Arts & Culture
March 11, 2014 | by Chris Knapp
Love through the lens of Fellini.
Among the central occupations of Fellini’s work is what he wants from the women in his life. Near the end of 8½, his alter ego speaks of a kind of Ideal Woman: “She’s beautiful … young, yet ancient … child, yet already woman. Authentic, complete. It’s obvious she could be his salvation.” Between the breathy declaiming and 8½’s famous layers of metafiction, you get the idea that even Fellini sees this isn’t exactly a healthy attitude.
Still, throughout his work, the search for an ideal of womanhood is represented in a series of large and buxom temptresses: Anita Ekberg, Sandra Milo, Eddra Gale in an especially memorable dance sequence as La Saraghina. But pulling his films off the shelf one by one, my wife and I agreed the problem was most nearly solved, onscreen and in life, by his wife and best collaborator, the tiny and brilliant Guilietta Masina.
For any of this to make sense I’ll have to say a little about what Lola, the woman in my life, is like. To start, she’s French. She’s small and she likes to refer to herself as my little wife, but she’s solid too, and fit, with strong legs: in the WNFL she’d be a halfback. When she gets excited she bounces on her toes and hugs me around the waist, looking up at me. She’s far from graceless but she sometimes moves with a child’s gracelessness, like Masina—that physicality, impetuosity of expression and utterance, a mischievous delight in small wonders and small triumphs. On the other hand, when she has to enter or pass through a dark room, she stands for a moment at the threshold looking in with narrowed eyes. Anyway, I’m guessing the comparison to Masina will please her; she’s herself an actress, the kind whose outsize physical presence lends to rather than diminishes the subtlety of her performances. She comes from a family of film people, and all manner of moving image can transfix her: Tarkovsky, or Ozu, or Maya Deren. She sleeps deeply, dreams bodily, and uses cuddle as a transitive verb, one of the few early solecisms she’s done me the kindness of preserving. She cuddles me. Read More »
March 10, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
Dante: I’ve never seen anything like it. The moment we entered the domain of the diviners, I knew right away something was very wrong. Some sick bastard went to town on them. Their bodies were contorted, their heads were twisted back 180 degrees so their tears fell down their asses. It’s the sort of thing nobody should see once. You spend the rest of your career trying to avoid anything like it again. I was almost ruined after that. But Virgil, he was fascinated.
* * *
Virgil: A man in hell surprises even himself. You go down there waiting to get hit with a rush of pity, but it never arrives. No. The first thing that hits you is the great irony of divination. You wonder, are these sinners being punished for lying—for creating the illusion that somehow they were graced with the power of premonition? Or maybe they’re down there because they saw something and decided to reveal whatever improbable truth nobody was supposed to know about until it actually happened? If that’s the case, then they already know what’s going to happen to them. You see, an ordinary sinner holds out in ignorance, thinking that something might change ten, one hundred years down the line. But the diviners know that they can’t leave hell. Is that why they’re weeping? Wouldn’t you weep if suddenly you felt the silence of God and knew He wasn’t going to return?
* * *
Dante: I can’t remember whom we spoke to first. There were a few Thebans, but none of them had anything useful to say. One old man, Amphiaraus, kept giving us some line about how he was sucked down into the earth and dragged to hell when he tried to delay his own death. We figured out pretty quickly that these Thebans were all part of the same cult of seers, led by a blind man named Tiresias.
* * *
Virgil: Tiresias was a distraction, you see. That wasn’t the real story. You hear a big name like Tiresias, and you assume it’s going to tie back to him, but then we found a woman named Manto. Read More »
March 6, 2014 | by Kevin Nguyen
Wes Anderson, Stefan Zweig, and their sumptuous surroundings.
Looking at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay, Bill Morris at The Millions grumbled that “Hollywood screenwriters need to mix more fiction into their diet.” He can at least give a pass to Wes Anderson, whose new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is based not just on one novel but on an entire oeuvre—that of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian writer whose work Anderson has helped revive. In fact, Zweig’s influence on Anderson is so profound that the filmmaker compiled The Society of the Crossed Keys, a new anthology of Zweig’s work. Unfortunately, the collection is only available in the UK, but its constituents—Zweig’s memoir, the novel Beware of Pity, and the novella “Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman”—can be found separately in the US.
Both Zweig and Budapest find comedy and melancholy in the changing landscape of 1930s Europe, and Anderson is quick to admit his debt to Zweig. The film features two characters meant as stand-ins for the writer—there’s the hotel’s nostalgic, effete concierge, M. Gustave, and the unnamed Author, who appears throughout as a narrator and interlocutor. But Zweig’s influence on Anderson extends far beyond this latest film. Though Anderson says he came across Zweig’s books only six or seven years ago, the pair have long shared similar themes and aesthetics, even if Anderson didn’t know it.
