Video & Multimedia
September 10, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Though she’s known mainly for her poetry, H.D. was a cineaste, too, in both senses of the word—in the late twenties she formed the Pool Group with Kenneth Macpherson and Bryher (the pen name of Annie Winifred Ellerman). They published a film journal, Close Up, to which H.D. frequently contributed, and they made a number of films, only one of which survives in full. It’s 1930’s Borderline, starring Paul Robeson opposite H.D. herself, credited here as Helga Doorn. It’s about an interracial, bisexual love affair—not so much a love triangle as a love quadrilateral—and, yes, it’s available in toto on YouTube. As the Criterion Collection says, the film “boldly blends Eisensteinian montage and domestic melodrama.”
August 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I think cultural undergrounds develop in the void left by the abdication of the official culture. During the sixties, so many august institutions seemed to have no self-confidence. The universities, corporations, the very fabric of the state. Everything you pushed just seemed to fall over. Everything was up for grabs. For me, the counterculture was like a party that spilled out into the world until one had the odd feeling in society that one was walking around looking at the results of a party that had ended a few years before—a big experiment. But there was no program, everybody wanted different things. I think Kesey wanted a cultural revolution, the nature of which was uncertain; he was just making it up as he went along. Other people were into political reform. Others thought the drugs would fix it all. Peace and love and dope.
—Robert Stone, the Art of Fiction No. 90
Happy birthday to Robert Stone, who turns seventy-seven today. Prime Green, his 2006 memoir, features more of his thoughts on the sixties—and he is very good, and often very funny, on the sixties. In the clip above, he reads an excerpt from the book about his time as a writer at a supermarket tabloid, an unsavory publication he calls the National Funder. Stone worked under a guy called Fat Lou “in the dank basement of hackdom,” at an office not far from the Flatiron Building. His forte: headlines. His compunctions: myriad. But his work as a yellow journalist: impeccable.
August 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
From Oguz Uygur, a Turkish filmmaker, comes this video on ebru, or marbling, a design style in which artists create intricate patterns using floating, vividly colored inks and then transfer them to paper. Uygur’s parents are skilled marblers—they’re the ones you see here—and his video gives a sense of the patience and precision required to bring off such impressive patterns as “the nonpareil marble,” “the peacock marble,” or “the entwined comb marble.”
In order to make the colors “float,” you’ll need a bed of viscous mucilage, known as size. You can make this from moss or seaweed extracts—you know, whatever you have lying around the house. Once that’s in place,
The colors are then spattered or dropped onto the size, one color after another, until there is a dense pattern of several colors … Each successive layer of pigment spreads slightly less than the last … Once the colors are laid down, various tools and implements such as rakes, combs, and styluses are often used in a series of movements to create more intricate designs.
Rookie has a helpful guide to do-it-yourself marbling (no viscous mucilage required—just turpentine). For truly dedicated autodidacts, there’s Josef Halfer’s The Progress of the Marbling Art: From Technical Scientific Principles, an 1894 manual that goes into exhaustive (and perhaps exhausting) detail on every facet of the art. Its distinctions are fine: Halfer reminds that the gray snail marble is not to be confused, for instance, with the common greenish-gray snail marble, or the grayish-green snail marble. They’re different.
August 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Happy birthday, Andy Warhol. Go on, have that Whopper! You’ve earned it. Ketchup? Sure! Ketchup! Have the whole bottle!
No, no, take your time. We’ve got all day.
This clip is from the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth’s 66 Scenes from America (1982). He said of the performance:
[Warhol] is told that he has to say his name and that he should do so when he has finished performing his action, but what happens is that the action takes a very long time to perform; it’s simply agonizing. I have to admit that I personally adore that, because it’s a pure homage to Warhol. It couldn’t be more Warholesque. That’s of course why he agreed to do it.
But we don’t know this. Maybe he was just hungry.
