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Featured Event: Writings, Readings, Musings, and Film
John Fuegi and Jo Francis:
The Making of The War Within
When we presented The War Within: A Portrait of Virginia Woolf, both at the 1996
Clemson conference and, with the work still in draft form, at the 1995 Otterbein conference,
we gave some background on how the work came into being. The film has been discussed so far
with audiences at the Tate Gallery, the Charleston Summer School, Cambridge University the
University of Wurzburg, the Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema, the American Film Institute, the American University, Wright State University, and the University of Maryland.
We, the co-directors of the film, are both teachers with a background in the arts. As
film-makers we work together in a kind of Hogarth Press-like operation called Flare
Productions, a not-for-profit company. We share the creative work but specialize in some
ways. In making a film together, one or the other of us will take leadership at different
times, depending on what we have specialized in.
On this project, the shooting in England was directed by John working closely with
Danish cinematographer Morten Bruus. Jo joined them for the New York shoot. John did
intensive research in preparation for the shooting of the interview and location footage and
both of us did the research and gathering of the rest of the material that was needed, with
Jo focusing on paintings, archival footage, and music, while John concentrated on
illustrations from 19th century newspapers and still photographs from collections in the
United States and Europe. We jointly directed the editing with our friend and colleague,
Danish editor Niels Pagh Andersen. (Editing, that
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important stage of documentary film-making in which the work is created from the multiple elements, is rather misleadingly known in the film-making world as "post production.") We have also done the "post-post-production" work on the film together: the nitty-gritty of getting the film out there to be seen around the world. As we did at Clemson, we have usually appeared together to present the film to live audiences, to learn from audience comments, and to answer questions anyone may have.
Setting out in 1993/4 to make a documentary film on Virginia Woolf, there was a sense of
considerable urgency. Among the key eye-witnesses who were needed for making such a film
were: Frances Partridge who was 94 in 1994, "Dadie" Rylands who was 92, and Sir Stephen
Spender who had had several bouts of severe illness, as had Quentin Bell. And though
Angelica Garnett and Nigel Nicolson were rather younger, it seemed prudent that work be
commenced sooner rather than later if the clearest possible historical record was to be made
on film. The key question was how to gain access to the people to be interviewed. As luck
would have it, Juliet Nicolson, the grand-daughter of Woolf's lover, Vita Sackville-West,
had been one of the editors at Grove Press while I (John) was bringing out Brecht &
Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama. Juliet happened to ask what
I wanted to do as a next project after finishing the book, and when I said a film on
Virginia Woolf, looked at me rather strangely. Only then did she say she was Vita's
grand-daughter. She then asked if she could call her father at Sissinghurst Castle to ask
him to help.
Following Juliet's call, Nigel Nicolson welcomed me at Sissinghurst. He later asked
Quentin and Olivier Bell to see me. Quentin in turn contacted his half-sister Angelica
Garnett in France. Then Frances Partridge, Dadie Rylands, and Sir Stephen Spender agreed to
be interviewed (as it transpired, this would turn out to be the last interview done with
Spender). With the cooperation of virtually all the prominent living eyewitnesses on Woolf
and her era, the Charleston Trust agreed to allow filming there. After lengthy negotiations,
permission was obtained from the National Trust for shooting at Monk's House. After research
trips to all these locations, arrangements were made to shoot at Vita Sackville-West's
beloved Knole, at Hogarth House, Hyde Park Gate and other London locations, St. Ives in
Cornwall, and at King's College Cambridge, where we could shoot both King's Chapel and
inside Dadie Rylands' rooms where the A Room of One's Own luncheon took place in
A proposal for financing a film to be called: The War Within: A Portrait of Virginia
Woolf, a film in the Women of Power Series
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had meanwhile been prepared. The film treatment itself, outlining the main people to be filmed and the focus of the work, was developed by our small scholarly film company Flare Productions, working in close conjunction with a small Danish Company with which we had worked before, Casablanca Filmproduktion. Hanne Risgaard of the national network TV2 Denmark was receptive to the idea of doing a serious documentary film on Woolf as writer, thinker, lover. Through the efforts of Ms. Risgaard and Morten Bruus of Casablanca, funding was obtained from various Scandinavian sources.
