I am what I have given
What I have taken makes me less
I am what I have given
What I have taken makes me less
In researching the lives of the characters in Jean Claude Grumberg's THE WORKROOM, I have amassed a kind of repository of devasation.
SAVAGE CONTINENT by Keith Lowe
NIGHT by Elie Weisel
SURVIVING AUSCHWITZ by Elie Weisel
Writings, articles and essays by Ardono, Levi, and others.
Above all, I am struck by Weisel's notion that now, in our time,silence is the only appropriate response to the catastrophe visited upon the Jewish people at the hands of the Third Reich.
That is because the silence of the world after the war makes each of us complicit in the horror, so now we should simply bear witness to this fact.
The shame that France owns because of its need to whitewash complicity with the Nazis is well documented.
The burning need to get rid of this shame has never left the French people.
This is the heart and soul of Grumber'g's play, where the presence of Simone disrupts the denial that is the order of the day and forces each to confront their shame.
On Monday I begin directing THE WORKROOM by Jean-Claude Grumberg for the MFA 1 class of graduate actors at the University of Washington School of Drama.
The play tells the story of a group of women who try to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of world war two in Paris.
Living under the Allied occupation, these skilled seamstresses work long hours for low wages, but everything changes when Simone starts working there.
A Jew with two young children, her husband has not returned after being deported from Paris during the war.
France during the German occupation was a country suffering not only invasion and war, but a disturbing split personality when it came to collaboration with the Nazis.
The southern half of the country was considered a "Free Zone" adminstered by the Vichy government, which was sympathetic to Nazi sensibilites, cooperating and even exceeded German anti-Semitic policies. The north, including Paris, was under direct occupation.
Each French citizen had to make hard choices in order the survive the war. Collaborate? Resist? Flee? Fight? Hide?
THE WORKROOM is a microcosm of these choices, but the common theme that ties all these workers together is the unique kind of shame that comes from the humiliation of war.
Recrimination, blame, guilt, accusations and broken trust fill the atmosphere of the workspace. When Simone finally gives up hope for her husband's return by applying for a death certificate to receive a pension, each must admit their role in her personal disaster.
Like France today, some try to come to terms with the war, some cannot.
It is finally official:
Showings 12 noon daily.
I have a great deal of respect for Summerhall's aesthetic in programming, and it is the only venue I applied to for the world premiere of THE WASTE LAND SISTERS.
We are thrilled to be included in this year's program at Summerhall.
It was simply uncanny.
When the professor awoke, he found that during the night someone had entered their apartment and moved all the furniture around.
'My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
‘Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
‘What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
‘I never know what you are thinking. Think.’
I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
‘What is that noise?’
The wind under the door.
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
Nothing again nothing.
‘Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
These were the words that rattled around in his dusty skull like dice. Did she say all that last night?
She was still asleep, her tangled disaster of a hairdo all over the lumpy pillow.
How was it that neither of them had noticed whomever it was?
His wallet was still where he left it on the floor, empty.
A moth was beating the life out of itself against the greasy window.
Was that some kind of human stain on the wall near the broken lightswitch?
Later, at breakfast, she did not mention the furniture.
Instead, she studied the obituaries in the yellowing newspaper, even though it was over three months old.
"Goddamn, the same people keep dying every day. Do we have anymore bread?"
She ate her toast unbuttered and never wore slippers.
She had also given up brassieres for lent.
Finally, the professor could stand it no longer:
"You don't mind the chair in the closet or the sofa in the sink?
She cast one steel blue eye towards the ill green chest of drawers standing in the middle if the chilly kitchen.
"I don't owe you anything, you bastard. Stop making me feel like a house cat."
With that, she sprouted a pair of luminous angel wings and burst majestically through the ceiling, leaving behind a cascade of glitter and plaster.
Somewhere far away, a full orchestra was playing the overture from The Marriage of Figaro.
Years later, the professor met her again on Waverly Bridge in Edinburgh on a Sunday in April.
She was selling gossamer thread by the yard.
She nodded as he approached her, and whispered ominously:
"That was T.S. Eliot's way of driving a wedge between us, lover. He was always a jealous little fucker."
That night they ate oysters and drank claret out of a porcelain jug.
The band in the dank pub battered out a silly jig, and she cried and cried at the foolishness of all things.
It was uncanny.
That night, someone entered the slutty room where they slept and left a broken tombstone on the bed.
When they awoke, they read the faded epitaph and laughed out loud.
'Here Lies Love, A Victim of Circumstance.'
In the golden days that followed, she often made him dishes with fresh cherry tomatoes and garden oregano, all laced with olive oil and garlic that reminded him of the glory that was Rome.
Then there came the time when there were no more poets or hot meals.
The sun had set once and for all.
But even in the cruel trenches of old age, the professor often smiled when he recalled the way she could run between the raindrops and never catch a chill.
She was uncanny.
I heard this voice out on the street today.
She sang a French song that broke my heart.
Her name is Edith Piaf, it turns out.
She died a long time ago.
But I can't get that song out of my head.
C'était un histoire d'amour.
C'était comme un beau jour de fête,
Plein de soleil et de guinguettes,
Où le printemps m'faisait la cour
Mais quand le histoir's sont trop jolies,
Ça ne peut pas durer toujours.
C'était une histoire d'amour.
Ma part de joie, ma part de rêve,
Il a bien fallu qu'ell' s'achève
Pour me faire un chagrin d'amour.
