|ISBN 978-1-59017-953-6 NYRB|
Monday, April 25, 2016
"In The Café of Lost Youth" by Patrick Modiano / Translated by Chris Clarke (NYRB)
As much as possible, I try to read every book - fiction and non-fiction on the city of Paris, especially if it took place in the 1950s. Of my interest, the post-war years are the most interesting to me. Great films, wonderful music and really interesting figures emerge from Paris during that time. I suspect that Patrick Modiano feels the same way about Paris, because "In The Café of Lost Youth" is very much a love letter (or love novel) to Paris - especially the nighttime of Paris. Where the characters wander around various neighborhoods and cafés and occasionally listen to lectures. I do not even know for sure, but I suspect that the novel is based on Ed van der Elsken's book of photos "Love on the Left Bank" that tells a tale of a girl who wanders into the world of the Letterists/Situationists. There is likewise a character that is based on Guy Debord, but not overly him, but an "ideal" version of Debord.
I like the novel for all the above reasons, but it is not as good as Michèle Bernstein's novel "All The King's Horses" or "The Night." She was married to Debord, and her fiction can be read as 'maybe' a memoir. Nevertheless, Modiano is sort of the after-effect of such literature by Bernstein. His, is a very romantic narrative - and there are at least four running narratives on the same girl, "Lluki" who is both a wanderer as well as a bohemian adventurer in the night life of Paris. If nothing else, it makes one wish to purchase an one-way ticket to Paris.
Monday, April 18, 2016
"I Should Have Stayed Home" by Horace McCoy
There is really no such thing as a bad Hollywood or noir novel. If it's well-written, and tells the tale, it rarely fails. For me, there are usually the exceptional and then there is the enjoyable. "I Should Have Stayed Home" is very enjoyable, but clearly to me, not exceptional. The novel was originally published in 1938, and it does capture that moment in time, with respect to how people see the movie world. Everything else in the world was shit, yet the images of the cinema world were like medicine for those who were spiritually ill or suffering from the effects of the great depression. McCoy's novel clearly expresses his time, but yet for me, it lacks poetry, which makes a noir novel great.
The story is about a farm boy who comes to Hollywood to become, not an actor, but a star. He lives with Mona, who is also an star-want-to-be, but is also quite realistic in her chances in becoming such a professional. On the other hand, Ralph, is quite blind to the world around him, and therefore is an innocent floating in the shit that was / is Hollywood. In the hands of someone like David Goodis, this would have been a trip to the underworld, but McCoy to me, is almost a nay-nay person, wagging his finger towards the Hollywood climate.
There are those who are in, and those outside the Hollywood system or factory. There is a political element, in that it is a world that exploits its people, and I sense McCoy is of that thinking that the system is pretty horrible. There is a strong message that Hollywood is very much of an opium to the great population out there. This may be the case, but it is also like any other business that produces goods for the population, and to be fair to McCoy, I think he conveys that very well. The problem I have with the book is that I find Ralph a huge bore. I kind of hate him, because he's so simple, and on top of that, he's a southern racist. He's a little lamb who lost his way, and he lost in a damned world.
He does come upon good people - for instance Mona, but also one of the producers, who is actually very kind in letting him know that he will never ever make it in Hollywood. Ralph, due to his (stupid) nature, cannot accept that fact. I think reading this novel has to be a total experience than if I actually read the book in 1938. The mind-set of the readers at the time, were going through harsh times, so the promise of a "Hollywood" must have been a given thing or the end of that rainbow, which promises a greater future. McCoy pops that balloon. For me, "Dirty Eddie" by Ludwig Bremlmans is a much better book on Hollywood morals and decadence. Yet, this is a wonderful read, but just not essential for me, with respect to the "Hollywood" novel.
- Tosh Berman
Thursday, April 14, 2016
|ISBN: 978-0-226-038537 The University of Chicago Press|
"Bas Jan Ader: Death is Elsewhere" by Alexander Dumbadze (The University of Chicago Press)
I think partly due to the deaths of David Bowie and Tony Conrad, I felt great sorrow reading this book on the artist Bas Jan Ader. I only came upon his work maybe 20 years ago, which is odd, because he was very much of a Los Angeles based conceptual artist. A lot of work deals with space and falling - meaning that gravity itself pulls you down. On one level, he is sort of a Buster Keaton figure, but instead of laughter, his work is profoundly sad. He has documented his "performances' in photographs as well as on video/film.
