Azimuth and Digression: Gavin Selerie interview part 4
January 7 2013 (1)
The interview was captured to a laptop as sound files of about 20 minutes each. There was a break of about 20 seconds as the operator saved one file and created the next one. These gaps have been filled from Gavin Selerie’s recording, in some cases, or reconstructed.
starting with : section 46 of Roxy
‘Are these words to act, printed in the mind/ as a building' - the theatre of memory. The Globe was a theatre recalled to memory, by memory. The use of a building and its parts as a figure in which to store memories was written about by Giordano Bruno.
AD: ‘Roxy 46’. ‘are these words to act printed in the mind/ as a building’?
GS: It’s an interesting choice to select because as you’ve just said it’s one of the more complex sections of Roxy and involves a lot of layered detail, which I would argue is essential to the progress of the poem. It’s one of the very last sections I wrote. I think this and 47 were the last, and actually after an interval. So it was coming back to the book, and again we indicated it’s densely allusive and probably telescoped but my attention is always to have a sound texture that’s readable and accessible, so I hope it attains that. The background to this is that I’d been revising a section of Strip Signals for Music’s Duel [the selected poems which came out in 2009]. The intention with Music’s Duel was originally that it would be published in the 1990s, so I was actually doing quite a bit of work on it. Revising. Quite a while ago. And I’d been reading Giordano Bruno and various books by Frances Yates, and that pitched me into doing a memory section of Roxy - the memory theatre being very relevant to the whole coverage of performance in Roxy. Investigation of performance.
AD: So ‘read it at a glance, a single glyph/ that calls down worlds’, does that relate to the theatre of memory?
GS: Absolutely. The memory theatre is relevant to the performance dimension of the book, it’s also relevant if you like to the structure of the book. In the sense that from that point of time, I suppose it would have been 1995, I’d been writing the book for ten years, and I was literally having to recover and develop motifs which had come into the poem a looking time before. So it’s got a thematic relevance to the book but it’s also literally structural in terms of surveying what one has done. As well as Bruno I’d recently been reading Charles Nicholls, The Creature in the Map, his book about Raleigh and El Dorado. Actually, I’d been reading Thomas Harriott again and Marlowe, this is the background, before I plunge into the text in some detail. For instance, I’d been reading Muriel Rukeyser's The Traces of Thomas Harriott again, actually for the second time. I'd acquired it long before that. Maybe that’s interesting, that what I’m now doing links up. No doubt most writers experience such patterns of repetition and variation. You ask about the opening. It’s an interrogative opening suggesting the procedure of feeling one’s way back, and these parts of the building are examples of features used in memory theatre, which of course goes back to Quintilian and Cicero, and in Renaissance England is diffused through Thomas Wilson and Sidney and other writers. I experienced that through the classical writers and through the Renaissance ones. At the risk of stating the obvious, the whole idea of memory theatre is that in order to recall things you have concrete physical properties which stand for the things you want to recall. A particular room like a bathroom would stand for some inner private thing that you want to remember. I should mention one other main feature that’s going to be persistently relevant. In earlier sections of the book I’m much engaged with the Rose Theatre, which was a big issue in the early 1990s. I would probably need to look up the exact date for when the Rose site was exposed, but the Rose theatre, not very far away from the Globe, was equally important and should have been preserved in a form that would enable performance to take place. But as so often happens the company that bought the land and obtained development permission could only countenance a commercial space with some retention of the original features in the basement. And there are these horrific pictures of piles - well, I went down to the site, actually, they had a staged reading of, probably, Dr Faustus, there. And so the reason that so much of Dr Faustus comes into this is that there was that controversy during the time that I was writing the poem. Over quite a long period there was debate over how that site could be developed. Memory theatre by virtue of its, the word theatre implies an area for performance. So performance is a kind of review of what happened before. These questions and I suppose dramatic statements, ‘demand of a statue what is pitched to the stars’ relate to ideas that I found in Frances Yates that link memory theatre to ancient Egyptian (Hermetic?) ritual, so that a statue is somehow capable of soaking in an aura from the heavens and features of a building or a monument can touch off strong forces. It’s like a science fiction film or some cult English horror film, isn't it? I remember last year I saw ‘Penda’s Fen’, having missed it the first time round.
