ARTYFACTS: Bigmouth: speeches from the edge - powerful stuff

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bigmouth: speeches from the edge - powerful stuff

A suited man walks in and stands behind a long table, with a row of different shaped microphones. He chants and sings but above all he reads, in different voices and languages, a series of speeches across 2500 years of history. He has a very ‘Dutch’ face – like someone out of a Bruegel painting, with a wide mouth and a handsome, muppet-like. This meant that you watched his mouth and face whenever he spoke or sang.
It starts with Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor speech (in Dutch) where Christ is returns but is yet again condemned. In Dutch it sounded like a Calvinist rebuke, The anarchist cries out that he would do what he did, again and again and again. Pericles funeral oration (in French) from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War is a stunning piece of oratory pointing towards an age when glory was greater than death. I’m doing the Harvard edX course on Heroes of Ancient Greece and this one speech is central to that whole perspective. Socrates first person speech from Plato’s Apology is read in French but I'm not sure why. (There’s another version by Xenophon that is less flattering.) That would have been interesting. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful plea for reason and an attack on luxury and consumerism that had as much resonance in the room, as it had at his trial. We then have a Goebbels/Patton rap-battle, one coldly Teutonic (in German), the other ranting (in American English). Both sound unhinged. And do it goes, with Osama Bin Laden, Reagan, JFK, Martin Luther King, MalcolmX and ending, oddly with Ann Coulter, with a speech so extreme, that she sounded like a white-trash Hitler.
These were all ‘on the edge’ speeches – on the edge of death, war, invasions, terror, megalomania. It was polemical, but not one dimensional. The voices came from all sorts of positions. Perhaps that was the point, that history is a series of shrill, contradictory and opposed ‘voices’? Powerful stuff.


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