Sunday, March 4, 2007

The TV Stage

Pinter and Misha on Charlie Rose

On the Charlie Rose Show site, you can see his interviews broadcast Thursday and Friday with playwright and 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate Harold Pinter, and legendary dancer Mikhail Baryishnikov. The Pinter interview contains some of Charlie at his worst--taking it upon himself to defend the honor of the U.S. against Pinter's analysis of war and imperialism, and not only badgering him but giving us way more Charlie than we need in what is likely to be one of the last lengthy TV interviews Pinter will do. Still, Pinter didn't lose his composure or seem offended--he even seemed to be enjoying himself-- so maybe their relationship made this an expected encounter. The rest of the program is quite good but I still could have done with more Pinter, more theatre talk and less hectoring from CR.

Pinter provided a few peeks into how he approaches the process of writing and doing theatre. David Mamet says that Pinter and Beckett brought poetry back to the theatre, but Pinter said he valued producing exciting theatre. In responding to questions about his tremendous influence on writing for the stage, he talked about the writers who excited and influenced him. He could see their singular visions, but not his own; writing is doing. "The only thing I can really say about my work," he told Charlie," is that it makes me laugh." His tactic is to get a laugh, and then shut it up.

The interview was done in December, as Pinter finished his run starring in his friend Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. There was no video from that performance, but I hope it was recorded. Not only is it likely to be a superior performance with great insight into the play, but Pinter's last stage appearance. At age 76 and weakened by cancer, he said several times that he's written his last play, though he still writes poetry. For all his dour themes and politics, he seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed his writing life, not only his more than two dozen plays but his nearly two dozen screenplays.

As for his politics, he recalls the experience of being bombed and seeing the effects of bombing during the London Blitz more than 65 years ago, when bombs were much less powerful than now. "I understood what bombing is, what bombs do," which, he said, leaders don't comprehend or won't face: the death, mutilation and destruction that results from political gestures.

The Baryishnikov interview was often the opposite of Pinter's--much more Misha than Charlie, and quite easy and good. He seems like a terrific person--very generous in his comments on others, philosophical about his own choices, but honest, and very articulate. He always struck me as a singularly civilized man. He talked about more or less backing into the movies--his first role, in The Turning Point, was supposed to involve just dancing, but bits of dialogue were added on the set, then more, then more, and he became a major character. But what he remembers is watching Shirley McLaine and Ann Bancroft act. Charlie showed a dance from another film, White Nights, with Gregory Hines. Hines was a great dancer, and kept up very well with Misha, but there were differences--Hines used his arms a lot more, which may have been style, but it also seemed that Misha didn't need to--he moved so economically, with no wasted motion, and perfect control.

He also talked about seeing every kind of movement as dance, and remembering how people move, even if he can't remember their faces or names. There were a few moments of him dancing now, at the age of 59. Despite 11 surgeries, he still has that grace and economy and perfect control. An inspiration, to be sure.

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