later, I’m stoked for battle. I reposition all the pieces, confident now I’ve got their number, and know just how to deal with them. And — mirabile dictu! — all the cam bolts slide into their respective cams neat as can be, and without so much as a whimper. I give each cam the required half-turn necessary to lock it, and, Voila!, a structure resembling a bookcase emerges. Only something about it doesn’t look quite right. Seems one of the side panels has managed to turn its rear, unfinished edge forward.

Bloody side panel! Not only did it get me again, but there it sits, mocking me.

I, however, remain perfectly cool. I’m not going to give it the satisfaction. I patiently unlock all the cams on that side, flip the side panel, reinsert the cam bolts, and relock the cams.

Now everything looks right.

Well, almost.

I check the picture of the finished bookcase. The kick panel, the bloody kick panel! I forgot to fit in the bloody kick panel at the bloody bottom of the bloody bookcase! And, no, it can’t just be sort of slid in. The whole bloody bookcase has to come apart, the bloody kick panel inserted with its bloody dowels positioned to fit into the bloody pre-drilled holes in the bloody side panels, and the whole bloody thing again put together.

I begin to get the sinking feeling it’s not merely the battle I’m losing, but the whole damn war. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, however, I refuse to admit defeat. With a stoicism that would have done Zeno proud, I patiently and methodically unlock all the cams, pull apart all the pieces, insert the kick panel with its dowels in place, reassemble the whole thing, and again lock all the cams.

Now I’ve surely got it right.

Not in this life, Bunky. Now that the kick panel is in place, I can see at a glance which end is the bottom of the bookcase. It would have been better had I seen that before I positioned the shelves. As it is, I’ve positioned them with the cam side facing up, and the cams plainly visible in all their not-intended-to-be-seen glory.

You of course know what that means, right? That’s right. Everything has to come apart again, the shelves flipped, and the whole bloody thing again reassembled.

About this time I’m thinking some yogic breathing exercises would be just the ticket.

No help. Should have paid more attention back in the ’60s. All I can manage now is a bout of seriously involuntary hyperventilation, and make a dash for the kitchen to locate a paper bag to breath into. Five minutes later I’m again breathing normally, and again set about doing the dance I’ve by now learned so well, and after another ten minutes I’m done, and the bookcase completed.

Except for the back.

This, it turns out, is a thin sheet of black Masonite, finished on one side, the side intended to face in, with a woodgrain pattern to match the rest of the bookcase. The sheet gets nailed to the rear edges of the side panels and fixed shelves with about ten gazillion little nails. Nails, of course, require a hammer, another lethal weapon. But I’m determined and obdurate. I will use the hammer, and I will make it submit docilely to my purpose.

Uh-huh. You guessed it.

What’s that? Which digit was it? The crucial one, of course. The ol’ opposable thumb. It, too, now hurts like hell, but I think the thumbnail will eventually grow back good as new. Or so I’ve been told.

And so, at the end of the day (you should pardon the expression), I stand bruised and broken but not beaten. For there proudly stands my new bookcase in its assigned place against my living room wall, doing precisely what respectable bookcases have done for ages. So what if the back panel facing me is black instead of woodgrained. No-one would notice anything amiss except you and I, and I, for one, am not telling.

Posted in Drollery | Comments Off on Mysteries Of The Universe

The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Posted by acdtest on January 20, 2003

The Hound Of The Baskervilles — No, Really

watched the PBS Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles last night. Well, it was sort of like Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. OK, a little like Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. I mean, it did retain the title, most of the incidents, and almost all the characters. Against that, however, the writer and producer of this adaptation felt the need to invent new incidents (one of which — I kid you not — they lifted straight from the 1939 Hollywood movie version of the Hound), and pretty much rob the characters of all their Doylesque charm. In short, the production was thoroughly vapid with nothing to recommend it except the (presumably) Devonshire locations which were appropriately Dartmoory-foggy, and deliciously and darkly spooky.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the quintessential Sherlock Holmes tale. It has, in a single novella-length story, just about everything that makes the tales of the Sherlockian canon so magical: A rich 19th-century-England ambience, a nifty puzzle mystery to solve with lots of opportunity for demonstrations of Holmes’s deductive reasoning (this tale — the only one in the canon — with a generous dollop of the supernatural added), great plotting and dialogue, wonderfully weird or quirky secondary characters (that is, weird or quirky by 19th century standards), and of course Holmes and Watson and their relationship, the centerpiece of all the tales.

