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The Text

1. The long tradition of story telling

1.1 the oral tradition- no accessories - gestures, tone of voice - timing - all human attributes - for excellence

1.2 the visual element - accessories, indicating the content of a picture

The main interest if you search the web is the event and suggested good practice. It is odd how few pictures there are of the Story Teller beyond the cliché. I would dearly like to make a Taxonomy of visual possibilities in the way that Roget devised a taxonomy for words at the beginning of his thesaurus. Some narrative situations mercifully resist the obvious interpretation .This talk is about the visual representation of different ways of telling stories.


2. VISUALIZATION - in a word centred world.

see separate section - that it is one element that unites everybody in this place - that we seek to solve problems with the conjuring up of images and their realisation.

This talk is divided into six sections

1. The great cliché that has dominated the way in which story telling is visualised - John Everett Millais' The Boyhood of Raleigh.

That, as in all of Millais' paintings, the content is not that easy. His paintings Bubbles bought by Pear's Soap for instance is diminished for its use to sell a project - but is a standard VANITAS subject, and where the continuity of life is shown in 17th century Dutch art as a growing plant, Millais shows only a broken flower pot.

Here the Old Sailor sweeps the horizon - but is made sinister because we cannot see his face. The two boys are fascinated but, compared with a later version in a kids' annual, exhibit awe and nervousness (as well they might).

2. The Act of Storytelling in the world of Public Affairs and Politics - the all powerful, all seeing, all storytelling Political Leader - this can be Teddy Roosevelt, Savonarola, Lloyd George, Eugene Terr'Blanche, and here Kim Il Sung of North Korea.

Each has pondered to different ends the skills of telling a story to the mass of their subjects - with or without electronic amplification, enjoying the many manuals for speechmaking that have proliferated since 1880. CLICHÉS - the beginning of Citizen Kane, a montage of the rhetorical styles. Failed speech - Nikolai Ceaucescu was halfway through his patter when he realised that the act had run its course. Kim Il Sung reveals himself in his own hagiography as a story teller for peasants and scientists, children and veterans - men and women - at all times of the day - ever ready to dispense information on -





plumbing and electricity

military theory

economic expansion


all with adoring audience, pointers, and


perhaps this alone - the all-pervading Story Teller - is sufficient to impoverish a nation - after his death - the films, statues and volumes of print work on to tell those tales.

3. The Stand Up Performer - this is uncharted territory - how we visualise the person who tells up a story to amuse or instruct us. In the sixteenth century, whether you spoke in public, told tales, preached sermons or cracked jokes there were gestures and poses appropriate to the task. The craft of the standup comic can be taken as read (see Scorcese's King of Comedy).

3.1 THE PREACHER - with gestures and lighting and accessories dresses up the message within a story. Savonarola and many others used visual aids that suddenly appeared, but in Florence at the end of the fifteenth century, Savonarola could make his worshippers visualise the Hell that awaited them. Not for nothing were his followers known as piagnone - the Weepers. Failed sermons are just boring, but the dissatisfied audience tend to put it down to their own inadequacy of the mysterious ways of God. P.G.Wodehouse found one way of survive the sermon, to decode the gestures as if they were an umpire's signals at a cricket match - 4 or 6 runs, and the single finger held aloft to say you are out.CLICHE - the clergyman with robes on high surveying the congregation fast asleep - VISUALISATION, REV LOVEJOY OF THE SIMPSONS. See also Orson Welles in Moby Dick (and the Melville text)

3.2 THE MYSTIC conjuring tea leaves into cloudy predictions of the course of a life.Difficult to confound and unveil.Failed predictions seem to bother nobody - there's always plenty of time for more. The accessory can fail -as when ectoplasm turns out to be cheesecloth.CLICHE, the Crystal Bowl, the Gypsy Fortuneteller and the Anxious Client. See also the visual conventions of the filmic seance, Hitchock's Family Plot.

3.3 THE ITINERANT STORYTELLER - the professional with troupe and visual aids and a pointer reinforcing the oral tradition - providing stimulus for the mental image. CLICHE - hardly relevant - now the autocue and sincerity machine have intervened. Failed public story telling - results in the drifting away of the audience - pelted with rocks, cow shit, but no money. How to sustain the narrative without a captive audience.

3.4 THE RECITOR - here Shakespeare to the Queen, an invented scene and not fashionable today - the Literary Reading as devalued experience. However Dickens combination of Impromptu and Recitation was immensely successful.CLICHE - the child holding a daffodil doing Wordsworth, "I wandered lonely as a Cloud".Simon Callow doing Dickens.Failed recitation indicators - coughing, departure, cries of RUBBISH.

