cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM TECHNIQUE Cutting on the action [cutting on action]



While trying to write posts on film essays and camera-stylo this is a classic displacement activity. Remember the animal behaviour text books: the three-spined stickleback males have distinct territories. When they confront each other right on the dividing line between each other’s territory in a fish tank, they cannot attack but dip downwards.

Watching The Tall men [Raoul Walsh,1955] starring Clarke Gable, Jane Russell and Robert Ryan on Film4 this week, with half and eye and a third of an ear, it was pleasing to note a classic piece of cutting on the action involving Clarke Gable closing a door, turning through 90 degrees in order to be facing Jayne Russell opening a door to enter the room. I am not sure if that was three cuts or two (i.e. the door shutting  and the turning as cuts or a single shot), but it all looked just right.

The other day I saw another film in which a similar scene looked all wrong – name escapes me. Close up of face looking left, jump cut to close up of same face looking right, in order that another element of the scene could be introduced. The left-right-two-faces-looking-at-each-other felt wrong, let alone looked wrong, just because he wasn’t re-arranged pointing in the right direction. No different from a few notes in a piece of music which shouldn’t be there.  How is it that one off note stands out like that? That’s how the brain is made: it notices little differences.  (Though it also well-attested in all good psychology text books that men in bearskins can walk across the hotel foyer and not be noticed) That’s why it can see the difference between those paired cartoons, where something has been deliberately left out on one of the pair of seemingly identical pictures.

I suspect the reason the cutting on action failed in this case is because a decision was made not to go back to shot[s] they needed to re-film to to make it right*: something that the editor will have seen very quickly and have to tell the director about. It’s not always general incompetence but necessary expediency. Often true for continuity: they know the hair’s not the same length but no one dare ask for the money to re-film it.

* O.k., how many of you noticed the ‘to to’ mistake?



January 20, 2010 Posted by | cutting on action, film editing, film [its techniques] | Leave a comment

Little patch of yellow wall or a single asparagus? : Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay




asparagus-1880




My greatest pleasure was asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk.


Pinter interests me mostly because of his screenplays. Wiki: Harold Pinter lists them.

In 2007, I was checking out Proust and rediscovering and enjoying re-listening to my cassettes of the 1995 BBC Radio 3 version of The Proust Screenplay, which was never made into a film. Coming across Vermeer’s View of Delft recently has brought me back to my tapes and reawakened my fascination with how Pinter tackled Proust.

In 1972 Joseph Losey asked Pinter to do a screenplay. Pinter had written the screenplay for Losey’s, The Servant (1963), Accident (1967 and The Go-Between (1970 ). Writer, director, translator and BBC person, and Proustian, Barbara Bray was involved in the Proust project.

They say The Go-Between was his best, but my favourite Pinter adaptation, till learning of his Proust, was his adaptation of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), directed by the late Karel Reisz. Wiki: French Lieutenant’s Woman (film) explains the history of the script development. Not many people who loved the book thought the dual story idea effective. But Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep as the actors does sort of take the role of the author’s interjections by forcing us to leave the story in a similar way.

Looking at Pinter’s later interpretation of Fowles might shed light on how he tackled Proust. These litnotes on the book may help if you are re-watching TFLW. I haven’t yet found a screenplay of TFTW. And so far, I’ve not come across anything substantial online about Pinter and Fowles. All in due course.

As transcribed from the audio tape the first few lines of The Proust Screenplay, adapted for radio by Michael Blakemore, aired on BBC Radio 3, 24 December 1995, illustrates a sparkling nodule of Pinter’s genius as a screenwriter:

{ [..] is actual sounds not narration. }

YELLOW SCREEN

[sound of bell]

OPEN COUNTRYSIDE. A LINE OF TREES SEEN FROM A RAILWAY CARRIAGE. THE TRAIN IS STILL.

NO SOUND.

MOMENTARY YELLOW SCREEN.

THE SEA SEEN FROM A HIGH WINDOW. A TOWEL HANGING ON A TOWEL RACK IN FOREGROUND.

NO SOUND.

VENICE. WINDOW ON A PALAZZO SEEN FROM A GONDOLA.

NO SOUND.

MOMENTARY YELLOW SCREEN.

THE DINING ROOM AT BALBEC. NO SOUND. EMPTY

EXTERIOR OF THE HOUSE AT THE PLACE DE GEURMANTE, PARIS 1921. AFTERNOON. A MIDDLE-AGED MAN, MARCEL, WALKS TOWARDS THE HOUSE.

In the middle of writing this post, I have acquired the book, which has the beginning:

1. Yellow screen. Sound of a garden gate bell.
2. Open countryside, a line of trees, seen from a railway carriage. The train is still. Quick fade out.
3. Momentary yellow screen.
4. The sea, seen from a high window, a towel hanging on a towel rack in foreground. No sound. Quick fade out.
5. Momentary yellow screen.
6. Venice. A window in a Palazzo, seen from a gondola. No sound. Quick fade out.
7. Momentary yellow screen.
8. The dining room at Balbec. No sound. Empty.

#

If I had been set the task of writing the screenplay and was re-reading the book and around the subject, coming across The Death of Bergotte {The Captive}, one of Proust’s alter egos, and that his second to last dying words were,

“Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping roof, little patch of yellow wall.”

I doubt I would have come up with that yellow screen. Possibly a scene with Bergotte uttering the words as he sank down on the settee, but not a screen full of yellow!

When you learn {1}, what Proust thought of the painting and see the words Bergotte is made to utter it is not hard to see why Pinter found it irresistible.

And it was important to find such a key because  A la Researche is much concerned with art and the Arts as well as being the journey a writer travels in time and memory to get to the point where he at last decides to begin writing. It’s a literary conceit for such a man as Bergotte to think of an artifact, a human creation – something at one remove from life yet as real to him – rather than a person or event or even some equivalent of Denis Potter’s “blossomiest blossoms“. But it works for me. Or, maybe if we look up famous last words, thinking of a painting might not be uncommon. Perhaps we should all have one ready in case we get mown down by that big red bus: “The Girl in the P….”

Pinter’s screenplay (not the working script – we don’t really know what would have gone into final cut of the Losey film, let alone what anyone else who might have tried it after Losey would have made of it) eschews the detailed art and art aesthetic which saturates the book, except in so much as the film itself would have compactly demonstrated, visually, much of what Proust believed about art.

There is some dialogue or voiced thought about art. A Botticelli is mentioned to compare a woman to. There is brief dialogue such as

CHARLES HAVE YOU MET THIS YOUNG MAN?

I HAD NOT SEEN SWANN FOR A LONG TIME. AND ASKED MYSELF WHETHER IN THE OLD DAYS HE USED TO CLIP HIS MUSTACHE. FOR I FOUND IN HIM SOMETHING ALTERED. IT WAS INDEED THAT HE HAD GREATLY ALTERED BECAUSE HE WAS VERY ILL.

