Sunday, 18 September 2011

Macbeth - A film by Orson Welles

Directed by Orson Welles. Produced by Orson Welles, Charles K. Feldman & Richard Wilson.

Written by William Shakespeare (play) & Orson Welles.

Starring: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy & Roddy McDowall.

Music by Jacques Ibert. Cinematography: John L. Russell. Editing by Louis Lindsay. Distributed by Republic Pictures. Released: October 1, 1948. Running time: 107 minutes. Country: United States. Language: English.

"Sometimes we wonder in what period this nightmare is unfolding, and when, for the first time, we see Lady Macbeth, before the camera moves back to situate her, it is almost a woman in modern dress that we are seeing, reclining on a fur-covered divan beside the telephone" - Jean Cocteau.

"I want to consider Welles's Macbeth in a different frame from the usual ones, viewing it less as a Shakespearean or Wellesian film than as a medieval one. From its opening words, the film stakes a claim to historicity-claiming to depict the period of Christianity's first penetration of a barbarian world-that is belied by virtually everything that follows: the visual invocations of westerns and film noir, the anachronistic grotesqueries of costuming, the fabular simplification of character to the demands of a parable about the resistible rise of gothic tyranny, what Michael Anderegg has called the 'post-nuclear' devastation of its landscape. In creating this notional and abstract version of the Middle Ages as a theatre in which to play out an estranged version of the political concerns of the late 1940s, Welles works against Shakespeare to suppress the Renaissance context of the original play, substituting in particular a myth of the eternal return of tyranny 'Peace, the charm's wound up' for the linear and progressive development of Scotland and England invoked in Shakespeare's text" - Arthur Lindley.

In 1947, Orson Welles began promoting the notion of bringing a Shakespeare drama to the motion picture screen. He initially attempted to pique investors’ interest in an adaptation of Othello, but was unable to gather support for the project. Welles switched to pushing for a film adaptation of Macbeth, which he visualized in its violent setting as "a perfect cross between Wuthering Heights and Bride of Frankenstein". Teaming with producer Charles K. Feldman, Welles successfully convinced Herbert Yates, the founder and president of Republic Pictures, of the prospect of creating a film version of Macbeth. Yates was attempting to raise the level of his studio, which produced Roy Rogers Westerns and low-budget features, into that of a prestige studio. Republic had already tried to present off-beat features, including Gustav Machaty's Jealousy (1945) and Ben Hecht's Spectre of the Rose (1946), so having a creative artist of Welles’ stature was considered an artistic coup. However, Yates was not able to provide Welles with a large budget.

Welles promised to shoot Macbeth in three weeks on a budget of $700,000. When some members of the Republic board of directors expressed misgivings on the project, Welles offered to personally finance any part of the film that exceeded its original budget. Welles had previously staged the so-called Voodoo Macbeth in 1936 in New York City with an all-black cast, and again in 1947 in Salt Lake City as part of the Utah Centennial Festival. He borrowed aspects from both productions for his film adaptation. Macbeth marked the fourth time that a post-silent era Hollywood studio produced a film based on a Shakespeare play: United Artists had produced The Taming of the Shrew in 1929, Warner Brothers made A Midsummer's Night Dream in 1935, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced Romeo and Juliet in 1936. None of these were commercially successful, but the commercial and critical prestige earned by Laurence Olivier's film version of Henry V (which was produced in Great Britain in 1944 but not seen in the U.S. until 1946) helped propel Welles' Macbeth forward.

Further information here, here and here.

Video content here, here & here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

How to be Free - A book by Tom Hodgkinson

I re-read one of my favourite books last week, How to be Free, by Tom Hodgkinson. Tom is the editor of the Idler, author of How to Be Idle, a columnist for the Ecologist magazine, and the only mainstream writer I know to have used the phrase make wealth history. To sum up his philosophy, the world would be a better place if we all did less: ”there’s far too much ‘doing’ going on in the world” he writes. “The responsible response to a world in which interfering has created terrible health and environmental problems is to do less, not more.”

The world we live in is characterised by “greed, competition, lonely striving, greyness, debts, McDonald’s and GlaxoSmithKline”, a treadmill of earning and spending that is destroying the earth, oppressing its people, and hasn’t even made us happy in the process. Instead, argues Hodgkinson, we need to liberate ourselves.

