Film

I often hear people complain about "dirty hippies". Well, cleanliness is a virtue. But I've never understood why anybody would hate hippies. Is it that their exuberance is embarrassing? I like hippies, and I also like several writers identified with the post-Beat/hippie literary tradition of the 1960s and 1970s, many of whom are still active (or being remembered) today.

1. Johnny Depp is the star of a new film based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel of sin and excitement in Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary. Haven't seen it yet, but early indications are encouraging.

2. The late-career writings of the once-acclaimed novelist Ken Kesey were scant and unimpressive, but I recently wondered if this only indicated that Kesey had lost interest in the book format, and if there might be more substance to Kesey's later collectivist theatrical experiments than is commonly thought. Mike Egan's new book Ken Kesey and Storytelling as Collaborative Ritual asks the same question, examining group works like the play Twister with a Jungian point of a view and a fresh eye.

3. Karen Lillis has written a memoir, Bagging the Beats at Midnight, about her years as a bookseller at the endangered St. Mark's Bookshop (which remains one of the best places in New York City, and I hope it will never go away). Bagging the Beats includes chapters with titles like "Susan Sontag Wants The Manager & Richard Hell Wants the Bathroom Key".

4. Beatitude is an unusual novel by Larry Closs about two young men's search for the meaning of Beat literature during the 1990s. The heroes of the novel pore over the Jack Kerouac scrolls in the New York Public Library, have a piquant encounter with elderly Allen Ginsberg, and struggle with the epic dimensions of their own changing friendship. This novel reminds me very much of my own travels in post-Beat New York City during the 1990s. Here's the author's website.

5. Indefatigable Beat/Buddhist poet Anne Waldman has spent twenty years composing an epic poem, a postmodern spin on classical creation mythology. I'd be lying if I told you I read the entire 720-page verse play now published in a single thick volume as The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment. But I am impressed that it exists, and I like looking at it.

6. Empty Mirror Books calls out: Ted Joans lives!

7. A new site devoted to Charles Plymell, Zap Comix founder, jazz poet, Beat novelist, proud dirty hippie forever.

8. Flannery O'Connor did not care for the Beat Generation.

9. Loren Glass has written a two-part profile of Grove Books/Evergreen Review publisher Barney Rosset.

10. Swinging London happener Barry Miles, once a groovy literary Austin Powers of his day, has written a new book called In the Seventies: Adventures in the Counterculture.

11. I'll be very excited to read the first major biography of author Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes, which will hit the streets in early November. Biographer Charles Shields has been blogging the biographical process.

12. Bruce Jay Friedman, a hot writer on the scene in the 1960s and 1970s (and, more quietly, since), has published a memoir of his literary career, Lucky Bruce.

13. Joseph Heller's daughter Erica Heller has written a memoir too: Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22.

14. More Notes of a Dirty Old Man collects some of the early Charles Bukowski tabloid writings that were left out of his signature collection Notes of a Dirty Old Man.

15. Kenneth Patchen: A Centennial Selection is edited by Jonathan Clark.

16. Some Beat historians protest: Shig Murao is in danger of being written out of the history of City Lights and the San Francisco Beat era.

17. A new play based on the autobiographical poem Kaddish by Allen Ginsberg has been staged in New York City.

18. The Wars of Love and other Poems is by latter-day Beatnik Charles Upton, who explains the book here:

When Jack Gilbert, some time in the 1970's in San Francisco, asked his poetry class, "Who here aspires to write a masterpiece?", not one hand was raised. I, on the other hand, wanted to do just that; after reading Blake's Prophetic Books for the first time, as a naive youth, I said to myself: "Wow! I'd like to write one of those!" So I tried my best; it took me thirty-three years.

The idol of "street language" that entered my art in the 1970's was of no interest to me; I wanted to write in a dense, heightened, magical, poetic language such as ear of cabbie or bar-fly had never heard. I respect those poets who, like my mentor Lew Welch, can bring high poetic diction and "the common speech of the Tribe" seamlessly together; in many ways I like that kind of poetry better than I do my own. But I was given to write in a certain style, to fill in a certain blank square on the map of the English language, and so I complied. The Muse assigns styles as God assigns fates, and thus—to paraphrase the Hindu scriptures—"it is better to write one's own poetry, no matter how poorly, than to try and write somebody else's, no matter how well."

