June 5, 2014 | by Ted Scheinman
Mourning Pierre Capretz.
I carry vivid memories of a boy named Robert, who insisted on wearing his horrible Yale T-shirt everywhere—to Chartres, to La Closerie des Lilas, to that seedy little rental-car hub on the Boulevard Périphérique, even (sacré bleu!) under a white blazer. What tone-deaf Ivy League foolishness, I remember thinking. The corollary bummer was that Robert wasn’t a caricature of the average American exchange student; he was more or less the ideal version thereof. He bopped through France, always encountering the lovely Mireille, who seemed to appear—without explanation or apology, and often without a bra—around the country’s every corner. And most important, he took every conceivable opportunity to improve his French. Robert was in Paris not to chase tail but to learn the language, to become a citoyen du monde. And yet he insisted on wearing that horrible Yale T-shirt everywhere …
Such were my first high school impressions, in 1999 and 2000, of the video pedagogy of French in Action, the language course cum TV series that taught me (and millions of other Americans) the rudiments of the Francophone lifestyle.
French’s wild-haired emcee, Pierre Capretz, died earlier this year, in Aix-en-Provence, at eighty-nine. Capretz’s eyes always brimmed with mischievous possibility. He struck me as Henry Kissinger’s magnanimous French cousin, a man whom the world had weathered in the best possible way, imbuing him with wisdom and a philosophical cheer without which no one who teaches French in America can stay sane.
As I learned more about Capretz, I started to get the jokes, which, of course, included the Yale T-shirt that Robert seemed never to wash. My teacher-guru, Madame Demaray—a sanitization of de marais, “from the swamp”—had helped Capretz beta-test the program at Hotchkiss, a very swish prep school that had taken me in; it wasn’t terribly far from Yale, for which Hotchkiss’s founders hoped to groom their young men and eventually (thank God) their young women. Relations between the two schools were still cozy in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and Mme. Demaray worked closely with Capretz as he developed his legendary regimen for the oral and aural teaching of French, imparting knowledge through a long-form video narrative that moved with the rhythms of a mystery novel. My teacher, with whom I was in half in love as one is with a glamorous great-aunt, told me in private about the million-plus dollars Capretz had gambled in making French in Action: about securing funding from the CPB and from WGBH in 1985, about the multiple heart attacks he suffered during the scripting, filming, and editing of part two. I saw my hispanoparlantes classmates toting Destinos and realized that the workbook/video/language-lab triad owed its current pedagogical vogue to Capretz, who believed, correctly, that the musical tools of language might succeed where 501 French Verbs had failed. Read More »
May 28, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Less time is crystal. Less than that is coal. Less than that is fossilized leaves. Less than that it’s just plain dirt. In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be. Human beings are more alike than unalike. There’s no real mystique. Every human being, every Jew, Christian, backslider, Muslim, Shintoist, Zen Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, every human being wants a nice place to live, a good place for the children to go to school, healthy children, somebody to love, the courage, the unmitigated gall to accept love in return, someplace to party on Saturday or Sunday night, and someplace to perpetuate that God. There’s no mystique. None. And if I’m right in my work, that’s what my work says.
—Maya Angelou, the Art of Fiction No. 119
May 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Gordon Willis, the cinematographer Entertainment Weekly has called “the closest thing Hollywood had to a Rembrandt,” died yesterday, at eighty-two. Over the course of his remarkable career, Willis photographed Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather—parts one, two, and three—and many of Woody Allen’s most enduring films, such as Annie Hall, Manhattan, and The Purple Rose of Cairo. The A.V. Club writes, “His expressive use of warm-toned light and deep shadows—which led fellow cinematographer Conrad L. Hall to nickname him ‘The Prince of Darkness’—left an indelible mark on cinema.” And Variety quotes Roger Ebert’s astute observations on Manhattan:
All of these locations and all of these songs would not have the effect they do without the widescreen black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis. This is one of the best-photographed movies ever made … Some of the scenes are famous just because of Willis’ lighting. For example, the way Isaac and Mary walk through the observatory as if they’re strolling among the stars or on the surface of the moon. Later, as their conversation gets a little lost, Willis daringly lets them disappear into darkness, and then finds them again with just a sliver of side-lighting.
“People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity,” Willis said once. “If you take a sophisticated idea, reduce it to the simplest possible terms so that it’s accessible to everybody, and don’t get simple mixed up with simplistic, it’s how you mount and present something that makes it engaging.”
Here are Manhattan’s iconic bridge scene and an hour-long interview with Willis. Read More »
May 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
We’re saddened to report that Thomas Glynn, a writer whose keen, mordant fiction appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Playboy, died last weekend. When we say that very little is known about him, we mean that very little is googleable about him—having largely managed to evade the Internet’s All-Seeing Eye, Glynn has taken on a quasimythical obscurity. As of this writing, he hasn’t received a proper obituary.