HOW DO YOU DO.

I’M AMAZED THAT YOU REMEMBER ME SIR.

OF COURSE I DO. OF COURSE I DO.

ARE YOUR PEOPLE WELL?

THEY ARE THANK YOU.

[Guermantes]

CHARLES, YOU’RE AN EXPERT, I WANT YOU OPINION OF THIS PAINTING. WHAT DO THINK OF IT? I’VE JUST SWOPPED IT FOR A COUPLE OF MONET’S. I THINK IT MIGHT BE A VERMEER. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

DIFFICULT TO SAY…

OH, COME ON, WE ALL KNOW YOU’RE AN EXPERT. YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK ABOUT VERMEER, AREN’T YOU?

HARDLY A BOOK. JUST AN ARTICLE ABOUT ONE PAINTING.

VIEW OF DELFT?

YES.

MARCEL: THAT PATCH OF YELLOW WALL..

YES.

PATCH? WHAT PATCH MARCEL?

MARCEL! [me: Swann recognises Marcel] OF COURSE!

MARCEL: I THINK IT’S THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PAINTING IN THE WORLD.

[G:] I’VE PROBABLY SEEN IT. BUT ANYWAY, CHARLES, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THIS PAINTING WAS.

[S:] A BAD JOKE.

OH, WOULD YOU.

Pinter includes his version of the Red Shoes scene after this dialogue.

I haven’t yet found in the Pinter script a full-blown Proustian rumination on life and art, but the way Marcel responds to his environment, for example in the repeated shots of the steeples (and three trees) and how from the train they change their positions relative to each other, is the mind of the artist (whether writer or painter, who knows exactly?) at work, as much as it is a man comparing what he sees with what he remembers seeing.

Stanley Kauffmann in an article, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu: The Proust Screenplay, re-published in 2005 when Pinter received the Nobel prize (and originally published in 1977),  asserts it is “incomparably the best screen adaptation ever made of a great work”, and explains this has been achieved by “deliberate omission and imaginative recomposition.”

The play of the film of the novel explains how Pinter’s script eventually ended up in a stage version. I’d like to see the working script of that.

It bears repeating: there is probably not a screenwriter in the world who, handed Proust with a brief for a standard length film, would not start at the beginning, or soon after, with some lesser image, perhaps of the pesky dunk your madeleine episode, in the belief that it crystallised the essence of Proust. Pinter saw it differently. He didn’t fall for it. In the book the tea cake doesn’t start Swann’s Way, but it is near the beginning [ p.50]. Pinter resists, with the merest tinkling of a spoon by a waiter at the house at the Place de Guermante hinting at, but not telegraphing, an activation Marcel’s involuntary memory.

#

A page with the View of Delft with the virtual magnifying glass is re-linked here.  There is a post in didyktile, a little patch of yellow, which has both a brief explanation of Proust/Bergotte and the Vermeer, and two versions View of Delft, one which expands to full size, the other which shows the right section where the yellow wall might be. There is also a link to the Web galley of Art, which includes Vermeer. It’s an obsession with one sunlit yellow wall (or two, or three) but it might be instructive to look at the others and wonder if Proust might have taken as much interest in light in Vermeer as a whole.

There is a newer “petite pan de mure jaune” at the exceedingly good essential Vermeer.com

For more Vermeer light there is a slide-show of 38 Vermeer paintings at Slideshare.

#

Many who have not read Proust might be surprised by how much art is in the book. The blogroll in Moleskine Modality has a section on Proust, including links to the individual Gutenberg e-books. If you don’t fancy reading the whole lot but want to get an idea of the art in Proust, check out the e-texts using FIND in your browser.

But what to search on? ‘Artistic’ does a pretty good job of getting close to the sections of the text where Proust waxes about art or the Arts. But take this review, Pictures worth a thousand words, of Eric Karpeles’, Paintings in Proust, published in 2008, and make a list of some of the paintings mentioned in A la Researche, et voila vous êtes dans l’action. Note the drawing by Paul Helleu of Proust on his deathbed. On the NYT review page there is slide show of four of the paintings in Proust, with quote from The Book. Look at the first one and you’re in Balbec on the beach, courtesy of Whistler!

Another review of the Karpele in New Statesman, The eye of the beholder, by Paul Taylor, is also a source of painters names (and about Proust and art).

An interview with Lorenzo Renzi, author of  Proust and Vermeer: An Apologia of Imprecision, gives more fascinating suggestions including the observation that he tends to go for nature and landscapes and that View of Delft was Vermeer’s only exterior.

In Consciousness, art and the brain: Lessons from Marcel Proust [a .pdf file] Russell Epstein looks at Proust as the first neuroscientist. Proust’s approach to art is explained clearly and concisely.

#

Time Regained mentions a translation of Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies seen on the bookshelves of Baron Charlus. Proust translated the book into French with the help of his mother who was better at English than he was.

Marcel Proust – Ephemera site
has English translations of Proust on Ruskin, an obituary of Ruskin, and much more.

#

Pinter is the voice of the screenplay in the BBC Radio version, which was adapted for radio by Michael Bakewell.  That deep-voiced narrator of the script really does make it special. After all he wrote it. Let’s hope the BBC re-air it as part of the inevitable retrospective of his plays and the films he scripted. And that someone gets the it out on DVD, pronto.

#

So if Marcel (and Proust mentioned the smell of asparagus in his own chamber pot as perfume) gets excited about asparagus, why not start with a flash of a close up of a painting (which turns out to be a Manet) of an asparagus instead of yellow representing the Vermeer?

Karpele gives a nice example of how Proust could twist his own encounters with art to the ends he needed for his novel. His friend Ephrussi once admired Manet’s small painting A Bunch of Asparagus (1880). In his eagerness to purchase the work, Ephrussi sent the artist 200 francs more than the asking price of 800. Manet responded by dashing off and dispatching to him a picture of a single stalk of asparagus to even things up.

Paintings in Proust reproduces both images with a passage from Le Côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way). This third volume of the novel was Proust’s attack on the shallowness of French upper-class society, embodied by the aristocratic Guermantes family. Here, the Duc de Guermantes is incensed at the suggestion that he should buy a painting of a bunch of asparagus. The price, he declares, is extortionate. “Three hundred francs for a bundle of asparagus! A louis, that’s as much as they are worth, even early in the season.” With the same paintings as touchstones, Ephrussi’s gesture of generosity has been transformed into a parable about the tight-fisted philistinism of the aristocracy.