In filming Nigel at Sissinghurst, we were most fortunate that he agreed to take our
small crew up to Vita's hideaway in the Elizabethan tower. To the best of our knowledge this
has never been filmed from the inside before, and we understand that the National Trust
(as part of a general clamping down on filming at National Trust properties), has refused
since to allow filming inside the tower. It was an exciting time at Sissinghurst. The Dutch
researcher Patty Brandhorst had just the week before found four previously unknown and
sexually frank letters from Virginia to Vita. Ms. Brandhorst showed us how she had found a
hidden drawer in what had seemed to be simply the unbroken wooden front of Vita's desk. From
the top of the tower we filmed a panoramic view of the dazzling gardens and the countryside
In speaking with Angelica Garnett about her participation in the film she suggested she
come over from her home in southern France to England. There we were able to film her in the
garden lodge at Monk's House where Virginia Woolf had accomplished much of her writing.
Inside Monk's House later we shot the radio on which Virginia and Leonard had listened to
Hitler's speeches in the late '30's and very early '40's. In Lewes we found a horologist who
happened to be repairing a clock that dated back to Elizabethan times. Morten shot the clock
interior in extreme closeup and at various speeds for use in the sequence we had planned
(at his suggestion) around the novel, The Waves. One morning extremely early, we shot
the River Ouse and the river bridge. Morten's camera eye found and recorded what amounts to
a symphony of Vs and Ws. In one shot the river flows in a gentle V curve to the horizon
while in the water a V-shaped net juts above the surface. The iron struts of the entire
bridge and the wooden braces in the water happen also to form the letter V and its double,
the letter VV, and it too is doubled as it is reflected in the water. Frances Partridge we
filmed in London among her extraordinary collection of paintings, including the original
famous Carrington portrait of Strachey with his hands held up almost as if he is praying.
Quentin Bell came over to Charleston
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from his home nearby and was photographed in the main studio. Interviews were shot in New York with noted scholars Jane Marcus and Carolyn Heilbrun, and in London with Hermione Lee and David Penn (Keeper of the Department of Exhibits and Firearms at the Imperial War Museum), and in Wales with the Churchill biographer Clive Ponting. We were enormously helped by the Bell and Duncan Grant heirs and the Tate Gallery in allowing us extensive use of Vanessa Bell's family photo album which is permanently deposited at the Tate, and the use of Vanessa Bell's and Duncan Grant's paintings of key Bloomsbury figures. An important historical document, the early plan in Virginia Woolf's hand for what was to become the League of Nations, was kindly made available by Elizabeth Inglis of the Sussex University Archives. Stanford University provided the captured Gestapo document listing those to be first arrested in England, including Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Original materials on British conquests in the late 19th century, gorily depicted in the Illustrated London News of that era, were provided by Storey's, a London dealer in antique military prints.
We began the editing process with a week of intensive work in Copenhagen in May, 1995 when Niels, Jo and John were all available to begin work together, even though the shooting was not yet complete. During that week we began to establish the editing style and pace of the film, and we made the end-the final six-minute sequence for which all the material had already been shot. Our mantra was "beautifully simple" (something Quentin Bell had said in his interview describing Maynard Keynes's proposals for the Treaty of Versailles).
We took this final sequence to the Woolf Conference at Otterbein in June, where, in a well-attended Friday evening session in the auditorium, we showed it along with some demonstration sequences we had specially prepared in order to give a sense of where we were heading with the film. We also showed some uncut portions of interviews to allow participants the opportunity to view longer segments than we would be able to include in the finished film. There was a lively question/answer/comment session with the audience afterwards.
The next day, a smaller session allowed for participants to view more footage of their choice (their request was for more of the interview with Angelica Garnett) and for us to ask for feedback on a decision we were struggling with-whether or not to include Churchill in the film. On the one hand, Churchill is an interesting and concrete representative of much that Woolf opposed, and is someone that she knew on a first-name basis and mentions
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in her diaries and letters. On the other hand, Woolf's political analysis in Three Guineas identifies forces and patterns that lead to war rather than focusing blame on individuals. Including Churchill in our film risked reinforcing the "Great Man" theory of historical causation that Woolf rejected as too narrow. It was helpful to us to discover at Otterbein that our concerns were understood and shared and to hear various thoughtful suggestions of ways to include Churchill in the film without focusing unduly on him.
