sábado, 28 de septiembre de 2019

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett
(1906 - 1989)

Irish novelist and playwright, one of the great names of Absurd Theatre with Eugéne Ionesco, although recent study regards Beckett as postmodernist. His plays are concerned with human suffering and survival, and his characters are struggling with meaninglessness and the world of the Nothing. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. In his writings for the theater Beckett showed influence of burlesque, vaudeville, the music hall, commedia dell'arte, and the silent-film style of such figures as Keaton and Chaplin.

"We all are born mad. Some remain so." 
 From Waiting for Godot, 1952

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin into a prosperous Protestant family. His father, William Beckett Jr., was a surveyor. Beckett's mother, Mary Roe, had worked as a nurse before marriage. He was educated at the Portora Royal School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he took a B.A. degree in 1927, having specialized in French and Italian. Beckett worked as a teacher in Belfast and lecturer in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. During this time he became a friend of James Joyce, taking dictation and copying down parts of what would eventually become Finnegans Wake (1939). He also translated a fragment of the book into French under Joyce's supervision.
In 1931 Beckett returned to Dublin and received his M.A. in 1931. He taught French at Trinity College until 1932, when he resigned to devote his time entirely to writing. After his father died, Beckett received an annuity that enabled him to settle in London, where he underwent psychoanalysis (1935-36).
As a poet Beckett made his debut in 1930 with Whoroscope, a ninety-eight-line poem accompanied by seventeen footnotes. In this dramatic monologue, the protagonist, Rene Descartes, waits for his morning omelet of well-aged eggs, while meditating on the obscurity of theological mysteries, the passage of time, and the approach of death. It was followed with a collection of essays, Proust  (1931), and novelMore Pricks Than Kicks (1934). From 1933 to 1936 he lived in London. 
In 1938 Beckett was hospitalized from a stab would he had received from a pimp to whom he had refused to give money. Around this time he met Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, a piano student, whom he married in 1961. When Beckett won the Nobel Prize, Suzanne commented: "This is a catastrophe." Beckett refused to attend the Nobel ceremony.
Beckett's career as a novelist really began  with Murphy (1938), which depicted the protagonist's inner struggle between his desires for his prostitute-mistress and for total escape into the darkness of mind. The conflict is resolved when he is atomized by a gas explosion.
When World War II broke out, Beckett was in Ireland, but he hastened to Paris and joined a Resistance network. Sought by the Nazis, he fled with Dechevaux-Dumesnil to Southern France, where they remained in hiding in the village of Roussillon two and half years. Beckett worked as country laborer and wrote Watt, his second novel, which was published in 1953 and was the last of his novels written originally in English. It portrayed the futile search of Watt (What) for understanding in the household Mr. Knott (Not), who continually changes shapes.
After the war Beckett worked briefly with the Irish Red Cross in St. Lo in Normandy. Between 1946 and 1949 he produced the major prose narrative trilogy, MolloyMalone Meurt, and L'innommable, which came out in the early 1950s. The novels were written in French and subsequently translated into English with substantial changes. Beckett said that when he wrote in French it was easier to write "without style" – he did not try to be elegant. With the change of language Beckett escaped from everything with which he was familiar. These books reflected Beckett's bitter realization that there is no escape from illusions and from the Cartesian compulsion to think, to try to solve insoluble mysteries. Beckett was obsessed by a desire to create what he called "a literature of the unword." He waged a lifelong war on words, trying to yield the silence that underlines them.

WINNIE: Win! (Pause.) Oh this is a happy day, this will have been another happy day! (Pause.) After all. (Pause.) So far. 
(from Happy Days, 1961)


En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), written in 1949 and published in English in 1954, brought Beckett international fame and established him as one of the leading names of the theater of the absurd. Beckett more or less admitted in a New York Post interview by Jerry Tallmer that the dialogue was based on conversations between Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil and himself in Roussillon. The tragi-comedy in two acts, opened at the Théâtre de Babylone on January 5, 1953, and made history. Two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, who call each other Gogo and Didi, meet near a bare tree on a country road. They wait for the promised arrival of Godot, whose name could refer to 'God' or also the French name for Charlie Chaplin, 'Charlot'. To fill the boredom they try to recall their past, tell jokes, eat, and speculate about Godot. Pozzo, a bourgeois tyrant, and Lucky, his servant, appear briefly. Pozzo about Lucky: "He can't think without his hat." Godot sends word that he will not come that day but will surely come the next. In Act II Vladimir and and Estragon still wait, and Godot sends a promising message. The two men try to hang themselves and then declare their intention of leaving, but they have no energy to move. In Beckett's philosophical show, there is no meaning without being. The very existence of Vladimir and Estragon is in doubt. Without Godot, their world do not have purpose, but suicide is not the solution to their existential dilemma.

VLADIMIR: We have to come back tomorrow. 

ESTRAGO; What for? 

VLADIMIR: To wait for Godot. 

ESTRAGON: Ah! (Silence.) He didn't come? 


