Posts Tagged ‘TV’
April 5, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Should we be surprised that so many writers have doubled as spies? It seems a shame to put all their observational prowess to waste when there’s a great way to monetize it—and writing is most assuredly not that way. Plus, the connection speaks to deeper truths about both art forms: “Writers create plots; spies uncover them … ‘Everything is useful to a writer,’ [Graham] Greene insisted. ‘Every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.’ Writers are obsessed with plot and character, motive and perspective, and with the space between interior and exterior worlds, between what people think and what they say. Le Carré has suggested that espionage is a kind of metaphor; we all live undercover and mask our private selves with projected social personalities. ‘Most of us live,’ he said, in a slightly conspiratorial relationship with our employer and perhaps with our marriage.’ ”
- Authors are great voyeurs, too, of course, so it comes as some surprise that Gerald Foos, who rigged up his motel so he could watch his guests going at it, didn’t end up a novelist or something. But he was a writer of sorts: he kept an exhaustive journal of his observations, and Gay Talese has reported on it. “As I read the sections of the journal he sent me, which covered the mid-nineteen-sixties through the mid-seventies, I noticed that his persona as a writer changed, gradually shifting from a first-person narrator into a character whom he wrote about in the third person. Sometimes he used the word I, and sometimes he’d refer to himself as ‘the voyeur’ … The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below. He was looking down on Room 6, where he saw a guest eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while sitting on the bed. Instead of using paper napkins, the man cleaned his hands on the bedsheets. He then wiped the grease off his beard and mouth with the bedspread. Without realizing what he was doing, Foos shouted, ‘You son of a bitch!’ ”
- If writers are voyeurs and spies, poets at least get in on the action. To Garth Greenwell, cruising is itself a kind of poetry: “The two phenomena, as I experience them, can serve as similes for each other. Cruising carves out intimacies in public space in the same way poetry carves out intimacies in public discourse; and cruising is also itself a kind of discourse, with codes that have to be secret in plain sight, legible to those in the know but able to pass beneath general notice, like one of Wyatt’s sonnets. Both poetry and cruising have a structure that is essentially epiphanic, offering the sudden, often ecstatic revelation of a meaning that emerges from the inchoate stuff of quotidian life. As poetry declares a system of value incomprehensible to the world of Yeats’s ‘bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen,’ a value different from that of commerce and instrumental usefulness, so cruising depends on an idea of the value of human interactions shorn of the usual institutions that mark that value. And, maybe most profoundly, both poetry and cruising are arts of loneliness and the assuagement of loneliness.”
- A new festival celebrating Beckett’s years in Paris must ask what turns out to be a complicated question: What did Beckett really think of the place? The devastating answer: a shrug. “During those years in Paris, he lived fully in the city; he drank at the Falstaff or the Rosebud and played billiards at the Les Trois Mousquetaires. He visited casinos with Thomas MacGreevy and in his trusty Citroën he once drove a stunned Harold Pinter from bar to bar at breakneck speed. Beckett was also of course a great walker, he crisscrossed Paris time and time again. In his younger days he accompanied James Joyce in walks along the Seine; the older Beckett strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens with the philosopher Emil Cioran … And therein lies the fascination of Beckett and Paris, he’s there but ever so subtly. As he was with people—reticent, gracious—so he was with the city … Not all writers of course are obsessed, like Joyce or Dickens, with the minutiae of a particular city; there are some who, based on their work, barely seem to have walked this earth at all. With Beckett, not surprisingly, the reality is more complex, more elusive.”
- As The People v. O. J. Simpson reaches its inevitable finale (spoiler alert: he’s acquitted), Nicholas Dames sees in it something more than a dramatization of a sensational trial: “The show’s job, as its creators seem to have understood it—and at which they succeed remarkably well is not fidelity to historical detail, but evocation of a vanished era in its most intimate aspects: the moment-to-moment feeling of being alive then, the sensory and affective horizons of a time still within living memory, seen through the slight parallax of the present. Big narrative resolutions, like guilt and innocence, are beside the point. Instead, small things get magnified … What this means is that, allowing for all of its early-21st-century savvy and its very different medium, The People v. O. J. Simpson bears a surprising resemblance to a Victorian novel. It was one of nineteenth-century fiction’s most subtle inventions: the idea that realism’s gaze was sharpest when focused on the recent past, neither beyond living memory nor quite like contemporary world.”
