BOMB’s Greatest Hits is a new archeological project that unearths the best of the BOMB archive from the past 30 years.
Some of the best interviews split down the middle of the Q and the A for something less tiered and more along the lines of the talk that happens when the yard work’s all done and the lawn chairs are out. Back in 2002 Jonathan Safran Foer sat down with Jeffrey Eugenides while he was working on Middlesex. Somewhere in the tug and pull between the young Foer, whose career has again leveled up with a screen adaptation of one of his books (this time Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and his former professor Eugenides, who had similar luck after his first book The Virgin Suicides, they come around to the question old enough to make them both seem young: How do you balance a lit tendency with everything else?
Jonathan Safran Foer It’s been an awfully long time since we last spoke. Four years? And it’s been a long time since the reading world last got new material from you. About seven years? What’s been going on?
Jeffrey Eugenides I’ve been writing a book.
JSF Have you been happy?
JE I’ve been absorbed.
JSF One of my biggest problems as a writer is that I get tired of what I’m working on. Or rather, I feel that a project can’t keep up with how I think about writing and how I think about the world. How were you able to commit yourself to one story for such a long period? And how did the passage of time influence what you were writing?
JE Well, one of the hardest things about writing Middlesex was trying to stay true to the original impulse. I felt young when I began the book but something more like middle-aged by the time I finished it. All sorts of life-altering things happened to me while I was writing it, too. My father died in a plane crash. I became a father myself. William H. Gass says it’s difficult writing a long book because as you go along, you get better, and then you have to go back and try to bring the rest of the book up to the same level. I did a lot of that. I obsessively went back and reworked the early parts of the book. Even so, I made sure the later chapters had the same voice and spirit as the early chapters.
JSF And what about fatigue when writing? How’d you deal with that?
JE My fatigue was alleviated by the structure. Nearly every chapter of Middlesex takes on new historical or emotional terrain. Once I was finished dealing with the Greco-Turkish War, I had to summon up Detroit during Prohibition, and then later I launched into genetic and sexological concerns. Middlesex has lots of different storylines in it, so when I had done all I could with one I could refresh myself with another. The book allowed me to grow along with it. But there was pain, sure. There was lots of pain.
There must have been some kind of perverse comfort, too. I had this torture waiting for me every day, but at least it was my torture. The book was my jailer and we became friendly. I was like Patty Hearst with her Stockholm Syndrome. Little by little the book expanded to fill every inch of my consciousness. It lasted as long as the Trojan War. But I didn’t want to be Harold Brodkey. I knew before things got really ridiculous I had to set sail for home.
JSF Along these lines, Middlesex strikes me as a book that begins as a fairy tale (albeit a violent, racy, political fairy tale) and develops into a coming-of-age story. You have a daughter. Do you think the development of the style was influenced by her development?
JE My daughter was born midway through the composition of Middlesex. Her influence shows up in the plot, not the style. There’s a preoccupation with birth and fetal development in the book. There’s a lot about what women go through during pregnancy, and how beside the point men feel in the process. I see my daughter’s fingerprints in those details, but the book took shape long before she arrived on the scene.
Béla Tarr, like other self-aware artists, confesses he has been making the same film over and over his entire career. But the similarities of his deliberately paced and starkly lit Old Testament narratives are not in the intellectualizing of cosmic dilemmas, but instead, in how they are absorbed through the finer details, gestures, and rhythms that Tarr feels are at the heart of cinematic language. At 2011’s Cannes Film Festival, the director announced The Turin Horse would be his final film. To honor Tarr’s retirement, from his 1977 debut when he was only 22, to the most recent Nietzchean film, sans Nietzche, Lincoln Center Film Society will be presenting a retrospective of the Hungarian director’s body of work in February. In the same spirit, we’ve dug up an interview from 2006 when Fionn Meade talked with Tarr over the phone as he was wrapping up The Man From London.
Fionn Meade You are in the process of finishing The Man From London. How is it going?
Béla Tarr We will finish shooting soon. We shot the first period in 2005; that was nine days in Bastia. Then in March 2006, we shot for eight days in Hungary. We will finish the movie, with 23 total shooting days, in Bastia.
FM The film has an unusual history; you had to overcome a lot of difficulties to make it.
BT Yes. Our French co-producer, Humbert Balsan, committed suicide just before filming began, which was terrible. He was a real friend of mine, and you know that if somebody commits suicide, it’s always a kind of betrayal. Also, his company wasn’t able to fulfill the production work. The bank stopped the cash flow. We had to reorganize. Then a new co-producer, another Frenchman who produced Werckmeister Harmonies, came on board, and he’s doing the French production work.
FM But the chances are good that it will show at Cannes in May?
BT I want to be ready. I promised the producers, the investors, and my friend Humbert who died; he wanted to show this movie in Cannes. I want to dedicate this movie to him and his memory. He was the first producer in my life who wasn’t a kind of enemy. The relationship between the director and the producer is always something of a fight, but I must say I never fought with him. I trusted him and he trusted me.