19. David Foster Wallace was more or less a dirty hippie postmodernist (though he probably hated hippies too) back in the 90s when he was hanging around with Jeffrey Eugenides, Mary Karr and Jonathan Franzen. Speaking of Eugenides -- everybody's talking about his new novel, The Marriage Plot. Has anybody read it yet?

20. From those dirty hippies over at Reality Sandwich: Occupation Poetry.

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view /DirtyHippieLit
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:11 pm
Story
Levi Asher

I learned about drinking whiskey, specifically bourbon whiskey, from Raymond Chandler. Actually, I recently read in his letters that Chandler was more of a gin man. So I really learned about drinking whiskey from Chandler’s alter ego, Philip Marlowe.

Actually, "drinking" is not the best description of how Marlowe imbibed his Four Roses or Old Forester. He was more of a self-medicator, administering a slug of booze from the office bottle before going downtown to talk to the cops, or after a rough night on a case, or just because. No mixing or pouring it over ice. Just powering it down neat and strong as God intended.

Needless to say, this is not a good way to learn how to drink, at least not in a socially acceptable way. When I first read the Philip Marlowe stories, I was enamored of his hard-boiled lifestyle, and I tried having a slug of bourbon a la Marlowe from time to time, but I soon realized that it was better to have bourbon on ice, or in a Manhattan. It is much easier on the liver that way.

But Chandler knew what he was talking about, because he was an alcoholic, and probably no stranger to bottles in the deep drawer of his office desk, and slugs of drink to keep him going when blocked on a writing project, or maybe just down in the dumps.

I recently thought about Chandler and drinking when I saw a showing of the film The Blue Dahlia, starring Alan Ladd (who also once played a now-forgotten Jay Gatsby) and Veronica Lake, and based on an original screenplay by Chandler. It was made in 1946, and by this time Chandler was working in Hollywood as a screenwriter, having had had some success collaborating with Billy Wilder on the script for Double Indemnity. Film noir was hot, and Chandler was the man to turn out the product.

At the same time, John Houseman was a producer at Paramount, where Chandler had worked on Double Indemnity and was also still under contract. Houseman had a long career as a theatrical and film producer, but he is probably best known to us today as Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase.

Working on some initial films with Houseman, Chandler realized that they were both products of the English Public School system. Chandler as a boy had lived in England and attended Dulwich school. Houseman was a product of Clifton. This gave the two men a common bond, and Chandler felt that he had an ally in Houseman.

In early 1945 Paramount received the news that Alan Ladd, the studio’s top star, would be entering the Service in three months’ time. Paramount had no Ladd product to release in conjunction with this event, and it cast about desperately for a film to produce prior to Ladd’s departure for the Army. Seeing that a feature film normally took a year and a half to make in those days, the idea of turning out a finished product in three months seemed absurd.

However, as Paramount was searching for a Ladd vehicle, Houseman, during a lunch with Chandler, discovered that Chandler had a novel in progress that he was considering selling as a screenplay. Houseman read what Chandler had already written and saw it as the answer to the Ladd problem. He pitched it to the studio, the studio bought it (for a considerable sum), and Raymond Chandler started work on the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia.

At first the work went quickly. Chandler turned out about half the script in an astounding three weeks. This was actually no miracle, as he had already written it as a novel, and he was merely converting it to a screenplay. The studio quickly cast the film and hired a director. Shooting began immediately, and by the fourth week of filming, the studio had filmed almost all of what Chandler had written. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worse. Chandler was having trouble with the ending of the film, and as shooting caught up with the script, he was blocked.

The film is about a navy officer, played by Alan Ladd, who returns home to find that his wife, Helen, has been cheating on him. When he confronts her, she admits her infidelity. In addition, she reveals that their son did not die of diphtheria as she had written him during the war, but rather in a car accident that she caused after getting drunk at a party. Outraged and disgusted, Ladd pulls a gun on her, but then decides she isn’t worth going to prison for. He drops the gun and leaves.

Later, Helen ends up dead, and Ladd is the prime suspect, even though other characters in the story could have committed the murder, including Helen’s boyfriend, owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. Ladd’s navy buddy Buzz was also in contact with Helen shortly before her death, but he can’t remember what happened. He has come back from the war with a metal plate in his skull and what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. He is subject to blackouts and fits of anger. The house detective at the place Helen was staying was also nearby at the time of death.

Chandler had originally plotted the killer as Buzz, who is played by William Bendix. Chandler fancied an ending where for psychological reasons Buzz murdered Ladd’s unfaithful wife in a blackout rage. Then, his memory of the incident was to be meticulously pieced together so that he would finally remember what happened and confess to the crime. However, the Navy disapproved of this ending, as it would show Navy personnel in a bad light (these were the War years, after all). So Chandler’s output came to a halt.

