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Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

Staff Picks: Fever Dreams, Tragic Spells, and In-betweens

July 22, 2016 | by

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Detail from the cover of Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why.

Carole Firstman’s ambitiously titled debut, Origins of the Universe and What It All Means, is an essayistic memoir about her relationship with her estranged, eccentric (read: undiagnosed Asperger’s) scientist father, but it’s really a thumbed nose at binary argument and an objective romp through subjectivity’s headspace. Throughout the book, Firstman sets up oppositional arguments in order to force them apart and marinate in the liminal in-between. Is her chauvinistic, mostly absent father good or bad? Firstman thinks it’s hard to say, but it doesn’t stop her from examining the relationship through myriad philosophic and scientific lenses. (I doubt there has ever been a book about family in which one learns more about science and the history of thought.) Though the father does and says things that would make even the least feminist, or simply decent, among us cringe, Firstman’s characterization of family dynamics is pitch-perfect: her own impatience and frustrations with her father balance his foibles and thoughtlessness—and her humor softens the lot. This is a very endearing book, a summer read for the curious mind. —Jeffery Gleaves

The Guggenheim’s recent exhibition “Photo-Poetics: An Anthology” made a huge impression on me; the show featured works by ten photographers—nine women, including Erica Baum—who all work closely, sometimes exclusively, with the printed page. So I was delighted to discover Dog Ear, a book of twenty-five exquisite photographs by Baum. For the series, she dog-eared pages in mass-market paperbacks, then photographed the intersection of words at each fold to create a text of her own. In each tiny piece, bits of sentences read horizontally (“skirts, bee-stung lips,” “It’s a funny thing”) and vertically (“made up her face,” “itchiest dresses”). Part photo, part poem, the results vary in tone, from longing to manic, minimal to marvelous. In “Bear,” which feels like a Tomi Ungerer picture book, where animals scheme and smoke cigars, a polar bear is drunk on schnapps and “pawing” “the birds.” A new, limited edition of Dog Ear comes courtesy of Ugly Duckling Presse. Fittingly, the book jacket doubles as a poster. —Jessica Calderon

It may be based on a British procedural, but the new HBO series The Night Of is unmistakably shot in New York and, just as unmistakably, written by Richard Price. The premise: a studious Pakistani American kid sneaks out of the house with the keys to his father’s cab, then ill-advisedly picks up a passenger, a distraught beauty headed to the Upper West Side. It’s classic noir, with John Turturro as the boy's schlubby but dedicated defense attorney; and because it’s a Richard Price script, even a desk sergeant (the excellent Ben Shenkman) can steal a scene. Two episodes in, it’s the best TV I’ve seen this summer. —Lorin Stein  Read More »

Malthusian Flotsam and Unspeakable Jetsam, and Other News

March 28, 2016 | by

Photo: Kirk Crawford.

