"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dennis Hopper at CineVegas 2008

The Last of the International Playboys. My past is alive, but my current world is fading.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Serious Man

Faber & Faber have released Joel and Ethan Coen's screenplay for A Serious Man...

Hands down one of the funniest movies of 2009. You say, "Another movie about a neurotic Jew?" Well, in a tired genre, this film stands out.

As many have said, the story seems to have had its seed planted in the character of Walter in The Big Lebowski. While Walter was a gun-toting convert to Judiasm, A Serious Man's Larry Gopnik leads us through the Coen Brothers attempt to replicate their childhood in St. Louis Park on screen.

Do yourself a favor: watch the movie and read this script. Especially all you screenwriters.

Terry Allen

The University of Texas Press publishes a book on Terry Allen's life in art, with commentary by David Hickey, Marcia Tucker and Michale Ventura...

But, as Hickey notes, Terry Allen is not your average art book.

It begins with an essay, written by David Hickey in 1992, called "Born In A Trailer: Borne Forth Upon the Perfect Ship" which considers Allen's Juarez project. A project that began as a suite of drawings and "constructions" in the 1960s, morphed into a song cycle and back into art through water colors, poems, photographs, a screenplay, lithographs, etc. Constantly evolving and never ending.

As Hickey puts it (quite abstractly, I might add):

"Consider the persona of the "artist" as subsequent to the work, terminal, really. In the beginning, history, culture, geography, family, and accident conspire to make a man who, as a consequence of these circumstances, marries a woman, has a family, and makes a work that projects (onto the image of its beholders) an "artist" who, by virtue of his (or her or its) status is, literally, an afterthought, who constitutes a world backwards from the outside in, inscribing an inner world with dynamics of the outer: a vast, contingent weather system, always rewriting and never repeating itself--relegating race, gender, and "personality" to the status of "local color" (determined from the inside out), thus reconstituting consciousness (or something like it) as motion--as an atmosphere of perpetual turbulence through which, on the wings of desire, lie flocks of birds, wishes make their buffeted and unrequited way, and from which they rarely escape into the reflection of their imagination--and then only to precipitate disaster. So, the wish and the world are mirrors facing. There is nothing behind them, or inside them, only a multiplicity of worlds and wishes infinitely reflected, inscribed, and interfaced--and absolutely distinct, walled off from one another by the skins of everything--animals, humans, nations, the earth itself--a library of palimpsests and nothing more."

A glorious run-on sentence that attempts to describe what Allen did with with ever-shifting concept of Juarez.

Inside the book are reproductions of Allen's work, from script, photographs, paintings, etc. I can't even begin to describe the contents. It's just too detailed and immense to summarize. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Paris Underground

Mark Ovenden (author of Transit Maps of the World) charts the history of the Paris Métro in Paris Underground, published by Penguin.

Pretty much anything dealing with an underground, whether abandoned tunnels, underground movements, clandestine intrigue, etc., captures my attention. So it was that I saw Mark Ovenden's Paris Underground in the travel section, quite by accident. I see the word "underground" and I pounce.

Ovenden begins the book with the five-decade period leading up to the opening of the Métro in 1900. Dozens of different proposals were looked at, and Ovenden uses "many maps of the schemes in chronological order" to examine "the root cause of half a century's prevarication over the best solution for urban transport within Paris."

One of the more interesting facts is that Paris looked to what London had done for the Underground. The Underground used a great deal of "specially adapted" steam trains, and one of the consequences was that the steam needed to be discharged. Well, in keeping with the Brits' love of bathroom humor, the discharged steam emptied into the "ill-prepared London sewers" and shot out of toilets in places like Aldgate. Hilarious. Makes you wonder if anyone's rear end suffered a hot blast.

One of the proposals, by soon-to-be inventor Jules Garnier, called for a three-tiered station (that is, three decks), which would have been impractically tall, but man would it have been a sight to see. We all know the Métro became an underground rail network, but it is a wonder to see the evolution of Paris' iconic network of rail transportation.

You'll also find dozens and dozens of beautifully reproduced color maps of the Métro, how it resembles nothing less than a circulatory system--as though Paris were but the innards of a giant in repose, and the Métro the veins, arteries and dense capillaries that feed it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where Do Republican Senators, The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard 2 & Days of Thunder Meet? In the Guise of Fred Thompson, of course!

Fred Thompson tells of pigs, dancing, Davy Crockett and Law & Order in his book Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances.

Senator Thompson, who you might have seen playing a bad ass commissioner in the awesome film Days of Thunder, lecturing Tom Cruise (who will not be lectured), or as a Rear Admiral in The Hunt for Red October, will be signing May 25th in-store at Book Soup.

Signed copies will be available for purchase at the store or on-line.

Read of Fred Thompson growing up in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and how it shaped him into one tough lawyer, politician, actor, what have you...

Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

If you've read the first two Lisbeth Salander books, you probably don't need a recommendation to tell you to read this book. It picks up where the last one left off, and Lisbeth spends a majority of the book in a hospital under police arrest (though that doesn't stop here from wreaking havoc on the computers of, well, whoever she feels like). Mikael Blomkvist immerses himself in getting to the bottom of the Zalachenko affair, Erika Berger goes to a different newspaper and finds herself under attack, and the odious Dr. Teleborian continues his sinister attempts to have Lisbeth institutionalized. Throw in the evil machinations of a shadowy government group, a brilliant defense strategy by Mikael's sister for Lisbeth, and the continued attempts by the police to get to the bottom of all the death and destruction, and you have another successful entry in an already entertaining series.

