Peace and happiness through all the land | Pharaoh Sanders

RIP Pharaoh Sanders, 1940-2022

Thanks for the music.

 

Philip Baker Hall is Richard Milhous Nixon in Robert Bernard Altman’s Secret Honor

RIP Philip Baker Hall, 1931-2022

Tell your heart

RIP Julee Cruise, 1956-2022

RIP Paula Rego

 

The Artist in Her Studio, 1993

 

RIP Paula Rego, 1935-2022

Paula Rego was one of the great figurative painters of the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Born in Portugal, Rego lived and worked most of her life in England. She first began exhibiting her work in the early 1960s with The London Group, and over the decades, her paintings were recognized for their haunting power in a series of career retrospectives at major museums, including the Tate Britain. She was also the first Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London.

Paula Rego portrait by Chris Garnham, 1988

Rego’s paintings are strange and disturbing, evoking the psychosexual tumult that underwrites Western myths and fairy tales. Obliquely feminist, Rego’s images conjure a counternarrative to patriarchal domination. As Whitney Chadwick put it in her book Women, Art, and Society, Rego’s paintings were part of “the figurative tradition of history painting but used heroic scale, harsh lighting, and theatrical compositions to present a pantheon of female figures traditionally suppressed in accounts of male exploits . . .[her] works propose a new iconography for the female heroine.”

Snow White Swallows the Poisoned Apple, 1995

I’m pretty sure it was in Chadwick’s Women, Art, And Society that I first saw a reproduction of The Family, a painting that shocked me, and reminded me of the work of one of my favorite painters at the time, Balthus, as well as the films of David Lynch.

The Family, 1988
The Maids, 1987

There’s an uncanny mix of humor and paranoid terror in much of Rego’s work, and her feminist reimagining of folk tales and myths has much in common with the work of writers like Angela Carter and Anne Sexton.

little murderess
The Little Murderess, 1987
20091202023111_paularegofitting
The Fitting, 1989
1-1
The Policeman’s Daughter, 1987

A strong advocate of women’s rights, in 2019 Rego called out the increasingly-draconian anti-choice laws being acted in America, telling The Guardian, “It seems unbelievable that these battles have to be fought all over again. It’s grotesque.”

In 1998, Rego, who spoke publicly about her own abortions, created a series called The Abortion Pastels. The series depicted the reality of unsafe illegal abortions, and was a response to a failed referendum to legalize abortion in her native Portugal.

Untitled No.1 (from The Abortion Pastels), 1998

Rego’s work also addressed human trafficking, so-called “honor killings,” and war in an oblique, surreal-tinged style that transcends the limits of social realist figurative art.

Human Cargo, 2008
Two Women Being Stoned, 1995
War, 2003

And while Rego’s art addressed sociocultural ills, and in doing so was often shocking and disturbing, it is nevertheless beautiful—she was a fantastic painter and left a strong, large body of work that will, I suspect, feel even more relevant as the twenty-first century careens into fascism and fear.

Once, I was talking to Herman Melville. He said, “I’m writing book called Moby-Dick” | Gilbert Gottfried

RIP Gilbert Gottfried, 1955-2022

RIP Peter Bogdanovich

RIP Peter Bogdanovich, 1939-2022

Peter Bogdanovich died today at the age of 82.

Bogdanovich was an actor, writer, producer, and film critic, but will most likely be remembered as a film director.

The first Bogdanovich film I saw was Mask (1985) starring Eric Stoltz and Cher. I was probably eight or nine, and I did not know it was a “Peter Bogdanovich film.” Mask was one of the many films my grandfather taped from HBO, Disney, or Cinemax, and mailed to my family on VHS cassettes, little bundles of cinema my brother and I consumed repeatedly and indiscriminately in our remote village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Mask is one of the first films I ever saw that genuinely hurt my feelings.

Years later I’d see Bogdanovich’s most celebrated film, The Last Picture Show (1971), and it would also hurt my feelings. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen and the film just shattered my stupid heart (Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow did something very particular to me, forever). This was the first time I knew I was watching a “Peter Bogdanovich film”—I’d learned about the New Hollywood guys and even seen some of the film stuff he’d written. (It would be years later until I realized that he was behind Noises Off (1992), which I’d watched as a VHS rental with my grandmother one Saturday night.)

