Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable
This is the final print in the Suite and the third ‘biographical’ image.
On this latter aspect, I’ve been wondering if Paolozzi overlooked an incident for which I’m sure he would have created another great image. I’m thinking of Wittgenstein’s apparently ‘miraculous’ repair of a steam engine during his time teaching at Trattenbach in the Twenties. It was reported that Wittgenstein achieved this by orchestrating the application of nothing more than hammer taps to the machine by four men! Given the attractiveness of the mystical aspects of Wittgenstein’s thinking, and Paolozzi’s love of engineering imagery, this would be a very appropriate example of something being shown which cannot be explained verbally.
Here, below is my interpretation of 'The Miracle at Trattenbach':
In the The Duty of Genius, Ray Monk writes:
. . . the Western was Wittgenstein’s favourite genre. By the later 1930s, however, his taste had broadened to include musicals. His favourite actresses, he told Malcolm, were Carmen Miranda and Betty Hutton. Exhausted and disgusted by his lectures, he would invariably go to see a ‘flick’ after them, accompanied by Malcolm, Smythies or one of his other friends from the class. He would always sit at the front of the cinema, where he could be totally immersed in the picture. He described the experience to Malcolm as ‘like a shower bath’, washing away his thoughts of the lecture.
The ability to become completely absorbed in a performance was not new: while at Manchester, he had liked to attend concerts given by the Halle Orchestra with Jim Bamber, a laboratory assistant with whom he worked at the University. Bamber reported that Wittgenstein would concentrate intensely on the music, never speaking to or in any way interacting with his companion.
Wittgenstein liked his movies to be slick in style rather than deep in meaning – and American. He was of the view that no good British film had ever been made.
And here’s another mystery. In his correspondence with Norman Malcolm concerning Wittgenstein’s proposed trip to Ithaca, he said he wanted to be introduced to his favourite film star, Betty Hutton. Given this, it’s not obvious why Paolozzi used Betty Grable rather than Betty Hutton in the print’s title. Did:
- Paolozzi himself prefer Betty Grable?
- Paolozzi think that Grable was more well known outside the US?
- Malcolm get it wrong in reporting Wittgenstein’s preference?
- Wittgenstein himself muddle up the two actress’s names?
Not the final point, I trust; Wittgenstein’s last writing, just before his death, was published under the title: On Certainty. Taking the book’s theme – that some things just have to be accepted as they are – it’s probably as well to simply enjoy the title, without analysis, as a jokey reference to Wittgenstein’s liking of the cinema as a relaxing antidote to the rigours of his thinking and lecturing.