jazzoLOG: A Pause And Applause For Pinter    
 A Pause And Applause For Pinter6 comments
picture16 Oct 2005 @ 07:55, by Richard Carlson

The individual becomes perfect when he loves his individuality in the all to which he belongs.

---D.T. Suzuki

Value judgments are destructive to our proper business, which is curiosity and awareness.

---John Cage

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

---John Muir

Playwright Harold Pinter in a rare appearance at the Orange Word Screenwriters Programme, at the British Library, in 2004.
Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

I don't remember how I stumbled across Harold Pinter. It must have been in the mid-60s sometime, but I don't know if it was a live performance of a couple one acts or that terrifying Dirk Bogarde movie The Servant. It might have been Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch duking it out in The Pumpkin Eater. All I know is his plays grabbed me by the throat instantly. I already was a fan of Samuel Beckett, and had staged Waiting For Godot as a student in 1960. Pinter was trickier. For a production of The Homecoming in 1974, my colleagues and I felt we had to build a 2 story house in the theater. Getting the pauses right required actors literally to count off seconds to themselves. One of the eeriest moments of my life occurred in the late 60s as I walked along Fifth Avenue, and Pinter and his wife at the time, Vivien Merchant, came towards me, each on either edge of the sidewalk, obviously in the midst of an argument and issuing forth icy silence. In the instant they passed on each side I was living a Pinter play. O why hide it, my whole life has been a Pinter play. Isn't everybody's?

Giving Us Pause
Nobel laureate Harold Pinter: The silences demarcate the warring lines on the battlefield of words.

by Michael Feingold
October 14th, 2005 5:39 PM

Every playwright of stature has a single most famous line, and Harold Pinter's is undoubtedly (Pause.). The key moments of Pinter's drama, notated as carefully as key changes in chamber music, are those precious seconds of silence in which something important is intentionally left unsaid. The surrounding text may vary from the reddest fury to the tenderest expressions of love or the wooziest flights of surreal fancy, but sooner or later, the Pinter silence, marked off from the dialogue by that tiny italicized word, is sure to fall. As if confirming the inherent truth of his art, Pinter himself was afflicted with a momentary silence last week, on learning that he had been chosen as the recipient of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. There's something gloriously human—and authentically Pinteresque—in the idea that a master of language could tell the chairman of the Nobel committee, "I don't know what to say."

Words are the dialectical battleground of Pinter's works, sometimes treasured and hoarded like irreplaceable gems, sometimes scattered heedlessly like junk in a looted dime store. His people live by them, betray them, bicker over them, flay one another with them. A Pinter woman says "casserole" when she means "wife." A Pinter man, asked if he went "the whole hog," replies that you can sometimes be satisfied "without going any hog." At times, the words are the action; at others, they exist in a schizophrenic counterpoint to it, placid where the physical life is violent or fast and furious while the bodies onstage remain in utter stasis. The silences demarcate the map of this double battlefield, temporary truces in both the war over words and the war between words and actions.

These perennial clashes are the essence of Pinter's artistic identity, coming from a personal identity which is itself a sort of permanent conflict: English and Jewish, he is an actor who became a poet who became a playwright and screenwriter who became a stage director who became a prominent political figure; with the arguable exception of poetry, he has done outstanding work in all these fields. To examine his work in any of them is to discover more instances of his dualism. While his plays are celebrated for their terse, brutal contemporaneity, his best-known screenplays are steeped in a haunted, pre-modern past (The Servant, The Go-Between, The French Lieutenant's Woman). As a director he has delved in the works of both predecessors and disciples: Who else could have produced notable stagings of such antithetical works as Noel Coward's Hay Fever and David Mamet's Oleanna?

When the news of the Nobel award broke, many reporters mentioned Pinter's outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, but this was no surprise to those who have followed Pinter's public outcries, both in his works and in active political statement, against torture, against the suppression of artists and journalists, against ethnic hatred and violence. The gratifying paradox is that his stance on these matters has carried weight globally precisely because of the powerful role that violence, torture, and degradation play in his works, from the time of his very earliest plays, like The Room and The Birthday Party. Pinter, the world can agree, is an artist who fully understands the human heart's potential for cruelty, and one of the rare ones who has been able to express it without exploitation. From the interrogation of Stanley in The Birthday Party and the tormenting of Davies in The Caretaker to the evocation of torture in One for the Road and gulags in Mountain Language, Pinter eschews all possibility of letting his audience revel in violence. It is there because it is in us; disconcertingly, he puts a human face on it so that we can see it in ourselves. At such moments the silences in Pinter test the extremes of human behavior: They are the silence of resistance, of terrified or complacent acquiescence, of outrage.

