Brief thoughts about Pinter on TV and how he informs my approach to writing. I’ll restrain from plot revelation since ‘The Collection’ in this ensemble is well worth an hour of your time
As we progress into e-worlds auto-governed by impersonal distance, the violence inherent in Pinter’s unsettling face-to-face directness from 1961 expands to acknowledge, even justify, our contemporary alienation. But then violence is everywhere online too. Pinter’s suspense from half a century ago is unbearable, like the silence when waiting for the reply to an urgent SMS.
This viewing brought to mind how Pinter has and will be a well for my writing. Helen Mirren’s near mannequin has exquisite syncopated timing; Malcolm McDowell’s ‘slum slug’ flicks a light-switch in an impossibly threatening way; Alan Bates’ supreme Pinteresque power through silence and unpredictability – “He told me once he’d been hypnotised by a cat. Wouldn’t go into further details…” – have all been revelatory to me, have stoked my output in terms of sudden swerves, the understated threat, a collision of rhythms. Pinter’s leftfield monologues – used invariably to confuse and disempower one’s interlocutor, are a kind of brief torture carried out on the silenced on stage or screen, while, perversely, a conundrum at the least, they are simultaneously hilarious for the viewer; customarily outstanding in wit, I can only attempt uneven imitation.
The demi-twist on the twist on the twist in the final five minutes of ‘The Collection’ is quality writing, Pinter to the bone. Power shifts, tennis style; masculinities impugned. The silent, screaming ambiguity at the conclusion is the stuff of Realism’s nightmares. All this I take away, stick it in the bank up top, defrost the Gutenberg iceberg and make stipe or tripe of what comes out on the keyboard.
Finally: Larry Olivier clearly didn’t get Pinter. He’s way too vocally expressive, keeps reaching for every line, old school. It probably didn’t help that he was 69 playing a 40-year-old. Here, then, are three enfants terribles alongside the National Theatre’s grandee as the ensemble’s fourth member. The clash of styles is palpable, instructive; I see the death of declamation and the hallmark of silent oppression.