The Marat/Sade

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The Marat/Sade (1967).

Good to find this Peter Brook film on YouTube (for the time being…) as I’d been watching Ian Richardson in a couple of things recently and wanted to remind myself of how he fares here. He’s excellent, of course, as the serious foil to Patrick Magee’s equally serious Marquis de Sade. Brook’s film is a recording of his stage presentation of Peter Weiss’s play, and the two actors embody the poles of a dialogue about the perennially knotty problems of revolution, freedom, and the interests of the individual in the face of political abstractions. What fascinates most about the play is the Brechtian nature of the drama: structured as a play-within-a-play (we’re watching the inmates of an asylum performing a fictional Sade drama), and with a proxy audience regarding the performance through iron bars, the staging is as far away from dry theorising as you can get. Brief moments of debate between Sade and the asylum inmate portraying Marat act as punctuations between scurrilous chorus songs and frequent scenes of outright chaos which erupt when the demands of performance become too much for the inmates. It’s loud, sardonic, cynical, and often riveting. One of the more miserable features of drama from the 1960s and 70s is the recurrence of ham-fisted political didacticism which, however well-intentioned, makes for a dismal viewing experience. Weiss’s play shows how well you can deliver political rhetoric when the staging doesn’t ignore the presence of a possibly sceptical audience who might also like to be entertained.

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Peter Brook has had a peculiar career as a film director, most of his films being screen adaptations of his stage productions, or odd one-offs such as his documentary-like (and somewhat superfluous) film of Lord of the Flies, and the bizarre Meetings with Remarkable Men. (More about that later.) Brook’s Royal Shakespeare Company staging of the Weiss play was performed to great acclaim in 1965 so we’re fortunate that it’s captured so well here. The cast includes many first-rate actors, not only Richardson and Magee but Glenda Jackson as the inmate given the task of portraying Charlotte Corday, Michael Williams as the Herald, and (easy to miss among the clown-faced chorus) Freddie Jones. A low-grade YouTube copy does little for David Watkin’s superb photography which gives the film a very different look to other films of the 1960s. Studios films of the era tended to be horribly over-lit so it’s refreshing to find a film such as this using only the available light to illuminate the action. Searching around for DVDs reveals a single Spanish edition which I’m tempted to buy if I could be sure it was widescreen and with the English soundtrack intact. As for the play itself, the concerns may be typical of the period but many of the sentiments have lost none of their relevance. Highly recommended.

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Weekend links 82

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At the Mountains of Madness (1979) from Halloween in Arkham by Harry O. Morris.

• Golden Age Comic Book Stories always pulls out the stops in the run up to Halloween. In addition to a wonderful collection of Harry O. Morris collages, Mr Door Tree has also been posting Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe, Lynd Ward’s tremendous illustrations for a collection of weird tales entitled The Haunted Omnibus, Barry Moser’s woodcuts for an edition of Frankenstein, and Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for stories and poems by HP Lovecraft.

• “Eugene Thacker suggests that we look to the genre of horror as offering a way of thinking about the unthinkable world. To confront this idea is to confront the limit of our ability to understand the world in which we live – a central motif of the horror genre. In the Dust of This Planet explores these relationships between philosophy and horror.”

• “…the reader […] becomes a conscious participant in the process of imposing a linear sequence, while at the same time remaining aware that all narrative is an act of memory, and that memory is necessarily random.” Jonathan Coe reviews Marc Saporta’s book-in-a-box, Composition No.1, recently republished by Visual Editions.

• Nearly fifty years after its first performance, Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade is still disturbing playgoers. And nearly ninety years after its release, Alla Nazimova’s silent film production of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé is touring the UK with live musical accompaniment.

Tom of Sinland at Homotography, in which illustrator Bendix Bauer portrays some of the fashion world’s notable male designers as Tom of Finland-style characters for Horst magazine.

Neil Gaiman Presents is a new audiobook imprint which launches with works by Jonathan Carroll, Alina Simone, Keith Roberts, M. John Harrison and Steven Sherrill.

• The Weird Wild West: Paul Kirchner has put all his Dope Rider comic strips online.

Leonora Carrington prints at Viktor Wynd Fine Art, London, from November 5th.

The Fall to Earth: David Bowie, Cocaine and the Occult.

Photos of New York City, 1978–1985.

Kathy Acker recordings at Ubuweb.

The Occupied Times of London.

The Golden Age of Dirty Talk.

Pushkin silhouettes.

• This week I’ve been lost in the Velvet Goldmine (again): John, I’m Only Dancing (1972) by David Bowie | The Jean Genie (1972) by David Bowie | Drive-In Saturday (1973) by David Bowie.