"Death is Elsewhere" is half biography and the other part is a critique of his work. It's fascinating to know about his Los Angeles existence, and how he mixed in with other artists of that time and place. He had one foot in Holland, and the other in Los Angeles. There is something very European about his work. Yet, I can see the Los Angeles side of his work as well. Place or location is always interesting or important. It is not actual locations, but the state of his mind or the state of his work and how that works within an American or Europan context. The author Alexander Dumbadze does an excellent job in placing Ader's work in the context of 1970s America as well as noting the mysterious aspect of his work. On one level, it is quite emotional, due to his death by being lost in the sea. For an art project (or was it?) he planned to take a small sailing boat from the east coast of the U.S. to Holland or Europe. Which sounds crazy, but Ader was an experienced man of the high seas, so if anyone could have done this, he could. Sadly he disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean.
What I find interesting about his work, is that it does remind me of Keaton, who I think is the great American artist of the 20th century. I don't think Ader meant to address or comment on Keaton's method of working with machine and weather / nature, but there are similarities with Ader dealing with gravity or fighting against the urge of gravity. So, that alone is quite moving - yet, we know he died a very young man, and therefore we're just capturing a moment of time of this artist. He should have a longer career or life - because the work, although it hints of failure or even death, I don't think that is what his work is really about. I think he was working on something much longer or long-term, but alas, nature took him perhaps by surprise. Fascinating critique/bio on what I think is an important artist.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
|ISBN: 978-0-312-42922-5 A Picador Paperback Original|
“Humiliation” by Wayne Koestenbaum (A Picador Paperback)
I don’t have many, but the few humiliations that I went through in my life I have totally erased them, except I do remember, but it’s so deep into my consciousness, it’s like a ghost thought. On the other hand, Wayne Koestenbaum faces up to his humiliations as well as pointing out other artists and public figures who experienced the terribleness of being exposed to the most fearful humiliation possible. I’m a fan of Koestenbaum’s writing, which is everywhere on the map of literature. His shot Penguin biography on Andy Warhol, is one of the best books on that subject matter, and I also enjoyed his essays focusing on the 1980s. “Humiliation” maybe his best book, because it is something that we all can share with - that feeling or point of time, when the unmentionable happens and how we deal with it.
WIth the subject matter of Humiliation, Koestenbaum finds the perfect personalities to accompany that pain. Michael Jackson (great take on him), Jean Genet, Liza Minnelli, Alec Baldwin, and of course, himself. As I read this book, I feel a tinge of pain. That, comes with the territory. Superb book.
- Tosh Berman
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Saturday, April 9, 2016
I have just heard about the passing of Tony Conrad - filmmaker and musician/composer. I listen to his music on a regular basis, especially while I'm writing. I met him once at the Filmmaker's Anthology, and I can say that both of us were working in the same room at the same time. Separate projects yes, yet I was there in that room with him. As he was editing a film, he would often hum very loudly. 2016 has been a tragic year of major figures in my life, who are disappearing on this planet.
You can hear one of his many masterpieces here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGMnDcwoXns
Thursday, April 7, 2016
|978-0-226-17459-4 University of Chicago Press|
"Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Letterist Avant-Garde" by Kaira M. Cabanas (University of Chicago Press)
After going to a series of films in various theaters lately, I have now come to the conclusion that the cinema is truly dead. It is like time stopped about twenty-years ago and nothing has changed. For inspiration, I have always looked back at an age that seemed to embrace the new. I have become fascinated by the Letterist movement due to their interest in art, cinema and literature. In fact, their work usually consists of all three mediums in the same world, or even spot. Over-all, they have challenged the idea of an audience watching a film, and the interaction between the viewer and what is projected on the screen. I purchased a film "Traité de bave et d'éternite' (on DVD) by Isidore Isou. Which is sort of ironic, because I'm sure the film works better in a theater environment than say my living room with two speakers. Nevertheless, I imagine myself in the theater sometime in the post-war years in Paris, and being confronted by this work. In many ways, it is a city film - being Paris. Makes it interesting just due to the character of the urban dream of that time. Kaira M. Cabanas' book length study on the films that were made by the Lettersets - is much needed. Besides Isou, there were Guy Debord, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, and François Dufrêne. Due to the rarity of these films, I haven't seen all of them. So, of course, the book raises one's curiosity - but Cabanas' take on these works, just makes it more interesting. The illustrations that are in the book are superb, and this is clearly a must-have if one is interested in avant-garde cinema, but also the culture of the Letterists which eventually turned into the Situationists - and beyond that to the world of Yves Klein and Marcel Broodthaers. There is also a touching set of letters from Stan Brakage to both Isou and Lemaître. Superb book.
