Thursday, July 2, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Donal Mosher Wins Award

This year’s SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a US Feature goes to OCTOBER COUNTRY. The film, directed by Michael Palmieri and LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Donal Mosher, documents the multi-generational story of a working-class family coping with poverty, teen pregnancy, foster care and the ineffable horrors of child molestation and war. The directors will receive $10,000 cash. The festival ran June 15-22.

Parts of October Country are excerpted in LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM. Here's an excerpt of those excerpts:

"Desi on her bed, high on candy corn, blood boiling with fructose. Her legs kick. Her hair flies. She bounces as if hurled from the mattress, making guttural noises, gibberish, and high, wild laughter. She's Linda Blair in The Exorcist--a film she's never seen because she is too frightened to watch horror films, especially those involving young girls.

"The trick to getting Desi to talk seriously is to film her at play first, sometimes for an hour or more. When she calms we broach the troubling subject of her mother's relationships. We ask if she's liked or trusted any of her mother's boyfriends..."

Friday, May 29, 2009

David Thomson on Film Fusion

"To put it very simply, and to return to the matter of absorption or direction, I suggest that many people from a certain range of history--people born between about 1900 and 1950--are like screens. That is to say that countless films have played upon our surface, whether we like it or not. And not just many films, but many films many times... We have seen Dark Victory or Chinatown or Kane so often we breathe in time with their cuts and we radiate possibility according to the luster of their image. We shuffle them together. They are all in the same pack, and we can do cute card tricks with them...

"And because we are screens, helpless gatherers of so many images,we hear a little bit of Bogart's Phillip Marlowe in his Dixon Steele (from In a Lonely Place), and we are so crowded and so promiscuous that we can see John Wayne kissing Greta Garbo ("How did you like that?" "How did I like what?"), even if such a touch never happened in movie history and, quite likely, never occurred in life. The metaphor of the screen (and its melting pot) is very suggestive, I think, for it lets us see how receptive and yet how superficial we are, like a helpless computer screen that must accept every bit of information put into it."

From "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood", Vintage, 2004

The accompanying image is from the series Delicate Balance by Michael Janis, 2007

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM Contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker's Film Journal, Final Day. "The Bride" (1973), directed by Jean-Marie Pélissie

"It's hard to figure out what's relevant and what's not relevant" a
hip young man, probably a cult film fan, says to a chubby smart-girl at a wedding.
Well, these are times of confusion and changes, right? observes an off-screen
onlooker. I'm not confused, the smart girl says
"That's because you aren't relevant" says the young man.
Alouette plays in the back on accordion and later the same young man
offers the same observation to a thinner girl. The father
of the bride is appalled at festive banality. There's a lot of grab-ass
happening at this wedding, union wages, wedding clothes.

In a previous scene, the bride shows the strangely
isolated house, all canted angles w/o need of camera
to a fiancé who’s clearly a creep. I imagine the entire
film was built around the idea of this house, like a house in a dream that
you think you lived in, unfinished
with rooms you can’t remember being there
and you can find it on the map
next to places that you swear exist
like the Winchester Mystery House that
seems to exist next to a mall. A house
to shoot awkward porn
abandoned mid-cut.

Of course the camera operator can hardly help but
not cant the film after this house.
The bride, she crazy. Some idiot gave her a chicken once, the father
of the bride begins to tell the groom.

This is after he's
cheated on her
at the wedding, she's
slashed his hand in proxy, made a
spectacle of herself with blood,
and run away. Both of us are MIA
in 2009, blurred
but belligerent.

Luckily the father in the law
has a good sense of humor, the kind of
dad that these confused times require and
even he isn’t enough
even when the post
on sill of
ghostly architecture isn’t enough,
when your everydayness
is on the screen
like blood from a minor injury or
wasting yourself on something
that sucks.

The bride torments us w/some blood,
not much nudity,
No surprises here to a polka rhythm.
And this is my fourth day of no real surprises
or strange ones that don't seem to amount to much,
the lumpen in proletariat.
I worry about the crazy bride
missing and bloody, coming as we both have
to the wavelength of bad that's not even interesting
or hip for party conversations and, let me ask you, when
did this all fall off the map, when
did the stuff of it stop refusing
and acquiesce
to our current sadness
of relevance? I think it matters.

There are a number of people who think that
slasher films have a rhythm, a dead body per
a certain number of minutes; time to talk, grab,
go to the can, etc. A book I read claimed
that it’s the Passolini-esque elements
that matter in “vernacular cinema.” It’s hard
to train failure, though.

The movie quavers over the top, then settles
into an oddly comforting ending, both
the bride and her untrue husband
dead together always. Like dreams I’ve had in which
I’ve suddenly had a random lover and been pleased
and thought that the situation wasn’t any worse
than anything else that might happen. Like my
best appropriation of otherness,
feeling the image
of other bored people.
I bought all of the films I reviewed at Best Buy where
any idiot can find them for cheap. Hours and hours
of endless movies for less than $10.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker keeps a film journal, Day 3: "Cindy and Donna" (1970), directed by Robert Anderson

Are you afraid to be a woman?
Cindy and Donna
wear short skirts
Donna lets a boy
put his hand between her
legs as a form of goodbye. Their
house appears to have a beautiful
Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window,
except up close it’s a dingy kitchen curtain. There’s a bar
by the door; it seems like something
someone saw in a movie. Cindy is 20 and 13 and she’s Donna’s sister.

Their mother does a bad Bette Davis impersonation to music
from the Beverly Hillbillies which tell us early on
that this is a bad family written large
on culture as a mistake, as anal aural, as
bad smell of popular bricolage for
idiots. The family is set of mixed Bourdieu symbols: dad drives
a truck and has a briefcase and listens to
Neal Hefti alone, then country with his friends, then folk or the Monkees, some young people’s music when he watches nudie girl whose fringed g-string indicates
imprecise debate about the value of pubic hair. Hot Flash Racing Pigs, the sign reads behind her.
At his house, the radio comments: “Another riot broke out at Berkeley. . . “ and then Donna
changes the news of raging pubic hair to the kind of music I listen to all the time,
funky instrumental music that I have found no evidence
ever played on any music stations at any time
in history outside of movies. She puts on a shortie nightie. “Oh Cindy, how can you see if you can’t feel if you won’t touch, Cindy?” asks the non-diegetic sensitive boy theme song as she toys with masturbation but remains more appropriately topless moody and contemplative.

At home Mom and Dad are drunk, imitating middle-class people although everything
indicates that they aren’t middle-class or the film uncovers that being middle-class means
you can be trashy and drunk and still say the right words and everyone will just kinda smile
and say, well OK, why not? Still the parents parody bad movie parents so much that even Cindy and Donna are unimpressed. We know they won’t go to college, that everything
matters about their keeping their knees together and, then again, nothing does. I’m thinking that the film is about something serious, about wanting to orgasm in spite of culture, of
finding a routine, a set-up, a way to manage other impulses. Cindy and Donna’s father
takes up an affair with the fringed stripper. She’s a model, independent, and yet her situation seems evidence that masturbating in your bedroom at your dad’s house is maybe the best there is,
so why fight the inevitability?

Donna and Cindy are indistinguishable except that Donna has had sex. The aura of the film only cares for Cindy, it follows her with a Herb Alpert Latin groove versioning of the “Cindy how can you?” to the beach where she and a less attractive friend pick up boys. The music highlights the global imperative for Cindy to find some way to touch, to feel, to see even as all she seems to find is incest and dry-humping. I can imagine women in the audience in 1970 were maybe interested in this the same way my midwestern college students are interested now. When I ask them, so what’s the big deal about sex for teen girls, they look at me vaguely and say, “well, you should go to college instead.”

Cindy and Donna’s parents depart for a convention, all to the Beverly Hillbillies theme even as it’s the time when they seem the most respectable and you almost feel bad for them, what with moody Cindy and all. Donna falls into prurience. She sleeps with boys for drugs, she poses for pornographic photos, she sleeps with her father because ‘it’s just a groove,” mimicking something that fancy Berkeley kids say, I guess. Her scenes are always played out to R&B music in the
classic American warning
that’s a little about going to college
and the like.

It’s maybe half way through the movie and I’m pretty sure that Donna and Cindy’s parents are going to die on the way to their convention.

Cindy’s confusion continues: she’s uptight, her best girl friend says.
They have sex and it seems pretty good for Cindy even if the
whole trip is for hetero-boy-boy viewers. This is maybe the reason Cindy keeps holding
out and why she can’t hold out, what the future looks like from angles shot through her legs, on her back, straddling drugged out boys with nice houses. Her friend is nice, I think, understanding if not particularly helpful.

I’m jealous to find out that Cindy’s parents can afford a swimming pool in the backyard though I must say that everyone in every 70s exploitation film has a pool and they all treat it like it’s nothing, just a groove.

We’ve kind of been waiting for Cindy to put out and she does, predictably, with her sister Donna’s boyfriend. Turns out I was wrong about the parents, they apparently live, although its remains unclear in what capacity. Donna dies after trying to save Cindy from her boyfriend’s bad intentions. Cindy gets our Freudian wish; she’s last seen swinging on a swing set alone and moody. We can see up her dress. I don’t have a lot to say about this film in the same way it’s hard to know about what most teen girls think about sex and the possibilities of college and future.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Richard Grayson: The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County, from LIFE AS WE SHOW IT

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Richard Grayson's story has been excerpted on the literary online mag Rumpus, with original artwork.