Since we hoped to make a film that would be a product and a reflection of a high standard of scholarship yet also accessible and inviting to a general viewer, we were especially pleased to have this chance to consult with a large number of Woolf scholars while the work was still in progress. To our relief, we encountered much encouragement, much lively engagement with the issues, and no howls of execration about what we were doing. The discussions at Otterbein also helped us realize that the era of damning Woolf with faint praise, and of failure to treat her ideas, particularly her political ideas, as worthy of serious and sustained attention was mercifully nearing an end. Similarly, the era of not dealing frankly with sexual issues-be they same sex issues, or issues of sexual abuse-was clearly over. The intense, informed, and friendly feedback we were so freely given at the Otterbein conference, and for which we are most grateful, played an important role as we prepared to return to editing in Copenhagen. First, however, we needed to finish gathering together the final materials: still photographs and photographs of paintings for Morten to shoot on film, and archival footage and music to be incorporated into the finished work.
All of this gathering involved considerable detective work because we were determined that materials used be authentic and accurate. Authenticity of paintings could be established straightforwardly with the wonderful portraits of Woolf and other Bloomsbury members which were generously made available to us by the owners and heirs. Surprisingly difficult, however, was the task of identifying the exact paintings exhibited in the Post-Impressionist exhibitions organized by Bloomsbury members in 1910 and 1912. The catalogue of the 1910 show listed artists and titles of the works but had no pictures-a serious problem since so many of the painters (van Gogh, Cezanne, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat, etc.) painted many versions of the same subject. There was, for example, a van Gogh painting of sunflowers, a Seurat of a lighthouse at Honfleur and a Cezanne view of Mont St. Victoire. Exactly which of these painters' many canvases on these subjects might they have been?
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Eventually we were able to identify the correct versions of all of the van Gogh paintings because his work has been thoroughly catalogued with pictures and lists of all exhibits. We were not able to find similarly comprehensive lists for other artists, but some art reference books mentioned past exhibits, which was how we verified Cezanne's "Old Woman with a Rosary," for example. In other cases, museums checked the history of a painting in their collection for us. When looking for the correct Seurat lighthouse, a painting we especially wanted to include for thematic reasons, it turned out that the very first museum we contacted (the National Gallery in DC) could verify that it was their painting that had been exhibited in the Grafton show in 1910. (We never did find out which Mont St. Victoire it was, however, so we didn't include one in the film, but happily we were able to verify enough paintings to make a complete sequence.)
There were some interesting and complex issues surrounding archival footage, as well. We originally edited the World War I sequence of the film using some famous "Battle of the Somme" footage in which some soldiers going up "over the top" are gunned down as they run through the mud and barbed wire of "no man's land." Then we discovered that experts on WWI footage are fairly sure that particular sequence was staged. It is very moving footage, so it was with some reluctance that we took it out. But we didn't want to use footage of soldiers pretending to die as part of our exposition of Woolf's reactions to the very real horrors of a very real war. So, in the end, the only footage of bodies we used is some which was taken after the battle and is believed to be genuine. To give some sense of trench warfare we selected a sequence in which no one falls: Scottish soldiers scrambling out of a trench and running.
In selecting archival footage we sometimes chose the readily recognizable in order to make a factual point quickly, as with Hitler's invasion of Poland. But where time and resources permitted, we looked for unusual footage. The Pathe News Library in London provided us with some rarely-seen footage of wealthy, influential people walking to work in order to break the 1926 General Strike. This we used as part of a montage to accompany Woolf's quote about dictatorship from Three Guineas. Like the photographs she chose for the book, the footage shows ritual use of costume as one of the distinctions that perpetuates the power of an upper class.
In the making of many films, music is added towards the very end of the editing stage, to complement and heighten moods already established. But in our editing process we wanted to be conscious of rhythms, as Woolf is in her writing, and we worked from the very beginning with music as an integral part of the film, building some
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sequences with a particular piece as one of the foundation elements, as in the last scene where the dominant visual element is the river Ouse and the music is the Beethoven Cavatina from the late string quartet Opus 130, the piece the Woolfs had chosen for their memorial music but which was not actually played at Virginia Woolf's cremation (Gluck was played instead).