February 10, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- If you’ve been holding off on reading Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels because there’s, like, four of them, and that’s just kind of a lot of books, and you secretly don’t even really enjoy reading that often anyway, you’re in luck: they’re being adapted for television. “FremantleMedia’s Wildside and Fandango Productions will adapt the four novels as four eight-episode series, one for each of the books—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. And just in case you were worried, The Hollywood Reporter reports that Ferrante herself will be involved in the production of the series, and it will be shot in Italy.”
- With his Jack Reacher thrillers, Lee Child writes what are certifiably—at least according to Forbes—the most addictive novels in all of commercial fiction. In this, Christopher Tayler writes, Child owes a debt to Donald Westlake, an earlier thriller writer with a formula that varied in intriguing ways: “Westlake was hailed as a master by John Banville and Stephen King, but he never troubled the bestseller lists, and it’s part of [his series protagonist] Parker’s charm that he’s a bit of a cult property, a creature of the drugstore paperback carousel rather than the airport bookstore … Luc Sante—who published one of the first serious appraisals of the Parker books in 1985—argues persuasively that the master theme of professionalism is as much writerly as criminal. Westlake said that he devised the series because he wanted to write about ‘a workman at work’, and the books offer a double lesson, showing not only, say, each step in the process of breaking though a Sheetrock wall with a claw hammer, but also how to turn the process into mesmerizing fiction.”
- In the fifties and sixties, you couldn’t step into an East German bookstore (and clearly I speak from experience) without encountering the work of Klaus Wittkugel, one of the GDR’s most prominent graphic designers. A new exhibition in New York collects his striking book designs and propaganda posters. If you doubt his significance, just have a look at this unstinting praise from none other than the East German State: “For nearly every important political event in the history of our Workers’ and Peasants’ State, there exists an artistic statement by Wittkugel, who, through his work, has contributed considerably to the new orientation of our applied graphics.”
- The author photo, once the foundation of any decent book-publicity campaign, has seen some changes in the Information Age—some might wonder if there’s really any reason for it at all anymore, when you just Google an author and find pictures by the dozen. But when Matthew Shaer saw Sven Birkerts’s author photo, he felt something different. “Its anomalousness shook me: If the vast majority of author photos fit into one of a handful of standard poses—the Fist-on-Chin (conveying thoughtfulness), the Stare-Out-Window (inner depth), the Icy Stare (strength), the Hearty Laugh (confidence!), etc.—here was an author photo that threw centuries of literary convention in our face. Here was a man who was not even fully dressed in his author photo.”
- In which Alice Gregory ventures to the shadow of Geneva, with a friend and a ten-week-old baby: “Malka is in the other room pumping, ‘like a cow.’ She returns and tells me about a Scandinavian balloon that you insert into your vagina for ten minutes per day for the last month of pregnancy. If you do this, she promises, you won’t need stitches. Malka is full of advice that I don’t need but want anyway. We talk about lots of things up there in the mountains: Buchenwald, deviant sex, how Italians sound like roosters when they try to sing lieders. They use too many vocal effects, apparently. Or, as Malka says, ‘lots of cream all over.’ ”
February 8, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Yes, the War and Peace miniseries currently airing in the U.S. makes for riveting viewing. But is it as riveting, I ask, as watching thirteen hundred Russians recite the entirety of War and Peace over a period of sixty hours?! Read More »
January 6, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
Two things only the people actually desire: bread and circuses. –Juvenal
When I fall prey to the black dog, it’s easy to tell. My depression manifests in baking: jars filled with rapidly aging cookies, racks of untouched cupcakes, freezers glutted with brownies. Typically I find baking soothing, but there’s nothing soothing about this frenzy of activity. It’s a Hail Mary attempt to wrest a little accomplishment from life, the last of my energy reserves wasted on food whose presence, whether it’s a success or failure, becomes another reproach. Baking is about the triumph of precision over creativity, but in these moments my approach is slapdash and the results uneven. If cooking can be a means of nourishing and communing, this is the opposite, a sort of gingerbread fortress of solitude. Read More »
December 22, 2015 | by J. D. Daniels
We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!
Being the last man on Earth.
