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Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn’

The Golden West: An Interview with Daniel Fuchs

July 16, 2014 | by

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Doris Day and James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me, for which Daniel Fuchs wrote the screenplay.

In early 1989, I telephoned Daniel Fuchs (1909–93), then in his eightieth year, in Los Angeles to ask about the possibility of interviewing him for The Paris Review. The novelist and screenwriter—heralded for his Williamsburg Trilogy of the 1930s (Summer in Williamsburg, Homage to Blenholt, and Low Company) and Love Me or Leave Me, for which he won an Academy Award—was cordial and open, but stipulated that he preferred to have the questions sent to him; he would mail back his answers. I sent the questions, twenty-seven of them, to Fuchs that February, and at first there appeared to be clear sailing—the writer said he would soon have something.

At the same time, Fuchs expressed a concern about the handling of the copyright when the interview was printed, and over the next several weeks it became increasingly difficult to allay or understand his fears. Although I’d assured him the rights would revert immediately to him upon publication, he remained concerned, asking for a signed warranty from George Plimpton. When this wasn’t quickly sent—owing to office delays rather than any disinclination—the writer grew vehement, and then abusive. Reluctantly I let go of the idea of seeing through an interview with Fuchs, whose work remains too much of a secret to this day.

A year or so after Fuch’s death in 1995, having been informed that the writer’s papers were in Special Collections at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University, I phoned Dr. Howard Gotlieb, the Special Collections librarian, to ask if, by any chance, there was an interview circa 1989 among the papers. Indeed there was. Fuchs had constructed an interview that, while based on my questions, departs from them in unexpected and telling ways. It amounts to a late work by the distinguished, if unexpectedly irascible, “magician,” as John Updike once pronounced him.

You have been identified by Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and others as one of three Jewish novelists of the 1930s whose work has survived a half century now, the other two being Henry Roth and Nathanael West. Would you comment on the literary climate of the thirties?

Survived, rediscovered—a peculiar occurrence. A man sits in a room writing novels. Nothing happens. The books don’t sell—four hundred apiece, the last one a few more. There are scattered reviews. Then thirty years later, suddenly, the books are brought out, again and again, acclaimed. A small-sized mystery. Of course, I’m talking only of my own books. Call It Sleep and Nathanael West’s work attracted attention from the start and were well known all along.

Did you read Call It Sleep when it came out?

With pleasure and pangs of jealousy.

Nathaniel West went to Hollywood and wrote B movies and worked on his last novel, The Day of the Locust, which in its final sentence seems to indicate that the protagonist has succumbed to the furies around him in Hollywood and gone mad. Henry Roth moved to rural Maine and hasn’t, as of now, published another novel. You gave up a literary career for several decades to write movies. Is there a common thread in all this?

No, I don’t think so. West kept working on his own material up to the end, while he was doing the pictures at Republic. Roth had his own reasons. I liked it in Hollywood and stayed on. I found the life most agreeable. Mordecai Richler went out of his way, in a book review, to say I bragged about the money I made in Hollywood. Actually, I never made a great deal of money in the movies. Sixty thousand dollars a year was about the best I could do, if Richler doesn’t mind my saying so. In fact, I went nearly broke, had to sell my house, and then an amazing thing happened, another one of those mysteries. A benefactor, a character out of a Molnár play—I can’t say his name, he once asked me never to bother him or intrude—stepped forward. He’s been watching out for us over the past number of years and we’re quite comfortable. I guess I mention all this to get a rise out of Richler. Hollywood strikes a nerve in some people. Read More »

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Variation on a Theme of Jacques Brel

July 1, 2014 | by

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The United States plays Belgium today in the round of sixteen, with the winner moving on to the quarterfinals of this 2014 World Cup. It’s an accomplishment the U.S. has only managed once before, in 2002, by beating Mexico, before losing a tightly contested match to Germany, the eventual tournament runners-up. Belgium has gone further—they arrived as far as the semifinals in 1986 before succumbing to two Diego Maradona goals and then losing to France 4-2 in extra time in the consolatory third-place game. That was an extraordinary Belgian side: Enzo Scifo, Eric Gerets, Jean-Marie Pfaff in goal, Jan Ceulemans. Since then, Belgium has fared no better in the World Cup than the U.S. has—three exits at this very same round of sixteen, one exit at the group stage, and, in 2006 and 2010, a failure even to qualify for the tournament. The U.S. hasn’t missed a World Cup since, coincidentally, 1986.