With all that going for it, one would imagine an adaptor would by and large have it made, and need but choose the right actors for the parts, make a few dialogue adjustments and additions, do some small adjusting and rearranging of scene details, and Voilà!; a first-rate and engaging adaptation.

That’s what one would imagine, but apparently not these adaptors. These adaptors saw fit, for instance, to make the famously tall, slender, and hawk-faced Holmes a man of average height and build, and pleasant of countenance (and had him doing his cocaine thing in situations in which Holmes wouldn’t even think of shooting up); Watson, the consummately solid bourgeois Englishman, a weaselly-looking wisp of a man who would be better cast as one of Doyle’s villains; and the relationship between the two a relationship of equals rather than the endearing master and acolyte of the original.

Fit also saw these adaptors to chuck the signature opening Baker Street scene which sets the tone and provides the jumping off place for this tale as it does for most of the tales, and introduce in its place a concocted prologue that not only does nothing to enhance either story or suspense, but blunts the very strangeness that sets this tale apart from all others in the canon.

I could go on, but simply don’t have the heart for it. There was so much fundamentally wrong with this production that minute by minute one fought the urge to just switch it off by hoping, hope against hope, that the next scene would finally put things back on track, and in some way redeem what had gone before.

Never happened.

Too bad — and coming from a Brit crew, unforgivable.

Posted in Literature, Television | Comments Off on The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Era Of The Woodenheads

Posted by acdtest on January 8, 2003

Era Of The Woodenheads

or anyone even marginally attuned, it will come as no news that over the past three decades what has been termed high culture in the arts has, with geometrically increasing effect, been overrun, if not to the point of extinction, nearly so, by the ravaging pandemic of pop culture. None of the arts has been spared: neither music, literature, painting, nor the plastic arts. All have been contaminated, and all succumbed to greater or lesser degree. What is perhaps most dismaying is that, having succumbed, all seem to have embraced and reveled in the succumbing as if given a new lease on life — a little like one stricken with cancer welcoming the disease, its progress, and its ineluctable terminal consequence.

How did this happen, and who’s to blame? Beyond the manifest evidence that its proximate beginnings date to the radical upheavals of the late 1960s, it would take a cultural historian and anthropologist of uncommon gift and insight to determine the full answer to the former question. But one doesn’t have to be a specialist, or look very deep or very far to provide competent answer to the latter. The evidence is abundant, pervasive, and all too clear. The culprits are those very persons who ought to have been high culture’s greatest advocates and staunchest protectors and defenders: The cultural elite, who by dint of native intellect, education, training, and tastes refined over years of wide-ranging study and experience, are at least presumed to know better than most. Instead of leading the fight against the invading barbarian hordes, however, they welcomed, nay, even supported and encouraged them, all in the name of cultural equalitarianism with its concomitant hypocritical charade of the disavowal of elitism in all its forms and manifestations.

It’s been, and remains still, a genuinely appalling spectacle, and in character if not strict substance eerily akin to the appalling spectacle chronicled to savage effect, but with clear-eyed vivisectional precision and distance, by Tom Wolfe in his brilliant 1971 book, Radical Chic, which chronicled an embodiment of the era: The grotesque Beautiful People soiree held in the late 1960s by the celebrated conductor Leonard Bernstein and his wife — Bernstein, that Man of the People and publicly avowed Lefty who was in fact a card-carrying Beautiful Person, the Beautiful People’s darling, and an egomaniac and elitist of the very first water — to raise money in support and to the benefit of that band of radical activist criminals the Black Panthers and their thuggish party.

The present capitulation by the cultural elite, the center (but, unhappily, not the circumference) of which is to be found in the humanities departments of academe, has produced a cultural attitude now all too prevalent; an anti-intellectual, ignorant, and risibly woodenheaded attitude such as expressed in perverse epitome in the following little gem plucked from an entry on a popular weblog (quoted here in extenso because I’d otherwise surely be suspected of quoting out of context to my advantage, and the name of the author of which I omit as an act of charity) which gem attacked a short but fairly brilliant if mildly rhetorical London Times piece by historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto published some time ago that despite its ostensible target(s) is at bottom an argument against the pervasive and massive triumph of pop culture worldwide:

The author [Fernandez-Armesto] of the piece believed the Lord of the Rings, and sci-fi/fantasy in general, to be a degenerate form of literature that’s helping to destroy Western Civilization as we know it by poisoning young minds and diverting attention away from the real classics.


