Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31, 2014

March 31, 2014

I woke up this morning with the recording of Glenn Gould’s version of Johan Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” I have the music hooked up to start automatically at 7:00 am every morning, which wakes me up.  This is intended to be Gould’s final recording before he passed away, and I always prefer this version than his much earlier one.  For me it represents an entire lifetime and it is in this specific recording.  As I get older, I have less time for youth and all of its silliness.   Often I want to walk around with a hammer and destroy every image of youth that comes upon my eyes.   It is a type of psychotic reaction, but it greatly amuses me as well.

They say beauty is only skin deep, but with age, it becomes a connoisseur talent to choose the difference between the pearl and perhaps a coarse stone.  Through out my life I always felt my profession was one where I show pearls before swine.   Basically this is the job of the curator, and if one has to force a category on oneself, then that is what I am.  I take all of  you out for a stroll into the woods, and we come back with goodies that I selected for you.   In other words, I am sort of the perfect date.

Sergei Diaghilev, was someone who I greatly admire, because he didn’t really do anything, except show taste.  Through out his life, he has located the most unique pearls, and presented to an audience.  Some hated it, some were transformed, but none were bored.  To have vision is a beautiful talent, and sometimes artists cannot do that for themselves.  What I do is recognize your talent and make you better.  Or not.

Richard Chamberlain, who started off as being an idol on the Dr. Kildare show, which also led him to a series of hit recordings around the early 1960s, became a serious stage actor when he went to London to perform in repertory theater.   He’s an example of an artist who created his own career, where if you follow him from Dr. Kildare to teen idol music to Broadway and then eventually Shakespeare.  It is obvious he had a strong vision of what he wanted to accomplish, and he did it with the genius of Napoleon planning an attack.   It is like he couldn’t wait to do away with his youth.

What I have gained from all of this is to always move forward, and not spend time looking backwards.  I greatly admire the films of Nagisa Oshima, because it seems to me he distances himself from his past, to explore his culture in such a way, it is almost like he’s a scientist in a laboratory.   All that knowledge one gains from one’s history and others has only one purpose.  And that is to go forward and not look back.  Orpheus, in mythology, was a figure who used his art to lead others to a better place.  He even attempted to lure his wife Eurydice, from the Underworld.  He succeeded in bringing her back from death to life. In a way, he was a curator, who transformed life as an on-going adventure.  Youth is not aware of the pitfalls or has the vision to conceptualize the need to move on.   Youth is looking back, and aging is moving forward.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 30, 2014

March 30, 2014

The most influential man in my life is without a doubt Warren Beatty.  What I admire about him the most is his seductive powers over women, or just the need for sexual adventures at all cost.  People poo-poo on him because I think he represents the real desire in a man’s make-up.   We often have to deny it, or claim total innocence, but in truth, as Woody Allen once said, “if there is reincarnation, I’d like to come back as Warren Beatty’s fingertips. ”

To be able to step into a room and you’re Warren Beatty must be a fantastic feeling.  I have two personal memories of Beatty.  My earliest memory of him was when I was with my dad and mom and we were invited, or taken to Jack Nicholson’s house right around the time of the release of “Chinatown.” We drove up to the entrance of a long driveway, and waited for a limo to pick us up and take us up to the party.  Once we were inside the car, we noticed a teenager on a mini-bike riding along us, and occasionally kicking the side of the limo as it was driving up the long driveway.  May dad asked who was that, and the driver just hissed out “It’s Brando’s kid, Christian.” Once I walked in the entrance I was taken back by the interior which wasn’t that exciting to me, but what was amazing was seeing Warren Beatty and Julie Christie sitting on the floor, among others.  Even the appearance of Groucho Marx couldn’t make me keep my eyes off Beatty.   He was beautiful, but only on the surface, which made him even more attractive.

His charm is very studied, like he went to a class to study to be Warren Beatty.  He didn’t have the inherent charm say, one of the great French stars at that time, Jean-Claude Brialy, who just oozed a certain type of personality that was totally suitable for his work with Godard, Malle, and Serge Gainsbourg.  But Brialy was too soft as a seductive person for me, I needed a Beatty who was full of strength and a certain amount of daring.  Being shy, I needed someone to follow who didn’t have one ounce of shyness or awkwardness in front of others, especially women.

When I tried to be seductive, I come off as John Astin, who was one of the main stars in “The Addams Family.” Totally comical and just the wrong approach!   I want seduction to be as easy as the song by Astrud Gilberto “The Girl from Ipanema.” The horrible truth is that my life more like an etching by Francisco Goya with maybe captions by Paul Verlaine.  The disgust that I feel for myself whenever I am in front of an attractive woman is truly a horror show.