How to be Free serves as a kind of how-to manual for breaking free from all this, the debts and mortgages run up trying to buy our way into the good life, from the fear of living differently. The first step is to reclaim our personal choices from the ones set before us, and realise that “like it or not, you are free. The real question is whether you choose to exercise that freedom.”

The book is full of insightful observations on consumer culture and the things that keep us trapped in the earning and spending system. Fear for example, the relentless doom and gloom of the news, the fear of rising crime, in the face of statistics that say otherwise. Or boredom, or the competitive nature of the ‘career’, as opposed to a calling or a vocation. He talks about housing, and the fact that “the conventional wisdom is that you are supposed to take on the biggest mortgage you can.”

The answer might just be to do less. If we work less, we will have more time for the things that matter in life – like people. In order to work less, we have to be happier with less money, and to make do with less money we need to want less stuff, be more creative, make our own entertainment, and be more self-sufficient. So, grow your own vegetables, says Hodgkinson, learn to play an instrument, throw parties. Work less and live more, and it will be better for us, for those around us, and for the earth too.

There’s plenty of good advice in How to be Free, and lots of fascinating sources of inspiration. Hodgkinson draws from the medieval age of the guilds, from the distributists, who called for each family to have their own land, Masanobu Fukuoka‘s experimental farming, or the 1960s political surrealist situationist movement, right through to Damien Hirst and The Libertines.

The best thing about How to be Free is that it describes a much more sustainable life, both environmentally and socially, without you even realising it. It is a positive articulation, casting a vision of a better way to live. It’s provocative, inspiring, and very funny too. If you remain convinced that a sustainable lifestyle will be one of sacrifice and deprivation, How to be Free might just change your mind.

Jeremy Williams.

More information here, here and here.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Outer Universe and Me – Ken Hollings

The photograph of Stockhausen and me standing together in the late afternoon was taken on Friday, March 12, 1999. The photographer, Philip Lethen, used infrared film. We are in the car park outside the town hall in Kürten, a tiny village in the hills outside Cologne in Western Germany. Behind us is a mobile recording studio on loan from radio station WDR Eins, which Stockhausen had been using to mix down versions of his Helikopter-Streichquartett for release on his own label that summer. The work was completed a few minutes before Philip and I arrived by car from central Cologne. The huge semi-trailer had been parked there since the middle of February and would be gone the next day. It was all a matter of convenience. Not everything is significant.

I was there to interview Karlheinz Stockhausen for The Wire, a magazine that specializes in modern music. I hadn’t slept much in the previous 48 hours, having left Heathrow Airport on a very early flight that morning. Philip was due to pick me up from my hotel in the mid-afternoon.

By then I had already broken down, sobbing uncontrollably in the suite’s tiny windowless bathroom. I don’t know why.

You cannot tell one story without telling others. The hotel was on the corner of Ursulaplatz, just a few doors down from the church where the bones of St Ursula and the 1000 virgins who were slaughtered along with her are kept neatly stacked and wrapped in lace and dark velvet inside a special Golden Chamber, a kind of room-sized refrigerated safe I had visited a few years before. Across from my hotel window was a huge billboard advertising light bulbs with the word ‘LICHT’ spelled out in huge white letters. I’d brought with me an original 1977 American paperback copy of Robert Anton Wilson’s book, Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati, which a friend had given me before she left London to live in Canada and which I’d been reading the night Tim Leary died. Its references to the coincidence of Sirius with an expanded history of human consciousness seemed appropriate to a conversation with Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Right at the start of the interview, as soon as my tape machine had been switched on, the pen in my hand started leaking. Stockhausen was wearing crisp white jeans, a white Indian cotton shirt and a fluorescent orange cardigan, which the infrared film has transformed into a dark blue. We were sitting side by side in his home on what looked like a white patio sun lounger upholstered in pastel shades. The room was immaculately clean and tidy with bright white walls. I had black ink all over my fingers. At the end of the interview Stockhausen looked me straight in the eyes. ‘I like you,’ he said.