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker keeps a film journal, day 2..."Blood Mania"

Blood Mania
incest in the context overlaid by credits in the first 2 minutes then we’re ask to forget it matters.
The secret blood is abortion we find out although there is no blood in much of the film.
Only nice house and women that maybe abortion allows. It’s the chiaroscuro that
tacky houses produce,
crazy shit going down around the dying father. A woman slashing away at an unseen picture, lesbians outta Bannon and Taylor, lonely and outside of lonely,
a lined incantation of what het boys dig.
“hybridity of the feminine,” blood mania
is her name.

It’s surrealism w/o class. I’m building a proxy w/
words rhythms because I want to avoid
what surrealism implies, like being found wanting always.
A new friend asked me, “are you gurlesque?” and I wasn’t sure what she
meant and felt bad about that but instinctually thought
probably not. No one’s ask me to be, if that’s what’s at
issue. Is there money in it? A month later, in a bed and breakfast that felt like
a boarding house for snazzy folks slumming cozy
in the Midwestern university town where I live, I told another friend about
it. I’d looked up what the it meant, read some stuff, saw that, yeah, shit, I
suppose I’m the right lonely nerdy age and all the stuff
had the right rhythm of barbie fucking, “girls in the shadow
of feminism said with quivery voice” and I liked the work and writers and
realized I’d met a few here and there. We rock the right splatter pop
making up words something or other. Hey there, lonely girl.
Are other girls asking me anything, I often wonder? My friend, a man
by the way, in Midwestern b&b house
said that folks like us are watchers and that we tend to sit
back from groups of all kinds.
We drank good liquor quietly after that and I wondered if
the proprietors of that goodly house were awake and wide-eyed,
staring at the ceiling.

Blood Mania makes me want to avoid
surrealism because folks will
laugh and I associate that laughing
with the sense not of watching but that
watching isn’t particularly productive and
instinctually I get defensive. The economy of the
film makes fools of women and money. Here’s surrealism without class:
1. a wife assumes if she fucks a guy blackmailing her husband for $50,000
money in pre-Roe/Wade America that he’ll let it slide. There’s a nice
candle on the table while she does it.
2. The tit-ular star assumes that she’ll inherit money from her ailing
father because he’s fucked her and she swims topless in his pool
and he fantasies about her and she managed not to become a lesbian
like her sister, who does inherit all the money and, I realize, appeared in the opening credits with
a rope around her neck. Titular winds up inheriting “access” to the house w/pool, money towards upkeep of said house, and a $250 a week allowance. That’s a sweet deal I think. A good divorce. You could live Norma Desmond swank on that money, tool around town in a cool car, go to some record stores, get an abortion or two, try on make-up you buy based on TV commercials, watch folks from short distances, watch their faces and admire them.
3. There’s a lesbian who talks tough and ballsy to the roguish male lead and then, tenderly,
leaves the scene after a sexy discussion about being the type of woman who can only
live lonely in New York with other lonely women. She doesn’t take anyone’s money
and she’s muy classy. Nobody has to ask her to leave.
4. The sisters have a moment of sanity. Agree to share the house and expenses. Maybe
hang out, seduce the pool boy together, whatever in the sunshine.
5. There’s a lonely nurse who inherits $1500 and plans to spend it on colorful
clothes that we never get to see her buy.
5. There’s a renaissance fair, soft focus photography about everything but sex,
there’s sadism and guys who get off on it in women, there’s art, there’s a murdered father who
raises up like a pale erection with red lips in his death throes.
6. At one point there’s a pause in the film conversation where I was led to believe the
titular staring woman huffed glue.
7. Electronic music was by Wurlitzer!
8 And it ends like the environment of Scorpio Rising.

And its an economy not favoring surrealism.
And I’m supposed to talk about feminist aesthetics, and gurlesque
and failure and surrealism and the 1970s when I was just a kid; I’m supposed to
talk in another Midwestern university town about it.
So in the end, the titular woman’s painting is
of herself as a skeleton and
the roguish male star stares at her painting
after she’s hacked her sister to death.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker Keeps a Film Journal

“Hysteresis”, Elizabeth Hatmaker's contribution to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT, re-views a largely forgotten film called Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff, regarding it from various perspectives (close-up, wide shot, inside out, outside in) which call into question the idea that only so-called classic films have something to say or to read and that only one way of watching is worth one's time or reaps rewards.

Over the next week, she'll be keeping a film journal with the same breadth of insight. She writes:

"My passion is for forgotten films," she writes, "stuff I remember seeing, as they say, awry through the haze of bad late-night cable transfer, mangled-for-TV edits, and decayed soundtracks. For me, these films are not so much cheesy or camp; rather they suggest a very embodied sense of abject invisibility. They force me to recognize that I‘ve spent the last hour and half grooving on nothing more than boredom.

"In reception theory (**) they refer to “distracted” viewers-- suburban housewives who watch soaps amid household tasks, pervs of all ages out for action at the local grindhouse, “dumb” working-class teenagers watching slasher films at a drive-in. Films not worth paying attention to playing to audiences who aren’t bright or savvy or at ease enough to pay attention.

"In the spirit of these viewers (and I identify with them all) I propose to watch four forgotten films: Pick-Up (1975), Blood Mania (1970), Cindy and Donna (1970), and The Bride (1973). I’m not going to make any fancy claims that these films shouldn’t perhaps remain forgotten. Instead, I hope to engage as a sort of optical medium, catching the lacrimal silt of distracted viewing and pushing it out. This kind of viewing feels important to me not only because modes of viewing are problematically classed and categorized and forgotten in the same way films are, but also because the disjointed seeing and hearing, mis-seeing and awkward hearing, even the moments where boredom overtakes all that involves us in film and video culture remain profound physical and earthy acts. Films are not only those shiny heads on the wall."

DAY ONE: "Pick-up" (1975), directed by Bernard Hirschenson

I keep thinking that they should get the drugs in the mobile home to the kids in Tallahassee, that rich kids don’t want to wait for drugs. I wonder what the promise of an extra $20 for timely delivery means in 1975.

In the beginning there are two girls and a stuffed animal, a lame tiger, I think. There’s wheat which is the excuse for natural-like soft-focus. The dream before the film crystallizes to a stained glass window then it crystallizes further– a Thunderbird, maybe a hood ornament since the film is called “Pick-up” and we’ve seen two girls in a rural seeming area and that’s how I imagine girls are picked up, like the Chevy Van song. But it’s a belt buckle finally. A man and he sees the girls and things crystallize. He’ll fuck both women. He’s got big-assed wheels. He’s, we’re told, an Aries, all of whom are frenetic. His van offers a promise of a ride, better roads, of a way even in the 1970s for folks to get the fuck out if only to go to other cities undifferentiated on any map. Of the memory of old time fictional escapes: Bonny and Clyde, Hickcocks and Smith, of wondering what features the mobile home holds. Really it’s a bus on which “mobile home” is featured, I don’t know what the space is called, but the space on the front where “out of service” appears on buses in my town.

Who needs to know this, who needs the variation between? Features: a bathroom with swirly white and pink tile, a fucking phone, no shit. The girls admire. One notes that it's wired for sound as the guy turns up the soundtrack. “Oh, it’s Bach!” one trills. Except it isn’t. Or I guess it’s Pachabel’s Canon, except with a groove beat, a grinding string jam underneath like Jazzercize. Yet the mobile home means less and less, it fades in its material configuration along the Florida highway, the central corridor like the grapevine in California. One girl is toothy and bra-less. The other is spooky. I suspect we see through the spooky girl’s eyes, which is fine with me. Her eyes bug out artily and unintentionally as the camera turns away. The toothy one tempts some Southern rapscallion boys in a truck. They are topless with cowboy belt buckles. The soundtrack music veers to stupidity. She is in a mobile home so their threat seems less prescient. A car or a van or a self-proclaimed mobile home is more an excuse than a viable way to escape, however. “By the time I get to Phoenix” always assumes future-tense leaving, which popular culture doesn’t quite risk. The mobile home passes the truck and the soundtrack returns to rhythmic order.

So we know about the sex. We can do the math. Two chicks. Van. We can read the signs. The phone rings and an actor who looks like Rod Steiger or an older Marlon Brando or the actor who played Boss Hogg tells the mobile home to get the fuck to
Tallahassee. Only in Naples, and a rainstorm is coming. There’s a detour without explanation and the road becomes more and more treacherous and the story stops, and I’m wondering if someone has waylaid the mobile home for the drugs, but no. The van gets mired in the swamp, the Everglades I guess, without reason much like Ballard’s Concrete Island. No effort is made to escape and the music gets Basil Kirshin chic all the sudden.