To make matters worse, the head of production at Paramount met with Chandler behind Houseman’s back, impressed on Chandler the importance of meeting the deadline, and told him he would be given a check for 5,000 dollars on timely completion of the screenplay.

The production chief’s plan backfired. Chandler was in Houseman’s office the next day, saying that he could not and would not finish the picture. He was outraged, as a Public School boy, that a studio head would go around Houseman’s back and try to make such a deal, and he was disgusted by the offer of more money to finish a job he had already contracted to finish.

Houseman was now in a panic. Without Chandler to finish the screenplay there would be no film. Chandler, however, had a plan. He re-iterated to Houseman that he could not finish the screenplay under the current circumstances. He could, however, finish the screenplay drunk. Houseman was a bit taken aback at first, due to Chandler’s age and notoriety as a drinker. But Chandler had worked out the logistics of his plan and had typed them out on a piece of yellow paper, which he handed to Houseman.

Chandler’s plan read like something out of a Philip Marlowe novel. Houseman was to have two limousines, with drivers, stationed night and day in front of Chandler’s house. These would be used to ferry script pages to and from the studio, fetch a doctor for Chandler or his wife if needed, and drive their maid to the market. The studio was also to provide six secretaries in teams, to be on hand at all times for dictation, typing and corrections. Finally, Chandler insisted on a direct line to Houseman’s office during the day and to the studio switchboard at night.

Chandler would then go home, get drunk, and find the inspiration to finish the screenplay. Houseman got approval for this plan from his immediate superior at the studio, and he and Chandler repaired to the most expensive restaurant in Los Angeles, where Chandler proceeded to get shit-faced. Houseman drove him home, and Chandler remained drunk for the entire eight days that remained of shooting.

Chandler came up with a cheesy, Perry Mason ending to the film, in which the house dick confesses to the killing. It wasn’t a dark, psychological ending as Chandler would have wanted, but the studio liked it, and the film was finished in record time.

If you watch the film today you can see where the punches were pulled at the end. In the beginning, the move is a taught noir thriller with lots of atmosphere and tension. The ending looks grafted on, as indeed it was.

So, did Raymond Chandler risk his life to save a film for his friend John Houseman, or did he perpetrate an elaborate scam on Paramount to have them underwrite a massive bender? From this distance in time it’s hard to say. But the behind the scenes machinations necessary to produce this film are arguably more interesting than the film itself.

In the film, Alan Ladd had two navy buddies. The first of course was played by the aforementioned William Bendix. The second buddy, called George Copeland, was played by Hugh Beaumont, who went on to fame as Ward Cleaver of the Leave it to Beaver series.

And what about Chandler -- what did he get out of this besides credit for an original screenplay and the chance to work at home, drunk? Raymond Chandler was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Writing, Original Screenplay) for The Blue Dahlia.

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I learned about drinking whiskey, specifically bourbon whiskey, from Raymond Chandler. Actually, I recently read in his letters that Chandler was more of a gin man. So I really learned about drinking whiskey from Chandler’s alter ego, Philip Marlowe.

view /BlueDahlia
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 10:14 am
Blue Dahlia movie poster
Story
Michael Norris

Magic Trip, a new film by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, tells the story of novelist Ken Kesey's 1964 road trip across America in a painted bus with a troupe of fanciful hippies and legendary beatnik Neal Cassady at the wheel.

This bus trip was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's 1968 bestseller Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which is also currently in production as a Gus Van Sant film (this will presumably come out near the same time as the long-awaited film of On The Road, which means two major Hollywood films featuring Neal Cassady's driving skills will hit the screens at the same time). Magic Trip, a modest and straightforward documentary, has at least one claim to authenticity over the eventual Van Sant work: it presents the actual film footage produced by the camera-wielding hippies as they drove across the country in 1964.

The film gets off to a good start, emphasizing in the early scenes an important point that has sometimes been forgotten amidst all the psychedelic Wolfean hype. When Ken Kesey conceived this crazy trip, he was one of the most celebrated and promising young novelists in America, and the bus trip was initiated as an audacious literary experiment above all. It's hard to exaggerate how much potential energy the young Stanford-educated novelist held in his hands after the success of his 1962 first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The other hot writers of the moment were Philip Roth, John Updike, Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller, and Cuckoo's Nest had placed Kesey directly in that class.