[Source: The Eye of the beholder, by Paul Taylor, New Statesman, 16, October 2008]


For additional information about asparagus, Proust and artistic inspiration read what there is of the GoogleBook of:

By Ulrich Finke

#

Pinter decided on a well-lit patch of yellow on a famous painting to represent Proust’s aesthetic concerns (and of course, memory). What a pity we cannot see it expressed in a completed film of Pinter’s screenplay, which will surely have gone beyond the screenplay in the process of trying to make yellow filling the frame of the camera, and the screen, and the few flashed of yellow thereafter, and what flowed from it in the script, realisable cinematographically. It has to be shown to relate to Bergotte in some way, and yet on my listening (the book of the script in on the way to check) the patch of yellow could be connected to Marcel the narrator and Marcel the character. Well, yes you say, it is, because Marcel the narrator considers Bergotte the novelist. Yes, but whose memory is the yellow patch? Bergotte’s. So either Pinter didn’t get that bit – not likely – or he knew he had to show (in a few flashes) the connection between Bergotte’s dying words and Marcel/Marcel’s examination of Vermeer.

Tom Lubbock in examining Vermeer’s View of Delft, does it from the Proust angle, says:

The passage suggests that the little patch all by itself, the sheer precious substance of its painting, so dense and luminous, is what transfixes Bergotte. But the picture suggests otherwise. It’s only within the whole view that this patch – suddenly brighter and purer than you’d expect, and with its yellow animated by the adjacent reds and blues (Vermeer always a great one for the primaries) – blazes out. It’s not a self-sufficient and extractable gem. It’s an integrated effect, a climactic note.

In other words, Bergotte dies under an illusion. His illusion is normal enough. With any climactic note, we tend to feel that it can be isolated and extracted – that its power and preciousness lie somehow within itself, rather than depending on that to which it is a climax.

But this is why it’s such a good image of the man’s fading consciousness and will to live. Bergotte wants to see this detail as a separately precious thing, something he can isolate and grasp in his hand. Yet he can’t – any more than can hold on to this last precious moment of his life.

#

A lesser man than Pinter might have ended up with :

CLOSE UP OF MANET’S “SINGLE ASPARAGUS”

BRUSH STROKES CLEARLY VISIBLE.

[SOUND OF BELL]

etc.

#

Georges Bataille: “The solitary asparagus of Manet is not a still life like others: although still, it is, at the same time, lively.”

#

(Buy all your favourite art images from Allposters) – that’s where the single asparagus painting came from.)

#

There are wonderful things to play with online for writers trying out ideas. Here, for example, at Research Project- Painting Techniques of Impressionism and Post-impressionism, it is possible to closely examine the string tying Manet’s Still Life with Asparagus. I wonder what Pinter might have made of that! Check out the full report in the ‘pdf. There are sets of amazing close-ups of the textures of the painting.

#

It will be apparent, if you have got this far, that the impetus for my Notes on Pinter’s Proust gathers around the question of questions : [1] Can Proust be adapted to film or radio? (The Book is the Book, and that is that, etc.), [2] In what way has Proust been adapted, [3] What is the best medium for an adaptation? [4] Can one judge the quality of Pinter’s or anyone else’s adaptation of Proust without understanding Proust? (Well of course not, but there are things to grasp in a film of Proust without a complete understanding, which I do not claim to possess.)

The All-England Summarise Proust Competition.

A worthwhile Proustian digression in the search for lost answers to these questions, particularly Q.4, is the In Our Time BBC Radio 4 programme on Proust.

One of the the experts on the programme, Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English at Queen Mary College, London, in talking about her novel Albertine, touches on some of the problems of adapting Proust through changing him. I picked up on one phrase which I think is useful both in looking at the novel, its interpretation, and in adapting the story: “……the expectations of a Proust-literate readership.”

#

And, now, for something completely outstanding, the more traditional (non-Pinter) BBC radio adaptation. This is not a Pinteresque interpretation, and yet, and yet, can the adapters not have spent some time enjoying the Pinter radio version? It follows the story faithfully and in detail. Get a few minutes in to it, and one should be saying to oneself this is the medium to do it in. Why bother attempting film?

The Pinter screenplay as radio was effective. But why hasn’t someone had a go at making the film or as TV (yes….)? And then we could compare the results. Even if brilliantly done, it would be of limited interest: mostly to those who had already read the book, or at least attempted it, or, even less at least, who had read about it and knew the main characters, author’s intent and how it was achieved. [….pretentious but lazy readers.]

Perhaps film is useless in getting over the story Proust wrote. Any attempt at brevity simply sending the viewer of the film who didn’t know the basics into a spiral of increasing incomprehension.

There is the Jeremy Iron’s Swann’s Way. But that’s a cop-out because Swann’s Way is regarded as the easy option.

There is Raoul Ruiz’s Time Regained, starring Catherine Deneuve, based on the final book, Le Temp Retrouve. The article which lists other film attempts and scripts, including one for Visconti, reckons the Ruiz did a reasonable job.

“In filmmaking, like in painting you have the story and you have the picture. In the story, one thing comes after another. In a picture everything happens all at the same time. I thought what was worthwhile from the filmmaking point of view in
Proust was the fact that these two functions are reversed. We expect Proust to basically tell a story and he produces a picture. He tells us about very intense moments in a minimalist way. And when expect him to produce a picture he tells it to you. He sees someone standing still and then tells you all about the story behind that person. That’s what the film depicts. I would have liked to have done even better but that aspect is indeed a priority in the film. We have this strange Proustian emotion which fascinates many people including me. One is moved, you don’t know why. You feel like crying. And you don’t know why. Nothing serious has actually happened.”

Raoul Ruiz

Reading Kevin Hagopian in Film Notes: Time Regained, discussing the Ruiz, it is clear one better assesses what the Pinter could have been through other attempts to bring the book to life in film. Simply: one needs to study the films made so far to re-assess the Pinter script.

Then there is Chantal Akerman’s La Captive.

#

The Pinter radio adaptation doesn’t represent what it would be as film. The narrative voice provided by Pinter himself gives much more orally delivered information that the film would do. For example, would dates and Marcel’s age be included on screen? When you hear Pinter say, “Marcel aged 21”, you forget that this might not be in the film.

Proust in the novel is perfect: in film almost impossible: through radio very acceptable. Proust filtered through another fiction {=meta-meta-fiction} – novel or film – is likely to be even more successful than radio renderings which attempt faithful renderings. That is purely and simply because there is no obligation to present “the case for Proust” in full through another novel. Characters can quote Proust, discuss Proust, claim Proust effects (or effected) their lives, without the novelist – who may be a kind of Proust the narrator/Marcel the narrator if he wishes – claiming to be adapting or ‘doing’ Proust. Is this not what the attempts at film have tried to do? Well, not quite. Pinter’s screenplay and the BBC 6 -parter tried the whole, in different ways, others have tried parts.

