Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant lunatics" by Rob Baker

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

Friday, February 26, 2016

"Taken Care Of" by Edith Sitwell

"Taken Care Of" by Edith Sitwell

The one thing that surprised me for some reason, is that Edith Sitwell's quotes Arthur Rimbaud's poetry a lot in her memoir "Taken Care Of."   For some reason, I didn't think the Prince of French punk poetry's work would get along in the eccentric world of Edith Sitwell - but there you go!   This is a book of little and not too many major surprises.  For instance, I didn't know she lived at the Sunset Tower on the Sunset Strip, nor that she had a great admiration for Dylan Thomas.  She didn't like D.H. Lawrence and is quite snooty towards a lot of people. On the other hand, it seems she adored Marilyn Monroe. 

The memoir started off strongly in a narrative way with her relationship with her parents when she was a child, which wasn't so hot.  After that, the book jumps around time-to-time with no strong narrative impulse.  Sort of whatever entered Sitwell's head at the time of writing, is what stayed in the final version of the book.  

I wished she wrote a larger chapter, or even a whole book on her experiences in America, especially Hollywood.  Still, this is a nice portal or entrance into the brain of Sitwell, but it's not the great memoir that one would hope for.  

- Tosh Berman

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"Scrapbook of the Sixties: Writings 1954 - 2010" by Jonas Mekas (Spector Books)

Spector Books ISBN: 9783959050333

"Scrapbook of the Sixties:  Writings 1954-2010" by Jonas Mekas (Spector Books)

The world is great when it is represented by Jonas Mekas.  For those who don't know or not in the know, Mekas is a filmmaker, film-supporter, film distributor, art lover, and the light of the Film Anthology in New York City.  On top of that, he was hired by Jackie Kennedy to tutor her two children in film aesthetics.   Mekas is also a great writer in defense of the art film, than say the narrative Hollywood film.  His writing throughout the years on filmmakers like Breakage, Anger, Conner, and of course Andy Warhol is priceless.   The beauty of reading "Scrapbook of the Sixties" is one gets a snapshot of that era, and all the issues that came up in the arts - especially the arts that were produced in lower Manhattan.

The odd thing, not everything in this book took place in the 60s.  Some of the pieces were written in the 90s, 00's as well as the 70s.  Yet, the root of the aesthetic does go back to the late 50s and of course, throughout the 1960s.  Here you get John & Yoko, Peter Kubelka, Warhol, Stan Brakage  - but it also goes beyond the cinematic arts - there are also various insights into the world of theater - specifically The Living Theater.  Reading Mekas, he now reminds me of Boris Vian's various reviews and commentary on Jazz.  Both artists share a total passion for an art form and a social movement.    

I also have to say, that this book is a delight to hold.  It's beautifully designed with wonderful paper.  The texture is incredible.  So are the words and their thoughts.

- Tosh Berman

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock n' Roll Underworld" by Keiron Pim

ISBN: 978-0-224-09812-0 Jonathan Cape Vintage

"Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock n' Roll Underworld" by Keiron Pim (Jonathan Cape Vintage, ISBN: 978-0-224-09812-0)

For me, what is there not to love about this book?  In 300 or so pages, I get a bit of Jewish London history of the East End, The Krays, The Rolling Stones, and a tale of an obsessive record / music collector who was also a criminal, Francis Bacon  & Lucian Freud, London Soho night life, as well as one of the leading influences of the great film "Performance."    Not only that, he was hired as an advisor for the film, and hinted that perhaps (or perhaps not) wrote some of the scenes for the film.   David Litvinoff is a figure who very much lived in the shadows of other people.  Yet, his presence, was greatly noted in the world of the Krays as well as to the world of Eric Clapton, Stones, and the swinging London 60s.   Litvinoff, was an invented character (of sorts) who was the bridge between the criminal life of London and the world of rock n' roll with a side trip to the cinema.  The author, Keiron Pim, did a fantastic job in putting together this biography that couldn't have been that easy.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Missing Person" by Patrick Modiano (Translated by Daniel Weissbort) David R. Godine Publisher

ISBN: 9781567922813  David R. Godine Publisher

"Missing Person" by Patrick Modiano (Translated by Daniel Weissbort) David R. Godine Publisher

The occupation that took place in France during the war years, was (or is) something that people never got over, and for good reason.  20th century French literature has many novels and books about this dark time in France.   One can add "Missing Person" by Patrick Modiano in this mix as well.   The narrative is the story of a detective who is locating .... himself.    Which, also, is quite the theme for contemporary fiction.  From Kafka to Mishima, it is usually a journey to track down the "self" and where that may lead.  Here, our hero (of sorts) has a photograph or two, where he interviews numerous people who may have known him or what ever happened to him.  This novel is a bit like an espionage novel mixed in with Alain Robbe-Grillet's fiction.  It's toxic combination, but still, I found the novel a bit understated for my taste.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed his memoir.  Still, I will go onward and check out his other novels. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

"The Hounded Man" by Francis Carco (Thomas Seltzer, 1924)

"Hounded Man" by Francis Carco (Thomas Seltzer, 1924)

A tale of a man who commits murder and lives his life after that fact.  Of course, since this is a Francis Carco piece of work, there is a woman of the streets who share with the leading character's misery, dread, and fear.  Also the city of Paris adds a certain amount of noir existence in the mix as well.  I found a copy of "Hounded Man" in the Los Angeles Library system, and my guess it probably hasn't been checked out since its publication date, 1924.   Carco is an amazing writer, who specializes in little pyscho-dramas that takes place in Parisian hotels and bars.   Why he isn't more known in the English language world is a mystery.  I suspect that it will only be a matter of time before New York Review of Books (NYRB) start publishing his noir-like novels of men's darkness and their city (Paris, of course). 

- Tosh Berman

Face to Face Cecil Beaton 18th February 1962

Aldous Huxley interview-1958 (FULL)

Edith Sitwell - Face To Face 1959 Interview

Evelyn Waugh Face To Face BBC Interview

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Pedigree: a Memoir" by Patrick Mordiano (translated by Mark Polizzotti)

ISBN: 9780300215335 Yale University Press

"Pedigree: a Memoir" by Patrick Modiano (Translated from the French to English by Mark Polizzotti) Yale University Press  ISBN: 9780300215335

A moody memoir of the young years of the Nobel Prize winner (for literature) Patrick Modiano.   I have not, at this date, read any of his fiction, but will do so.  I like his writing, and how he reflects on the relationship between him and his parents.  His mother was very distant and sort of demanding, and father was a border-line criminal.  Both parents lacked that parent skill, so Modiano floated between and beyond them. 

This brief book is hard to put down, and one can easily read it in a few hours.  It's concise in scope in that it addresses the years of his childhood up to the time when he wrote his first novel in his early 20s.   The narration floats down the stream, like memory at work.  His sense of place, specifically Paris in the 1950s is very clear.   The book is written dryly, but I sense a great deal of emotion from the author as he covers his life as it happened.  The writing is sparse, but loaded with meaning.  On top of that, since I'm Boris Vian's publisher in English, I'm delighted he gives some attention to the remarkable figure of the Saint Germain-des-prés scene.  It seems like he knew his widow, and she showed him a dance that Boris and her used to do together.   Great little book.

- Tosh Berman