Sunday, April 16, 2006

TV: Beckett on Film

The things you discover when you’re up in the wee hours of the morning.

To mark this month’s centenary of the birth of Samuel Beckett, the Sundance Channel is airing Beckett on Film. This ambitious project, undertaken in part by the Gate Theater, Dublin and the Irish Film Board, brought together renowned actors and directors to commit 19 Beckett plays to celluloid.

Sundance is broadcasting the collection without much fanfare Fridays at midnight (read: late Thursday night), a timeslot in which it will only be seen by troubled loners, the chronically unemployable, and those suffering pronounced coughing jags. (Last Thursday, I spanned all three categories.) Beckett, no doubt, would have been thrilled.

I saw ‘Breath,’ a 35-second play without words directed by the artist Damien Hirst, and ‘Play,’ helmed by Oscar-winner Anthony Minghella, in which three disembodied souls are doomed to repeat their story of romantic betrayal.

David Mamet’s ‘Catastrophe’ featured Sir John Gielgud in his last performance. A powerful piece that I didn’t completely understand.

Rosemarie: It’s an allegory of totalitarianism.

Me: It is?

Rosemarie: It has to be. Any piece of theater you don’t understand is always an allegory of totalitarianism.

Me: Wow. Are you sure?

Rosemarie: Oh, yeah. I have a humanities degree.

As usual, she’s right.

My favorite of the films was ‘Not I,’ with Neil Jordan directing Julianne Moore. It’s an 14-minute close-up of the actress’s mouth as she spits out garbled sentences recounting a woman’s empty life. It’s nothing short of mesmerizing. The camera – and eventually the text – fixate on the unconscious mechanics of speech: the motion of the tongue, the hypnotic undulations of the lips. In my weakened condition, watching Angelina Jolie perform this piece would have killed me.

Critics have complained that some of the films aren’t true to the Beckett spirit. But for someone whose knowledge of his work is limited to ‘Waiting for Godot,’ they make an invaluable introduction. The series continues this week with ‘Krapp’s Last Tape,’ directed by Atom Egoyan and starring John Hurt. I plan on recording it. I’d rather not be awake when it’s on.

Miscellaneous: Link

What an age we live in, when a regular joe can use household technology to recreate a seminal moment in human history.