In this respect, Pinter's actor training and actor's instinct are the core of his philosophic vision. The ability to imagine oneself as someone else, which is the essence of all acting, becomes in his hands the terrifying possibility that all human beings possess, of becoming something that is within them but that they never perceive as part of themselves. The past 75 years, which have witnessed inconceiveable cruelties while at the same time making previously unimaginable progress in human healing and comfort, are perfectly expressed in Pinter's contradictory, obstinately convincing works, the products of an artist who, himself a paradoxical figure, has become a guide and a primary influence in his art without ever giving lip service to any shibboleths, dogmas, or ideals of the kind that have so often been proven false by the bitter experiences of his—of our—time.

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17 Oct 2005 @ 09:02 by jazzolog : Torture and misery in name of freedom
Historian Bob Whealey was kind enough to point out this statement issued by Pinter the day after he won the Nobel Prize.

Harold Pinter: Torture and misery in name of freedom
Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize for Literature 14/10/2005
source : The Independent http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article319540.ece which already has archived the article
URL : http://www.anti-imperialism.net/lai/texte.phtml?section=CMBE&object_id=24088

"The great poet Wilfred Owen articulated the tragedy, the horror - and indeed the pity - of war in a way no other poet has. Yet we have learnt nothing. Nearly 100 years after his death the world has become more savage, more brutal, more pitiless.

"But the 'free world' we are told, as embodied in the United States and Great Britain, is different to the rest of the world since our actions are dictated and sanctioned by a moral authority and a moral passion condoned by someone called God. Some people may find this difficult to comprehend but Osama Bin Laden finds it easy.

"What would Wilfred Owen make of the invasion of Iraq? A bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of International Law. An arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public. An act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort (all other justifications having failed to justify themselves) - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands upon thousands of innocent people.

"An independent and totally objective account of the Iraqi civilian dead in the medical magazine The Lancet estimates that the figure approaches 100,000. But neither the US or the UK bother to count the Iraqi dead. As General Tommy Franks of US Central Command memorably said: 'We don't do body counts'.

"We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'. But, as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos.

"You may say at this point: what about the Iraqi elections? Well, President Bush himself answered this question when he said: 'We cannot accept that there can be free democratic elections in a country under foreign military occupation'. I had to read that statement twice before I realised that he was talking about Lebanon and Syria.

"What do Bush and Blair actually see when they look at themselves in the mirror?

"I believe Wilfred Owen would share our contempt, our revulsion, our nausea and our shame at both the language and the actions of the American and British governments."

Adapted by Harold Pinter from a speech he delivered on winning the Wilfred Owen Award earlier this year  



17 Oct 2005 @ 16:22 by judih : yes Pinter
Pinter was an early influence - a tempter into the theatre of the absurd and an easy leap into the post-modern McCluhanesque grasp of filling in spaces, of actively participating in theatre while in the audience.

His minimalistic sets, his bare bones situations and dialogue all demanded cerebral cooperation.

Glad he won the prize.

judih  



9 Dec 2005 @ 13:52 by jazzolog : The Pinter Monologue
I rather disagree with the kind of coverage the mainstream media has been giving Harold Pinter's acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize on Wednesday...such as the coverage was of course. Unable physically to make the trip to Stockholm, Pinter videotaped his message---which is almost an hour long---from his wheelchair. Naturally the press picked up his Bush/Blair blasts, and did not attend to the bulk of his remarks which were about playwriting. If you've been in on Pinter from the beginning, and remember how mysterious he used to be about what he was up to, his openness here is a relief to a Pinter pause that lasted 40 years. Of course a mystery in his work remains...as it should. As it does.

The reviewer for The Guardian said he looked like Hamm in Beckett's Endgame, wheelchair-bound with legs covered by a rug...a comparison Pinter could have intended. (Hopefully he will not push on to Krapp.) {link:http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1661931,00.html} The video can be seen at the Nobel site, and prepare yourself for High Theatre! http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture.html

The speech itself is all over the Internet now, but I want to save it here as well~~~

The Nobel lecture
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Art, truth and politics
In his video-taped Nobel acceptance speech, Harold Pinter excoriated a 'brutal, scornful and ruthless' United States. This is the full text of his address

Harold Pinter
Thursday December 8, 2005

Guardian Unlimited

In 1958 I wrote the following:
'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets! *

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection - unless you lie - in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?


Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.

* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.

© The Nobel Foundation 2005
{link:http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1661516,00.html}  



7 Oct 2007 @ 10:41 by jazzolog : Amazingly, Pinter Is Alive--And Creating
It's been nearly 2 years to the day since Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize that prompted this entry. At the time he was very ill, had suffered a fall---and a gash to the head---and delivered his taped acceptance speech alone in a room, seated in a chair, a blanket covering his legs. He looked like a Samuel Beckett character. I prepared to read an obituary.

But he survives! And not only that, actually performed the one-character Beckett play Krapp's Last Tape recently. And equally as startling has a new film opening Friday, for which he wrote the screenplay. Read all about it~~~

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The New York Times
October 7, 2007
Still Pinteresque
By SARAH LYALL
LONDON

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/10/07/arts/07lyal2.190.jpg

Toward the end of the new film version of “Sleuth,” a cellphone suddenly rings. The sound is as jarring as gunfire, and it deepens the tension in a scene between Milo (Jude Law), an out-of-work-actor who is not as dumb as he looks, and Andrew (Michael Caine), a famous thriller writer with a cruel streak.

The caller is Milo’s lover, Maggie, who also happens to be Andrew’s wife. “I love you too,” Milo coos into the phone, looking at Andrew.

But what did Maggie say on the other end? The director, Kenneth Branagh, asked that of the screenwriter, Harold Pinter, in rehearsal, and it was a natural question; in “Sleuth” reality is elusive, and the truth is often little more than an opportunistic weapon.

The response was not particularly satisfying, but it was classically Pinteresque.

“Harold said to me, ‘Who said it was Maggie?’” Mr. Branagh said, laughing as he recalled it. “He said, ‘We know that the phone rings and that he appears to be having a conversation. ’ ”

That forced leap of the imagination is part of the mystery and challenge of Mr. Pinter’s work, so singular and unclassifiable that it has its own adjective. (The Financial Times, for one, defined Pinteresque as “full of dark hints and pregnant suggestions, with the audience left uncertain as to what to conclude.”)

The opacity is deliberate: Mr. Pinter, the author of bleak, often brutal plays like “The Homecoming,” “Betrayal” and “The Caretaker,” is not prepared to elaborate.

“I don’t make judgments about my own work, and I don’t analyze it; I just let it happen,” Mr. Pinter said in an interview here recently. “That applies to everything I’ve done. I do tend to think that I’ve written a great deal out of my unconscious because half the time I don’t know what a given character is going to say next.”

Mr. Pinter writes in a handsome study on the second floor of a two-story brownstone in west London, just behind the house he shares with his wife, the writer Lady Antonia Fraser. Tucked in a corner of the downstairs office is a table covered with awards he has amassed in his career as a playwright, director, actor, political provocateur, poet and screenwriter, including the French Légion d’Honneur, the Franz Kafka Award and the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature.

A huge portrait of a younger, vigorous Mr. Pinter playing cricket, one of his great passions, dominates a wall upstairs. The painted Mr. Pinter, poised to swing his bat, has a wicked glint in his eye; testosterone all but flies off the canvas. The real Mr. Pinter, who turns 77 this month, is frailer now. In the last five years, he has beaten back both cancer of the esophagus and an autoimmune disorder called pemphigus, and he walks tentatively, using a cane, on legs that have gone weak. But he is as mentally robust, as full of righteous rage, as ever.

Mr. Pinter said several years ago that he would not write any more plays, but his work is revived so often that his assertion seems almost beside the point. In the past year “The Hothouse,” “The Dumb Waiter” and “Betrayal” have been presented in London; “The Homecoming” is being performed on Broadway this fall, with a cast led by Ian McShane (“Deadwood”).

“Sleuth” — a remake of an earlier film that itself was based on the 1970 play by Anthony Shaffer — is due to be released on Friday. Mr. Pinter had never seen Mr. Shaffer’s “Sleuth,” but when he was approached by Mr. Law (who is also one of the film’s producers), he read the script and was intrigued by the idea at its center: the notion of two men locked in a psychological battle whose proximate cause is a woman. He then set about making the story his own.