But something kept the Oregon kid from strutting around in a suit and embracing conventional literary stardom, and he would risk (and, ultimately, lose) his reputation on the set of adventures to follow. Magic Trip emphasizes the fact that Kesey's second novel Sometimes a Great Notion was entering its pre-launch publicity phase just at the moment that Kesey decided to travel very noisily across America in a colorful bus; indeed, the bus trip was Kesey's publicity push for his new novel.

The fact that Kesey must have envisioned his adventure as a literary gesture is often neglected, though it may be the most remarkable fact of all about his much-discussed Furthur/Acid Test scene (well, the fact that the Grateful Dead emerged from within this scene is remarkable too). I have no idea what exactly Kesey was thinking when he got his big idea for the bus trip (other than "let's go have some fun"), but it's clear that he was aiming for a big California-based American movement, a new Chautaqua, a mobile version of the previous century's New England Transcendentalism.

Magic Trip sticks mostly to the script familiar to anyone who's read Tom Wolfe's book. There are LSD freakouts, Barry Goldwater jokes, visits to the home of young Larry McMurtry in Texas and an anti-climactic reunion between Neal Cassady and a morose Jack Kerouac at a New York City party. As always when recounting the Kesey/Electric Kool-Aid legend, the psychedelia aspect is a bit overstated in this film. I like to think that the psychedelic drugs were less central to the actual experience as envisioned by Kesey and his partner-in-crime Ken Babbs than they became in the Tom Wolfe legend, and I also suspect that the main appeal of all the LSD tripping for Kesey was not to explore the boundaries of consciousness so much as to induce chaos and fearful vulnerability among his fellow travelers, so as to allow him to wring the maximum emotional reaction from each player in his twisted tale.

Magic Trip is a satisfying retelling of the famous story, and I won't be surprised if Gus Van Sant's version turns out less satisfying, once it hits the screens. I do wish that Magic Trip told us more about Kesey's later works and adventures, like Twister, a controversial play based on The Wizard of Oz that he developed gradually during the last phase of his life. How did Twister fit into the big picture of psychedelic West Coast transcendentalism? Maybe we'll need yet another film, a third one, to someday explain this part of the legend.

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Magic Trip, a new film by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood, tells the story of novelist Ken Kesey's 1964 road trip across America in a painted bus with a troupe of fanciful hippies and legendary beatnik Neal Cassady at the wheel.

view /MagicTrip
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 07:44 am
Magic Trip, a new film about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters
Story
Levi Asher

1. Here at Litkicks, we love pretty much anything David Byrne ever does. His latest enigma is a series of nonexistent iPhone apps, including "Invisible Me" above, which will be displayed as part of a Pace Gallery show called "Social Media" in New York City this fall.

2. "Very Naked, No Lunch." So intones an Austrian hipster in Beat Today, a film that explores the meaning of the Beat Generation as it is manifested today within the counterculture of Central Europe. It's by Tilman Otto Wagner of Vienna, who has also written a book called The Beat Generation and Scholastic Analysis.

3. Exciting news! Litkicks favorite Art Spiegelman is writing a book about his book Maus, aptly titled MetaMaus. He'll be appearing at the 92nd Street Y in New York City to explain what this book will be.

4. T. S. Eliot devotees angered by plans to develop East Coker. Maybe someone should write four quartets about it.

5. Litkicks contributor Kevin Kizer gingerly approaches David Foster Wallace's The Pale King with a prelude about the author's life and death.

6. Sadie Stein, granddaughter of Fiddler on the Roof author Joseph Stein, on the legacy of Sholom Aleichem.

7. Here are a couple of independently published books worth your time: Prince Of This World: A Novel by George Simeran and Why They Cried by short story writer Jim Hanas, who ponders here the existential wonder of ever selling any fiction books at all.

8. "Hibachi" by J. Robert Lennon - A Single Sentence Animation from Electric Literature.

9. Would it have ruined everything if Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady had a GPS? I don't think so. I use Google Maps on my iPhone often, and I really love it, yet I find my life still lacks an overall sense of direction.

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view /VeryNakedNoLunch
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 10:31 am
Story
Levi Asher

Ahh, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg! They must be the best hiphop duo of all time (or, at least, they're tied with these guys), although both rappers refuse to call themselves a duo and insist that A Tribe Called Quest has always been four people: Q-Tip the Abstract, Phife Diggy, mixmaster Ali Shaheed Muhammamed, and not-quite-into-it but real-good-buddy Jarobi, who may or may not be in the group at any time (nobody ever seems to know for sure).

