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You Talk Your Book

February 25, 2015 | by

Looking rather Führer-ish, Anthony Burgess appeared on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, where he was in rare form throughout—charming, funny, instructive, gently eccentric. The conversation ranges from England as a kind of bland utopia to Shakespeare’s “showbiz” skills and possible venereal disease, the perils of teaching writing (“The kids who want to write are usually very young, and their desire to write is usually a symptom of pubescence”), the insincerity of Milton’s Lycidas, and the distinction between pubs and bars:

A bar is not a pub. There are one or two pubs I think in New York … a real pub is a place where all the social barriers come down. You can drink with a member of the aristocracy or the local dustman. You play darts, you drink, you talk, and by this means you generate an atmosphere of genuine democratic society. You get ideas, you hear stories, you talk. And this is useful for a writer. The only pubs you must not, if you’re a writer, go to are the pubs in Dublin. Because in Dublin you talk your book. You say, I’m writing a darling book. Ah, tell us about it, they say. Then you tell them about it. And by the time you tell them about it, you’ve spent the desire to write it … The book is finished. You close it.

That Shakespeare book he mentions early on, by the way, received one of the most comically underdone blurbs I’ve ever seen, from Country Life, a magazine for which Burgess himself often contributed. “Of all the books about Shakespeare that 1964 will bring forth,” they wrote, “none is likely to make livelier reading than Anthony Burgess’s historical novel, Nothing Like the Sun.” There are small daggers in that “1964,” that “is likely to”: the most damning of faint praise.

Dan Piepenbring is the Web editor of The Paris Review.

It Changes Nothing

December 10, 2014 | by

If you’ve never seen it, watch Clarice Lispector’s first and only TV interview, from February 1977, when she appeared on TV Cultura in São Paulo. She’d arrived intending to appear in a program about film, apparently, when the station’s director summoned his nerve and asked for an interview. She died later that year.

Lispector is restless, and charmingly curt, throughout the interview—it seems as if she really, really doesn’t want to be there. Even under duress, though, she gives stronger, more meaningful answers than many writers give at their most accessible. “I write without the hope that what I write can change anything at all. It changes nothing … Because at the end of the day we’re not trying to change things. We’re trying to open up somehow.”

At one point, the interlocutor asks, “What, in your opinion, is the role of the Brazilian writer today?”

“To speak as little as possible,” she says, her head tilted, her thumb half-massaging her temple, a cigarette between her fingers.

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Gertie Turns One Hundred

November 4, 2014 | by

A century ago, well before Jurassic Park or The Land Before Time or even plain old moribund Godzilla, cinema’s preeminent dinosaur was Gertie, a colorless, potentially narcoleptic herbivore, species indeterminate, fond of dancing and casting elephants into the sea. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) was one of the first animated films; it pioneered key-frame animation, a technique in which a story’s major positions were drawn first and the intervening frames were filled in afterward. Gertie’s creator, the cartoonist Winsor McCay, made more than ten thousand drawings of her, and these, as you can see above, yielded fewer than seven minutes of animated footage. (If you want to skip straight to the Gertie goods, head to the seven-minute mark, but beware—you’ll miss some riveting live-action scenes featuring well-dressed gentlemen shaking hands, well-dressed gentlemen gathering at a dinner party, and well-dressed gentlemen smoking.)

This Friday, as part of the MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation, the animation historian John Canemaker hosts a screening of Gertie and three of McCay’s other early animations, “as well as a re-creation—with audience participation—of the legendary routine that introduced Gertie in McCay’s vaudeville act.” No elephants will be harmed.

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Go to Work on an Egg

September 22, 2014 | by

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Before she made a living as a novelist, Fay Weldon, who’s eighty-three today, was a copywriter “at O&M, a copy group head in charge of the Little Lion egg account, first-generation IBM computers, and goodness knows what else.” As she tells it, her crowning achievement there was the slogan “Vodka makes you drunker quicker”: “It just seemed to me to be obvious that people who wanted to get drunk fast needed to know this.” Her superiors disagreed—god knows why—and the motto never saw the light of day.

What did see the light of day is “Go to Work on an Egg,” a masterly double entendre that served as the catchphrase for the aptly named British Egg Marketing Board. Weldon managed the ad team that coined the phrase, and proof of her handiwork abounds. On YouTube you can find a series of “Go to Work on an Egg” meta-advertisements in which an increasingly indignant Tony Hancock—a famous British radio and TV personality—bemoans that his career has come to this. “Ladies and gentlemen, owing to the present state of the theatrical profession, I have with great reluctance been forced to accept a job as a supporting actor to a lady doing a commercial for eggs.” Read More »

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Borderline

September 10, 2014 | by

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.”

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Robert Stone, Tabloid Writer

August 21, 2014 | by

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.

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