FM The film is also unusual in that your frequent collaborator, the novelist László Krasznahorkai, did work on the script, but it is based on the novel L’Homme de Londres by Georges Simenon.
BT It’s a long story as to how I found this project. It was after the 1994 Satan’s Tango screening at the New York Film Festival. I got a letter from an American producer who wanted to work with me; he had sent a script that I really didn’t like, and I refused immediately. But he had another idea, a short story by Heinrich von Kleist, and I liked that very much, but it was an incredibly expensive project, so I proposed this Simenon story to him. I remembered only the atmosphere of the story from reading it nearly 25 years ago. It is a kind of film noir, really. I proposed it to him, and he bought the rights to the option. Afterward he left the production, but the story stayed.
In 1995, Lisa Yuskavage (a boundary-pushing art mogul in her own right) interviewed the inimitable Chuck Close. The pair discussed Close’s dot-grid constructions, his breadcrumb trail, and his fraught relationship to the human face. What emerges most clearly from their banter, though, is a fertile ground between the experiences of creating and viewing Close’s work, which has since been awarded, among many other honors, the National Medal of the Arts and an appearance on the Colbert Report.
Lisa Yuskavage I’m going to interview you like a shrink, let’s take this very psychoanalytically.
Chuck Close Twenty years of being shrunk. This should be good. Should I lie down?
LY No, face to face therapy only. So, what’s your ethnicity?
CC My family’s been in America for so many generations that no one is quite sure. It’s white, American, Midwestern, and probably English. “Close” in Old English is a road which turns around on itself and comes back out.
LY They call them circles here.
CC It’s not quite a circle. It’s a dead-end street with a turn-around, usually in English cities. Out on Long Island there are lots of closes. But we were just regular, poor, white-trash Americans.
LY Poor-white-trash is one of my favorite subjects!
CC We aspired to the middle-class. My father had an eighth-grade education; my mother studied to be a concert pianist after high school, during the Depression. But there wasn’t anything to do with that skill. We didn’t actually throw beer cans out of our trailer windows but everyone around us did. We were the aristocracy of the trailer court. (Just joking—we didn’t actually live in a trailer court.)
LY Last time I was here you mentioned your dyslexia and your difficulty in recognizing faces. That has added another layer to your obsession with painting portraits.
CC What did you come up with?
LY You’ve said we work from our weaknesses. And I thought, “Well of course! You’re obsessed by things that you can’t do.” Your work is a combination of what you do really well and what you struggle with.
CC My art has been greatly influenced by having a brain that sees, thinks, and accesses information very differently from other people’s. I was not conscious of making a decision to paint portraits because I have difficulty recognizing faces. That occurred to me twenty years after the fact when I looked at why I was still painting portraits, why that still had urgency for me. I began to realize that it has sustained me for so long because I have difficulty in recognizing faces. Maybe I should say something about the nature of this affliction: I could spend an evening having dinner with someone, stare at their face, be incredibly interested in everything they say, and the next day, be able to remember all kinds of things they had told me. But, if I were to see that person on the street I’d have no idea that I’d ever seen them before in my life. But I can remember things that are flat, which is why I use photography as the source for the paintings. With photography, I can memorize a face. Painting is the perfect medium and photography is the perfect source, because they have already translated three dimensions into something flat. I can just affect the translation.
Some might argue that Christopher Guest’s rise to fame was as a member of a satirical heavy metal outfit—which is true to some extent. However, in this classic interview from 1989, Guest makes sure to note that he has already been “in show business for about 20 years,” hinting at a certain frustration that his pre-Spinal Tap work has been upstaged. In his conversation with Lynn Geller, Guest gives a brief glimpse into his life as a multi-faceted “entertainer,” as well as his subtle criticisms of, or perhaps matured tastes towards, comedy.
As much as Guest might want to steer conversation away from the 1984 landmark that permanently placed Nigel Tufnel and his crew on the long, hard road to Columbus, OH, the film hasn’t gone anywhere in the 22 years since this interview. The Brooklyn Academy of Music is screening This is Spinal Tap this weekend on 11/11/11, at 11pm, because, of course, 11 is one louder. It’ll be worth it to give them some money, as the Tap themselves will be beamed in via Skype to impart the wisdom of the Flower People.
Christopher Guest I have a problem with the word, “just”. There’s something so glib about that idea, like what are you talking about? Just kick heroin?
Lynn Geller Maybe because it has nothing to do with reality and that’s also true about a lot of movies that purport to be sociologically accurate. It’s like you can hear the story conference while you’re watching; “No, too downbeat, not enough drama, pep it up.”