The Tribe circle has also included De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers, Afrika Bambataa, Charlie Brown and Busta Rhymes (who was introduced to the world on "Scenario", from Tribe's second album). It was a social movement for sure, with clear political and spiritual intent. "That's why they call it a tribe", somebody says in a superb new movie about A Tribe Called Quest, Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, which I recently caught in a New York City theater.

I was concerned, when I first heard about this film, that it might focus on dull music-industry hype or downward-spiral drama, instead of simply celebrating the sense of sheer fun and artistic freedom that this Queens hiphop outfit represented during the old-school days. I needn't have worried: director Jonathan Rapaport gets the Tribe, and gets why they called it a tribe.

The film bursts open with a colorful streets/cartoon montage that recalls Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and may remind you, if you've forgotten, just how bright and happy all that graffiti and b-boying was. Beats, Rhymes and Life is beautiful to look at, and one reason it works as a film is that it succeeds in finding a strong visual corollary for Quest's upbeat but raunchy music.

There's plenty of human drama here, especially when the cool-as-snow Q-Tip and the irascible, stubborn Phife Dawg try to get along for a reunion tour of Japan, during which the tears and curses inevitably flow. The very suave and stylishly-dressed Q-Tip comes off well during the fight scenes -- he appears to have the patience of Barack Obama -- and we can forgive the grimy, sports-jersey wearing Diggy Musberger for not making much sense during these scenes (he seems to be angry at Tip for breathing), since he may be suffering from diabetic pain and is, really, the best rhymer of the two.

Beats, Rhymes and Life is an excellent film, the best hiphop movie since Jay-Z's Fade to Black (which Q-Tip was also in), and I have only two small complaints. First, while Phife Dawg's poet mother Cheryl Boyce Taylor does appear in a few scenes, it's too bad the movie doesn't include scenes of her own spoken-word spittin', which certainly must have influenced Phife Malik Taylor Dawg's rapping in his childhood years. I've met Cheryl Boyce Taylor twice, both times at the Bowery Poetry Club, and I know she's a talent in her own right.

Also, what will all the drama back-and-forth, the film just doesn't have enough of the Tribe's great music. It was because they sounded good, after all, that this group mattered. De La Soul and Jungle Brothers also had great clothes and gave great radio interviews. But it's ATCQ's magnetic verses and smooth, skippy jazz tracks that make them timeless, and I wished for more actual songs in the film.

But the musical starvation works to the film's advantage by the end, when Tip and Phife burst into a great, raggedy, thumping "The Chase Part II", one of the killer tracks from their best album, Midnight Marauders. They're rehearsing for a reunion concert in Japan, amidst all the fussing and fighting, but they still have their hilarious dance moves. This song provides the best three minutes in the film. Especially when Phife and Tip look at each other and sum it all up in joyous harmony:

Battling? Whatever! Hot damn! Gimme the microphone, boy, one time, blam ...

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Review of the hiphop film "Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest".

view /ATCQ
Tuesday, August 9, 2011 10:14 pm
Phife Dawg onstage with Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest
Story
Levi Asher

1. Look at this beauty. It's a new facsimile edition of a past illustrated premium of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, known as the Splendid Edition. Oxford University Press has published it as a replica of the original object, and it's attractive enough to get me started reading the book for the first time. The first few pages present a witty tale of manners and intrigue among Southern gentleman, in a tone somewhat reminiscent of Dickens or Thackeray. Good enough to keep me reading.

2. Augusten Burroughs's beleageured mother Margaret Robison has written her own side of the Running With Scissors story, a book called The Long Journey Home.

3. Like CBGB's before it, New York City's great Chelsea Hotel is going "upscale". There goes another one. It's still unclear whether or not the hotel will retain its unique arts-friendly environment, but the hotel just temporarily shut its doors to guests (happily, though, they're not kicking out the many regulars who live there, among which remain quite a few Beat poets, punk rockers, abstract expressionists and former Warhol superstars living on the down-low). I just hope the new owners don't destroy this cool hotel, and I hope they keep the paintings in the staircase.