Shorter than its predecessor, the new “Sleuth” is also less wordy, creepier, darker. While the first film was flamboyant, the new “Sleuth” is full of spare, sometimes cryptic language, significant pauses and another familiar quality of Mr. Pinter’s work: a hint of menace lurking beneath the surface.

“I would suggest that the old piece is about game playing and the new piece is about men fighting,” Mr. Law said. (Mr. Caine appeared in the original film, as the younger man, Milo; Laurence Olivier played Andrew.)

“It hints at Harold’s opinion of war,” Mr. Law added. “Man’s primal instinct is to fight, and sometimes we lose sight of what we’re fighting over.”

Much of Mr. Pinter’s work concerns power — who has it, who doesn’t, where it comes from, how it can shift. That is very much the case here.

If you watch closely, you can see the playwright himself on screen for a moment of “Sleuth,” in a scene in which Andrew is watching a television movie of one of his books. (Mr. Pinter began his career as an actor and has never stopped; he performed Beckett’s one-man play “Krapp’s Last Tape” at the Royal Court Theater last year.) Mr. Pinter’s character is identified in the screenplay as “the interrogator.” “I’m always the interrogator,” Mr. Pinter said. “When I was an actor in rep, I always played sinister parts. The directors always said, ‘If there’s a nasty man about, cast Harold Pinter.’”

Asked whether he thought that every interaction was in part a fight for the upper hand, Mr. Pinter said he believed it was, “to one degree or another.” He added: “The whole brunt of the media and the government is to encourage people to be highly competitive and totally selfish and uncaring of others. It’s escalated, and there’s a basic indifference to human fate on the part of authoritarian systems, which I believe exists not in a faraway country necessarily but here and now in this country.”

If the personal and the political sometimes merge for Mr. Pinter, the events of the last few years — his illness, his Nobel Prize, the celebrations of his prodigious body of work — have tended to happen in a blur, too. Leaving Dublin two years ago after a retrospective marking his 75th birthday, Mr. Pinter slipped on the pavement at the airport and gashed his head. The next day he learned he had won the Nobel. And then, at home writing his Nobel lecture, he got a call from his doctor. The news was bad; Mr. Pinter needed to go to the hospital immediately.

The ambulance was already on its way, but Mr. Pinter managed to finish writing the lecture. He was briefly released from the hospital to deliver it, which he did from a wheelchair on a bare stage at a London television studio, obviously ill, a blanket across his lap, his voice hoarse but steady. The lecture was a blistering indictment of American foreign policy, and it gave Mr. Pinter a world stage for his political views, which over the years have included protests against the NATO bombing of Serbia, censorship, the gulf war and the war in Iraq.

Mr. Pinter reserves much of his great outrage for the United States. In his Nobel address, he said it was guilty of “systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless” crimes. “You have to hand it to America,” he said. “It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good.”

Mr. Pinter, who last visited the United States in 2001, for a festival of his work in New York, refuses to go back. But he has prodigious charm to go along his irascibility, and he related an anecdote that hints at somewhat more complicated feelings, or at least proves he can laugh at himself.

About 20 years ago he traveled to Nicaragua as a guest of the Sandinista government and had to change planes in Miami on his way back. “So I joined the line to Immigration, and there’s a very big woman on my line, and I knew she was going to ask me, ‘What were you doing in Nicaragua?’ and I was going to say, ‘Mind your own damn business.’

“So I got up there, and she opened my passport, and she said, ‘Are you the Harold Pinter?’ And I said yes, and she said, ‘Welcome to the United States!’

“So I thought, there are very many sides to America.”

As for the British political establishment, Mr. Pinter said, “They pretend I don’t exist.” He did get a letter from Tony Blair after he won the Nobel. It began “Dear Harold” and ended “Yours, Tony.”

“And I’ve never met him!” Mr. Pinter said indignantly. He pointedly began his reply “Dear Prime Minister” and ended “Yours, Harold Pinter.”

He says he doesn’t mind, really, getting older. “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light?” he said. “There isn’t much point.”

His latest work, a slim pamphlet called “Six Poems for A.,” comprises poems written over 32 years, with “A” of course being Lady Antonia. The first of the poems was written in Paris, where she and Mr. Pinter traveled soon after they met. More than three decades later the two are rarely apart, and Mr. Pinter turns soft, even cozy, when he talks about his wife.

Mr. Pinter has one son from his first marriage, to the actress Vivien Merchant. He and his son have not spoken in 14 years, and his efforts to reach out have been rebuffed, Mr. Pinter said. “There it is,” he said.

