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Tony Grist

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Scofield And Wilde [Mar. 31st, 2008|09:29 am]
Tony Grist
A.A. Gill in the Sunday Times was getting in a strop yesterday because the BBC reported the death of Brian Wilde- minor sit-com star- ahead of the death of Paul Scofield- major classical actor. At first I was inclined to agree, but as Gill continued to erupt, braying scorn (the way he does) and calling for the head of whoever was responsible, he lost me. "Hang on a minute," I thought. "This is just  snobbery. It assumes a hierarchy in which West End theatre ranks above TV sitcoms and- sorry-  but it just doesn't work like that."

Scofield was high art, Wilde was popular art- but which of them made the bigger impact on our culture? Which is more likely to be remembered? Scofield gave a string of great performances which were seen by very few and which have now faded into the ether. Wilde, on the other hand was in Porridge- and Porridge is one of the greatest sitcoms from the golden age of sitcoms and is showing every sign of immortality.

I don't go to the theatre much. I never saw Scofield live. His infrequent film and TV appearances add up to very little- supporting roles as irascible old men in less than classic productions. His one great starring role- in A Man for All Seasons- is overshadowed by a supporting cast- Orson Welles, Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Shaw, real film stars all of them- delightedly making the most of an opportunity to go right over the top in their robes and furs. It's a nice film, not a very good one- and it's looking dated now.

So, tell me Scofield was a great actor- and I'll take it on trust, but I haven't seen the evidence and I'm not altogether sure it exists any longer. Wilde, on the other hand, did a very funny turn in a very funny show which is likely to be repeated as long as TV exists.  I'm not a fan of Last of The Summer Wine- but it's the longest running sit-com in the history of the universe and a lot of people love it and- well- he was in that one too. 

I'm sure Scofield was a "greater" actor than Wilde, but it's Wilde who's going to leave the greater legacy. Have a look on YouTube and see who rates more clips.  Immortality- especially in the performing arts- is a bit of a lottery.  It isn't finally about integrity or ideals or intentions or the applause of the elite, it's about what turns out to have the most juice in it. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: upasaka
2008-03-31 11:54 am (UTC)
I used to be quite snobby about this sort of thing, but then I realised that it's just a different sort of acting technique. And doing a weekly sitcom is grueling work that requires serious dedication to the craft of acting.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-31 05:37 pm (UTC)
The best sitcoms will last, I think. They're among the most representative creations of the past half century.
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-03-31 04:33 pm (UTC)
Gill's interjecting a bit of classism there, isn't he. Somehow an actor doing Shakespeare makes them more worthy of posthumous praise from a media whose primary function is to serve the hoi polloi who are likely more aware of Wilde's work anyway? Doesn't make much sense.

I've seen a few films with Scofield in them - he struck me as an accomplished actor, and I was sad to see he had died. Brian Wilde has not reached me in my neck of the States, but I'll YouTube him now.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-03-31 05:34 pm (UTC)
There are those who say Scofield was the greatest of them all- greater even than Olivier and Gielgud. All I can say is I haven't seen the evidence.

Try YouTubing Porridge. That was the name of the show. Ronnie Barker played a wily inmate of one of Her Majesty's prisons and Wilde was one of the screws.
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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2008-03-31 09:07 pm (UTC)

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

So, what proportion of the population remember Alec Guinness as "that bloke in Star Wars"?

And where was A A Gill when Princess Diana, Mother Theresa and Sir Georg Solti all died within a week of each other?

BTW, your LJ calendar for March (which shows up on my default view, if not on yours) makes a visually effective point.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-01 09:39 am (UTC)

Re: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

Guinness has the best film and TV catalogue of any of those actors of the golden age. It includes a great run in Ealing comedy, a decades long partnership with David Lean and his TV triumph as George Smiley. I shouldn't be surprised if posterity crowns him the best of the bunch- simply because he's left so much first class work behind.

I've looked at my calendar but I can't see anything there- please tell me what I'm missing....:)



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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2008-04-01 06:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

Ah, for March it shows you posted every day except the 21st, which if I remember rightly, was the "LJ strike" day. It's probably only because you post every day that it particularly stands out to me.
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From: senordildo
2008-04-01 04:46 am (UTC)
Have you seen Scofield in Peter Brooks' film of King Lear? If not you're in for a strange experience.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-04-01 09:40 am (UTC)
I haven't. I really must.
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[User Picture]From: mokie
2008-04-01 07:52 pm (UTC)
This is why it's best to go in alphabetical order...
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