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BBC - Arts - Newsnight Review


1st May 2002
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Broadcast: 29 June 2001

Beckett on Film

(Edited highlights of the panel's reviews)

The panel all agreed that this was a fantastic project but felt that some of the individual films worked much better than others.

Germaine Greer:
It was a risky proposition because the theatre is a special kind of crucible for things. The camera cannot really be the audience's eye because the audience can look wherever it likes. So the camera, in some cases, plays the part of the spotlight and moves where the light would move in the original production. [Anthony] Minghella has been quite daring [in Play] - he has an inattentive camera some of the time. Then he does these cross-cuttings so that [the actors] look like mad birds perched on the end of those urns. He actually suddenly realises that he does has creative licence - he can move. All the way along you have the situation where the director has done his own deal with Beckett. Here, you're setting up a new relationship between the Beckett text and the actors and the camera. It is tremendously exciting. It's not always successful.

Philip Hensher:
I think this is an admirable project. I think some of them work very well. I thought Play works brilliantly well. Some of the others are not far from a disgrace. I think that some of them show how little you can add to those very miniature Becketts without ruining the effect all together. It was amazing for me how many wrong things you could do to a play 32 seconds long, like Breath.

Mark Kermode:
My problem with Not I is that it is almost impossible not to compare that with Billie Whitelaw's mouth doing it. The fact is that Julianne Moore, much as I think she's a brilliant actress, has the wrong voice, the wrong mouth. I agree with you, Breath is very bad.

Philip Hensher:
The single thing that killed Not I was that it begins with Julianne Moore making an entrance from the wings as though she were Sarah Bernhardt or something.

Kirsty Wark:
But in this time, isn't it amazing that somebody has done this, and don't you think as an entity of work, to have this is fantastic?

Philip Hensher:
Absolutely. No criticism at all. The only thing that worries me is that, once you start these grand projects, like the BBC Shakespeare project, somehow they get turned into the definitive way. I think that a lot of these Beckett plays are probably not going to be filmed very much again. There are a lot of things wrong with the productions, or a lot of things idiosyncratic with the productions, which are not intrinsic with to plays.

Germaine Greer:
That's inevitable. I think in some ways what happens in Catastrophe is the worst. If you saw it in the theatre, you would have the man figure, the Gielgud figure, in front of your eyes all the time. Not seeing him all the time and spending too much time watching Pinter do things like walk to the back of the theatre and so on, that was just silly. The point is, you will never define Beckett on film. But you don't have to because you have a text, so you can relax.

For more reviews.

Read our 'Beckett on Film' feature

Newsnight Review video clip, broadcast 29/06/01

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