Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Marat/Sade (aka The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade) (Peter Brook, 1967) July 13, 1793 Jean-Paul Marat, revolutionary fire-brand afflicted by a debilitating skin-disease that confined him to a bath was murdered by Charlotte Corday, who had once sided with Marat and now thought his more radical views of the revolution would only bring more disaster and destruction onto France. 

July 13, 1808. It is 15 years later to the day, when Napoleon is Emperor of France and the revolutionary fervor has died down now that France is in the ascendancy as a world-power, even while things are pretty much the same for its citizens that still have their heads attached. In the asylum of Charleton, one of its inmates, the Marquis DeSade takes advantage of some revolutionary therapeutic techniques to stage the murder of Marat with the inmates of the asylum acting out all the parts. An audience of gentry are invited to observe the performance behind bars, while the asylum's director uses the opportunity to curry favor and talk up the sanitarium's accomplishments through its advanced therapies, demonstrating them by holding the performance in the facility's hydrotherapy chamber. 
What could possibly go wrong?

The play goes well after the director's flowery and self-congratulatory introduction, the inmates escorted to the "stage," Marat is played by a paranoiac (Ian Richardson), Corday by a woman (Glenda Jackson) suffering from narcolepsy, the chorus commenting in verse and in song are all done up in clown face, and the Marquis (Patrick Magee) sits sullenly, feigning civility and docility, while putting his invective into the script.
Oh, the layers. It's a film of a play within a play. We are an audience watching (and standing in for) an audience, who could be considered either in front of or behind bars. The play itself is a historical drama with commentary and interjections from the author who inserts himself frequently in the narrative. And the dynamic of jailers overseeing the production of mad-men reflects the government thinking themselves in charge of an unruly mob, a revolution has been mollified, after all, and the right people are in charge in a France that is stronger than ever, led by the proverbial man on a white horse.
Oh, what one could say if one wanted to be pedantically current. But, one could find undercurrents of all sorts of transitions and "revolutions" in the discussions in Marat/Sade—how, for awhile, when things get bad, the public spontaneously combusts, worries the power-brokers about their handle on things, things get better and go back into a torpor as the crowd is satiated with their bread and circuses. Nothing much changes but attitude. And maybe some budgets to be allowed to "trickle-down."
But the play is a microcosm of revolution. De Sade was once a revolutionary, but by the time of play's events, he's found another way. at various times, protests are made of the script and the asylum director steps in to say that things have gone too far, names should not be named to avoid scandal and the Marquis symbolically rips up the script to appear to allow the play to keep going. Because the play is the revolution. To allow it to go on keeps the flame of anarchy alive until such a time as spark can flame and everything descends to chaos.
Because that is the aim. It is one thing to rant and rave and wave one's arms in the air and make a big show. It is quite another to appear docile and allow small victories to keep the show going on. Placate to distract. The end result will still be chaos, because that is the Nature of things, despite our schemes to control them. And when the root is madness...well...

Not even Napoleon could control that.

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