CG Again, the more money spent, the more involvement of all kinds of people and the more they have to protect. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an expensive comedy that works for me. There’s something inherently wrong with spending over 20 million dollars on a comedy, something starts to get not funny very quickly—you lose your spontaneity. You lose that sense of we’re just gonna go out and do what we do, which is what makes people laugh, because there’s suddenly a lot of people in Armani jackets telling you what to do. It’s not about money or big jokes, it’s really about something that needs to be fairly contained.
LG I feel really sad about the direction the culture is going in, but I guess we should feel happy about the exceptions to the rule, like your movie and some of the independents we talked about.
CG You know, there are probably 10,000 people out here who say to themselves every day, “I’m a really good actor, how come I’m not on a television show? I’m funnier than Arsenio Hall.” Whether or not they are or aren’t is really irrelevant. I’m playing devil’s advocate, but it’s like I’m lucky I have some forums for my work. I’m working on a project with Marty Short for Reiner’s company which I’m writing with Joe Flaherty from Second City and Marty and I get to play every part in the movie, the most surreal, weird people, about 30 apiece.
When I started working on the Lampoon most of the other guys were older than me and a lot of them had a certain anger. There’s always the feeling in comedy that “I’m much funnier than anyone else; how can you think anybody else is funny?” When you let go of that attitude and think, “I don’t care, if you think I’m funny, great,” you’re much better off. The classic thing was when someone came up to Rob Reiner and said, “Mr. Reiner, I think All In the Family is great.” And he said, “Thank you.” Then the guy went on and said, “Yeah, that and The Beverly Hillbillies are my two favorite shows.” Or people will say, “Boy, Spinal Tap, that and the new Scott Baio movie changed my life.” It’s irrelevant. There are people making two million dollars who I don’t think are funny. But that’s ok. I’m not going to waste my time being angry about it. It’s juvenile to think, “How can you be spreading your attention around when I need all of it?”
LG A friend of mine was saying recently that he hates standup comics because he feels like the comedians are really saying, “Laugh or I’ll kill you.”
CG Well, there’s desperation. It’s an awful love/hate thing, a paradox and it’s very delicate. When you get older you realize by loosening up, by letting go a little bit, that’s what makes you more accessible; that by actually throwing it away, it gets funnier and people are more attracted to that than a wall you create. But I see that attitude a lot.
LG Did you ever have that attitude?
CG I think I did in my twenties, that elitism. I was never a standup, but I definitely thought how could someone find me funny and like Silver Spoons—what could he/she be thinking? But basically, who cares, you know? Now I feel, that’s that; I’m me.
If you were lucky enough to attend Elizabeth Murray’s retrospective at MoMa in 2006, you know that Murray’s shaped paintings are some of the most vivid, personable, and energetic works of our time. Simply put, they are human paintings: think teacups, funky color palettes, and canvas shapes that swoop, bounce, and curve.
In this richly illuminative 1998 interview, Jessica Hagedorn sits down to talk with Murray in the artist’s New York City loft apartment. Over hot coffee and breakfast, the artists discuss Murray’s artistic process, feminism in painting, and viewers’ tendency to generalize about Murray’s work. She states, “Hopefully, our work can pop out of the package that people want to keep it in.”
Though Murray passed away in 2007, her work continues to inspire and influence artists everywhere.
JH Why do you love to paint? Is it the sheer physical experience, the squish of color on a palette?
EM It’s something about the immediacy of moving your hand with this paintbrush full of a color across this surface and watching what you’re doing change right in front of your eyes. You can see the world changing and you’re in control, or not in control, which is where the frustrating elements come in, especially for an adult. Kids just do it. They make their mark and it’s immediate, they’re not judging themselves constantly. I remember something that happened when I was three years old that was fundamental. I was at a nursery school and the teacher sat me down to color with him. He took a big piece of paper and a big red crayon and he started to color, and I watched him go from the corner of the page coloring the whole page red, and I remember thinking, Wow, that is so incredible. Then I took a paper and the red crayon and I started to color with it, and it didn’t go as fast as it did with him, and I realized that there was some kind of challenge there. That was really intriguing to me, and I’ve often thought about that, a key fascination with the physicality of a surface being covered with a color. That transformation. There is no question that the physicality of the making is very intense for me. Did you ever read the biography of Genet by Edmund White?
JH No, I’ve read Genet, but not his biography.
EM Oh, he’s always been one of my favorite writers. He’s such a beautiful, physical writer. When someone asked him why he became a writer he said, “Well, I started writing when I was in prison when I was twenty, but I became a writer when I was five or six years old, and things happened in my life that were so perturbing that I just had to spend the rest of my life trying to figure them out.” That nails it right on the head. Whatever medium you choose, there’s something back there you have to sort out.
JH Do you ever paint for years and years on the same painting?
EM No, I’ve never done that. I love the idea. I know painters who do that. I would say the most time I’ve worked on a painting would be a year and a half. And that isn’t steady. I think the painting is finished, and I want to get out of it, but I’ll come back a couple of months later and realize there is something in the painting that nags at me. So I go back into it again. And the moment you go back into it, you fuck the whole thing up. Sometimes you have to redo the whole thing. Some things are incredibly difficult to resolve. But once they are resolved, I don’t look at them anymore. I love to get rid of them. I don’t like to be around my own work once it’s actually finished. I want to get on to the next one.