Paper Moon (1973), starring real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal is the sweetest (yet still a little heart-breaking) film I’ve seen by Bogdanovich, and maybe the best starting place for anyone interested in his work. There’s a touch of De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief in it–a kind of gritty neorealism that hums alongside the film’s tender core.

I found some of Bogdanovich’s films less successful. His adaptation of Henry James’s novel Daisy Miller (1974) doesn’t work and the screwball farce What’s Up Doc? (1972) is never as good as the films it pays homage to. (Avoid Texasville (1990), the sequel to The Last Picture Show, at all costs. It’s like The Two Jakes, by which I mean, a bad sequel to a great film, and it should never have happened.) But even his failures are far more interesting than most basic Hollywood fare.

Bogdanovich was also great in bit parts in film and TV. His perhaps most notable performance was playing Dr. Melfi’s therapist Dr. Kupferberg on The Sopranos. He was also the voice of the DJ in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, perhaps a nod to his voiceover work in The Last Picture Show, where he also played a DJ.

For me though, Bogdanovich’s most significant acting role is that of director Brooks Otterlake in Orson Welles’ film The Other Side of the Wind (2018). I wrote “Orson Welles’ film” in the previous sentence, but that’s not quite true–The Other Side of the Wind is a bizarre beautiful mess of cinema spanning four decades. It’s a film about film (about film about film…), and Bogdanovich was instrumental in getting it finally released a few years ago.

Bogdanovich’s work in finally bringing Welles’ lost classic to screens is emblematic of his filmmaking career—a filmmaker in love with film, an artist enamored of film as art who came to prominence during the New Hollywood movement that rejected film as commerce. While so much of what makes it to theaters (and streaming platforms) today is simply “content,” or established “intellectual property” that execs know will do numbers, Bogdanovich’s spirit (and the New Hollywood DNA) inheres in current filmmakers who bear his influence, like the Safdie brothers, Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino. That influence will continue to ripple forward, and I hope that we get more films that will disturb us, hurt our feelings, and break our hearts.

 

Go to sleep, everything is alright

RIP Norm Macdonald

RIP Norm Macdonald, 1959-2021

The Canadian humorist Norm Macdonald died today from cancer.

Macdonald’s dry, loose, deadpan style of humor was not for everyone, but I loved it. He was a cast member on Saturday Night Live when I was in high school, serving as the Weekend Update anchor and doing impressions on the show until 1998, when he was fired.

I got to see him live that year, at the University of North Florida’s homecoming thing. He was an ill-cast headliner, and the show seemed to simultaneously tank and soar as droves walked out to his postmodern/postdroll riffs on dropping acid and pigfucking. (He managed to offend the university president to the point where the dude up and left within about 10 minutes of the set.) Watching Norm Macdonald live was like an unedited extension of watching him on TV—this was a guy leading you out into some weird weeds, dropping non sequitur breadcrumbs as you went. The frustration for much of Macdonald’s audience, was, Hell, hey, where are we going?–what is this all adding up to, where’s the punchline, what’s the point? The point is the wandering of course, a sentiment that Macdonald would roast I think.

Years ago, at one of those stupid Comedy Central roasts—maybe it was Bob Saget or William Shatner?—the comedian Jim Norton described Macdonald’s loose, shuffling set as “like watching Henry Fonda pick blueberries.” Macdonald’s response is perfect:

The looseness never added up to anything like stardom (when I saw Macdonald live, still bitter from his firing at NBC, he complained that “they fucking hate me there”), but he did star in the 1998 Bob Saget-directed comedy Dirty Work (great silly stuff)as well as 2000’s Screwed (which isn’t that great). He also starred in an ABC sitcom called Norm opposite Laurie Metcalf. (I watched it sometimes over antenna TV my last years of college; at its best it was a send up of TV tropes and audience expectations, but it was hardly ever at its best.)

Norm Macdonald did plenty of voice over stuff and small role appearances, but his best stuff was his stand-up comedy and his late night appearances. He was a staple on both Letterman and Conan O’Brien, a postmodern Charles Grodin, making me sneeze beer through my nose way too late at night in the late nineties and beyond.