We’ve seen this particular play act itself out before when Star Wars was first released. It was a cultural phenomenon that prompted pompous boors to lift their noses up from their dusty books for a moment to denounce the movie as trash, before returning to the classical works they hold in such high esteem. Those academics and their words have faded from memory. Star Wars endures.

The number of stories and themes that can be employed in literature is finite. The trick is in the execution. Mr. Fernandez-Armesto is an intelligent man, but what he fails to realize is that his preference for classical authors and their works is merely a matter of taste. He prefers their execution of the basic tales over those who write in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and then mistakes his preference for classical literature for superiority of the material itself. His claims naturally stem from vanity and arrogance. What’s worse, he believes that what is older is necessarily better. Mr. Fernandez-Armesto is indeed a learned man, but wisdom yet eludes him.

The whole argument itself is rather pointless once you realize that people are arguing the superiority of their preferences rather than the merits of the material. The question I’ve yet to see anyone ask is, “What does it matter if someone prefers fantasy over Plato or would rather learn Klingon than Greek?” What’s more important, the work itself or what someone takes away from that work? Taken by themselves, things like Plato’s Republic or Shakespeare’s Hamlet are mere exercises in vanity on the part of their respective authors. They have no inherent importance in and of themselves until someone reads them and imbues them with meaning and importance. Plenty of people attempt to read Plato’s Republic, but take nothing away from it. Has the book served its purpose? Of course not. It’s neither enriched nor enlightened the reader. On the other hand, plenty of people read Stephen King and find their lives, in whatever degree, enriched and their horizons expanded. Has The Stand served its purpose? Yes. Whose work, then, is superior? It depends upon the reader. If his life is enhanced and enriched by a particular style of fiction, than that style is superior as far as that individual is concerned. If a book or a film can take a person to places he’s never been and make him think something new or see something an entirely different way, that that piece of fiction has served its purpose and is by default superior to any work that cannot accomplish that feat. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, when they wrote it, how they wrote it or what they were writing about.

[All emphases mine.]

See? What is and what is not genuine literature, and worthwhile and of importance, is only a matter of personal preference. The works of Shakespeare are “mere exercises in vanity” on Shakespeare’s part. It’s the reader who “imbues [the works] with meaning,” not Shakespeare, and if readers take away more from Stephen King than they do from Shakespeare, why, then, King is superior to Shakespeare. It’s all relative, and the reader, not the work, is the measure.

As absurd as those contentions are, they express notions currently held, or at least publicly professed, by a significant majority of the cultural elite, although none would be fool enough to state things as crudely and mindlessly as did the jejune author of that weblog post. But stated crudely and mindlessly, or subtly and with finesse, they’re still the same idiot notions.

Is there a way out of this mess? Will the art of high culture and its study and appreciation go extinct, and pop culture trash prevail? Will the proper caretakers wrest control back from the inmates of the asylum that is academe’s humanity departments? Will the genuine intellectuals finally triumph, or will they finally cede completely the field to the woodenheads?

Beats me.

Stay tuned.

Posted in Cultural Commentary | Comments Off on Era Of The Woodenheads

TOFs And Wagner

Posted by acdtest on January 5, 2003

TOFs And Wagner

n response to a post of mine on a Wagner list wherein, with the exception of Das Rheingold, I declared the Karajan recording of Wagner’s Ring a “perverse joke” because of Karajan’s grotesque conceit that Wagner — even mature Wagner — should be made to sound as intimate and lyrical as Verdi, a TOF (True Opera Fan; like a movie fan, only worse) lodged objection, and went on to cite his reasons, all of which had to do with the singers involved.