3.5 THE CONFIDENCE MAN - perhaps the most adept of all - with patter, accessories and winning proposition. The Bunco Man, the Snake Oil Salesman, P.T.Barnum - the Man (or indeed woman) of many disguises- Poe's Diddler. The Protean Personality. CLICHE, The Persian Pedlar in OKLAHOMA ! Failed Narrative - tar and feathers/shotgun or a week in the slammer. Good Practice, Melville's Man of Many Disguises -the Herb Doctor, the Mute, the poor Black Beggar - The Confidence Man 1857 forty-five conversations held on board a steamer - the Fidele, over a period of 24 hours. Much recommended.


Conclusion - to 3. WHEN THE READER BECOMES THE BOOK (Wallace Stevens)

The skill of the Story Teller to make real the mental image is wonderfully shown in Quentin Tarentino's Reservoir Dogs, when one tale materialises around the Teller.

faber and faber filmscript, FREDDY

"So I tell the connection I'll be right back. I'm going to the little boy's room.


INT.Men's Room....



These are stories that have to be believed, and combine 3.1 through to 3.5. Jobs and pensions are on the Line - the Captain of Industry has a narrow range of patter - a restructed range of costume and only sober and believable accessories. Whatever credibility is established (The Shareholder becomes the Share ? ) has to be achieved with the Burnished Cliche - the crucial and slight deviation from the Norm. CLICHE - the Chairman of the Board displaced by young Turk who learns a Damn Fine Lesson. Failed commercials - the cartoons of H.M.Bateman - the Jeremiah of Late Capitalism.In other societies the Tribe would devour the Failed Leader/Narrator - now it's a Golden Goodbye, Stock and a large slice of Tuscany.

4.1 YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE - Young America asks, can I learn from a man with a small colour figure of Winston Churchill.

Preferment for a young man with an oily manner "Young Man on the Way Up" -

"I say sir this TWA service really fits the bill." - "Dammit you're right young fella ! You'll go far" - "Yes sir, and all by TWZ..."

4.2 THE RITUALS OF CAPITALISM demand the highest standards of story telling to the Board, to the Shareholders and a Mysterious Removal of Trousers at the Statler in New York.


the natural and most discerning of audiences. The storyteller's perils of success, woken early with the Funnies. Tell me another. CLICHE - but effective, John Houseman's creepy tale at the beginning of John Carpenter's Halloween. "Now tell Santa what you want for Christmas...." - "I always read my children to sleep, don't you..." But here's the quandary. EXCELLENCE - is it a successful story, artfully concluded or a story that ceases when the child sleeps.

5.1 The key image of the Mother Goose narrator - telling and spinning - the folksy intimacy of the Norman Rockwell school room LOOK magazine.

5.2 The Narrator's ideal, to let the Tale do the Talking and the elements of the Story condenses around the little chap's head.

5.3 But it can be most unsuitable - how crucial the caption that reveals the tale.


Everywhere we see and hear advice as to improve performances in this art of telling stories. Rarely do we contemplate failure - thinking the unthinkable.

6.1 THE RUMOUR - the ultimate failure depicted by many fine graphic artists (H.M.Bateman, Daumier, Fougasse and here Norman Rockwell) often used to denigrate women - the Universality of Gossip.


6.2 FAILURES IN READING NARRATIVES - the visual aptness in drawing, caption and the instant of Time in "Well, I finally read him to sleep" with its trajectory of missile, dressing gown and anticipated moments of leisure. The use of the book as a missile is also a comment not only on the narrator's performance but also the quality of the Tale itself. A remarkable condemnation from somebody who KNEW !


6.3 FAILED RESPONSES - BOREDOM - a telling graphic challenge - boredom in drawing leads to boredom in the viewer's response - so here

the metaphor for tedium and contempt - "Have you tired of me Michelle?" -

the rare candour of "I am sorry, what were you saying, I must have dozed off for a second."


"The man who needs no introduction.."

The graphic challenges here are metaphor, gesture, expression and turn of phrase.


I conclude with a marvelous moment from Sondheim's dark and resonating theatre piece Into The Woods, which has a power for me who long detested the cosy urgings to the status quo of the Aesopic fable, the whole Idea of Girls as Prizes and the resolute defence of property values that Folk Tales propose. Sondheim proposes the experience of those moments after the tales have been resolved, and the retaliation has begun, with posturings, foolishness, and a vengeful recently widowed Giantess who climbed the Beanstalk in search of her husband's murderers.


The Narrator whose complacent commentaries have acted as an annoying counterpoint to the live action, the very epitome of the Omniscient Suit, finds that the Characters pass judgment on him in a magical moment when the soundproof, dimension proof, sound box collapses, the membrane parts between Story Teller and Story - in an act of wanton and delicious Human Sacrifice.





REFERENCES (Books and Links)