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On stage and off stage with Stoppard and Godard


By Stuart Mitchner

We do the things on stage that are supposed to happen. Which is a kind of integrity, if you consider every exit to be an entrance to some other place.

-of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead

OWhen director Jean-Luc Godard died, an “assisted suicide,” five days after the monumental passing of Queen Elizabeth, I took a YouTube tour of the “most cinematic” footage of his work. Accompanied by the warm and richly romantic soundtrack by Georges Delarue for Contempt /Contempt (1963), the result was an unusually humane and borderline sentimental memorial to a director who set out to attack “all civilized values” in the 1968 Rolling Stones film One Plus One / Sympathy for the Devil. Godard’s version of doing “on stage the things that are supposed to happen” involved punching the film’s English producer in the face on stage at the 1968 London Film Festival.

Stoppard’s Scoop

The onstage/offstage lines are spoken by one of the players visiting Elsinore in Sir Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead (Grove Press 1967). The notion of coin as “scoop” came to mind reading Maureen Dowd’s profile in the September 7 New York Times on Stoppard, which opens with the teenage journalist who “loved wearing a raincoat and showing off his press card, operating in the mind of a British contemporary, Nicholas Tomalin, who wrote: “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. “

Call it what you will, a coup or a scoop, it took a world of cunning and more than a little literary ability to become the first playwright to claim the untold story between and behind the lines of two of the more fascinating and well spoken. Shakespeare’s minor characters (although Gilbert and Sullivan had a hit in 1892 with a farce that ends with Rosencrantz marrying Ophelia). Hamlet’s schoolmates in Wittenberg are clearly on a theatrical higher level than sycophants like Osric of Elsinore (“Do you know that water fly?”), who are ruthlessly mocked or killed on stage, like Oswald, the Goneril’s servant, his last words (“oh untimely death”) recorded forever in the closing seconds of The Beatles’ “I am the Walrus.” Besides holding their own jokes with Hamlet as “indifferent children of the earth” who live in “the secret parts of fortune”, they stage phrases like “shadow of a dream” and ” shadow of a shadow” that suggest how much there is to imagine or discover offstage. Skip forward four centuries and Stoppard’s Guildenstern speaks of the “half-lit, half-living dawn” when a man was “just a hat and cloak levitating in the gray plume of its own breath.

Stoppard’s music

After finishing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are deadI read Stoppard rock n roll (2006), in which his alter ego Jan, a journalist in Prague, tells Max, “England’s last communist”, how happy he was to have his own column. When asked what he wrote, he replied, “Everything I liked. It was a question of how to be useful. It is not useful to be a critic of what is finished and done. I was a critic of the future. Except that when he refused to sign the loyalty pledge, he was demoted to “the kitchen”.

At this point in the conversation, Jan is distracted by a gift of music from Max’s daughter, Esme, Syd Barrett’s first solo album. The madman laughs, with a message from Esme written on the sleeve – “Now do you believe me?” As a reader, I immediately remember Pink Floyd’s first American record, Piper at the gates of dawn, which opens with one of the era’s most gripping songs, founding member Barrett’s “See Emily Play,” where Emily (sounds like Esme) “floats down a river forever and ever.” Esme’s question refers to rock n rolls Fantastic opening scene in which “The Piper is hear” plays and sings for her, a 16-year-old “period flower girl: 1968”. Briefly unaware of Max’s presence, Jan puts the record on the turntable and listens to “Golden Hair,” the song the piper sang to Esme (“Lean out the window, Golden Hair / I hear you singing in the midnight air”); he is deeply engrossed, probably remembering his last night in Cambridge three years before, when Esme offered him her virginity.

As the audience listens with Jan to the voice of the real life hero of the drama, who died during rock n rollof 2006, Marxist Max “explodes”. He hates music (“I’ve never heard anything so pathetic”) and tells Jan to “do everybody a favor and go live out West” where he belongs. Jan stops the record, not without declaring his love for England, and as soon as Max leaves, he resumes listening. The music is so central to the spirit of the piece that it really is always there anyway, and if you have YouTube handy you can listen to it; there’s a song for every scene and scene change, bringing love, joy, power, poetry and positive energy, from the opening notes of “Golden Hair”, heard in a Cambridge garden, to the Beatles singing “Rock and Roll Music, heard offstage in 1990 on a “little cassette player” near the Lennon Wall in Prague. The occasion is a Rolling Stones concert. When the band appears, “everyone stands up” as “the first chords guitars pass through the noise”.

all for love

Discuss rock n roll with Maureen Dowd, Stoppard refers to a critic “who wrote that she started crying when the love story ended at the end, just in time. I was aware that I was more glad anyone told me I was too half smart or intellectual. In fact, the reason I liked it so much was that I was two-thirds through writing it before I started writing. understand that there was a love story in it. I am very supportive of love.

Godard rolls the stones

There’s no love and very little rock at Godard One Plus One / Sympathy for the Devil. The director’s motive for hitting the producer was all about Iain Quarrier’s decision to title the film after the song and add a full version at the end for viewers frustrated with the ongoing studio scenes, where a great song loses a touch of its magic every time Mick Jagger tries tiredly the opening line, “Please allow me to introduce myself.”

Interviewed in the June 1968 Rolling Stone, Jagger said “Godard managed to catch up with us during two very good evenings. He may have come every night for two weeks and just seen us staring at each other with blank faces…sitting there looking bored [In fact, this is pretty much how it seems] So Godard saw it all from start to finish… It’s probably very boring for most people but when he’s done cutting it, it’ll be great.

In addition to doing nothing with the studio footage, which is mostly really boring, Godard sometimes rudely imposes a voiceover of the same sex and plot hack novel (“You’re my kind of girl, Rita. I am crazy about you”) heard throughout the film. Meanwhile, the Black Panthers recite the dogma of Eldridge Cleaver’s Black Power in a scrapyard of cars that look like remnants of the carnage of WeekendGodard’s road rage apocalypse of the previous year.

The closest thing to a lyrical moment is provided by Godard’s then-wife Anna Wiazemsky’s maiden walk through a wooded park as “Eve Democracy” with a handheld camera crew in the back while a man asks contrived questions like “Do you think drugs are spiritual drugs? form of gambling?” She is lovely to see as she walks around, comely, charming, young girl in a pale yellow dress, a real young girl, stepping lightly, gracefully this way and that, answering quietly, quietly, “yes” and “no” to dated statements about Vietnam and Kennedy’s death, and whether the devil is God in exile You get a clue from the Democracy’s fate when her interrogator says “Under LSD you begin to die” and “You take orders for your own death on such a trip”, to which she replies “yes”, both times and few time later settled in. Lying on the grass, hands on her knees, essence of a pastoral, but also kneeling, head down, waiting for Godard’s executioner. In the last shot One plus one, she is Eve Democracy, her bloodied body with white sheets being lifted skyward by a huge crane. After the voiceover says, “It was all a waste of time,” the Stones arrive on the soundtrack, finally free, of the “rich and famous” men minding business on Sympathy for the Devilthe producer’s version.

On and off stage

When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern find out that execution awaits them in England, Rosencrantz says, “Who would have thought we were so important? and Guildenstern wonders “Who are we that so much converges on our little deaths…To be told so little – to such an end – and still, ultimately, be denied an explanation.”

For that, you look offstage – in 1968 or 2006 or September 22, 2022, when Sir Tom Stoppard will be at the Stewart Theater in Princeton to talk with Paul Muldoon about “art in vexed times”.

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