Thursday, July 17, 2008

Theatre of the Absurd



This my friends is a short sweet little play called Play, written by that Irish Absurdist Samuel Beckett. Oh, the title doesn't mean what you probably think it does.... you might have to watch it a couple times to figure it out. If you're like me, you'll watch it a couple of times anyway, out of sheer fascination (and, well, to figure out what the heck is going on!!! Hint - the comments on YouTube will help). Also if you're like me, you'll want to save this little gem to your hard drive (because, as we all know oh so well by now, YouTube videos have a way of disappearing overnight!). I give you the venerable YouTube Downloader. Consider it the gift that keeps on giving! Or the gift that lets you keep on taking...

In my recent report on Poetic Film and the World of Objects, I mentioned a fantastic book called Film as a Subversive Art, written by Amos Vogel. I was so impressed with it that I started ordering some of the books listed in the bibliography. One of the good-uns was The Theatre and it's Double by Antonin Artaud - well, I liked it, but I must say it didn't really relate very well to anything stopmotion - though it was good for tracing the genesis of modernist cinema and examining the ideas that gave birth to it. Then suddenly I found myself face to face with one of the best books I've read in a looong time.... Theatre of the Absurd by Martin Esslin. He's the critic who originally coined the term, and he's been there and watched it take shape and grow from the beginning - not to mention he's a great writer and has a knack for getting ideas across clearly.

This writeup actually dovetails nicely with my last one, because Absurdist theatre is poetic theatre. And thanks to Esslin's very comprehensive book, I have a pretty clear idea now of how to approach poetic cinema - something I was a bit worried about. If you recall, my ongoing question lately has been


"how to create modernist (poetic) films that are as satisfying and feel as complete as a good narrative film?"


I'll quote here some passages from Esslin's book that pointed me in the right direction...

"Instead of being provided with a solution, the spectator is challenged to formulate the questions that he will have to ask if he wants to approach the meaning of the play. The total action of the play, instead of proceeding from point A to point B, as in other dramatic conventions, gradually builds up the complex pattern of the poetic image that the play expresses. The spectator's suspense consists in waiting for the gradual completion of this pattern which will enable him to see the image as a whole. And only when that image is assembled -- after the final curtain -- can he begin to explore, not so much its meaning as its structure, texture and impact."

"The play with a linear plot describes a development in time, (however) in a dramatic form that presents a poetic image the play's extension in time is purely incidental. Expressing an intuition in depth, it should ideally be apprehended in a single moment, and only because it is physically impossible to present so complex an image in an instant does it have to be spread over a period of time. The formal structure of such a play is, therefore, merely a device to express a complex total image by unfolding it in a sequence of interacting elements."

"It is not true that it is infinitely more difficult to construct a rational plot than to summon up the irrational imagery of a play of the Theatre of the Absurd, just as it is quite untrue that any child can draw as well as Klee or Picasso. There is an immense difference between artistically and dramatically valid nonsense and just nonsense. Anyone who has seriously tried to write nonsense verse or to devise a nonsense play will confirm the truth of this assertion. In constructing a realistic plot, as in painting from a model, there is always reality itself and the writer's own observation to fall back on - characters one has known, events one has witnessed. Writing in a medium in which there is complete freedom of invention, on the other hand, requires the ability to create images and situations that have no counterpart in nature while, at the same time, establishing a world of its own, with it's own inherent logic and consistency, which will be instantly acceptable to the audience. Mere combinations of incongruities produce mere banality. Anyone attempting to work in this medium simply by writing down what comes into his mind will find that the supposed flights of spontaneous invention have never left the ground, that they consist of incoherent fragments of reality that have not been transposed into a valid imaginative whole. Unsuccessful examples of the Theatre of the Absurd, like unsuccessful abstract painting, are usually characterized by the transparent way in which they still bear the mark of the fragments of reality from which they are made up. They have not undergone that sea change through which the merely negative quality of lack of logic or verisimilitude is transmuted into the positive quality of a new world that makes imaginative sense in its own right."


Ok, enough for now. If any of this tickles your fancy, here are a couple links to more posted on the net:

Samuel-Beckett.net/AbsurdEsslin.html

arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/Absurd.htm

brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2005/godot-notes-05.html

... And if you still hunger for more, then my friend, this is your cue to begin your own investigation!!! Do some web searching, buy Esslin's book (or one of his others... apparently he's written several).

I will present a few more links, to videos this time. Consider this your reward for reading this far. Here's my favorite icon of early cinematic surrealism, Buster Keaton, starring in a little film called Film (also written by Beckett):

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

And, as you may have already guessed if you've been paying attention, I suspect the title 'Film' doesn't mean exactly what it seems to at first blush.....

