09 September 2010

20 Scripts in 30 Days: Number 5, The Heat of the Day, by Harold Pinter

"Do you have far to go?"
"It depends on where I go."

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The premise of The Heat of the Day sounds like something out of Hitchcock: A young widow in wartime London is approached by a mysterious stranger. His proposition: that either she becomes his mistress or he will turn in her lover. Her lover, he says, is a spy for the Nazis. What will she do? Give in to his proposition? Test her lover? Turn her lover in, as a good patriot ought to? In a Hitchcock thriller, you can imagine the scenarios he might spin.

But she does . . . nothing, really, poised between doubt and loathing. plunge, like the widow, into doubt, mystery, fear and apprehension. Even the most banal conversations become edged with menace. Encounters become charged by a struggle for dominance, for exercising power over the other person. She has her sexual appeal. Harrison has his secrets. Robert has his position, and his own handsomeness to exploit. What is left unspoken is what is most important. In short, Pinter is in charge, here, not Hitchcock.

The widow, and by extension, the audience, has no way of knowing whether what Harrison, the stranger, says is true. He may be a counter intellegence agent. He also might be an obsessed creep. She's initially repulsed by him, a bulky, older man, no match for Robert, the character played by Michael York. And yet, by the end, she's increasingly drawn to Harrison. But this attraction is itself mysterious, not obvious, not easily understood.

Robert, we discover, comes from a gratingly eccentric family.
     Why do you call her Muttikins?
     That's what we call her. Muttikins.
We learn that, despite his social status, he's at odds with his background and inheritance. Towards the end of the story, he makes an impassioned speech extolling the values of strength, a speech that's ambiguous but damning at the same time.

Harrison himself has a stalker. We never learn what her story is, or what the possible relation between the two might mean.

As the characters move through the shadowy world of the Blitz, not much becomes more clear. We're left with no resolutions and with no explanations.

Pinter's a brilliant dramatist with his own worldview. It'd be interesting to compare his adaptation with the novel it's based on to see how much of the tone and mood came from the book, or whether the gravitational pull of Pinter sucked in the whole story.

I'd read Pinter was a minimalist, and the action descriptions are a model of brevity. They present nothing you could not see and are completely stripped of any but the most necessary description.

What I learned:
-Never explain.
-The power of mystery.
-The tension generated by a lack of resolution is powerful. If you make the audience fill in the blanks, they can be drawn even more deeply into the story.
-Intuition trumps conventional dramaturgy.

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