2. VISUALIZATION - in a word centred world.
see separate section
- that it is one element that unites everybody in this place - that
we seek to solve problems with the conjuring up of images and their
This talk is divided into six sections
1. The great cliché that has dominated the way
in which story telling is visualised - John Everett Millais' The
Boyhood of Raleigh.
That, as in all of Millais' paintings, the content is
not that easy. His paintings Bubbles bought by Pear's Soap for
instance is diminished for its use to sell a project - but is a standard
VANITAS subject, and where the continuity of life is shown in 17th century
Dutch art as a growing plant, Millais shows only a broken flower pot.
Here the Old Sailor sweeps the horizon - but is made
sinister because we cannot see his face. The two boys are fascinated
but, compared with a later version in a kids' annual, exhibit awe and
nervousness (as well they might).
2. The Act of Storytelling in the world of Public
Affairs and Politics - the all powerful, all seeing, all storytelling
Political Leader - this can be Teddy Roosevelt, Savonarola, Lloyd George,
Eugene Terr'Blanche, and here Kim Il Sung of North Korea.
Each has pondered to different ends the skills of telling
a story to the mass of their subjects - with or without electronic amplification,
enjoying the many manuals for speechmaking that have proliferated since
1880. CLICHÉS - the beginning of Citizen Kane, a montage of the
rhetorical styles. Failed speech - Nikolai
Ceaucescu was halfway through his patter when he realised that the act
had run its course. Kim Il Sung reveals himself in his own hagiography
as a story teller for peasants and scientists, children and veterans
- men and women - at all times of the day - ever ready to dispense information
plumbing and electricity
all with adoring audience, pointers, and
PEOPLE TAKING NOTES
perhaps this alone - the all-pervading Story Teller
- is sufficient to impoverish a nation - after his death - the films,
statues and volumes of print work on to tell those tales.
3. The Stand Up Performer - this is uncharted territory
- how we visualise the person who tells up a story to amuse or instruct
us. In the sixteenth century, whether you spoke in public, told tales,
preached sermons or cracked jokes there were gestures and poses appropriate
to the task. The craft of the standup comic can be taken as read (see
Scorcese's King of Comedy).
3.1 THE PREACHER - with gestures and lighting
and accessories dresses up the message within a story. Savonarola
and many others used visual aids that suddenly appeared, but in Florence
at the end of the fifteenth century, Savonarola could make his worshippers
visualise the Hell that awaited them. Not for nothing were his followers
known as piagnone - the Weepers. Failed
sermons are just boring, but the dissatisfied audience tend
to put it down to their own inadequacy of the mysterious ways of God.
P.G.Wodehouse found one way of survive the sermon, to decode the gestures
as if they were an umpire's signals at a cricket match - 4 or 6 runs,
and the single finger held aloft to say you are out.CLICHE - the clergyman
with robes on high surveying the congregation fast asleep - VISUALISATION,
REV LOVEJOY OF THE SIMPSONS. See also Orson Welles in Moby Dick (and
the Melville text)
3.2 THE MYSTIC conjuring tea leaves into cloudy
predictions of the course of a life.Difficult to confound and unveil.Failed
predictions seem to bother nobody - there's always plenty of
time for more. The accessory can fail -as when ectoplasm turns out
to be cheesecloth.CLICHE, the Crystal Bowl, the Gypsy Fortuneteller
and the Anxious Client. See also the visual conventions of the filmic
seance, Hitchock's Family Plot.
3.3 THE ITINERANT STORYTELLER - the professional
with troupe and visual aids and a pointer reinforcing the oral tradition
- providing stimulus for the mental image. CLICHE - hardly relevant
- now the autocue and sincerity machine have intervened.
Failed public story telling - results in the drifting away
of the audience - pelted with rocks, cow shit, but no money. How to
sustain the narrative without a captive audience.
3.4 THE RECITOR - here Shakespeare to the Queen,
an invented scene and not fashionable today - the Literary Reading
as devalued experience. However Dickens combination of Impromptu and
Recitation was immensely successful.CLICHE - the child holding a daffodil
doing Wordsworth, "I wandered lonely as a Cloud".Simon Callow
doing Dickens.Failed recitation indicators
- coughing, departure, cries of RUBBISH.
3.5 THE CONFIDENCE MAN - perhaps the most adept
of all - with patter, accessories and winning proposition. The Bunco
Man, the Snake Oil Salesman, P.T.Barnum - the Man (or indeed woman)
of many disguises- Poe's Diddler. The Protean Personality. CLICHE,
The Persian Pedlar in OKLAHOMA ! Failed Narrative
- tar and feathers/shotgun or a week in the slammer. Good
Practice, Melville's Man of Many Disguises -the Herb Doctor,
the Mute, the poor Black Beggar - The Confidence Man 1857
forty-five conversations held on board a steamer - the Fidele, over
a period of 24 hours. Much recommended.
