the town hall affair & the turn of the screw

the town hall affair

a live dramatic reconstruction of a real, filmed, public debate in early-seventies new york between writer and critic norman mailer and representatives of ‘women’s lib.’ notably germaine greer

directed by, and featuring, former student, which is why i went

very clever in having real footage of the event blending in with live actors speaking the actual words precisely as the original participants (they had earpieces, but it still seemed amazingly clever; and was); lip-synching to a tele with the sound off, basically

because the actual event was disrupted by a lively audience, this production disrupted their reconstruction by showing scenes from another film in which normal mailer acted as a lothario – this highlighted the gender-battle, but didn’t do much else imho

so overall an interesting hour; expensive, but worth seeing for the integration of film and live speech

the turn of the screw

britten’s special opera music (for me, as an ignorascento, a mixture of lyrical and weird), and some special staging (see picture) made this a wonderful night

at first we couldn’t see the orchestra, and imagined it might be played from a recording, but then – look – they’re in the greenhouse!

i’d seen a tv adaptation, but not read the book or heard the opera before: the big question is whether or not the ghosts the new nanny sees are ‘real’ or in her head; i think both tv and novel carefully leave it in doubt – that’s the point of the ghost story – there might be real ghosts, or there might not, all the drama and upset coming from the nanny’s repressed sexuality – perhaps her feelings towards the children’s mysterious and near-invisible father

How they are related

A staged opera is, like The Town Hall Affair, a live, artificial, reconstruction of another event – no one believes that the characters in James’ or Britten’s imagined world actually sang to each other. Britten’s ghosts interrupt the nanny’s safe world, rather as the feminist protestors and panellists disrupt the traditional patriarchy of 70s America.

And Quince’s (the male ghost) interruptions are nothing if not sexually aggressive, both to the children and the nanny; her reaction, her response, is one of fear; it is in the contrast between James’ timid nanny and Mailer’s bold adversaries that we see what difference a century makes.

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