But he is lucky, he added, to have “inherited” Lady Antonia’s six children, who among them have produced 17 grandchildren. They all call him Grandpa.

Mr. Pinter acknowledged that his plays — full of infidelity, cruelty, inhumanity, the lot — seem at odds with his domestic contentment.

“How can you write a happy play?” he said. “Drama is about conflict and general degrees of perturbation, disarray. I’ve never been able to write a happy play, but I’ve been able to enjoy a happy life.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/movies/07lyal.html?ei=5070&en=2681a32a5c8ec16e&ex=1192420800&pagewanted=all  



26 Dec 2008 @ 14:52 by jazzolog : Pinter Passes
I'm surprised I'm grieving so deeply about Harold Pinter. How certain famous people do affect us! But he did change the direction of my life, way back with those first 2 one-acters to play Off-Broadway in the Village: "The Room" and "A Slight Ache." I certainly was not alone in his audiences never to be the same again. I've learned much reading the obits, but maybe this one in the New York Times shows most. It appears to have been written in the main about the time this entry was~~~

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The New York Times
December 26, 2008
Harold Pinter, Playwright of the Pause, Dies at 78
By MEL GUSSOW and BEN BRANTLEY

Harold Pinter, the British playwright whose gifts for finding the ominous in the everyday and the noise within silence made him the most influential and imitated dramatist of his generation, died on Wednesday. He was 78 and lived in London.

The cause was cancer, his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, said Thursday.

Mr. Pinter learned he had cancer of the esophagus in late 2001. In 2005, when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was unable to attend the awards ceremony at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm but delivered an acceptance speech from a wheelchair in a recorded video.

In more than 30 plays — written between 1957 and 2000 and including masterworks like “The Birthday Party,” “The Caretaker,” “The Homecoming” and “Betrayal” — Mr. Pinter captured the anxiety and ambiguity of life in the second half of the 20th century with terse, hypnotic dialogue filled with gaping pauses and the prospect of imminent violence.

Along with another Nobel winner, Samuel Beckett, his friend and mentor, Mr. Pinter became one of the few modern playwrights whose names instantly evoke a sensibility. The adjective Pinteresque has become part of the cultural vocabulary as a byword for strong and unspecified menace.

An actor, essayist, screenwriter, poet and director as well as a dramatist, Mr. Pinter was also publicly outspoken in his views on repression and censorship, at home and abroad. He used his Nobel acceptance speech to denounce American foreign policy, saying that the United States had not only lied to justify waging war against Iraq, but that it had also “supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship” in the last 50 years.

His political views were implicit in much of his work. Though his plays deal with the slipperiness of memory and human character, they are also almost always about the struggle for power.

The dynamic in his work is rooted in battles for control, turf wars waged in locations that range from working-class boarding houses (in his first produced play, “The Room,” from 1957) to upscale restaurants (the setting for “Celebration,” staged in 2000). His plays often take place in a single, increasingly claustrophobic room, where conversation is a minefield and even innocuous-seeming words can wound.

In Mr. Pinter’s work “words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other,” said Peter Hall, who has staged more of Mr. Pinter’s plays than any other director.

But while Mr. Pinter’s linguistic agility turned simple, sometimes obscene, words into dark, glittering and often mordantly funny poetry, it is what comes between the words that he is most famous for. And the stage direction “pause” would haunt him throughout his career.

Intended as an instructive note to actors, the Pinter pause was a space for emphasis and breathing room. But it could also be as threatening as a raised fist. Mr. Pinter said that writing the word “pause” into his first play was “a fatal error.” It is certainly the aspect of his writing that has been most parodied. But no other playwright has consistently used pauses with such rhythmic assurance and to such fine-tuned manipulative effect.

Early in his career Mr. Pinter said his work was about “the weasel under the cocktail cabinet.” Though he later regretted the image, it holds up as a metaphor for the undertow of danger that pervades his work. As Martin Esslin wrote in his book “Pinter: The Playwright,” “Man’s existential fear, not as an abstraction, but as something real, ordinary and acceptable as an everyday occurrence — here we have the core of Pinter’s work as a dramatist.”

Though often grouped with Beckett and others as a practitioner of Theater of the Absurd, Mr. Pinter considered himself a realist. In 1962 he said the context of his plays was always “concrete and particular.” He never found a need to alter that assessment.

