It’s been more than a year in the works, but ‘Gertrude Stein’s Brewsie and Willie’ is nearing the final stages of post-production. With Sara Zandieh at the editing table to hone the imagery produced by cinematographer Milton Kam, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful picture. But that’s also because the cast, a dedicated ensemble of actors, gave such gorgeous performances. The film stars Eric T. Miller as Brewsie and Billy Griffin as Willie, and they’re supported by Kyle Knauf (Jo), Andrew Ramaglia (Donald Paul), LeeAnne Hutchison (Pauline), Karl Hammerle (Jimmy), Harrison Hill (John), Julia Watt (Janet), David Sedgwick (Brock), and Lowell Byers (Sam). The set design–evocative of the modernist collages of Gertrude Stein’s era, as well as the warehouse in which the action is set–was conceived by Susan Zeeman Rogers. The lighting was designed by Rocco de Villiers. Blair Johnson gave us sound.
The film is a labor a love–mostly mine. I wrote, directed and produced it, but the script is an adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s own novella, her last work, Brewsie and Willie. As the film develops and enters the world, I’ll be posting updates here. I’ll also be sharing thoughts about the complex back-stories to Stein’s extraordinary work, and about the historical moment in which she wrote and which she registered with uncommon fidelity. In the mean-time…
GERTRUDE STEIN’S BREWSIE AND WILLIE
It is early 1946. The war is over. The world has changed. But what will it look like for the American GIs in liberated France who now wait for their redeployment? In the war’s aftermath, they have time to contemplate the forces that have brought them here. They know they are faced with urgent new questions, but they are unsure of what will save them. And so, on the cusp of a new era, they talk and confront their fears. From the question of race in America to the legacy of British imperialism and the rise of the American dollar, from industrialization and job-mindedness to the fading of critical judgment in the modern world, Stein’s GIs leave nothing unquestioned.
Brewsie and Willie, the lead characters, are accompanied by other men who are similarly awaiting their orders. They are often joined by two nurses — smart self-confident women who have their own analyses and questions to put to the self-taught philosopher, Brewsie, and his militantly practical young comrade in arms, Willie. What they say is as addressed to our own moment as it was to theirs, more than 65 years ago.
At the end of her life, after enduring two world wars, and having transformed the future of both art and American literature, Gertrude Stein had a change of heart. The result was Brewsie and Willie, a novella whose publication she did not live to see. War demanded realism, she said, and so, after decades of literary cubism, she returned to the ordinary speech of ordinary people and gave them the task of speaking and re-imagining the world. The characters of her novella voice the ideas that Stein herself had expressed in her memoir, Wars I Have Seen. In this adaptation, Rosalind Morris remains true to Stein’s language while giving the characters the depth and texture of living men and women. Without the angst of Sartre’s No Exit, and beyond the absurdism of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Gertrude Stein’s Brewsie and Willie is a brave confrontation with the twentieth century, seen from amid the ashes of its near destruction. It is also a prescient anticipation of the twenty first century—all from the perspective of working class men and women for whom history is, as Brewsie says, a life and death question.