Tickets and tables are available now for our Spring Revel, to be held Tuesday, April 5, at Cipriani 42nd Street—please join us for the Review’s annual gala and our biggest night of the year!
This year, we’re honoring Lydia Davis with the Hadada, our lifetime-achievement award. Lydia’s history with the Review began in 1983, when we published her story “Break It Down”; she’s since contributed some of our most beloved stories, including “If at the Wedding (At the Zoo),” “Ten Stories from Flaubert,” and, most recently, “After Reading Peter Bichsel.” James Wood has written that her Collected Stories is “one of the great, strange American literary contributions.” Presenting Lydia with the Hadada will be the filmmaker Errol Morris—her old high school classmate.
We’ll also award our Plimpton and Terry Southern Prizes—the winners of which are shrouded in such secrecy that even we don’t know them yet. Stay tuned.
The Spring Revel is one of the Review’s oldest traditions, and it’s helped to keep the magazine afloat for more than sixty-three years. Today it’s known as “prom for New York intellectuals” (Mary Karr) and “a real party” (Gay Talese), but according to our Spring 1981 issue, it was once a significantly less real party. Revels in the past were held variously “in a vast honeycombed West Side discotheque named the Cheetah,” “an abandoned church amongst a grove of trees on Welfare Island in the East River,” and “on a decrepit sidewheeler steamer moored at the South Street Seaport.” As for the entertainment, well, we’ve come a long way:
What many people remembered about the Revels was the use of mixed-media devices—especially films, which were shown simultaneously on a multitude of screens. These were artfully spliced by Christopher Cerf of the Review from reels of 16mm stock purchased at cut-rate out of 42nd Street camera-shop bins—many of them old Pathé newsreels so that the revelers would look up to see on the great screens hung around the halls, or, in the case of the island Revel, set among the trees, a curious variety of image … a ping-pong match, a chimpanzee on a bicycle, the slow, writhing collapse of the suspension bridge at Yakima, Washington, a zoot-suit fashion show, a sequence of a monster grasshopper attacking a Quonset hut from a science-fiction film, a Krazy Kat cartoon, a series of rocket failures at Cape Canaveral in which the missiles would bestir themselves briefly and then sit back down on their columns of flame and disappear in gigantic explosions … all of these activities going on concurrently and silently, the projector beams criss-crossing, the screens in a constant movement of image. This kind of visual decoration was very much of an innovation then.
The Editor was invariably in charge of the movie projectors. He hurried through the crowds from one to the other. Sometimes he ran the big reels backwards: a rocket would mend itself and sit back down on its column of billowing flame and extinguish it; a ping-pong match lost very little in reverse, and the giant grasshopper, retreating awkwardly from its victims, took on a poignant helter-skelter demeanor.
The effort put into the Revels was at once an advantage and a detriment to the success of the affairs: people bought tickets and came, but the expense of making the occasions memorable often cut sharply into the receipts. At the Welfare Island Revel, for example, two rented pianos were placed out in a glade of shade trees. The evening was cool, the weather threatening. Very few discovered the pianos. James Blake, the ex-convict writer who had written an extraordinary prison chronicle for the magazine entitled “The Joint,” played one of the pianos at two in the morning … a slow barrel-house … a few people standing to listen in the light of hurricane lamps hung from the trees, with the great skyline of midtown Manhattan behind them through the leaves, and the faint hum of traffic coming across the water from the East River Drive. A couple of hours later a rain shower swept through and ruined both pianos. Almost all the profits from the Revel were paid to the piano rental company … indeed the total realized from that Revel, to which almost a thousand people came, was about fourteen dollars.
We hope to see you on April 5 at Cipriani, where no pianos will be destroyed and no monster grasshoppers will appear.