4. Carolyn Kellogg has written a literary guide to Los Angeles.

5. Walter Kirn on Joseph Heller.

6. Emily Gould on The Bell Jar at 40.

7. Terry Gilliam might be making a movie of Paul Auster's Mr. Vertigo. We say go for it, why the hell not.

8. Martin Scorsese, meanwhile, will be releasing a movie of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, apparently featuring Sasha Baron Cohen

9. The Found Generation.

10. Garth Risk Hallberg.

11. Now that's a title: Edouard Levé’s ‘Suicide’ and Edouard Levé’s Suicide by Mark O'Connell.

12. Push Pop Press Acquired by Facebook. Clearly a sign of the times, whatever it means.

13. Fantagraphics is releasing new editions of the great Zap Comix from the 1968 Charley Plymell/Robert Crumb/Gilbert Shelton era. And here's their new The Pin-Up Art of Humorama, featuring some surprisingly raunchy cartoon work from Bill Hoest, Basil Wolverton and even Mad Magazine's straight-laced David Berg.

14. Finally: Lives Well Shared: the friendship of Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder by David Schneider.

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view /SplendidEdition
Tuesday, August 2, 2011 11:09 pm
Story
Levi Asher

I'm still on vacation. But here are some links:

1. The image above is from a teaser promo for a new movie based on Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. I don't know what to think. You be the judge.

2. It was fifty years ago that Ernest Hemingway took his own life. David Ulin has some thoughts about Hemingway's impact (and lack of impact) today. Also, the FBI really was spying on him.

3. Words Without Borders' July issue is about The Arab Spring.

4. In the New York Review of Books, Geoffrey O'Brien considers Terence Malick's new film The Tree of Life in light of the philosophical writings of William James.

5. Cormac McCarthy: Are We There Yet?. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Rent Was Too Damn High. John Knowles: I Hate You, I Love You, No Homo. A website called Better Book Titles was funny the first time I told you about it last year, and it's still funny today.

6. The telephone logs of Robert Creeley, always a digital culture pioneer, as found art.

7. Remember when I published my memoir of the Silicon Alley boom and crash, one chapter per week, in 2009? Brad Lisi of the Nervous Breakdown is now beginning a similar weekly memoir experiment, consisting of curated cut-ups from his younger writings. It's tentavely (very tentatively) titled "Possible Title". I don't know if Listi's experiment s in any way inspired by mine, but I'm glad he's doing it, and I'll be reading it. I hope more writers and bloggers will try similar things. I remain convinced that everybody has a good memoir inside them, if they'd only take the trouble to write it. Everybody.

8. Novelist Colson Whitehead will be playing in the World Series of Poker.

9. The truly great guitarist/songwriter Trey Anastasio of Phish may be starting to get the intellectual respect he deserves. An extensive interview with Ross Simonini in The Believer.

10. Some folks are kickstarting a movie about Nelson Algren.

11. HTML Giant: What are your favorite tricks in literature?

12. Art About Books.

13. More art: very appealing covers of Jazz-era Chicago Magazine, which never equalled The New Yorker in reach or reputation, but sure tried, and now seems like a bizarro version of it.

14. A strange published anecdote about a teenage prank committed by Ann Beattie may not be as interesting as the negative reaction it's getting.

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view /Vermin
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 08:51 am
Story
Levi Asher

1. Lint, a novel by Steve Aylett about a famous but nonexistent writer that we told you about a few years ago, is now a movie! The trailer features supportive words from the legendary Alan Moore (Watchmen), Jeff Vandermeer, Mitzi Szereto and our own Bill Ectric, so you know there must be something special going on here.

2. Marty Beckerman has written a book inspired by Ernest Hemingway called The Heming Way: How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within... Just Like Papa!.

3. "After watching a real-life spider spin an egg sac above his barn doorway, he determined a likely species for her so that he might learn her characteristics ..." On Elwyn Brooks White, the real life animal-lover who wrote Charlotte's Web.

4. The Legacy of Grace Paley by Leora Skolkin-Smith.

5. Laughing in the Darkness is a new film about Jewish author Sholem Aleichem.

6. A very useful list from The Awl detailing when various profanities first appeared in the New Yorker magazine.

7. New York City poet John Giorno's 1968 Dial-A-Poem was an early experiment in tech/lit social networking.

8. I've also been meaning to tell you about a more current lit/social experiment for genre writers, Book Country, funded by Penguin and dreamed up by the redoubtable Colleen Lindsay. And I just heard about another new venture designed to spread the word about great international literature called "Read This Next". Chad Post explains.

9. I've long heard rumors that Merry Prankster Ken Babbs was holding on to a novel, inspired by his pre-Kesey-era life as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. The book is finally out! It's called Who Shot the Water Buffalo.

