Tuesday, November 10, 2009

videopoem #7

Fiona Shaw performs part of 'A Game of Chess' from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.

There is a 40 minute film version of the stage production of the poem, which featured Shaw as a solo performer. To the best of my knowledge the film is not available online, or for purchase. It was once screened on SBS. I taped it but later lent the tape to someone and never got it back. If anyone knows where I can get hold of a copy, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Having seen Shaw in Persuasion and a few other films, I knew her performance of the catty exchange in the pub would be great.

    I remember someone--Stephen Spender, I think--maintaining that the sordid pub conversation does nothing except show that pub conversations can be sordid.

    Don't you think that Burroughs's cut-ups and all the fragmentary, disjunctive, post-"Waste Land" writing produced by similar methods make the jump-cutting of "Waste Land" sound, well, pedestrian? Or familiar, maybe? Bebop and modal sounded bizarre in the 40's and 50's, but now they sound as normal as swing. Burroughs once told David Bowie that his "Eight Line Poem" sounded like "Waste Land"; Bowie said he'd never read Eliot. So by the early 70's Eliot's bizarrerie had become normal. It had become pop lyrics.

  2. Hmmm... interesting. It still has its moments of chilling disjunction ('I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter' still jumps out at me: I suppose it's the first assertion of the multiphrenic nature of the poem). Shaw's performance brings those aspects to the fore.

    I would've liked to post a video from the film itself rather than this snippet from an interview, but as I said it's not available online. I remember it being quite incredible, but I haven't seen it for probably ten years.

    Perhaps Bowie had never read Eliot, but from what I've read he'd been turned on to Burroughs and Cage and was using cut-up quite extensively in the 70s.

    Of course The Waste Land is Pound's cut-up / remix of Eliot's material. Perhaps 'radio edit' is the best description of what Pound did with it - shortened, distilled. And it has been referred to as a 'radio poem': cycling through frequencies, a poem of voices ('He Do the Police in Different Voices' being Eliot's working title).

  3. You're right, Stu. It was silly of me to suggest that the derailments of The Waste Land no longer induce a frisson just because The Beatles "cycled through frequencies" in their late albums, etc. I always like to be blindsided by an apparent non sequitar as I'm chuffing merrily along the Logic Line. And the hippos were boiled in their tanks.

  4. I do agree that the derailments of high modernism (along with those of Dada, Surrealism) were chewed and spat out by the mainstream. Spike Milligan and co have a lot to answer for when it comes to the Beatles, I think.