NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL GOOD WRITING!!

spider-baby 2   spider_baby 1

.

“Maybe you’ve seen her: a girl-child in a heavily soiled nightdress, creepy-crawling on her belly through a garden of toadstools in the yard beside an old dark house. She is “The Sixties”–in all its promise and eventual deformity–coming into being, coming up from underneath.”

  — the opening paragraph of “A Child’s Garden of Flies: Jill Banner’s Deadly Spider Baby”, an essay by CHUCK STEPHENS about B-movie actress Jill Banner, best known for Jack Hill’s 1964 creep-fest “Spider Baby”  (written for the magazine “Film Comment” [Jan/Feb 1915, Volume 51, Number 1])

.

Writer and essayist Chuck Stephens is a Contributing Editor to Film Comment magazine, former West Coast Editor of Filmmaker, and has written for the Village Voice, Cinema Scope, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Interview, and numerous publications around the world. He is also a longtime contributor to Criterion.com projects, and has authored numerous essays for laser discs and DVDs in The Criterion Collection. In addition, he has lectured internationally on some of his favorite films, including Douglas Sirk’s “Magnificent Obsession” (pictured above), Stanley Kubrick’s early noir masterpiece “The Killing”, Taiwanese filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Tropical Malady” and “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, as well as many other film classics.

CARNAL RELATIONS IN PRINT: TWO VIEWPOINTS

Milan Kundera 3

“… In D.H. Lawrence sexual freedom has the feel of a dramatic or tragic result. A short time later, in Henry Miller’s work, sex is surrounded by lyrical euphoria. Thirty years later, with the work of Philip Roth, sex is simply a given, taken for granted, achieved, commonplace, inevitably codified; neither dramatic, nor tragic, nor lyrical.

But in the days of Tolstoy, it was love that stretched over the vast terrain; from first encounter to the brink of coitus, that was a frontier not to be crossed. There were no musings about just how long it was since Kerenin and Anna had stopped making love; no euphoric lyricism about Anna and Vronsky’s trysts: Was he good at bringing her to climax? Did they make love in the dark, in bed, or was it on the carpet with all the lights on? Did it last three minutes or three hours? Was there romantic whispers in Anna’s delicate earlobes, or course obscenities? Did they scream in carnal passion, or breathed in the silence, occasionally letting a small gasp escape as pleasure overtook them?

We don’t know a thing about it. For Tolstoy this carnal passion was buried within the life and breath of love.”

MILAN KUNDERA, author and essayist… Taken from his essay “Love In Accelerated History”

“THINK PINK” – Advertising slogan of HUSTLER magazine 

Hardcore 2

MEETINGS BETWEEN REMARKABLE MEN: BOWIE AND ENO MEET CHOPIN IN PARIS

Chopin House

It happens all the time: cultural icons wind up meeting through odd circumstances, icons with vastly different backgrounds. They, each on their own, mostly stick within the idiom of their own terrains, whether it be the world of writing, music, film, sports, Fine Arts, and the like. However, it is usually due to their elevated status within the Zeitgeist of the time that these curious meetings take place.

Some confirmed chance encounters that could definitely be labelled bizarre include: Absurdest playwright Samuel Beckett and gargantuan wrestler Andre the Giant; the Godfather of Soul Music James Brown and maverick film director Alfred Hitchcock; the masterful poet of the macabre Edgar Allen Poe and beloved populist writer Charles Dickens; Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot and master funnyman Groucho Marx; Italian film maestro Federico Fellini and Marvel Comics honcho Stan Lee, and quite a few others that would certainly give you pause (or, if nothing else, a great belly laugh).

One thing that we know for certain–the single common denominator that cannot be disputed– is that, when these iconic namesakes met, everyone involved was (at least at the time of the encounter) among the living.

In the following encounter–a chance meeting among three legendary musicians–one of the involved had been dead for almost 130 years!

This event took place in the year 1977, inside the secluded weathered walls of the Chateau D’Herouville, a sprawling manor buried deep the French countryside.  During that period, various musicians had rented the manor, as it had all the ideal accouterments for recording. It had once been the homestead of renowned classical composer Frederic Chopin, who lived there with his lover, the proto-feminist writer, playwright and essayist George’ Sand, and was the birthplace of several famous Chopin recordings.

Among the rock-n-roll community, there was a lot of whispering about the Chateau being haunted, to the point that the majority of rock bands started to politely demure whenever the Chateau was brought up as a possible recording locale. Various stories from well-known bands who had recorded there–The Grateful Dead, Bad Company, Pink Floyd, and Elton John–were just disturbing enough to give other bands sufficient reasons to alter their recording locales.