The second and last time I came upon Warren Beatty was many years later.  I was employed in a bookstore and he came in by himself to shop, and I remember even though he was quite old, he still had an appearance of a little boy of sorts.  A little boy with an erection!  Nevertheless when he came into the store, there was an event taking place, and it was full of middle-aged women attending this specific event.  When he came in, it was like if God walked into the room.  The women literally swoon, and surrounded him like bees being attached to the honey.  He was very courteous to the ladies, and it struck me that if I was in his place, I would look like a total idiot.   Time marches on, but I am still the same as I was before, and so is Warren Beatty.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29, 2014

March 29, 2014

I had exactly two martinis and a glass of red wine last night when the earthquake hit Los Angeles.  I didn’t feel a thing, but maybe it was the combination of my conversation with Richard as well as the waitress who seems to have the longest legs possible.  It was not just her legs, but she also gave out a certain amount of charm as well.  We were sitting at the smallest table possible, and yet, she was able to put the food and drinks we ordered in perfect spots.  I asked her if she had trained as an interior decorator, and she told me that her apartment is really small.

When we arrived at my doorstep, Richard looked at his phone and told me that there was an earthquake that took place, and it was 5.something or else.  Again, probably because I was a tad high, I didn’t feel it and neither did he.  Or the waitress as far as I know.  When I got to bed, I started to think about this waitress around when I was 19 or 20 years old.  She worked at Sambo’s on Ventura Bouvelard and had the night duty.  Meaning she was there from 10 PM to dawn.  My friend Gary and I would go there around 11, in excuse to have coffee and some sort of desert, but the fact is I think we both wanted to see this waitress.  She had bleached blonde hair, and wore bright red lipstick. She was very slim, and also, had long legs.   The thing about Sambo’s, is the interior of the place was all in the color pink.   Even the food served had a pink glow to it.  In the middle of the night, it was a weird juxtaposition of truckers stopping by for food, due that the Ventura Freeway off-ramp was close by, and these heavy set masculine men in an environment that is basically pink.

She would joke naturally with the truckers, but was awkward with me and Gary.  I remember feeling a little bit weird going there after a while, because my interest was for sure not in the pink interior, but in our waitress, who clearly had no interest in us or to be specific, me, at all.   I have this distinct memory of having a break down of some sort while I was there one night.  I can’t remember why or what caused this emotional melt-down. It may have something to do with a relationship that was going bad at that time.  Nevertheless I remember excusing myself from the table, and needing to get to the bathroom.  I didn’t even need to use the bathroom, but I just wanted to be alone for a few seconds.  I began to cry, and I couldn’t stop crying.   I never cried so hard in my life. It was like if someone unplugged a broken faucet within me and the water flowed out.   As I was crying, I flushed the urinal and the water wouldn’t stop.  Eventually it overflowed and the bathroom became flooded.   I felt my emotional state was one with the plumbing here in the bathroom, and I was immediately ashamed and embarrassed at the same time.   I went back to the table, and left some bills there and got into my car and drove off.

As my thoughts were bouncing around my head, and laying on my back in bed last night, I started to notice a crack in the ceiling that I don’t think was there since last night.   I suddenly felt the sensation of water hitting my forehead.  I didn’t move, or even react to it.  I just accepted that fact, because water is truly a friend of mine.

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28, 2014

March 28, 2014

My not-so-distant relative the film producer Pandro S. Berman wanted to make a quick exploration film for MGM regarding the upcoming “Beat” scene that was happening at that time.  He just finished the production work for the Elvis Presley starring “Jailhouse Rock” and was interested in doing a film where Elvis played a ‘beatnik poet. ' For research, Elvis actually went to City Lights bookstore to pick up on the vibe of the store as well as the local North Beach scene.  He made an effort to get a job at City Lights as a book clerk, but that obviously wasn’t going to work out.  There was also talk of Berman producing a film version of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On The Road, ” with Elvis playing “Dean Moriarty” and British actor Dirk Bogarde playing Salvatore “Sal” Paradise, the novel’s narrator.

Bogarde flew out of London to meet Elvis in San Francisco.  At the time Elvis never drank, but still, he met Dirk at the bar Vesuvio, that was practically next door to City Lights.  Dirk just wanted to talk to Elvis personally without any managers around or studio people.  He had very little knowledge of the beats, and basically his understanding of that scene, for him, came from his knowledge regarding the Teddy Boys.  He knew and heard of the existentialist scene in Paris that was occurring at the time, but the beats were a totally foreign concept to him.   But he desperately wanted to make changes to his image from teen idol to a serious actor.  There was a darker side to Bogarde, and he felt he needed to express that side more.  But wasn’t sure how, and on top of that he was getting frustrated with the studios back in the U.K. He felt that this could be the role for him to change everything.  Also he had a great admiration for Elvis.  He didn’t really understand the music, or that type of culture, but he saw something that was sincere and raw in Elvis’ approach to music and image.

Elvis was a truck driver before singer, and he could identify with Dean with respect to his natural energy to go out and get going.  Also in his mind, the name “Dean’ relates to his favorite actor James Dean.  He was aware that his films were kind of lightweight, compared to the world of James Dean, and he wanted an ‘in’ as much as Dirk did.   Bogarde ordered himself a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, thinking it was very American type of thing to order in a San Francisco bar, and Elvis, being Elvis, ordered a bottle of Coke.   They went together to City Lights and they each bought a copy of “On The Road, ” and looked and commented on each page of that novel over their beer and coke.