After Waiting for Godot Beckett wrote Fin de partie (1957, Endgame) and a series of stage plays and brief pieces for the radio.Endgame developed further one of Beckett's central themes, men in mutual dependence (Hamm and Clov occupy a room with Nagg and Nell who are in dustbins). "One day you'll be blind, like me", says Hamm. "You'll be sitting there, a speck in the void, in the dark, for ever, like me." In Krapp's Last Tape (1959) Beckett returned to his native language. The play depicted an old man sitting alone in his room. At night he listens to tape recordings from various periods of his past.
In several works Beckett used dark humor to establish distance to his grim subjects. In his last full-length novel, Comment c'est (1961, How It Is) the protagonist crawls across the mud dragging a sack of canned food behind him. He overtakes another crawler who he tortures into speech and is left alone waiting to be overtaken himself by another crawler who will torture him in turn.
In the 1960s Beckett wrote for radio, theater, and television. During this decade, Billie Whitelaw became one of the most noted interpreter of Beckett's works. Her performances include PlayNot I, and Footfalls. She also acted in such films as Frency (written by Anthony Shaffer, dir. by Alfred Hitchcock, 1972), The Omen (1976)The Water Babies (1979)Maurice (based on E. M. Forster's posthumously published novel, dir. by James Ivory, 1987), and The Krays (1990). Alan Schneider staged most of the American premiers of Beckett's plays. Schneider also directed the short Beckett movie Film, starring Buster Keaton.
In the 1970s appeared Mirlitonnades (1978), a collection of short poems, Company (1979) and All Strange Away (1979), which was performed in 1984 in New York. Catastrophe (1984) was written for Vaclav Havel and was about the interrogation of a dissident. In 1988, Waiting for Godot, was produced at Lincoln Center. Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Bill Irwin played in the central roles.
Beckett lived on the rue St. Jacques. At the neighborhood cafe he met his friends, drank espresso, and smoke thin cigarettes. He also had a country house outside Paris. Beckett maintained his usual silence even when his eightienth birthday was celebrated in Paris and New York. At the age of seventy-six he said: "With diminished concentration, loss of memory, obscured intelligence... the more chance there is for saying something closest to what one really is. Even though everything seems inexpressible, there remains the need to express. A child need to make a sand castle even though it makes no sense. In old age, with only a few grains of sand, one has the greatest possibility." (fromPlaywrights at Work, ed. by George Plimpton, 2000)
Beckett's wife died in 1989. The author had moved just previously to a small nursing home, after falling in his apartment. Beckett lived in a barely furnished room, receiving visitors, writing until the end. From his television he watched tennis and soccer. His last book printed in his lifetime was Stirring Still (1989). Beckett died, following respiratory problems, in a hospital on December 22, 1989. It it rumored that Beckett gave much of the Nobel prize money to needy artists.

For further reading: Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut by Ruby Cohn (1962); Samuel Beckett by R. Hayman (1968)Samuel Beckett by J. Friedman (1970); Beckett by A. Alvarez (1973); Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study by Hugh Kenner (1974); Samuel Beckett: A Biography by Deirdre Bair (1978); Samuel Beckett by Linda Ben-Zvi (1986); The Beckett Actor: Jack Macgowran, Beginning to End by Jordan R. Young (1988); Waiting for Godot and Endgame - Samuel Beckett, ed. by Steven Connor (1992); Beckett's Dying Words by Christopher Ricks (1993); The Beckett Country by Eoin O'Brien (1994); Beyond Minimalism by Enoch Brater (1995); Beckett Writing Beckett by H. Porter Abbott (1996);Conversations With and About Beckett, ed. by Mel Gussow (1996); Damned to Fame by James Knowlson (1996); Samuel Beckett by Anthony Cronin (1997); Beckett and the Mythology of Psychoanalysis by Phil Baker (1998); The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader's Guide to His Works, Life, and Thought by C. J. Ackerly and S. E. Gontarski (2004) - See also: Alfred Jarry. Television adaptationsBeckett on film (2000), prod. by RTE and Gate theatre, directors include Conor PcPherson, Neil Jordan, David Mamet, Atom Egoyan, Richard Eyre, Karel Reisz, Anthony Minghella et al.