For starters, consider their fastidious preoccupation with appearance. In an essay examining The Royal Tenenbaums against J. D. Salinger—another of Anderson’s literary influences—Matt Zoller Seitz established a concept called “material synecdoche—showcasing objects, locations, or articles of clothing that define whole personalities, relationships, or conflicts.” Anderson uses his meticulously designed mise-en-scène as visual shorthand for his characters. It’s how we understand the Tenenbaums from their wardrobe, their childhood bedrooms, and the way the opening scene itemizes the things in those rooms. It’s one of Anderson’s favorite storytelling mechanisms—think of Moonrise Kingdom, in which Sam Shakusky’s raccoon hat and glasses set him apart from the rest of the Khaki Scouts; think of Max Fischer’s red beret in Rushmore. In Anderson’s work, the exterior reliably informs the interior. Read More »
March 6, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
The Whitney Biennial has generated any number of reviews—the more comprehensive ones will tell you about the distinguished curators, the three “biennials within a biennial,” the ambient sound installations.
So far, I have not read anything about the Apple.
On a chilly evening earlier this week, I attended a preview with a friend. It was, as others have recounted, crowded. “I thought you were the artist,” said a woman as I studied one of the pieces, a voluptuous ceramic by Alma Allen. “Because of the way you’re dressed, I mean.”
“Thank you,” I said. Alma Allen is a man.
By the door, a young woman was handing out canvas bags. “Just the ladies,” she said as we exited.
I waited until I was home to open my gift bag. Inside was a black box. “BCBGMAXAZRIA + WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART,” said one side of the box. Another side said “Celebrating 25 Years of Style.” A third said, “25th Anniversary Chrome Apple.” And the fourth featured text:
This chrome apple epitomizes the eternal relationship between fashion and art. We present this gift to you in celebration of BCBGMAXAZRIA’s 25th anniversary and the 2014 Whitney Biennial Sponsored by BCBGMAXAZRIA.
March 4, 2014 | by Ann Tashi Slater
Reinaldo Arenas, writers in exile, and a visit to the Havana of 1987.
Twenty years have passed since the publication of Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas’s tale of his years in Cuba under the Castro regime and his life in exile in the U.S. One of the most talented and prolific writers to emerge during the revolution, Arenas was persecuted for his writings and his homosexuality. He escaped in the 1980 Mariel boatlift and in 1990, dying of AIDS, committed suicide in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Published in 1993, Before Night Falls is as urgent and compelling as ever—a portrait of exile and longing, of the anguish and rage of the dispossessed.
Born in 1943 on a farm in the province of Oriente, Cuba, Arenas developed a rich inner life early on. “[Regarding] the magical, the mysterious, which is so essential for the development of creativity, my childhood was the most literary time of my life,” he wrote in Before Night Falls. Morning fog blanketing the landscape like a ghostly shroud, palm trees bursting into flame as lightning struck, dark rivers flowing endlessly to the sea—all entranced him. Most astonishing was night, when, beneath the ancient glittering sky, his grandmother told tales of the supernatural.
At sixteen, Arenas joined Castro’s rebels in the mountains, but his enthusiasm gave way to disenchantment and despair, a trajectory he chronicled in his writing. In 1962, he finished Celestino antes del alba (published in the U.S. as Singing from the Well), the first in his Pentagonía, a series of five semi-autobiographical books. Celestino won second prize in the 1965 UNEAC (Cuban Writers and Artists Union) competition; in 1967, it was published in a print run of two thousand copies that sold out in one week. No further editions were issued; it was the only novel Arenas would publish in Cuba. His next novel, El mundo alucinante (published in the U.S. as The Ill-Fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando), the tale of a renegade Mexican monk who dreams of a free society, was banned in Cuba for its “erotic passages” but smuggled out and published in France in 1968 to great acclaim. Read More »
March 3, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
By now, you have seen excerpts from last night’s episode of Mr. Alighieri’s The Inferno, Canto 19, in which Dante visits the ditch that punishes simony. We have filed a defamation suit and sent a cease and desist to Dante’s attorney, but there will undoubtedly be a public reaction. Rest assured: our lawyers are going to crucify this guy.
For those of you who are not aware, the segment focuses on Dante and Virgil’s descent through the eighth circle of hell, where Dante enters the realm of simony—which, more or less, covers any form of buying or selling powers or positions in the Church. At this point, we feel it is important to remind you all that any rumors of simony were supposed to have been snuffed out for good this last quarter. It has come to our attention that Dante must be getting his information from within our offices. At this time, any higher-ranking members of the church who happen to be White Guelphs are our prime suspects. We’ve launched an internal investigation, but please be at high alert and keep all information on a need-to-know basis until we have resolved this problem.
As the canto goes on, Dante sees a bunch of feet in the air—sinners buried head-first in the ground, the soles of their feet covered in fire as they are slowly ingested by hell. As he approaches, one buried sinner, Pope Nicholas III, mistakes Dante for another pope, Boniface VIII. Dante then listens to Nicholas confess to simony and describe the way he lined his pockets. Clearly Dante is not our most subtle critic, but we cannot stand idly by as he implies that all our popes are simonists. It’s bad for business. Short of having a pope curse in public, nothing could be more damning. Read More »