Sitting in the bar, in one of its small tables, Dirk was all of sudden taken back by him being there with the actual iconic Elvis, discussing what they both felt was an iconic novel that surely can be a film vehicle for the both of them.  With the help of Berman, they couldn’t possibly imagine this to be a failure.   Nevertheless, history has a way of by-passing moments like these for something that eventually will not be important.  And who knew at this point and time, that Dirk Bogarde would enter a second chance in the Briitsh film world as one of its most amazing actors.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Goodis: A Life In Black and White" by PhiIippe Garnier (Black Pool Productions)

I have known about this book, "Goodis - A Life in Black and White" for a long time now.  In fact, there were slight plans to make this into a TamTam Books title, but it didn't happen because the stars were not lined up correctly at the time.  Nevertheless it is now translated by its author, Philippe Garnier, and published by Black Pool Productions in a very handsome edition.  Oh, and the book, by the way, is excellent.  For those who don't know David Goodis' books and writings, he is perhaps the most underrated noir writer in existence.  At least, in my neck of the woods.  Everyone comments on Jim Thompson, but have a tendency to forget about Goodis, who I think is a superior writer.  Garnier is the first person to track down David Goodis and his world.  So in a sense this is a biography on Goodis, but alas, it is much more than that.

If this was a film, it would be a low-budget version of "Citizen Kane," where Garnier tracks down people who actually knew the legendary author.  Like Kane, the more layers that come off the stories about Goodis, the less one knows of him.   It seems he had a thing for black American women who were obese and super mean.  In other words he wanted to be abused by these women, and that fact sort of comes through his novel writing.  But it is hard to tell because it seems Goodis was exceptional with respect to his ability to compartmentalize his life.  One gets the impression that there isn't one person he knew actually had the whole story of his life.   In other words, the more one looks, the less you know.

"Goodis: A Life in Black and White" works on different levels.  It is about a writer tracking down another writer, and doing the hard part of the job, which is going after leads that sometimes lead to nowhere.   But one of the many things that are interesting about this book are the interviews with people who knew Goodis.   They pretty much say all the same, especially the people who were close to him, but even that, he comes off more vague than a real human being.  We know he's a practical joker, that he had a weird dress sense, and went out of his way to drive probably the worst automobile possible at the time.  So it does seem to me that he worked towards himself to have an identity of some sort - but even that, some people have a hard time remembering him.  He strikes me as a spirit who had the talent to disappear and re-appear at will.  No doubt Goodis was an odd character.

Garnier being french, is quite critical of his fellow critics of the french film writing world, who like to make out Goodis a a man of great tragedy, but according to Garnier, he had money and wasn't that much of a depressive noir type of character.  But on the other hand, what type of guy was he?  The book is about that, but it is also about the journey to find out the facts and separating it from the myth.  Also one gets a clear idea about the Hollywood studio system and its relationship with writers - as well as the pulp publishing trade.  All of it is super interesting in this great book.

Also please note that I will be appearing with the author Philippe Garnier at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park on March 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm.   We'll be having a little chat about his book and on the life of the always fascinating  David Goodis. 

March 27, 2014

March 27, 2014

While I was wandering around my favorite used book shop, Alias East on Glendale Bouvelard, I found a copy of Francis Ponge’s “Soap, ” which is a poetic approach to that wonderful compound of natural oils mixed with sodium hydroxide.  I wanted to be exposed to the everyday object, that one normally uses, but never thinks about.  Not only is the natural world cut off from us, but also the artificial world of sorts.  It gets to a point where we don’t know the difference between the two worlds.  The only other poet that comes to mind is Frank O’Hara, with respect to his writing noting specific objects and colors in his life.  Writing is reporting, and poetry goes into the prose and makes certain objects stand out from the rest.  It is just like a surgeon opening a body and seeing all the muscles and tissues laying in front of their eyes, yet focusing on removing that bothersome tumor.  To write with a pen, or by a surgeon’s knife, both goes into the world and take out what’s essential to the poet or doctor.

One of my all-time favorite actresses is Hideko Takamine, who starred in numerous films by Mikio Naruse, which my favorite is "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs."  Made in 1960, but could have been made anytime in the 20th century.   She plays "Keiko' a young widow, who wants to be able to open up her own bar in the Ginza district of Tokyo.   The film is incredible because it analyzes the social world of Tokyo in such precise manner that it is both chilling and beautiful at the same time.   In the end of the film she fails to purchase a bar, due to family issues, social issues, and the landscape of women just trying to exist in a world that is often harsh and unfair.   After seeing the film, one recognizes that culture is meant to explore and tear apart - and only an artist can do something like that.

There is the practical side of art and medicine where you need a clear head to explore a territory, and the ability to make that exploration is both a skill and a natural talent.   The long-running Japanese comic strip Sazae-san is amazing because it is reported to show life of a typical family in post-war Japan.  I bought a couple of collections while waiting for my flight back to Los Angeles at the Narita Airport.  I read them on the plane, and even though the strip is supposed to be humorous, I found it deeply touching in that as an outsider, I can see what daily life was like back then.   It then struck me how important of a document that this comic strip is - because in an artistic manner, it tears into the culture, and brings out what is important, but done in a way that is almost Robert Bresson like, with respect to his classic film works.