Selected works:
  • Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, 1929
  • Whoroscope, 1930
  • Proust, 1931
  • More Pricks Than Kicks, 1934
  • Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates, 1935
  • Murphy, 1938
  • Nouvelles et Textes pour rien, 1945-50 (written; L'Expulsé, Le Calmant, La Fin et Textes pour rien I-XIII) 
    - Stories and Textes for Nothing (translation in 1955; The Expelled, The Calmative, The End, and Texts for Nothing I-XIII) 
  • Premier amour, 1946 (written) 
  • Eleuthéria, 1947 (written) 
    - Eleuthéria: A Play in Three Acts, 1995 (translated from the French by Michael Brodsky)
  • Molloy, 1951 
    - Molloy: A Novel (translated from the French by Patrick Bowles in collaboration with the author, 1955) 
    - Molloy (suom. Raili Phan-Chan-The, 1968)
  • Three Dialogues, 1949 (with Georges Duthuit and Jacques Putnam) 
  • Malone meurt, 1951 
    - Malone Dies (translated by the author, 1956) 
    - Malone kuolee (suom. Caj Westerberg, 2007)
  • L'innommable, 1953 
    - The Unnamable (translated by the author, 1958)
  • En attendant Godot, 1952 (written in 1948) 
    - Waiting for Godot (translated by the author) 
    - Huomenna hän tulee (suom. Aili Palmén, 1964; Antti Halonen ja Kristiina Lyytinen, 1990) / Godota odottaessa (suom. Arto Af Hällström, 2011)
  • Watt, 1953 
    - Watt (suom. Caj Westerberg, 2006)
  • Fin de partie; suivi de, Acte sans paroles, 1957
    - Endgame (translated by the author, 1958)
  • From an Abandoned Work, 1958
  • L'image, 1958 
    - The Image (translation in 1988) 
  • Bram van Velde, 1958 (by Jacques Putman, Georges Duthuit and Samuel Beckett)
    - Bram van Velde (translated from the French by Olive Classe and Samuel Beckett, 1960) 
    - Sanaton näytös I & II (suom. Olli-Matti Ronimus, Pentti Holappa, 1964)
  • Krapp's Last Tape, 1959 
  • All That Fall, 1959 
    - Kaikkien kaatuvien tie (suom. Ville Repo, 1957)
  • Acte sans paroles II, 1961 
  •  Happy Days: A Play in Two Acts, 1961 
    -  Onnelliset päivät (suom. Olli-Matti Ronimus, Pentti Holappa, 1965) / Voi miten ihana päivä (suom. Juha Mannerkorpi, 1967)
  • Rough for Radio I, 1961
  • Rough for Radio II, 1961
  • Comment c'est, 1961 
    - How It Is (translated by the author, 1964) 
  • Collected Poems in English, 1961
  • Words and Music, 1962
  • Selected Poems, 1963 (translations by Samuel Beckett and others)
  • Cascando, 1963
  • Play, and Two Short Pieces for Radio, 1964
  • Bing, 1965 
    - Ping (translation in 1966) 
  • Imagination morte imaginez, 1965 
    - Imagination Dead Imagine (London, Calder & Boyars, 1966) 
  • Assez, 1966 
    - Enough (translation in 1974)
  • Eh Joe, 1966 (television play)
  • Come and Go, 1966 
    - Va et vient (translated by the author, in Comedie et actes divers, 1966)
  • Film, 1967
  • A Samuel Beckett Reader, 1967 (edited by John Calder) 
  • No's Knife: Collected Shorter Prose, 1945-1966, 1967
  • Eh Joe, and Other Writings, 1967
  • L'Issue, 1968
  • Sans, 1969 
    - Lessness (translated by the author, 1968)
  • Film. Complete Scenario, Illustrations, Production Shots, 1969 (with an essay on directing Film by Alan Schneider) 
  • Le Dépeupleur, 1970 
    - The Lost Ones (translated by the author, 1971)
  • Breath, 1970
  • Premier amout, 1970 
    -  First Love (published by Calder and Boyars, 1973) 
  • Séjour, 1970 (illustrated with etchings by Louis Maccard after drawings by Jean Deyrolle) 
  • Mercier et Camier, 1970 
    - Mercier and Camies (translated by the author, 1974) 
  • Breath and Other Shorts, 1971
  • Abandonné, 1972 (illustrated by Geneviève Asse) 
  • The North, 1972 (with three original etchings by Avigdor Arikha) 
  • Not I, 1973
  • La falaise, 1975 
    - The Cliff (translation in 1991) 
  • All Strange Away, 1976 (illustrated by Edward Gorey) 
  • Ghost Trio, 1976
  • That Time, 1976 
  • Rough for Theatre I, 1976
  • Pour finir encore et autres foirades, 1976 
    - Fizzles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 , 6 (translated by the author, 1976) 
  • For to End Yet Again and Other Fizzles, 1976
  • Four Novellas, 1977 (translated by the author and Richard Seaver)
  • ... But the Clouds..., 1977
  • Collected Poems in English and French, 1977
  • Poèmes; [Mirlitonnades], 1978
  • Company, 1979
  • A Piece of Monologue, 1980
  • Ohio Impromptu, 1981
  • Nohow, 1981
  • Mal vu mal dit, 1981
  • Rockaby and Other Short Pieces, 1982
  • Catastrophe et autres dramaticules, 1982
  • A Piece of Monologue, 1982
  • Worstward Ho, 1983
  • What Where, 1983
  • Nacht und Träume, 1983
  • Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, 1983 (edited with a foreword by Ruby Cohn) 
  • Collected Shorter Plays, 1984
  • Quad, 1984 (television play) 
  • Human Wishes, 1984 (written c.1936) 
  • The Complete Dramatic Works, 1986
  • Hommage à Jack B. Yeats, 1988
  • Teleplays, 1988
  • Le monde et le pantalon, 1989
  • Stirring Still, 1989
  • What is the Word, 1989 
  • As the Story was Told: Uncollected and Lat Prose, 1990
  • Dream of Fair to Middling Women, 1992 (edited by Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier; foreword by Eoin O’Brien)
  • The Complete Short Prose 1929–1989, 1929-1989, 1995 (edited by S. E. Gontarski)
  • Nohow On: Three Novels, 1996 (with an introduction by S.E. Gontarski)
  • No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider, 1998 (edited by Maurice Harmon)
  • The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Volume: 1 1929–1940, 2009 (ed. by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck)
  • Selected Poems 1930–1989, 2009 (edited by David Wheatley) 
  • The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Volume: 2 1941–1956. Samuel Beckett, 2011 (eds. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Lois More Overbeck, Dan Gunn & George Craig)
  • The Collected Poems of Samuel Beckett, 2012 (edited by Seán Lawlor and John Pilling)

domingo, 25 de agosto de 2019

David Simon

David Simon 

David Simon


David Simon (born 1960, Washington, D.C., U.S.), American writer and producer who was best known as the creator, writer, and executive producer of the critically acclaimed television series The Wire (2002–08).

Simon was raised in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland. He became interested in journalism as a young boy through his father, an ex-newspaperman. Simon attended the University of Maryland, College Park, where he wrote for and edited the school’s newspaper. During his senior year he served as the College Park stringer for The Baltimore Sun. After graduating in 1983 he became a staff reporter for the Sun and began working the police beat.