|Isidore Isou in his film Traité de have et d'éternité|
|Rinus Van de Velde|
|Rinus Van Velde "Self-Portrait as Franz Kline, 2013 180 x 270 cm|
|Rinus Van Velde|
|Rinus Van Velde|
|Rinus Van Velde|
|Rinus Van Velde|
Here is an interview with him in English:
Here is an interview with Rinus Van Velde and his obsession with Bobby Fischer.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
"Ways of Curating" by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Faber & Faber)
The skill of curating is really putting two or more ideas together and placing it in a space. Beyond that it can mean anything. Generally speaking when we hear the word "curate" that means someone with a point-of-view, or subjective thoughts puts something together so we can explore that curator's thinking or world. Well, at least, in theory. Without a doubt one of the more interesting curators in contemporary art is Hans Ulrich Obrist. I have never seen any of his exhibitions, but I do know him through his books and essays. His best skill is that he has a basic curiosity in how an artist works and thinks. He is also interested in places, cities, and locations where one can exhibit ideas or more likely art. The curator is often just as creative as the artist. Which is sometimes a good thing, and often not that good of a thing.
Basically an artist makes a work, and if they are lucky it goes out to the world. In a lot of cases, there is usually someone who takes that work and places it in a room with another work of art. It can be a random act, but more likely the person (the curator) who does that is looking for themes or a feeling between the artworks. At times, I find this misleading to the artist's intent, and on occurrences, it brings up new light or a way of looking at that art. Especially if you know the artist and their work. So, in a sense, the curator is sort of like a film editor working with a filmmaker.
The great thing about Obrist is his interest in contemporary art and its past. He also knows that literature, architecture and personality is also part of the big picture - in other words, everything has a place or importance, and therefore so does art. The tricky aspect is how and when one place that work in a bigger picture or landscape. "Ways of Curating" is very much Obrist's thinking in these matters as well as the history of curating, which is fascinating. Modern curating (at least to Obrist) started in the 19th century in Paris. At one time, paintings were hung salon style which is a lot of work on one wall. Monet and others started a practice where a painting stands by itself on a large wall, and therefore one concentrates on that one piece. Salon style exhibition is fascinating, but for me, it's hard for me to focus on individual works, yet people in the 19th century used to see art in this fashion.
"Ways of Curating" reads not like a book, but more of a collection of essays on the subject matter of curating. For me, it would have been more fascinating if he just focused on its history, like he did in the first part of the book. The second part is basically his career and what he has done, which is perfectly fine, but the writing gets kind of 'been there and done that' type of feeling.
Nevertheless, this is a very accessible book to someone who is curious about that world, but really doesn't know too much about the nature of art exhibitions, and how they are planned out.. Orbits has many books out, and the best one's are his interview books with various contemporary artists and composers. He is an interesting guy, and "Ways of Curating" is both good and so-so, but still important of a subject matter to read.
- Tosh Berman
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Buy it here:
Saturday, March 19, 2016
"The Crippled Giant: A Literary Relationship with Louis-Ferdinand Céline" by Milton Hindus
Louis-Ferdinand Céline is endlessly fascinating. For obvious reasons when I think of the publishing house New Directions, I always think of Céline along with that press. I first started reading his work, due to the love of his stylist language, or at least, the english translation of his work. There is something punk-like in the way he saw his world. The fact that he wasn't exactly a huge fan of the jews, just added a 'wow' aspect to his work. And by no means, a 'wow' in a good way. Still, a remarkable figure who lived through the wars, and I think, suffered from them as well.
"The Crippled Giant" is an interesting and odd book. Milton Hindus, a literary academic type of fellow, as well as being jewish, became an acquaintance of Céline - in fact, he helped him a lot during the late 1940s, when he was exiled in Denmark, due to his kind-of-pro-nazi stance. The fact is, I think Céline was just a miserable human being, but also a genius stylist - and Hindus had to deal with that fact. The book starts off as a memoir of him knowing and visiting Céline, but then becomes a lit-crit of his writings. The first two-parts of the book are very so-so to me, on the other hand, the last third of the book is devoted to their correspondence to each other. That, I found much more interesting.
Through the letters, one gets a better (not always in a good way) impression of Céline's personality, and to be thankful, Hindus doesn't back down from him. Yet, he was very supportive, especially arranging business dealings with New Directions in New York, as well as sending him coffee time-to-time. Since I'm a publisher myself, I found the discussion between Céline and Hindus regarding the publishing world in France as well as in America, totally intriguing. Their relationship didn't last, but, this book gives us a peak behind the curtain that surrounds the often-mysterious Céline. And for that, I'm thankful for this book.