It is with these thoughts, that makes me pick up my pen and notebook to expose a world within my world for my readers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Favorite Film Books from 2000 (Contentville) by Tosh Berman


French New Wave, by Jean Douchet

When I die, I want to be buried with Jean Douchet's French New Wave. The fact that yours truly will one day be in a coffin means that I need a good (long) book to read and to look at -- and this is the book. It is a treat for both the eyes, with ravishing film stills and layout of text, and for the intellect, with penetrating thoughts on the importance of the French 'New Wave' in cinema history. This seductively well-illustrated book takes one back to when films were fresh and exciting. All the major heroes are here: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others. Included are the original reviews by the Cahiers du Cinéma group, plus the original film bills from the ever influential Cinémathéque Française: First they were critics, the first to look at the importance of cinema and the first to
value the films for their directors instead of their stars, studios, or box-office stature. Later, they made films -- cheap, inventive, and still fresh and beautiful as the first sunlight.

City of Nets, by Otto Friedrich

In the years between 1939 to 1949, Los Angeles was the cultural capital of the world, in part due to men like Hitler, who were discouraging certain types of artists from working in their version of a new Germany. So Hollywood became host to cultural German legends like Bertolt Brecht, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Alfred Doblin, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, and Peter Lorre, among others. On the American side, we had Nathanael West, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others writing for the film factory. And for the conservative-minded studio heads, the one thing almost as bad as the Nazis were the Hollywood workers' unions. No problem though, when one had the HUAC to label the working stiffs as communists. In addition, there's Charlie Chaplin getting kicked out of the United States for political and sexual reasons, and Errol Flynn's infamous two-way mirrors in the walls and ceilings of his love pad. The result is a book that exposes Hollywood as a cultural landscape with a rather devilish personality.

Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger

It's not the stories themselves, but how Kenneth Anger tells the stories. On the surface this book is a diatribe against the Hollywood system, but underneath it is a love letter to the city and its famous citizens. One can
spend a lifetime proving or disproving the gossip, but what's the point?  Anger (also a brilliant filmmaker) has written a beautiful book about Hollywood's real greatness: the sleaze, drugs, death, and sexual excess.
What's distinctive about Hollywood is the image, and Anger focuses fully on it. All the great gossip is here: Fatty Arbuckle's rape trial, Chaplin's affairs with (much) younger girls, Erich Von Strohiem's on-the-set staged
orgies, and so forth. In addition to the stories, Anger uses great photographs of the stars at their low points. This book exposes the soul of Hollywood in poetic terms

The Parade's Gone By, by Kevin Brownlow

The best history of the American silent-movie era. British film historian Brownlow interviewed not only the stars of these films, but their technicians, stuntmen, cameramen, and others who made silent films an art form when the cinema medium was still young. Brownlow spoke to many screen legends while they were still kicking, so one is able to hear the voices of Buster Keaton, Howard Hawks, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, and King Vidor.
He was also wise in his choice to let many of the participants speak for themselves about their early cinematic experiences. An essential book for silent-film lovers, as well as those who are interested in the culture of
cinema production in the early twentieth century.

Eros in Hell, by Jack Hunter

What's cinema without sleaze? The history of film always had an element of sordidness, and the B-movie studios in Japan have produced their own bizarre quantity of off-the-wall cinema. Jack Hunter's Eros in Hell goes into the
murky world of mondo Japanese films and their filmmakers. Here we have interviews with filmmakers like Koji Wakamatsu (Go, Go, Second Time Virgin) and Takao Nakano (described here as the Ed Wood of Japan). There is also Seijun Suzuki (the Sam Fuller of Japan), Hisayasu Sato (mixture of porno and avant-garde leanings), and the legendary Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence). Not only is this book jam-packed with information and fantastic still photos, but it also gives a general overview on what is and was happening in Japanese cinema besides the Kurosawa-Ozu filmmakers. An essential book on underground Japanese cinema and its culture.

Godard on Godard: Critical Writings, by Jean-Luc Godard

Godard has always been a god to me. His films are frequently cited in essays about the nature and culture of the cinema. Godard began his career by writing about film for the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, and his style
of writing is very much fan-like in its exuberance, especially with respect to his appreciation of films that were not getting proper critical attention, such as the works of Nicholas Ray, Frank Tashlin, and Fritz Lang.  It is somewhat like the writings of a punk-rock fan who wrote about his heroes and then decided to form his own accomplished band; Godard's writings led to his own classic films. So this book is not only an essential look at a filmmaker, but also at a man who loves films with all his heart.

