Dulltown, UK/Europe: Today’s unusually long quotation is from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1928 novel King, Queen, Knave, which I recently finished re-reading – oh, and jolly good it was too!
Now the room was empty. Objects lay, stood, sat, hung in the carefree postures man-made things adopt in man’s absence. The mock crocodile lay on the floor. A blue tinted cork, which had been recently removed from a small ink bottle when a fountain pen had to be refilled, hesitated for an instant, then rolled in a semi-circle to the edge of the oilcloth-covered table, hesitated again, and jumped off. With the help of the lashing rain the wind tried to open the window but failed. In the rickety wardrobe a blue black-spotted tie slithered off its twig like a snake. A paperback novelette on the chest of drawers left open at Chapter Five skipped several pages.
Aren’t films great?
Well, not all of them of course. Maybe what’s great is just the idea of films? What clever things they are! What a marvellous art form! You drift into a different world for a couple of hours, see people, and things, learn of ideas and activities that you are very unlikely to come across in your everyday life.
Some people really like plays though.
Me, I’m not too keen on plays. I think I’d rather see a bad film than a ‘good’ play any day. You don’t feel too bad walking out of a film you are not enjoying, but with a play you have to get up and almost walk past and in front of the poor bloody actors – you can feel their sneering eyes drilling into your back as you pass.
In plays, you are pretty well stuck with stories about people and their awful problems, aren’t you? But in a film there’s room for other things too, meaningful, pithy, perhaps symbolic things – sometimes you get a shot of something, or a moment, that has you on the edge of your seat, or something that takes your breath away. How about that desert mansion unexpectedly exploding in Zabriski Point?
Yes, films are generally bigger and wider than plays. Plays require more imagination, demand less shuffling in your seat, and usually centre around people getting emotional about something or other, or valiantly repressing it. Usually the people in plays end up loving each other, or killing each other, or just sitting around in despair on carefully-chosen nice prop sofas. Good old Bill Shakespeare was fond of this sort of ending – it’s either very sloppy with smiles and wide grins, or very messy with blooded actors lolling about the stage in stiff poses.
Perhaps we should now think about aesthetic efficiency. (Is there such a thing?) I have worked on plenty of plays in my time (just for the money you understand), nothing big-time of course, just for local theatre companies; I have seen the amount of time, money, and energy expended on actors, stage managers, costumes, scenery, administration, publicity, lighting, etc. But after the thing has been performed for a week or two, it’s completely gone. It then exists only in a few publicity photos, posters, and perhaps, if memorable, in the memory of the people who turned up to see the bloody thing.
I’ve been involved in quite a few productions over the years, and I can hardly remember anything about any of the actual shows. As a theatre designer and set builder I came up with the rather pithy (I think) statement – ‘Theatre is a waste of wood!’
If they’d have spent all that effort and money on making a film instead, it would still exist now, and it would work just as well as it did at the time.
In these digital days you can find and watch all sorts of famous or obscure films from the past, even the distant past – but all the plays have gone, except for a curled typed script sitting gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. I think I could still enjoy watching the films Nosferatu or Metropolis, and they are really ancient – but they still exist, and yes, they are dated, but they still work.
The last play I saw, was when I happened to be in London several years go – Gosh, I thought, here I am in London, I’ll go and see a play by someone famous, in a proper London theatre! The one I happened to choose, because seats were still available, was a quite well-known one called No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter, with Pinter himself playing one of the main characters in it. I can’t remember anything about it – except that there was plenty of talking and sneering and angst – oh, and that Pinter could write plays, but the poor chap couldn’t act to save his life…