Philadelphia à la Pataphysique: Cinema Pataphysique
dir. Jean-Christophe Averty, France, 1965, video, 95mins. b/w, French w/ English subtitles
Introduced by Katie Price
The plays of Alfred Jarry are considered by many to be the first dramatic works of the theatre of the absurd. They are credited with a great number of literary innovations and are seen as major influences of the dada and symbolist movements in art. Ubu Roi (translated as King Ubu and King Turd) is Jarry’s most famous work. Ubu Roi eliminates the dramatic action from its Shakespearean antecedents and uses scatological humor and farce to present Jarry’s views on art, literature, politics, the ruling classes, and current events. Ubu Roi first saw life as schoolboy farce, a parody of Felix Hebert, one of Jarry’s teachers. Co-authored with his friend, Henri Morin, the skit was transformed into a marionette play through several versions. In 1891, Jarry published a story, “Guignol,” reminiscent of the Punch and Judy performances popular throughout Europe, which showcased a vile and murderous Pere Ubu. A two-act version of Ubu Roi with songs for marionettes, Ubu sur la Batte, appeared in print in 1906. The opening night of December 11, 1896, caused quite a stir according to Roger Shattuck in his work The Banquet Years. Actor Firmin Gernier stepped forward to speak the opening line — “Merdre!” (translated as “Shitter!”). The audience erupted in pandemonium. It took nearly fifteen minutes to silence the house and continue the play. Several people walked out without hearing any more. Fist fights broke out in the orchestra. Jarry supporters shouted, “You wouldn’t understand Shakespeare either!” Those who did not appreciate Jarry’s attack on theatrical realism replied with variations of le mot Ubu.
This French television adaptation of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s famous absurdist play, was created by Jean Christophe Averty. Born in Paris on 6 August 1928, Averty is a man of French radio and television. A number of his television productions, dating from 1960, are considered a precursor of video art.
Katie L. Price is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania and works in the field of American literature, with an emphasis on experimental traditions and their relationship to international modernisms. She is currently completing her dissertation, “‘The Tangential Point’: Pataphysical Practice in Postwar Poetry,” portions of which are published or forthcoming in Contemporary Literature, Canadian Literature, and the collection On Conceptual Writing. Katie is also completing two poetry manuscripts—BRCA and Sik. Portions of the works are published or forthcoming in the Journal of Medical Humanities and Fence.