10. Larry McMurtry contemplates Marilyn Monroe.

11. Molly Jong-Fast talks about being the (prudish) daughter of Erica Jong.

12. For those who like this sort of thing: A Visual Exploration of the Filmography of James O. Incandenza and the World of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

13. Douglas Adams, it turns out, described the Kindle a long time ago in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

14. Artsy novelist and e-book Luddite Garth Risk Hallberg offers Seven Easy Steps to Kindle-Proof Your Book.

15. Faber Digital, a division of T. S. Eliot's own Faber & Faber, has meanwhile produced a Waste Land app.

16. I've never been much of a V. S. Naipaul fan (I quote myself from 2006: "V. S. Naipaul is a boring author and I have never, ever, ever heard a real person speak with excitement about one of his books. I've cracked a couple open myself, and the stuff is instant sleep.") The esteemed and award-winning author recently shot his mouth off about his superiority to all women writers, and the superb novelist Roxana Robinson has responded.

17. This month marks the 50th birthday of Amnesty International.

18. Somebody has gone to the trouble of listing every reference to Bob Dylan or his songs (there are 70 here, some of them pretty clever) found in comic books.

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view /SummertimeNews2011
Monday, June 6, 2011 10:51 pm
Story
Levi Asher

1. I've read a few good tributes to the late Beat/hippie poet Ira Cohen, a good guy I used to see around the East Village a lot. I did a poetry reading with him at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in 2002, but I never knew that Ira Cohen invented the 70s-era headshop art trend known as Mylar painting. (Photo of Ira Cohen from a video by Laki Vazakas).

2. You may have heard the news: e-books are hot. This time around, I'm on the bandwagon. I'll be attending the BookExpo gathering next week in New York City, and I'm sure electronic publishing will be the biggest buzz there. I'm a few days behind schedule with my new Kindle book ... the title and cover will be revealed soon. I'm very happy with the ongoing sales figures for my first Kindle book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (and Why It Matters), and I'm proud that this book has remained in the top 100 Kindle bestsellers in the Politics->Ideology category for the entire month, and was #40 on the list this weekend.

3. I am so glad that Ben Yagoda is advocating that we restore logic to punctuation by placing commas outside quotation marks. I couldn't agree more, and in fact I have always ignored the rules and followed this practice. Maybe this is because, as a software developer, I know you can't mess around with nesting. I consider the popular acceptance of commas outside quotation marks a done deal.

4. Will Ferrell is starring in a movie, Everything Must Go, based on a short story by one of my favorite writers, Raymond Carver.

5. Very cool: ASCII art in 3-D!

6. Woody Allen's list of five favorite books includes two under-appreciated authors, Mezz Mezzrow and S. J. Perelman.

7. Interesting gossip from the literary sun belt: Ken Kesey's widow Faye Kesey has married author Larry McMurtry. I have no idea what the rest of the story is, but there must be a good Meryl Streep movie in this drama.

8. Beautiful Darling is a new film about Warhol-era New York City scenester Candy Darling.

9. Haiku Diem is a Haiku website run by Freeman Ng.

10. Bel Kaufman, author of teaching novel Up the Down Staircase and daughter of Sholem Aleichem, just celebrated her 100th birthday.

11. You know what else is celebrating a 100th birthday? The great New York Public Library, and they're throwing a big festival this weekend.

12. 23 band names inspired by literature.

13. Anis Shavani in Huffington Post: "There are few poets as underappreciated today as Michael McClure".

14. New book: Shift Linguals: Cut-Up Narratives from William S. Burroughs to the Present by Edward S. Robinson. I don't understand why the price for this book is $84 (is that some kind of cut-up?) but it looks pretty good.

15. Oscar Wilde mashed up with Jersey Shore. Works for me.

16. I'm so glad Donald Trump isn't running for President, because now I can like him again. I really do get a kick out of his blunt style, and Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice are good shows. But he sure would have been a terrible President.

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Monday, May 16, 2011 06:43 pm
Story
Levi Asher

(I especially appreciate Romanian-born contributor Claudia Moscovici's articles because they fill us in on literary/art scenes we'll never otherwise hear of. Here she introduces Barna Nemethi, a current sensation in Eastern Europe. -- Levi)

Newton’s third law of physics says for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. However, things don’t work out as neatly in the world of art. There are some rules that govern the world of art, but these are constantly broken by new and innovative artists. One of the most creative and irreverent art movements was Dada, founded by a Romanian poet, Tristan Tzara. Like Surrealism, which later sprung from it, Dada was a broad cultural movement, involving the visual arts, poetry, literature, theater, graphic design and–inevitably–even politics.