Spooky tells us to reconcile ourselves to God. She wears eye make-up like Cher and it’s unclear what religion or God exists. She plays Tarot and the audience is God in that they always know which card will be turned. She is Catholic and we see flashbacks to stained glass. She appears to be wearing a bathrobe. Is anyone transfixed? I’m still hung up on the boring questions: Aren’t the Everglades south of Naples? The Everglades are one of those places people with mobile homes go to, yes? My own Gulfstream-owning family members went there. Like the Salton Sea or the Upper Peninsula. Or I wonder if some rival drug gang has set the mobile home off course and plans to gang rape every occupant.

Or the nice protagonist guy is a psycho. Or every guy in the seats in the theatre around you is secretly a psycho. And together we wonder: which chick is hotter and are we supposed to have some consensus about it? The math plays out the dimensions measured, the triangulation complete and lots of women in the theater wonder which chick they look most like. I look more like the spooky one, in case anyone wonders. The rain comes down and the mobile home is pleasant and seems as if it would smell pleasant and I long for moments between the economic pressures for stuff that looks like it would smell good and sexual configurations that don’t involve competition and I am caught wondering why watching things like this is never enough. And nothing happens. In 1975 I would be the chick who sits in the audience and asks questions to the screen. It’s been 20 minutes and no one’s fucking, so what’s the story? Or I’d make lewd comments about the women or I’d make up bad puns. But there’s two chicks, so he has to have sex with them both because it would violate some Chekhov rule if he didn’t. I can imagine the eyes of guys in the theater around me, that sad low look that tells me I’m dumb and naive and I’ve already admitted I assumed there would be gang rape and what kind of girl gamely plays along with this narrative? The look at my looking scares the hell out of me even as I turn the predictable cards of low budget fate. By the time I get to Tallahassee, by the time this movie’s over, by the time this decade closes, by the time I blow this town, by the time I get myself liberated, and the rhythmic soundtrack overtakes me.

The film gets surreal at this point. There’s a friendly raccoon in the Everglades and it draws together the toothy bra-less girl and the mobile home guy. The spooky chick, omni spiritual, has an encounter with the goddess of Apollo; she writhes naked on her alter. She sees a clown and is terrified. There are balloons. The edits are both leisurely and without impulse. The other couple have idyllic sex and it turns out the guy isn’t a psycho. The toothy girl kisses her limp stuffed animal. We find out in a series of flashbacks that: 1) the spooky girl was raped by her priest as a child 2) The best sex the toothy girl ever had was with a round faced boy in her youth and 3) The non-psycho man with the mobile home was both terrified and turned on by his mother as a teenaged boy which is in no way marked as something that might make a guy psycho. Yet the film refuses to foreclose on my hackneyed desires, twirling desire on the string, the naked ideal couple– toothy and obsessed with positive youthful sexuality– swing from the trees in the swamp from which no one wishes to escape.

Except, Chekhov is never wrong. The toothy girl gets tired of sex. The phone keeps ringing to remind us all about late deliveries and our lost $20 bucks and finally the guy succumbs to the spooky girl and it’s, like, great. And all of her hackneyed fantasies appear and swirl at her feet. And leisurely the scene shifts. Except you can’t put rapscallion boys in a picture with no purpose. And the toothy girl gets it. She’s found in the swamp, her small hand emerging grasping the limp stuffed tiger. Except the scene disintegrates. And we see the spooky girl’s eye and we’re back at the beginning of the film in a wheat field and we groan in unison. Except she smiles and gets animated about taking a ride with the guy in the mobile home.

**Reception Theory: This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for "negotiation" and "opposition" on the part of the audience. This means that a "text"—be it a book, movie, or other creative work—is not simply passively accepted by the audience, but that the reader / viewer interprets the meanings of the text based on their individual cultural background and life experiences. In essence, the meaning of a text is not inherent within the text itself, but is created within the relationship between the text and the reader.

Friday, May 15, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Wayne Koestenbaum on Star-F!@*ing

Growing up with this preoccupation with stardom...people from official histories also become stars. So for you, Emily Dickinson is a star, in the same way that Michael Jackson might be.

WAYNE: Right. Well, stars ... I have my most interesting thoughts and feelings around stars.

Is a star someone you intensely transfer feelings onto?

WAYNE: Right. Somebody I discovered, not by meeting them, but by perceiving them in a number of ways.

What do you think it is — this intensity of being able to take what one is thinking about or feeling or identifying with, and going to the star and trying to find what one is looking for there, especially by digging and by explicating...?

WAYNE: Part of my interest in stars has to do with the star world being an endless source of visual stimulation. I think of it largely as visual stimulation. Right away, as we're talking, I see star cheekbones, star noses, star breasts — and they're all as particular as people I've had sex with or wanted to have sex with. It's an enormous trove of sensory memory... Just say " Montgomery Clift." The levels of my interest in Montgomery Clift work exactly the way literary or cultural allusion works in art. It's reference. But how beautiful the two words, Montgomery Clift. They have in them, it seems to me, just a fathomless sea of visual and narrative nuggets. There is a whole tragic narrative. It's like a CD- Rom or something. I'm aware that knowledge is often very ephemeral, that you have to be a fan to know it all. But I know a lot of those things about the people I care about. It's a kind of literacy that enlivens daily perception. It adds layers.

-from an interview with Peter Halley, originally published in INDEX magazine, 1999. For a full transcript, go here.

Wayne Koestenbaum is the author of Andy Warhol, The Milk of Inquiry, The Queen's Throat, Jackie Under My Skin, Cleavage, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, Best-selling Jewish Porn Films, Model Homes, and Hotel Theory. Find his work on

For LIFE AS WE SHOW IT, Koestenbaum dissects his lifelong discovery of "Elizabeth Taylor".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Daphne Gottlieb on the slasher film as a version of social drama:

LiP Magazine: Are you a fan of slasher films?

Daphne Gottlieb: I admire them, I like them. Like pornos, they’re about bodily fluids, in this case blood and guts—things we normally don’t get to talk about. At their center, slasher films represent all the things we have to suppress to function as a society—incest, mental illness, deformity, death, vomit, blood, feces. They socially mimic what our collective unconscious is doing. In that way they’re very cathartic. And they’re ritualistic—there’s a formula to them to the point where we can satirize them. It’s the same thing in porn—because we understand the formula, we feel like we have control over what’s happening.

But these are essentially conservative forms – the world is always put back in order at the end.

LiP: Do you see them as misogynist or having elements of misogyny?

DG: To see them as misogynist you have to think fairly literally. Carol Clover’s book Men Women and Chainsaws reminds us not to think too literally about gender in horror films, since a lot of times the killer is really coded female and the victim is coded male.

Then you switch from identifying with the killer to the victim in the course of the film—I can’t think of any other forms where that happens.

At the beginning you’re forced to identify with the killer, you have the zombie cam coming up behind the girl, you’re forced to identify with the bad guy. People yell, “Watch out!” or “Don’t go in there!” but it’s in sort of a mocking way. Then toward the end you switch and start identifying with the victim, like at the end of Halloween when Jamie Lee Curtis is in the closet.

The slasher film is only as misogynistic as our culture, it’s leveraging things that are already in our culture. For instance the highly sexualized woman is always killed off, because you can’t have a sexually willing, young nubile survive. It shows us where the boundaries of normative, acceptable behavior are.

LiP: Are you a fan of pop culture and camp?

DG: I guess, as much as anyone else. I taught feminist film theory, with everything from film noir to horror. I’m not as much interested in pop culture without camp, though. I don’t have much use for it. I like the distance camp gives us, the wink and nudge, the commentary that’s inherent in the form.

Daphne Gottlieb is the author of Final Girl, a book of poems which explore the issues discussed above. Look for the book here

The rest of the above 2003 interview, originally published in Lip Magazine, can be found here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Life As We Show It: Writing on Film, a review from the May/June 2009 Film Comment

After writer Maggie Nelson’s aunt Jane was murdered, Nelson’s mother could no longer stomach films in which women were threatened by guns. Going to the movies years later, Nelson describes how “whenever such a scene arose I immediately felt my mother close beside me in the dark theatre. Her hands spread across her face, her pinkies pushing down on her eyelids so she can’t see.” There are many things I like about this description, not least the pressure of fingertips on eyelids, the simplicity of which speaks to the direct and visceral response that films can exact. But more than this, the possibility that we watch through the eyes of people absent as well as present—the same way that there may be more people in the bed than the ones actually having sex—is an idea that makes the act of viewing film so much more interesting than it normally appears.

Nelson’s excerpted memoir appears in Life as We Show It, an anthology of essays, screenplays, and stories about watching movies that has the virtue of not treating life and cinema as obvious antagonists. In the introductory essay, co-editor Masha Tupitsyn recalls a classic scene from the 1958 film The Blob in which the eponymous monster, oozing out of a projection booth, devours the bodies of moviegoers and expands until it spills out of the movie house and onto the street. The scene is a nice conceit for the impossibility of confining film to the movie theater—not merely because of its proliferating presence on the small screens of today’s wired households but because films tend to infiltrate our minds, forming prosthetic memories that are hard to distinguish from real ones. But if the intertwining of cinema with our personal lives has often been material for frightening scenarios of invasion and possession, the talented writers in this collection make clear that this is too passive an understanding of the relationships we form with films. While many of the stories told here consider what films do to viewers—such as Abdellah Taia’s aching account of how watching a film catalyzed his sexual awakening as a gay man—quite often the emphasis falls on what viewers do with films. In Rebecca Brown’s “My Western,” for example, the iconic film Shane is treated as a series of clues into the far more important tale the narrator is composing about her disappointing father. In Myriam Gurba’s disturbing story “The Gospel According to Larry,” a traumatized girl cannibalizes scenes from Larry Clark’s film Kids in order to fill in details of the personal rape she cannot remember, and in “Outtakes” Lidia Yuknavitch rewrites Rebel Without a Cause to drive home the redundancy of women in the boys only romantic fantasies favoured by Hollywood.

