Posts Tagged With: samuel beckett

Look to your left (part 37)

In today’s news round up: stars of Doctor Who unite to commemorate the birthday of avant garde playwright Samuel Beckett.

Waiting_Dodo

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Catholic Church both issue joint statements in the wake of the revelations contained in the Panama Papers:

Cameron-Ted

And as preparation continues for J.K. Rowling’s hugely anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we can bring you this exclusive production photo of the cast on a break during rehearsals.

Lennon

Enjoy your Thursday.

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Doctor Who meets Samuel Beckett (part two)

Hey, you there. Yes, you. My audience of one. You’re the niche market, you know that? The person who likes Doctor Who, Samuel Beckett and who reads this blog. I mean, I always suspected this is going to be one of those videos whose appeal is always going to be as slim as the crack in Amy’s wall, but it’s good to know someone enjoyed it. It’s you and me against the world, kiddo. Nice to have you along.

If you’ve read my introductory piece you’ll probably have seen this coming, if only because it was ‘part one’. I said then that I’d been thinking for a while about precisely how we’d match Beckett and Doctor Who. But before we get to that, I ought to explain the why – you see, it’s all about the pace (’bout that pace, no treble…). Because twenty-first century Doctor Who is a whirling dervish of fast. Stories are begun and concluded within forty-five minutes. Supporting characters are introduced, established and then killed off or abandoned at an episode’s conclusion. It’s the way TV works, I appreciate that. But sometimes you wish they’d just run a little less, talk a little more and even just pause for breath occasionally.

There is a Geoffrey Palmer-narrated documentary on ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ DVD that illustrates this perfectly. It establishes that Classic Who – particularly the long, drawn-out stories of the first three Doctors (am I the only one who thinks that the pace starts to pick up when we get to Hinchcliffe?) – creates a deep structural contrast to the fast-in, fast-out narratives of the present day. Taking two particular extremes, it juxtaposes a scene from ‘Ambassadors’ – the Doctor and Liz, working leisurely on an antibody in the Doctor’s laboratory – with a frantic piece of expository monologuing from ‘World War Three’, in which the Ninth Doctor establishes in thirty seconds the kind of detail that used to take half an episode to solidify properly. These are two different shows, and while I love those long, drawn-out seven-parters, it’s easy to understand why a more contemporary audience might become fidgety.

Beckett’s a different story, of course. His use of silence, while not exactly like that of Pinter (whose silence was filled with unspoken dialogue) is one of the first things that strikes you. The repetition is another: dialogue is thrown back and forth all over the place, in scenes that often appear devoid of meaning, at least until you really unpack them. That, more than anything, was the kind of thing that I wanted to get across here: the sort of scene that doesn’t get into Doctor Who largely because it is superficially barmy. Beckett found comedy and tragedy alike in the absurd and the mundane, with the most ordinary things granted disproportionate emotional weight, and that may be one of the reasons I’ve warmed to him over the years.

Endgame

 

Um.

The_mutant_is_revealed

[coughs]

Beckett shares a birthday with Peter Davison, and it was learning this fact that persuaded me to get off my arse and actually put this video together, after months of procrastination. A Fifth Doctor episode would have been a more appropriate fit, perhaps, but the Fifth Doctor stories are already pretty leisurely and I couldn’t think of anything that would create sufficient contrast. Besides, there was only ever really one candidate – a scene from ‘Day of the Doctor’ in which Kate Lethbridge-Stewart confronts her Zygon duplicate at UNIT headquarters, with mirrored camera angles and moody lighting that I suggested, in my review, to ‘like watching one of Beckett’s television plays’.

Assembling this was awkward, time-consuming and not entirely satisfying. When you don’t know precisely what you want to do with something – except to make it “a bit like so-and-so” – actually reaching an end point that pleases you is nigh-on impossible. The truth is that after hours of getting it as good as I could, I gave up. Because getting it done was fiddly and repetitive and I’d had enough. The fact that the unscored audio didn’t quite synch was a bad start. The fact that there were fewer silences and usable shots (in this case, shots where nothing was happening) than I’d previously thought was another hurdle. I got round it by a lot of reversals, a fair amount of slow motion and a bit of zoom here and there – the accompanying whirr for these close-ups is to give the impression that the characters are being viewed through a security camera, which I hope excuses the grainy appearances.

I’m pleased with the Doctor’s bits. ‘Day of the Doctor’ is atypical in that the closing monologue is oddly poetic, and bits of it slotted right in. Stylistically, the whole thing is supposed to resemble What Where, which features assorted confrontations in large darkened chambers, interspersed with the ‘thoughts’ of the main characters, delivered in voiceover. The Beckett on Film version I used as my basic starting point is not, as far as I can see, on YouTube, but this adaptation gives you the basic idea.