- Tosh Berman
Monday, March 14, 2016
|ISBN: 9780812998405 Random House|
"West of Eden: An American Place" by Jean Stein (Random House)
Hollywood will always be a mystical land that has a tinge of sadness and even worse, tragedy. Not for me, mind you. I lived in Los Angeles for my entire life, and I only know the joy of being in this city. But then again, I'm one of those rare breeds who was born in Los Angeles, and stayed here as well. On top of that, I'm not in the entertainment business! But here, we have the roots of what became a certain type of Los Angeles culture. Painfully rich, the five families that are profiled in "West of Eden," are mostly iconic families and some (at least to me) obscure. It may be my nature but I find the obscure always the most interesting.
Jean Stein, who is very much the queen of the oral history narrative, due to her early masterpiece (with George Plimpton) "Edie" has put together a book that is much more personal or in reality, her backyard. The book covers five families: The Dohenys, the Selznicks, the Warners, her own family, the Steins (MCA), and the fascinating Jane Garland and her family. What is interesting about Garland, is that she was not only a rich girl from a Hollywood family, but also quite insane. What is even more insane was that she had a pair of male nurses: Walter Hopps and Ed Moses. Hopps was the legendary curator and gallery owner of Ferus, and Moses is a great painter. Both, are very much rooted in the art world history that is Los Angeles. How these two eccentrics became a caretaker for Garland is both a fascinating tale, and an amazing map from fine art to the world of films.
Each chapter (on each family) has a sense of sadness, and the reader is introduced to a world that although rich, is actually a landscape touched by insecurity, madness, eccentricity, and to me, a perfect example of either an era passing or the death of a family's power and presence. Those who are fascinated by the works of Truman Capote or F. Scott Fitzgerald, will find this book fascinating. There is a fascination of watching the wealthy turn into dust - but there is also a beauty of that era, that won't be the same anymore. There will always be the rich, but due to the American promise of riches and happiness - it is usually a bargain that fails in the end. You get the wealth, but the happiness tends to unreachable.
Friday, March 11, 2016
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
|ISBN: 9781590179161 NYRB|
"Black Wings Has My Angel" by Elliott Chaze (NYRB)
Fucking and crime are the basis of all classic noir, and clearly the novel, "Black Wings Has My Angel," has that in spades. Elliot Chaze wrote a noir tale that is basically a definitive frame of what noir is. A man against a system or himself, and falling for his weakness or the power of the sexual pull. One's life starts from the bottom, and goes straight down to Hell. It's a classic premise for a crime narrative, and Chaze's novel is another example of that shadowy world.
The peaks of heaven are always cash in the pocket and the sexual urge being satisfied. The beauty of "Black Wings" is that it is written beautifully and there is a tinge of real sadness that comes with the despair. On the other hand, this book is very much the typical noir literature of the 1950s, but well thought out and written with great skill. For me, nothing is better than David Goodis' series of novels of the underworld, and this book comes close to that insane landscape, but follows a guide rule to write the practical crime book. Still, it's a pretty amazing read, and the crime itself is very livid with overtures of the definitive existential angst. Lovers of noir will love it, and no one will be bored. Enter and don't be afraid.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
"Sphinx" by Anne Garréta (Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan & Introduction by Daniel Levin Becker)
|ISBN: 978-1-941920-09-1 Deep Vellum|
"Sphinx" by Anne Garréta (Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan; Introduction by Daniel Levin Becker) Deep Vellum
A really nice mood piece of writing here. Anne Garréta gives the nighttime life of Paris and Manhattan a nice smokey touch, as this is a tale of lovers, one is a combination of professor and DJ, and the other lover is an American dancer in Paris. What we don't know is the gender of either of the two. Which must have been hell for the translator Emma Ramadan to do, since the French language has very strong genderistic touches to their language. In all honesty, as I was reading, I was imagining that the lovers were women, and I'm not sure if it was just a stupid knowledge of knowing the author is female, or somehow the nature of the two main characters. Garréta wrote this novel when she was 25, and she became a member of Oulipo five years after she wrote "Sphinx." One can sense the playfulness of the language as well as the no gender specific of the two characters, but it's not as experimental as Georges Perec for instance. The story reads as a doomed love story, a very smart and textured text, but one that conveys the loss of a presence.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
|ISBN: 9780996421805 We Heard You Like Books|
"I Hate The Internet" by Jarett Kobek (We Heard You Like Books, 2016)
San Francisco has always been an odd city to me. There are many wonderful things about it, but then the technology internet companies moved in, and sort of changed the landscape from the literary beats with great bars to Google world. Yet the city houses one of the great bookstores in the world, the iconic (rightfully so) City Lights, but alas, the literary tradition does continue on, which is Jarett Kobek's novel "I Hate The Internet." Yet, the novel doesn't prowl through the streets of Dashell Hammett or Jack Spicer, but the sorry state of Google, Facebook, which is now tattooed on the image of San Francisco. On the other hand, it can be any city in America that embraces a technology that brings riches to a few, yet can leave a greater population empty - as in desire and promises not full-filled.