Simon’s years immersed in the Baltimore criminal underground made him privy to its inner workings, which he used to great effect in his first book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets(1991). The nonfiction work, which chronicles a year he spent with the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit, was the source of the television series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–99). Simon’s first foray into television came when he began contributing scripts to the series; he was also a producer on the show for its final two seasons. His career at the Sunended in 1995 when he accepted a buyout offer. In 1997 Simon cowrote—with former Baltimore policeman Ed Burns, who became a frequent television collaborator—The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, a no-holds-barred account of Baltimore’s drug cultureThe Corner was adapted into a television miniseries on the cable channel Home Box Office (HBO) in 2000, with Simon serving as a writer and an executive producer. It was a critical success, and Simon won two Emmy Awards for his dual role in its production.

In 2002 Simon created The Wire, which was ostensibly a take on the common “cop show” but was tailored to fit his views of contemporary American society. Unlike most other televised dramas in the genreThe Wire, which also aired on HBO, provides the perspectives of both the police and the criminals. The scope of the show expanded greatly over its five-season run to detail additional Baltimore institutions—including its school system, political machinery, shipping operations, and press—and explore how each facet of the city, in Simon’s opinion, corrupts or devalues the individuals who move within it. While it won no Emmys, the program was beloved by critics, and Simon earned significant clout in the entertainment industry.

Simon was then an executive producer and writer on the HBO miniseries Generation Kill(2008), a chronicle of a U.S. Marine battalion during the early weeks of the Iraq War. In 2010 he cocreated (and served as an executive producer and a writer for) the HBO series Treme, which follows a group of people living in New Orleans soon after it was struck by Hurricane Katrina. Later that year Simon was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Simon developed and served as cowriter on the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero (2015), the story of Nick Wasicsko, the young mayor of Yonkers, New York, who fought for the desegregation of the city’s public housing during the 1980s and ’90s. Simon’s next project was the series The Deuce (2017– ), which he cocreated with frequent collaborator George Pelecanos. The drama, which aired on HBO and was also cowritten by Simon, centres on the pornography industry in 1970s New York City.

David Simon: career timeline

The life and TV times of the man behind The Wire and Treme.

1960 - Born in Washington DC.
1982-1995 After leaving college Simon worked as a reporter, mostly covering crime, for The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that was later to feature in the fifth series of The Wire. Simon has said that he was inspired to become a journalist by The Washington Post’s exposure of the Watergate scandal.
1988 – Simon spends a year shadowing the homicide unit in the Baltimore Police Department. His experiences would later be written up as Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991). The book won the Edgar Award for best factual crime book in 1992.
1993 – Simon’s first TV project: working as a writer and producer on Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran for seven series on NBC.
1995 – Simon leaves The Baltimore Sun to work full-time on the NBC series.
1997 – With Ed Burns, a former homicide detective, he co-authors The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood, a factual account of life in a West Baltimore community ravaged by drugs. Again it was adapted for TV as The Corner, a six-part mini-series made by HBO which won three Emmys.
2002-2008 – In partnership with Burns, Simon writes and creates The Wire, a sprawling, labyrinthine drama again set in Baltimore but including characters from every stratum of city life from the corrupt Mayor’s office to a heroin addicts' flop house. It ran for five series and is considered by many critics to be the best television drama of all time. Incredibly, it never won an Emmy.
2008 – After the end of The Wire Simon’s next project was Generation Kill, a six-part HBO drama which follows a group of American Marines during the first 40 days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was based on the book of the same name by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, who was embedded with US troops during the campaign.
2010-2011 – Simon’s latest HBO project is Treme, a drama set in New Orleans amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As with The Wire, Simon cast many local actors and musicians in Treme to maintain one of the key features of all his dramas: authenticity. Two of its stars, Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters, also starred in The Wire.

Why The Wire is unmissable television

As the celebrated US crime drama comes to BBC Two, here are five reasons to tune in.

30 MARCH 2009

The Wire, the searingly realistic US drama about the drug underworld and the police who fight it in the rundown port city of Baltimore, Maryland, has finally arrived on British terrestrial television. Since it first aired in the States in 2002 on the cable network HBO, The Wire has built up a cult following in thrall to its gripping, multi-layered depiction of a city apparently in terminal decline. Its vast tapestry of characters is drawn from every corner of city life, from the Mayor’s office to a heroin addict’s flop house. Critics have hailed it as the greatest TV series ever made. BBC Two is now showing all 60 episodes nightly, Monday to Friday, starting tonight. Here are five reasons to tune in:
The acting is so good you wouldn’t guess that the lead cop is played by an Old Etonian.

Dominic West, born in Yorkshire and educated at Eton, plays one of The Wire’s leading characters, Jimmy McNulty, a hard-drinking but dedicated homicide detective. West’s performance as the earthy Baltimore cop is so convincing that fans of the show are often flabbergasted to discover that he’s English. The Wire is littered with other fine actors, including Idris Elba, another Englishman, who plays one of McNulty’s primary targets, drug kingpin Stringer Bell. Bell, along with his partner in crime Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), runs a drug-dealing empire stretching across west Baltimore. McNulty and his phone- or wire-tapping team are secretly building a case against the drug dealers, hence The Wire’s title.
You can tell The Wire is great: it’s been snubbed by the major US awards bodies.