AD: David Rudkin?
GS: That’s also relevant, that whole strain of English romantic mysticism is also relevant to what I’m doing here. Or towards my poetic enterprise in general.
AD: ‘rouse the demon from black diamond doors’?
GS: That’s the same thing. This is the demon as a threatening thing, but it depends on how you see it. It might be capable of good. It may be a more Manichaean perspective. Egyptian statues animated by celestial influences. Frances Yates links that to the statue scene in The Winter’s Tale, where Hermione comes to life again. Actually that’s relevant to Roxy, there’s a heroine figure re-appearing. ‘When we’re afraid we forget’, that’s an example of me incorporating a quotation. It’s from Alain Resnais’ film Muriel, otherwise called ’le temps du retour’.
AD: It’s the one about the Algerian War. Muriel was a suspect they tortured.
GS: This is all leading up to Doctor Faustus. More tragic and darker forces I’ve summoned or dealt with elsewhere in the poem. I’m talking about this in a rational way. I can’t say in an absolute way what is intended. I can remember what I might have intended, and I can remember some definite things, like the fact that’s a quotation. But the language has a momentum that is above or below the logical. I think that whole first stanza is to do with summoning forces, but in order to work out what is happening...
AD: ‘let the stiffs unroll’?
GS: Dead bodies maybe come alive again like a mummy being exposed?
AD: Because we have an Egyptian scene with statue-based magic.
GS: And also there’s a lot of Egyptian stuff in Roxy. Antony and Cleopatra is the big influence, and John Fletcher’s play about Cleopatra, the name of which escapes me. The film with Burton and Taylor and the one which...
AD: The Shaw play? Merle Oberon?
GS: We can look that up later.
AD: Caesar and Cleopatra.
GS: We come to Doctor Faustus and it’s relevant here not just because of the Rose theatre controversy at that time but also because I had seen a very interesting production of Faustus in a kind of Grotowski black box setting at the Lyric, Hammersmith. That was relatively fresh in my mind. Faustus is I suppose quintessentially a play about, it’s a quest, a quest for power, and maybe a way of reading the play could go beyond the conventional division of good and evil with Mephistopheles simply being a tempter figure leading you into a false idea of power. There might be a way in which Faustus’ nemesis is brought about by a failure of nerve. So I’m keeping this theologically open. So that the Faustus story is partly to do with belief and definition of the world that surrounds you. And with capacities for invention. And also much to do with the temptation involving this other figure who has this other power. Can you see how that’s relevant to memory theatre?
AD: ‘When you gravel the scoffing /is there ever a blue skies option’?
GS: We need to go back a fraction because the second stanza I haven’t said that is actually to do with the books that Faust has as stage properties, in the first scene of Marlowe. Faustus opening various books in order to sound their depths. This part, sleeves, just before the one you mentioned, that is to do with the speech which Bruno gave at Oxford, in which he was described by a hostile witness as having stripped off his sleeves like a juggler, and that’s meant to mean that Bruno’s ideas are suspect. Coming on to when ‘gravel the scoffing is there ever a blue skies option’, I suppose this is literally to do with what’s going to happen to The Rose (theatre), but also with those who disapprove of a kind of risky adventure in philosophy and defining the world. The scoffing would be scoffing at ambition, so it’s relevant to Faustus. ‘Blue skies’ could also record the image of flight in the previous stanza. Marlowe often uses images of flight to indicate aspiration.
AD: “the blue skies option”. Is that Total Recall, the film?
GS: I can’t say. Often when I’m using references that seem to be antiquarian they have a modern equivalent that I may be aware of - or half aware of. That’s relevant to my current project Harriot Double. The next stanza, ‘Uncover, measure out the chalk’, this is to do with the site of the Rose theatre. It was very close to the river’s edge. As you probably know the reconstructed Globe isn’t actually where the original Globe was. If you can imagine Southwark Bridge, the reconstructed Globe is on the south-west side of it. But the original Globe was just beyond the bridge. Obviously still on the South Bank. So the Rose wasn’t that far from where the reconstructed Globe is and one of the background features of this whole text, as well as the property company being against it as a performance base, it is very likely that the people behind the Globe reconstruction didn’t want a rival theatre very close!