Film Encyclopedia, by Ephraim Katz

I have a testing method for encyclopedias. What I do is look up something totally cryptic, and if it's listed in the book, that's the one to get! Infilm encyclopedias, I always look up Lois Weber, an early female director
who started making films in 1912. Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia not only has a nice mention of Weber but also Alice Guy-Blaché (another early filmmaker), my second obscure choice. Everyone is in this book, from Sacha Guitry (look him up if you don't know who he is) to Zsa Zsa Gabor to totally obscure actress Anne Jackson, who made three or four films, but is married to Eli Wallach. Who is she? Is this information important? Yes it is, because if you read this book from beginning to end you'll be the master of movie knowledge. Which could mean that you become the biggest bore on the block, or one who really appreciates a complete knowledge of world cinema.  

Hitchcock by Truffaut, by Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut

The ultimate book on one filmmaker by another famous filmmaker. Okay, there aren't that many books by directors talking about their peers, although Paul Schrader's Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer comes to mind.  That is a rare and great example, but the Hitchcock book has to be the best example of a great filmmaker talking about his trade, the art of making movies. Truffaut goes one-on-one to nail all the important questions aboutHitchcock's work. In other words, its like sitting at a bar between two film giants in conversation. Truffaut reviews every detail obsessively, and Hitchcock, with great humor, discusses his entire career. This book is for both the fans and aspiring filmmakers seeking inspiration -- this book doesn't let anyone down.

LuLu in Hollywood, by Louise Brooks

The late Louise Brooks was a stunning beauty who along with Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo was one of the great seducers on the silver screen. Not only did she invent the helmet bob haircut of the twenties, but she was also one of the best understated film essayists in cinema. Brooks refused to be compromised by the Hollywood system.  She was eventually blacklisted and condemned to live her life in obscurity. From the shadows came Lulu in Hollywood, a book that touches on old Hollywood, Brooks's experiences working with German great Georg Wilhelm Pabst (Pandora's Box), and unusually positive insights into stars such as W.C. Fields and Humphrey Bogart. Her chapter on Marion Davies (an underrated comedy actress and mistress to William Randolph Hearst) is touching and gives Davies credit as a human being as well as an artist. Brooks is an icon that didn't disappoint. It's not a film library if it doesn't include Lulu in Hollywood.

Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., by Rudolph Grey

This oral history on the "Titan of Bad", Ed Wood, wonderfully captures the underbelly of Hollywood. It's all in here -- the dreams, the sweat, weird characters (shades of Nathanael West), the early porno industry, and cross-dressing galore. Ed Wood was a filmmaker, scriptwriter, pornographer, drunk, novelist (Death of a Transvestite is a must-read), and, according to this book, a decent guy. What is heartbreaking about his life is his ongoing struggle to make something against all odds, with a lack of money and, according to some, a lack of talent. But that doesn't matter in Hollywood.  Nightmare of Ecstasy is essential for anyone who has an interest in making a film or wants to create anything important in their life.

Tosh Berman, 2000 for Contentville

March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014

Right before I left Tokyo for Los Angeles, I saw a remarkable production of Tennessee Williams’ “In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, ” starring the J-Pop group AKB48. The band consists of 48 Japanese girls from the age of 15 to mid-20s.  They have their own theater that is located in Akihabara, Tokyo.  Doing a Tennessee Williams play is considered to be odd with respect to this group of young ladies performing it.  On the other hand, they totally re-adopted it to their group as well as adding several songs to the production.  The main singer for this performance, Mayu Watanabe, is twenty years old, yet had years of experience and she actually studied under the French musician and composer Pierre Boulez.  He thought quite highly of the music she composed as a teenager.  For some, her being a part of AKB48 strikes one as being subversive, but Watanabe is pretty much in the group as a singer and dancer.

Since Williams passed away some years ago, we will never know what he would have thought of AKB48’s version of “In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel.” But we do know that he had a great admiration for Japanese culture and its writers.  He met and knew Yukio Mishima, and actually wrote the play "In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel" as a tribute to Mishima's memory. The original production took place in Manhattan in 1969 and ran for 29 performances.   Even though it was considered to be a commercial failure, there were some fans of the work, and some see it as a very personal statement from Tennessee regarding his life and career.  The main character is a painter who is struggling with his art in trying to find a new medium to express it, while staying in a hotel in Tokyo.  Of course it ends badly, and the play’s reputation is almost cult-like in its acceptance to a very few group of people.

So what is amazing is that AKB48 did the initial Japanese production of this underrated work by Williams.  Before I left Tokyo, I also purchased the soundtrack to this production which is spectacular on many levels. The great inventor of the British music hall, Fred Karno, who discovered Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, would fit in perfectly with the AKB48 aesthetic, in that theater becomes the everyday life, but projected by visionaries.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25, 2014

March 25, 2014

I arrived in Los Angeles yesterday, and now it’s 5:21 in the morning, and I can’t think straight whatsoever.  The flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles was a total pleasure, due that I got to watch all three episodes of the third season on the plane of “Sherlock."  I’m obsessed with this show because I think (at least for me) it really a series about relationships more than narrative.  Not saying there is not a robust story appeal to the program, but what is more important are the relationships between Holmes and Watson, Holmes and Moriarty.  Watson with his wife, Holmes and his brother and so forth.  I’m a huge fan of Moriarty, because I am always rooting for the villain.  I feel the same way for Walter White.  I’m always in that weird situation, where I have to defend White as a character I like to various people, who are totally offended by him.  But I truly think he has good qualities as a human being.  Not a “respectable” human being mind you, but he strikes me as a realistic person in an “odd” circumstance in his imaginary life. 

Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Oswald, is also a person of interest for me.   His background life is fascinating, and the fact that he is easily considered to be part of a conspiracy with respect to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   To be frank I have no interest in conspiracy theories, I am more in-tuned to the fact that maybe Ruby did the killing just out of the blue.   More of a mood thing than just being a part of a thought-out plot.  I am a firm believer that ‘shit happens. ' He was one of those people who had his ‘moment, ’ and he did what he did, that will identify him to that specific moment, when he shot Oswald live on TV.

I was nine years old when I saw the killing on TV.  It was both shocking and unreal.  As I mentioned before the killing of President Kennedy was my first real death experience.  Even though it occurred in front of a standard 8mm camera, and I for sure never met or knew Kennedy, but he was the first person who ‘died’ in my life.   At that time, I don’t think I even had an animal or pet that passed away in my presence.  So death was very abstract to me.  The Jack Ruby shooting was the ‘second’ death that I experienced in my young life at the time.  One can just wonder what the relationship was between Oswald and Ruby.  Did they know one another?   Again, I like to believe that these things just happen.  The thought appeals to my sense of aesthetic - and that is the reason why I like the “Sherlock” show so much, because it does portray a world that is mapped-out to the extreme, and does show a meticulous order to the world.  But in reality, (or in my reality), Holmes and Moriarty do things out of boredom.   And I can be associate with monotony as a writer.   My number one fear is boredom.   Writing to me is a form of traveling but not necessary means getting on the plane or car to go from one location to the next.   For instance, readers can presume I was in Japan, but are you sure that I was there?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sarah Gerard's Commentary on Boris Vian's Red Grass

22 MARCH 14

Sarah Gerard’s novel Binary Star is forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in January 2015. Her essay chapbook, Things I Told My Mother, was published by Von Zos this past fall. Other fiction, criticism and personal essays have appeared in the New York TimesNew York MagazineBookforum, the Paris Review Daily, the Los Angeles Review of BooksSlice Magazine, and other journals. She holds an MFA from The New School and lives in Brooklyn.
Here’s why Boris Vian’s Red Grass should win the Best Translated Book Award: the odds are stacked against it. It’s not the second volume in a six-volume epic; it doesn’t have the sex appeal of Sauvageot; nor does it have the audience a Marias novel is guaranteed; nor the counter-culture appeal of Krasznahorkai; and Vian himself enjoyed limited authorial success during his lifetime. Red Grassis strange, and Vian is, and has always been, just outside of what’s easily co-opted by “cool.” But this book is unrivaled in its inventiveness.
Lysergic and science fictional, psychological and sexually uncomfortable, Red Grass follows Wolf, an engineer who has invented a machine to erase memory, through phase after phase of painful self-exploration and deletion. Simultaneously, Wolf’s mechanic partner, Saphir Lazuli, confronts his inability to make love to his wife; a talking dog talks himself into enlightenment; and Wolf’s and Lazuli’s wives find themselves having to cover up a strange disappearance. It all takes place in a world not quite our own, somewhere in a time long after ours or in an alternate present day, where the grass is blood red and the sky is within reach, and the seams of the known world are strained to the point of breaking. Adults are childishly naïve but able to carry out acts of government, and assemble complicated apparatuses with which to perform impossible tasks. Death is seeping in from all corners, threatening a world not unlike a futuristic Oz.
Lest we forget that we’re here discussing an award for translation, I’d like to take a minute to tip my beret to Paul Knobloch, Red Grass’s translator. Vian combines and invents words, and is at all times vivid, his tone vacillating within the intersection of imminent tragedy and wit, unimaginable pain and fear, and delight, and wonder:
From superior regions fell vague tracks of brilliant and elusive dust, and the imaginary sky palpitated endlessly, pierced by beams of light. Wolf’s face was sweaty and cold.
Outside, the wind began to stir. Little vortexes of dust rose obliquely from the ground and ran through the weeds. The wind caressed the beams and angles of the roof and at each curve left behind a living screech, a sonorous spiral. The window in the hallway suddenly slammed down without warning. The tree in front of Wolf’s office shook and sung incessantly.
And in fact, Wolf couldn’t answer right away. He swung his club and amused himself by decapitating the grimacing fartflowers that popped up here and there along the rednecking field. From each decapitated stem oozed a black sap that formed into a little black and gold monogrammed bubble.
Every part of this world is alive and moving, struggling, begging. Of all of Vian’s novels, Red Grass is the most uncharacteristically dark. When he wrote it, he was in the midst of a serious marital crisis that would ultimately end in separation. And unlike the success he had achieved with previous novels, Red Grass would not find publication until several years after it was written, and only then with a small, unknown publisher. Vian’s career as an author would never recover from this.
As an added note about his life, which might shed light on the personality behind the incredible book that is Red Grass and Vian’s many, many other works: he called himself not only novelist, but also poet, jazz musician, singer, actor, screenwriter, translator, critic, and inventor. He was the protégé of Raymond Queneau, the translator of Raymond Chandler and others, the one-time friend of Camus, de Beauvoir, and Sartre (before his wife’s infamous affair with the philosopher, which ultimately ended their marriage), the first French rock-and-roll songwriter, and, as if that weren’t enough, he ghost-wrote in the persona of an African-American author while masquerading as his translator, penning a book that would become a cult classic in its day.
I know the stakes for the Best Translated Book Award are high this year. I also know that, in only a few days, I’ll have to write another one of these posts, arguing that a different book should win, and I’ll mean it then, too. But let’s not forget that Red Grass is ready for an audience who will read and appreciate it, and feel disappointment when some heavyweight comes along and again takes what is Vian’s. No one else wrote like him, and the task of a translator is unlike any other when he is translating Vian. For my part, my vote lies with him.