I read very little of contemporary novels, but I have to say Kobek's book is really rooted into the "now." I have never read a book that is so now, and not only that, it is a great novel. It is my ideal of fiction writing in which it is about ideas, culture and politics. I imagine if Guy Debord wrote fiction it would be like "I Hate The Internet." Kobek pretty much describes the dangers of the computer world, and what it promises to be, as in opening up new worlds for the consumer/visitor, but more likely the sole purpose is to either collect your personal information, or sell you something. It's capitalism, but taken on to another tech level.
There are characters, that are both real and fictional, or fictional real, but what is interesting to me is when Kobek breaks down the ills which are the American world, that is basically defined by Google and other sites. Without a doubt, the Internet is quite useful, but there is also a price that goes with it, and in many ways, it is sort of the death of a culture that was once much loved. Or, at least those who lived a long time, or have a memory of a life before the Net. Excellent commentary on the American 21st century.
- Tosh Berman
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
It is almost like sinking into velvet. If I can stop aging, or hold back the years, so I can totally focus on the day. There is something beautiful about waking up early in the morning, before dawn, and one starts to paint on canvas with a beautiful young girl in front of you. As I take a seat, with a persian cat on my lap, I take a brush to express what is in front of me. People have commented to me that the girls in my paintings are a total mystery, but in fact, they are a mystery to me as well. Youth is beautiful. Aging is beautiful. But since I’m born on February 29, I age not every year, but every four years.
I was approached by a young beauty for my hand in marriage. I turned her down, because I couldn’t imagine myself being a property of one person, and therefore I had to buy her 12 pairs of gloves for her to hide the fact she doesn’t have an engagement ring. “Yes”and “No” tend to carry the same amount of responsibility. She was a stripper with remarkable skill, and the one thing she didn’t do, was to remove her gloves. I often regret that I made that decision not to marry, because it made me reflect on my slow-pace aging.
I had the opportunity to make a recording in 1965 called “Put Me Amongst The Girls, ” which wasn’t a hit, probably due to the public’s indifference between the career of a painter and singer. Again the ugly head of “Yes” and “No” stuck out of the gopher’s hole, allowing fate to make the final decision. A flip of the coin has always made me nervous at the best of times - at the worst… Well, I follow my desire.
All I know a day without yours truly creating or making something is like death approaching me in a slow cat-like pace. If I had a tail, I would slowly flick it back and forth, till I capture the moment. To explain what I do, is like being forced to use a language one doesn’t know. I paint, I sing, and therefore that is exactly what I am. A gallery sent me a message that they wanted a bio from me. I wrote back stating “No biographical details. I’m a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures. Regards, T.”
Sunday, February 28, 2016
|ISBN: 978-1-4456-5119-4 Amberley Books|
"Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics: A Sideway Look at Twentieth-Century London" by Rob Baker
For me, a city is something of brilliance. I never cared for nature or the world outside of a city. What I love is neon lights, people walking from there to here, cars, public transportation, and various cafes and restaurants. Each city has a definite identity. My favorite cities are Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, and the subject matter of this book "Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics," London. It is odd when I walk around London, I'm consistently looking for something from the past. My main interest is London in the 19th and 20th century - and I have a pretty good collection of books on that subject. My favorite, I think is this book. It captures the mystery, the eccentricity, and life flowing through its streets.
The book covers everything from Mary Quant to woman nazis to Christine Keeler to underground gay culture. Rob Baker has the eye of a historian, but the heart of a poet - and he takes the reader down various pathways to a world that is very much London, but also going against the grain as well.
This superb book is based on Baker's incredible website "Another Nickel in the Machine." I discovered this site by accident, and like any good accident, it led me to other worlds that are within London. His amazing collection of photographs is reason enough to visit the site, but now he made a book, and it is equally great.
For those who love London, this book is a must, but even those who never been to that part of the world, yet find the urban world of great interest, will need to own and read "Beautiful Idiots."
- Tosh Berman