ustinov: sorry lot of stevedores

…In his work as mime, Peter Ustinov’s ear was constantly tuned to subtleties of accent and word usage. “The American language,” he said, “is still in the process of formation. It’s being added to every year by the influx of minorities. Certain Jewish expressions, for instance, begin to get general acceptance- such as ‘You went out and bought a hat, yet!’ or ‘You bought a hat, already!’ As a consequence of the changes in language, I find there is less respect for language in America- it’s such a fluid thing. To actors who practice the Method, emotions are more sacrosanct than words. They’ll even change a playwright’s words to get at the emotions.

18 Jun 1965, France — British actor, writer, director, and stage director Peter Ustinov and the 5 comedians of his play The Love of Four Colonels. — Image by © Jacques Haillot/Apis/Sygma/Corbis

“The French have greater respect for language- and theirs is much more demanding than the looser-linked, richer English language. The English predilection for stuttering doesn’t come so much from a national affliction as from a hesitancy over choosing the right words. Englishmen, notably the politicians, will even search for the wrong word with extreme care.

In France, however, there’s always a correct and an incorrect word; there’s no debating it. Since the theater reflects the way people talk, Chekhov and some of the modern Americans are hard to play in French; the French, you see, never have any doubt how a sentence will end, once it starts. In French, you can even have a lucid discussion between two cab drivers.

— “Evil Under the Sun” (1982) – Peter Ustinov portrays Hercule Poirot for the second time in this witty and entertaining mystery about the detective’s investigation into the murder of a famous stage actress. Guy Hamilton directed.—Read More:

“When in England recently, Arthur Miller complained that over there we were writing about frivolous subjects. That’s not entirely true. Here again, language is a factor. The English are less communicative, less emotional than Americans. Their heart is inside their sleeve, not on it. In my own plays, I try to blend the comic with an undertone of seriousness. I don’t think a play which even comically deals with politics or the behavior of men on a large scale is less sociological than one dealing with the sorry lot of stevedores.” ( to be continued)…


(see link at end)…On its surface, “On the Trail,” a co-production of WNET in New York and Granada Television, is a lighthearted travelogue. Sir Peter bathes at a Maori communal spa, speaks about Mercedes-Benzes with a young Tibetan Buddhist who’s revered as the reincarnation of an 800-year-old deity and drops in on the personals department of a Bombay newspaper. Cumulatively, the episodes at once illustrate the lingering effects of colonialism and the tenacity of indigenous cultural conventions — India’s ancient caste system and marriage customs, for instance — in the face of both imperial domination and modernity.

In “On the Trail,” Ustinov, who for three decades has been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), poses some larger philosophical and political questions about how we can best settle old squabbles and right past wrongs. He hints in “On the Trail” that the answer sometimes lies in accepting that the idealized precolonial past never existed — or at least that it has been irretrievably lost. And bucking the standard liberal line a bit, Ustinov suggests that a country’s attempt to “reclaim” its heritage as a way of casting off the psychological shackles of colonialism will in most cases be futile, if not also counterproductive.Read More:

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