Beginning in the late 1950s, John Osborne and Mr. Pinter helped to turn British theater away from the gentility of the drawing room. With “Look Back in Anger,” Osborne opened the door for several succeeding generations of angry young men, who railed against the class system and an ineffectual government. Mr. Pinter was to have the more lasting effect as an innovator and a stylist. And his influence on other playwrights, including David Mamet in the United States and Patrick Marber and Jez Butterworth in England, is undeniable.

The playwright Tom Stoppard said that before Mr. Pinter: “One thing plays had in common: you were supposed to believe what people said up there. If somebody comes in and says, ‘Tea or coffee?’ and the answer is ‘Tea,’ you are entitled to assume that somebody is offered a choice of two drinks, and the second person has stated a preference.” With Mr. Pinter there are alternatives, “such as the man preferred coffee but the other person wished him to have tea,” Mr. Stoppard said, “or that he preferred the stuff you make from coffee beans under the impression that it was called tea.”

As another British playwright, David Hare, said of Mr. Pinter, “The essence of his singular appeal is that you sit down to every play or film he writes in certain expectation of the unexpected.”

Though initially regarded as an intuitive rather than an intellectual playwright, Mr. Pinter was in fact both. His plays are dense with references to writers like James Joyce and T. S. Eliot. The annual Pinter Review, in which scholars probe and parse his works for meaning and metaphor, is one of many indications of his secure berth in academia.

Politics Inside the Plays

While it was not immediately apparent, Mr. Pinter was always a writer with a political sensibility, which became overt in later plays like “One for the Road” (1984) and “Mountain Language” (1988). These works, having to do “not with ambiguities of power, but actual power,” he said, were written out of “very cold anger.”

He and his wife hosted gatherings in their Holland Park town house for liberal political seminars. Known as the June 20th Society, the participants included Mr. Hare, Ian McEwan, Michael Holroyd, John Mortimer, Salman Rushdie and Germaine Greer. In their discussions Mr. Pinter expressed the great struggle of the mid-20th century as one between “primitive rage” and “liberal generosity,” Mr. Hare said.

Through the years Mr. Pinter became known, especially to the British news media, for having a prickly personality. “There is a violence in me,” Mr. Pinter once said, “but I don’t walk around looking for trouble.” The director Richard Eyre said in a testimonial book published for Mr. Pinter’s 70th birthday that he was “sometimes pugnacious and occasionally splenetic” but “just as often droll and generous — particularly to actors, directors and (a rare quality this) other writers.”

Harold Pinter was born in Hackney in the East End of London on Oct. 10, 1930. His father, Jack, was a tailor; his mother, Frances, a homemaker. Mr. Pinter’s grandparents had emigrated to England from Eastern Europe. His parents, he said, were “very solid, very respectable, Jewish, lower-middle-class people.”

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Harold, an only child, was evacuated from London to a provincial town in Cornwall. His feelings of loneliness and isolation from that time were to surface later in his plays. When he was 13, he returned to London and was there during the Blitz when his house was struck by a bomb. He rushed inside to rescue a few valuable possessions: his cricket bat and a poem — “a paean of love” — he was writing to a girlfriend.

Sports, poetry and his relationships with women were to remain important to him. Vigorously athletic, he was a fierce competitor in cricket and tennis. Ian Smith, an Oxford don and cricket teammate, equated Mr. Pinter’s art with his bold style of playing cricket. “Everything is focused,” he said. “It’s about performance and economy of gesture.”

Poetry and Pacifism

Mr. Pinter grew up on a diet of American gangster movies and British war films. From the first he was a great reader and a hopeful poet, with strong political judgments. When he was called up for military service at 18, as a pacifist he refused to serve.

In diverse ways he remained a conscientious objector in the years to come, echoing a line in “The Birthday Party,” in which Stanley, a lodger in a seaside boarding house, is suddenly taken away by two strangers to some ominous future as a friend cries out, “Stan, don’t let them tell you what to do!” Years later, Mr. Pinter said he had lived that line all his life.

Mr. Pinter’s first poem was published in a magazine called Poetry London when he was 20. Soon afterward he completed a novel, “The Dwarfs.” After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Central School of Speech and Drama, he signed on with a repertory company and, performing under the name David Baron, toured Ireland in plays by Shakespeare and others, often in villainous roles like Iago.