I argue the imagined Pinter film would be almost exclusively for a restricted niche audience defined by those already mentioned categories of people (readers of the book and those who know what it was about but who either hadn’t finished it or had given up), rather than by people who didn’t have any pre-knowledge of the story. This is not to say that un-Proustian ignoramuses would get nothing out of the film of Pinter’s script (or from the more recent Proust films), but it would almost certainly be too little about Proust’s book. Certainly the non-Pinter BBC radio series worked well, in part because it was an almost oral-aural ‘transcription’ made possible by its length.

I love radio, and I think Proust would see the point of an aural meta-filter through which we the listeners have to re-construct his characters and absorb the ideas. In my view, the complexity – both of structure and ideas – comes over better in the listening than in reading. This may be about how the brain retains and organises. All we need is a 36 hour word-for-word radio version to prove the point.

But there will be an argument there – because Proust is also examining what is possible in the novel, in his novel, as well as the other things he is attempting – that this aural/text choice is mere preference. A test is to try a very long, difficult passage from the book and its equivalent in the BBC 6-parter (if there is one…). The audio might be somewhat filleted, but it might still be a reasonable comparison. Try to find a section of the serial that is pretty intact. I’ll have a try.

#

Can radio or film can do the better job?

Despite the fact that Pinter’s Proust was written filmically, unless a film is the length of Bela Tarr’s Satantango, it won’t truly reflect the book. The BBC radio adaptation is roughly 6 hours long and in some ways comes near to the book because long stretches of complex combinations of action and thought are woven into it. As an example, the part in Time Regained where Marcel overhears soldiers talking was very well done in the radio version, with all sorts of overlaps, both in conversations and in memory and thought.

Another candidate in the audio category (a strong contender for ultimate Proust medium after text), is Neville Jason’s Naxos production. Here he writes about his Proust: Life and Work of Marcel Proust. Putting his and the BBC radio 6-parter in a head-to-head might be instructive. I haven’t listened to the Jason, but an extract in a radio interview he did a few years ago, shows he did all the parts himself. If you don’t like his voice, it will not save his version no matter however well filleted and done. The BBC radio serial with a great cast, is really beautifully done. Corin Redgrave as Charlus.

A personal note: I used to see Neville with his thick sheaves of paper when he came to his holiday home in Norfolk. I had no idea he was working on an audio abridgement. Nor that he took 6 years on the project. I knew he was an actor and I once said I was writing something. He volunteered to read my stuff. Maybe I should have overcome my fears and let him have a look. If he managed to abridge Proust satisfactorily he could have planned and organised the Normany landings in 1944 all by himself.

#

Emily Zants, a retired professor, has put online what she calls an adaptation of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, titled The Social Aquarium.

Those of you who know your Proust (again: by direct immersion or secondhand) will immediately lock into the Balbec restaurant scene in the Zants. Why, you might be asking, didn’t Pinter use that? Yellow screen? What’s the point of that? Aquarium. Now, that’s more like it: fish, different types, each analogs of people in the restaurant and, by implication, each exemplar radiating out, reflecting other characters and character types in the novel. What was Pinter thinking? How can he possibly have missed it? Well, he didn’t: there is section in which Marcel complains about the people in the restaurant, but we do not know how the film of Pinter might have presented this visually.

An answer to the problem of what to emphasis in a compacted, re-imagined Proust is succinctly explained by Claude Reich, a reviewer in the Amazon site of the new book on Proust’s art by Eric Karpeles’, Paintings in Proust (Thames & Hudson, £25), is:

[This book is all the more important to the understanding of Proust as] he himself acknowledged that “La Recherche” was a work whose theme was the birth of an artistic vocation in the narrator’s soul, the novel itself being the result of this birth. He {Proust} also wrote that ” my book is a painting”

#

Pinter read the book, read about the book, read the experts, debated with Proustians like Barbara Bray [pdf], {2} and then decided this was a book about art as much – no, more than – the ethology of French aristocratic society (and Dreyfus) at the turn of the 20th. century. And yet, his screenplay in dialogue concentrates mostly on Marcel, family and the elite! No way round it. So we are left only with the art being represented visually: both art and Marcel’s observation of things that he, in effect, tells us are indistinguishable from art, things that arise from within himself as a word expression of art itself.

#

Film: Proust: time-waster? tells us a little of the process Pinter went through which I have up till now guessed at.

“Working on A la Recherche was the best working year of my life,” Pinter later claimed. He had steeped himself in Proust, visiting the author’s old haunts and taking copious notes while reading the book. “For three months I read A la recherche every day … but was left at the end quite baffled as to how to approach a task of such magnitude.”

Nevertheless, the critics admired his adaptation. “It’s a beautiful working model in which Proust’s million-and-a-half words have been brought lucidly down to 455 shots,” enthused the New Statesman, but no financiers were found to bring that tidy model to life.

The article by Goeffrey Macnab, deals with Pinter in the context of films that have been made.

#

Though Farms, trees, and bell-towers: The “hidden meaning” of triads in Proust’s “recherche”, is just an extract, there is enough to see again Pinter’s script, to re-enter Pinter’s preoccupations with Proust. I will add here the script sections reiteration of the three trees, three spires, seen at different times, or remembered, when the book of the script arrives, which should be any day now.

93.

#

Proust’s novel is about other things apart from memory, time and art such as photography (in the sense of mechanical capture and reproducibility), speed (he had a chauffeur driven car in which he whizzed hither and thither) and possibly film (though many say not, that he was not a great watcher of films, the book certainly reads like film). This summary of The Aesthetics of the Windshield: Proust and the Modernist Rhetoric of Speed, gives a hint of where that goes.

#

Returning, finally, to Pinter’s Proust – an encomium – it may seem the little patch of yellow was the thing on which he hung his whole adaptation. Not true. There are more little bells than yellow screens in the script. To see what he is doing, listening to the audio version is a clearer way of showing the whole process. In a clever Pavlovian trick, he links the yellow to the sound of the bell, then leaves the yellow behind, till, right at the end he brings it back.

The bells are the sound of the garden gate at Combray. This sound is in turn linked to

…Was not nature herself from this point of view, on the track of art, was she not the beginning of art, she who often only permitted me to realise the beauty of an object long afterwards in another, mid-day at Combray only through the sound of its bells, …

and Marcel’s (and Proust’s) bed-side bell.

