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Monday, 7 May 2012

Bertolt Brecht: Reading Horace / They Drive by Night


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Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Truck driver on U.S. Highway Route no. 11 near Wytheville, Virginia: photo by John Vachon, March 1943




 
Even the Flood
Did not last forever.
In time
The black waters withdrew.
Yes, but how few
Survived to confirm that fact!


 

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
A truck with a sleeper car accommodation on U.S. Highway Route no. 11 near Wytheville, Virginia: photo by John Vachon, March 1943




Selbst die Sintflut
Dauerte nicht ewig.
Einmal verrannen
Die schwarzen Gewässer.
Freilich, wie wenige
Dauerten länger!





Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Truck driver on U.S. Highway Route no. 11 near Wytheville, Virginia: photo by John Vachon, March 1943

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Butch Ryan driving a Brown truck on U.S. highway near Charlottesville, Virginia: photo by John Vachon, March 1943

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

 Earl Callam, truck driver, en route to Atlanta: photo by John Vachon, March 1943

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
   
Earl Callam, truck driver, en route to Atlanta: photo by John Vachon, March 1943

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
 
Cajun truck driver, Lafayette, Louisiana: photo by John Vachon, March 1943

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film
  
New York to Baltimore driver stopping for dinner at a truckers' diner on U.S. Highway 40. New Castle (vicinity), Delaware: photo by John Vachon, February 1943

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8c17000/8c17000/8c17048v.jpg

 Gas station at night, Dubuque, Iowa: photo by John Vachon, April 1940

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a33000/8a33700/8a33747v.jpg
An "open all night" gas station in Durham, North Carolina: photo by Jack Delano, May 1940

Bertolt Brecht: Beim Lesen des Horaz/Reading Horace from Buckower Elegien/Buckow Elegies, July/August 1953: English version by TC

Photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

18 comments:

Sandra said...

Aun la inundación
No duró para siempre.
Con el tiempo
Las oscuras aguas se retiraron.
Sí,pero qué pocos
Sobrevivieron para confirmar ese hecho!

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Back on the road again --

"Yes, but how few
Survived to confirm that fact!"

How did Vachon get those photos? It looks as though Earl Callam's speedometer is at "0" in the second one, maybe the truck wasn't moving?

5.7

light coming into sky above still black
ridge, white circle of moon by branches
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

on the way, continuous soon
means to no longer be

not, after a few days began
to get shorter, later

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
cloudless blue sky to the left of point

Hazen said...

Ext. Night. MS. Brecht and Vachon in the cab, remembering history . . .

That other deluge, the one that Louis The Frenchman spoke about, is upon us. Elvis has left the building. The fat lady is even now warbling the finale. The waste matter has hit the ventilating device. The jig’s up.

And yet . . . I’m still here, dancing as hard as I can.

Another fine one, Tom.

TC said...

I like Sandra's Spanish version of Brecht Reading Horace perhaps better even than I do Horace or Brecht or even myself.

In fact It is good enough to prompt a confession, I cheated a bit in my version, willfully "improving upon the original". But as John Keats once said, English ought to be kept up. In any case, what Brecht meant by "few" was "few floods", not "few people".

A more strictly literal version would be:

Even the Flood
Did not last forever.
In time
The black waters withdrew.
Yes, but how few
Lasted longer!

Steve, it does indeed seem John Vachon was hip to the all the angles and shadows of the cinematic expressionism of the period. The title of the post of course recalls this famous 1940 film noir ("truckdriving vehicle") by Raoul Walsh.

abadguide said...

I don't think you'd be able to drive at night with such bright internal illumination of the cab. He may have needed an outlet to plug his lights in, too.

Artur.

TC said...

Thanks, Hazen. Again, your country up there, Wytheville.

Yes, definitely a deluge a minute, any more.

We can dial the speedometer back to "Zero", punch the "Undo" button, and it's still slippery at night... and then over the Falls.

The calm, thoughtful weighing of all sides of the question in Horace must have attracted BB. May a Horatian composure some day befall us all.

Hazen said...

Tom, Caught the Wytheville reference. Or, as they call it there, Wif'vul.

I too like Sandra's translation.

TC said...

Artur,

An actual photographer in the cab with us. OMG!

Indeed we have been riddling the ways and means of the Vachon photos for the past few nights here.

Obviously some tricks are going on.

The rearview mirrors for instance are being used to good advantage.

It does seem that in several of these shots JV has squeezed his (somewhat elongated and angular, actually) frame into some extremely tight interior spaces, in and directly behind the driver's cab.

There also exists another set of inside-the-cab night truckdriving shots by Vachon in which there is evidence not only of the tight angles and the flash at work but perhaps also of inversion of the negative. Either that or JV had top secret access to a mysterious Twilight Zone sector of the Interior in which the steering wheel was on the right, UK style.