The clarinet music was a last-minute drop-in but I think it adds something. The full version is available here, and it’s really quite lovely, if you like that sort of thing. Actually, “if you like that sort of thing” could pretty well sum up this entire project. If you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re probably not the intended audience. As a technical exercise I think it’s a valiant effort but ultimately a failure. As an exercise in pretentiousness, I think it succeeds on all levels.

And I might…eventually….do a Pinter video.

Pause.

Yes. Perhaps I’ll do a Pinter one.

Silence.

But not today.

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Doctor Who meets Samuel Beckett (part one)

No, no, not this one.

Sam-dr-sam-beckett-31211598-766-535

Not that I have anything against Quantum Leap. There’s plenty of scope for a Who / Leap collaboration – fan-fiction certainly points to that possibility, and I also found a titles mashup that is produced, at least in its first half, exactly the way I would have done it, and which is worth watching if only so you can see who gets to play Al.

But that’s not the Samuel Beckett I was talking about. I’m talking about this chap.

Beckett

That face is wonderfully chiselled, isn’t it? It hides a wealth of character, and the way in which the eyes stare at you – sternly, but with a hint of melancholy – basically sum up everything he stood for. The fact that he’s wearing a black polo neck against a black background gives the head the curious visual appearance of being disembodied, which is something else the man did quite a bit in his plays (That Time shows only a head, while Not I doesn’t get further than the mouth).

I first encountered Beckett in the late 1990s when I was in the final year of an English degree at Reading University. Reading, if you didn’t know, is the place to study Beckett – the resources are wonderful (I’m told; I was a do-it-on-the-fly student who never looked) and some of the most authoritative scholars in the world are there. One of these is John Pilling, who took our Beckett module, and whom I gather is still around. He was scholarly and authoritative but always patient and understanding when it came to indulging the fanciful readings of inarticulate twenty-somethings. He will not remember me, but I remember him.

Actually, looking back at it I wasn’t impressed at all. It didn’t help that the Beckett seminars were run back to back with a Pinter module, and of the two of them Pinter has long been my favourite. I took more from Pinter’s pregnant pauses and arguments about cheese rolls than I ever got from Beckett’s ramblings. He was, I remained convinced, a pretentious existentialist nihilist. Oh, I enjoyed some of it. Ohio Impromptu, with its lingering sense of finality, is quite wonderful, particularly in the Beckett on Film adaptation that casts an Jeremy Irons in the dual role of both listener and speaker. But I couldn’t get on with Endgame, in which a blind middle-aged man rambles on about god knows what and keeps his parents in the dustbin. Even the supposedly astounding Waiting For Godot, with its verbal tennis matches and lengthy monologues, left me cold – although this, when it first did the rounds, was quite funny.

Scene: a ROAD running DSL to DSR, with exits. Upstage Centre, ONE WHITE TREE.Two men, FARAMIR and ARAGORN are sitting by the TREE.

FARAMIR: So, can we go now ?

ARAGORN: No, not yet.

FARAMIR: Why not ?

ARAGORN: Because we’re waiting for Frodo …

Continue in like style for 1200 pages of text, three films, a radio series, innumerable spinoffs …

It was some years later that I realised what I had. It was thanks largely to an old friend who sat across the office from me in my first publishing gig, and with whom I would while away the hours talking about the merits of Father Ted, the logistical problems in producing The Straight Story: On Ice, and the most inappropriate choices to play the next Doctor (this was 2001, you understand, when it was still just a pipe dream – and in case you were wondering, John Inman emerged as a clear winner). Jon it was who convinced me that there was far more to Beckett than the labels of ‘pretentious wank’ that I’d previously foisted upon him, and to cut a long story short, when the opportunity arose some time later to purchase the reasonably expensive Beckett on Film collection, I took it. I went back to Beckett, fetching down the hefty Complete Dramatic Works that still sits on the bookshelf in my study, and realising that the man was a lyrical genius, and that the apparent opacity of his work was easily breached if you knew the way in.

Beckett on Film, by the way, is brilliant. A jointly funded Channel Four / Irish Film board enterprise, it collects nineteen stage plays and features a star-studded cast and a host of notable directors. Alan Rickman appears from the top of an urn at the beginning of Play, while Penelope Wilton’s Rockaby is both moving and unsettling. Krapp’s Last Tape, in particular, is a revelation: an elderly man wheezing around the stage, reflecting on all that he has lost as his younger self ruminates on an archived recording: “Perhaps my best days are gone…but I wouldn’t want them back”. It’s the epitome of self-denial, and Krapp’s inherent loneliness is such that he can make the act of eating a banana both downright hilarious and utterly tragic.

And here’s said banana, being consumed (in an eerie foreshadowing of the Bananas Are Good meme that would follow some years later) by none other than John Hurt.

Beckett

Anyway, my recent foray back into video production saw me revisit an idea I’d been germinating for some while. But we’ve gone on far too long, so more on that next time. In the meantime, here’s a little Damien Hirst. Because you know you want to.

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