March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014

Today I’m leaving Tokyo, and today I’ll be back in Los Angeles.  My wife and I made a decision to live here in Tokyo and in Los Angeles as well.   We have a home here, or I should say a very small room.  I’m looking forward to my dual-life of being a Tokyoite and an Angeles man.  As I get older (and I’m old) my life is just about to enter a great adventure.  For my whole life, I often felt like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” As a kid, I went to see that film at least five times in a movie theater.   I think being an only child, I sort of identified with the McQueen character.  For some reason I suspected that he too was a single child. In fact, I heard he had a rough childhood.  Mine, on the other hand was the life of a prince.  Nevertheless, I was quite attracted to the image of McQueen on a motorcycle trying to escape from the prison camp in the film.  I haven’t seen the film for decades, and I don’t think I really want to re-visit the images, because they’re so strong in my head.

As a child in Beverly Glen, I would often see Steve McQueen on a motorcycle driving through the canyon.  One time I was having lunch with my dad, when all of a sudden he appeared in the cafe.  He looked exactly like his character in “The Great Escape.” In fact, my memory of him that day was his wearing a sweatshirt and khaki pants.  He also had a leather jacket on, because he was riding his motorcycle.  Through out my life I have seen images from films, and come upon them in real life.  It is still disconcerting to see an actual image in front of you coming to life.

Tokyo is the same way with me.  I know that city through films.  Mostly by works of Ozu and Kurasawa.   Whenever I see a structure from the 1950s I sort of feel star-struck at its appearance.  The film world of Tokyo is exactly the same as when one is here.  Los Angeles can be altered in the cinema world, but for some reason Tokyo remains Tokyo no matter what.   Even with The Godzilla films, the Tokyo that is displayed as little models is very much the Tokyo I know.   I don’t know why, but the city can’t help being what it is - Tokyo!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 23, 2014 (Tokyo)

March 23, 2014

Writing tools mean so much to a writer, and yet, is anything better than pen and paper?   The digital world is wide open for so many choices. Yet I suspect preservation is not part of the bigger points in digital life.  The fact is one can own a paper and a pen, but who owns the digital world?   When I put my blog up, do I own that blog?   What happens if Google disappears tomorrow or something in the natural world knocks the power off the Internet.  Is keeping the documents and your writings that secure?   Or is it a false security?

I’ve purchased Pages app when I bought my computer last year.  Usually in the past, all of that will come with the latest computer, but now we have an app store, and we are required to purchase the basics just to have a functioning writing machine.  But when that app fails to operate or refuses me to get to my work, is that a good thing at all?   In the nutshell, when you have that pen and paper it can be devastated by numerous means.  But a great percentage, is that if you lose that document or pen, it is because of you.  Now, technology is selling itself as the end-all of everything, and that everything will be guaranteed for you.  But that ladies and gentlemen, is a total lie.

Right now I feel like a character in a Michael Haneke film - perhaps “Funny Games” where my home is not being invaded by thugs, but my writing instruments on my computer are for sure under attack.  The feeling is that I have nothing but my writings, and once that is gone, I really don’t exist.  But perhaps that is the bigger sense of nature at work.  We’re only here for a series of moments, and then one disappears.  I think its human to try to leave something on this planet before one fades away.  Either a family, a son, a daughter, a painting, and in my case, it would be my words on either a screen or in a book.  But alas, there is no guarantees that will happen.

My vision is just one of pure hell if I can’t express myself.  Facebook to me is a device to expose my work to some sort of public.  And one does not know who or what that public is.  But even Facebook, can disappear, and with that, all the work that was carried out on one’s page.  It’s interesting that there are so many pages still open, even though that individual has passed away.   It’s a sad memorial, but a false one as well, because we don’t own those pages, they are only there for a brief time, and nothing will last forever.