During those bleak years of nonqualification, something was quietly cooking in Belgium: a second golden generation of topflight players that would be the envy of any nation. Now they have arrived. They may lack a little something special in their midfield, but that’s a mere quibble. They are not only an embarrassingly deep side—they’re also the third youngest squad in the tournament, and the youngest still standing. There would be no shame in the U.S. losing to a side as good as Belgium, especially not at such rarefied heights; by the time of kickoff today, there will be only nine teams left.

Yet there’s a beautiful, mind-bending quality to the self-belief of this U.S. team, no matter how many passes they misplace. You can’t blame them for thinking Belgium is there for the taking. As good as the Belgium roster may be, they haven’t been very good in the tournament thus far, having squeaked out very late wins in all three of their matches without showing much cohesion in the process. They play in the formation of choice these days, 4-3-3, but as I said above, they lack fluidity and hierarchy in the middle three; their wide defenders are central defenders by trade and don’t provide much elaboration on offense. These constant headaches have obliged their best attacking player, Eden Hazard, to drop deep and look for the ball, causing a bottleneck in the middle of the field. Pure, outrageous talent has gotten them through. Their coach has said that all of this is intentional, that they’ve paced themselves in the heat, have sought to avoid doing anything rash, and have then, at the end of the game, put their foot on the accelerator. He’ll be in New York selling the bridges along the East River at the end of July. Read More »

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What Talent Wants to Serve: An Interview with Donald Margulies

June 26, 2014 | by

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Photo: Ethan Hill.

The playwright Donald Margulies is at what he describes as a “delicious” point in his career. He’s written the screenplay for The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself that recently completed filming. His newest play, The Country House, opened June 3 in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse, and begins New York previews September 9 at The Manhattan Theater Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It’s an “homage” to Chekhov, employing themes and images from Margulies’s favorites: Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull. It’s also his first play ostensibly about the theater itself. The play is an ‘off-stage comedy’ set during the Williamstown Theatre Festival, focusing on a family of actors who have returned to a familiar house in the Berkshires after the recent death of a beloved family member.

Margulies is the author of over a dozen plays, including The Model Apartment, Sight Unseen, and Dinner With Friends, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000. He lives in New Haven with his wife; he has a son at college in Minnesota. His workspace is a series of rooms on the third floor of his home, walled by books, with windows overlooking his abundant backyard. When we spoke, first in his “bill-paying” room and then over fat sandwiches in New York, he appeared energized by his career’s activity, as if even its description gave him inspiration. He is now at work on the book for a musical, an adaptation of Father of the Bride, which would be a first.

Has any of your writing for the screen begun as writing for the stage?

I’ve adapted three of my plays into screenplays—Sight Unseen, which has not been filmed, and Collected Stories and Dinner With Friends, both of which were produced for television—but I have never begun a play that I decided would be better served as a screenplay. In the case of my most recent screenplay, The End of the Tour, my long-time manager, David Kanter, sent me David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, with a note that said, “Take a look at this, there might be a play in it,” because the book is almost entirely dialogue, the transcription of a four-day conversation between Lipsky and David Foster Wallace. I started reading it and was excited because I thought it did lend itself to adaptation—not for the stage but for the screen. I saw its potential as something much more expansive than two guys sitting around talking—namely a road picture. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing this iconic figure on the American landscape. The End of the Tour is consistent with themes that have interested me as a dramatist for forty years, which is what no doubt attracted me to it. Read More »

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Hunting John Wilkes Booth’s Diary, and Other News

June 11, 2014 | by

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Booth ca. 1865. His diary may be in an abandoned tunnel in Brooklyn.

