Circle Mirror Transformation - A Baroque Continuo Harpsichord
Saturday, October 01, 2011
As I watched the action (Granville Island Stage) of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation
on opening night on Wednesday I had special inside information that helped me understand the goings on. That special inside information was being present, the day before, during the interview of my friend John Lekich with the play's director Nicola Cavendish.
It was the kind of interview, almost an hour long that good magazines (and newspapers, too!) of yore might at one time published for the delight of theatre goers who want more than plain pap.
Hard-pressed local art papers say they cannot afford to do both previews and reviews of plays, concerts, operas and dance performances. They dispatch their overworked critics to either one or the other.
Circle Mirror Transformation
is the kind of play that would have been better understood had it had the preview that John Lekich could have written. He was limited to his fine guest blog
What Nicola Cavendish did say was that the young playwright, Annie Baker (30) had delivered a sparse 160 pages of script that had little information on the background of the characters and little information on how they might have to be directed.
When she said this it reminded me of the continuo parts for harpsichord, cello and bass that I have learned to love from Early Music Vancouver
and Pacific Baroque Orchestra
performances. In particular I would cite the harpsichord playing by Alex Weimann
(Musical Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and frequent performer for Early Music). Weimann has explained in pre-concert talks how in the notation by 17th and early 18th century composers there is little for the continuo player (the background music played by the instruments I noted above) to figure out, as little is indicated. These players are forced to embellish, extrapolate, and improvise what is not written. This means that rarely are these concert performances exactly alike from one day to the next. Look at it as baroque jazz!
In many respects Cavendish said that the five actors (Alex Diakun, Emilee-Julliette Glyn-Jones, Brian Linds, Donna White and Anita Wittenberg) have to improvise and or receive direction. They must trust and depend on the director.
Here is where subtlety plays its hand.
It was just a few days ago that Rosemary and I watched The Journey
, Anatole Litvak’s 1959 film featuring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr set in the Russian intervention of Hungary in 1956. At one point the hated Russian officer, prancing in his beautiful black horse in the streets of Budapest is accosted by freedom fighters that shoot his horse in the leg.
The despondent and confused Brynner (Who wouldn’t’be in the presence of Deborah Kerr?) says, “I am a soldier taught to kill men and I cannot even shoot my horse.” He then gives his pistol to a young officer.and tells him to shoot the horse. At that point Rosemary got up as she is not the type who winces on any kind of film violence.
I asked her to stay as the director wisely just allowed us to hear two shots. We saw no horse. This subtlety was much more crushing and the scene between Brynner and Kerr, which happens immediately after is devastatingly wonderful.
Subtlety is not a strong spade in modern film or anything else. But Circle Mirror Transformation
contains subtlety and if you watch the body language of the actors, and their faces, you can figure out what they are thinking in this play about four people who attend drama classes in a community centre in a small Vermont town. At a base level the play is funny but there is much more to it.
Watching the performers going through quick scenes that sometimes seemed abrupt finally made me realize that this play, much like a baroque harpsichord score, made it necessary for the audience to fill in the missing pieces. And it is this very procedure that makesCircle Mirror Transformatio not a play you just sit to watch, but one in which you (the audience) are part of the creation being explored on stage.
The other charm of the play came to me only because recently John Lekich and I attended a rehearsal of a young playwright’s (Bronwen Marsden) play called Three Sisters in Langley
. Before the four actors began the rehearsal they formed a circle (much like in the class of Circle Mirror Transformation) and began to shout at each other, push each other and some of them even sang. I was most confused until Lekich told me this was standard warm-up procedure. Would anybody know this? Thus the weird shenanigans that drama teacher Marty (Donna White) forces on her amazed and confused students rang true for me.
Circle Mirror Transformation continues at the Granville Island Stage until to October 22
The Great Yellow Father & Licking A Canadian Stamp
Friday, September 30, 2011
Sometimes when I sit with Rosemary with a cup of soup in our laps while watching a bit of CNN or Turner Classics Movies on the TV, I glance at her face and I see signs of anguish. I ask her, “Rosemary are you okay?” Her answer is usually something like, “I am disturbed because I didn’t accomplish all I planned to do today (she writes her game plan in a little notebook every day)." While I can sympathize with her I do feel a level of relief that she does not have to share my own personal anguish in which so many of the granite mountains of my life have turned to dust.
I have lived through dictatorships that became democracies that became military juntas. I have lived in one-party rules, flown in DC-3s and experienced with my own eyes real (young and beautiful) gum chewing real McCoy Pan American World Airways stewardesses while in a cabin of a beautiful Lockheed Super-Constellation. I remember the thrill of balancing a Kennedy Dollar on its edge on a table tray of a De Havilland Comet 4-C just to prove how vibration-less and smooth a jet airliner could be.