We know he published three novels—Temporary Sanity (1977), The Building (1985), and Watching the Body Burn (1989)—the latter two with Knopf and the former with Fiction Collective. All three were well reviewed, and all three have fallen out of print. Later came a kind of hybrid called Hammer. Nail. Wood. The Compulsion to Build (1998), whose back cover recommends filing it under Home Reference/Nonfiction/Building. But its chapter titles imply a more contemplative blend of service and supposition. (E.g., “Iron and wood,” “Sex and wood,” “Do you really need a second floor?” “Put your fist through it and see if it’s still standing,” “Tools you may need and some you might not,” “How fast is a running foot?” and “The ruin of a perfectly good junkyard.”)
As those suggest, Glynn had a knack for titles. His three stories in The Paris Review were called “Except for the Sickness I’m Quite Healthy Now. You Can Believe That,” “Apondé, the Magnificent Times Two,” and “If I Don’t Phone, I’ll Call, or Something.” The first of those appeared in our 2012 anthology, Object Lessons, where it was introduced by Jonathan Lethem: “For Glynn, language may be the color blue that’s used in the place of all other colors: the paint that won’t actually let you see the painting, but can do absolutely anything you need it to do anyway.” Read More »
April 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
We’re saddened to report that Gabriel García Márquez has died, at eighty-seven. The Paris Review interviewed him in 1981:
Why do you think fame is so destructive for a writer?
Primarily because it invades your private life. It takes away from the time that you spend with friends, and the time that you can work. It tends to isolate you from the real world. A famous writer who wants to continue writing has to be constantly defending himself against fame. I don’t really like to say this because it never sounds sincere, but I would really have liked for my books to have been published after my death, so I wouldn’t have to go through all this business of fame and being a great writer. In my case, the only advantage in fame is that I have been able to give it a political use. Otherwise, it is quite uncomfortable. The problem is that you’re famous for twenty-four hours a day and you can’t say, “Okay, I won’t be famous until tomorrow,” or press a button and say, “I won’t be famous here or now.”
In the summer of 2003, we published an oral biography of García Márquez, lovingly compiled by Silvana Paternostro. Here are a few excerpts from it.
María Luisa Elio: Have you been out on the streets with him? The girls throw themselves at him. It must be annoying … García Márquez’s phenomenon is very special. He has great charisma.
Alberto Fuguet: To read García Márquez at a certain age can be very harmful, and I would forbid it. It can spoil you forever. García Márquez is a software that you install and then can’t get rid of.
Santiago Mutis: The entire world understands [One Hundred Years of Solitude] because it is an epic, a bible. It tells the story of life itself from beginning to end—a human version, with a very Colombian truth. It is life as it is lived here. Colombia is a magical country; the people believe in that. When you go to a market fair in Villa de Leyva, the people spray the truck with holy water so that it won’t fall off the road. I think this is what happened with Gabo: the nation had an oral tradition, and that oral tradition started to get closed in a bit; the cities began taking on an important role. When the pop culture threatened—to stop being oral—Gabo was there to pick it up. It starts to pass into literature; he senses it, starts to refine it—it’s his parents, his family, his land, his friends, it’s everything. Pop culture is the mother and father of art—that is Gabo.
Ramon Illán Bacca: Well, everyone cooks with parsley, but there’s always one cook who takes it to an artistic level. Right? His genius lies in that.
Juancho Jinete: I will never forget when Gabito came and stayed at Álavo’s house, and Juan Gossaín—who is the big cheese in Colombian journalism today—was also at the house. Gabo hugged me and said, “These are my childhood friends.” Then Juan Gossaín told Gabito, “Maestro, let me interview you.” Gabito said to him, “What kind of a journalist are you? What more do you want? You have the story right in your hands. Get it!” It was true—you didn’t have to ask any questions … Gabito told him, “What more do you want? This is my friend here since we were children. There’s your story.”
April 12, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Massimo Tamburini died last Sunday, at seventy. Tamburini was an Italian motorcycle designer; his work for Ducati, Cagiva, and MV Agusta set the standard for art and style. The journalist Kevin Ash said that Tamburini’s design for the Ducati 916, which debuted in 1994, “moved it forward, personalized, and Ducati-fied it, in particular the blend of sharp edges and sweeping curves, which, like most innovation, broke existing rules.” And this week’s obituary in the Times found many enthusiasts who were unstinting in their praise:
For decades Mr. Tamburini reigned as “the Michelangelo of motorcycling,” as The Sunday Express, the British newspaper, called him in 2010, and his work exerted a pervasive influence on the look of motorcycles in the late 20th century.
“He always gave great élan to the shapes,” Bruno dePrato, the European editor of Cycle World magazine, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “This élan is not aggressiveness, with very edgy shapes and other excesses in styling. His bikes were just shaped by the wind.”
As it happens, Frederick Seidel, whose readers know him as a Ducati aficionado, had paid homage to Tamburini and the Ducati 916 in his poem “Milan,” from the 1998 collection Going Fast. (Curiously enough, Jonathan Galassi also read the final lines of “Milan” in his salute to Seidel at our Spring Revel on Tuesday; read on and you’ll see why.) In memory of Tamburini and his legendary designs, we’ve reprinted the poem here. Read More »