AD: You have to eliminate one. The arts scene in England isn’t going to benefit from having two early 17th century theatres in a short space. One is probably the right number.
GS: I felt very strongly there should be two at the time but maybe I’m capable of being more realistic now! The bare bones of the geometry, the little base of the wall that you can see, it’s a polygon that can pass itself off as a circle. That’s obviously literal. ‘Flower bounded by/ a ditch and sewer’. ‘Flower bounded by/ a ditch and sewer’ is definitely relevant to the whole poem because of the idea of the fertile and innocent also being inevitably linked to the dirty and the... I can’t remember the exact quotation but it is... What I’m doing now in commenting is in a way what I’m talking about in this poem, the difficulty of recalling and finding one’s way back to some context. ‘Love is pitched in the mansion of excrement’, that’s the Yeats quotation. In terms of layout much of Roxy is fairly conventional in having a regular left hand margin and not too much scattering of words on the page. Although there’s obviously variation within that basic pattern. But what strikes me in looking at this now is it does have some resemblance to theatrical speech, not that it’s a dialogue as such or even a monologue, but ... We’re mainly looking at meaning aren’t we, at the moment. I would say in passing that the line breaks are important. I’m just looking up at the next page as it’s laid out in Music’s Duel. The way I’ve broken the lines, ‘moves/ invisible’, on the opposite page. But maybe I’m going too fast. We’ve got “Money behind money scoops in mud/ for a renegotiated view, lines where/ ‘they’ won’t tread” That is all about the company and its need to protect its investment. But maybe it’s also to do with plotting worlds as a thinker, when I say “lines where/ ‘they’ won’t tread”, it’s not just wanting to keep people out, in the 1980’s and Nineties, particularly protesters wanting to retain this theatrical possibility, but it’s also relevant to Marlowe’s Dr Faustus in terms of lines of demarcation and thinking. Could I say in passing that theatre for me is crucial not just as an art form that I find useful and interesting but beyond that it’s a dimension of performance which is everywhere around, beyond the theatre. It’s I suppose a kind of paradigm or emblem of private behaviour. Although I might seem at times buried in particular information and reference to do with this art form it’s coming out of a broader concern with how people relate to each other. Do you by any chance know Arthur Marwick’s history of the 1960s?
AD: Yes, I think that’s a tremendous book. I thought his book on culture wasn’t nearly so impressive.
GS: It's much better than Dominic Sandbrook’s which I think has a very conservative agenda with a small c. One of the things Marwick says is that in the Sixties the arts lab, with its activities particularly theatrical activities in the arts lab, had an influence on British society that permeated far beyond the little network of people who actually performed in those events. I think that’s a very fair point. Instances which seem quite particular and maybe are witnessed by a minority develop a momentum and there are ripples that move out way beyond. So what I’m saying about the Rose theatre here is to do with aspects of behaviour generally and also to do with the commercial agenda of the Thatcher era generally. The company riding roughshod over other people’s needs. And of course we can’t forget the glory of the garden, as William Rees-Mogg termed his document on the future of the Arts Council. The Arts Council took a decidedly narrower view during the Thatcher era, did it not.
AD: So that was a policy document on what the Arts Council should be doing? and the government went in a different direction?
GS: I think Rees-Mogg was more enlightened to a degree, but not actually that far. I think he had already suffered, becoming more conservative than he later became.