JH You don’t have that attachment of, “Oh my god, I’ve got to hang on to this?”
EM No. I basically keep the painting that nobody else wants. Then later, they sometimes turn out to be the most interesting painting
In one word (maybe two), Patti Smith is simply badass. She was in the ‘70s, she continued to be in the ‘90s, and now, as she celebrates the opening of her new photography show, Camera Solo, and her critically acclaimed novel, Just Kids, her badass reign is more certain than ever. Why? She has an air of authenticity that no one else can come close to. The rock-and-roll she brings to poetry intensifies its meaning, and conversely, the way she brings poetry to her music is thrilling. In 1996, Smith spoke to Thurston Moore about her musical beginnings and New York, sprinkling the conversation with extraordinary anecdotes that could only ever come from the mother of rock-and-roll.
Thurston Moore What’s the first record you ever bought?
Patti Smith Shrimp Boats by Harry Belafonte, Patience and Prudence doing The Money Tree, and, embarrassingly enough, Neil Sedaka’s Climb Up. My mother bought me a box set of Madame Butterfly when I was sick. I always got great records when I was sick. I got Coltrane’s My Favorite Things. My mother was a counter waitress in a drugstore where they had a bargain bin of used records. One day she brought this record home and said, “I never heard of the fellow but he looks like somebody you’d like,” and it was Another Side of Bob Dylan. I loved him. You see, I had devoted so much of my girlish daydreams to Rimbaud. Rimbaud was like my boyfriend. If you’re 15 or 16 and you can’t get the boy you want, and you have to daydream about him all the time, what’s the difference if he’s a dead poet or a senior? At least Bob Dylan…it was a relief to daydream about somebody who was alive.
TM Did you ever see John Coltrane?
PS Yes. Once in Philly in ‘63 when My Favorite Things came out. There were two jazz clubs right next to each other, Pep’s and the Showboat. You had to be eighteen, so these people helped me get dressed up, trying to look older. I was basically a pigtails and sweatshirt kind of kid. So I got in for 15 minutes and saw him and then they carded me and kicked me out. He did “Nature Boy.” I was in such heaven seeing them, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner, that I wasn’t even disturbed that I got thrown out.
TM I suppose youth culture was very familiar with jazz at that time.
PS It was a small culture. Kids who were too young for the beat thing and too old for the Beatles got into jazz.
TM Do you remember your first guitar?
PS I saw this really old Martin in a pawn shop, it had a woven, colored strap and I loved it. I saved my money, but when I went back to get it it was gone. So I bought a little Martin. I didn’t know anything about tuning. I could never understand why my chords never sounded like the songs in my Bob Dylan song book. And then I met Sam Shepard and he showed me. He bought me this ‘30s black Gibson, which I still have. It’s the same kind of guitar Robert Johnson plays.
TM Are you aware of these bands which are referred to as “riot grrl” bands?
PS Now I know they exist but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Is it a positive thing?
TM Yeah, its main focus and agenda is the communication of self-help and social issues to young women. It’s a network and very band-oriented, fully inspired by punk rock.
PS Well, that’s heartening to know. I hope there’s lots of them.
TM When you guys would come out and say, “Fight the good fight,” I was 18 and I thought, “That’s cool, that sounds right, I’ll take that over the other.”
PS Well, we did one or two things right.
Any cinephile knows Bette Gordon as a pioneer of the New York film world. Making movies and short films since the the “No Wave Cinema” era in the ‘70s, she has won awards and shown at the Berlin International Film Festival, The Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney Biennial. Later on, her film Variety was screened at Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight, and Gordon was recently honored by Manhattan’s IFC Center. Gordon is also one of the original members and organizer of the first theater in TriBeCa, the Collective for Living Cinema. The theater was a place to show the avant garde work being created by Gordon and her peers. Today, Gordon supervises the directing program at Columbia University and continues to be the Professor of Film in the graduate division. In one of the rare moments that Gordon herself wasn’t interviewing someone else for BOMB, she spoke to her colleague at Columbia, Evangeline Morphos about Handsome Harry and the concepts that tie all of her films together.
EM The idea of voyeurism appears in a lot of your work. Your characters are intrigued by it but don’t want to get close to it. You’re constantly asking how to keep people at a distance and how to keep the dangerous parts of yourself at a distance. One of the most haunting images in the film is when Harry takes a woman who is clearly in love with him to a dance.They start to dance, and at first it’s so sexy, then Harry realizes he’s actually dancing with someone else in his head. He’s caught in a private moment. That was what was scary to many about method acting. Stanislavski says you have to learn to be private in public. Lee Strasberg would say a private moment is one where if someone else saw you, you would stop. Those moments reveal who we are. That’s why Variety is so haunting and dangerous.