Incredibly, The Wire has never won an Emmy or a Golden Globe. Explanations for this vary. “The average Emmy voter has the attention span of a gnat,” says David Simon, the series’ co-creator. Storylines take whole series to unravel and seemingly minor events have major repercussions dozens of episodes later. The writers consciously eschew the easily digestible plots that appeal to awards voters and mainstream TV audiences.
A more provocative argument suggests that the fact that most of The Wire’s cast are black has contributed to its lack of awards. Dominic West was only half-joking when he said, “We should have had more white people and [then] we would have been a glorious success and won loads of Emmys.”
It’s so true-to-life US criminals watch it to pick up tips.

When a major New York drugs ring was busted in 2005 it emerged in court that its members had been watching The Wire in order to bone up on the latest police surveillance techniques. The Wire’s authenticity derives from its creators’ in-depth knowledge of their subject matter. David Simon is a former crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun and the series’ co-creator Ed Burns worked as a Baltimore policeman for 20 years.
Even the politicians are talking about it Sheila Dixon, the Mayor of Baltimore, has complained about The Wire’s “overly negative” portrayal of the city. Clearly, the drama hit a nerve, and not just for highlighting the city’s massive drugs problem. Each series focuses on a different facet of Baltimore life, such as its down-at-heel docks, corruption within the Mayor’s office, Baltimore’s failing public schools and its underfunded media. Ed Burns says that The Wire aims “to tell the story of post-industrial Baltimore and, therefore, post-industrial America – that it was a cop show was a calculated illusion.” Sheila Dixon was indicted in January 2009 for charges that included theft and misconduct in office.
It’s deliberately complicated – like War and Peace.

The Wire’s plots and characters are complex. It requires viewers to pay careful attention. However, this difficulty is intentional – the scriptwriters (several of whom are novelists themselves) want it to be as dense, subtle and rewarding as a good novel. “Our models are the big Russian novels,” says Simon, “and also writers like Balzac. We’re trying to do with modern-day Baltimore what Balzac did with Paris, or Dickens with London.”

David Simon and George Pelecanos in
Baltimore, 2017
Photograph: JM Giordano/The Observer

David Simon: ‘If you’re not consuming porn, you’re still consuming its logic’

Alongside longtime collaborator George Pelecanos, The Wire’s creator talks about their new TV drama, The Deuce, which examines porn’s impact on US society

David Smith
10 September 2017

Amid rows of houses and a sprinkling of bars, coffee shops, convenience stores and restaurants in Riverside, an unpretentious corner of Baltimore, one building stands out: a redbrick townhouse that was once an old church. It is the office of David Simon, a master of the medium of television.
Up three steps and through thick wooden doors is a kitchen displaying posters for Sergio Leone’s C’era una volta in America (Once Upon a Time in America), Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Simon’s own series Treme, set in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. But it is the bathroom that offers an oblique clue as to where he is off to next: period posters announcing long-ago labour strikes – one by police, another by a newspaper guild.
Simon is animated by the perpetual struggle between capital and labour and believes that, after the ravages of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and globalisation, and the anti-establishment anger that produced Donald Trump and Brexit, the argument for unions and collective bargaining is as vital as ever. Which brought him to The Deuce, his ambitious new HBO series charting the rise of the porn industry in 1970s New York.“What I stumbled into seemed to be a ready-made critique of market capitalism, and what happens when labour has no collective voice, and that seemed to be apt for this moment because I think a lot of the lessons of the 20th century are going to have to be learned all over again thanks to Reagan and Thatcher and all the neoliberal and libertarian argument that has come after,” says Simon, 57, unfailingly intense as he leans forward on a sofa.
The Deuce, a title derived from local slang for 42nd Street, sets up a colourful canvas of characters – hustlers, pimps, sex workers, morally exhausted police officers – in a sordid Times Square of graffiti, trash, neon lights, rising crime and sex shops. James Franco plays moustached twins: Vincent Martino, a savvy barman trying to keep on the straight and narrow, and his brother Frankie, a hot-headed scoundrel running up gambling debts. Maggie Gyllenhaal is Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a fiercely independent call girl who spots an opportunity in X-rated films. Porn is more profitable – and seemingly more liberating – than hanging out on street corners: this is the birth of smut on an industrial scale.
Simon continues: “There was always a market for prostitution, and even pornography existed below the counter in a brown paper bag, but there wasn’t an industry; that had yet to find its full breadth in terms of the American culture and economy, but we all know what was coming.
“It’s now a multibillion dollar industry and it affects the way we sell everything from beer to cars to blue jeans. The vernacular of pornography is now embedded in our culture. Even if you’re not consuming pornography, you’re consuming its logic. Madison Avenue has seen to that.”
Simon also has a lot to say about pornography. Whereas his critically lauded The Wire was ostensibly about the drugs trade in Baltimore but subliminally about race, The Deuce could be seen as ostensibly about the sex industry in New York but subliminally about gender.
Pornography “affected the way men and women look at each other, the way we address each other culturally, sexually,” he says. “I don’t think you can look at the misogyny that’s been evident in this election cycle, and what any female commentator or essayist or public speaker endured on the internet or any social media setting, and not realise that pornography has changed the demeanour of men. Just the way that women are addressed for their intellectual output, the aggression that’s delivered to women I think is informed by 50 years of the culturalisation of the pornographic.”

