The motif of writing

Notes on this work

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The Triangle

The Concentric Circles

The Muybridge Animations

Cardiographs and clocks, etc 

The Lift


It will soon become apparent to anyone watching these eight Cantos that there are motifs that consistently recur. In a sense this procedure pays homage to Wagner's idea of the Leitmotiv which, in the case of this programme, takes the form of a visual theme whose reappearance will form connections (rather than the melodic fragments or chord sequences of The Ring). Our soundtrack has, nonetheless, its own repeated motifs that become familiar as the Cantos proceed. Often, of course, these fragments or threads of sound are linked to visual themes and reinforce their reappearances. Some of the principle motifs are listed here.

The Triangle, or triangular inset to the picture, occurs when the Trinity is being referred to (the Three Ladies of Canto II, etc.). It is most frequently, since we are in Hell, seen in reverse, to indicate an anti-trinity (the three-headed dog, Cerberus, for example, in Canto VI).

The Concentric Circles (whose source is a film of a radar scan which accounts for the moving spots, angels, devils, etc., according to context) have a multiple function, yet are always related to Dante's cosmology. They can be the Circles of the Heavenly Spheres or reminders of the Circles of Hell.

The Muybridge Animations result from a fascination that Peter Greenaway and I have, in common with many artists (e.g. Francis Bacon), with the haunting photographic sequences of Eadweard Muybridge, an eccentric nineteenth-century photo- grapher who produced books of analyses of humans and animals in motion, made by a high-speed photographic procedure that prefigures the cinema. So accurate are they that when animated as film frames a hundred years later they come to life again. (The descending figure in Canto VIII, The Hound, etc).

Cardiographs, clocks, etc. Dante monitors time with great precision, for he is making a parallel between the days and times of the Easter Passion and his own journey to Heaven. He similarly monitors his emotional response to people and events. The cardiograph is a metaphor only at a visual (rather than a medical) level.

Writing. Text and script of various kinds make their appearance as if to remind the viewers that they are always, through the medium of television, witnesses to a book. Dante's original Italian (e.g. Superbia in Canto VI) is quoted, sometimes almost subliminally on the soundtrack.

The Lift is a constant reminder that Hell is a multi-storey construction. Except for once, it is always travelling down. The gridded nature of the lift is based on the grids in Muybridge's photographs. It doubles as a stationary box for specially staged genre effects (e.g., the first appearance of Cerberus).

There are, of course, many other motifs, some very unobtrusive. Indeed, there is one way of looking at the Cantos which suggests they are entirely made up of such thematic devices.