8 comments:

Jessica said...

Funny thing: since I had been in England, I more and more discover the dark and poetic side of life. And now you posted this inspiring clip...

Melvyn Erville said...

“I smell you off him, she screamed, he stinks of bitch.” Thanks for the Beckett link, I’d heard of him but never experienced his work before. I didn’t find it absurd but actually quite reasonable (I know that’s not the point of the term, I’m just using pun to try to be funny.) What I did find absurd was the comments @ youtube… “It’s shite…” It’s Brilliant” He’s an absurdist…” “He’s not he’s an existentialist…” “Nuh-uh, he’s a free mason!” The thing I find funny about comments is there dogmatic tone of absolute statements of fact, not a one saying “perhaps” like I’m doing even now (perhaps). I looked at the original play http://www.drama21c.net/text/play.htm It’s interesting his stage directions say the Urns are just one yard tall, they must have used a trap door or false floor, It probably looked cool, gave me the idea of the living cremated or them in hell or the hell this is and the play repeating endlessly in our heads. It reminded me of the droning diatribes we all repeat (weather anyone is listening or not) like rosaries to try to keep sane. Perhaps it’s just about an affair, but great works inspire me to think of all sorts of things and that’s what I love to happen, get me out of this rut and up to new ideas (perhaps!) Thanks also for the quotes from Esslin’s book, I’m gonna look for that. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction from people about things there not used to. I don’t blame them, maybe they just don’t have the time to open there minds, some people have to work for a living. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could make something new something poetic that didn’t taste like medicine to the busy, which are probably dying for a relief (perhaps?) Thanks for the posting, keep up the good work!

Darkstrider said...

Hey Melvyn (very nice blog you've got by the by!), if you look around a bit YouTube has different versions (I found one in French - talk about Absurd!!). That one just had heads sitting on a tabletop on some sort of platters, but the talking was much slower, more of a normal pace. I'm not sure what Beckett's original intention was, but I prefer the really fast talking, which makes language something new and unique, and forces you to really think about it. A few more factors I find interesting about this clip...

It's not dialogue, it's 3 interspersed monologues. This is representative of a lot of people I know, who keep up running monologues and will sometimes wait for you to say something now and then, before getting back to it. Each person had a different personality - the wife seemed to hate everything, the "other woman" was self-obsessed, only thinking about her appearance, and the husband just didn't seem to care about either of them. It seems like Becket is presenting an idea of hell where we endlessly repeat our last self-justifications (everybody was intent on justifying their own behavior).

I'll probably be doing a write-up about my own observations on some of this stuff in the future - right now I"m still overwhelmed with it all and trying to digest it. My own thoughts at this point would be little more than a repetition of what I've been reading.

Jessica.... I wonder why you're running into the dark and poetic in England more than in Germany? Maybe because you're far from home? Or because you've been thinking about it more? Or a bit of both? Then again, England is quite an absurd place... the home of Monty Python AND bangers and mash!!!

Melvyn Erville said...

Yes! It made me think of our internal monologue that runs like a program script in our brains but some of us (me) have a leak and it constantly runs out the mouth, insecure perhaps in our original programming. I’m always surprised when someone has a similar impression of something that I do, now I can tell my therapist: “Take that Dr. Rinderpest, I’m not crazy!” I have to check out that French version, and tomorrow I’m looking for Esslin… Hey we could do a clay-smo version of a famous Beckett play and call it “Waiting for Playdough” (Oh man I’ve gotta stop posting drunk)…

Edwound Wisent said...

(^ just play.
(^ funny. I have the whole batch of becketts on vhs from great performances on some cable station from a decade or so ago that this one is from.

(^ oh, btw, strider.
(^ still wanting to know whe you can take a 6 week vacation from your job and come out to bickfords.
(^ STILL not a joke.
(^ STILL want you out here during August.

Darkstrider said...

LOL!!! "Waiting for Playdough"!!! That's Absurd!!! ;)

Prosser... Man, I wish I could take 6 weeks off from work! But the bills don't take vacations unfortunately. I gots ta keep on strugglin for Da Man!!!

Edwound Wisent said...

(^ season of the WHICH factor plays well while reading through threads.

(^ "duhmahn" can replace or find filler for you.
(^ say its a family emergency or something.

Darkstrider said...

Hey, that part isn't a problem... it's paying the bills!!! A month and a half is a long time to go without pay! I'd get home to find all my stuff repo'ed!!