Marcel at the end of Time Regained:

…I had jumped out of bed and had stood in my nightshirt
by the window through which the moonlight shone, until I heard M.
Swann go away. My parents had accompanied him, I had heard the door open, the sound of bell and closing door. At that very moment, in the Prince de Guermantes’ mansion, I heard the sound of my parents’ footsteps and the metallic, shrill, fresh echo of the little bell which announced M. Swann’s departure and the coming of my mother up the stairs; I heard it now, its very self, though its peal rang out in the far distant past. ‘Then thinking of all the events which intervened between the instant when I had heard it and the Guermantes’ reception I was terrified to think that it was indeed that bell which rang within me still, without my being able to abate its shrill sound, since, no longer remembering how the clanging used to stop, in order to learn, I had to listen to it and I was compelled to close my ears to the conversations of the masks around me. To get to hear it close I had again to plunge into myself. So that ringing must always be there and with it, between it and the present, all that indefinable past unrolled itself which I did not know I had within me. When it rang I already existed and since, in order that I should hear it still, there could be no discontinuity, I could have had no instant of repose or of non-existence, of nonthinking, of non-consciousness, since that former instant clung to me, for I could recover it, return to it, merely by plunging more deeply into myself. It was that notion of the embodiment of Time, the inseparableness from us of the past that I now had the intention of bringing strongly into relief in my work.

And let us not forget Pinter’s waiter’s spoon. And so marvel at his yellow screen. And bells.

#

Maybe Proust before the culture machine by Michael Naas [Culture Machine, Vol 1 (1999) ] will find itself a better niche in these notes later. For the meantime, let them rest here.


asparagus-in-autumn


Asparagus leaves in autumn



February 7, 2009 Posted by | art, Literature, screenplay | , , , , | 1 Comment

Film editing {2} – fiddling with the footage: learning and pondering

What is impressive is how a short experience of editing demonstrates what all editors write –  editing can happen before the cuts and joins, at the script and shooting stage.

Plenty of “Ah, yes” moments reading this essay, Film editing – a hidden art? by  Vinca Wiedemann for anyone who has set out to intelligently film something,  then begun to inexpertly stitch shots together with digital editing software in increasingly unlikely combinations, slowly beginning to recognise what they tell you anyway: that as soon as the point of a shot is established it is time to move on.  You may enjoy the langorous minutes of a particular shot you have lovingly filmed, but will anyone else? Who hasn’t watched a film/documentary and said,”Yes, yes, yes….I’ve got it”, when the camera seems to hold a scene or figure or face what seems too long?

Though I’m intrigued by the long takes of directors like Bela Tarr, they can be bloody irritating as well. I am struck sometimes by the similarity between extravagantly long takes and film installations in art exhibitions.

#

Andy Coughlan in

Film editing: Tips and techniques for creating a compelling story

(There are 5 essay with the same title here, by different authors )

begins his essay by saying:

An old Hollywood adage has it that a film is created three times; when it’s written, when it’s shot and when it’s edited.

This isn’t entirely true. Ideally the three stages should be the work of refining a core theme or idea, the act of creation should be a single ongoing event. It’s only if you are presented with footage shot by a clueless director using a poorly conceived script that you might find yourself in the unenviable situation of creating something new.

This is even more helpful and, more to the point, recognisably true to anyone whose spend nay time fiddling with ‘footage’.

#

Shooting a documentrary on a predetermined subject/theme – ad hoc, ex tempore – is not the same territory as a scripted film where the the script itself  is the beginning of the editing process. Editing can start at the shooting stage in documentary too, through such decisions as how much film to generate, how long to shoot individual actions, whether to stop shooting to wait for, or move to, another hopefully significant event,  the inclusion of zooms or rapid pans which are not destined for the final cut but used to delimit one sequence from another. All these sorts of things can determine, and limit, what can be edited later.

#

The problem with editing one’s own material is that one becomes overly attached to what one has lovingly filmed, which partially resulted from the inability to stop filming for fear of losing something special!

If you are into long takes because you are attached to the idea of letting the viewers’ eyes and minds roam free within the material presented, it is really hard to drastically reduce timings and edit into subsets of shots.

#

The more you read on film the more you learn that in general the idea is to edit in such a way as to establish the meaning intended and not go beyond. This is easier said than done:  when filming as things happen, many interesting things are recorded which you may later feel loath to break up into sub-shots/scenes or prune excessively.

I am struggling, for example, to edit a 1:44 minute video sequence which through watching again and again (and again and again…) shows, in a way I hadn’t recognised before, it tells a self-contained story in the entirety of uncut shot, but not if cut down to 15-30 secs. to make it more zippy.  The attempt at drastic cropping into about 5 shots totaling no more than 30 seconds has shown it is a self-contained three part drama( by what is clearly missing in the shortened version).  This does not mean I can cut to three nice short shots each representing the respective parts of the ‘drama’, and that’s it. (Some camera shake had to be cut, removing with it, in a few frames, some telling expressions I would have prefered to leave in, and zoom  excised which was built in to the shot to mark a cut for later editing.

Arriving at the latest cut, where the original is cut to 5 shots totalling less than half the original length, only came about  through trying  to make the whole scene as short as possible – which simpy demonstrated how everything interesting  in the original shot disappeared!  Now I am roughing out a total time of maybe 45 – 60 secs from the original 1:44 mins, which will remove redundancy but keep the  magic of the impromptu filming.

#

A term like decoupage is something one should understand, partly because it illustrates one part of the journey early film makers took in  mastering  their art.  But also more nuts-and-boltsly because the examination of the word, right down to its etymology pinpointing this key issue of cutting and joining which can begin to take place in the mind of the script writer.

#

The lost art of film editing by Jessica Winter Boston Globe, 13 August, 2006

Film Editing: History, Theory and Practice By Don Fairservice {GoogleBook}

wiki:film editing

The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960

By David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, Kristin Thompson

{GoogleBook}  The book is about 506 pages long. This extract stops about 360 (with the odd missing pages throughout) but there is enough there to make it worth reading.

The Rediscovery of editing in French cinema, 1930-1945 Colin Crisp

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Bela Tarr, film editing, film [its techniques] | Leave a comment

Concentrating on Kieslowski: A second viewing of Three Colours Blue



This post is not really for those who have not seen the film.

kieslowski

I’m always shooting the same film!    [..] authors are always writing the same book.





Blue for the second time, a week later, and all the extras in the Artificial Eye DVD of Three Colours. Editor Jacques Witta [2} {3} , says at one point Red should follow Blue.  After watching all three for the first time in the standard order, I felt that too, before seeing Wittas’ comment — mostly because White was not a film I really want to watch all through again so soon, and then maybe only to run through certain sections. And despite each film overlapping at certain points and Red having an ending which recapitulates all three films.  Without knowing the main character in White, the end of Blue would be harder to understand, but the reason for wanting Red to follow Blue is as much about it needing greater examination.  Some reading had suggested it was harder.

I have a tendency to watch a film cinematographically, missing many story details. I find it very easy to be caught up with some technical aspect or structural element of the plot: perhaps sets of equivalences, or counter-currents created through image and voice-over, or image and music.  I made up my mind, when watching Blue the second time, to focus on the story and the cinematography equally: to make sure not to miss anything in the story; to revisit the technicalities I was now familiar with:  I knew when and where they were coming.

