I don’t have a formal education in literature, so I tend to make mental notes about cultural references I find in books, films and magazines. Frankly, the majority of what I know about post-modern literature and film I’ve learned after watching Woody Allen movies and Jeopardy.
I'm not intimidated by people who are comfortable discussing these things and I don't feel incomplete for not knowing them. I have no problem admitting my ignorance about a wide variety of subjects. I suppose I just don’t like the idea of feeling like I'm on the outside of an inside joke when it should be a fairly simple matter to learn enough about nearly anything to follow along.
A few months ago I purchased a collection of Samuel Beckett’s plays on film. I’m sure I’ve seen bits and pieces of his first, and most famous play, Waiting for Godot on PBS or somewhere. Two guys are waiting. It's all about the waiting.
Over the course of several weeks, I watched the Beckett plays on DVD and my ears have become attuned to anything I read or hear about Beckett, but I have to say, I don’t quite get him. I gave each play my undivided attention, paid close attention to the dialogue, the timing and the sets and came away from each with only an abstract sense of what it was about and generally a vague feeling of dissatisfaction.
Endgame was Beckett’s second play and the essence of the story was almost the exact opposite of Waiting for Godot. There are four characters in a house they appear to be trapped in, they may be the last people on earth and three of the four don’t have any way of leaving. The fourth is the caretaker, and the tension and expectation through the course of the play is that he’s going to leave. In the end, the viewer is left to decide what happens. This was one of the longer plays on the DVD series and I admit, it kept my attention and my mental wheels were spinning the entire time I watched. I remember most of it in a fairly detailed way. It made an impression. There is something here.
Actors and film directors speak with great reverence about Samuel Beckett, but I am still scratching my head and wondering what it’s all about.
I know many of you who visit here have studied literature or theater and if you can help me to understand what it is that makes Samuel Beckett so influential and iconic, please share your thoughts.
Here’s part of a scene that comes toward the end of the play, Endgame. The dialogue is very carefully written and carefully delivered and as I understand it, if you see this play (or any other Beckett play) performed, you will not see any, or much variation from one production to the next. Each word is said exactly as originally written.
I’m just not quite getting it…