Back at the hotel I found that my copy of Cosmic Trigger had gone missing. It was about 4.30 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep anymore. I went through the contents of the entire room trying to find the book but it had vanished completely. So I channel surfed for a while until I found a programme showing satellite footage taken from space of the surface of the Earth accompanied by ambient techno music. Was it broadcast live? A caption on the screen revealed that we were passing over the Arizona desert. It was a dusty ethereal brown. I remembered how Stockhausen had responded when I suggested that we tended to pay cultural homage to space travel nowadays because it seemed more unattainable than ever. ‘No, it’s absolutely clear,’ he said with an enthusiasm that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside him, ‘I don’t know if you know the new books from the Hubble telescope, publications from NASA, but it’s absolutely clear that they will be on Mars in 2012…I know that they are going to go very quick now into the solar system.’ I loved that moment. It was my favourite part of the entire interview.

The next morning I retraced my path around Cologne from the night before, starting with the moment I last knew I had Cosmic Trigger in my possession. Not a sign of it anywhere. A big Kurdish demonstration was taking place that afternoon to protest against the treatment of Kurds in Turkey. It began with a thin amplified wailing that echoed across the rooftops and concrete balconies. The men marched separately from the women and children. Their chants were different too. Riot cops in heavy green body armour leaned against the sides of trucks in side streets like muscular impassive robots, while kids skateboarded on the pedestrian walkways above them. Cable news carried reports that night of a bomb attack on a supermarket in Istanbul.

Back in my hotel room I started crying again. I just couldn’t stop.

On television, two girls with headsets gave rundowns on new websites, featuring one where you can calculate how much you weigh on the different planets of the solar system. As if their viewers were preparing for the great leap into space. A future that can be fully described has already happened and, as such, is already compromised. Stockhausen had told me of his desire to be reborn towards the centre of the universe to continue with his music.

When I got back to London I wrote to my friend in Canada, apologizing for having lost the book she had given me, explaining the circumstances to her. She made some reply about a dead hand on my shoulder. You give up one thing to get another. On October 13, 2001 I became married to Rachel Keen. Rachel and I first met in London in 1992, shortly after she had returned from living in Sydney, Australia for a couple of years. As a wedding present, my friend in Canada sent us another 1977 American paperback copy Cosmic Trigger. But the world had changed a lot by then.

Space Travel in the Twenty-First Century...

I was asked to write the text ‘Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Outer Universe and Me’ during the course of a conversation with the artist Aleksandra Mir that took place in New York in October 2001. I was there with my wife Rachel, and we were on our honeymoon. The city was still very much traumatized after the events of 9/11. Anyone who could get out of Manhattan had already done so, and not many people wanted to visit at that time. The flight over had been almost empty. The usually crowded bars and restaurants were eerily quiet. Even the rich on the Upper East Side looked stunned. Stockhausen had already made his controversial statement about the attack on the twin towers calling it as a work of artistic genius. Gotterdammerung is, if nothing else, great opera. I mentioned to Aleksandra that Stockhausen’s remarks hadn’t surprised me: that when we had met early in 1999 he had described the prospect of a meteor destroying the Earth in an equally casual manner – the human race, he calmly explained, would simply have to go elsewhere in the universe and start again. Beyond the spiritual dimension to his comments, there was an indifference of scale that I found hard to grasp – so when Aleksandra invited me to write up an account of my meeting with Stockhausen to appear in the catalogue for the 2002 Sydney Biennale I immediately accepted.

Mir has been working on a project called ‘Hello’ in which disparate people became related together through the photographs taken of them. The picture of Stockhausen and me standing by a WDR mobile studio in Kürten formed the link between one of Stockhausen meeting Stravinsky and another of me and Rachel on our wedding day, the chain of connections extending further through both parties in each encounter. I particularly welcomed the opportunity to write this account of my meeting with Stockhausen as the version that had subsequently appeared in The Wire lacked all of the personal details that a first-person account, however objective it might be, would have included. Even so I tried to describe everything that occurred as simply and as factually as possible. What emerged was the dispassionate narration of an emotional breakdown that took place some two years before 9/11 but which is completely understandable within the context of those events. That the last ten years has seen the death of Karlheinz Stockhausen and the end of the Space Shuttle programme brings me back to that indifference of scale again. The more events seem to work themselves out through us, the more difficult it is to determine their beginnings and their ends.

Many thanks to Ken Hollings, without whom...