In choosing music we wanted to give a sense of Woolf's own musical tastes. In her diaries and letters she mentions often going to hear works by Schubert, Beethoven and Bach, among others; Bach's unaccompanied solo music she particularly remarked. We also wanted at least some if not all of the music to be by women, including some by Woolf's friend, composer Ethel Smyth, whose lively "Allegro" from the E-minor quartet forms the musical backdrop to the Post-Impressionist exhibit sequence in the film. Fortunately, works of many 19th and early 20th century women composers have recently been discovered and recorded, so there were quite a few compositions to choose from. We found many almost unknown works that are hauntingly beautiful, such as the "Piece for Cello and Piano in E-flat minor" by Nadia Boulanger (whom Woolf had met), whose fame has hitherto been tied to her role as composition teacher to famous (male) composers of the twentieth century. Nadia had a sister, Lili, who before her death at the age of 24 was also a brilliant composer. The simple, almost disturbing piano melody we use is from her recently discovered "Theme et Variations." Woolf often went to hear chamber works by 19th century composers and might well have liked the music with which we begin the film, the "Andante Espressivo" of the Piano Trio in D minor by Fanny Mendelsohn-Hensel, had she had the opportunity to hear it. But it is unlikely she did, because the few Mendelsohn-Hensel compositions ever performed until recently were usually attributed to her brother, Felix, who discouraged Fanny from publishing her work under her own name.
Back in the editing room through the summer of 1995, we developed a way of working together by consensus. If one of us was not satisfied with the inclusion of a particular shot or the expression of a particular idea, we continued working on the sequence until we found a solution that made all of us say "Yes!" The fact that we created a process that was not hierarchical and not dominated by one gender or the other gave us, so we felt, some sense of what Woolf was speaking of when she indicated that poetry needed to have both a mother and a father.
The consensual working method employed was consistent with Quaker working practices. We were keenly aware of the work
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Jane Marcus had done exploring the influence of the prominent Quaker writer, Caroline Emelia Stephen (the aunt who left Virginia Woolf the money that Woolf felt helped establish the financial freedom she said women needed as writers). Following up on suggestions made by Jane Marcus it was clear that there were close parallels between Woolf's ideas on peace and gender equality and those established by Quaker communities in England and elsewhere. At some point during the editing process we talked about how in some ways the film is like a Quaker memorial service in which a life is celebrated through remembrances spoken aloud by people who knew the person in many different capacities. Through their multiple perspectives, the story of a life can emerge in its wonderful multidimensionality.
Within the film itself ideas about how to present Woolfian ideas of androgyny had begun to shape themselves. Quite by chance originally, we found that a lot of the available footage from WWI was of men in kilts. Similarly, when we looked at portraits of the men who had inherited Knole which, as Nigel puts it, "had to be handed down through the male line," we found that most were dressed in lace and wigs that blurred conventional 20th century gender identification lines. When we needed a shot to provide a transition to Angelica Garnett's comment that Woolf was not someone always hovering over teacups, the shots of teacups we had were of George ("Dadie") Rylands' fine collection on display in the Room of One's Own luncheon room.
We begin the film with Woolf's words through which she describes a human situation that pre-dates speech itself: "We seem to hear an infant crying in the night, the black night that now covers Europe, and with no language but a cry" (TG 141). The film ends with a passage drawn from The Waves in which Bernard speaks of having reached a place that is, and of course is not, beyond language, a place where he claims: "I have done with phrases" (TW 295). It is important to the undergirding strands of androgyny in the film (kilts, lace, Dadie's teacup collection) that the passage from Woolf which ends the film is given in The Waves not to one of the women characters but to the male figure, Bernard.
Between the "bookends" of the infant crying that begins the work and the words of the old man/woman who is done with phrases that ends it, are examples both of Woolf's frank acceptance of the inexactitude of memory and of aesthetic organization ("But it is more convenient artistically to suppose we were going to St. Ives, for that will lead to my other memory . . . ." (MOB 64), and the compulsion to speak memory anyway. For the film we tried to respond to the challenge
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of telling a story that has not been found, one that exists only as fragments.
Fragments pile upon fragments, objects having in film as much a role as words or phrases; light and water are solid and iron fluid. The spear-like iron railings of the house at Hyde Park Gate anticipate the railings we will see as Woolf begins her work on Mrs. Dalloway, a work "the reviewers will say [is] disjointed," she claims, because of "the mad scenes not connecting with the Dalloway scenes" (D2 323). As Anna Massey speaks Woolf's words, the particularly knowledgeable viewer will realize it is on railings such as we see on the screen that Septimus Smith will throw himself down to die horribly.