Oblivious to all this, musicians David Bowie and Brian Eno trotted from their gloomy digs in Berlin to the Chateau to continue their work on Bowie’s milestone album ¨Low¨, bringing with them producer Tony Visconti and the album’s main cluster of musicians: Carlos Alomar, Dennis Daves, George Murray, Ricky Gardiner, and Roy Young (guitar virtuoso Robert Fripp also made several visits to the manor and added bits of uncredited flavoring).

Bowie at Chopin           eno at Chopin House

In the initial sleeping arrangements, David Bowie was assigned the master bedroom, the Chateau’s main bedchamber, where Chopin had slept since moving in. In fact, it was in this room, in the very same bed, that Chopin succumbed to Tuberculous. However, after just one night Bowie refused to sleep there. He insisted that during the night he was kept awake by someone constantly shaking him awake, and at one point he saw the luminous spectres of Chopin and his lover, standing over his bed, watching him silently.

It should be noted that it was during this period that Bowie was recovering over a serious bout of cocaine psychosis and was drinking heavily, which could easily explain the ¨apparitions¨ he saw. However, Bowie was adamant; he would not even step foot in the room again, and had some underlings remove his stuff.

To Brian Eno, however, the idea of sharing a room with Chopin and Sand sounded great. Without any hesitation he quickly moved his stuff into the master bedroom.

For the next week one of the highlights of each dinnertime soiree, when the entire crew–musicians and techies alike–feasted at a tremendous oak wood-sheen antique table in a large, echo-y dining hall was Eno’s retelling of his otherworldly encounters with his two post-mortem roommates.

For the most part, their antics didn’t really bother him; however, he too was prone to being “shook awake” by the ghost of Chopin in the dead of night, who stood over him, staring inquisitively, never saying anything. Finally, after the third night Eno sternly sat up, looked the apparition straight in the eye, and told it: “Listen here, you bugger, if you have something to ask me, speak up! Otherwise, go bother someone down the hall and let me get back to sleep.” He said that Chopin’s expression changed; his posture drooped and he seemed to look sad. Then, without a sound, the apparition vanished into the darkness.

Eno then said that he couldn’t fall back asleep that night because he felt so bad about yelling at one of the great classical composers of history. He hoped that Chopin would return so he could apologize.

On other occasions he said that he would come into the room and see off in the corner the apparitions of both Chopin and George Sand rummaging through a corner desk, as though they were searching for papers. Not wishing to disturb their concentration, Eno would quietly lie down on the bed until, after several minutes, they would disappear.

One time, after they seemed to have found what they were searching for, the couple turned towards Eno, smiled at him and bowed graciously. Eno returned the smile and said to them: “It’s the least I could do.” They both smiled broadly back to him, then disappeared, never to return for the remainder of the time spent at the manor.

Just another bizarre meeting between creative souls. In this case even the boundary between life and death was not a deterrent.

Chopin and Sand

 

 

HYPOTHETICALLY LURID

Staying in the world of THE CUT-UP TECHNIQUE for another moment, over the past year I have been doing my own version of this process. Instead of physically cutting & pasting text, I first look through anything with words in it: catalogs, magazines, pamphlets, billboards. Then, after finding what I think works well together, I write them down in my small notebook I (try to) keep with me at all times…

For this particular version of ¨the Cut-Up Technique¨, I created a particular restriction: the words I pick must work not as prose; instead they must form a title. Moreover, it cannot be any title; they must be somewhat lurid, something that would fit nicely on the cover of an old pulp novel paperback, the kind usually found on a squeaky wire spin-rack in the back of a used book store or thrift shop.

To give you some examples, look at these covers:

Pulp Cover 1            Pulp Cover 2          Pulp Cover 3            Pulp Cover 4

Usually, due to years of wear and tear, they are scuffed at the edges, with the occasional crease mark and yellowed decaying pages inside.

So, listed below are a few of my LURID TITLES FOR HYPOTHETICAL PULP NOVEL PAPERBACKS*:

  • ¨One Hell of a Spree¨
  • ¨A Different Kind of Thrill¨
  • ¨Bait and Hook¨
  • ¨Whatever Became of the Doppelganger?¨
  • ¨Methinks the Lady Consents Too Much¨
  • ¨Billie is a Gun Thug¨
  • ¨The Phantom Gleam¨
  • ¨Remembered Footlights, Remembered Snow¨
  • ¨Bargain Freak¨
  • ¨Incomparable Acts¨
  • ¨Cryptic Tongue¨
  • ¨Police Blotter Witness¨
  • ¨Patent Leather¨
  • ¨Even Picasso Had His Blue Period¨
  • ¨Saturday Alice¨
  • ¨Manhunt in B-Flat¨
  • ¨The Very Devil¨
  • ¨An Indelicate Woman¨
  • ¨Part and Parcel¨
  • ¨Even Bedrooms Have Windows¨
  • ¨Population: 0¨
  • ¨Portrait of a Duplicated Man¨
  • ¨What Flickers Becomes Flame¨

*Please note that the majority of these titles have been copyrighted in my name. However, if a title interests you for a potential project of your own, I ask that you please contact me. Unless I am using the title in question for a current or future project, I will send you a letter of consent stating I am forfeiting the title over to you.