I could tell you the story all the way through now in detail – not true the first time through concentrating too hard on film-making and aesthetics. Even after the first viewing, despite Three Colours: Blue being so highly praised – a master work – it might, despite its artistic merits, the blueness might be seen as clunkily executed: as if film technique stood proud from the storyline. The question is whether Kieslowski could have made Blue without the blueness. Or Red without the red. Do we really want red cars and shops signs?

There may be an inherent tendency, in the response to any film, to flip from total absorption and acceptance to awareness of technique, and back. The director may want you to do this.  I like the idea of being deliberately distracted and having to force myself back to what matters, whether is is in prose, poetry, music, art or film. In this film, for example, suffusing the whole field of view with blue in the swimming pool scenes, the brain cannot not but become occupied with the fact of the director is choosing to telegraph an emotion or interior state, while at the same time trying to examine the actor trying to express the emotion. The thing about film is that colour filters can be used so they will be used!  If a writer tried to prime his reader with “The whole scene was suffused with blue..” or “Julie felt her whole world turn blue…” it would never be considered technique in the way that using some cinematographic trick can be. The written expression of an interior state is often much more successfully executed than a filmic representation of it. With film, the immediate distinction between a filter put between viewer and actor in a scene as a device, and it being meant to signify something interior is not always immediately obvious.

As Scott Deskin says here of Red,

It has little to do with the vague symbolic notion of the French virtues that are supposed to make each film cohere, but it is enjoyable and emotionally satisfying.

In Blue, the blue motif is expressed in the use of blue camera filters, blue objects and blue reflections {listed in James Berardinelli’s review}. There can be moments – as I felt in the second viewing – when you tend to be leap-frogging from blue to blue and so not totally enfolded, immersed, in the story.  There is nonetheless a clever three-for-one: the clever, artistically satisfying use of blue, plus the automatic psychological and emotional response to the use of blue for telegraphing for mood, plus the understanding of meaning and how it fits into the main character’s feelings and responses. This is what makes Kieslowski a master.  In this interview Kieslowski gives insights into how he saw himself as a film-maker, which seem relevant to understanding what Kieslowski ends up with in his finished films.

#

In the first viewing, certain features caught my attention, such as the fades to black and the way the music was played out loud, but was meant (I thought obvious to anyone, but maybe I’m wrong) to be in the heads of Julie and her husband’s composing associate Olivier as they ran fingers along scores.  I was impressed by this finger following the score, because I can’t read music.  And yet, in the simple music played, I was able to!

You get two for one: the music is on the soundtrack, but you are being shown (not told) there is really silence in the room as the two composers imagine the music from the score. If one can do that, how magical! And how impressive that film can show it in a way a novel probably can’t. I can’t play a tune in my head, so I was wondering what it was they were ‘hearing’ when they looked at the score.  A hint there of deaf Beethoven composing and playing without hearing his own music. And the notion of one being what one leaves behind, heightened here by it being beautiful music. Plus, as if there were an argument here in a visual explanation, of music allowing one to get as close to a dead person as anything, or maybe more: can writing, a diary, a painting, or some photographs or some home-video without the sound do as good a job? A viewer might watch that and be asking what she is going to leave behind and how it will be responded to.

Here, something I took up in looking at Bela Tarr’s long takes,  that slow film allows the viewer to escape from the film being watched. The fast-cut action movie is not designed for this, except in that one might identify with the hero or anti-hero.  In a slow movie there is space for individual, personal, interior journeys. The great director builds this into a film. Kieslowski says he is happy with there being many interpretations of his films. SEE again the interview.

To me, a sub-story in Blue is a treatise on music itself and how wonderful it must be to compose. Other things too, such as music being a greater solace, a greater stirrer of emotions than other art,

What passion cannot music raise and quell!  ~  John Dryden

than other human artefacts.  (Music is prominent in the earlier The Double Life of Veronique: the Polish Weronik, a singer; the French Veronique, a music teacher. There is the fictional composer, van den Mayer who reappears later in Red). Kieslowski himself, in the extras on this Three Colours DVD talks of his obsession with the idea that the notes are out there in the world, and so it shouldn’t be surprising (the pavement flute-player sequences in Blue reprising this from Veronique.) that the same or similar music would be sure to pop up, convergently, in different places.

Whether others might have picked up on the music the greatest of the arts theme, I don’t know. I see that if your going to leave something behind, music is a good bet. But it is more: that music is inherently more emotional than, say, art or literature. It optimally – or maximally – serves the interests of the plot in reviving the natural feelings of Julie the widow.  Perhaps others might concentrate on the music itself and the themes underlying its use in the film, such as Julie at last being able to bear to read a score her dead husband created, (at the beginning of the film she is intent on throwing his scores away) and to take up again her own creativity through it, which at the beginning seemed to unbearable because it heightened realisation of her loss.

SEE Gareth Rees in this short summary and comment on Blue.

#

Dan Schneider reviews Blue from a Miramax version of the set, which includes an extra not in the Artificial Eye version: comment by Kieslowski ‘expert’ Annette Insdorf.  Take to heart his remarks:

It is a very bad commentary, one of the worst I’ve heard. Like many of the worst Kieslowski critics, she expends far too much energy alternately masturbating over filmic minutia, and over-analyzing it to the point of absurdity. As example, she speaks of the blackout moments only coming to Kieslowski in the editing stage of the film, and not being in the original screenplay – an interesting observation, but goes into no greater depth as to the significance of the moments, nor how their provenance has any relation to the moments themselves. She similarly goes on and on about far too many other differences between the screenplay and the finished film, rather than detailing what is actually on-screen.

but don’t let puzzling over matters of fade to black over story line seem trivial, if that’s what you’re into.  Films like Kieslowski’s are always as much about film as a particular film: about what one sets out to achieve and the end result. Kieslowski himself often talks about this. To be honest, when seeing Julie’s first blackout – realising the face at the moment before the fade reappeared a few seconds later in exactly the same position – it was not obvious to me this represented Julie having a blackout.  I thought at first it was a devise to hold up the narrative.  (I think, but can’t be sure, having read around the film so much, that I also thought, on first viewing, this was something that came at the editing stage not in the script. This is mentioned by the French editor in the extras.)  Why Julie’s face hadn’t moved on when it came back seemed to be wrong!  Why wasn’t she a bit further on….as in when you find you have driven up to a road junction and entered the traffic, with no clear recollection afterwards of whether you looked left or right before joined the flow of traffic or how you changed the gears. If  that’s Osessive Film Minutiae Syndrome, I plead guilty.

DS also says of Insdorf:

…there is a preciousness and superficiality to the whole commentary, as if we are watching a miracle occur, rather than an explicable work of art.

