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Posts Tagged ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’

“A Garish Nightmare of American Annihilation,” and Other News

July 22, 2015 | by

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Geoffrey Biggs’s Hiroshima cover (detail), 1948.

  • Ice cream: delicious summertime treat or agent of moral turpitude? In fin de siècle Scotland, ice cream parlors “with mirrored walls and leather seats” became “the scourge of the prudish bourgeoisie, who saw them as papist dens of vice”: “Among the more egregious crimes committed by the shops’ proprietors was that of allowing young people of both sexes to intermingle and smoke. One inspector had said that he had seen girls of ‘tender years’ smoking cigarettes in the shop. They were also seen dancing to ‘music supplied by a mouth organ’ … It was concluded that ice cream shops embodied ‘perfect iniquities of hell itself and ten times worse than any of the evils of the public house. They were sapping the morals of the youth of Scotland.’ ”
  • Frances Kroll Ring, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s longtime secretary, died last month. She had many critical tasks in his life, one of which was to rid him of his anti-Semitism: “It’s entirely possible that Frances Kroll was the first Jewish person he ever spent any time with … ‘Jews lose clarity,’ he jotted in his Notebooks. ‘They get to look like old melted candles, as if their bodies were preparing to waddle’ … As Kroll tells it, Fitzgerald displayed a great deal of curiosity about Jewishness, pestering her about Jewish characteristics and customs. He was fascinated by ‘the Passover feast’ and the practice of keeping kosher.”
  • Jack London spent his youth shoveling coal in a cannery, so he really, really, really wanted to become a successful writer and leave that hell behind. He had a good year in 1903: The Call of the Wild was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, bringing the success that allowed him to write full-time. He conveyed his newfound wisdom to aspirant writers in a piece called “Getting Into Print.” Some of it’s still true in this century: “Don’t quit your job to write unless there is none dependent on you.” Other parts are not: “Fiction pays best of all, and when it is of a fair quality is more easily sold.”
  • When John Hersey’s Hiroshima appeared in paperback, it sported a new, terrifically misguided cover, becoming what Paula Rabinowitz called “a garish nightmare of American annihilation”: “In this image, two people, not Japanese, are fleeing an explosion just beyond the frame. They are young, white, and stylish: she epitomizes New Look fashion in her loafers and gathered skirt, he sports pleated cuffs and a fitted trench coat … The cover artist, Geoffrey Biggs, wasn’t trying to be deceptive. As he says, in a note that sits just before the copyright page, he was trying to be universal: ‘I just drew two perfectly ordinary people—like you or me—and had them portray alarm, anxiety, and yet wild hope for survival as they run from man-made disaster in a big city—a city like yours or mine.’ ”
  • In which the Argentine writer Sergio Chejfec dissects names, first and foremost his own: “Some years ago I had the idea of asking several writer friends if they wouldn’t care to reflect on their own surname … This task—to speak about one’s surname and to portray oneself through it—contains, I think, a touch of transcendence that brings us closer to death. We insert a mark—which is our emblem, i.e. the commentary—into an undefined series of fairly indistinct moments which is characterized precisely by the absence of marks … That common coin which is our surname, received at times like a baton, needs us so as to take on substance and, as it were, identity.”

Sold a Bill of 3-D Goods, and Other News

June 3, 2015 | by

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A still from Bwana Devil (1952), the first color film to appear in 3-D.