The ‘flying crane’ that’s a kind of William Empson type image that has symbolic and literal dimensions. They are flying cranes over the building site, But also they’re flying cranes that are birds, as in Faustus... “Don’t say the joke isn’t part of the scheme.” This is to do with Faustus and whether the farcical bits are primarily later additions or whether they’re essential to Marlowe’s vision, and I would argue that the comedy is essential and it is necessary to the working out of essentially a tragic process. These things - “mean and grovelling a meal vanishes -/ chickens and pudding with ‘This is mine’.” - that’s that bit in Faustus which I think many people regard as a later addition. Where the pope, it’s in Rome, isn’t it, the dishes are pulled away, it’s a bit of possibly Protestant satire on Roman Catholic excess. For me it’s an essential part of the exploration of possibility.
AD: It’s a magic trick that Faust pulls, and this one’s comic? That must be some of the oldest material in the chapbook Faust as published.
GS: I should have said I’m drawing on the chapbook as well. The ‘Damnable Life’, it’s actually in ‘The Damnable Life’ that Faust says ‘this is mine’ before snatching away the pope’s dish of meat.
I’m reading from my notebook here. “In Orson Welles’ 1937 production, two chickens and a pudding flew up from their dishes and disappeared into the back velvet drape.”
AD: That’s good acting!
GS: ‘paid for a slice’ also works on more than one level, because it’s to do with writers of Renaissance plays being paid for their slice in a collaborative effort. For example, “In November 1602 William Byrd and Samuel Rowley were paid four pounds for their additions in ‘Doctor Fostus’”. These presumably included the banquet scene. So these things are agglomerative, but I believe there is a logic to the way an acting text develops out of things that are written in a private study. I mean there are whole traditions of acting, aren’t there, particularly with a thing like Hamlet, where there are things that are done that are still done today and which go back to very early productions. I talk about this in Le Fanu’s Ghost. Actual mannerisms that have been passed down though the centuries.
(In the film Total Recall, one character says ‘Do you want the blue skies option?’. ‘Total recall’ is what the theatre of memory promised.)
AD: ‘the demon came out of a black diamond door;’ now.
GS: We’ve come as far as ‘a phrase out of the charred leaves/ says make the moon your plot’, haven’t we.
AD: What was ’all the perfumed verge’?
GS: I think this is to do with the whole strand in Roxy of the erotic possibility and the beautiful always, or so frequently one step away. It’s there in Faustus, his urge to have Helen - Helen of Troy being a kind of Roxy figure. And in the next section, 47, I do actually move into talking about possessing the new world, maybe drawing on some of Stephen Greenblatt’s argument about the ravaging of native territory - actually foreign territory. Obviously there’s a sexual connotation to that. I think some of the background to this, one of the layers here, is, as well as Marlowe’s play in its various manifestations, the English Faust book, Murnau’s film Faust (1926), in which Faust starts to burn his holy books and then his eyes fall on the phrase, ‘get ye to the crossroads beneath the moon and invoke Him thrice', and you get a depiction of the charred book leaves. So that comes out of the film, actually.
AD: So what is ’the perfumed verge’?
GS: This other territory that seduces or which one wants power over.
AD: It’s perfumed because it’s full of natural vegetation that hasn’t been damaged or razed yet?
GS: Exotic. But also it’s sexual in terms of the desired other. The searching eye is always looking beyond - ‘an eye runs on the ridges, stretches across/ lead-in-white’ and it becomes particularly sexual, ‘brimming her quiet thin thickness’. I think ‘thin thickness’ is a phrase from Du Bartas, actually. I’ve got a feeling it is.
AD: The Protestant 17th century French writer?
GS: It’s Silvester’s. I obviously mean Silvester’s version. It’s I think to do with layers of the heavens as they perceived it, within a Ptolemaic framework. Not a net - a sphere I suppose. Because Faustus is always looking at the heavens, wanting to step beyond. And it’s in Tamberlaine as well, the urge to step beyond, always questing. 'To click an icon and go over’, well that’s to do with present technological context. On one level is perhaps to do with memory theatre but also to do with computing I suppose. On an Apple Mac you can use a series of icons to summon aspect of text. So this is the electronic world and the promise of other worlds through technology. The back box in the next section could on one level be that performance space I was talking about. ‘dread the spotlight in a black box’. You dread it but ‘it sleeks the scene to a fine devise’. I can’t really analyse that logically I’m afraid. It still has a resonance for me whatever. ‘Seen and allowed’ is to do with the censor.