On a recent Sunday evening, trying to relax, I turned on the television and saw an ad for a new comedy series called The Last Man on Earth. It wasn’t clear how everyone else had died.
I had learned what I needed to know, or had remembered it: television does not relax me. I turned the television off, took an Ativan, and listened to The Teddy Charles Tentet, a terrific jazz record.
Phil Miller is the last man on earth—which makes him the world’s greatest handyman—world’s greatest athlete—[etc.]
The last man on earth.
But of course one is not the Last Man on Earth. There are other people, equal claimants to the Earth. It can be vexing to share it with them. Read More >>
December 4, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The drugs in the real world are okay. But fictional drugs—those are some drugs. A tour of drugs in fiction suggests, among other things, that we’ve been disappointingly unimaginative in choosing names for actual drugs: Where can we find the likes of “moloko plus” or “The Diabolical Drug” in day-to-day life? And where, in fiction, can we find a drug that isn’t a metaphor for our dumb ambition? “We all want to be stronger, sexier, more formidable; taking a synthetic shortcut, in drug fiction, is rarely a good idea … That’s the commonality throughout all of our mind-warping fictions: they’re mostly depictions of our hubris. They skewer our persistent belief that there is some pill, some plant, some substance that could cure everything for us, fix things.”
- Meanwhile, the explosion of narrative food writing seems to have helped everyone but the service staff: there are no signs of labor to be found. “Contemporary cookbooks devote as much energy to their narrative or expository content as they do to providing recipes; they tell stories, that is, rather than merely instruct. Despite this impressive reach, however, you have to read hard, and most often in vain, to catch glimpses of waiters, dishwashers, or line cooks … If one were to do the impossible, and take food criticism seriously, we would have to imagine a restaurant as a kind of lively phantasmagoria, where food and beverage enter the purview of the critic as if of their own volition. It is the staging ground for the most classic forms of commodity fetishism.”
- Today in TV nostalgia: from 1947 to 1957, a live TV show called Kukla, Fran and Ollie attracted some four million viewers each night, in prime time. Its secret: puppets. “It revolved around the antics of the Kuklapolitan Players, a theater company made up of one human—radio actress and vocalist Fran Allison—and a dozen puppets, all of which were animated by the show’s creator, Burr Tillstrom. The puppets talked and danced and sang on a small stage while Allison stood in front of it and talked and danced and sang with them … Kukla, Fran and Ollie created a new, gentle intimacy with its audience, one shaped by routine but not bound by formula, in which it was always possible to be delighted or moved. Perhaps it’s less that it’s strange for adults to feel strongly about children’s television and more that we’ve coded such qualities as childlike.”
- Mary-Kay Wilmers on Marianne Moore: “In place of a diary she kept a notebook … She didn’t use it to write about her feelings or about herself. She was interested in the fate of her poems, not in the mood she was in. Her mother had warned against introspection; consciously or unconsciously, she’d taken the lesson to heart. Or perhaps she didn’t need a lesson. Ideas, attitudes to this and that were more rewarding, and more fun to think about and make fun of, even her own. But words principally gave her pleasure. Sentences, metaphors, tropes, her own—she worked constantly at them—and other people’s, including her mother’s, were noted down and reappear in the poems, which borrow many of Mary’s mannerisms as well as those of the home language more generally: not its sentimentality but its histrionic tone and nursery décor and its tendency to metonymise and otherwise play the figures of speech. Like Wallace Stevens, whom she much admired, she made jokes, and even more than in Stevens’s case, the jokes were sly, hardly perceptible, there for her own pleasure. Yet for all the ironies, visible and invisible, some of the poems even have a moral.”
- The artist Ana Mendieta, a Cuban émigré who died thirty years ago, is at last getting her due: “The young and promising Cuban-American artist fell to her death in September 1985 from the 34th-floor window of her Greenwich Village apartment; her newlywed husband, legendary sculptor Carl Andre, was indicted, tried, and eventually acquitted of her murder … [Mendieta] used her own body as a major component of her artwork. Her films and photos often used her sometimes naked form as subject and many had deep, earthy, bold colors and natural but stark shapes and elements. She used sticks and blood and dirt and plants—her work has the feeling of a pagan ritual. It is somehow both haunting and life-affirming.”