  • Jason Segel, who took on the role of David Foster Wallace in the new movie The End of the Tour, discusses how he studied for the role: he watched the Charlie Rose interview, read the collected nonfiction, and, yes, reckoned with Infinite Jest. And yet his grasp of Wallace’s themes feels superficial: “I felt like I was reading a man who was sending out sort of a distress beacon saying, ‘Does anyone else feel dissatisfied?’ ” Try reading Oblivion, Jason. Then we’ll talk.
  • While we’re talking biopics: the old Tinsel Town rumor mill has it that James Ponsoldt may direct West of Sunset, an F. Scott Fitzgerald biopic based on Stewart O’Nan’s novel. “Replete with cameo appearances from such idols as Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Humphrey Bogart, the source novel juxtaposed Fitzgerald’s last gasps in Hollywood with his golden years as a literary celebrity.”
  • Douglas Coupland on Duane Hanson’s sculptures and their unlikely connection to drag-queen culture: “It was only later in life that I realized Hanson was going for realness, a term used by drag queens in competitions when portraying archetypes: rich white women dressed for lunch; high-school football-players getting their photos taken for the yearbook … Hanson’s pieces are right there, equal with you. In some ways, they even feel more authentic than you: they come from an era where authenticity was the default mode of being, an era when reality reigned, and where a word like realness was still only something in an artist’s or a drag queen’s magic bag of tricks.”
  • Meet the newest, sharpest, shiniest tool in the State Propaganda Toolkit™: Internet trolling. A Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency—dig that ambiguity!—hired dozens of young people to disseminate pro-Kremlin remarks around the Web, sometimes even in English. One commenter called himself “I Am Ass”: “Ass had a puerile sense of humor and only a rudimentary grasp of the English language. He also really hated Barack Obama. Ass denounced Obama in posts strewn with all-caps rants and scatological puns. One characteristic post linked to a news article about an ISIS massacre in Iraq, which Ass shared on Facebook with the comment: ‘I’m scared and farting! ISIS is a monster awakened by Obama when he unleashed this disastrous Iraq war!’ ”
  • The new era of 3-D movies has supposedly revitalized a once scorned format—but is anyone really doing anything interesting with 3-D? Even Godard’s feted Goodbye to Language treats it as a kind of meta-gimmick. “I’ve been looking forward to the moment when 3-D emerges as a mode unto itself—not a gimmick or a money-making adjunct to the standard fare but an art form of its very own … With some notable exceptions, the new breed of uppity 3-D seems less like an exploration of the format than an exercise in camp appropriation—a way of punching up at corporate greed and spoofing Hollywood excess.”

Distinctly Emasculated

April 24, 2015 | by

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and sexual anxiety.

Hemingway in Paris, 1924.

History tends to compare Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and why not? As contemporaries and rivals, the two make natural foils for each other. Hemingway, we’re told, epitomizes a certain archetypal masculinity; he presented himself as a hunter, a boxer, a war veteran, and a ladies’ man; accordingly, he wrote in a spare, economical style, mostly about war, solitude, and adventure. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, we know as a social striver, someone who prided himself on his budding elitism and his (incomplete) Princeton education, who was known to have his pocket square and his hair-part always just right. He wrote about socioeconomic status in prose that was, at least next to Hemingway’s, often lyrical and adorned, and most would readily agree that he’s the more effeminate of the two. But the sexual identities of these men, formed by their peculiar childhoods and the Lost Generation artists they surrounded themselves with, weren’t as self-evident as many modern readers might think.

There’s a classic story of the homosexual tensions bubbling just beneath the surface between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It takes place in the men’s room at Michaud’s, at the time an upscale brasserie in Paris. As Hemingway claims in A Moveable Feast—and claims is just the word, because his own sexual insecurities tended to manifest in an unfair emasculation of Fitzgerald—Fitzgerald told him: Read More »

What About Bob

February 5, 2015 | by

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Shelley Duvall in the TV adaptation of “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” 1976.

Bernice stood on the curb and looked at the sign, Sevier Barber-Shop. It was a guillotine indeed, and the hangman was the first barber, who, attired in a white coat and smoking a cigarette, leaned non-chalantly against the first chair. He must have heard of her; he must have been waiting all week, smoking eternal cigarettes beside that portentous, too-often-mentioned first chair. Would they blind-fold her? No, but they would tie a white cloth round her neck lest any of her blood—nonsense—hair—should get on her clothes.

“All right, Bernice,” said Warren quickly.

With her chin in the air she crossed the sidewalk, pushed open the swinging screen-door, and giving not a glance to the uproarious, riotous row that occupied the waiting bench, went up to the fat barber.

“I want you to bob my hair.”

The first barber’s mouth slid somewhat open. His cigarette dropped to the floor.

“Huh?”

“My hair—bob it!”