TC said...

Of course the most common Hollywood trick for showing a driver in a vehicle was back screen projection, as in the lower image here from Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place (1950).

(It was, in a way, that "lonely place" feeling the photos in this post were meant to capture.)

TC said...

Hazen,

Wif'vul is w'd'f'l.

I once dwelt in a small English fishing village on the North Sea named Brightlingsea.

Pronunciation "Brittlesey".

Chris said...

What is the strange reflection below Butch Ryan, barreling his way (I'll bet) north on Rte 29, toward Old Rag and the hollows of the Corbins and Weakleys and Nicholsons?

Hauntingly beautiful country, especially at dawn. Used to climb Turk Mountain the Friday after every Thanksgiving. Married in Charlottesville nearly 30 years ago. Places and times.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

These leave the viewer feeling mesmerized......as is the look on some of these long-distance haulers.

abadguide said...

Pronunciation "Brittlesey".

I didn't know that. Lucky I found out before I went there and made a fool of myself.

In Italy (I think it's Italy) where of course they drive on the right, the trucks are (or perhaps were) right-hand drive, as in Britain. Something to do with being able to see the curb. It makes sense, the driver's so high in the air.

Artur.

Nin Andrews said...

The flood waters are rising! And I'm not sure how long forever is, but it sure feels like it.

Great post, as always.

Sandra said...

thanks for the comments1..."Sí, pero qué pocas duraron"...I think that ideas is more poetic...

TC said...

Vassilis, Artur, Nin, excellent to have such congenial company on the long otherwise silent drive through the night.

Sandra, yes, duraron does seem to work better. Thanks again, very much, for that.

Chris, it looks from here as though multiple mirroring is occurring in that shot of Butch from the side, seen in what appears to be an impossible side/rearview, driving on into the night. Difficult to figure out the set-up. But I like the way the shot incorporates the driver, the cab, the headlight, the road, the night, the whole situation.

Henri-Georges Clouzot in his 1953 thriller The Wages of Fear busied himself at length with the problem of photographing truck drivers on the job.

In this early scene, as two of the drivers are dispatched on their suicidal mission by their American oil company boss, the variations in camera angle used to show the drivers in the cab include front, side and back views. It is essential to the point of this film about the coldness of the human soul that sentimental subjectivity be avoided throughout. The "clinical objectivity" of the camera work prevents the viewer from identifying with the imperiled and exploited drivers, who are shown with the same cinematic objectivity that is deployed in the opening scene of the film, in which swarming cockroaches are bundled together and casually tortured by a half-naked child on an oily, muddy street in the oily, muddy village of Las Piedras. (The scene was later lifted and redeployed by Sam Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch.)

Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear): H.-G. Clouzot, 1953

"Here is a film that stands alone as the purest exercise in cinematic tension ever carved into celluloid, a work of art so viscerally nerve-racking that one fears a misplaced whisper from the audience could cause the screen to explode. As obsessively attentive as Clouzot is to the narrative spine of the story—four men drive two trucks of nitroglycerin three hundred miles across a hellish landscape of potholes, desiccated flora, rock-strewn passes, hairpin turns, and rickety bridges with crumbling beams to put out an oil fire raging on the other side of the mountain—he is just as savage in his commentary on corporate imperialism, American exploitation of foreign cultures, the rape of the land, and the ridiculous folly of man.

"The journey section of the film begins at the hour mark, and from that point on—for eighty-seven minutes of Homeric obstacles and knuckles so white you expect them to burst through the skin—it never relents. Each man who, as Jo puts it, rides with a 'bomb on his tail' attempts to adapt to the never-ceasing thump of sheer terror as the trek begins with a full-out dash across the 'washboard,' a road so ungainly, slick, and rutted that the only way to drive it without vibrations is at under six miles per hour or over forty; a turn so tight that to make it, they must back up onto what remains of a rotting bridge that hangs, as if by hope alone, over an abyss; and a gut-scouring set piece in which they must use some of the nitro to blow up a fifty-ton boulder in their path, and still make the fuse long enough to reach safety." -- Dennis Lehane

Arguments among film buffs as to the locus classicus of the truckdriving action genre persist.

The critic Manny Farber, a staunch defender of American action films, argued at the time of its release that The Wages of Fear, while "Clouzot's most successful work ... is a wholesale steal of the mean physicality and acrid highway inventions in such [Raoul] Walsh-[Willliam] Wellman films as they Drive by Night."

Hazen said...

The 'Clouzot cut' was another of his innovations, in which the sound of the following scene was introduced before the image of the preceding scene was finished. The technique is now stock-in-trade in filmmaking.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Thanks for link to trailer of They Drive By Night -- what tough guys they were, and what dames.