Born in the wake of the devastation caused by the First World War, Dada rejected “reason” and “logic,” which many of its artists associated with capitalist ideology and the war machine. Despite becoming internationally known for so many visible artists and poets, the Dada movement could not be pinned down. Its aesthetic philosophy was anti-aesthetic; its artistic contribution was anti-art. As Hugo Ball stated, “For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction? Even in the anti-rationalist world of art? Maybe so. But what actions might we be speaking of, today? It’s hard to pick and choose among the many dangers facing the contemporary world: the ever-present threat of terrorism; the backlash of democratic superpowers sometimes even against the innocent and the helpless; the plutocratic mentality threatening to engulf the free world; the homogenizing reign of pop culture; the standardization and what Marx would call the “object fetishism” that has reached unimaginable proportions in the globalized capitalist market.

Looking at the world through critical eyes can reveal a discouraging picture. But maybe we need such so-called “nihilist” reactions from artists to avoid the bland conformity which threatens to normalize even phenomena which should, by all rights, shock us. Few would know about these modern phenomena better than Barna Nemethi, a young Romanian artist who grew up in a new capitalist market that developed rapidly under his eyes, largely due to the efforts of his own generation.

By chance (or good fortune), Barna also grew up at the center of Romanian culture. His adoptive father is Grigore Arsene, the President of the Romanian Association of Editors who, along with his wife, Iren, is head of Curtea Veche Publishing, one of Romania’s most prestigious and largest publishing houses. Barna followed in his parents’ footsteps by becoming the Managing Parter at Curtea Veche Publishing and the Executive Manager of the advertising company Griffon and Swans. He’s also a very talented film director and photographer.

But perhaps Barna’s most ambitious, subversive and dynamic project is AllHollow.com, an online magazine that combines photography, journalism, (anti)aesthetic philosophy, fashion, film and art. In the April issue, Laura Cosoi pays tribute to the legendary pop artist Andy Warhol by dressing like him and shooting video clips in which she imagines and recreates how he’d react to contemporary gadgets, such as the iPod.

The clips are quite stylish, but there’s a good measure of irony and humor in the tribute, as Laura emulates Warhol’s slow, meticulous style. The April issue of AllHollow also includes Wonderland (concept by Oana Paunescu, produced by Alina Huza and Patru Paunescu, directed by Vlad Fenesan and photographed by Barna Nemethi). The film and the photo shoot both mediate the boundaries between high fashion (modeled by Iulia Cirstea) and new Surrealism/Dada images and scenes.

The set itself has dream-like inconsistencies and juxtapositions. A spectacularly beautiful woman, dressed in a combination of nightgown/ballerina outfit and black fishnet stockings, lies on a metal bed above which hangs…a giant fish. She’s surrounded by three mannequins, which seem evocative of feminine and masculine roles. The “heroine” moves with the mechanical, slow and sometimes sensual abandon of someone trapped in a dream, or perhaps unwittingly trespassing the boundaries between dream and reality. The images and the model are so hauntingly beautiful that they belong in a high-fashion shoot. Yet, at the same time, the incongruous setting and absurd array of props surrounding the model makes the entire scene evocative, open-ended in meaning and surreal. There is no dominant theme, no obvious plot: nothing to trap the model in any structure other than the aura of the fantastic itself.

I can’t write about AllHollow without also alluding to The Hunt, a series of photographs taken by Barna Nemethi in Manhattan, which features the models Zuzanna Buchwald and Will Vendramini. As in Wonderland, there’s a Surrealist mood and more than a touch of Dada in these images. The handsome man sometimes wears a funny animal mask, and sometimes does not. He’s simultaneously presented as a stalker/predator in search for his languid prey and as an attractive potential date for the beautiful woman.

The Hunt makes light of the strange (yet normalized) mating/dating rituals that men and women commonly engage in. But, simultaneously, like practically all of Barna Nemethi’s series, this set of images could easily function as a high fashion photo spread that seamlessly combines impeccable stylishness and subversive creativity.

For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. This happens in the laws of physics and sometimes also in the more erratic world of art. In the case of Barna Nemethi’s innovative AllHollow project, however, the action and the reaction come from the same source. Barna Nemethi’s film and photography represents a new Dadaism full of artistic innovation and subversion at the heart of the marketing world that it simultaneously perpetuates and transforms.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011 03:04 pm
Story
Claudia Moscovici