  • Jim Harrison has died at seventy-eight. “You don’t write—an artist doesn’t create, or very rarely creates—good art in support of different causes,” he told The Paris Review in 1988. “And critics have an enormous difficulty separating the attitudes of your characters from your attitudes as a writer. You have to explain to them: I am not all the men in my novels. How could I be? I’m little Jimmy back here on the farm with my wife and two daughters, and, at one time, three female horses, three female cats, and three female dogs, and I’m quite a nice person.”
  • Fact: you, too, can enjoy Aldous Huxley waxing lyrical about a controversial Los Angeles sewage treatment plant. “One day in 1939, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, and two women walk along the shore south of Los Angeles. The weather is beautiful, the beach is empty, and Shakespeare is debated. Then the group realizes that something’s funny about the beach. As Huxley put it in the essay, ‘Like Hyperion to a Satyr,’ they are suddenly walking among ‘ten million emblems and mementos of Modern Love … Malthusian flotsam and unspeakable jetsam.’ The four had found themselves among a sea of used condoms that ejected by Los Angeles’s Hyperion sewage treatment plant. Huxley returned to those shores a few years later, after LA upgraded the plant in 1950. He was overjoyed with what he saw, and what he thought the vista suggested about the city: ‘Another torrent, this time about 99.95 percent pure, rushes down through the submarine outfall and mingles, a mile offshore, with the Pacific. The problem of keeping a great city clean without polluting a river or fouling the beaches, and without robbing the soil of its fertility, has been triumphantly solved.’ ”
  • In America, Joseph Brodsky is often held up as “the poster boy for Soviet persecution,” as Cynthia Haven writes—but a new biography is trying to change that perception: “Ellendea Proffer Teasley, in her short new memoir, Brodskij sredi nas (Brodsky Among Us), offers a different view of the poet. It’s an iconoclastic and spellbinding portrait, some of it revelatory. Teasley’s Brodsky is both darker and brighter than the one we thought we knew, and he is the stronger for it … According to the leading critic Anna Narinskaya, writing in the newspaper Kommersant, Teasley’s memoir had been written ‘without teary-eyed ecstasy or vicious vengefulness, without petty settling of scores with the deceased—or the living—and at the same time demonstrating complete comprehension of the caliber and extreme singularity of her “hero” ’ … Even so, the book has yet to find a publisher in English, the language in which it was written.”
  • Do you want Saul Bellow’s desk? He sat there, wrote some books. And it’s nice—a mahogany roll-top job dating to the Victorian era. A steal at ten thousand bucks. Please buy it. Please, please buy it. No one else is buying it, Bellow’s son told the Wall Street Journal: “I guess space is expensive on the Upper West Side. Nobody’s got room for a giant piece of furniture … I thought, well, this will provoke discussion. But it really didn’t … I’m moving to a smaller place and the desk just isn’t fitting into the plan.”
  • Problem: a staging at the Park Avenue Armory of Louis Andriessen’s 1988 avant-garde opera, De Materie, calls for one hundred sheep. Solution: get the fucking sheep. “Simply getting hold of so many stage-ready sheep was an exceptionally difficult bit of opera casting … The bane of international opera stars is a visa system that can be difficult to navigate. For opera sheep, it is getting the right veterinary certificates, exhibiting permits, humane handling paperwork and the like … Then there was the question of where to house them. The ovine troupers could not sleep at the Armory; could not commute from Pennsylvania; and would not have been welcome at the hotels that usually cater to visiting sopranos. So accommodations were found at the Bronx Equestrian Center, which has stables in Pelham Bay Park. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has jurisdiction over animals in performances, issued a permit to allow the project to go ahead … Then the Armory had to be readied. A backstage paddock was built and soundproofed … ”

Slow Days, Fast Company

December 4, 2015 | by

Eve Babitz’s singular take on Los Angeles.

Babitz, as pictured on the first edition of Eve’s Hollywood.

Years ago, a friend gave me a first edition of Eve Babitz’s second book, Slow Days, Fast Company (1974), which had slipped out of print. Tucked inside was a promotional photo of the author on thick, glossy Kodak paper; the back cover, featuring the same image, explained that Babitz had begun to write in 1972 after a stint designing album covers for Atlantic Records. It neglected to mention that she’d had romances with the portrait’s photographer, Paul Ruscha, and his brother, the artist Ed Ruscha—a kind of discretion she’s not often afforded. 

Most discussions of Babitz’s writing are preceded by a list of her paramours or a seemingly obligatory nod to the iconic 1963 photograph in which Babitz, nude, plays chess with Marcel Duchamp. I wouldn’t care so much about Babitz having dated Jim Morrison—one of her admitted “tar babies”—or having posed with Duchamp, except that her love life plays nicely into her game on the page: one of sharp, funny, memoiristic essays set in the late sixties and seventies Los Angeles scene. Babitz claims she started these studies at age fourteen. I believe her. She’s been working since she was a teenager, closely observing the people around her—few of whom, presumably, suspected that such a pretty party girl could be so gimlet-eyed. Read More »

Tuesday’s Child

October 29, 2015 | by

All art from Tuesday’s Child.

In early fall of 1989 my friends Craig, Mick, and I tried to summon a demon—Astaroth, the crowned prince of Hell, if I’m remembering right—to the driveway of Craig’s suburban home. Months earlier I’d found a book on summoning spells hidden in a box in my attic, underneath a bunch of Lovecraft anthologies and old Hanukkah decorations.