BG Right, Variety is a film about voyeurism and the pleasure in looking. I used pornography as a backdrop to explore those themes in a noir-like story about a woman who looks back. In Variety, when the female character tries to relax while listening to an Indian meditation tape, she imagines the men she’s been following shaking hands. Women shaking hands doesn’t carry the same weight, the same meaning.
EM Like they say, “A handshake says a lot about a man.”
BG Variety was about a world of men, money, and lower Manhattan (laughter). Handsome Harry takes that idea further. The handshake became the hug and the pat on the back, this unspeakable and unbreakable bond of trust that guys have. I often feel like a visitor, a voyeur, when I watch that. I wanted to get closer, to see those faces, to smell, touch.
EM With films like Handsome Harry and The Hurt Locker, women are writing about men’s worlds. I remember there was a Kabuki master who was an artist in residence at Harvard who specialized in the great women’s roles. He believed that only a man could deliver the “essence” of a woman. A female actress will give the particulars—the way she might comb her hair or walk through a door—but a man thinks essentially, not specifically.
But back to Variety and its context, could you talk about the early days of independent cinema? You were there in New York when the worlds of visual arts and literature and film were intersecting. Variety and Luminous Motion are adaptations of really exciting experimental and dangerous novels.
BG Variety was controversial when it came out in 1983, not necessarily because of what it had to say about women and desire or because it used pornography to explore it, but more because I used pornography in a positive way. I also left the ending somewhat open, and that was controversial. I remember at the end of the Cannes Film festival, one French critic came up to me and said in French “There’s nothing to see.” I ended it on a dark street, with rain and a street lamp; the two characters who are supposed to meet never show up.
EM You related pornography to power.
BG Yes, and what it says about desire and fantasy. I was struggling with difference in my identity; my sense of myself as a woman didn’t always match my sexual fantasies. I wanted to put that out there. Christine becomes a detective of her own desire, a sleuth on the streets of lower Manhattan. Harry also becomes a detective of his own life, trying to comprehend and unravel the truth. People compare Variety to Vertigo, where Jimmy Stewart obsessively follows Kim Novak and he tries to remake her in the image of a previous incarnation of herself. Christine in Variety remakes herself instead.
BOMB’s Greatest Hits is a new archeological project that unearths the best of the BOMB archive from the past 30 years.
In 1994, singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding interviewed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. When they spoke, Murakami was just starting to attract attention for his use of uncanny literary devices and shockingly “American” pop-culture embroidery. The artists’ conversation works through the cultural and literary implications of Murakami’s fiction, and includes delightful digressions into Twin Peaks, Blade Runner, and Japanese jazz clubs.
In the seventeen-year interim between their interview and the present, Murakami has continued his prolific work and has received, among many other honors, the Franz Kafka Prize and the Jerusalem Prize. He has also published a book about his life as a compulsive marathoner, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The strange, fourth-dimension quality that pervades all of his work is given voice in this early interview: “I cannot remember my dreams,” Murakami said, “but I can create them.”
John Wesley Harding I read in one review that the big thing an English reader will miss in the translation is how shocking the Americanness of your books is.
Haruki Murakami Americans are different. Americans are strange because they don’t believe that we have Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s or Levi’s or Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen in Japan.
JWH You have it all.
HM We have it all. We grew up with those things. They think Dunkin’ Donuts and Coca Cola and Budweiser and Bob Dylan are their own.
JWH I have the impression that people over there got annoyed because what you were doing was not “Japanese.”
HM Yes. There is a very strong tradition of Japanese literature. They claim that the beauty of Japanese language and Japanese literature is special and only Japanese can understand it. Japaneseness, you could say. They say it does not travel. I think they might be right, because our culture and language are so different from the western ones. Haiku cannot be translated, that is true. But that is not all, that is not everything. I am Japanese and am writing a novel in Japanese, and, in that sense, I am different from you. But talking with you like this face to face, I don’t think I am so different from you. We have many things in common. What I want to say is, there should be other ways to convey Japaneseness. True, I am not exotic, but that doesn’t mean that I am not a Japanese novelist. When I’m describing the city of Tokyo, it is not the real Tokyo. It’s just a colorful city. I need very artificial, very strange, weird streets. That’s what I want, and yet they say it’s not realistic. About six years ago I wrote “Dunkin’ Donuts” kind of things; that helped me a lot to create kind of a Blade Runner place.
JWH Hard-Boiled Wonderland is very Blade Runner in a way, isn’t it?
HM It’s a nowhere city. And I needed that. But these days, I don’t need those kinds of things anymore. Because I can create my own world. Ten years ago I needed to get away from Japanese society, I wanted to get away from that tradition.
JWH But the themes of your books seem, to me, Japanese.
