Tennessee Akerman Plath

Unlike the professionals, I was far too slow to buy a ticket for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, so I settled for one of the two remaining seats for the live broadcast at the Barbican. It was pretty frantic, the place never having been so full in my experience. People in thrall to the Coffee/Wine Imperative. Maybe I hadn’t read some instructions. I assumed the usual pre-show blurb would be at the scheduled time but in fact the play had already started when I took my seat. I’ve seen a few Williams plays at the theatre before, but not this one, only the Brando/Leigh film version. The staging, with the rotating set and the open walls emphasising the claustrophobia of the flat, would have been much better in ‘reality’, of course, swinging around just in front of you. I thought Anderson got her role just right, her delusions and deceptions and inability to cope with the world leaving her committal, brutal as it was, almost inevitable. The portrayal of Kowalski was quite prosaic. Very plausible, though. I’ve enjoyed all the theatre broadcasts I’ve seen. Nevertheless, they perhaps rub in the inferiority of the experience. At the interval someone in the circle at the theatre waved a white LED pen in the camera that was fixed on the set, perhaps as a taunt to us mere cinema viewers. My eye was caught by a comment card in one of those transparent boxes, complimenting the cinema café on its

brilliant boutique layout, unlike the grim restaurant in the main building.

Tonight I went to the latest A Nos Amours screening, part of their monumental Chantal Akerman retrospective which, we were told beforehand, might be endless, given Akerman is working on new material that might be finished before the survey has completed. The card machine crashed when I tried to pay for my ticket, though at least this meant I saw the little smiley face that appeared on its screen when it rebooted, happy to take our money once again. As we waited for it to start, people behind me were discussing Yahoo mail accounts, including the fact that they’re

useful for giving to people like British Gas.

Probably not the legacy for which Jerry Yang was hoping. The film, Letters Home, was introduced by Claire Atherton, who edited it and collaborated with Akerman in other ways, including helping to choose the soundtrack (probably the first film I’ve ever seen to include Gavin Bryars). Needlessly self-deprecating, she described how she met Akerman. She was focussing the camera for the first attempt at capturing the play Letters Home, for Antenne 2, before Akerman said she couldn’t film there and asked Atherton to film instead. Sadly, all that footage was out of focus, and couldn’t be used… There was another attempt, with 3 16mm cameras, again a filming of the play, which wasn’t regarded as a success, before the transformation of the play into a film, which was what we saw tonight. It was recorded on U-matic, without timecode. This meant that they had to

edit without a net.

They never went backwards while they were editing, unlike the usual practice today, with endless takes, always hoping to find the perfect Platonic edit. They had to keep the feel of the film in mind as they moved through the footage, trusting their instinctive reactions. She has worked with Akerman on many films since then and you can see why they would fit together so well.

Editing isn’t to explain, it’s to make the film live,

was her final comment before the showing began. I only read The Bell Jar last year, so I’m keen to consume anything Plath-related. The film was a re-rendering of a play, itself based on letters Plath sent to her family, mostly her mother. There were live subtitles, composed and triggered by Charlotte Maconochie. What a Sisyphean task, both writing them and then having to watch the film in a strict way so as to display them at the right time, which must in some way ruin her enjoyment. Delphine Seyrig played Plath’s mother and her niece played Plath, in a very small set. As Claire said, you could listen to Delphine’s voice for hours anyway. She conveyed supremely well the fearful helplessness of the parent, while her niece had an amazing amount of energy, transmitting the wild excesses of Sylvia Plath. They spoke over each other, completed each other’s sentences, transmuted the words into embraces and exclamations. I can’t imagine how any other way of filming this would have worked so well, spare and yet voluble. Even though we all knew how it would end, it still celebrated Plath’s courage and brilliance, and you were hoping that her pride at wanting to confront all the negative forces would prevail somehow. It’s such a privilege to have the chance to see things like this.

Afterwards I was able to pick up a handout that Adam from A Nos Amours had kindly brought for Sátántangó, which I saw in a full ICA a few weeks ago. I do plan to write about that soon – my first 7 hour film… He said they were mortified when Evil P*werp*int crashed during tonight’s film, twice, but I don’t think it spoiled it at all. Needless to say, an error report was not sent to Microsoft.

 

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