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Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Williams’

Staff Picks: Biennial Cataloguing, Southern Gothic Horror

March 30, 2012 | by

For the first time in its eighty-year history, the Whitney Biennial gives substantial space—an entire floor of the museum, in fact—to dance and performance. The catalogue, typically a by-the-book affair (no pun intended), has matched the show’s experiential adventure, allotting each of the roughy fifty artists six pages for original contributions that extend, rather than merely reflect, the work in the museum. Among others entries, I love Vincent Fecteau’s use of a quote from Dennis Cooper to accompany his sculptures, while Cooper’s Last Spring project appears a few pages back; and Nick Mauss’s description of room he built in a dream: “just like that Claus Oldenburg installation with the plush and the zebra, except that the bed is covered in a grid of baguettes standing en point beneath a poster of the cover of Triste Tropiques.” —Nicole Rudick

It feels redundant to recommend something as canonical as Shoah, but until this past weekend, when I devoted a day to it at BAM, I’d never actually seen Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentary all the way through. I must admit, I entered into the nine-hour experience with something of a sense of obligation. But it’s okay. Entertaining is the wrong word—wholly engrossing. I’ll leave it to others to discuss its cinematic and historical import; all I know is that it stays with you. —Sadie Stein

This week New Orleans held its annual Tennessee Williams Festival, featuring copious mint juleps and a Stella shouting contest. I celebrated the occasion with Sweet Bird of Youth, the 1962 film adaptation of Williams’s play. When tweaking and fame-hungry Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) returns to his Florida hometown to win back his sweetheart with big Hollywood promises, as always with dear Tennessee, heartbreak and histrionics ensue. Geraldine Page as Alexandra del Lago, a boozy, washed-up film star, steals the show. —Allison Bulger

Gothic thrillers are my guilty pleasure, but it’s hard to find a really good one. John Harwood’s The Séance is one of the best I’ve come across lately, a creepy page-turner that manager to capture the flavor of nineteenth-century horror conventions without feeling mannered. —S.S.

William K. Everson was the head of the Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society, which put on weekly retrospective film series in New York City from the fifties into the eighties. These screenings were attended by such luminaries as Stanley Kubrick and Susan Sontag. Everson wrote extensive notes for each show, and these legendary writings—idiosyncratic as they are erudite—are now available online through NYU. —Josh Anderson

Cultural narratives often contain the most distilled and revealing identifiers of a people and their imagination. The Met exhibition “Storytelling in Japanese Art” is a beautiful instance of narrative revelation, a window into the world of Japanese storytelling from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. This collection of various media—hand scrolls, folding screens, playing cards, textiles—pairs narrative text and intricate illustration to showcase the rich and fascinating history of Japanese people, their spirt and their stories. —Elizabeth Nelson

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In Miss Eudora’s Garden

February 20, 2012 | by

Eudora Welty. Photograph by Jill Krementz.

There are certain towns that are forever linked with the authors who lived there. Oxford, Mississippi, is Faulkner land, parts of New Orleans’s Toulouse Street belong irrevocably to Tennessee Williams, and Monroeville, Alabama, is Harper Lee’s territory as surely as if it had been marked on the state map. If Jackson, Mississippi, had a patron saint, it would be Eudora Welty.

Miss Eudora, as native Jacksonites affectionately call her, was a fixture in the capital city of Mississippi from her childhood until her death in 2001. Her presence is still inescapable. Visit the Mayflower Café, off Capitol Street, and you’ll hear about Miss Eudora’s fondness for plate lunches of fried catfish and butter beans. Dig through the waist-high volumes at Choctaw Books and, with luck, you can come across a volume signed in Welty’s bunched and looping hand. Ask an alumnus of Belhaven University about Welty, and they’ll tell you how she used to keep the window of her bedroom open to listen to the music department practice, her head just visible in the top floor window as she sat at her typewriter

Author’s homes on public display tend to have a stuffy quality, all velvet ropes and militantly made beds. The assiduousness of the preservation drains the life from them, makes them seem impossibly antique. Welty’s house, a Tudor-style revival tucked into a thicket of pines, is almost unbearably welcoming. Visiting feels like an intrusion on her privacy. Read More »

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Aamer Hussein on ‘The Cloud Messenger’

October 18, 2011 | by

Aamer Hussein, courtesy of the writer.