A literal translation won't do this song justice. It needs some embellishment. Yet the simplicity must be preserved.
I went home and listened carefully to a recording of the song, and wrote this English version.
It's my own adaptation and it's all so true...
“There once was a story of love
And it was like a day of joy and song
Filled with sun and color and with dancing
When spring was new and lived here in my heart.
But when a story is too sweet and too happy
You know it can’t be true or last for long.
There once was a story of love
My one true joy, my one and only dream
Too soon the story comes to its ending
And my heart is breaking evermore."
Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle Piaf.
I received a letter this evening from my good friend Ophelia, who lives in Elsinore.
I haven't heard from her in quite some time, and have been quite worried.
She is a very special person to me, and part of me will always be a little in love with her, even though we live in very different worlds now.
Here is what she wrote:
Where is the devil on my shoulder?
I know what should be right.
But what's left of nothing
Comes from nothing comes from
The unmatched form of work
We must work by the seat of our brow
And nothing else.
I've forgotten everything.
Everything's blown youth blasted with Ecstacy
Pulling farther and farther away into an abyss.
Oh what a noble mind is here o'er thrown?
To be opposed against the jarring winds? Lord we know what we are but know not what we may be.
Soon winter will come and cover everything with snow.
I suppose I should write back to her, but a doubt she will answer me.
Instead I have posted her words here as a testament of sorts.
We have completed phase one of rehearsals.
We return to work again on May 1, 2014.
The marionettes have made their first appearance during the story of the Queen on the barge, only to end up a discarded pile of dead children.
Then, we seem to be in a British Dance hall, where the ragtime music takes us away from the troubles of the day. The sisters dance he Grizzly Bear with the marionettes as Andrei takes the stage as a nightclub performer, belting out "That Shakespeherian Rag".
But then it seems the dance hall is closing, and the washerwomen clean the room with their rags in a series of mundane, repeated movements, all the while gossping about poor Lil.
When Lil's husband Albert was demobbed, her friends admonished her to get a new set of teeth and to get her health straight so she could be more attractive to Albert.
But Lil confesses her poor health is due to the five miscarriages or abortions or children she has born over the years.
The washerwomen leave the bar at last, handing in their washclothes to the barman.
After they leave, he let's each washing rag fall to the ground as he recites: "Good night ladies, ladies good night, good night, good night."
Ophelia drowned herself in madness. It wasn't in the Thames, but if Eliot had his way, it would have been.
The idea of human life as nothing more and nothing less that the totality of our actions was expressed as Existentialism by Sartre before the global conflagration of World War Two.
Ridley Scott's 2013 film project with Cormac McCarthy explores Existentialism through a unique and challenging cinema experiement where the literary and the cinematic meet somewhere on the American border with Mexico and at the intersection of laconic greed and destiny.
Scott is in the late phase of his oeuvre, and seems to be selecting projects with a distinctly philosophical identity as he takes stock of a sometimes masterful, sometimes disappointing career.
The Counselor is more a visual mediation built around the extended dialogues/monologues of Cormac McCarthy. Those hoping for an action thriller film will be very disappointed. However, those interested in the potentials of cinema to get at the essence of something approaching "The Big Idea" might find the film worthy.
Cinema has always struggled as a platform for serious thinking. Especially in America. While many of the great directors have transformed and transcended the pedestrian into the sublime, few have been able to deal directly with philosophical concepts with much success. Tarkovsky to be sure, Bergman in some cases, Godard perhaps back in the day.
Ridley Scott is by no means a giant in the cinematic pantheon, but films like Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise and Black Hawk Down suggest his ability to elevate genres and infuse films with thoughtfulness, if not true gravitas.
With The Counselor, Scott employs the genre of the action thriller that is well known to audiences. He chooses here to structure the film around a series of scenes where members of the stellar cast engage in decidedly uncinematic dialogues. These dialogues are meditations on the events unfolding around the characters, meant more as examinations of purpose than harbingers of action. Brutality, mortality and inevitability comprise the rather predictable plot, which is textured by an extended opening vignette of explicit sex talk between the doomed protagonist (Michael Fassbender) and his bride-to-be (Penelope Cruz). The plot of this film is certainly not where Scott's interest lies. He focuses instead on the literary musings of the characters in order to excavate a deeper examination of action and consequence.
The final rendering of Fate and the need to accept the consequences of one's actions is delivered by a cartel king pin played by Rueben Blades, who explains that when one comes to a certain crossroads, there are a couple of choices, but going back is never one of them. Accepting oblivion is the only rational thing to do, certainly better than prolonging the inevitable.
The Counselor is enigmatic, sometimes obscure and certainly challenging, but it is a worthy exploration into the possibilities of cinema.
As the characters venture further into the poem, they find their childhoods.
Small, faceless mannequins that cling, follow, shadow and lurk around the sisters and Andrei.
Soon, they begin to use the mannequins as marionettes and stand ins.
In the darkness, Andrei narrates the 'game of chess' section as the mannequins slowly creep into the room an eerie promenade of the past.
They gather around a single lantern, as if listening carefully to the story of the queen surrounded by wealth and splendor.
But the sisters let go of their childhoods.
What remains is a grotesque and eerie pile of lifeless bodies.
Andrei blows out the candle, leaving us in darkness as the sound of a lonely Russian winter wind howls in the distance.