One of the pleasures of this collection is that writing about movie viewing produces a cheerful and salutary indifference to conventional judgements of a film’s “importance.” In Richard Grayson’s charming paean to the suburban cinemas of his youth, Victor/Victoria is remembered not for being a great film, but for marking the first time the author held hands with another man. For me the two highlights in this regard are Wayne Koestenbaum’s essay about the body of Elizabeth Taylor (which might, just might tempt you to look again at Cleopatra), and “Phone Home,” Dodie Bellamy’s story of her preoccupation with E.T. when her mother was dying of lung cancer. Life as we Show It is not without flaws. Some of the pieces could have been pruned and the book needed more editorial explanation for the selection and grouping of individual works. But I would buy this book for Bellamy’s piece alone. To watch as cinema’s most famous stranded alien becomes by turns a figure for the narrator’s alienation from her mother’s body through illness and age, the alienation of the able bodied from boys like Matthew De Meritt, the boy with no legs who helped bring E.T. to life by walking on his hands, and finally an opportunity to reflect on what alien technologies like cinema can do to repair these rifts—is to have one’s own ideas about how and why films matter to us completely and productively overturned.

© 2009 by Nicola Evans

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Robert Glück Remaps the Jungle

Several years ago, LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Robert Glück participated in an exercise for the website Writers and artists were asked to collaborate on describing the plot of a film they'd never seen but heard enough about to form strong impressions.

The idea was that an entirely separate but symbiotic movie existed in the mind, reliant on the imagery, tone, and silhouette of the source but independent of its narrative limits and avenues, imaginatively liberated to go off in innumerable uncharted directions.

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM explores related terrain. Its writers also wonder what that middle space is between screen and audience, what exists and/or thrives there, and what kind of things that eternal exchange from movie to mind and back produces.

The film Glück chose to recreate was:


He is the jungle so he can fly through it swim through it talk with the animals die in it, there is no resistance.

There is a woman who loves him. It equals loving the jungle. Alice is not the jungle, she loves the jungle by loving George. Alice has a mother, stylish and driven like Cruella DeVille. We all love evil women who are into fashion. She combines negligence with domination, because she is a big time businesswoman in a Manhattan glass-sheathed skyscraper with a view of life and death. She comes to visit. George brings amazing-to-us flowers in greeting—he’s a flower amazing-to-us. Despite her stiletto heels, Mother is comically prepared for her stay in the jungle, accessorized for the jungle with zebra skin pedal pushers and elaborate coiffeur. For example, her hair dryer turns into an air-conditioner, so while everyone else is schvitzing she’s cool as a cucumber.

George doesn’t really understand: Uguumphoh means I am attracted to Brendan Fraser because of Gods and Monsters. His goofy humor makes him resemble Marilyn Monroe. Comedy gives me access to him, like Brendan would be exploitable, a beefcake version of a dumb blond, and at the same time I feel the real Brendan would be loose and willing, touching even. His soft, soft face, soft muscles, he has a surprisingly narrow waist, it is surprisingly narrow from certainly angles, and a surprisingly meaty torso pivots on it.

In response to her mother’s whole attitude, Alice shrugs mightily, “Mother look around.” They both look at the vines braiding themselves through fat-leaved trees and the intelligent ape companion who chatters away swinging from a limb. He’s a nanny to George Junior who is playing with a baby crocodile. George Junior is in training to be the next King of the Jungle—incredible as it sounds, time will pass, the jungle will be the same forever but not George. Mother and daughter consider the tree house that George has fashioned, which is really a nest suspended by ropes. It rocks in the swaying branches. It’s the daughter’s version of living in a jungle skyscraper. “I ran as far away from you and your world as the globe would allow me to go.”

Little intelligent ape and George Junior are playing with something shiny, what is it?—a huge diamond. Where did they find it? On Elephant Mountain. You can see Elephant Mountain in the distance, a mountain that looks like an elephant. The sun is sinking over it. Mother contemplates the mountain, you can see her elegant silhouette, one arm lifting her martini at an angle. Then her face lights up with the last rays of the sun. Is she responding to the beauty of the sunset? Mother runs a development company, and she has an idea.

There are many gifts the jungle gives freely, fruit, fish, flowers, images. Mother is not satisfied unless she takes more than is offered. George is the jungle so when Mother decides to tear apart Elephant Mountain to make a diamond mine it is himself she will be tearing apart.

He is too dumb and obliging to realize this, but Alice has an increasingly sick feeling as helicopters arrive, the jungle is cleared for an airstrip, and a crowd of miners and corporate ghouls descends. Yet it all seems like a way to be closer to mom. They all set out for Elephant Mountain, which is a trek. The new arrivals are comically incapable of dealing with life in the jungle. One skinny VP is afraid of everything. His fear is comic—like when he finds a little yellow snake coiled in his shoe one morning and the snake hypnotizes him as though he were a mouse, which he resembles, as if the little snake were going to eat him. Another VP is rapacious. He is fat and greedy and sees everything as an opportunity to make money. His rapacity is comic—like when he decides to sell the art of the tribe they meet along the way, the Elephant Mountain People. He buys a ton of art from the laughing tribesmen who keep trying to tell him something but he doesn’t listen, he is frantically greedy. He discovers what they were trying to say when he washes a statue of an elephant in the river. The statue and everything else is made from the dung of the elephant herd sacred to this tribe.

Mother makes everyone stop at four o’clock so she can pour herself a martini from her silver thermos. In the trees birds perch like flowers. Just seeing them is an honor.

The miners discover that there are no diamonds—that the lumpy diamond was actually taken from an ancient idol worshipped by this tribe, the third eye of an elephant. Naughty little intelligent ape took it and George puts it back. At night, the rapacious VP tries to steal the diamond for himself, he so excited by it that his fingers wriggle as though the diamond magnetizes them. He gets it in his big mitt and he looks up to see a million spears pointing at him. The next morning the smart little ape goes Chef Che Che and leads George to the spot where the unhappy VP is buried to his neck in a termite hill. The fat VP suffers almost terminal willies as the termites roil over him like a delirium tremens.

George, George Junior, the ape, Alice, and the tribe are so happy that Elephant Mountain will not be exploited. The tribe is happy to have its mystic eye back. They already think George is a god—well he is a god. He’s as simple as dirt and sky, as though you could penetrate the world by penetrating George of the Jungle. So the jungle is not going to be torn down. Alice and George celebrate by flying through the treetops, watch out for that tree. Intelligent ape and George Junior slide down the rapids and over the waterfalls. They play leapfrog with wildebeests. Mother is watching this family entertainment. You think by Mother’s expression that she is delighted by their joy, that she is changing, becoming human. Inspired by their play she has another even worse idea than the diamond mine: they should turn the mountain into a George of the Jungle amusement park. Experience the jungle at $20 a ride. Bring the whole family. George (the jungle) will be a tourist attraction like Disney World or San Francisco.

George doesn’t understand. These people Bad? What Bad mean? No you can’t be serious. For money? In a way it is the master who takes the ape role, giving us a chuckle now and then (watch out for that tree). The intelligent ape explains Evil to George.

George gets the idea. He tells a pride of lions to attack but the executives trap the lions and send them back to zoos. George leads a stampede of elephants. There are ancient cities made of gold, but what is gold to George of the Jungle? He passes through the sacred Lost City and through the Elephant Graveyard on the back of an elephant. George feels the subtlety of his spine as he rides--he’s almost naked. It’s sex as he rides the subtle trumpeting animal, his ass glued to the elephant’s back, his legs spread-eagle, his prostate with its own life swelling, emitting signals--rapturous jungle. George, George, George of the jungle. The herd tramples the new foundations of the George of the Jungle Park. George makes animal calls for sheer joy. It is the jungle speaking to itself, but the executives shoot the elephants for ivory.

Suddenly there are cable cars going up and down the mountain carrying mobs of noisy tourists. Fake rides imitate real experiences. Misshapen kids wear George of the Jungle outfits, there are African concession stands everywhere. Fake hippos rise from the brown river. They are shot by a fake big game hunter—it’s the scared skinny VP!--and submerge with a fake roar. The tribal people operate the rides and clean the park—slave labor. The sacred elephant god—eyeless again—stands desolate in the childcare center, a ride for snotty toddlers. Mother and her fat VP exalt in satisfied greed. Turning Elephant Mountain into an amusement park is the form that being out of touch with her daughter has taken. If she were human, she would worship George just as her daughter does, just as we do, but instead she wants to shrink him into a Disney attraction. Kids swing from lianas into foam trees.

