Oscar and Al Pacino, Radio 4, Tuesday
Schtzngrmm, Radio 4, Sunday
Sorry Al, but you've been outperformed by an old Austrian poet
They say you should never meet your heroes, and I wonder if there should be a similar stricture against listening to your favourite screen idols on the radio.
It goes without saying that Al Pacino is a great actor, but he's also a star in an old-fashioned sense, bringing to a film more than just technical ability.
In Oscar and Al Pacino, I was expecting more charisma, somehow, but what the programme brought home is that radio presence isn't necessarily the same thing as screen presence. He came across as a regular guy – which may well be exactly what he is, of course. But then so am I, and we generally look to stars – proper, stellar stars, I mean, not reality-TV participants or charity-do table-fillers – to be somehow other, transcending everyday life, not one of us.
I accept that this is all a bit pathetic in a bread-and-circuses kind of way, and that I should be judging the programme – in which Mark Rickards gave 30 minutes of free airtime to plugging Big Al's new documentary about his staging of Oscar Wilde's Salome – purely in terms of what it tells us about the matter in hand. But I suppose I wanted to be seduced by his dark, brooding charisma.
Matters weren't helped by the thesp-speak, which slipped unbidden from Pacino's mouth. "It's not a movie about a play," he gushed. "It's a movie about an inspiration." No it's not. It's a movie about a play.
There was a nice insight into his working methods, though. "I found the taste for making movies that I feel I can wallow in and figure it out as I go," he said. Cut to his producer, Barry Navidi, living in the real world: "I really felt at one point that he was never going to finish this."
When the Austrian poet Ernst Jandl performed at the International Poetry Incarnation in 1965, he made an immediate connection with the audience, as the recording Alan Dein played in Schtzngrmm demonstrated, waves of laughter and joy rolling round the Albert Hall. I don't know if Jandl had personal charisma – the Incarnation organiser Michael Horovitz described him as "looking like the portly schoolteacher he still then was" – but his radio recordings also gladdened the soul in a way that's difficult to articulate. A t'ai chi master I once met did a trick in which he gave me a very gentle push in the chest. I fell backwards, rolling head over heels, and got up 20 feet away with an ecstatic grin.
Jandl's poetry had the same effect. He didn't write random nonsense – Schtzngrmm itself, its title a corruption of the German for "trench", is clearly all about his wartime experiences, for example. His work is insistent and rhythmic, carrying you along like a fairground ride. Thinking is short-circuited; it feels like pure energy.
He did some work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and the snatch Dein played was startling. You can find him on YouTube, which I recommend. His aim, his lover and collaborator Friederike Mayröcker said, was, like that of all great artists, "to come very close to human existence". On the radio at least, Ernst Jandl did a far better job of that than Al Pacino.
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