AD: So the black box is another production of Faustus?
GS: Yes, at the Lyric Theatre. It may have been some years before I was writing. But it stayed in my mind. The sweep of events being as it were played out in the head, in the skull almost. An example of that would be many of Beckett’s plays. Maybe particularly Krapp’s Last Tape. Within a contained space. Sensing, having access to, a panorama. Much of Faustus could almost be played out inside the man’s head. Even though he’s dealing with other figures. A fight between forces in the man’s head, if you like. A conflict between forces. So what’s ‘seen and allowed’, that’s the phrase that the censors used at the time, for checking the text. Giving permission. That’s relevant to Faustus because certain things were transgressive in terms of the prevailing moral and religious ethic. And the middle here must be partly to do with middle spirits, the intermediate spirits that seem to be an aspect of Marlowe’s play, at least in William Empson’s reading of the play. I think I’d recently read Empson’s book Faustus and the Censor, which offers a very interesting perspective on the play. Middle voice is also coming into play here. Witnessing the possibility of its own voicing. It’s important to stress that throughout Roxy there’s this self-reflexive quality, so not just talking about film and theatre and fashion magazines in subject terms, but I’m also building commentary on how you perceive, and a kind of aesthetic assumption into the text itself that it’s self-reflexive, and it may be that these middle spirits and middle voice are relevant to this question of perception and assumptions that feature throughout the poem - particularly gender politics I suppose. In terms of the female star and is that empowerment for women or merely a way of containing female power. Empson argues that Helen of Troy in one tradition is a middle spirit, that she’s a kind of illusion. Which may relate to the play, it’s a Euripides play -
AD: Helen in Egypt?
GS: - which HD draws on for her poem Helen in Egypt, which I think is her most interesting work, actually. Can we move over the page? Now all this, I’d recently been to that big de Kooning exhibition at the Tate Gallery. I remember JH Prynne gave a talk at it -
AD: Rosy-fingered dawn at Louse Point.
GS: Yes. Anyway, it was the series of paintings called Woman that interested me. ‘wet emulsions and stand oil’. And stand oil is a highly viscous medium that De Kooning liked for its slow-drying properties. A very evocative phrase, actually. Stand Oil. It’s a contradiction actually because oil suggests something fluid.
AD: If it doesn’t flow it might be fat. Like olive oil when it freezes.
GS: That’s why you shouldn’t keep it in the fridge I suppose. I’m shifting from the Renaissance play to thinking of - shifting from Marlowe’s portrayal of Helen - which even though Helen only appears briefly in Faustus she’s still a far-reaching presence there- so I’m shifting from that to modern contexts of seeing. Particularly men seeing women, here. De Kooning’s representation of female genitals and mouth such as the one called ‘Lipstick’ from the early Fifties. Elaine de Kooning said ‘Bill asked me to put on lipstick and kiss this drawing, carefully picking the exact spots where I should press my lips, each one fainter, ending finally with the mid section, going counter-clockwise.' What is going on here? Is it a mark of affection? Apparently Elaine de Kooning would often sign notes to de Kooning with lipstick kisses. But he’s grudging the pattern. You could say the collage mouth emphasizes the fluctuating nature of identity. The images are built up in layers and that’s very relevant to memory theatre. Shoes, lipstick, eyes, being privileged female features in these paintings. And also I suppose popular culture of that time. The genitalia at times look like wounds in these paintings - “a wound-like wine/ on crusted shelves”.
AD: The westering is going from the right hand of the painting towards the left hand?
GS: Exactly. But also there I’m referencing Renaissance exploration of North America.
AD: Really? So that’s what de Kooning did, he went West.
(break) AD: Rolling on One.
GS: I’d just like to say a bit more about my interpretation of Helen of Troy here, if you like, Helen as a Roxy figure. I’d been reading a book called The Fortunes of Faust by Elsie Butler, who was a friend of HD. A very gifted academic at London University.
AD: EM Butler.