My only complaint about Stieg Larsson, which in no way detracts from what he has written, is that not a single antagonist is a woman. Yes, yes, Harriet's mother in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is unpleasant, and certainly tries to drive Mikael away, but she's not an active participant in any of the conspiracies involved in that book. The women are all strong and self-assured (if somewhat susceptible to Mikael's charms), which is great. But if women can be brave fighters for truth, they can be catty, self-serving bitches too.

Ignoring this minor fault (because, really, it is very minor), the Lisbeth Salander series ends as strong as it started. It is a shame that Stieg Larsson never got to enjoy the enormous popularity of his books, but at the same time he didn't have a chance to drag the series out and sully his efforts with mediocre books. He can remain in our minds a talented author who was taken from us too soon.

Here's to you, Stieg.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Return of the King" by Gillian G. Gaar

Elvis Presley = sadness. It is truly the most depressing story of an icon music legend. On one level one would think Elvis was just dumb, but also he was a man who had the moment and the time (1950's) and he was sort of the force that got us over to the 1960's. The concept of Elvis is genius, but the life that is Elvis is not genius, but rather pathetic or someone caught is a strange depressive state of mind and body.

"Return of the King" is a well written researched book that focuses on Elvis' comeback years that quickly turned into a march to death. The great bio on Elvis is the two volume set by Peter Guralnick, and all others are just a shadow to that particular biography. Saying that, this is a very good book, but it has been said before, so there is really nothing new regarding Elvis and his world.

But for sure, anything on Elvis, one has to talk about Memphis and its culture. The Southern (gothic) culture basically made Elvis, and you can sort of see his world via the images of the great Southern photographer William Egglestion. Roughly both men are in the same generation, but it is interesting to see how outside influences such as the Southern family and settings can make a person tick. The big picture of Elvis is not his sad life, but how is life is part of a bigger puzzle that is the 20th Century South.

Elvis is fascinating in so many ways. A man who wore pink pants and eye make-up in his teenage years, and who adopted black culture as well as country music to make a hybrid sound - or a Frankenstein monster in a sense. Gillian Gaar is good with the facts, but there is no real analysis with those facts. She interviews all the key players but none can penetrate the Elvis wall. And I think even Elvis couldn't penetrate that wall.

So yeah if you are a Elvis fanatic this is a good book. But it has all been said in the Guralnick bio - but then again, like a car accident repeated in front of your eyes again and again, its hard to look the other way.

Also I want to note that the publisher Jaw Bone is fantastic. They don't do poorly designed books, and "Return of the King" is a beautiful production. Great cover, thick pages, nice photos - the whole package is great.

Friday, May 14, 2010

William Eggleston's "Stranded in Canton"

Remarkable book and the video (DVD) that comes with the book is a masterpiece. A typical night out with Southern Goth beauty William Eggleston and his fellow friends and family in Memphis. Eggleston is more known for his brilliant use of color, but this vintage video shot in black and white is sort of like peeping under the blankets. Kind of horrifying yet beautiful at the same time. Visions of the blues and Elvis lurks in the very soul of Memphis, and Eggleston is an artist who can capture all that, and just let it dream in front of us. Essential book and DVD. Get it before it disappears in Collector's bookshelves and under lock and key.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dennis Cooper Talking About His Short Story Collection "Ugly Man" "

Dennis Cooper discussing the thoughts behind his collection of short stories "Ugly Man." One of my favorite current releases. Interview done in Paris.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"A Splendid Conspiracy" by Albert Cossery

Anyone who is a friend of Boris Vian is a friend of mine. And Albert Cossery is very close to the aesthetic quality of the Prince of St. Germain-des-Prés. This is the first novel I have read by Cossery, and because of it I am now a loyal follower of this magnificent Egyptian born, but hardcore Parisian writer.

"A Splendid Conspiracy" (Un Complot de Saltimbanques) is a novel about three young friends among other citizens of a small town in Egypt. One is a police informer, the other a European traveler who tasted the good life, and the third is basically a nihilist punk who is über-smart.

Through these three characters, we see small town conservative life and its under-current of sexual adventure, decadence, and possible series of murder. But all of this serves in the background and its interesting how Cossery introduces each character and how they become part of the narrative. Life is a remarkable adventure and this book reads as a map to appreciate your location as well as how things are connected by the dots, but those dots can lead you to something strange, scary, weird, or ...sexy.

The book is translated by Alyson Waters and the language flows easily. A classic. And of course it is published by New Directions. His other novel "The Jokers" will be published by NYRB. So he's in good company.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Graham Robb's "Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris""

Paris, without a doubt, is never boring. And this book focuses on various 'moments' in the city's moody history. Graham Robb's book is heavy curated in the sense that he tells various narratives dealing with Paris at a point of crisis of some point.

Each chapter focuses on a particular narrative, and the one's that work for me is the chapter on Napoleon flirting with a whore at the Museum, the Occupation seen through a Parisian child's eye which is terrifying and horrible at the same time, and the one's that have to deal with the criminal element.

The chapter that rub me the wrong way is the one on the great Greco and Miles Davis. He wrote it as a film script and its too cute for the tone of the book. Yet, for me, it's a fascinating subject matter how Greco matched up with Miles - and of course anything dealing with Boris Vian's world is a must for me.

But overall this is a very enjoyable overall history of Paris. It's not the best, but it's really good.