In the last decade of his too-short life—

—and here I just have to say, I always thought of the guy as old, old, impossibly, cantankerously old, and I now see he died way too young at 61, that he’s only two decades older than me, but I guess that’s how life works, old is just some goal posts we push away—-

In the last decade of his too-short life, Norm Macdonald continued to do his thing—stand-up and voice gigs and standby late night spots. Like every other motherfucker in the past two decades, he had a podcast, Norm Macdonald Live. This “The Aristocrats!” style bit on the serial murderer Albert Fish is one of my favorites from that era:

It wasn’t until last year, during Early Lockdown Times, that I watched his 2018 “interview” show Norm Macdonald Has a Show on Netflix. The series surpasses cringe comedy or anti-comedy or whatever you want to call it. It reads like someone who genuinely doesn’t care if the project gets renewed (which it didn’t). The best episodes are the first, with David Spade, and the fourth, with David Letterman. Spade is not bright enough to figure out that the show is a goof on showbiz, a big fuckyou to the idea of careerism in comedy; Letterman figures it out immediately and plays along, to a point. Calling what he did “anti-comedy” misses the point. He and his sidekick Adam Eget were laughing plenty.

Macdonald’s legacy might be complicated. His jokes were often very, very dark, and in the past few years, out of step with the zeitgeist. But I always found something simultaneously and impossibly oblique and sharp in what Norm Macdonald did. He wasn’t for everyone, but he spoke to me, and I’ll miss him.

RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti

RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919-2021

RIP MF DOOM

RIP MF DOOM, 1971-2020

What a stupid fucking year.

RIP Mort Drucker

drucker_madmovie

RIP Mort Drucker, 1929-2020

I grew up on MAD Magazine and always loved Mort Drucker (and Sergio Aragones) in particular. He frequently drew the film and television show parodies that I especially enjoyed as a kid. Even though I got to watch all kinds of films I probably shouldn’t have seen as a kid in the mid-eighties (where “parenting” was throwing all the kids in a spare room with a VHS copy of Robocop or Predator), I still attribute a large part of any film and television knowledge I have to the MAD parodies that Drucker drew.

RIP John Prine

RIP John Prine, 1946-2020

RIP Bill Withers

RIP Bill Withers, 1938-2020

Threnody

RIP Krzysztof Penderecki, 1933-2020

RIP Charles Portis

m9zxmlvgx70yhcyrctsekf9exavnowl4y1lblmdiury

RIP Charles Portis, 1933-2020

The Arkansas Times and other sources have reported that the novelist Charles Portis has died at the age of 86.

Portis published five novels in his life: NorwoodThe Dog of the SouthMasters of Atlantis, and Gringos, but he’s most likely well-known for his 1968 bestseller True Grit, which has been adapted to film twice. The first adaptation (1969), starring John Wayne, is a much broader affair than the Coen Brother’s 2010 take, which does a better job conveying the novel’s sharp humor. Neither can touch the novel, of course.

Walker Percy blurbed True Grit, comparing it to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and he’s not wrong. Told in Mattie Ross’s clipped, witty, yet still-the-slightest-shade-naive voice, True Grit’s narrative voice echoes Huck’s, and is equally achieved and engrossing, a wonderful layering of author-narrator-speaker. The prose is beautiful and Mattie is an endearing, enduring American hero. True Grit is a novel that teens and adults alike will love, and revisit, each time finding it changed. I’m very sorry that I was forty when I first read it, but I can make sure my daughter doesn’t overlook it. True Grit is probably a perfect novel.

Portis’s first novel Norwood (1966) is the first novel I read by him. This impossibly-large but slim novel is the picaresque tale of Norwood Pratt, who kind of bumbles his way across the South after being discharged from the Marines. Portis taps into the same grotesque fount that fed Faulkner and Flannery, Cormac McCarthy and Carson McCullers, but he converts that fuel into something more exuberant, energetic, and joyful than anything those authors ever produced.

img_4990

Eleven years after True Grit, Portis published The Dog of the South, which might be my favorite of the four I’ve read by him. This is a shaggy dog, a road trip novel, ribald, grotesque, and very, very funny. It reads like the novel that Barry Hannah was never quite sober enough to manage, a loose ironic folk-blues ballad of a novel with more structure and tighter refrains than Hannah’s wild jazz. Dog may have some faults, but it’s a wonderful read, and its ending reverberates with earned pathos.