HM In The Elephant Vanishes, there is a story, “The Second Bakery Attack,” about a young couple. They are attacking a McDonald’s hamburger restaurant to feed their hunger. And they’re carrying a shotgun. But some American reader told me that is not an extraordinary thing in this country.
JWH Not at all. (laughter) It’s very normal.
HM But in Japan it’s very extraordinary. Nobody carries a shotgun. And nobody attacks McDonald’s. It’s a very strange story in Japan, but it’s not a strange story in this country.
In 1998, Susan Sherman sat down with Paul Muldoon and Yusef Komunyakaa to discuss poetic muses ranging from the nation to the opera-house, The Wasteland to the ostrich. These two poetic giants, each known for a unique geographic and stylistic approach to the page, are drawn together in this poignant, sprawling interview. As in their poems, the writers stretch beyond the self to probe and explore the other; their similarities and differences are drawn into sharp relief as they move through this dialogue.
Since their 1998 conversation, Muldoon and Komunyakaa have each published new collections and received numerous awards (including Muldoon’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize). Their work continues to draw deeply from the national and personal touchstones they discuss with each other here.
PM The great thing about writing poetry is that you don’t need much money. And if it fails, who cares? Nobody gives a hoot. Nothing has been lost if your new poem… (laughter) with a cast of thousands…
YK We don’t need a whole economic apparatus, do we? I still compose by pencil and paper, believe it or not. I do not, I can’t even think of anyone composing on the computer.
PM I compose on a computer.
YK You do?
PM When I started as a teenager, I always wrote straight onto a typewriter for the very simple reason that I wanted to know what it would look like published. The question of whether or not it would be published was completely irrelevant. I was interested, and still am, in the physical shape and the subliminal sense that shape conveys. We talked about the aural and oral traditions, which are extremely important, but then there’s also the operation between the page, the eye and the ear.
YK It’s the complete opposite for me. I love the idea of the pencil or pen pressed against the paper. The evolution of the brain has everything to do with the hand. I like the feel, the hand making, creating the letters.
In 1990, fledgling film-maker Jane Campion sat down to talk to Lynn Geller about Sweetie, her feature debut. In the interview, Campion describes an artistic process that ranges from dealing with a “stable” of ex-boyfriends to filming the “human-scape” of a gospel group.
When she spoke with Geller, Campion was just embarking on the career that would lead her to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and to become one of only four women to receive a nomination for Best Director. Jane Campion is definitely not in New Zealand anymore, and this interview reveals the lovers, neuroses, and Hunchback of Notre Dame behind her remarkable success.
Lynn Geller And what was the inspiration for your film Sweetie?
Jane Campion Its inspiration was the deep confusion, that both Gerard Lee, who co-wrote the script with me, and I had had about why our relationship didn’t work when we were in love. We battled away with it in a complete fog, not understanding why we felt like we loved each other and yet didn’t want to have sex, things like that were very confusing and disappointing.
LG Was this someone you were with for a long time?
JC I met him at film school and we were together for about three or four years. He’s a writer, you see, and we did a film together called Passionless Moments. It was my idea to approach him about it knowing the material was shared. If you live with a writer there’s the feeling that it belongs to both of you.
LG That’s so amazing—to be with an ex-boyfriend and then to be able to review your relationship in a fictional forum.
JC Yeah, it could be incredibly pretentious, as well. I’ve made a constant effort to make best friends with my ex-boyfriends—but you do have to make the effort to get over that first wounded area.
LG I’m friendly with most of my old boyfriends. The only time it’s a problem is when you have a new boyfriend, he’s usually a bit suspicious about all the old boyfriends hanging around.
JC Yes, my new one doesn’t like having to get to know them all. He’s not interested in being part of the stable, as he puts it.
—HR & AC
After playing L’il Bit in the 1997 opening of How I Learned to Drive, Mary Louise Parker sat down with Paula Vogel to discuss the playwright’s controversial work, philosophy of the theatrical process, and the “amorphous sexuality” of her productions. The interview illuminates the nature of Vogel’s work and voice: she is distinctively approachable, tough, and hilarious.
In 1998, Vogel won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and went on to fulfill several of the dreams she describes in this interview. She has since written The Long Christmas Ride Home and Civil War Christmas, and is currently the chair of the playwriting department at the Yale School of Drama.
PV Like it.
MLP Room service?
PV Love it.
MLP Hot dogs?
PV Like it.
MLP Sex outside?
PV Love it. I have only done it a couple of times.
MLP Any temperature preference?
PV I like spring, early spring. I like having evergreen needles as a cushion underneath.
PV I like doing it in forests.
MLP The beach gets a little funky.
PV Yeah, it reminds me of my senior prom, where I heard a girl scream down the beach, “Oh, it’s got sand on it!” (laughter) Which has become one of those comments which I think about when I eat hot dogs. Anyway…hot dogs sometimes I love, do you know what I mean? Sometimes you’ve got to have a hot dog.