July 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
In his Art of Criticism interview from our Spring 1991 issue, Harold Bloom tells of a kind of literary conversion experience:
I was preadolescent, ten or eleven years old. I still remember the extraordinary delight, the extraordinary force that Crane and Blake brought to me—in particular Blake’s rhetoric in the longer poems—though I had no notion what they were about. I picked up a copy of the Collected Poems of Hart Crane in the Bronx Library. I still remember when I lit upon the page with the extraordinary trope, “O Thou steeled Cognizance whose leap commits / The agile precincts of the lark’s return.” I was just swept away by it, by the Marlovian rhetoric. I still have the flavor of that book in me. Indeed it’s the first book I ever owned. I begged my oldest sister to give it to me, and I still have the old black and gold edition she gave me for my birthday back in 1942. It’s up on the third floor. Why is it you can have that extraordinary experience (preadolescent in my case, as in so many other cases) of falling violently in love with great poetry … where you are moved by its power before you comprehend it? In some, a version of the poetical character is incarnated and in some like myself the answering voice is from the beginning that of the critic.
A few years later, in 2000, Bloom appeared on C-Span’s Booknotes in support of How to Read and Why. In the excerpt above, the host, Brian Lamb, gets him on the subject of teaching; and Bloom, who’s been a member of the Yale faculty since 1955, becomes visibly moved as he vacillates on the degree of isolation he feels:
Do I feel isolated in America? Yeah, I guess in a way I do. It does seem to me … I’m a somewhat outspoken old monster. You know, why not, at my age—what can they do to me? One wants to tell the truth. And I think the truth is pretty dreadful nowadays, culturally speaking and intellectually speaking … I guess I can feel kind of isolated. Isolated, maybe, in the profession. Isolated in terms of the media … But not isolated with the reading public … Clearly there are a vast number of what I would call solitary and authentic deep readers in the United States who have not gone the way of counterculture, and they are of all ages, and all races, and all ethnic groups.
And toward the end of the segment, as he blinks tears out of his eyes:
Here I am about to turn seventy and maybe I am obsolete, but that’s just personal inadequacy … What I hope to represent, what I try to represent, that cannot be obsolete. If that is obsolete, then we will go down. But I’m being too emotional. I’m sorry.
Bloom is eighty-four today, and still teaching. Happily his work is no closer to obsolescence than it was fourteen years ago.
The entire episode of Booknotes is available here.
July 10, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Was the community you grew up in pleased about your career?
It was known there had been stories published here and there, but my writing wasn’t fancy. It didn’t go over well in my hometown. The sex, the bad language, the incomprehensibility … The local newspaper printed an editorial about me: A soured introspective view of life … And, A warped personality projected on …
—The Art of Fiction No. 137, 1994
Happy birthday to Alice Munro. In this 1979 clip from Take 30, a Canadian talk show, Munro—who’s eighty-two today—discusses the less-than-warm reception her collection Lives of Girls and Women received in her native Huron County, where a conservative group argued that it should be expunged from twelfth-grade syllabi. She speaks here to Harry Brown (whose three-piece suit yours truly wouldn’t mind owning) about fighting the proposed ban.
This is the kind of talk show that’s all but extinct today, in which two unadorned, ordinary-looking people have an intelligent conversation without a studio audience, or a ticker scrolling beneath them, or a host of other distracting stimuli that have come to seem normal. But what’s more eye-opening is how little has changed since then. The controversies stalking literature in 1979 are almost identical to today’s bugbears: declining readership, increasing moral turpitude. A debate, in other words, about what literature should do and who it’s for.
“Many people don’t read much and don’t think books are very important anyway,” Munro tells the interviewer. And:
As far as I can tell from the talk of the people who are against the books, they somehow think that if we don’t write about sex, it will disappear, it will go away. They talk about preserving their seventeen-year-old and eighteen-year-old children, protecting them. Well, biology doesn’t protect them. They don’t need to read books.
It’s not clear whether Munro succeeded in stopping or overturning the ban, but apparently the events in Huron County “inspired the Book and Periodical Council of Canada to launch Freedom to Read Week, an annual celebration of freedom of expression.”