Friday, January 30, 2009

Thoughts after watching Herzog's Woyzeck

Several of us, mostly from the Ubu cast, watched Werner Herzog's 1979 adaptation of Woyzeck the other day. I'd seen it around the time it came out, but remembered almost nothing about it (other than being disappointed by comparison to Herzog's earlier movies). This second viewing, informed by reading Büchner's script and living with our evolving version of it for a couple of years, made a lot more sense to me. Here's a bit of what went through my mind, and I hope others will join in.

1. For the first time, i really grasped the implications of Sarah's point about the fragmentary/unfinished nature of the original. There's no definitive version of the play, and different translators/directors have fiddled around with it in all sorts of ways. (In some of our earliest discussions of what we might do with it, we briefly toyed with the idea of drawing scenes out of a hat and performing them in totally random order.) Sure enough, Herzog's adaptation includes almost everything ours does, only in a markedly different sequence, plus an additional scene at the end. The effect reminded me of the time I provided text material for a dance piece by three friends--I gave them lots of fragments and told them to take what they wanted and then do anything with it they wanted. When I saw the actual performance, i recognized almost all the words coming out of their mouths, but had no idea what they'd say next or how it would sound. Likewise, everything Woyzeck and company did and said was familiar, yet not.

2. The downside of this arbitrariness is that there's no real character development in the story. Woyzeck (the character) starts off pretty crazy, stays that way as he undergoes various trials and tribulations, and just gets a little crazier at the end. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems like there's no single incident that pushes him over the edge--he's already over it from the get-go. I think that has a lot to do with why I didn't remember much about the movie, and why the printed script of the play (minus our, or anyone else's, staging of it) feels a little slight to me.

3. I get the sensation, particularly watching Herzog's filmed version, that the play is from a totally different era and culture than ours. Well, that's obvious, of course, but what I mean is that few of the conventions we as audience members 150 years later take for granted--Method acting, narrative arc, even cause and effect--apply here, at least not in recognizable form.

This is not to suggest I don't find Woyzeck interesting--far from it! In fact, I'm eager to see what other adapters have done with Büchner's raw material, including Berg's opera and the several other film versions.

Here's the trailer for the Herzog movie:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is this me

Is this me or Woyubu?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.