Nightwatching

Nightwatching

«- It is curious, gentlemen, is it not, that paintings are normally silent? Now, however, we can give this painting, this picture, this image… sound.

(disembodied voices and military drums)

“The Calling out of the Militia for the Fifth Company of the Musketeers, Amsterdam.” There is, of course… another sound. Steady… Aim… Fire!

(gunshot)

I and this painting accuse you gentlemen of being responsible… for the painting’s major sound, a musket shot.

(gunshot)

Where… did… the bullet go? I accuse you gentlemen… of murder! (…)

– We are meant to be the militia coming to defend the city, and it looks like we look like a bunch of fucking out-of-work actors trying on the wardrobe!

– I say… let’s burn the fucking thing! (…)

– So… what then, Mr. Painter, is this little painting telling us? That Banning-Cocq is a faggot itching to get his hand on Willem’s prick? That Willem is a womaniser with a big cock? That Kemp has a bastard daughter, maybe two, and there is a murder in our midst? Not bad. Not bad. Not bad. Not bad. Can you hold that for me? Four “not bads,”but what, I wonder, have you done in the end? You’ve pushed a bunch of ordinary and fallible and undistinguished citizens out of the guardroom and onto the streets. (Laughing) But in the end, the effect is just… well… silly. Unless, of course, that’s what you wanted to do all along. Are you being satirical, van Rijn? Is this a satire? You refused to go to Italy, because you could not stand the heroics of Italian painting. Are you mocking us, Rembrandt, by bringing empty Italian heroics to us? You must know that our little Dutch Republic just can’t handle this sort of stuff. We want to hear Dutch spoken in our streets. We want foreigners to behave, and a Republic tempered by assassination is not the Dutch way. We do not assassinate like this. Like, like… like Italians, like Romans. Or do we? Will we? In your attempt to make an accusation, you’ve made a silly, messy caricature, which everyone is going to forget, or no longer understand. The context, as always, is rapidly going to disappear, even if they ever understood it in the first place. You can depend that, despite all this, there will be no justice here. (…)

– We’re going to pretend to like it, because the deeper accusations are far more dangerous. He has made the militia company look incompetent, holding their muskets like… well, like fairies. You’re going to like this painting, and everybody is going to remember how much you like this painting, and all of those who make a case that nobody complained about this painting are going to be right! No buts! No disagreements.

– Ah…

– Listen! We stick together in this, or we are found out and ruined!

– This is not the way to do it. One for all and all for one.

– Shut up, Wormskerck.

– It’s going to hang in the militia hall as planned, and everybody is going to say how much we like it. Hang a painting on a wall, and in three weeks, it will be forgotten. Everything it’s supposed to say will be forgotten as well.

– So I have paid 60 guilders for the privilege of being forgotten? (…)

– Make a fuss, you’re likely to lose everything. Rembrandt may be cock of the roost just now, but he’s unstable. Expensive unfashionable house falling down around him. He’s going to have difficulty selling it.

– Call in his debts. Nobody can stand a debtor in Holland.

– Destroy his livelihood.

– Blind him. (…)

– He’s very susceptible to women. (…) The reformers will not commission a fornicator. The Amsterdam Calvinists think sex with a woman is like kissing a shit bucket. (…)

– What is wrong? You have stopped working.

– I will let you into a secret that you will tell no one. I have a lazy eye. This is my good eye (points the left one)… and this is my lazy eye (the right). If you tell anyone, I am destroyed, for who would employ a painter with a lazy eye? I entrust you with my most destructive secret. But now I finally realize what this is all about. My eye was never lazy. This eye… was just waiting. Waiting nearly 30 years… to see you, and now, having patiently waited for so long, I find it is the better of my two eyes. This is the eye waiting to view… a miracle. And the miracle… is you. And now… this eye… must see all of you. (…)

– You have disappointed me, Rembrandt. I expected something better of you, something more intelligent, something more knowing. Something less local, more universal. More lasting, so to speak.