How did I know the responder was a TOF? He went on, and on, and interminably on about the singers and the singing, that’s how. Anytime one encounters a critique of a performance of a mature Wagner work (i.e., those works post-Lohengrin) that dwells on singers and singing, one can be certain one is dealing with a TOF, and safely dismiss the critique as being near-worthless. TOFs imagine that the works of the mature Wagner (from hereon forward referred to simply as Wagner unless otherwise noted) are nothing more than Italian opera writ large and sung in German; a bit like saying the noble elephant is merely a piddling rock hyrax, only bigger and with a trunk.

The mature Wagner operas (more correctly called music-dramas) are, of course, nothing of the sort. They’re animals of a different order altogether from Italian and Italian-form opera, and share with them only the technical apparatus of construction and performance: an orchestra and conductor, singers, a sung text (libretto), an orchestral score, and mise en scène. Beyond that they’ve nothing in common.

If one were pressed to choose the principal element of a Wagner performance — that element on which the success or failure of the performance most depends — the choice, hands down, would have to be the orchestra. Without a first-rate orchestra and first-rate Wagner conductor on the podium, not merely a first-rate conductor, nothing — and I do mean nothing — can save the performance from being less than first-rate; not even were all the sopranos Nilssons, all the tenors Melchiors, and all the bass-baritones, Papes. By contrast, a performance of an Italian opera with a merely competent orchestra and even a mere accurate time-beater on the podium would prove just dandy so long as all the voices were first-rate.

How so?

Because Wagner’s music-dramas are about the drama, the core of which resides within the orchestra, while Italian opera is about the singers, the song, and the singing almost exclusively, everything else being essentially mere pretext and platform.

Perhaps you doubt my word on this (as I’m fairly certain you do). If so, may I suggest you do the following little thought experiment for yourself: Imagine a first performance (first so that one could not mentally fill in anything missing) of, say, Verdi’s grandest grand opera, Aida, done in a house with an almost non-existent budget; so much non-existent that all it can afford beside the singers’ fees are a piano and piano-player. The singers, however, are the very best available; super-stars all.

Despite the absence of all the normal operatic accouterments (i.e., the “platform”) it would still be a darn satisfying even if way less than ideal performance, wouldn’t it?

Of course it would as the core Italian-form opera elements (i.e., the “songs,” and great voices singing them) would remain intact, and the musical and dramatic coherence of the work, such as it is, largely preserved.

Now imagine a first performance of, say, Walküre, or worse, Siegfried, under the same set of constraints.

What’s that? You can’t?

Neither can I.

I remember a particularly revealing discussion I once had with a knowledgeable TOF (in my experience, one of the most knowledgeable, and an opera professional to boot) concerning the long period of silence and out-of-spotlight time a certain famous soprano would have to endure as Isolde in the last part of Act II of Tristan, having but a few lines to sing near the act’s very end. The discussion turned on how difficult that must be for a performer, but, I suggested, Isolde must never do anything during that time to detract or divert attention from the important things going on around her.

The TOF bristled at this suggestion. I mean, you could almost see the hair rise all spikey-like on his head so incensed was he. I paraphrase his retort as best I can remember it: “That’s ridiculous!” he huffed. “Even when she has little to do or sing, do you expect a singer of X_____’s stature to just sit there and be self-effacing? She must be permitted to display the temperament, and star dramatic qualities for which she’s world-famous!”

I at first thought the man was making some sort of ironic joke. A perverse joke, to be sure, but a joke nevertheless. Turned out, no such thing. He actually intended that idiot remark in earnest, and not only saw nothing amiss with it, but thought it perfectly obvious.

And that’s the point. To a TOF it would be perfectly obvious, and nothing about it at all amiss. And the TOF would be right if the opera concerned were, say, Traviata and not Tristan, Wagner’s most densely organic music-drama.

What’s most astonishing to me some 120 years after Wagner’s death, and some tens-of-thousands of performances of his mature works worldwide, is that presumably knowledgeable opera-goers, even opera professionals who ought to know better, still don’t get the distinction. For them a hyrax is always a hyrax, even when it’s an elephant.

And that about says it all where TOFs and Wagner are concerned, and really all that need be said.