In the interview at the Imperial War Museum as the Keeper of Firearms describes the destructive power of the Maxim gun, we show pictures drawn from late-19th century issues of the Illustrated London News, including waves of warriors bearing assegais. A closeup is seen of a dead warrior with his spear by his side. The narrative does not point out any connection between the spear-like railings around Hogarth House and Hyde Park Gate, nor is the viewer's attention drawn explicitly to that passage that opens a typical chapter of The Waves: "The waves drummed on the shore, like turbaned warriors, like turbaned men with poisoned assegais who, whirling their arms on high, advance on the feeding flocks, the white sheep" (TW 75). Elsewhere in the film a passage from The Waves is read aloud as we see on the screen a spear-sword hand of a clock slicing time. Tiny clock hands/swords/spears move as we dissolve to the actual clock face, a picture of an Elizabethan ship with bodies apparently hung at the yardarm, which then, in one of Niels' series of seamless transitions, dissolves to waves. The use of the clock with its hands looming large or seeming tiny, and the evocation of swords, spears and iron railings, create for the spectator, so we hope, a complex experience analogous to reading a multi-layered section of Woolf's writing.
In the scene in which Dadie Rylands speaks of trying to sell Freud to a London bookseller, fleetingly his arm rests on the back of a sofa. Over his arm we see a water scene, a distant figure punting on the river. The scene, as captured by Morten Bruus, is a moment that might have come direct from the world of the Impressionists, but is also an echo of a scene from Mrs. Dalloway. It may be recalled where Septimus is lying on a sofa: "[T]he sound of water was in the room and through the waves came the voices of birds singing . . . [H]is hand lay there on the back of the sofa, as he had seen his hand lie when he was bathing, floating on top of the waves . . . " (MD 139).
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The film repeatedly alludes to works of Woolf through uses of indirection, reflection, mirrors, windows, water, the downs under changing light, the phased intermittency of lighthouse lights, and people on Bond Street seen not directly but mirrored in a shop window. In the passage drawn from The Waves where Bernard muses on giving up phrases, there is also in the book the following passage: "Great clouds always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister, bowled up helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost, and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch. Of a story, of design I do not see a trace then" (TW 239). This passage is not read aloud. Instead, what we see is the changing light over the downs as the "done with phrases" passage is read. Hopefully, this layering, the words on the soundtrack underscored with the music Woolf herself chose for a memorial service, plus the evocation in Morten Bruus's long shot of the unsaid "towering, trailing, broken off, lost," produces a multi-layered sense of timelessness of Beethoven's music, and of passages read from Woolf's work, all mixed with a sense of the fleetingness of any moment of any day in any human life. "We are the words," writes Woolf, "we are the music" (MOB 72).
By September, when our Mrs. Ramsay-like knitting, the weaving together of the multiple strands of the film was far advanced, we were ready to record the voices used in the film: for Virginia Woolf (one of the best known actresses in Britain, Anna Massey), for Vita Sackville-West (her granddaughter Juliet Nicolson who had first launched us on the project), and the narrator (Ian Redford). The recording session was jointly directed in a London studio by Jo and John. We then took the tapes back to Copenhagen for intense work on the sound-mix. With that complete, the final marriage of images to sounds (the on-line edit) could be completed. In early October, 1995, we delivered the final version of the film to TV2 Denmark. The film was delivered both in an English language form and in a separate version with one sound track free to allow voice-overs to be done in other languages.
We are writing this article now almost a year after we finished editing the film, and we have discovered in the meantime that the work is definitely not over once a film is made. A great deal of time and effort must go into helping it get out into the world to be seen. As of this writing the film has been broadcast in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden and has been purchased by networks in a number of other countries. It has also been issued on video so it can easily be used in classrooms and borrowed from libraries. In these ways it is becoming available to many who may be learning of Virginia Woolf for the first time. A Danish reviewer wrote that hav-
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ing seen the film he was no longer afraid of Virginia Woolf and planned to go to a bookshop to pick out one of her books: "To the Lighthouse perhaps, or Orlando." We hope the film will stimulate others as well to begin or to deepen their own unique engagement with Woolf's extraordinary work.
Woolf, Virginia. The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell assisted by Andrew McNeillie. Volume 2: 1920-1924. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1978.
------. Moments of Being. 2nd ed. Ed. Jeanne Schulkind. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1985.
------. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1981.
------. Three Guineas. 1938. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1966.
------. The Waves. 1931. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1959.
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