Conclusion - to 3. WHEN THE READER BECOMES THE BOOK
The skill of the Story Teller to make real the mental
image is wonderfully shown in Quentin Tarentino's Reservoir Dogs,
when one tale materialises around the Teller.
faber and faber filmscript, FREDDY
"So I tell the connection I'll be right back.
I'm going to the little boy's room.
4. BUSINESS STORIES
These are stories that have to be believed, and combine
3.1 through to 3.5. Jobs and pensions are on the Line - the Captain
of Industry has a narrow range of patter - a restructed range of costume
and only sober and believable accessories. Whatever credibility is established
(The Shareholder becomes the Share ? ) has to be achieved with the Burnished
Cliche - the crucial and slight deviation from the Norm. CLICHE - the
Chairman of the Board displaced by young Turk who learns a Damn Fine
Lesson. Failed commercials - the cartoons
of H.M.Bateman - the Jeremiah of Late Capitalism.In other societies
the Tribe would devour the Failed Leader/Narrator - now it's a Golden
Goodbye, Stock and a large slice of Tuscany.
4.1 YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE - Young America asks, can
I learn from a man with a small colour figure of Winston Churchill.
Preferment for a young man with an oily manner "Young
Man on the Way Up" -
"I say sir this TWA service really fits the bill."
- "Dammit you're right young fella ! You'll go far" - "Yes
sir, and all by TWZ..."
4.2 THE RITUALS OF CAPITALISM demand the highest standards
of story telling to the Board, to the Shareholders and a Mysterious
Removal of Trousers at the Statler in New York.
5. THE CHILD - GAWD BLESS EM,
the natural and most discerning of audiences. The storyteller's
perils of success, woken early with the Funnies. Tell me another. CLICHE
- but effective, John Houseman's creepy tale at the beginning of John
Carpenter's Halloween. "Now tell Santa what you want for Christmas...."
- "I always read my children to sleep, don't you..." But here's
the quandary. EXCELLENCE - is it a successful story, artfully concluded
or a story that ceases when the child sleeps.
5.1 The key image of the Mother Goose narrator - telling
and spinning - the folksy intimacy of the Norman Rockwell school room
5.2 The Narrator's ideal, to let the Tale do the Talking
and the elements of the Story condenses around the little chap's head.
5.3 But it can be most unsuitable - how crucial the
caption that reveals the tale.
Everywhere we see and hear advice as to improve performances
in this art of telling stories. Rarely do we contemplate failure - thinking
6.1 THE RUMOUR - the ultimate failure depicted by
many fine graphic artists (H.M.Bateman, Daumier, Fougasse and here
Norman Rockwell) often used to denigrate women - the Universality
6.2 FAILURES IN READING NARRATIVES - the visual aptness
in drawing, caption and the instant of Time in "Well, I finally
read him to sleep" with its trajectory of missile, dressing gown
and anticipated moments of leisure. The use of the book as a missile
is also a comment not only on the narrator's performance but also
the quality of the Tale itself. A remarkable condemnation from somebody
who KNEW !
6.3 FAILED RESPONSES - BOREDOM - a telling graphic
challenge - boredom in drawing leads to boredom in the viewer's response
- so here
the metaphor for tedium and contempt - "Have
you tired of me Michelle?" -
the rare candour of "I am sorry, what were you
saying, I must have dozed off for a second."
"The man who needs no introduction.."
The graphic challenges here are metaphor, gesture,
expression and turn of phrase.
I conclude with a marvelous moment from Sondheim's dark
and resonating theatre piece Into The Woods, which has a power
for me who long detested the cosy urgings to the status quo of the Aesopic
fable, the whole Idea of Girls as Prizes and the resolute defence of
property values that Folk Tales propose. Sondheim proposes the experience
of those moments after the tales have been resolved, and the retaliation
has begun, with posturings, foolishness, and a vengeful recently widowed
Giantess who climbed the Beanstalk in search of her husband's murderers.
The Narrator whose complacent commentaries have acted
as an annoying counterpoint to the live action, the very epitome of
the Omniscient Suit, finds that the Characters pass judgment on him
in a magical moment when the soundproof, dimension proof, sound box
collapses, the membrane parts between Story Teller and Story - in an
act of wanton and delicious Human Sacrifice.