He admits: “I don’t have any real way to prove that, but certainly the anonymity of social media and the internet has allowed for a belligerence and a misogyny that maybe had no other outlet. It’s astonishing how universal it is whether you’re 14 or 70, if you’re a woman and you have an opinion, what is directed at you right now. I can’t help but think that a half century of legalised objectification hasn’t had an effect.”
The series is a collaboration between Simon and novelist George Pelecanos, described by Esquire as “the poet laureate of the [Washington] DC crime world”, who also had a hand in The Wire and Treme. Pelecanos has previously written about Hispanic sex workers trafficked on the same trail as drugs and guns.
“Personally, I think pornography has had a crude effect on society,” he says. “I’m a first amendment [freedom of speech] guy but I really feel it’s kind of like racism in the last few years: we’ve had a wake-up call because everybody thought, ‘Wow, it went away’. Same thing with misogyny, right?”
Pelecanos, 60, thinks about the two sons he raised and the conversations he overheard when their friends came to the family home. “The way they talk about girls and women is a little horrifying. It’s different from when I was coming up. It’s one thing what was described as locker-room talk, like, ‘Man, look at her legs. I’d love to…’ – that kind of thing. But when you get into this other thing, calling girls tricks and talking about doing violence to them and all that stuff, I’d never heard that growing up, man. I just didn’t.
“I think the culture’s changed because of the way women are depicted in popular culture. Pornography’s a big part of that. You can say nobody’s getting hurt, it’s just a masturbation fantasy and all that stuff, but these women are trafficked, man.”
He believes there is a through line to Trump’s stunning victory in last year’s presidential election. “There’s no doubt if Hillary Clinton had been a man, she would be president now. The code words that were used against not just her but female journalists and everybody that was involved peripherally in the campaign was awful. Never seen anything like it.”
Whereas Simon was seized by the convulsions of capitalism, for Pelecanos there was the attraction of gritty, graffiti-strewn Manhattan as seen in 70s movies such as The French ConnectionMean Streets and Taxi Driver, and blaxploitation flicks including Black Caesar and Shaft. His noir novel King Suckerman is set in the Washington of the day.
“That’s sort of my era,” Pelecanos explains. “I was a teenager in the 70s so you remember that better than anything. The texture of those movies, they felt really real, mainly because in Taxi Driver [Martin] Scorsese basically puts the camera operator in the back seat of the taxi and just shoots over his shoulder. There’s no lighting, there’s no costumes, there’s no picture cars. He’s just shooting what there is. In Mean Streets, they didn’t have to do anything but point the camera outside and get everything.
“We had to build everything and find the cars and the costumes, but it’s cool, man. I mean, we wanted it to look like a movie that got found, that was made in ’71, put in a vault, and somebody pulled it out and said: ‘Look what we got.’ When you look at the pornography scenes, they’re kind of starkly lit, as it is on a film set, and it’s not beautiful: it looks like work or boredom, even. Not to say somebody’s not going to get titillated – they probably will – but we didn’t want that and we didn’t try to do that. It is a challenge because you can’t not show it. Then you’re erring on the other side; you have to show what you’re talking about.”

Mad Men set the bar for period detail with its evocation of 60s New York interiors. The Deuce is as fastidious about haircuts and fashions and, with some help from CGI, transformed the New York neighbourhood of Washington Heights into the tawdry Times Square of the 1970s when it was caught partway between the early 20th-century glamour of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the Disneyfied tourist plaza of today.

The New York Times observed recently: “The most consequential character may be the city itself, a New York two generations removed, which the creators and their team have captured through spot-on dialogue, time-specific set designs and atmospherics evoking The French Connection and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. No bike shares, no artisan coffee, no sushi; you took the damned subway, you drank bad deli coffee – and if you wanted fresh tuna, you went down to the pungent Fulton fish market before dawn.”
Not that the experience made Simon nostalgic for a pre-gentrification, pre-hipster age: “There are things that have gone wrong now that are a different kind of wrong, in terms of people being priced out of neighbourhoods – Manhattan especially, but even some of the outer boroughs becoming a playground for the rich. But I don’t know if you can look back on what the lower-east side was like, the Times Square of the 1970s or the upper Manhattan, the Washington Heights of the 1970s, and think, ‘Oh man, this was a paradise.’ There were profound problems of dispossession and crime and pain, there were people who were asking the question in the late 70s: can New York survive?”
It is not by chance that a cinema glimpsed in the first episode is showing The Omega Man (1971), a post-apocalyptic movie in which Charlton Heston plays the lone survivor of a plague. By the mid-70s, New York was in a fiscal slump – immortalised in the Daily News headline: “Ford to city: drop dead” – and violent crime was rife. The sexual revolution, and changes in the legal definition of obscenity, helped throw prudishness to the winds and bring sex and commerce together in a hive of peep-show stalls, live sex shows and teenage prostitution. Is it a coincidence that this is the time and place where Donald Trump grew up and forged his business career?
Simon says drily: “Growing up is a phrase I would not use about the president of the United States. I don’t know where he grew up. I have no explanation, I have a million explanations, for this man and what he lacks as a human being. Certainly he’s misogynist and his understanding of sexual equality is minimal and he’s drawn to him an incredible reservoir of anger against women and against people of colour. There’s a lot of anger out there in American society; he’s drawn all of it to him and he’s weaponised it. It’s interesting.”
Asked what the 2016 presidential election told him about America, Simon replies: “It said to me 25 to 30% of our population is foolish and untrustworthy and incapable of self-governance, and that a demagogue in the right circumstances with the right amount of manipulation can go a long way. It also said that for all of her flaws, and she was not a perfect candidate in any sense, a much more plausible female candidate was at that moment in time problematic for America. We demonstrated a distaste for the idea of a woman president that transformed a lot of votes. I certainly woke up in a different America from the one that I thought I was in.”