  • Knausgaard responds to his newfound celebrity
  • … and the French shrug at that celebrity. “Knausgaard gives us one striking example of what looks again like a very French phenomenon … The list of French books in the same vein of meticulous self-analysis is nearly infinite … Let’s hope that Knausgaard’s unexpected success will make them rethink their hasty judgment and consider the French production with fresh eyes.”
  • Is John Wilkes Booth’s diary in a forgotten Brooklyn subway tunnel?
  • The complex, semitragic history of Entertainment Weekly and ent-fo, i.e., “entertainment information”: “The plan was highly digestible reviews intended to keep the bourgeoisie in touch … They wanted to assist ‘the aging baby boomer who still wants to be plugged in,’ using a scale (A to F) that reflected the ‘universal experience’ of school grades. If you read EW, the logic went, you were saving yourself from your own bad decisions: The magazine’s pitch for subscribers even asked potential readers to weigh the $50-dollar yearly rate against ‘the cost of a bad evening’s entertainment.’”
  • Commentators in the nineteenth century argued that chess, being so addictive, would turn our nation’s youths into bloodthirsty maniacs: “The great interest taken in this warlike game—the importance attached to a victory—and the disgrace attending defeat, are exemplified in numerous instances … It is said, that the Devil, in order to make poor Job lose his patience, had only to engage him at a game at Chess.”

 

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Contaminated

June 6, 2014 | by

Getting back on the skateboard.

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Not long ago I went to lunch with a gracious, well-intentioned editor who was not, I quickly realized, interested in publishing my book, the worst possible pitch for which is: “It’s a middle-grade novel about peak oil.” Having tabled my hopes like a used napkin, somewhere between the Lebanese tea and the shaved fennel, the editor asked what I’d rather be doing with my days, “in an ideal world.” I was surrounded by sandwich-eating professionals and suffocating, psychically, at the thought of being one: that’s when I remembered kickflips.

I’d given up skateboarding when I was fifteen, after breaking my wrist—I hadn’t been on a board since. When, shortly after graduating high school, an acquaintance of mine went pro, the specter of his early success strengthened my resolve not to skate: Why confront my talentlessness when it was more easily avoided? But at lunch that day I realized I was thirty years old and viscerally hating myself for matching the workaday worst of Lower Manhattan in my light-blue button-up and tan oxfords.

So I started to skate again, taking mostly to a ten-block loop in Brooklyn that I call the Greenpoint Skate Lab, a toxic hat-tip to the ecological impact tours that roll through the Lab while I’m there most Saturdays. It’s a deeply unhappy spot, physically and psychically—haunted by the same oil spill (“three times worse than Exxon Valdez”) that, at home, a few blocks away, I only ever remember after having drunk from the bathroom faucet. As a reflective-vested guide explained to a small, inexplicable crowd on one of my first days out, a drunk driver once crashed through the barricade on Apollo Street where it dead ends next to the BP oil refinery. The car dove nose-first into the shallows of Newtown Creek. The water was so contaminated with oil that it was on fire for days. Read More »

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Candy Crush

June 2, 2014 | by

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Photo: Evan Amos, via Wikimedia Commons

My brother was one of those kids who loved camp. He started young, went for years, and, when he was older, returned as a counselor. During the school year, he and his friends would periodically meet up at an Outback Steakhouse in Midtown. He still attends the weddings of those friends.

There was one kid in his bunk who was the camp outcast: a physically uncoordinated know-it-all who, in the grand tradition of nerds, managed to maintain an inviolate sense of wounded superiority. His response, when taunted, was to say—with an irony that was surely intended to be devastating—“You’re so kind.” You can imagine how effective this was.

I guess my brother was nice to him, in an offhand sort of way. Maybe he just wasn’t actively cruel. All I know is, when we went up there on family visiting day, this kid wouldn’t leave him alone. Mostly he stood around, nearby. But several times he appeared at my brother’s shoulder and held out a hand, silently proffering candy: Airheads, Pop Rocks, those long, flat Jolly Ranchers. While I found the whole thing kind of weird, my brother seemed to take it as his due. Read More »

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