—HR & AC
In 1992 Craig Lucas spoke with Edward Albee—the outspoken, irascible, and quick-witted playwright and poet—about his play Box/Mao/Box, his other works that had not yet made it to Broadway, and other reasons for him to be angry. Albee has gone on to write eight more plays, including a prequel to his first play, The Zoo Story.
CL One of the things that was very apparent to me in reading all the plays…and also hearing you talk at the Dramatists Guild…is the matter of control. You seem…to be very invested in…
EA Well, composers don’t let musicians play notes other than the ones that they’ve written, painters don’t let galleries hang their paintings upside down, why does it suddenly seem to be the playwrights who should let all sorts fuck around with their work.
CL I’m the same way, though maybe not to the same degree, in terms of putting the number of seconds for a pause.
EA These are things you learn from Chekhov and Beckett.
CL It’s very much like Beckett.
EA And I’ve talked to Beckett about this a lot…music and drama are so closely aligned…they’re both sound and silence; they’re about durations. And if you hear…what you write when you write it, you’re hearing duration. You’re hearing sound and silence. And therefore, it’s your responsibility to put it down. And I’ve also written endlessly about the ways composers and playwrights should notate…similarly…the difference between the duration of a comma and a semicolon and a period. And fast and slow, and loud and soft, and all, it’s the same as musical notation, because theater…one of the wonders of it…is it is a spoken, seen and heard, as well as literary form. It’s the only one that has all of them.
In 1997 Thomas Bolt spoke with author Donald Antrim—considered part of the tradition of tall, male, writers with glasses like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace—about his sense of humor, bad writing, and the unbroken narrative. Antrim has gone onto teach at NYU and Columbia while penning two more books the The Verificationist and The Afterlife: A Memoir.
TB A reader tends to sympathize with a narrator—and by the end of both of your books, that sympathy is in shreds. A way of making the reader conscious of how much he or she is willing to go along with?
DA First-person narrators often will, if well written and not too venal or stupid, hold our sympathy. I don’t think I was concerned with pushing the reader to her limits. Nothing like that. But I do like the idea of implicating a reader who feels an attraction to a narrator guilty of insensitivity and other narcissistic crimes.
TB I think that’s what reminded me of Hitchcock: a kind of complicity that gets more and more difficult to take.
DA That’s why the books are short.
TB There are just the two books to go on, but certain themes seem to be developing over them—trilogy or not. Atavism, atrocity, and the inability of our forms (cultural, civic, familial) to contain us as we really are.
DA Or as we really want to be. These narrators, though flawed, are deeply interested in their own humanity. Perhaps this is why they may seem likable. They’re trying, in misguided ways, to understand their lives, and to experience sensual pleasures, and to articulate emotion.
In 1995 Pinckney Benedict spoke with author Russell Banks about writers going corporate, the great feat of extrapolation, along with race, gender, and class issues. Russell Banks has since written three novels Cloudsplitter, The Reserve, and The Darling, which will be made into a feature film by Martin Scorcese.
Pinckney Benedict Not too long ago, you were joshing Joyce Carol Oates about how in her latest novel, What I Lived For, she knows so much.
Russell Banks Male underwear.
Pinckney Benedict Exactly. How does she know so much about men and mens’ sexual attitudes? (laughter) Her comment was that there’s this cultural knowledge that we all have . . . .
Russell Banks She’s one of my dearest pals, but she was avoiding the question. What I think happens is that fiction writers’ main gift is to extrapolate. It’s not just the ability to tell a story. Seeing her father’s shorts in the laundry at thirteen or fourteen—from that she could extrapolate the whole history of male sexuality. (laughter) The best fiction writers are the ones who can do that. Not the ones who spend their lives researching meat packing in Cairo, Illinois, but the ones who have the ability to take the tiniest clue, the tiniest piece of evidence, and from that read its history backwards and forwards in time. It’s like taking a tiny bit of DNA and creating a dinosaur; it’s like Jurassic Park.
In 1989 Mimi Thompson spoke with artist Roni Horn about objects, nature, and circumstance. Roni has received countless awards, fellowships and has been featured in the: Tate Modern, MoMa, Whitney Museum of American Art and the Venice Biennale.
Mimi Thompson How did you end up choosing Iceland as a place to go?
Roni Horn It’s a question that I’m always asked and I don’t have a real answer for it. I once looked Iceland up in the dictionary and it fell between ice hockey and ice skating. That’s pretty much as controlled a choice as I made. But having gone there, there evolved a relationship that I couldn’t separate myself from. Each time I’d go, there would be engendered the idea to go back and back and back. I guess the real reason is the relationship to yourself that is possible in a place like that. There’s nothing mediating it. There is nothing to obscure or make more complex a perception or a presence.
MT And yet it’s highly dramatic.