{My emphasis}

Sometimes it can seem we are watching a miracle and a work of art. Sometimes neither miracles or works of art can be explained completely.

#

There are two distinct strand of film-watcher, those who are completely story orientated, for whom cinematography is irrelevant or of minimal interest – what did it mean, how did it say it, was it well told – and those who are interested in how film is used to do the telling, as against how prose might do it.  There is no rule you can’t combine examinining the cinematographic technique while you are understanding the story, or even watch one film in different modes at different times.

#

Watching Kieslowski make me wonder about whether it is possible just by watching a film, to know if it was an original script or a script based on a book.

#

There are novels it has proved hard or impossible to translate into film. Mann’s The Magic Mountain is often cited. There was an English language TV adaptation,  and a 1982 German effort, (IMDb) Der Zauberberg, and there are quite a few scripts that lie gathering dust. The comment in the IMDb covers the dilemma well.

#

In the UK, on BBC2 TV, there have been two documentaries on loss, grief and mourning: Michael Portillo’s Death of a Schoolfriend and Moran Mathew’s three-hour long The Fallen shown on Saturday 15 November 2008.  For me these are handy companion pieces to Kieslowski’s Blue.  One, because they show the different approaches to mourning and loss in documentary and fiction, and, two, the documentaries show the elements from which a director like Kieslowski could create a character like Julie.

Coincidently, Gary Findon,  Portillo’s school friend who took his own life at 15, was both a talented musician and had composed. More striking is how his teenage compositions were thought lost, possibly burnt by his father in an attempt to blot out the memory of his lost son. The scores were found by Mrs. Findon on top of a cupboard during filming. The last scene is Gary’s younger brother, a flautist, playing for the first time one of Gary’s compositions to the parents.  They have spent 35 years trying to bury Gary’s memory, but now in their later years have been able to do what Julie does in the film! There is a question, therefore, as to how Julie is able to turn her life around so quickly. Kieslowski’s answer is in the words of her dead husband’s now finished “Song for the Unification of Europe”, with words from 1 Corinthians 13, in Greek. There is an earlier scene where Julie and Olivier are collaborating on the unfinished score. She picks a  book off the shelf and shows him where the words come from: 1 Corinthians 13.

Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s film Three Colors: Blue (1993) draws many images and themes from 1 Corinthians 13, including allusions to appearances (“seeing through a glass”) and musical sounds. The Song for the Unification of Europe at the center of the story sets an abridged version of the original Greek text.

The rhythm of the Greek fits the music.

In a previous scene – Julie confronts her husband’s lover, Sandrine, who she only learns about after his death – she sees that Sandrine has learnt from him that she, Julie, is always capable of love, as in agape.

The Fallen shows a  kaleidoscope of ways in which members of the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan cope with their loss. It also shows a common thread in people not being able to forget and not being able to stop crying. Gary’s parents, too, admit on film they continued to mourn his loss, with in tears, for 35 years.

refs.

Kieslowski

Three Colours Blue

A review by Noel Magahey, which includes three still from the Artificial Eye DVD:

(1) Julie/Binoche in swimming pool with hands over ears, to block out the sound of the music she is hearing in her head!

(2) Face of Julie/ Binoche: in the extras or elsewhere, Binoche explains that she did not think it necessary for her to be shown naked in the love scenes. Hence, here about to make love to Olivier, she is shown framed from shoulder up exactly as it is in the film.

(3) Famous sugar cube shot. In the AI extras, Kieslowki uses this shot in a master class to discuss length of shot. He explains that a normal cube might take 7 or  8 seconds to such up the coffee, so he obtained on which did it in 4 .5 seconds.  What he doesn’t say is the whole scene – cut to cut – takes about 8 seconds. This would explain why he wants only 3 or 4 seconds for the imbibition!

(4) One of the shots of a music score, showing the pin focus and blurring around as the score is scanned by the camera, so that (presumably) only the notes being ‘heard’ are in focus.

His summary: a film of great beauty – in image, in coherence of concept and in brilliance of execution. It is the work of a true and undisputed master of the cinema.

Demystifying Three Colours Blue

by Anthony Leong

A detailed  review

Kino Kieslowski

links to dissertations, article and poetry

Links to reviews from IBDb

Blue

Review Roger Ebert

Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red (1993-1994)

Review Roger Ebert

Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue: Not Merely An Essay On Grief

Jugu Abraham

Analysis of the opening of Kieslowski’s film, Trois Coleurs: Bleu
By Matthew Sharpe

Three Colors: Blue

A Film Review by James Berardinelli

Three Colors Blue

Review by Dan Schneider

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So

A Film Review by James Berardinelli   (The DVD has a documentary with this title filmed by Kieslowski’s friend)

Edinburgh Film Society have reviews of Three Colours as a whole and individual reviews of each film.

Film

What is a Plot Point?




November 17, 2008 Posted by | art, film directors, film [its techniques], Kieslowski, Music | , | Leave a comment

Film: Paul Schrader on Robert Bresson (two part Youtube)



Paul Schrader ( famous scriptwriter of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver) sheds light on Bresson in a two part Youtube.

I learnt about Bresson a few years ago and bought the DVD of Au Hasard Balthazar as a start.   It is possible to hate a film’s style but understand what the creator was getting at and so really not quite hate it just be annoyed by some of the ways it was made.  A very common reaction amongst viewers is to to say the donkey was the star: it was, without a doubt.

Schrader going through Bresson’s Pickpocket was a highly instructive.  I made myself watch  Balthazar again, overcoming the feeling that I could not bear to watch the suffering one more time.  The stylised wooden acting still jars. But this time I thought of masks in a Greek play. But it doesn’t work for me as I would like it to. One can get the point of a film while not enjoying the experience of it.

There is a lot of meat in the interviews: at one point Schrader says Bresson’s is saying with Pickpocket (and presumably the rest): “I am going to recede from you ever so slowly till you start coming towards me.” Schrader later goes on to discuss  his view that film is not a spiritual medium.

A second film post will tackling the cinematographic long take after an experience with some Yuutubes of samples of the Hungarian director Bela Tarr.



August 15, 2008 Posted by | film [its techniques], Robert Bresson | , , , | Leave a comment

Patently absurd



This title will be prone to change as will the contents.

Litlove’s 2006 post What is existentialism? with particular reference to Sartre made me try to remember what it was that I read and what took my fancy all those decades ago. I remember being not dissimilar to Tony Hancock in the show where he is ostentatiously (though alone) reading Russell’s History of Western Philosophy when attempting Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, eventually giving up the ghost. Remember how Hancock reads from the beginning, facial expression at first calm, positive, optimistic, but in stages shows the full gamut until utter incomprehension. Having got through half of the first page (artistic license here as I can’t remember the details) he turns to the beginning, defaulting to the initial calm expectancy and then getting confused once more. Does he then throw the book aside?

