- Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s 1949 Cré na Cille is a landmark work of Irish modernism, available now in a new translation called The Dirty Dust. It’s a must-read for connoisseurs of decomposition: “All the characters are dead and speaking from inside their coffins, which are interred in a graveyard in Connemara, on Ireland’s west coast. The novel has no physical action or plot, but rather some 300 pages of cascading dialogue without narration, description, stage direction, or any indication of who’s speaking when.” If there’s an afterlife, let’s hope God isn’t a modernist.
- Of course, the God of antiquity wasn’t such a stand-up guy, either. The Bible finds Jesus promising a rich man “treasure in heaven” if only he’ll give to the poor in life. Somewhere along the line, that caveat fell by the wayside: “By the third century, however, in both Judaism and Christianity, the gesture of giving had become miniaturized, as it were. One did not have to perform feats of heroic self-sacrifice or charity to place treasure in heaven. Small gifts would do … Heaven was thus not only a place of great treasure houses, it included prime real estate in a state of continuous construction due to almsgiving performed on earth by means of common, coarse money.”
- If you were a woman wandering the streets of eighteenth-century London at night, you were generally taken for a prostitute. A 1754 book called The Midnight-Ramble: or, The Adventures of Two Noble Females: Being a True and Impartial Account of their Late Excursion through the Streets of London and Westminster—almost certainly written by a man, of course—supposedly aimed to rebuke young ladies for their wanton behavior. But it probably only served to encourage them—these “noble females” seem to have had a great time after dark: “The two women resolve to disguise themselves as monks in order to monitor their husbands’ nocturnal activities in the city. In prosecuting this plan, they commission their milliner, Mrs Flim, whose name signals that she is adept at idle deception, to bring them ‘ordinary Silk Gowns, close Capuchins, and black Hats.’ And, having taken care ‘to exhilerate their Spirits with a Bottle of excellent Champain,’ the three of them set off in pursuit of the men.”
- Elizabeth Taylor wrote twelve novels and several collections of stories, but her name recognition was compromised—turns out there was a certain actress who also happened to go by Elizabeth Taylor. “Another, more eventful world intrudes from time to time in the form of fan letters to the other Elizabeth Taylor,” she wrote. “Men write to me and ask for a picture of me in my bikini. My husband thinks I should send one and shake them, but I have not got a bikini.”
- Francine Prose on Felix Moeller’s new documentary Forbidden Films, a harrowing study of the cinema of Nazi indoctrination: “One of the most fascinating and disturbing sequences in Forbidden Films deals with Ich Klage An (1941), I Accuse, a film that was used to foster public discussions of euthanasia and to persuade the German public of the necessity of the Nazi euthanasia program. In the film, a doctor’s young and beautiful wife, afflicted with multiple sclerosis, begs her husband to ‘release’ her before her sufferings increase and she degenerates into an unrecognizable version of herself … ‘Her suffering was inhumane,’ the doctor claims in his own defense. ‘That is why I released her.’ During the period that the film was being produced and shown, the Nazis had already murdered, or would subsequently murder, a total of some 70,000 people … ”
Here’s what happens when Hollywood makes a really bad movie out of your novel. You cringe, you pretend you don’t care, you laugh when they play the bad movie’s theme song at weddings you attend, and you wait for the whole thing to pass. And when it finally has, when your book has at last outlived the bad memories and associations of the first movie and it is making its leisurely literary way out in the world, without any connection to the bad movie, someone decides to make an even worse movie out of it.
I wrote Endless Love between the years 1975 and 1979, beginning it as my first marriage unraveled. In that stretch of time, I lived on unemployment, house-sitting for semifamous people in their isolated country houses in New England towns too small to have things like post offices. When my unemployment ran out I moved back to New York and worked for a small publishing company owned by a drug addict. I married again and I became a father and I sold my book for what was a small sum in those days and for what today wouldn’t buy two courtside tickets to a Knicks game. The marriage was good, the baby was great, and the book succeeded to the point where I had to take to my bed with a mysterious crippling illness. Eventually, it was diagnosed as sciatica, which couldn’t even begin to disguise itself as anything other than a nervous system overload. Read More
My first “boyfriend” broke up with me at camp in a letter that read, “You look like the girl from Planet of the Apes—I mean the ape she played, not the girl who played her.” He meant Helena Bonham Carter in the Tim Burton version that had come out that summer. More specifically, he meant that for an eleven-year-old, I had very unruly and freakishly thick eyebrows.