1985’s Masters of Atlantis is probably the consensus favorite among Portis fans. Easily the most sprawling of his books, both in geographical scope and time, Masters is a novel of con-men and poseurs, secret societies and secret scams, capitalism and the price of knowledge. Despite an international cast, like Portis’s first three novels Masters is a very American novel, whatever that means. There’s a Pynchonian paranoid vibe and a Pynchonian zaniness to Masters—the novel reminds me very much of Pynchon’s underrated Against the Day. Masters of Atlantis also belongs to the American tradition of grifter novels, like Melville’s The Confidence-Man, Baum’s Oz books, the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and even  The Great Gatsby. (It’s more fun to read than any of those.) Told in a third-person voice, Masters feels positively epic compared to the first-person immediacy of True Grit or The Dog of the South, or even the third-person voice of Norwood, which hovers around its protagonist’s brain pan and eye line, and doesn’t flit much farther. Masters is a loose, shaggy epic that seems to sprawl beyond its 250-odd pages.

I have yet to read Portis’s final novel Gringos (1991), which centers on expatriate Americans living in Merida who raid Mayan tombs and hunt UFOs (this may be an inaccurate description). I secured a copy when I was on my Portis binge, but when I finished Masters of Atlantis, I had to pause. Like many readers who fall in love with an author—especially an author with such a slim oeuvre—I tend to read greedily, voraciously, as the cliche goes. Finding Portis at forty felt like a bizarre gift from nowhere (a gift from the author himself, of course). I read all of Cormac McCarthy in my late twenties, an act I now regret. It’s not that I can’t re-read McCarthy—I do all the time—but unless we get another novel, it’s like, That’s it. When I truly fell in love with Pynchon and Gaddis, in my thirties, I consumed their novels, of course, re-reading books like Gravity’s Rainbow an J R—but also leaving one, y’know, in my back pocket, metaphorically: Bleeding Edge and A Frolic of His Own, respectively. Gringos is on the same mental shelf as those volumes, but I’ve taken it down from the actual shelf it was just-until-now resting upon, a to-be-read stack.  I used the adjective final in the first sentence of the previous paragraph to describe Portis’s 1991 novel Gringos. It’s possible that there are more novels, of course, finished or otherwise, and I have to admit that I’ll look forward to seeing them. In the meantime, I’ll start Gringos.

 

RIP Alasdair Gray

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 6.54.56 PM

RIP Alasdair Gray, 1934-2019

The Scottish novelist and artist Alasdair Gray died today, one day after his 85th birthday.

Gray’s first novel, 1981’s Lanark, is one of the strangest and most memorable novels I’ve ever read. Part dystopian fantasy, part realist autofiction, part Kafkaesque anti-quest, and part Künstlerroman, Lanark deconstructs the traditional novel, braiding multiple narratives into a complex, sharp, satirical epic.

super

Lanark included original artwork by Gray, a trend that would continue over the course of his career as a novelist. Gray was trained as a muralist, and if I ever make it to Glasgow I plan to see his murals.

omworldcrop

Gray’s art of course adorns his follow-up to Lanark, 1984’s 1982, Janine, a challenging novel of debauchery. 1982, Janine is conceptually, formally, and typographically challenging, a kind of answer to Finnegans Wake, and like Joyce’s big weird fun hard novel, Gray’s sophomore jaunt is a jam I return to again and again without the hope of truly ever finishing. 1982, Janine also has the best blurb I think I’ve ever read—you can watch Gray read it in this 1993 STV documentary about Gray (around 15:34)—

The Gray Matter also features Gray discussing his novels and reading from them, as well as his art. It makes a neat primer to the Gray’s work, and while I’m no expert—just a big fan of those first two novels and his art, to be clear—I think it does a nice job of letting the artist speak about his art.

I’ll close by reiterating that Lanark has stuck with me in a way that most novels don’t. It might seem a daunting read at nearly 600 pages (not to mention its four-book structure, which begins with Book Three before going to Books One and Two and then concluding with Four—and, oh the books are formally/stylistically varied)—but Lanark might be the cult novel you’ve been missing from your life.

140

 

25 still frames from Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

64 (393)01 (522)03 (521)05 (522)08 (522)20 (532)21 (532)24 (532)25 (532)26 (532)27 (532)28 (531)30 (531)31 (528)32 (530)37 (529)43 (522)53 (498)54 (494)56 (484)58 (479)59 (475)62 (434)63 (410)65 (357)

From Jackie Brown, 1997. Directed by Quentin Tarantino with cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. Via Film Grab. RIP Robert Forster.