With the reduction to practice of John Katzenbach’s novel »The Madman’s Tale« I dare to deal with a psychological subject for the first time. The novel with all its thrilling features is categorized under the principal theme of schizophrenic disorder:
»Many years after Francis’ release from a mental hospital, he faces up to the spirits of his past and writes the story of his life on the walls of his apartment. While writing he neglects his medication and his assumedly tamed disease shows up again. It is the return of suppressed memories that get alive again, long gone voices and people emerge from the shadows of the past to surround him.The line between now and then crumbles increasingly. Francis can tell apart less and less reality from the imaginary, the past from today and only the reader as a quiet observer can follow his desperate stumbling and gradually failing while he is telling his story.«
I admit, my love for Katzenbach’s novel started out with reaching into my book crate at random. It was my first encounter with the author. Even though I subsequently devoured all his books available like a vacuum cleaner there was none that could evoke one more time this initial feeling of enthusiastic dismay. The tale of that schizophrenic Francis touched and inspired me like only few other novels before – not because of the plot but because of the sensitivity that teaches you to see the world with Francis’ eyes. Beyond that there is great narrative structure where the levels of past, presence and insanity are increasingly melting and interrelating, Because of that the specifically selected and fine outlined scenario has been topping my to-do list for long.
The development of a suitable visual concept quickly showed that to my surprise even this abstract subject is eligible for my current favorite approach of realization: Different worlds on different levels.So far my previous models in most cases differed between surface and subterranean areas (thus making different areas of a physical room visible). This model plays with three different levels of perception that need to be realized:
(1) Francis’ increasingly distorted narrative presence,
(2) Francis’ growing memories that appear to be real and
(3) the exterior perspective of helpless neighbors and most of all the reader himself who watches the Madman’s stumbling. (As always a look at the genesis and development of the project is available in the Work-in-Progress documentary).
It all starts out with the lack of paper that makes Francis write the story of his life on the walls of his apartment – which other concept could be more suitable than the »wall behind the wall« ?
Accordingly, in my setting the past, the presence and the exterior view is in rooms stacked one after the other that correlate with each other.
We see Francis in the middle of the room, on his knees writing on the walls of his apartment. In doing so the wall opens under his hands like a vortex, revealing what is hidden in the back: images from his past. It is a bright orange-yellow setting, standing in a sharp contrast to that gray view from the window of his room. That mental hospital is placed in the center, superior and unreal it soars above the ridge. The glaring flare is flooding and blinding Francis. The light almost proverbially casts the shadows of the past in his present existence.
They are going out from Francis himself surrounding him like silhouettes of long gone friends and foes he had never got over.
The tragic anti-hero in the center of a conflicting crossfire of a delusional memory and present age feels incapable to evade. Only the ones outside can review the event from a distance because those levels of past and present age are preceded by a third level – the one of the reader or observer. In fact we are facing a third wall – much taller – from which we follow the tragic chamber play as a small, clearly defined scenario: an image reflected on our own wall that has eventually turned into Francis’ wall.
From this point like a silent bystander we can overview the proceedings, change or alter our angle of view, however, we can’t interfere with Francis’ inner or outer struggle.
Beside all bloody and tragic turns of the actual story maybe it is the most painful aspect of this great read.