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August 1996, Week 4


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Pip Chodorov <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 22 Aug 1996 05:03:22 -0400
text/plain (42 lines)
"The Brig" is, again, filmed theatre. Several (though it is true, not many)
theatrical ellipses serve to skip a few hours in the diegisis, so the two
hour film represents I believe a day and a half. However, it is a very
interesting attempt to approach form and content.
The Living Theatre production of this play documenting scenes in an abusive
prison/work camp was staged inside a cage. Jonas Mekas, upon seeing the play
in New York in 1961, decided during the first act that he wanted to film it.
He left the theatre before seeing the end, so he would discover it while
filming, and would have to react in real time with his hand-held camera among
the actors. The play closed before Mekas could organize his production, but
the Living Theatre was interested in making the film. So one night, before
the set was taken down, they snuck into the theatre late at night, and filmed
the play straight through. Mekas filmed it single-handedly, with an assistant
or two for the lights and sound, and a few friends in attendance (one filmed
him filming). Mekas did not do second takes, and his brother Adolfas
assembled the film on the editing table.
He and his brother, Lithuanians, were both in Nazi forced labor camps in
Germany between 1942 and 1944, and were then in displaced persons camps for
five years until their first arrival in New York where they have lived ever
since. The film places Mekas (behind his camera - so the viewer too) in both
the position of a prisoner and an outsider; that the takes are so long and
unsteady fits right in with the nature of the action that we, too, are
"forced" to watch. The dark, expressionist lighting, the ever-present cage
bars, the clandestine and fugitive nature of the film shoot, the poor quality
of the sound recording, and especially the real/reel time factor, all help
bridge the gap between form and content. The film has the feel of a
documentary, and yet it is unmistakenly theatre, with dramatic codes,
ellipses, transitions, etc. At the same time, it is clandestine, underground
theatre, filmed in secret and against regulations by underground filmmakers,
so there is a part of truth in what we see. A perverse exercise in
documenting a fiction, the scenes in "The Brig" that last ten minutes without
a cut are justified and interesting, and would be much less so if filmed
-Pip Chodorov
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