Posted in Opera | Comments Off on TOFs And Wagner

Revisiting Godot

Posted by acdtest on January 3, 2003

Revisiting Godot

t’s been ages since I last saw a stage production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and so it was with some measure of excited anticipation that I looked forward to PBS’s airing of the Michael Lindsay-Hogg film adaptation of the play on the new PBS series Stage On Screen which I saw last night after tuning in some ten minutes late, the fault of a stopped clock that shouldn’t have been. And what a first-rate realization it was, too. Oh, there was some careless thinking involved in the mise en scène (too busy and populated), and some equally careless thinking involved with some of the camera viewpoints (too many medium closeups and medium shots, and not nearly enough establishing shots — in this case establishing the intimate identity of the physical, emotional, and spiritual landscapes, an identity crucial to this play), but these are mere quibbles.* The performances by all were stellar, and it was especially gratifying to hear the lines of the two protagonists, Vladimir (Barry McGovern) and Estragon (Johnny Murphy), spoken in Irish-inflected English as the inflection gives special point and poignancy to the vaudevillian character of many of the exchanges.

The play itself is nothing short of a prodigy. Easily one of the most profound and suggestive plays of the 20th century, and among the most profound and suggestive ever. Right up there with Shakespeare’s best in that regard. The dialogue is a marvel as well, and contains worlds in its concise, tightly coiled lines; lines that pierce heart, mind, and soul as with daggers even as they entertain. A neat trick, that, and a Beckettean specialty.

Volumes could be written on analyses of Godot, and volumes already have (a Google search on the play’s title turned up some 33,600 entries). I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve never read an analysis of the play. I don’t yet know it well enough for that, and have still to reach my own conclusions on many points before reading the conclusions of others better qualified. In talking with some acquaintances about the play, however, it seems the focal point for them all is Lucky’s “think” of Act I. I’ll grant it’s one helluva think, but what I found so marvelous about it seems to have passed by (or over) most, their concern being the deciphering of the think’s actual content, which to my way of thinking (sorry!) misses the think’s point, its point being — by way of savage (but hilarious) parodying of form (academic and “learned” discourse) and substance (theology, philosophy, politics, and science) resolving to word-salad gibberish — the futility of man’s resort to and reliance on faith and reason to make sense of and give meaning to an otherwise irrational and meaningless universe.

There’s a key to understanding this play, I think, and that key is an understanding of the characters Pozzo and Lucky (wonderfully played in this production by Alan Stanford and Stephen Brennan, respectively), and their part in this tragicomedy. Just who are they, and what are they doing there? Estragon (in Act II) thinks Pozzo might have been Godot himself. Vladimir dismisses the suggestion immediately, but then, in rapid stages, becomes less and less sure. For my part, Pozzo and Lucky seem a shared vision vouchsafed by Whatever to Vladimir and Estragon, and to us as well; a vision of the reality of what Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for as it really is, as opposed to what they’re expecting it to be. Pozzo as Godot incarnate, and Lucky as the incarnate whole of mankind that is Vladimir and Estragon — and us. Part (but only part) of my reason for reaching that conclusion is that Beckett puts into the mouth of Pozzo (in Act II) the most searing lines in all of Godot, and the most horrific ever uttered by any character in any play whatsoever:

(Spoken to Vladimir in a fury) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he [Lucky] went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer, and more to himself) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

Take particular note of the “they”.

That simultaneously searing and chilling speech is the play’s climax, its crisis, after which Pozzo and Lucky exit the tragicomedy, and it’s left to Vladimir to complete the horrific image for himself while Estragon sleeps:

(Vladimir looks at Estragon sleeping) He’ll know nothing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a carrot. (Pause) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave-digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at the sleeping Estragon) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause) I can’t go on!

But he will. He’s seen a glimmer of the appalling truth; more than is seen by most, but, still, it’s insufficient to murder hope (incarnate in the figure of the young boy who is Godot’s messenger). He will go on, as will Estragon. Godot hasn’t come today, but he’ll come tomorrow. And when he does, they’ll be there to meet him and so be saved. This they believe because they can’t believe otherwise and still go on.

Nor can we.

*I subsequently saw this production for the second time, and was struck by two rather serious flaws missed on first viewing (because unconsciously “corrected” by me): Pozzo’s Act II exit speech, and Vladimir’s following reflection/ epiphany — critical moments in the play. Both disregarded Beckett’s stage directions, and in consequence not only failed of their full effect and impact, but changed their meaning. Extraordinary that the disregarding was permitted.

Posted in Television, Theater | Comments Off on Revisiting Godot