Monday, April 09, 2007

Samson, the terrorist?

DavidIt's easter weekend, and out in Victoria the latest performance of Handel's Samson oratorio, directed by Simon Capet (photo), seems to have struck the wrong chord with Rex Murphy. Simon Capet, artistic director, explains his production as follows:

"I have not changed Handel’s music nor the story set out in John Milton’s libretto of the original 1743 work. That is all intact. The action is still set, as Handel set it, in a square in Gaza. But rather than set it 3000 years ago we have placed it in the 1940s. Samson has been captured, blinded, tortured and humiliated. He is a man who is at the point of death who is put in the stocks in front of the Philistines so that they can jeer at him. And he decides to exact revenge on his captors in the name of his God. But instead of pulling down the temple with his chained arms, killing himself and the 3,000 Philistines, as in the original story, Samson blows the temple up with the same result."

So in this current production, Samson doesn't pull down a temple, but he bombs the King David Hotel, an actual attack by militant Zionists that took place in 1946 and maimed or killed over a hundred people (including the bombers).

According to Mr. Murphy, Simon is mischievous, perhaps even adolescent. Why? Two reasons. Simon turns "an old testament Jewish hero" into a "the prototype of modern-day sectarian slaughterman"; an artist can't do that, "never".

The other reason goes as follows:
The insertion of current politics into timeless masterpieces is a form of petty vandalism.
One can question how "current" the politics of 1946 are, but I'm not going to go there. It's the "timeless masterpiece", that has question marks all over it.

Dr. Dawg (fellow blogger and poet) puts my idea a lot better in words than I could ever do myself, so here's what he had to say about this:
Has [Rex Murphy] never been to Stratford, to witness the endless interpretations, many of them good, of William Shakespeare's plays? Does the strength of art not lie precisely in its capacity to be endlessly reinterpreted, made real and immediate for audiences across centuries and cultures? Its "timelessness" consists of its almost infinite adaptability, not its persistence as one thing while history and culture eddy around its vast, immovable bulk.
Indeed, it's the adaptability to a more current time that makes these pieces timeless. Poor old Mr. Murphy got it backwards.

But read on, Dr. Dawg has more:
The latter isn't art--it's just another version of that vulgar notion of God that's causing so much trouble. It stems from the self-same desperate clinging to the authority and stability and order that totalitarians promise. It is founded on fear and self-deception, and there is no shortage of politicians and preachers to exploit both for their own ends.
Is Mr. Murphy one of THEM, who can not see that the current "war on terror" is a contradiction in terms? Is Mr. Murphy one of THEM, who can only apply the term terrorist to those who read from another book than the Book of Judges? Is Mr. Murphy one of THEM who cannot see any of the evil deeds for what they are, regardless from what time or people they stem? Is Mr. Murphy so pro-Jewish and backwards that he has lost his mind?

It is one thing to criticize a production; call it tasteless, perhaps even disrespectful. But it's certainly a "sour mode of Chutzpah" for a national icon (or a Goliath of Canadian journalism, if you will) to vilify a young and aspiring director by writing an article full of personal attacks. Did Mr. Murphy think at any point of the vandalizing he has committed himself? Did Mr. Murphy forget that personal attacks are most often the result of a weakness or inability to reason with valid arguments? Is Mr. Murphy intentionally trying to ruin the reputation of this "living" young artist?

GoliathMr. Murphy does give the answer to what must have spawned his mischievous tirade:
[Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam] can [be called terrorist]. But Samson -- not even with the licence that an activist imagination and all the revisionist relativism of this dreary postmodern age allows -- never."

I must applaud Mr. Murphy for at least being able to see his own limitations. Mr. Murphy's opinions don't stem from THIS time (yes, dreary postmodern age), but rather from a time when only THOSE were called terrorists, who followed the readings of other books than the Book of Judges. From a time when timeless masterpieces were considered too "sacred" to touch.

This makes Mr. Murphy's own production, the latest attack on a young artistic director published in the Globe and Mail, far from a "timeless masterpiece". It's the product of an old fool, with dated views, displaced in time. What God will relieve someone from this mental suffering, before we find him homeless on the streets of "beautiful" Victoria?

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