Though The Cloud Messenger is Aamer Hussein’s first novel, it comes after five collections of stories and a novella, Another Gulmohar Tree. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, but a long-time resident of London, Hussein has dramatized the sorts of encounters between and within cultures that reflect his own facility in seven languages. He writes with intelligent restraint about the experience of displacement, but also the indelible richness of wherever we like to think of as home. The Cloud Messenger draws on his own unsentimental education as a student of Farsi to create a romance about language and the unexpected life that reading and translating can take. Last year, we met to discuss the Granta anthology of writing from and about Pakistan at his home in West London.

Could you begin by explaining your background?

I’m from Karachi, third-generation in almost an accidental way, because both my grandfather and father were born there, even though they hadn’t lived there very much until after partition because of certain historical … mishaps, you might say. My mother is from Northern India and from a much more traditional family, although her father was an academic.Read More »

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Tennessee Williams

March 30, 2011 | by

March 26, marked the centennial of Tennessee Williams’s birth. The Paris Review celebrates with an appreciation by Sam Stephenson, through the eyes of W. Eugene Smith.

Tennessee Williams at the New Orleans Athletic Club, 1948. © W. Eugene Smith. Compliments of A Gallery For Fine Photography.

In December 1966 or January 1967, W. Eugene Smith was in his fifth floor loft space at 821 Sixth Avenue. Forty-eight years old, he was down and out. He drank a fifth of scotch and ate countless amphetamines every day. His live-in girlfriend of seven years, Carole Thomas, was loyal but growing weary. He maintained grand, alluring ambitions, but nobody would hire him for fear of igniting an impossible odyssey. The underworld jazz scene in the building had fizzled out two years earlier. The neighborhood had a daytime retail life, but otherwise the place was desolate: hot dog wrappers and paper cups blowing down the street.

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Sonny Clark, Part 2

January 26, 2011 | by

Sonny Clark, ca. 1961. Photograph by Francis Wolff. (c) Mosaic Images (www.mosaicrecords.com)

On October 26, 1961, Sonny Clark reported to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, for a recording session led by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Clark brought with him a new composition he called “Five Will Get You Ten.” He was an effective composer, and his tunes were welcome at most sessions. However, this one he’d stolen from Thelonious Monk. He had probably seen the sheet music or heard Monk working out the tune on the piano at the Weehawken, New Jersey, home of the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who routinely made her home a rest stop and clubhouse for jazz musicians.

Monk called the tune “Two Timer”; Clark gave it a new name so he could claim composer’s royalties. It was the move of a desperate, depleted junky. (W. Eugene Smith had cameras, lenses, and other equipment stolen from his loft by jazz junkies all the time, but, an addict himself, he wasn’t one to judge. The thefts would leave him both distraught and ambivalent.) According to Robin D. G. Kelley’s remarkable recent biography of Monk, the elder master treated Clark like a “troubled younger brother,” and he never did anything about the stolen tune. Chances are that by the time Monk heard McLean’s record and realized what had happened, Clark was dead, or in some other condition that made a reprimand irrelevant.

In the last eighteen months of Clark’s life, he would climb to daylight for brief periods, breath clean air, play some beautiful music, and then sink to lower and lower depths. In the August 1962 issue of the invaluable, idiosyncratic Canadian jazz magazine, Coda, there was this report from New York by Fred Norsworthy:

One of the saddest sights these days is the terrible condition of one of the nation’s foremost, and certainly original pianists. Having been around for many years he came into his own in 1959 and no one deserved it more than he. I feel that something should be done about drug addiction before we lose many more artists. I saw him several times in the past three months and was shocked to see one of our jazz greats in such pitiful shape. Unfortunately, the album dates that he keeps getting only help his addiction get worse instead of better. Whether or not he licks this problem at this stage of the game remains to be seen. In some cases people refuse help and the loss of a close friend was no help either. If anything he took a turn for the worse and disappeared for 3 weeks. However right now should he die it will at least be better than living a slow death with no relief in sight.

The pianist is almost certainly Sonny Clark. That same month, he cut two classic Blue Note albums under the leadership of saxophonist Dexter Gordon, Go and A Swinging Affair. When Clark died five months later, Gordon remembered these sessions in a letter to Blue Note impresarios Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff: Clark had “almost totally given up” on his life, Gordon wrote. Yet judging from the surviving albums, he still cooked on piano. Several of Clark’s solos are top notch, but in this rhythm section with Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, he conducts a clinic on how to play sensitive, sparkling piano accompaniment behind a soloing saxophonist, in this case the atmospheric Gordon. Clark didn’t appear to give up on anything musically. Many years later Gordon remembered Go as among his career favorites.

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