A horrid pink poodle pisses on the idol’s leg and that is the final straw. Desecrating the elephant idol is the final straw for the gods of the Elephant Mountain. The elephant’s wooden face becomes furious, the trunk lifts, a huge trumpeting deafens the mob. Hands over ears. The earth starts to rumble. Everyone looks up and jaws almost fall off in horror as the top of the mountain blows and a shower of smoke and burning embers starts raining down. All at once palms drop coconuts on VP skulls. The powerbrokers fall, strings cut. George has to save a load of tourists careening out of control in a cable car that races down hill and then downstream towards the spectacular but now polluted waterfall. The water is angry too. Mothers clutch their children, men scream like babies—they have this coming. George clings to the cable car. He is like a traveling tendril, a vine whose furious life is at its tip.

The intelligent ape is smarter than his master and figures things out. Like how to rescue the repentant Mother from the collapsing bridge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kevin Killian on Film

When Masha Tupitsyn and I started trying to figure out how to turn our ongoing discussion about film into an anthology, we looked to writers we loved whose work seemed to be having that conversation in some way too. Kevin Killian was one of the first people who came to mind.

Several years ago, I asked Killian to play a game of word association revolving around the subject of movies and movie stars. The exercise seemed appropriate to me at the time because Killian had always been so impressively succinct in what he had to say about film and so encyclopedic in terms of what he knew, which created an interesting tension between informative candor and cryptic precision. Reading this word game again now, I realize I simply wanted to hear what he had to say. I like hearing Kevin talk about movies. I could listen to him talk about movies all day. The same goes for all the contributors to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT, which is I think what compelled us to ask them to participate in the first place, however I might gussy that impulse up in theory to make it sound more impressively academic.

Killian's work consistently references film. His book of poems, Argento Series (2001), uses the filmmaker Dario Argento as a thematic springboard, but even his novels, which don't ostensibly have to do with film, operate like one in various ways, echoing motifs from Douglas Sirk's melodramas and the ironic reversals and Technicolor gloss of Ross Hunter productions, among other things. Killian is the author of two novels--Shy (1989) and Arctic Summer (1997)--a book of memoirs--Bedrooms Have Windows (1989)--several books of stories--Little Men (1996), I Cry Like a Baby (2001), and Impossible Princess (forthcoming, 2009)--and many plays. Our word game started with...

Joan Crawford:

KILLIAN: Scott Fitzgerald wrote that you couldn't write a scene for Crawford in which she had to change her expression, in a single take. You had to cut away to another character or prop, then back to her face. Otherwise it looked like an explosion happening right on her face. She's not subtle, but- "Dancing Lady," sex tension between Crawford and Gable is hot enough to light a match. PWROAR! I think little children are drawn to her or repelled by her, anyhow she must be one of the first stars children recognize because her face is so vivid, not to mention her personality. She continues to be underrated, because she tries so hard.

Robert Bresson:

"What does one do with one's enthusiasms? Where do they keep? There's an anxiety in declaring oneself a Kylie fan-similar to how coming out used to feel. Dennis Cooper can say, "Oh, I'm influenced by Bresson," and people will nod with approbation, even if they're thinking of Cartier-Bresson. I suffered some credibility loss while under the spell of Dario Argento, but nothing like the waves of shame and misery that engulf me when people say, "Kylie who? That girl who did "The Lo-comotion"?" I think I like her because she remind me of myself, I don't have Dennis' genius, not to mention Bresson's, but like Kylie I can stretch out a second or third rate talent and make it mean something by a) insisting on its smallness; b) attempting to push the envelope, usually by collaboration with others and c) feeling no guilt when, in a corner, at the end of my tether, or upset by something in my personal life, I retreat to my roots and produce version XYZ of the thing I know you'll like from me. . . " That said, Bresson has been a constant presence throughout the writing of "Spreadeagle," particularly his notes on models, as he called his actors. "Respect man's nature without wishing it more palpable than it is."--"A system does not regulate everything. It is a bait for something. Apply myself to insignificant (non-significant) images." -- "His voice draws for me his mouth, his eyes, his face, makes for me his complete portrait, outer and inner, better than if he were in front of me. The best deciphering got by the ear alone. Two persons, looking each other in the eye, see not their eyes but their looks. (The reason why we get the colour of a person's eyes wrong?)"

Russ Meyer:

not much to say.

Brian Dipalma (yes or no? If yes, your two favorite BDP films. If no, name the most annoying):

Favorites? "Sisters" and "Blow Out." Leslie Singer and I went to see "Raising Cain" and we were the only ones in an empty theater, clapping and cheering and going bananas, a wonderful memory. I went to see "Snake Eyes" with Stephen Cope and Joel Kuszai down in San Diego, two of the cutest guys in history (of writing anyhow)!

Frank Tashlin:

A cartoon-y version of Stanley Donen, I'd rather see Donen do it.

Jerry Lewis:

Always good, though not as good as Steve Shaviro makes him out to be. After reading Shaviro's analysis of Lewis in "The Cinematic Body," Dodie and I actually rented "Hardly Working." Thanks Steve . . . where's those emoticons that denote disgust and bafflement?

Who would make good screen lovers, living or dead:

Montgomery Clift and Mae West in "Sunset Boulevard." Best actual screen lovers-Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett in "Twisted Nerve," "Endless Night," and "The Family Way."

David Cronenberg:

Like Woody Allen. The movies always sound good before you go to see them.

Jane Fonda (before Aerobics, after, or never?):

Oh my God. Although her films got worse and worse after a certain point, I still worship her. Michael Lally has a great poem expressing this queasy feeling for Jane. "The Chapman Report" and "The Blue Bird" two great Fonda films by George Cukor. That she retired is one of the great tragedies of cinema. Along with Meg Tilly and Glenda Jackson and Debra Winger and Demi Moore-all retired. It's like the 80s never happened!!! And also, what happened to Paula Prentiss? Or Joanna Pettet? Back to Jane Fonda, shit, I've got so much to say about Jane it'd take me a day and a half to answer this question properly. For me, she is six degrees of Kevin Bacon in a nutshell.

Brad Pitt:

Career highlight still "Thelma and Louise."

Doris Day:

Underrated, skillful, always glad to see her, a little scary though, you have to have big balls to go up against, or even to watch, Doris Day. The pictures where she's neurotic ("Julie," "Midnight Lace," "The Man who Knew Too Much," "Love Me or Leave Me") are unpleasant experiences, her suffering so real it grips you like cinema verite.

Douglas Sirk:

Only a handful of good movies, but he traps you in a vise, constructs a glass prison house in which you live for the rest of her life.


The man who wanted too much. Tragic glutton.


Stiff, perplexing, goddess.

Most memorable Garbo moment in Camille:

Being kind to her maid.

Godard (two or three things you know about him):

When he was first making films, you never knew what would happen. Each of his pictures was completely different than the last. Then came the two pictures with Jane (Fonda) and he lost the plot. Wonder if she broke his heart. She's too tough for most men.

Willem Defoe (or his son):

There hasn't been a picture that hasn't been ruined by him being in it, from "Cry Baby" to "eXistenZ" to "Last Temptation" and "Platoon." Oh God, I had to sit through "Shadow of the Vampire" with him AND Malkovich, I now have paid for all my sins in all my incarnations. But the son, if that is his son, anyhow the boy who was next to him at the Oscars, is like Josh Hartnett without the flaws! Please, more pictures with Son Dafoe, fewer with Dad!

Hudson (Rock, not Kate):

Just the opposite, always good in every kind of role.

Hepburn (Kate, not Audrey):

A trying freak of nature, but with an enigmatic core that keeps you interested in watching and seeing what she does. She's very beautiful in some lights, harsh and plain in others-that's interesting too.

Kim Novak:

When I was a boy I thought her lovely. Now she looks a little strained, worried. We went to a tribute to Novak at the old Pagoda Pacific Theater here in San Francisco. They showed a reel or two of film clips, then escorted her to the stage in person. Her black and silver dress brushed my hand. We were disappointed in her discretion, everyone was always sweet to her-even Alfred Hitchcock-hello, Kim? Then they showed the whole of Picnic. Hooray! But actually her films are almost always worth seeing, she lucked out with a lot of great directors, including George Sidney.

Sammy Davis, Jr.:

Not really a film star, was he?

Harmony Korrine:

He'll sink into a period of deep depression, and then rebound with hit after hit.

Dogme 90-whatever:

Each of these Danes seems to interpret its rules in different ways, don't they? I get mixed up. If a movement attracts Jennifer Jason Leigh, how good can it be?

Benicio del Toro:

Dodie nudged me and said, "Daddy-buy me that," echoing Marlene Dietrich walking through Universal commissary and spotting John Wayne.

The last five movies you saw for the first time, and your impressions of them:

"The Others," good scary picture. "36 Hours," better had there been more twists in the plot, otherwise terrific. "Grounds for Marriage" the leading actresses Grayson and Raymond photographed so that they look black. "Darkman," a good fast-moving picture that, if made today, would be even more highly edited and whiz-bang. "The Gift," scary as anything, but you could tell Greg Kinnear did it a mile away!!!