I have watched the Milky Way & the Southern Cross while riding in the back of a Studebaker pickup truck.
I remember driving through the flat desert in Coahuila, Mexico (I was a minor without a license) a 1956 Chrysler Imperial with a pushbutton Torqueflite transmission. I remember how I would purposely sit on the rear bumper of a 1955 Packard (also in Coahuila) that had some sort of electric leveling suspension. As soon as I sat the car would whirr downwards then whirr upwards and then level itself. Its owner would come out shouting at me that I was going to wear out the car’s battery.
I remember, not to long ago licking the back of a Canadian stamp.
And now I read of the possible bankruptcy of Kodak the erstwhile Great Yellow Father that did no wrong and could do no wrong.
|George Eastman, 1857. tintype|
When I first started shooting photographs in Vancouver in 1975 I soon became competitive because of m adoption of the then new lighting technology. I began to use small 2x3 softboxes when the competition was using umbrellas. My kind of lighting was in demand because few used those devices.
I remember slapping on a Polaroid back to my medium format Mamiya RB-67 and watching the eyes of my subjects bulge when I produced a b+w print for them to take home in exactly 30 minutes (as long as it was 20 degrees Celsius) or a colour one after one minute (as long as it was 20 degrees Celsius).
The softboxes are now just about as ubiquitous as the instant replay on the back of digital cameras.
I recently received an admiring email from an American photographer who told me he liked my cowboy photographs and that he uses a Canon 7D to take “pics”.
It seems to me that my world began to collapse as soon as that term pics became the fashion as well as the demise of “taking or snapping” photographs and their replacement by the clinical sounding capture.
As I contemplate in what seems to be the unstoppable demise of Kodak and as it readies to meet its maker and be company with rusting DeSotos, Studebakers, Packards, Ramblers, Pontiac Venturas, Borgward Isabellas, Oldsmobile Achievas, and Mercury Turnpike Cruisers, I wonder what kind of expression my wife Rosemary might discern on my face as we sit watching CNN or the Turner Classics Movie channel while sipping a cup of soup.
Modern English in Kodak Technical Pan
Morelia, bolillos, tortas and Kodak-Tri-X
Kodak Ektachrome 100G & a Norman 200b
Kodak Plus-X 220 R.I.P
Kodak b+w Infrared and a post-literate moment with a ghost
Peter C.Newman's Eyebrows & 101 Uses For A Severed ...
Thursday, September 29, 2011
This story really began in 1987 but it’s best that I get the bits and pieces out of the way first. These all happened in February 1992 at Duthies on 10th Avenue. I had been invited for a book launch. The book in question was a series of cartoon/illustration whose book title was 101 Uses for a Severed Penis
. The author of these illustration was and is (and most brilliant
) Dan Murphy. The book was published by Serious Fun Enterprises
(a pair of not so usual suspects called Anne Garber and John T.D. Keyes). I remember one illustration from the book that featured what I think might have been an American style bicycle with a kick stand that was…and I am sure have guessed that!
Catering included bread that had been baked to resemble, fairly anatomically correct “you-know-whats”.
But there is one singular event in that book launch that has inspired me to launch today’s blog. I ran into an older man wearing a Greek Captain’s Hat. At the time there were only two men of note in Vancouver who wore these. One of them was artist Tony Onley and the other… The man while familiar looked different so I stared at him. He stared back, and fingering one of his eyebrows, he said, “I now have them done professionally.”
In early 1987 my photography business was quite exciting as I was working for all kinds of very good magazines. But there was one that had never contacted me. It was the then supreme in Canada, Saturday Night
. I had sent queries but never received any responses.
But one morning I received a call from Saturday Night art director Bruce Ramsay. It seems that they were preparing an issue which was celebrating the magazine’s 100th anniversary. I was to photograph Peter C. Newman to illustrate his essay on how Canadians perceive water.
I made my appointment with Newman and he cited me to his tug boat/home somewhere near Victoria. He had obtained a zodiac inflatable boat equipped with an Evinrude outboard. It was my task (I really do not remember now who came up with this crazy idea) to steer the boat with my legs while holding my largish medium format Mamiya RB-67 tethered to a Norman 200B flash while Newman, at the bow picked water with his open hand.
While doing this, Newman would say, “Stop,” and then he would fish out of his shirt pocket a little brush. He would brush his eyebrows and ask me how they looked. Just as soon as the brush was in the pocket the eyebrows would return to their original wild condition. I commented to Newman that he and Brooke Shields had eyebrows in common. He smiled.