Before I had nearly a foot of my hair shorn off, I reread F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” He based the story, which first ran in the May 1920 Saturday Evening Post, on a series of letters he exchanged with his younger sister. It was, appropriately, the kickoff to his iconic chronicling of the flapper era—when the story begins, the eponymous heroine is a dowdy wallflower, and everyone has long hair. Bernice becomes popular with an audacious “line”: she entices boys with the prospect of daringly bobbing her hair while they watch. But when a rival calls her bluff, Bernice is forced to submit to the shears. And then, the brutal fallout. Read More »

There’s a Convention for Everyone, and Other News

January 26, 2015 | by

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H.H. Backer’s Total Pet Expo. Photo: Yvette Marie Dostatni, via Slate

  • On the rise of the medical humanities: Can poetry’s therapeutic effects earn it a place on the doctor’s bookshelf? “Poetry can tell us about human experience, but it does this in its own language and not the more straightforward language of prose. It works by suggestion, but this doesn’t mean that it cannot console, teach, amuse, enlighten, mimic, disconcert and so much more. It can capture—or cause us to reconstruct—experiences and feelings that we might otherwise not be conscious of … Poetry’s use of language is at the furthest extreme from the self-help book, which is often dogmatic, insistent, reductive, bullying even.”
  • How to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling misunderstood: read scathing early reviews of canonical novels, such as this one, by H. L. Mencken, for a certain 1925 classic: “Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby, is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that … This story is obviously unimportant … What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story—that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people.”
  • Yvette Marie Dostatni’s new series of photographs documents the rise of the convention in America: the obsessive subcultures, the hotel conference rooms, the sprawling trade shows. “That's just the culture of the United States: People are looking for places they can fit in for two to three days, a pass to get out of their daily lives. They’re looking for people who are like them.”
  • Is there any hope of preserving or archiving the Internet? “The Web dwells in a never-ending present. It is—elementally—ethereal, ephemeral, unstable, and unreliable … In providing evidence, legal scholars, lawyers, and judges often cite Web pages in their footnotes … but a 2013 survey of law- and policy-related publications found that, at the end of six years, nearly fifty per cent of the URLs cited in those publications no longer worked.”
  • Among a certain kind of “creative” Silicon Valley set, the word maker has taken on a grating ubiquity—you’re not truly innovating if you’re not making something. Does this mean that, say, teaching is not a fundamentally creative pursuit? “I am not a maker. In a framing and value system is about creating artifacts, specifically ones you can sell, I am a less valuable human. As an educator, the work I do is superficially the same, year on year … To characterize what I do as ‘making’ is to mistake the methods—courses, workshops, editorials—for the effects. Or, worse, if you say that I ‘make’ other people, you are diminishing their agency and role in sense-making, as if their learning is something I do to them.”

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Made in Hollywood

December 19, 2014 | by

Budd Schulberg’s centennial.

Budd Schulberg (center) at the Watts Writers’ Workshop, ca. 1965.

Budd Schulberg (center) at the Watts Writers’ Workshop, ca. 1965.

“My problem,” novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg told Kurt Vonnegut at the close of a 2001 interview published in these pages, “is that I’m not going to live long enough to do all the different things I want to do. My time is beginning to run out a bit.” Then eighty-seven years old, Schulberg—whose credits include the Oscar-winning script for On the Waterfront (1954), a handful of widely acclaimed novels, a Hollywood memoir, a collection of short stories, a biography of Muhammad Ali, and volumes of essays and magazine articles on boxing—was working with Spike Lee on a screenplay about the epic 1930s battles between heavyweight world champions Joe Louis and Max Schmeling and collaborating with Ben Stiller on a film adaptation of his best-known novel What Makes Sammy Run? (1941). Eight years later, he bid his final farewell before either of these projects could be realized. He would have turned one hundred this year.

Early last month, I attended a two-day celebration of his centennial in Hanover, New Hampshire, at Dartmouth College, from which Schulberg graduated in 1936 and whose Rauner Special Collections Library holds his papers. The event began with the unveiling of a library exhibition—“Budd Schulberg and the Scripting of Social Change,” which runs through the end of next month—charting the writer’s numerous engagements with political events that spanned much of the twentieth century. As editor of The Dartmouth, the college’s daily paper, in 1935, he covered a quarry workers’ strike in Proctor, Vermont, anticipating the preproduction research he would undertake on the mafia infiltration of the dockworkers’ union for On the Waterfront. Read More »

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