Leo DiCaprio:

I thought he was retarded in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"

Catherine Deneuve:

I would never go to a movie because Deneuve was in it. If she was in a movie on TV, I'd turn it off. And I love her! Must be something about her stolidity and all those face peels, et cetera, and her trying to have it both ways, that I don't care for. Hmmm, will have to think about this.

Something's Got to Give:

The newly edited footage is super, the best movie I saw in the year 2000.


Don't remember this one. I did read a lot of fan magazines as a kid, and my favorite was "Rona Barrett's Hollywood." We did our own version of that, and it ran to three issues, we'd have all our friends and write about them having scandals with the stars.

Jean Harlow in "Dinner at Eight":

You always see the one clip of Marie Dressler doing that double take and saying, "That my dear is something you never need worry about." So you notice Dressler more than Harlow.

Most memorable Busby Berkeley number (describe it from memory):

Hmmm, too many, Esther Williams' water ballet in "The Duchess of Idaho" comes to mind, because I just saw it, a gaggle of men lean over plaster leaves into the water and grab her arms and force her to swim this way and that: all this on a Broadway stage.

Peg Entwhistle:

Wasn't she the girl who jumped off the Hollywood sign? Someone had to do it I guess.

Creepiest child actor living:

Hmmm, I still haven't warmed up to Elijah Wood or that other one who was in Witness and went bad. Lukas Haas? On the distaff side, Jena Malone without a doubt. If I was Julia Roberts in "Stepmom," I would have murdered her without a doubt.

Hudson (Kate, not Rock):

Gee, she was cute in "Almost Famous," and I can't picture the film with Sarah Polley in it, so, four stars for her, but she'll never be a patch on her mother Goldie Hawn. Oh, what am I saying, have you ever read the play Scott Hewicker and I wrote together about 4 years ago? "The Schwimmer Effect" outlines a secret Hollywood plot in which Goldie Hawn masquerades as a daughter she never had to disguise the fact that she has taken part in a secret experiment to maintain her youth, an experiment that worked too well! Thus we had the whole Kate Hudson thing tapped before anyone else!

Hepburn (Audrey, not Kate):

Awkward, touching, full of life, badly used in "Paris While It's Sizzling," "How to Steal a Million," "The Nun's Story," and that Spielberg film. But otherwise she got first class treatment from a horde of bedazzled men.

Richard Pryor:

At one time the biggest movie star in the world!

Karen Black:

Saw her at the Castro singing in a cowgirl outfit, her voice wasn't bad, how on earth did she become a star? She's sexy, a little, but those crossed eyes always make you think she's sneaky.

Role Haley Joel Osment would be best suited for:

The boy Czar who has the hemophilia and Rasputin, who lusts after him, can't have him, so he lets the Red Guards shoot him and bury his body in the woods. Or, he could play in the Macaulay Culkin story.

George Cukor:

Snobby and aloof, on the one hand his films are overstuffed and silly with their pretensions (that Hepburn and Vivien Leigh were great actresses, that Ava Gardner could act, that people want "quality"), and on the other hand his condescension towards everyday people (the Judy Holiday "character") is almost unbearable. And yet on the third hand, almost by accident or so it seems, some great things emerge from this closeted soup-My Fair Lady, Justine, Rich and Famous, the character Leueen McGrath plays in Edward My Son, I could go on and on. He loved actors, they always say, always the mark of a ninny. Infinitely superior to the wretched John Huston.

Women's picture:

Cukor, Vincent Sherman, Sirk, Delmer Daves, Minnelli melodramas, Ida Lupino movies . . .

Four cinematic details that come to mind, from what movies:

1. Tippi Hedren carrying the love birds across Bodega Bay in the motorboat ("The Birds").

2. Tony singing "Something's Coming" in "West Side Story."

3. Robert Redford passed out and Barbra Streisand passes her hand along his brow ("The Way We Were.")

4. James Caan drumming his thumbs on table edge ("The Godfather.")

Josef Von Sternberg:

Sianne Ngai writing her paper that proves or suggests that "Blonde Venus" is based on contemporary perceptions of Josephine Baker, so it's all about race really.

Louise Brooks:

Black helmet of hair, Pandora's Box, things people said about her that were always better than what she really was, Kenneth Tynan's profile of Brooks incredible, but no one could live up that hype.

Mel Brooks:

Never got a chuckle of any of his shows.

Robert Altman:

Like Woody Allen and David Cronenberg, except in his case he actually did make 3 movies I enjoyed.

Shelley Duvall:

The Emperor's New Clothes

Robert Duvall:

Another hallmark of quality for middle brow people.


Usually better playing opposite others, he really could act, she can't, but they're swell together

Connie Stevens:

My God, why waste time on her when I have written reams elsewhere on her great contemporaries, Annette, Deborah Walley, Connie Francis, Debbie Reynolds, Ursula Andress. On the other hand, I do like her, wonder if she wouldn't have made it bigger had she called herself "Constance Stevens," gained some respect.

Julia Roberts:

Great when she's sad, but only if she smiles afterwards, wonderful smile, I'm with the US public on this one, I love Julia Roberts and always will!


Never been a good screen version of her life, but after all, only one bio-pic has ever worked for me ("Lady Sings the Blues.")

The first star tragedy that comes to mind:

"Marilyn Monroe being attacked by a bottle of sleeping pills/ Like a bottle of angry hornets" (Spicer). At the same time, one feels Marilyn to have been terribly self-absorbed and mean when she wasn't being, you know, loving and kind.

Fat Liz:

God, she's only four feet ten, all she has to do is put on one pound she looks fat.

Skinny Liz:

What's with this "Liz" stuff anyhow, don't you know we're supposed to call her Elizabeth at all times!!!

Screwball comedy:

Jean Arthur and Cary Grant, I'm, like, kind of there.

Five people you'd like to see in what five roles:

Raquel Welch as Myra Breckinridge, oops, she did that one. Warren Beatty in that Tarantino picture planned for him. I always thought the girl in "One False Move" would be a big star. Now I can't even remember her name. Cold reptilian Tom Hanks would make a good Argento killer. Remake of "The Bodyguard" with Kylie Minogue and Russell Crowe. Eddie Murphy, he is so funny in Bowfinger I thought I'd die.

Rita Hayworth:

Glamorous, mysterious, looks like she could take care of herself, but couldn't I guess. Couldn't really sing or dance or act, always looked too big for her clothes, but perfect in her own way.

Gary Cooper:

Everything they say about him's true, he's a God.

Thelma Ritter:

Oh my goodness, I wrote a whole play about her for our Poets Theater in which Ethel Chase, Darrell Alvarez's mother, was to play Ritter-but she died, she had been the life and soul of our group. And afraid of nothing. Darrell suggested it, because his mother had always loved Ritter, or had often been compared to her, so this play, "Thelma," (a musical) was a kind of Ritter as Mae West backstage look at her life. Never published nor performed but given to Ethel Chase on her last birthday.

ZaSu Pitts:

When I was young they always showed re-runs of her on "Oh, Susannah," she scared me she looked so much like a squirrel.

Joseph Losey:


Your three favorite Dario Argento films (and the first thing that pops into your mind about each):

1.Trauma-butterfly Point Of View.

2.Opera-Betty with her eyes sewn open and she's squirming.

3.Suspiria-Jessica Harper quarrelling in locker room about snakes and shoes.

Roman Polanski:

The worst

Ruth Gordon:

Some love her but I hate her. All the gay guys at my office were, like, overjoyed when she came to town and filmed some hideous movie with Glenn Close ("Maxie") right next to our building, and I'm like, kvetching and knelling, I felt like bugs were crawling up underneath my pant legs and were headed for my balls like crabs.

Judy Holiday:

Kind of like the aunt character everyone loves, but, rather see Joan Blondell than Holiday in any one part Holiday played.

Jack Nicholson:

Stupid smile and I never forgave him for attacking that waitress in that movie by making her give him some stupid order that wasn't on the menu.

Angelica Huston:

Must have been very insecure being the daughter of such a horrid person.

Hal Ashby:

Cult of Ashby incomprehensible to me, though he made some great pictures

Natalie Wood:

Seems worse as I grow older, but once I loved her, she's still great in "West Side Story" and "Splendor in the Grass." Who's the un-named, married movie idol who raped her (early 50s) when she was a very young girl? Could it have been-Kirk Douglas?

Michelangelo Antonioni:

Another one who had to happen to slow down US cinema and make it murky.

Monica Vitti:

Poor man's Mimsy Farmer.

Jayne Mansfield:

Could never believe she had an IQ of 195, has that ever been disproved?

Julia Phillips:

Nothing to say about her.

Five of your favorite actresses, living:

Are you sure you don't need 500? How about, Kim Basinger, Melanie Griffith, Barbara Hershey, Farrah, Jennifer Jones.

Five of your favorite dead:

Norma Shearer, Constance Bennett, Kay Francis, Natalie Wood, Hedy Lamarr.

The most memorable use of red in a movie:

The end of Hitchcock's film "Topaz" when the Juanita Castro character is stabbed and her fall is seen from above and her red gown spills out onto the white parquet like a blooming flower.