With that in mind, I put my headphones on and listen to Michael Nyman’s fantastic score to “A Zed & Two Noughts” which is a film by Peter Greenaway.  I’m now praying for a world that resembles a Greenway film, but that fantastic score as well.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March 22, 2014 (Tokyo)

March 22, 2014

From pulp writer of westerns Louis L’Amour to composer Stephen Sondheim I hope to find my center somewhere between those two artists.  I have a boundless admiration for L’Amour, because he wrote 100 novels, and there is something magical about Sondheim’s input as a theater composer as well.  Sondheim is probably the best known figure in modern (and quality) theater, and I ….want to be placed among those two giants.  The bitter truth is that I am not as good as those two.

It is not certain at this moment that I will be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, since at this moment and time, I only have one book published and one out-of-print volume of poetry.   To my wife and I we feel that alone should guarantee me at least a shot at the big prize.   To write in this day and age is only two steps away from total disaster on many fronts.  First and the most obvious is the financial aspect of being a writer - which I can only see now is non-existent.  I abandoned my job at a bookstore to totally focus on what’s in my head and obsessing how to get those thoughts on a piece of white blank paper.   So far, the blank piece of white paper is winning the battle.  But alas, there are many battles in a war, and I shall become a victor!

As of now, I live my life like Chico Marx, in that I have to hustle, gamble, and sneak money from every avenue and road that lay in front of me.  The one image in my head when I wake up in the morning is the Nobel Prize and the second image is of the same thing when I go to sleep at night.

For inspiration, I often think of the actor Ross Martin who played Artemus Gordon in the great western TV show “The Wild Wild West.”   What I loved about him is that he’s the side kick to the James West character, but it strikes me that he is sort of an Iago to Othello, that he’s actually the main character of the narrative, but is hiding in plain sight.  Writing to me, is someone who appears to be invisible, but alas, they are there reporting what’s in front of them.  The art of the writing is finding out what you should pick out in front of you.  Right now, from my angle of the writing table, I see a book of art by Yayoi Kusama, but the color scheme is inappropriate for my sense of aesthetic, even though I do have a great appreciation for her art and focus in life.  The ‘visual’ life is of great importance to me, because when I take my daily walks through Tokyo, I often think of the cartoon strip “Little Lulu” which was created by a genius named John Stanley.   Her observations on a daily basis saves the day for her and her friends in the strip, and I think to myself “if only I can do that in my life for me and my friends.” Would it be possible to write a work of fiction, and somehow the world will turn out better, and therefore I will win the Nobel Prize for that alone?”

Common sense tells me that I will fail miserably.  But failure alone is interesting.  I’m one of the very few people on this planet that actually likes the Keith Relf solo recordings more than his band, The Yardbirds. And for sure his solo work was one of the significant failures in 1960s pop music.  So my next thought is can I fail, but fail on a grand scale, where people and readers will notice me?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 21, 2014 (Tokyo)

March 21, 2014

I can’t even imagine what it was like to be in a movie theater in 1903 and to see “The Great Train Robbery, ” starring Broncho Billy Anderson.  The film was written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter, and Broncho Billy played at least three roles in this ten minute film.  The film is renowned for its composite editing, camera movement and on location shooting.  Also perhaps the first to use cross cutting, where two scenes are taking place but at the same time.  “Broncho Billy was the first cowboy movie star, and to think that was only 111 years ago!

Cinema has consistently been a big part of my life. Ever since my dad took me to see Roger Vadim’s “And God Created Woman.” I think I was around three years old at the time, and my dad wanted to see this film badly, and it was playing at a small movie house (still there I believe) in Larkspur California.  It was an odd experience for me because me going to the movie turned out to be a huge argument between my dad and the manager at the theater.  He just wanted to refuse me entrance, due that I was a child, but my father insisted that he had every right to take his son (even though at 3) to see this Bardot experience.  After making a fuss, and not compromising his stand, I was let in.  What happened afterwards led me to a life-long love for Brigitte Bardot. In the nutshell, it also led me to Boris Vian, because Vadim was a friend of that genius and social light of Saint-Germain des Prés.

Bardot’s sexuality on the big screen and Broncho Billy aiming his gun towards the audience in “The Great Train Robbery” had the same effect on me.  I was nicely devastated over the experience and to this day it has been a major influence or even fuel for my writings and thoughts.  As a young adult, I became a huge fan of Russ Meyer’s work as well.  To some he’s the ultimate sex film exploration filmmaker, but I have other thoughts about him than his reputation.  What I really admire him for is his ability to take one to another world, and that landscape is Meyer-world.  It has its own logic, rules, and aesthetic.  I think it's similar to something like “Star Wars” or “The Hobbit.” Those types of films make their own world, and one enters that world knowing that they are going to live there.  I feel exactly the same with Meyer, because being in his presence (via his films) I’m transported into a place that makes no sense to me, and that is the sole reason why I love his work so much.

I tend to love artists who transport me to their world, and I have to see everything through their eyes.  The late and great Vivian Stanshall was another artist who made me appreciate the finer eccentricities of the British state of mind.  Perhaps he was insane, but I totally understood the world, regardless of the fact that some of his commentary was totally foreign to me.  But as they say in gangster films, I got the ‘drift’ of it all.