Nausea was o.k. because Sartre in fiction writes simply, even if you don’t at the end grasp the philosophy. The wiki: Nausea is pretty comprehensive, with substantial quotes which might help in deciding whether to tackle it. I’ve decided to have another go. Notice how Sartre is fond of the colon: I wrote a post on his autobiography, Words, in Moleskine Modality a while back, remarking on the use of the colon there: I still really haven’t a clue how to use it but keep on using it just the same.

I may or may not have made a stab at Sartre’s The Roads to Freedom Trilogy, but cannot find any of them on my bookshelves. I remember watching the BBC adaptation, based on all three books, starring Michael Bryant looking exceeding puzzled and irritated throughout. According to a brief wiki:The Roads to Freedom, Sartre planned a fourth volume, of which only two chapters remain. In the IMDb entry on the Roads to Freedom a comment suggests the BBC wiped some of the original tapes: but that maybe an individual recorded them. If so please make yourself known to us because we desperately need something decent to watch on British TV, and what better than such a great series?

There is a 48 minute Google video of a BBC programme Human all too Human – Sartre: The Road to Freedom. For those of you like me who are not prepared to go over the old ground in a substantial way, here is a painless and short-cut way to re-immerse oneself.

It was to Camus I turned after Sartre and found the absurd in the long essay The Myth of Sysiphus. And the novels.

It is so easy now to find interesting online materials on Camus and existentialism in general. For example the wiki: absurdism has a simplified chart showing the relationship between Existentialism, Absurdism, and Nihilism. I am reminded by re-reading about Camus that he did not consider himself an existentialist, but there are those who do, such as this person who has written The Existential Primer.

I’ll put here some of the articles and sites that might help someone starting from scratch:

The Myth of Sisyphus from SparkNotes (a clear one page summary)

Suicide and Atheism: Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus By Richard Barnett

The wiki:Albert Camus points out that some distinguish Camus’ idea of the absurd from others by terming it the Paradox of the Absurd

Paul M Willenburg has a compilation of essays and other things.

Dance of the Mind blog in a 2008 post explains his reading of The Myth of Sisyphus. Lots of interesting points can be picked out of the the comments stream, including the larger one that is not that easy to grasp what Camus was on about.

Book Crazy blog : several posts

Albert Camus – the Absurd Hero

Caligula by Camus: Absurdity’s illogical end.

In 2006 Marcel Berlins wrote an article in the Guardian, What is it about Albert Camus’ The Outsider that makes it such an enduring favourite with men?

….my brief Outsider-inspired vow always to tell the truth and not care about the consequences spoiled my love life for a while. (“What do you think of my new dress?” “Awful. You’ve got terrible taste.”)

The Outsider study guide from BookRags.

::

I personally found Mersault bloody irritating because it seemed no man would act or think like that. The initial attraction for me was a recognition of the milieu. I had been a teenager on another North African beach.

One might tend to say now Mersault had a personality disorder. Perhaps it might be said that Camus had no other way to examine such an extreme existential position other than to create a fictional character representing it, in order that the philosophical implications could be worked through. To imagine such a person, is an act of creative fiction at its best.

::

The general way of dealing with The Outsider is to do the teenage angst bit, as in this BBC News magazine article by Sean Coughlan, The Cult of the Outsider.

BBC 2 ran the Virginia Tech Massacre docudrama 8 April 2008 which seemed to me to be visiting the same territory as Camus with Mersault. There was mention of the need to play with identity. Having re-visited existentialism and the absurd the day before, when an expert (a paraphrase here) summarised gun-boy Cho as preferring the persecution of injustice to the reality of failure, my ears pricked up: this seemed to be the nub. It also seems to feed into the notion of America being the epitome of narcissism. This wiki:narcissistic rage, completes the story.

Cho changed courses from Business IT to English. He started a novel. His family encouraged him, but professionals politely told him it was crap. He wasn’t going to be a writer; he hadn’t got the talent. But this is the way he eventually chose to express himself: he had backed himself into what he saw was a corner he couldn’t get out of. He saw no way out for his desire for admiration and fame than to kill randomly and then kill himself, hence going down in history. Being ultimately disillusioned by the recognition that you haven’t got what it takes to live the life you imaged may be behind many teenage suicides (which just happen to be predominantly male).

Although he did not commit suicide, what is this if not the life of Lee Harvey Oswald?

MARINA OSWALD : “Lee had no moral sense at all…only egotism, anger at others on account of his failures.”

Lionel Shriver in a April 2007 Guardian piece, These are all Copycat Crimes, expresses it better than I have.

Campus shootings are now a genre, much as, in literature, campus-shooting novels are a genre, one of whose entries I am guilty of writing myself. They are part of the cultural vocabulary, and any disgruntled, despairing or vengeful character – of any age of late, since grown-ups now want in on the act – now has the idea of shooting up a campus firmly lodged in his brain.

I do not believe that the choice of schools or colleges for the pursuit of grievance or, often, for the staging of what I call “extroverted suicide”, is arbitrary. For most of us, school and university are the seats of profound and formative emotional experiences, and the psychological power of these locales does not necessarily abate with age. Only last month I had reason to walk down the hallway of an elementary school in the US, and the lockers, lino and acrid chalk-dust smell sent my head spinning with memories, not all of which were pleasant. I felt claustrophobic, smothered, actively grateful to be spared the tyrannies of Mrs Townsend’s home room, and relieved to get out. In fact, I couldn’t believe I was allowed out of the door without a pass.

For a lucky few, school and college are where we first distinguish ourselves. But for the majority, they are the site of first humiliation, subjugation and injury. They are almost always our first introduction to brutal social hierarchies, as they may also sponsor our first romantic devastation. What better stage on which to act out primitive retribution?

Here’s a couple of chunks from The Outsider.

::

And finally, Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. For those who who know nothing of it, Lynn Barber wrote a profile of Wilson in 2004, titled Now they Will realise That I Am a Genius, which covers pretty much everything, and can have you in stitches at times if your humour is that way inclined, including having written over a 100 books after The Outsider, which no one really wanted to publish. The best being that the blurb in edition after edition continued (or continues) to have praise from Edith Sitwell and Cyril Connolly (who later admitted he hadn’t read it).

I read it in the 1960s having read the story of who he was and how he came to write the book. It was first published in the 50s. The general idea amongst the intelligentsia being he was some uneducated upstart who couldn’t possibly be writing this book, as this page puts it, because of his ‘outsiderish autdidactism’. My view is that he is fine where he is telling us about the books and lives he examines but less good when he tries to develop a theory to encompass a positive gloss on the outsider.

April 7, 2008 Posted by | Absurdism, Albert Camus, Existentialism, Sartre | , , , , , | Leave a comment