Eric Roberts (tragedy or accident waiting to happen):

Now claims he was spanked too much as a boy.

The role in which Tom Cruise seemed most like a gay man to you:

"Eyes Wide Shut"


Well, not since "Tommy" has she really thrilled me, but the 1-2-3 punch of her George Sidney movies ("Bye Bye Birdie," "Viva Las Vegas" and that other one where they use her for body painting) will never be toppled or equaled. She is youth-or was.

Sidney Poitier:

Torn between Judy Geeson and Suzy Kendall in "To Sir with Love," each of them more beautiful than the other.

Your least favorite non-living actor:

Never too fond of Cuddles, S Z Sakall, from the old Warner Brothers films, but now I quite like him. I don't know. Henry Fonda gives me the willies.

Your least favorite and unfortunately fully living actor:

Could it be-Kevin Spacey? No-Woody Allen is worse. Bridget Fonda? A blank hole in the screen. Penelope Cruz? Ditto. Dodie says, "Richard Dreyfuss." Oh God, how could I forget my aversion to --Christina Ricci! She's horrible (though I expect she's very nice in person. Also-Meg Ryan. Indeed, any star who's estranged from her mother.

Tom Green:

Nobody really cares.

Drew Barrymore:

Used to like her.

Sally Field:

"Norma Rae," a lifetime ago, few can now remember how you just couldn't believe it was Sally Field.

Charles Bronson:

Always the same, a real screen star, loveable, like John Wayne is loveable. That soaring Morricone music for the love theme from "Once Upon a Time in the West" for Bronson and Claudia

Who should play opposite whom in the remake of A Place in the Sun:

John Cusack I guess, Catherina Zeta-Jones, Melanie Griffith in the Shelley Winters part.

What book would you most like to see adapted into a movie?:

Always thought "I Capture the Castle" would be a good film? Ira Levin's "Son of Rosemary" would be great. I can't believe they're abandoning the film of "Rent." How about "Troublemaker"?

If Arctic Summer were adapted, who to direct, and who to star:

Baz Luhrmann to direct, and Paul Mercurio could be Liam. Seann William Scott or Johan Paulik as Tommy. (You can see I'm hedging my bets.) Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Diane. Charlotte Rampling as her mother. Robert Redford as Charles Carpenter. Kevin Spacey and Helen Mirren as Ralph and Betty Isham. Josh Brolin as George Dorset, Helen Hunt as Lorna. Leo could be Guy de Remours. The geeky boy from "Rushmore" as Philip Mandel. There, all pegged.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG: Bard Cole's overlapping vistas of nuance, nostalgia, and regret

Like Michael Lesy's WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP, writer Bard Cole's THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG assembles itself around what seem to be localized, everyday events, providing lists, titles, anecdotes and a wealth of evocative detail to engage its reader in uniquely trippy ways.

The story behind WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP: Lesy found an archive of black and white photos from the town of Black River Falls dating back to the 1890's, arranging these with selected contemporaneous articles from the town's newspaper in book form. Looking at WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP involves trying to make sense of mystery. What the hell happened? Here's an inscrutable face; there a report of famine. An infant died. Was it the blank-eyed baby pictured? You're compelled to make connections between the text and the people who bracket it, animating private movies about them without any verifiable indication of causal relationship, propelled by an ebb and flow of tonal variation. It's a curiously enigmatic read, putting you in touch with your neediness for story, the unavoidable urge to play God, the chronic sense of lack underlying every tightly rigged narrative scenario.

And it's sad; like looking at your grandparents and your parents and the people you love in pictures, knowing they'll be gone at some point—maybe they already are--wondering how a flimsy photo and an assortment of facts will endow any person’s absence with any real, useful sense of presence. THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG shares some of WISCONSIN’s cinematic sadness, I think, as well as some of the lonely, spartan qualities you find in Willa Cather (one of Cole's favorite authors), the curlicue but angular wit of Edward Gorey (one of his favorite artists), and the weird, wildly associational, voraciously multi-directional tug you experience walking into an eclectically arranged antique shop, a place you might find a war medal, a dented Tuba from a high school marching band, and a crusted wig, all in the same corner.

My mind also immediately goes to THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG and Cole every time I see ELEPHANT HOUSE: OR, THE HOME OF EDWARD GOREY, a book of black and white photos taken within days of the artist’s death. Like Warhol, Gorey was a voracious collector. Objects, cats, rocks, and sundry curiosities. The arrangements speak volumes without exactly finishing a sentence. The author of ELEPHANT, by way of explaining Gorey’s overstuffed enigma of an abode, could have been talking about THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG: “Edward loved to 'arrange' things,” he says, and in his hands "pliers became dragons, shears were birds in flight." What could be sadder than a house full of a missing person’s abundance of personal belongings, bereft of their reason for being?

Maybe I’m projecting my own sadness onto Cole’s material. It’s awfully generous that way. Then again, the forgotten tends to elicit a heightened response, part nostalgia, part moving right along—and THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG, among many other things, is a textured meditation on overlapping grids of memory and history, loss advanced by inexorable accretion. Bard’s sensibility takes in polar points of view, creating a mood, for me, which sits somewhere between wry and wistful, mordant and keenly sensitive. THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG exemplifies what language can do in and outside of traditional narrative, what a smart, open mind can make out of the unlikely if not the impossible, arranging it all into something more than the mere sum of its parts. Most books lock you in. In some ways, having invited you through its doors, THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG locks you out, an experience which replicates the tensions between absence and presence it explores. There isn’t a story here, exactly; only a universe of intersecting characters, the great big bustling world on a postage stamp.

THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG was the 2008 winner of the BLATT Best Novel award. Bard Cole is a contributor to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM (City Lights, June 2009). The above photo was taken by Charles Van Shaick, a portion of whose glass plates appeared in Wisconsin Death Trip.

Measuring Out His Life With Film Screenings: Richard Grayson's Teenage Movie Journal

Last summer, LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Richard Grayson, whose story in the anthology is called "The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County", published a collection of his diaries, Summer in Brooklyn, 1969-1975. The following are excerpts which detail his trips to the movie theater during that time.

Monday, August 11, 1969

I saw "Goodbye Columbus" & thought it was very good. The theater was pretty crowded. The wedding scenes in the movie were so true to life. I think the message of the film is to decide for yourself what is right and what is not. But what if you're like Brenda Patimkin or me, and aren't sure?

Saturday, July 11, 1970

A hot, humid day. Johnny was up early & went for drum lessons. Marc & I woke later & together we went to the Brook to see Boys in the Band. It depressed him altho he admitted it was great, & I have to confess I didn't come out of the theater feeling very happy, either.

Thursday, August 13, 1970

After lunch, I went to the Marine to see The Games, a surprisingly good movie about Olympic marathon runners - something that looks very exciting. I felt enormously happy this evening, for no apparent reason.

Thursday, August 20, 1970

I drove to Korvette's on Bay Parkway & bought 2 hardcover books. One was The Lord Won't Mind by Gordon Merrick, a straight-forward novel of a lasting homosexual relationship. I think its candor upset me. I went to the Rugby to see Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which I thought was a funny story of American morality today.

Thursday, June 10, 1971

We went to the Marine & saw a double feature: Little Murders, a wild movie about violence & feelings in the city, based on the Feiffer play, & Making It, about a high school kid's sexual adventures. Shelli was upset by the abortion scene in the last movie - she may take the pill after all.

Friday, June 18, 1971

Shelli came soon after, bringing a card that said "thank you for being you." When I told her about Dr. Wouk telling me to date other girls, she dialed his number & shouted "Pig!" into the phone. She was upset, & as the three of us went to Kings Plaza & looked around, both she & Avis tried to convince me that Dr. Wouk is a nut. I'm very confused at the moment. We went to the movies to see Summer of '42, a pretty good film about a teenage boy's growing up during World War II. Avis took the bus home, & Shelli & I came back to my house.

Wednesday, July 28, 1971

I was talking with Robert, Laura & Stanley about the newly named Chancellor of CUNY, Robert Kibbee - no one knows much about him except that he's Guy Kibbee's son.

Sunday, June 25, 1972

It was raining out - naturally - when I got up. After breakfast, I drove into Manhattan (I almost smashed up the car when I skidded wildly on the Brooklyn Bridge). I parked on E. 64th St. & 2nd Ave. & went into the Beekman Theater to see Portnoy's Complaint. It was really a bad movie, conveying none of the bitter comic anguish of the novel, yet leaving in all the tawdry stupidity. I did like Karen Black as The Monkey, tho.

Tuesday, July 4, 1972

Early today, right after breakfast, I drove into the city - the traffic was fairly light. I parked at Third Ave. & 58th St. & first did some shopping for herbs. Then I got in line at the Sutton Theater & went in to see The Candidate. It was superb, the best film I've ever seen about contemporary American liberal/media politics. Robert Redford was great as the young Democratic liberal & Don Porter came over well as his conservative Republican opponent. I drove back into Brooklyn & enjoyed a burger with smothered onions at the counter of Junior's.

Tuesday, August 1, 1972

Stanley dropped by LaGuardia this afternoon. He still spends most of his time seeing old movies, reading the Voice, the Times & the N.Y. Review of Books & dropping witticisms. What a waste.

