In this extract from an interview with Poppy Bowers, curator at the Whitworth, Graham Eatough and Stephen Sutcliffe discuss their approach to working with stories by one of their literary heroes.
1. No End to Enderby is a tribute to your long-standing enjoyment of the novels of Anthony Burgess – particularly the character of Enderby, a rather shambolic yet gifted poet. How did your collaboration begin?
SS: Graham and I realised we had a mutual interest in Burgess’s four Enderby novels when we were looking to collaborate on a work. Graham had made work before with the artist Graham Fagen, who had been a lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee when I did my undergraduate degree. Fagen introduced us and we immediately got on.
GE: It’s been satisfying to shift the spotlight a little from A Clockwork Orange in this, Burgess’s centenary year. He had an uneasy relationship with the celebrity that this work achieved, especially through the Kubrick film. The Enderby project is, in part, about how artistic reputations can become distorted over time, and it’s been particularly apt to explore that subject through a lesser-known but equally important work.
2. The film consists of two parts: Inside Mr Enderby, an adaptation of the first chapter of the first Enderby novel, and The Muse, an adaptation of the last chapter of the fourth and final Enderby novel. Why did you select these two chapters, and why did you decide to bring them together in one work?
SS: We thought they were good bookends. They also act as a preface and prologue to the books, and are similar as they both include time travel. They are comments on posterity, which we both found very interesting.
GE: Both chapters work as stand-alone stories that, in a very playful way, touch upon many of the major themes of the entire four-book series – the role of the struggling artist, reputation and historicisation – so they seemed ideal for this kind of adaptation. We’ve both looked at ideas of bookending and framing in our previous individual practices. Steve’s show Outwork (Tramway, Glasgow, 2013) took its title from Jacques Derrida’s comment on introductions and prefaces, and my collaboration with Graham Fagen, The Making of Us (Glasgow International, 2012), staged the making of a film to explore different ideas of framing. We were drawn to this kind of approach for the Enderby films.
3. Burgess revelled in language construction. To what extent were you influenced by his original text?
SS: We stuck very close to the dialogue in the original texts. We thought that however much we experimented visually with the films, the texts would still pin them down to the spirit of the books.
GE: Like much of Burgess’s writing, these stories contain a richness of language and florid vocabulary that we’ve maintained in our adaptation. The schoolteacher in the first film is, perhaps, an eloquently verbose version of Burgess himself, a man who enjoys showing off his encyclopaedic knowledge to the students. And The Muse continues Burgess’s fascination with Shakespeare and Elizabethan English.
The full text of this interview will be available as part of the show brochure at the Whitworth. No End To Enderby is a free event at the Whitworth from 30 June to 16 July as part of MIF17. For more information, please visit the MIF website.