Sunday, August 09, 2009

Free Electric Hernia

Not a lot worth reporting here, Thompsonoids: think of this post as a wilfully coughed-up furball -- no, no, don't, that would be horrible -- but it's self-evidently a post for the sake of posting. With almost everyone else on the block so quiet -- though an Edinburgh deluge can presumably be expected pretty imminently -- I feel like I ought to make some show of still being alive & kicking.

I might mention in passing that I saw Antichrist a few days ago and I think it's really special. I mean, yes, very odd, very violent, but to beautiful and, dare I say, profound ends. What impresses above all is its seriousness -- we're too ready to take von Trier's impishness at face value; the moments here that sound as though they might be jokey or facetious (such as the much-discussed 'talking fox' sequence) strike me as desperately important challenges to us: will we dare to take this stuff seriously? The goriness of Antichrist is the goriness of King Lear, not of Titus: and like Lear it can -- at its best -- feel like an excruciatingly grave game of chicken. You must not, you will not, blink first. What makes Antichrist an even more harrowing experience is that in watching Lear's disintegration, we have no sense that we're witnessing Shakespeare falling apart at the same time, behind him, through him; but the breakdown in Antichrist is not that of the characters played (with exceptional artistry) by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, but of von Trier himself: I'm certain it would seem so even if you saw the movie without the accompanying broadsheet nattering about the director's struggles with depression. What's revelatory about Antichrist in other words is its yoking of certain horror tropes -- albeit shot with uncommon finesse by the brilliant Anthony Dod Mantle (cinematographer on Harmony Korine's Julien Donkey-Boy as well as various good-looking films further downstream) -- to real candour, real testimony. von Trier is thinking here with intense penetrative care (if you've seen the opening sex sequence then forgive the unintentional pun) about the meaning of those fairytale elements -- talking animals, the woods themselves, the idea of the test -- as they fractionally resonate within real lives. It is an upsetting film, and perhaps sensationalist in the least meretricious way, driven by a determination to feel, to re-feel, to feel more; to feel more articulately, more truthfully. It could be seen -- has been seen, I think -- as an extreme film, but I'd sooner say it was quite the opposite. It doesn't so much go out on a limb, hauling us off to some strange and distant vantage, as dig down and down in the place where we already are. That's what makes it frightening -- and beautiful, and brave.

It also sat very interestingly in relation to Nicholas Ridout's terrific little book Theatre & Ethics, which I'd just been reading. (That 'little' isn't condescension -- it's pocket-sized.) It's part of a new series from Palgrave, each focusing on a particular theme or issue in contemporary theatre practice -- I picked a few up but Ridout's is the stand-out so far. Most excitingly, given that (quite obsessive) thinking around the ethical life of theatre is absolutely at the heart of my practice, Ridout spends the first nine-tenths of the book saying things I already knew or thought or recognized, but much more concisely and cogently than I ever could, before really pulling the rug out from under me with a brilliantly disorienting conclusion, one which gave me a real aha! moment. It got me thinking in a whole new way about the private / public axis in theatre and performance, and helped make sense of the reasons I've felt so drawn to filmmakers like Tarkovsky and David Lynch and Matthew Barney in thinking about my own work -- an attraction that always seemed paradoxical given that their work is so fuelled by the private image (or even, fascinatingly, the private form) while my practice has for some time been fixated on (amog other things) the undermining of the private as a category. I won't spell out the link with Ridout's thinking as there really is a rush of excitement to be had in encountering his unexpected conclusion, and I wouldn't want to pre-empt that for anyone. But it certainly made me think about Antichrist as having something profoundly important to say about theatre, something that needs working through with care -- but also with intrepidity.

So, there's all that going on in the world, and, more parochially, I hope in the next 24 hours I'll be refreshing the links lists here and the register of upcoming performances. May I remind you in particular that I'll be at Openned (at the Foundry, near Old St) this coming Tuesday, playing Cage with Messrs Gilonis, Lash and Robinson, and it would be a delight to see you there.

Which brings me finally to the meat of this post -- or its mycoprotein, at any rate: I was tidying up earlier and found this scrap of video which I thought I'd share (given the dizzying volume of acclaim and euphoria that greeted the Basinski snippet in the last-but-one post). It's just a little piece I made for the then hernia-afflicted CEO of the Klinker, Hugh Metcalfe, when I read at the Stokey branch of that venerable institution last October. Thanks to Malcolm Phillips for the camera-phone bootleg, and to whoever put the flashing fairylights up, which I think made all the difference to this one.


TS said...

Some furball. You've renewed a desire to see the Von Trier which I confess the broadsheet barrage had eroded out of me. And added what sounds like an essential little book to my reading list. And I have't even had time yet to watch the clip.

Please keep coughing.

kier said...

hi chris, like whoever above me says, keep coughing up these things. i hope you're doing good, and your work too, tons of love. xxx