Thursday, August 10, 1972

I never could get in touch with Debbie to make things definite about tonight. So, on the spur of the moment, Marc & I decided to go to the movies. We went to the Georgetowne to see The Graduate. I enjoyed it, altho it seems a bit dated now. It was probably just my imagination, but as we were going out, in the dark, I thought I saw Jerry & a girl sitting down. I'm sure I'm wrong - but it did look like him.

Thursday, June 7, 1973

5 PM. I feel a bit like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate: for the past few days I've been loafing by the pool, getting a sunburn, indulging myself - but I'm not really happy doing that. I have to keep moving, get started on some new goal.

I went to bed early last night & was nearly comatose for 12 hours. This morning I stopped by the college for a minute - yes, it's hard to break away - it was deserted. So I drove uptown to see a movie with my student discount pass: Bogdonovich's Paper Moon, a lovely, old-fashioned kind of picture about the 30s. I can see how easy it is for people like Stanley to escape into celluloid.

Monday, June 26, 1973

Before class, Charles showed us the movie he'd made. It really came out well & I enjoyed it, altho I wince when I see myself on the screen. He'd showed it to Prof. Giuriceo & she'd given him an A- for it; Charles has finally graduated & wants to drop those math courses he's taking.

Wednesday, July 18, 1973

Ronna & I saw Slaughterhouse-Five last night, where the Tralfamadorian tells Billy Pilgrim, "A pleasant way to spend eternity is to concentrate on the good moments and forget the bad ones." It sounds fine, but the bad moments can keep recurring out of habit, & maybe the reason I'm in therapy is to get at those bad moments, the first ones - but there'll always be bad moments, anyway. So remembering the good: I picked up Ronna at 7:30 last night, & she was punctual & looked terrific.

We went to the Quad in the city, & Ronna enjoyed the film. She's tired of working at the insurance company, but they would like to keep her on for the whole summer. It was an entirely pleasant evening.

Wednesday, August 15, 1973

Ronna finally came out, apologized for being late, & coldly said goodbye to the others. She wore a yellow danskin top & a scarf, & altho she'd cleaned off her eyes, I could tell her mascara had been running. In the car, I told her if she didn't want to go to the movies, we didn't have to, but she said she would tell me about it before we got to Georgetowne. It was a minor fracas, involving Harold's "immaturity" & how he said that she couldn't break up him & her mother no matter what. Ronna said she can't live with them after they're married, so she'll apply to grad schools out of town. We sat thru "Blume in Love," which I thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards I held Ronna around the waist as we walked to my car as it was drizzling. She was hungry, so we went to the McDonald's in Rockaway near the Cross Bay Bridge & had burgers & cokes. She decided she'd straighten things out with her mother during the trip, & at her house, I hugged her tightly & wished her a good time.

Thursday, August 30, 1973

While Mom was giving Billy something to eat, Ronna told me about me about last night. She made Carl dinner, & then, in Billy's bedroom, told him about me. He said that he was seeing a girl, too (altho Ronna didn't quite believe him) & said he wanted to take her to the movies anyway. Just before they got to Kings Plaza, Ronna felt guilty & Carl got angry - "just the way Ivan did," she said. (Apparently I get angry in a somewhat different way.) Finally they did go in to the theater. At the end of the evening, he told her, "Thanks anyway," so she doesn't think she'll be hearing from him anymore.

Thursday, June 22, 1974

I had met some of Barbara's girlfriends in the hospital & I remembered her friend Tom from seeing him in Arsenic & Old Lace & meeting him when we saw Women in Love at BC. "That was good," Tom said, & I replied, "Seeing the movie or meeting me?" & after that, we got along really well. My guess is he's definitely gay or at least bisexual.

Wednesday, July 17, 1974

I spotted Barbara's friend Tom going out of the subway & caught up with him. He was coming from his new job at Warner Bros. in Manhattan & had to eat before a 6PM class, so I joined him in McDonald's. We talked so much, discovering that we have a lot in common: he has sinusitis, liked Cries & Whispers & Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Wednesday, June 11, 1975

I called Vito today & we had a nice chat. He said it's now a year since his stay in the hospital & he ventured that if he ever got the idea to commit suicide, he'd do it by constipating himself to death. He'll be going to summer school at BC when the graduate session begins. Right now he's movie-hopping, at least until the end of the week when the Rugoff passes run out. Vito asked me if I wanted to go with him to the premiere of Nashville today, but I spent my discount last night when I saw Monty Python & the Holy Grail at Cinema I - it was fairly amusing.

Thursday, August 12, 1975

Yesterday, while Gary was driving me home from St. John's, I spotted Stanley walking up Flatlands Avenue. Stanley stuck to the diet & he's slimmed down, but it still hasn't changed his life; he still leads an existence in limbo, measuring out his life with film screenings. Who am I to judge Stanley?

Tuesday, August 27, 1975

I spoke to Ronna last night, & she told me about the wedding on Sunday & how nice it was; I'm sure she made a beautiful bridesmaid. She said she felt somewhat let down afterwards, which is understandable. Ronna was also saying goodbye, for she & her family were leaving for a week on Cape Cod today. She was intending to take a bus back next Saturday because she had promised Susan weeks ago that she'd go with her to see Daisy Miller & the film would be coming to the Carnegie Hall Cinema this weekend (for one day only); of course Susan was holding Ronna to her promise.

Ronna was kind of upset about it, & her mother thought she was being stupid to come back. I couldn't help putting my two cents in & I told Ronna, "Of course, you know I'd advise selfishness..." No one but Ronna would interrupt a lovely vacation to see a movie (a bad one, no less) with Susan. I think my words had some effect on her - I told her to imagine how she would feel on that bus trip back - for she said was going to call Susan & try to get out of it. Daisy Miller definitely isn’t worth it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Give Me Five

Recently, I asked Bard Cole, one of the contributors to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM (City Lights, June 2009), to talk about the last five movies he watched, interested to see what his observations would be. So much of the anthology is about exploring the way each individual engages uniquely with the screen, unlocking networks of personal memory and perception through the keyhole of someone else's imagination. There's a universe there in each film. So which planet is Bard on? I leave it to you:

1. Tell No One

A good old fashioned complicated paranoid thriller, a contemporary French Hitchcock story. The best thing was how it managed to maintain a familiar, down-to-earth sense of normal people doing the normal things of life, including having jobs and stuff, while weird and sometimes frightening, violent, and surprising things happened. It was an action plot without an action hero. I also enjoy being the person who can figure out twists and few movies are actually challenging in this department. I also like the way it depicted violence. It made violence look like it hurts, and when certain things (a character shot point blank in the head) could only be gratuitous, it neatly avoided them.

2. Little Dorritt

At ten hours more of a miniseries than a movie but pretty amazing and possibly better than the Charles Dickens novel itself. Amy Dorritt comes off not as a goody goody but as the only reasonably rational person, often perplexed, in the center of a swirling hoarde of idiots who are unduly sensitive to how they think they are perceived. Plus, the actor who played John Chivery, the turnkey's son in unrequited love with Amy, is super cute in a goofy jug-eared English way and I just learned thanks to Wikipedia that he (Russell Tovey) is openly gay... which matters cos obviously I have a chance now, right? It makes me glad I gave up reading the book before I had hit any of the most interesting twists. The evil villain is regrettable though, and somewhat pointless too, for all the space he occupies.

3. Taxi Driver

Maybe when you've gone so long without seeing a movie that is this talked about, this referenced, you just shouldn't see it. I liked some of the very luridly 1950s Hollywood transitions but it felt very distanced, very remote from people or details and it just never really clicked for me -- I read that some people debate whether Travis Bickle really is a vet or if he's lying or delusional when he says he is... but I don't get why anyone cares. What would be at stake if he was or wasn't? It's just pointless analysis. I feel this is a straight boy movie. Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster are amazing though, as is 1970s New York.

4. The Reivers

Diane Ladd appears as a Memphis whore who is late to the dinner table and is compelled by the brothel owner to put 25 cents into the house box for her misdeed. The quarter materialized from underneath her corset-like garment. This would be one of the most compelling Faulkner screen adaptations if it wasn't for the very 1969 layer of hokey Hollywood Americana smarm which primarily affects the color, lighting, costuming, and incidental music, although it also affects one of the lead actors who is, admittedly, trying to portray a black man imagined by William Faulkner, which is something no one in Hollywood was really prepared to conceptualize, even in 1969. Steve McQueen is good but why does he have no sex appeal at all, I wonder? Is it just me?

5. Grey Gardens

As young blond Little Edie, Drew Barrymore looks a lot like my twelve-year-old niece, feature-wise. It's pretty amazing for a movie which requires flawless impersonation of a person's voice, face, mannerisms etc, not just a decent evocation like most actors who are playing real historical people, even though the biggest historical revelation here is that Edie suffered from alopecia triggered by stress. This movie explains why I have found it safest to live more than two hundred miles from my mother, I think, because the house I grew up in could easily become Grey Gardens. This is not a straight boy movie. In some ways I liked the trailer better but it was a nice event.