In 1955, at a party in London, Mr. Pinter was struck by what he referred to as “an odd image.” A little man, who later turned out to be the writer and professional eccentric Quentin Crisp, was making bacon and eggs for a large man who was sitting at a table reading the comics. Mr. Pinter told his friend Henry Woolf about the incident and said he thought he might write a play about it. The next year Mr. Woolf, then a graduate student at the University of Bristol, asked him if he could write that play for a group of drama students.

The resulting work, “The Room,” was Mr. Pinter’s first play. And with its story of mysterious intruders and its elliptical speech, it showed that Mr. Pinter had already found his voice as a dramatist. It opened in Bristol on May 15, 1957, and was restaged three years later at the Hampstead Theater Club in London.

In 1956 Mr. Pinter married Vivien Merchant, an actress in the company. After their son, Daniel, was born in 1958, they moved to the Chiswick section of London. He wrote “The Birthday Party,” his first full-length play, drawing on his memories of touring as an actor in Eastbourne, on Britain’s south coast.

The Pinters, who were temporarily unemployed and desperately poor, had an offer to act in Birmingham, and Ms. Merchant wanted to accept it. But Mr. Pinter said: “I have this play opening in London. I think I must stay. Something’s going to happen.” She replied, “What makes you think so?”

They turned down the acting offer. “The Birthday Party” opened in the West End in 1958 and received disastrous reviews. Then, prodded by the theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay, Harold Hobson, the eminent critic of The Sunday Times of London, came to see it at a matinee. What he wrote turned out to be a life-changing review.

“It breathes in the air,” Hobson wrote. “It cannot be seen, but it enters the room every time the door is opened.” He continued: “Though you go to the uttermost parts of the earth, and hide yourself in the most obscure lodgings in the least popular of towns, one day there is a possibility that two men will appear. They will be looking for you, and you cannot get away. And someone will be looking for them too. There is terror everywhere.” He concluded, “Mr. Pinter, on the evidence of this work, possesses the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London.”

Despite that review the play closed that weekend. By contrast Mr. Pinter’s next full-length play to be produced, “The Caretaker,” which opened in London in 1960, was a dazzling critical success. “Suddenly everything went topsy-turvy,” Mr. Pinter said.

In that play two brothers live in a seedy house in London and, for inexplicable reasons, invite a homeless man named Davies to share their quarters and to act as a kind of custodian. Michael Billington, a critic for The Guardian and Mr. Pinter’s biographer, has called the play “an austere masterpiece: a universally recognizable play about political maneuvering, fraternal love, spiritual isolation, language as a negotiating weapon or a form of cover-up.”

Mr. Pinter’s next play, “The Homecoming,” opened in London in June 1965, in a Royal Shakespeare Company production directed by Mr. Hall. The story of an all-male family headed by a Lear-like father and the woman (Ms. Merchant, who starred in many of his plays) who enters and disrupts their domain scored a major success in London. Though it received a mixed reception in New York, “The Homecoming” won a Tony Award as best play and had a long run on Broadway.

A Shift of Focus

After these first three full-length plays — all stories of raffish characters in shabby environments — Mr. Pinter shifted his focus. His next three dramas were set in the worlds of art and publishing: “Old Times” (1971), “No Man’s Land” (1975) and “Betrayal” (1978), all studies of the unreliability of memory and the uncertainty of love. In “Old Times” a husband and wife encounter a woman they may or may not have known in the past.

In “No Man’s Land” a faded poet visits a wealthy patron for an evening of recollection and gamesmanship, roles played in the original production by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, who repeated their performances in New York the next year. The elegant “Betrayal” is a play about marriage and duplicity and, despite its use of reverse chronology, is among Mr. Pinter’s most accessible works. It was made into a 1982 film starring Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge.

During the run of “No Man’s Land” Mr. Pinter began an affair with Lady Antonia Fraser, the biographer and historian, who was then married to Hugh Fraser, a conservative politician. In 1980 Mr. Pinter and Lady Antonia were married, with Mr. Pinter becoming the substitute paterfamilias of an extended family.

In addition to his wife, his survivors include his son, Daniel, and his stepchildren, Benjamin, Damian, Orlando, Rebecca, Flora and Natasha. Years ago his son changed his last name to Brand, his maternal grandmother’s maiden name. He had been estranged from his father, living as a recluse in Cambridgeshire.

After “Betrayal” Mr. Pinter’s plays became shorter (like “A Kind of Alaska”) and then, for about three years, they stopped. “Something gnaws away,” he explained, “the desire to write something and the inability to do so.” He added, “I think I was getting more and more imbedded in international issues.”

