Sunday, October 14


When I was first studying drama and screenwriting, Harold Pinter's play (and then movie version) Betrayal has been mentioned again and again as an excellent exercise in crafting memory. And in those heady undergrad days, memory was something unreliable. And it's therefore interesting to see how our own memories get twisted by our own brains.

Aside from memory, structure was also one of the biggest virtues of this piece. If a story unfolds a certain way, there must be a valid reason for it, and not just playing out a technique for technique's sake. Again, this is something that is chalked up to memory as well.

Betrayal tells its story backwards. A man and a woman had an affair. But instead of showing us its genesis first, it shows us the aftermath: the woman and her husband are separating, their marriage irreparable; and the woman's affair with the husband's best friend, which ended years ago, wasn't the only indiscretion in this failed marriage--the husband had his own.

The play was written in the late '70s, and by reading the wiki on Harold Pinter, one is informed that his affair with Lady Antonio Fraser informed him in the writing of this play. But that's beside the point. Affairs in general are frowned upon, whatever time and space one occupies. The topic of marital infidelity is also something that's been written about; and surely, the way the story unfolds is not that novel. Although a number of the sites I read did say that the structure was what made it interesting. We've seen lots of affair stories, and they all tend to be generic at some point. But what saves this is that by telling the story backwards, one gets a sense not just of the effect of the affair on those involved, but how people deliberately leave out things, twist details.

After reading, one gets the idea that Jerry is the one who feels the loss largely. Since the play ends with the time he and Emma first get that stab at intimacy, we are left with a picture of an adoring Jerry. He seems to love Emma more. He tortures himself with trying to place the memory of throwing Emma's little girl in the kitchen--was it his kitchen or theirs? Ultimately, these little details give us the bigger picture.

It's been a long time since playwriting or screenwriting class, and I suppose the excitement over this structure has waned a bit for me. I was expecting something flashy, I suppose. But the play is solid in its structure, very spare, but the richness of the quality of the memories of the characters was something worth following.

This is a real quick read--probably took me over an hour. I got my copy of Betrayal (Book #18) from Booksale for Php70. Not bad on its own, but as part of a P300 splurge on a single afternoon it did help burn a pretty hole in my pocket.

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