His comments bring to mind the way Trump lurked behind Hillary Clinton during one of their presidential debates. She has subsequently written how the episode made her “skin crawl” and wondered if she should have told him: “Back up you creep, get away from me! I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.” Trump’s campaign rallies regularly featured material referring to Clinton as a “bitch”.

Simon notes that Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump last November, only to lose the White House because of the quirks of the electoral college. “I certainly don’t think he represents the aspirations of the United States of America, but he certainly got enough votes that he gets to play at that.”
Simon is a former reporter on the Baltimore Sun and his Twitter account still describes him as a journalist, along with author and TV writer/ producer. He frequently bashes Trump on the medium. Recently, after the president criticised the media as dishonest and divisive, Simon tweeted: “Having metastasised white extremists and demonised a free press, @realDonaldTrump is ensuring the murder of working reporters in US is next.”
But the paradox of Trump is that major media organisations are galvanised in their work and booming in terms of readers and viewers.
“I think high-end journalism has been given a second wind,” Simon agrees, “primarily because of the direct attack on press freedoms that this administration has engaged in. Whatever existential crisis came to journalism from having mismanaged its revenue stream, I think, has been overcome by the fact people at the New York Times and Washington Post and mainstream media, Mother JonesProPublica, a lot of the core institutions in journalism, now know exactly why they’re there and what their job is.
“Were there any errors in terms of how television particularly allowed itself to be used by a demagogue during the election? Absolutely. But from late in the election cycle to the present moment I think there’s been a lot of good, aggressive journalism that has in some very basic ways been assertive for democratic values. The problems of the revenue stream in regional journalism – in municipal and state coverage – still exist. And we haven’t resolved issues of the revenue stream and the internet, but I would say if you didn’t know why you were still a reporter before November, you do now.”
Among the innumerable things that Trump has upended is a project that Simon was working on with his childhood hero, Carl Bernstein, who with Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down president Richard Nixon. “The piece is based on his insight that while the presidency is still the presidency, and the supreme court is still the judiciary, it’s the legislative branch of American government that has become dysfunctional, has become purchased by capital, and it can’t function, it can’t do its job any more. Carl’s argument was: that’s where the drama has to be. We have to find a way to tell that story.

“We had to throw out 60-65% of the construct of the world when Trump won. When we wrote it, we’d presumed that either a mainstream Democratic party functionary or Republican functionary would win, so either a [Mitt] Romney type or a Clinton type. It did not presume an insurgency that was going to weaken both political parties and win. So the decision was made – we’d better shoot this after the election, make sure, and then, as the election happened, it was clear that whatever else we’d done we’d saved HBO about $12-14m of what would have been wasted money.”

Simon, Bernstein and co-writers Ed Burns and Bill Zorzi have since met to restructure the show and work out how to keep it relevant to the political moment. Evidently Simon is as hungry as ever, 15 years after The Wire, which still seems certain to be in the first paragraph of his obituary.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Eileen ‘Candy’ Merrell in The Deuce.
 Maggie Gyllenhaal as Eileen ‘Candy’ Merrell in The Deuce. Photograph: Steve Sands/GC Images

“I don’t have any resentment towards The Wire,” he says briskly. “I’m proud of that work and it has allowed me and the people I work with to do other work that might not have been greenlit had The Wire not been a success.”
Could The Wire be made today and look more or less the same? In 2015 the death in police custody of Freddie Gray, an African American, sparked widespread unrest in Baltimore. The murder rate is now the highest in the city’s modern history.
“There was a brief moment where I thought the drug war was going to be ratcheted down in Obama’s last term, when they started to actually address mass incarceration and the drug prohibition, but [attorney general] Jeff Sessions has seen to that, hasn’t he, at least on the federal level. So probably we could make the show similar. Would there be some emphasis on some other things? Probably.”

Although highly regarded in his field, Simon is no TV addict. He loves The Sopranos (“excellent work”) and admires DeadwoodThe Handmaid’s Taleand the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, but has not seen Breaking Bad or Mad Men. Nor has he succumbed to the craze for Game of Thrones: “I have a cousin who’s read the books. He tells me you’ve got to read the books first. I’ve heard it’s excellent.” Instead he spends evenings reading – he’s currently researching the Spanish civil war – or watching baseball.

“I tend not to watch shows until they finish and then somebody will come to me and say, ‘No, no, they knew what they were doing, they knew where they were going’, and so I’ll be sticking in DVDs or downloads two years after something’s on the air. It’s certainly hypocritical when I guess I’m asking people to watch my television shows in real time. But nothing’s worse than giving eight hours, when you could have read a couple of books, to find out, boy, that was a great idea but those guys really didn’t have a plan… so I end up taking the guesswork out of it by being late to everything.”
The Deuce came about when an assistant location manager from Treme told Simon and Pelecanos about a man he knew in New York, a veteran of the old 42nd Street cesspool. “He kept saying, ‘You gotta meet him, you gotta hear these stories’, and George and I were very ambivalent because the idea of doing a show about pornography and prostitution seemed gratuitous. Since the advent of premium cable, when they got rid of the advertisers, there had been a lot of porn pilots that had gone nowhere and, in our view, rightly so.”
But one afternoon in New York they agreed to meet the man, learning that he and his twin brother had once been mob fronts for the bars and massage parlours of yore. “After two or three hours listening to him tell stories, George and I pretended to go take a walk and have a smoke – although neither of us smoke – and I said to George, ‘My God, I think we’re going to have to write a pilot here, I think we’re going to have to do something with this. This is amazing material.’
“The characters, the world and some of the themes that began to emerge, that really appealed to me in terms of labour and capital and the product being itself the labourer: flesh is the commodity here. And how the money and the power array themselves and how they don’t. The more we talked, the better it got, so we started to think that we might be able to do it in a way that wasn’t gratuitous, and that led to a lot of discussion and eventually we took a shot at a pilot and trying to world-build.”
Simon continues: “It felt like we were starting in on it just from this guy’s stories about Times Square, which is this physical plant where a lot of the industry began. It felt like we had something by the tail, but the more you think about it, the more we asked him about what happened to this character, what happened to her, what happened to him. These were the people who were there at the beginning, who were experiencing this moment where it went out to the greater world.