GS: But very interested in Magic. In talking about the second part of Goethe’s Faust she says of Helen, “Feeling and thinking as a real woman, she is but a shade and one perhaps who has never had a real existence except in the minds of men. A strange beautiful mythological being.” So that is part of the context, when I was speaking of whether Helen has substance or not, whether she is fully physically there or just an image or spirit. Just going back to ‘westering’ again, I probably had in mind Spengler’s idea of vaulting relentless aspiration.
AD: Which he also called ‘Faustian’.
GS: Faust is left holding Helen’s empty robe after she embraces him and vanishes in Goethe’s Faust Part II. And that’s the last time he touches her. So “she smiles/ a range of selves, proffers/ the isolate clasp or scarf/ that set off blood-rushes’. I think this is all to do with that offer of possibility but the danger of it disappearing, of that promise vanishing. I think all of this must be to do with that. ‘Suppose she comes back to cloud./ Beasted, he holds an empty robe.’
GS: That may be a play on ‘bested’ actually, in the sense of overcome, but also beasted because he is brought down to a level of degradation, with his darker nature exposed.
AD: “petals of a name that pleases.”
GS: Well, yeah. I can’t offer any commentary on that at the moment I’m afraid. Other than the fact that petal might be the petals of a rose. ‘raising a city’ again seems to take us back to the beginning of this section with the memory theatre. But raising obviously can mean demolishing as well as summoning.
AD: This could be the atomic bomb. Not Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus by any chance?
GS: Which I used in Days of '49. Going to the last part of this section, the “subplot” relates to what I was dealing with earlier, in terms of jest material. I suppose the subplot equalises things. Reducing the grand possibility of the main plot but also actually making it grounded. The comic would ground that more highbrow material. ‘There are still wings rising/ in alabaster.’ Maybe wings of the theatre.
AD: The theatre must have been bombed?
GS: I would think so. or maybe burnt down as so many theatres did. The “hell’s teeth and a tapering tongue/ the beer and bread”. This is imagining how performances occurred at The Rose and the audience reception of the material. I have a note here - “Thomas Middleton in the Black Book 1604 refers to a performance of Doctor Faustus when the old theatre cracked and frighted the audience by some kind of devilish disturbance in the fabric.” It would have been quite frail, but it would have been one of those rather wonderful moments where something happens literally with the elements and adds to the artistic material being dealt with. It’s all being levelled. Beer and bread being consumed while “the poet pleads for Indian silk”. And they have found things like “old clay pipes and orange pips”. I think I would be sufficiently literal to be talking here about what was found on the site of the Rose Theatre. And the section ends ‘watching a lyric face/ one class sweats into the armpits of another’. You’ve got this high art being presented but you’ve got the groundlings sweating into the armpits of those more privileged, or maybe into the armpits of the actors. Certainly a kind of levelling again. The groundlings and the lords absorbed in the same process of taking in the fight for a questing man’s soul.
AD: What is a middle spirit?
GS: It’s an under-spirit who doesn’t have the authority of a main spirit but is not a completely insignificant spirit. I think middle spirits had the ability to impersonate. Empson comments “Faustus must have a scheme to escape Hell. He hopes that Mephistopheles is himself a middle spirit merely pretending to be a devil.” That’s the point of it. Mephistopheles may not actually be a devil. Uncertainty of status.
AD: So he is an actor in the role of a devil?
GS: Which of course literally he is! I’ll just say that this is section 46 out of 52 sections so we’re moving towards the end of the book here. And this links up with section 47 which is much to do with discovery of exotic territory, but also to do with memory.
(‘Stromboli’, a poem from Days of 49) There are continuities there as well. The English tendency would be to stress on that second syllable but Italians tend to voice it ‘Stromboli’. Would you like me just to start talking about it? Why did you pick this piece?
AD: (searching the theatre of memory for an icon which isn’t there) Why did I pick it? Oh, you picked it.