REAL CUT-UPS

cut-ups 1

Although the infamous CUT-UP TECHNIQUE (a process in which a page of text gets manipulated by either being folded onto itself or by actually cutting out individual words with either an x-acto blade or scissors so that new words and/or sentences can be formed) is primarily known as the brain-child of writer / painter BRION GYSIN. In actuality this innovative process was first utilized in public during a 1920’s Dadaist rally. A French avant-garde poet named Tristan Tzara offered to compose a poem on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat.

Since that time this technique has been used by practically everyone, from writers T.S. Eliot, John Dos Passos, Julio Cortázar & Kathy Acker, to musicians such as David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.

The Cut-Up Technique gained the attention of the world art scene in the 1950’s, when Brion Gysin experimented with the procedure. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched, then cut into the papers with a razor blade. Gysin noticed that the sliced layers offered interesting juxtapositions of text and image. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. He also applied this technique to audio recordings and printed media. Gysin’s friend, writer William S. Burroughs, found the method so compelling that he started using it with his own work. The two friends even collaborated on a publication, ¨The Third Mind¨,  a collection of cut-up writings and essays on the form.

Recently, I happened upon a book that looked somewhat like a journal in my shelves. Intrigued, I took it down and opened it up. To my amazement, I realized that it was a book that a good friend of mine–an extremely gifted musician who also dabbled in graphic arts on the side (creating works that are so unique and well-crafted I am positive he would cause quite a stir in the art world)–had presented to me some time back. It was a collection of his own cut-outs.

While I gleefully read through the pages I was fascinated all over again by his dedication to the technique [he simply cut out words and phrases from The New York Times, then meticulously picked out various selections and glued them back together]: the results were a cluster of intelligence, irony, with a touch of the unconscious at work, and often the end results were not only clever but frequently very funny.

The following are just some of the cut-outs he created:

cut-ups 2

VARIOUS PHRASES HE CUT OUT and then JOINED TOGETHER: 

  • Details of a reported three-day sex romp at a luxury hotel. It’s more about nostalgia than politics.
  • HELP SAVE A BABY. Let’s eat out!
  • SAVE THESE INSTRUCTIONS. Says WHO?
  • The articulation of space. There’s nothing for me here!
  • NEW TEETH. ¨Take a good look.¨
  • ¨Even models in bathing suits¨ carried HANDBAGS

VARIOUS WORDS THAT WERE CUT OUT and then JOINED TOGETHER:

  • Shadow THE POODLE
  • Swim AT Home
  • ¨I cant DISSECT MYself
  • ¨Fake I.D.’s ARE crucial
  • pictures of fragments
  • the DEAD BOX NOW ON SALE!
  • Jesus kissing Mary… BLOOD is NOT cheap

THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE MANY PAGES OF WONDERFUL CUT-UPS… I will add to these lists as I become better acquainted with this wonderful homemade book.

BRUEGEL AND AUDEN FALL TO EARTH

The man who fell to earth 1

 

 

 

The man who fell to earth 2

“Somewhere in the sky, possibly directly
Where he was looking, was his home planet of Anthea.
A cold place, dying, but one for which he could still
Be homesick; a place where there were people whom
He loved, people whom he would not see again for a
Very long time…”

– from the novel “The Man Who Fell To Earth“, by Walter Tevis

Landscape with the fall of Icarus

“…In Breughel’s ‘Icarus’, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”

— an excerpt from the poem “Musee des Beaux Arts”, by W.H. Auden
(inspired by the painting “The Fall of Icarus” by Peter Bruegel)

~~

In 1975, when Screenwriter Paul Mayersberg and filmmaker Nicholas Roeg adapted Walter Tevis’ Science Fiction novel “The Man Who Fell To Earth” to the screen, they often deviated from the novel in order to bring out certain nuances to the characters.

There is one scene in particular, a small but beautiful little sequence that used both Auden’s poem and Bruegel’s painting to foreshadow the main character–an alien who has come to Earth in order to save his own planet from a devastating drought–and his noble but doomed attempt to design a spaceship that would be able to bring enough of Earth’s abundant water supply back to his own decimated world  and rejuvenate it back to health.

I wish I had a clip to tie everything together, but unfortunately you’ll have to see the film. For me, it’s definitely worth checking out.