At the same time he continued his involvement in films, highlighted by his close collaboration as screenwriter with the director Joseph Losey, which began in 1963 with “The Servant,” a depiction of class relations in Britain. That was followed in 1967 by “Accident,” about a professor infatuated with a student (Mr. Pinter and Ms. Merchant each had minor parts), and “The Go-Between” (1971), about a boy’s complicity in an adult affair in turn of the century Britain, with Julie Christie and Alan Bates.

His many screenplays for other directors include “The Pumpkin Eater” (1964), about a woman (Anne Bancroft) drifting through multiple marriages, directed by Jack Clayton; “The Last Tycoon,” Elia Kazan’s 1976 adaptation of the Fitzgerald novel; and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981), a Karel Reisz film with Meryl Streep and Mr. Irons.

With his plays “Moonlight” (a portrait of family relationships undermined by years of divisiveness) and “Ashes to Ashes” (a story of “torturers and victims” reflected in a typically uncommunicative marriage), Mr. Pinter returned to the longer, somberly meditative form.

His final work, “Celebration” (2000), is a wry look at power-conscious couples dining in a chic restaurant that bears a striking resemblance to the Ivy, a famous theater gathering place in London. “Celebration” was inspired by the playwright’s early days as an unemployed actor, when he took a job as a busboy at the National Liberal Club. Because he dared to intrude on a conversation among several diners, he was fired.

The Writer as Director

He often directed plays by others, especially those by Simon Gray (“Butley,” “Otherwise Engaged”), and occasionally his own work. Increasingly and with greater zeal he appeared as an actor — onstage with Paul Eddington in “No Man’s Land” and in films like “Mojo,” “Mansfield Park” and “The Tailor of Panama.” Throughout his life he specialized in playing menacing characters, including several in his own plays (“The Hothouse,” “One for the Road”).

In July 2001 the highlight of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York was the presentation of nine Pinter plays, including a revival of “The Homecoming,” and a pairing of his first and last plays, “The Room” and “Celebration.” Mr. Pinter participated as a director and also acted in “One for the Road” in the role of a dapper and sadistic government interrogator.

The Pinter festival was the capstone of a season that, in London, featured the premiere at the National Theater of a stage version of his film script for “Remembrance of Things Past.” Late in 2001 he directed an acclaimed revival of “No Man’s Land,” starring John Wood and Corin Redgrave at the National Theater.

In December 2001, during a routine medical examination, he was found to have cancer of the esophagus. In January 2002, while undergoing treatment, he acted in his brief comic sketch “Press Conference” at the National Theater in a malicious role as a minister of culture who was formerly the head of the secret police. In 2006 he appeared in a weeklong, sold-out production of Beckett’s one-man play, “Krapp’s Last Tape,” at the Royal Court Theater.

“Pinter looks anxiously over his left shoulder into the darkness as if he felt death’s presence in the room,” Mr. Billington of The Guardian wrote. “It is impossible to dissociate Pinter’s own recent encounters with mortality from that of the character.”

Revivals of Mr. Pinter’s work have become increasingly frequent in recent years. Last December an acclaimed production of his “Homecoming” opened on Broadway.

Mr. Pinter said he thought of theater as essentially exploratory. “Even old Sophocles didn’t know what was going to happen next,” he said. “He had to find his way through unknown territory. At the same time, theater has always been a critical act, looking in a broad sense at the society in which we live and attempting to reflect and dramatize these findings. We’re not talking about the moon.”

Speaking about his intuitive sense of writing, he said, “I find at the end of the journey, which of course is never ending, that I have found things out.”

“I don’t go away and say: ‘I have illuminated myself. You see before you a changed person,’ ” he added. “It’s a more surreptitious sense of discovery that happens to the writer himself.”

Few writers have been so consistent over so many years in the tone and execution of their work. Just before rehearsals began for the West End production of “The Birthday Party” half a century ago, Mr. Pinter sent a letter to his director, Peter Wood. In it he said, “The play dictated itself, but I confess that I wrote it — with intent, maliciously, purposefully, in command of its growth.”

He added: “The play is a comedy because the whole state of affairs is absurd and inglorious. It is, however, as you know, a very serious piece of work.”

Mel Gussow, a critic and cultural reporter for The Times, died in 2005.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/26/theater/26pinter.html?_r=1&hp  



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