GS: In this text I was juxtaposing film reality and life reality. The personal lives of the actress Ingrid Bergman and the director Rossellini, on the one hand, and the matter in the film itself. Stromboli is one of Rossellini’s neo-realist dramas, which means it wasn’t scripted in advance very much, and a lot of it was allowed to just happen. Ingrid Bergman had been a conventional Hollywood actress in a number of film before that and had become very disillusioned with that stale way of working, and she had the inclination to act in a more natural way, and therefore took this role. It was filmed on the volcanic island of Stromboli, in the Mediterranean. She got involved with Rossellini romantically and eventually had children with him and this caused extreme scandals back in the States, partly because she was still married to the Swedish, was he a brain surgeon?, I can’t remember but anyway she was a married woman having an affair in the public eye. Structurally this text uses lines from the film and descriptive elements, as well as juxtaposing the life with the film, and also using different kinds of language here. At times there’s a kind of telegrammese type framing of language. The words in small capitals are her own words, the phrases in brackets in lower case are descriptive, so I’m setting up a dramatic tension there.
CANT HEAR the water churning
CANT UNDERSTAND (the boarded door)
CANT SPEAK (the smoking cone)
ARRIVE ROME SUNDAY NIGHT (fiesta)
She is the first lady of the screen in the film world at that time, and had played a nun, I forget which film now. Anyway she goes off with this love pirate. Which film was it? It wasn’t The Nun’s Story? I think that’s another one with Deborah Kerr.
AD: It probably wasn’t a very good film. (It was "Bells of St Mary's").
GS: I’m setting that out that she goes off with this love pirate, with a daring Italian director given to flexible working methods. ’Sends fire and ashes to the Legion of Decency.’ I think the Legion of Decency was one of these moral majority type things. So I’m recalling or imagining the circumstances of making the film, mixing in actual things from the film with the basic circumstances of making the film, like “start of film blank, try to start. Fault.” ‘Vene this is bad room’. The room, that’s when she ... Have you seen this film? You remember that she is a sophisticated middle-class Italian from I think Northern Italy who comes down to the tip of Italy. And she becomes involved with this basically peasant, and he’s a fisherman. And she becomes his wife. I’m condensing the film into a few lines. I’m picking out key images like “she is a rabbit seized by a ferret, she is a tunny fish speared in the heaving sea” - That’s the most famous sequence in the film, isn’t it, the tunny-fish expedition. I’m imagining that she is being speared as it were. It’s so different from the poem we were just looking at, isn’t it?
AD: It’s a lot simpler.
GS: You can’t make everything complex. There’s a layer of complexity here in the juxtaposition. But I certainly wanted this to be accessible in what it says about the period and maybe the scandal of the time and the contradictions. I think I’m trying to write this in a film-like way though. So it’s a bit like a filmstrip but it’s a dramatized filmstrip which involves description as well as speech. And as I said life as well as film. “Reality is a matter of intent.”
AD: Making a film where you start with no script, because it is less premeditated, is controlled by fewer people, it’s more real.
GS: And actually generates or occurs in parallel with Bergman’s own release, personality wise or romantically. It turned out to be quite a difficult relationship, but I think she did get a lot of things from it. Certainly the films she made during that middle period are among her best work.
AD: “NO ALIEN GUILTY CAN SET FOOT ON AMERICAN SOIL”? She wasn’t guilty of anything? Is this a paper clipping?
GS: I think that must be a newspaper headline that I’m either adapting or quoting, yes. She can’t go back because she’s had this affair and become an adulteress! She certainly can’t go back to Hollywood and work there with the same respect.
AD: Because of the Legion of Decency and the newspapers. They would ban her films.
GS: I suppose Howard Hughes must have had some part in the funding of this film or maybe in the distribution, in the American distribution. He writes to defend the heart. Reality is a matter of intent.” Got aesthetic resonance, doesn’t it, in the way you make a film.
AD: A script being a form of domination exercise of one individual over the others.
GS: Absolutely. At times I’m trying to get the Italian intonation in, “you ave-a no modesty”. To register that context. I think why I suggested this was as a contrast to parts of Roxy. Although it has a continuity in focusing on female glamour, a female star and heroine, but this is more actively dramatised.