– Ever the critical turncoat, eh, de Roy? Why did you ever alert me to all this chicanery
in the first place? So to speak.

– I’m an enthusiastic man of the theatre, as I know you to be. I enjoy the plots and the plotting, the mysteries, the enigmatic figures, the twists and turns. The metaphors. The multiple possibilities and interpretations from the one event, and I need a man of talent to make them work for me. To give me the whole show with some wit and irony, and, of course, topped off with some sense of visual spectacle. Rembrandt, you have curiously attempted to be real. Now, we know that that isn’t possible. You have made a frozen moment of theatre. You have stopped a costume play in action. They wanted the costume, we know that, but you encouraged them, and that was to be certain that we all knew that we were at the theatre, and at the theatre, all things are possible. Even dying of love. If you think about it for one minute, the tradition of militia paintings that you so carefully broke was a true and honest tradition, where the participants can say, “Look, we are being painted. Look, we understand that we are being watched, and we’re looking straight at you, into your eyes, at you, to prove it. We are not real, we are in a painting.” That’s what they understood, and that is what they wanted. You have spoilt all that for them, Rembrandt. You have tried to pretend that these are real people. They didn’t want that, didn’t want it at all. In your painting, they hustle and bustle about doing real things – loading muskets, giving commands, drum, run and bark – when all they wanted was to stand still and be looked at. “Here is me, here I am in my splendid uniform as an important member of this important club. I look at you, you look at me. I’m watching you and you’re watching me.” But you have pretended that the people in your painting are not being watched. Which is the definition of an actor? An actor is a person who has been trained to pretend he is not being watched. So all the people in your paintings are all actors, not real people at all. Yet you have got them to do things which are real. Except, of course – because you knew what you were doing – of your little portrait of yourself. You knew you were being watched, and you look at us, within the old tradition of these sort of paintings, with admirable self-consciousness. You’re giving yourself an old-fashioned position and responsibility in a new-fashioned painting which tries to deny that position and responsibility.(indistinct chatter) Your painting, Rembrandt, is a pretence, a fakery, a cheat, a dishonesty, full of impossible contradictions, unworthy of a truly intelligent man. They, of course, knew that they were being painted, and you knew that they were being painted, but what do you acknowledge? Neither. Why pretend? Apart from all the other infelicities that demonstrate you did not fulfill the task asked of you, your painting, Rembrandt, is dishonest. So much so, that this is not a painting at all. By its very nature, it denies being a painting. It is a work… of the theatre! (…)

– I can’t see! Where’s the light?! I’m blind! I am blinded! Open your eyes, you fool! Ah! Ah… Ah… Painted… darkness. Miles and miles and miles… (laughing insanely) …of painted darkness. Lit by spasms… of light. If you’re lucky. (staccato laugh) Silence. Amen. Amen? Ah!

– Are you all right?

– Hendrickje? Have I woken up? Was that a nightmare? Oh, God. I’ve been seeing the night. I was watching the night. I was looking into darkness. I was… I was nightwatching!

– What happened?

– Ah! I met two men on a horse that galloped towards me. Ow! Galloped towards me…

– Turn your head. Into the light. Let me look again.

– What light?! They knocked me down, they knocked me over. Ah! Ah… They kicked me, they poked me in the eyes! They stripped me, they beat me, they beat the fucking colour out of me!

– You’re all right. And you’re drunk.

– No, I’m not! No, I’m not. It’s still dark. It’s still dark. Night… Is this a nightmare? I’ve been watching the night! I was seeing… the night! Now, Hendrickje, Hendrickje, Hendrickje, now, now, now, now that I’m perpetually nightwatching, don’t you dare die on me!

– Look at me. (crying) Look at me. I am alive enough, and there’s life in my belly. Stop shouting. Where is the darkness in it for me? Hmm? Where’s the darkness in it for us?»

– Script of Peter Greenaway’s “Nightwatching” (2007).

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