Having kempt mine since that summer (on a necessarily frequent basis), I notice eyebrows more often than is normal; they bear special significance to me. Midway through Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Charlie confronts her uncle about his awful secret life as a woman strangler. Sitting across from him at a seedy bar, she watches his hands painfully wringing a napkin, then she tells him all that she knows: wordlessly, she raises a single eyebrow. The plot hinges on that one thin line of hair. Read More
Silvano and I met about ten years ago through mutual friends. I don’t remember the exact shirt he was wearing at the time, but I know it had bright colors and elaborate embroidery. (Later, I learned it came from Alpana Bawa.) Also, he was wearing one dangling, bauble-y earring. Possibly it included a feather. This was at a party where most people worked in publishing, which is to say, he stood apart.
Other details I have filed away about Silvano include that in the house he shares with his husband, Craig, there is a shrine to Anna Magnani and a poster from his 1977 campaign for supervisor of Board 5 in San Francisco. In the poster, he wears a one-shouldered top and tights and is beaming, his long arms flung skyward, a look inspired by a Patti Labelle album cover. He was running as the “dada alternative” to Harvey Milk. Also, in Robert Gluck’s novel Jack the Modernist, the narrator goes out to a performance piece in which Silvano appears as “Madame Chiang-Ch’ing.” More recently he got his associate’s degree in accessories at FIT.
I knew all this about Silvano, but I didn’t have any idea how much Elizabeth Taylor meant to him. Not even when I met him at his home Sunday morning and he came to the door wearing a purple felt fedora, an iridescent purple mandarin-collared jacket, and purple suede boots. We were on our way to a preview of the Elizabeth Taylor collection being auctioned off this week. Read More
An early foray into fandom: I was eleven, maybe twelve, full of lust and greed. After school let out that day, my mother picked me up to go grocery shopping at Gemco, the massive warehouse supermarket that had recently opened on the outskirts of our Sacramento Valley town. Inside, while she got a cart and started making her rounds, I hung back at the newsstand, in my Catholic school uniform, and tore photos of boy heartthrobs from glossy teen magazines and then stuffed them into the waistband of my blue plaid skirt.
I didn’t consider it stealing. I wasn’t taking the whole magazine, just a few pages. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was defacing property. Nor did I contemplate simply asking my mother to buy me the magazines. I wasn’t going to put these photos up on my bedroom wall; they would go inside my closet. This was the early eighties, so I would’ve been obsessed with The Outsiders—Ponyboy, Johnny, Soda, all the rest. Into my skirt went Rob Lowe. Into my skirt went C. Thomas Howell
Whenever she was asked about her start in the world, the legendary saloonkeeper Bricktop—born Ada Smith—replied:
On the fourteenth day of August 1894, in the little town of Alderson, West-by-God-Virginia, the doctor said, “Another little split-tail,” and on that day Bricktop was born.
T. S. Eliot later added, “…and on that day Bricktop was born. And to her thorn, she gave a rose.”
Bricktop is a not a familiar name to most people today, though the crumbs of her extraordinary life are indispensable to the telling of a certain moment in the history of Americans in Paris and café society everywhere. Woody Allen’s latest movie, Midnight in Paris, could hardly recall the days of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, or the Fitzgeralds without Zelda crying, “Let’s go to Bricktop’s!”
Ada Smith, like many African Americans of her day, was born poor. Her mother, who ran a boarding house, had a passion for cleanliness and a self-confessed trigger-fast Irish temper. Around 1900, the family moved from Virginia to the South Side of Chicago, where Ada got her first taste of the theater. She hung around the stage doors of Chicago’s great vaudeville houses, waiting for the likes of Sophie Tucker, a belting singer known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” to emerge. But it was the back rooms of saloons, with their sawdust-covered floors, that captured her imagination. Read More