We’d planned the evening a few days before: once Craig’s parents left for dinner at the country club, I’d draw a magic circle beneath the basketball pole, Mick was on candle duty, and Craig would read, in Latin, the requisite incantations. The translated Latin was a series of threats and commands, invoking Jesus Christ and various angels, along with reminders that the magic circle was impenetrable, that as long as we were within its boundaries Astaroth held no sway. That we were all good Jewish boys didn’t seem to matter—we held Jesus in high regard, the way Pistons fans must have felt about Michael Jordan; even though he wasn’t one of ours, you still had to respect the guy’s game. Read More »

Bordellos of the Southland: An Interview with Liz Goldwyn

October 7, 2015 | by

In the foreword to Liz Goldwyn’s Sporting Guide, Los Angeles, 1897, the author waxes poetic on her discursive trawl through illicit Victoriana: “There are moments when the boundaries between dimensions blur. Time is elastic, and you can slip right through, finding the ground you stand upon dissolving, coming back into focus centuries ago … These are the stories of my hometown and the inhabitants I came to know through dusty archives, in hallucinations and dreams.” It seems appropriate that Goldwyn, a vintage collector and designer, editor for French Vogue, and the author and director of Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens, would emulate the profligate, fin de siècle style of Baudelaire, Huysmans, and Proust in a portrait of the late-nineteenth-century demimonde. But her selection of setting may come as a bit of a shock: after all, in the popular imagination, the city of Los Angeles was little more than a sleepy, frontier town before a ragtag group of East Coast filmmakers—including Goldwyn’s own grandfather, Polish businessman and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn—arrived to establish the movie industry.

Goldwyn’s profile of Southland cribs, bordellos, and opium dens explodes that myth with a heady combination of picaresque fiction and Benjaminian psychogeography. Deploying the lost genre of the sporting guide—a then-popular directory of bordellos and cathouses published in most major cities and traded privately among the upper and haute bourgeois classes—Goldwyn assembles a cast of madams, prostitutes, orphans, and drug-dealers reminiscent of those in Zola’sLes Rougon-Macquartseries. Her Sporting Guide reveals a pre-Hollywood Los Angeles dreamscape, in which streetwalkers, politicians, and industrialists rubbed shoulders (among other things) with the uninhibited libidos of the Gilded Age.

On the eve of her trip to the East Coast for a series of readings, Goldwyn spoke to me about her fascination with Los Angeles, the marginal histories of courtesans and prostitutes, and the emotional pleasures of the archive. Read More »

I Was Dreambox

June 1, 2015 | by

Wearing a sandwich board for Richard Kraft’s “100 Walkers.”

Photo: Helen Kim

Photo: Helen Kim

On a warm, Saturday afternoon in mid-April, I stood among ninety-nine others in grid formation in a West Hollywood parking lot, beneath a radiant red-and-gold Shepard Fairey mural. We wore all black—pants, blazers, and bowler hats. Each of us also bore a sandwich board with an image or phrase on the front and a different one on the back: a photograph of the ocean or the stars; a detail from an illustrated children’s book; a picture of a fiery, comet-tailed rocket; a portrait of a dissident, activist, or athlete; a close-up of a single human eye or a snarling dog; a snippet of a Dutch floral still life; a rendering of hands clasped in prayer or holding a lit match. The texts, in slender caps against vibrant emerald, violet, tangerine, or magenta, issued hopeful declarations (THE FUTURE IS FEMALE) and unfortunate truths (THE PEOPLE ADORE AUTHORITY!), cartoonish sound effects (EEEEEEK), commands (ABANDON SHIP!), questions (AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?), warnings (BEWARE OF THE RABBLE), and urgent, private reminders (I MUST TELL THE FLOWERS I MUST TELL THE TREES).

We stood in position for several minutes, a curious and dazzling assembly, a tenuous poem, a solemn, slyly subversive army. Then, one by one, we were dismissed according to our designated start phrases—body parts in Cockney slang. From head to toe, the corps dispersed. I answered to Dreambox and left through the lot’s south gate. My five-mile route took me along the glare of Sunset Boulevard and down jacaranda-shaded, bougainvilla-draped residential streets. As directed by the orchestrator of “100 Walkers,” Richard Kraft, I faced forward, kept a steady pace and neutral expression, and stayed silent. Read More »