This is the second installment of Als’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
I finished watching There Will Be Blood, hours after I’d returned from visiting an actor friend in Brooklyn. She had a terrible accident while filming an episode of SVU (or SUV—I never know what that show’s called). An actor shook her too hard, hurting her neck, so, in order to see my friend, I have to go to her. Despite her pain, my friend was herself, which is to say a real raconteur, one of the last of the best. She punctuates her story-telling with peals of laughter, knowing pauses, and concern. Her presence is part of what makes New York itself, a city filled with jumpy and funny and paranoid people—particularly in the summer. Before I left my friend’s house we talked about how scary we both find Hemingway’s short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
Then I got on the subway, which is far from my house; I had to walk past the Brooklyn Hospital to get there, perhaps my least favorite walk in the world, since my mother spent a great deal of time in that hospital when I was a kid, thus instituting my continual anxiety about separation, and my need to be alone so it doesn’t happen. No one leaves if no one is invited in.
After I got home, I saw gothic everywhere—such was There Will Be Blood‘s continuing sway over my imagination. Paul Thomas Anderson in no way obscures the gothic tone in Upton Sinclair’s book, Oil!—the source material for his movie. Indeed, I started thinking about one of my favorite American authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, during Blood’s end credits. Is Hawthorne not one of the architects of our American interest in a world peopled, say, white-collared, circle girls screaming twice-told tales from a morally divided heart?
Back to the issue of time. One way to measure it’s passing is by watching porn. Before you know it, yesterday’s semi-twink is today’s suited, inscrutable Daddy. While gay porn actors generally make the transition less disfigured by cosmetic surgery than female actors in straight porn, for instance, one sometimes senses what plastic surgery can, at least in part, disguise: exhaustion.
Take Zak Spears for instance. While Spears often took on the “butch,” role in early films—the Spears character has always been critical, hard to read, slow to commit to the action but, once engaged, insatiable—one never got the sense that his interest in his partner was diminished by performing scripted sex. Now, in his latest movie, Unsuited, Spears is in full Daddy mode. But behind the gruff instructions to his young “boy,” during their table top assignation, one senses Spears’ boredom with the entire enterprise. Does time erode our ability to find surprise in most situations? As we grow older, do we spend more and more time sitting in craters of boredom?
This is the kind of exegesis—porn as a metaphor about time connection—that one could express without a qualm to the late and lamented editor, Barbara Epstein. As one of the founders of The New York Review of Books, Barbara’s profound gift—among many—was for seeing what her writers could not, and not insisting on a change during the editing process that would derail your thought, but enhanced it. She was a real world saint who was familiar enough with this common place that she knew humor was not a character trait, but a saving grace. And among the graces, she was the most graceful. Read More