RH The drama comes from its youth. The landscape is unique in that the geology is very young. It’s like a labyrinth in the definitive sense. It’s big enough to get lost in, but small enough to find yourself. There is little erosion and, as a result, unexpected symmetries exist in unexpected places. America has everything Iceland has, but it’s ten thousand, twenty thousand, one hundred thousand years older, depending on where you look. Growing up in a very “old” landscape—New York City—it’s origins are secreted from the present. I mean that the geological aspect of the landscape in New York City can only be experienced theoretically at this point. In Iceland, you understand empirically exactly what this place is: its what and how. That accessibility effects the nature of one’s experience, the experience of the world. Any place you’re going to stand in, in any given moment, is a complement to the rest of the world, historically and empirically. What you can see in that moment, what you can touch in that moment, is confluent with everything else.
In 2004 Rone Shevers chatted with Percival Everett about how art is not democratic, Alice Walker’s condescension toward race, how style isn’t real, and this world is made for people who like to complain. Everett is a prolific author and in the past seven years has written two more novels The Water Cure and I am not Sidney Potier: A Novel; along with two poetry collections: re:f (gesture) and Swimming, Swimmers, Swimming.
Percival Everett Oprah should stay the fuck out of literature and stop pretending she knows anything about it, in the same way that people should stop giving any credence to book reviews on Amazon.com. And people should get educated so they can read all sorts of things and have their lives and society become richer. Walt Whitman in By Blue Ontario’s Shore writes, “Produce great Persons, the rest follows.” You produce better people by having smarter people.
In 1994 Ron Rifkin spoke with great American playwright Arthur Miller. The Pulitzer Prize winning author of: All My Sons (1947), The Crucible (1949), and (1953) Death of a Salesman discusses: family, memory, the rising cost of theater tickers, and the subconscious process of writing. Before passing away in 2005 Miller wrote three more plays: Mr. Peter’s Collections (1998), Resurrection Blues (2002), and Finishing the Picture (2004).
RR I understand. When I read the part of Philip Gelburg—I knew I’m nothing like this guy. Except I’m everything like this guy. I knew I could be this guy. How did Philip Gelburg, come out of you? Who is he?
AM First of all there is no “he” or “him,” not in the normal sense anyway. A dramatic character is actually a relationship first and foremost, a response to other ‘characters’ and to the theme and drift of events. I knew such a man many years ago, but what did I know?—that he always wore black even as a young guy. Go make a ‘character’ out of a suit. But the suit had suggestive implications, and the superior way he grinned, and what one knew was the terror behind the suit and the grin, and so on. So you begin to account for the terror, which is deeply disguised, and pretty soon ‘he’ is talking to his wife who, as it happens, has lost her ability to walk…and so on. Actually, the initial image, the dramatic energy-source is the image of this woman, crippled without a mark on her. Like most of us who show no marks. In her, it seemed to me, was the image of the world denying itself, its holy life, a life from which at first she is attempting to resign, but in the end won’t let her go. There is no “he” or “she” in the ordinary way we perceive individuals; there is a relationship-for-two.
In 1983 Mark Magill surveyed the late author Kathy Acker, making for a candid, bizarre, and classic BOMB interview. Since then Acker has published over 15 works including Blood and Guts in High School and is posthumously recognized as a punk-feminist icon. In 2007 she was subject of the biographic documentary Who’s Afraid of Kathy Acker? directed by Barbara Casper.
1. When were you born?
Kathy Acker 1947
3. Where were you born?
4. Name of Parents:
KA Something Lehmann and Claire Weill
5. Why were you born? a.) Plan b.) Accident c.) Neither
KA My mother was scared to have an abortion.
6. Any brothers or sisters?
KA One half sister
7. Parents professions:
KA Mother—none. I never knew my father. His family owned Wildroot Cream Oil among other properties (no sobriety here).
In 1997 Patrick McGrath spoke with playwright and actor Wallace Shawn about middle-class greed, morality, and politics in his plays The Designated Mourner and The Fever. Since then you might recognize Shawn as Blair Waldorf’s Stepfather, Cyrus Rose, on Gossip Girl or the voice of Rex in Toy Story. In 2004 two of his plays The Fever and Marie and Bruce were made into films and in 2009 he published Essays, a non-fiction collection of Shawn’s political views.
Wallace Shawn Yes, I felt that morality was about the favors that the powerful were going to do for the weak, and it was based on the assumption that the weak would just wait happily for whatever favors the powerful wanted to pass along to them. But why should the poor and the weak wait for the rich and the powerful to do them favors? Why shouldn’t they just take what’s rightfully theirs? Quite honestly, the rich and the privileged rarely get around to doing anyone favors. They couldn’t give the poor a fair share because if they did they wouldn’t be rich and privileged anymore! Everyone knows they’ll never give them a fair share, but they actually won’t even give them a little crumb! Morality for the poor means, we may be trampling on you but don’t stick pins in our feet. That’s not nice. It’s immoral. And morality for the rich means, give them a crumb and when you’re trampling on them wear rubber-soled shoes.