“The answers he gave us were never: ‘She married a podiatrist and she lives in Scarsdale and she has two kids and a garage.’ The answers were always attritive and painful. Now you’re dealing with something that’s not a lighthearted romp through the sex industry. Now you’re getting into the guts of something that is interesting. So the guy’s stories were compelling, the characters he was describing for us were compelling and the outcomes were telling.”

Simon and Pelecanos went on to consult porn stars, police, waiters, lawyers and journalists from the era, acquiring other stories on the way. They hope to be recommissioned for a second and third series that will take the story into the mid-80s. The mission, of course, was to humanise the protagonists – including the pimps and porn stars – and render them with their own distinct voices and personalities. They were determined that, despite personal misgivings about the coarsening effect of pornography on society, they would maintain a dispassionate reporter’s eye and not get into the business of preaching. Early reviews suggest they have succeeded.
Simon explains: “We were not particularly interested in having a heightened moral debate over the worth or utility or damage from drugs in The Wire – that’s not what The Wire was about. Certainly I think the use of illicit drugs is on the whole destructive to individuals and to society, but the war against them I think is infinitely worse and doesn’t in any way mitigate the damage from drugs. I was much more interested in how power and money array themselves around the drug war and around the industry of illegal drugs.
“The same logic applies in The Deuce, which is much less interested in having a discussion about whether pornography is good or bad or prostitution is good or bad. I accept these things as the given in the human condition. Now, if they’re going to exist, where does the money go? What happens to labour? Who profits? How does the society as a whole array itself to acquire that profit or to participate in it or to acquire the product? These things were way more interesting to me.
“Once you allow the moral question to dominate the narrative then I think you end up with a stunted argument and there’s only so much that can be said. On the other hand, if you follow the money and power and you see who’s attrited and who’s exalted, then you have a much more interesting story.”
Simon, after all, pushes his audience hard and does not deliver answers neatly tied up with a ribbon. “In 1971 a 12-year-old kid had to hope to steal his father’s Playboy magazine from under the mattress and even then it was a much tamer version of anything pornographic in the modern sense: you couldn’t figure out the facts of life from the centrefold. Do I think we’re better or worse off nowadays when a 12-year-old with a couple of keystrokes can access the entire construct of human sexuality right down to every misogynist fantasy, that that can be fed into a 12-year-old brain? Probably not a good thing.
“But I’m not sure how you make a narrative out of that and address all the others factors, which I think if you’re going to do anything, have to be attended to. I think in some ways you can get lost in either being too puritan or too prurient in this piece and what you have to do is basically attend to the why, the why of how this comes to be. That’s what makes it a grown-up story.”

The Wire creator David Simon plans series based on Spanish civil war

The creator of the acclaimed Baltimore drama will focus on the 20th-century conflict for his next project. A Dry Run will follow the story of US soldiers who fought for the republic

Lanre Bakare
10 April 2018

David Simon, the creator of The Wire and The Deuce, will turn his attention to the Spanish civil war for his next project. A Dry Run will focus on a group of Americans who travel to Spain to fight for the republic against Francisco Franco’s Nationalists.
The show will follow the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington battalions, part of the International Brigades, which fought in the conflict. The struggle lasted from 1936 to 1939 and saw Franco’s forces – aided by Nazi Germany – defeat the republicans.
Simon told Variety that the conflict still resonates, saying: “[The] Spanish struggle against fascism and the misuse of capitalism as a bulwark to totalitarianism [represents] the pre-eminent political narrative of the 20th century and of our time still.”
The production will see HBO, Simon’s longtime home, team up with Spanish company Mediapro, although the show’s main language will be English. Simon expects the show to be a six-episode mini series and said it will discuss the failure of non-fascist countries to offer support to the Spanish republic.
“We are interested in realism,” Simon said. “And we don’t sell much in the way of redemption or happy endings. And, well, 1939 was no happy ending. Nor was it redemptive.
“When the Spanish republic was threatened, capitalism chose tyranny,” he added. “So, the better men who could not abide that choice came to Spain [to fight]. Today, that same choice confronts us again.”
About 40,000 volunteers, men and women from around the world, fought alongside the forces of the Spanish republic against the fascist rebels. George Orwell joined the cause, and documented his experience in his non-fiction book Homage to Catalonia.
The International Brigades included about 2,800 Americans and are still controversial in Spain. In 2013, a row erupted after a monument in honour of the foreign fighters was taken down after a legal challenge that asserted: “There is nothing to celebrate, and especially not in a public space devoted to education. The International Brigades were created and managed by Stalin, the most genocidal leader in history.”