Ramsay was extremely happy with the pictures but is still escapes me why he picked a picture where Newman’s eyes are closed. The particular issue of Saturday Night
came to be known as The Tombstone because of the gray cover. And there was something else Bruce Ramsay told me that cheered me up but not all that much. It seems I was not his original choice. He had selected Annie Leibovitz but she had turned him down.
On Tuesday Rebecca and I went to the Norman Annette Rosthein Centre to see The Light in the Piazza
. During the intermission we explored a used book bin out in the lobby. There were books from $1.00 to $7.00. The only $7.00 book was a pristine and very large hardcover, Peter C. Newman’s Titans: How the New Canadian Establishment Seized Power (published in 1998). I opened the book and a card fell out. I have tried to find the person who signed the short missive to someone called Robert. Would this Robert have received Titans and the card, featuring some lovely English Iris illustrations, was left in the book or could the card have been used by Robert to bookmark Titans but was given some other book as an apology for a late sent profile? I will never know..
When I opened my copy of the 100th anniversary edition of Saturday Night I happened to look at the masthead. I would have never known that the anniversary issue editor, Gary Ross would be someone I would meet many years later. He is now the editor of Vancouver Magazine
. And Peter C. Newman and I would cross paths many times after that 1987 date. ln 1996 both our names were on the cover on a picture book about Vancouver, Vancouver -The Art Of Living Well
Reunions, Transformations & An Overdue Love Letter
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Reunions, Transformations and an Overdue Love Letter
Guest Blog by John Lekich
Alex and I are on our way to meet veteran actor, director and playwright Nicola Cavendish at the Arts Club. We are doing this because Cavendish has directed a play called Circle Mirror Transformation, currently running at the Arts Club on Granville Island. With a cast that includes such venerable local actors as Alex Diakun and Donna White, it shows every sign of being a success.
Beyond that, any chance to enjoy the pleasure of Nicola Cavendish’s company is not to be missed. And, for me at least, it’s been far too long.
One other thing before we get too deeply into this. If you don’t like love letters, stop reading now.
I first interviewed Cavendish almost twenty years ago. It was for the kind of magazine that doesn’t exist here anymore. The result was a long, thoughtful interview that continues to linger in my memory. Cavendish is one of those rare people who approaches any question as if it’s a welcome opportunity for self-exploration. It’s as if the right conversation can lead to something both mysterious and valuable.
All these years later, Alex and I are sitting on a bench on Granville Island. It’s a bracing September afternoon and we’ve managed to find a parking space right next to the theatre. The sun breaks out from behind a gray-streaked cloud “Wait till you see those eyes,” I tell him.
I’m excited by the thought of Alex taking Nicola’s portrait. Over the years, he’s worked with just about every noteworthy artist in Vancouver. Oddly, he’s never taken Cavendish’s picture. I tell him that – like Lillian Gish or Mabel Normand – she has the eyes of a silent film star. When she starts talking you just want her to keep on going. But she doesn’t need words to convey feeling.
When we meet in her dressing room, she’s wearing a shawl-collared sweater that looks as if it’s made out of coarsely woven straw. Her shoes are multi-coulored and appear hand-painted. It gives her the look of someone who’d open the door to needy strangers on the countryside. The kind of woman who’d hug Hansel and Gretel after kicking the wicked witch’s ass.
As we talk, she acknowledges a certain weariness. She has recently suffered a deeply personal loss. In part, she’s directed Circle Mirror Transformation– about the revelations that occur in an adult creative drama class – to occupy her attention and encourage a measure of solace.
And then something wonderful happens. When she begins talking about the things she loves, the weariness fades to reveal a fierce curiosity about the way things work.
As a director, she wants to “help turn those black and white words on a page into fully-rounded human beings.” On the other hand, she feels that actors don’t rely nearly enough on their own instincts. “I think it’s a director’s job to try and get them to do that,” she says.
The conversation takes various turns. She grins when I tell her that I consider her bizarrely captivating role in The Grocer’s Wife to be the most erotic performance I’ve ever seen in a Canadian film. After a while, she recalls working with Tennessee Williams and the tender way he told her that he’d always depended on the kindness of strangers.
When it’s time to leave, she looks at the both of us and says: “If there’s anything I can ever do.” I want to tell her that she’s done more than enough by opening her heart so fully over the years. I don’t. But I have every hope that she understands anyway.
John Lekich on Lillian Gish
The Light In The Piazza & Mummy's Girl
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being
Guest Blog: Rebecca Anne Stewart, 14
Review of The Night at the Piazza, performance, Sept 27, 2011
|Samantha Hill & Rebecca Stewart|
Like my mother, I have never been a true fan of musicals. It could be because the first musical I saw was the ever so raved about Mama Mia!
where even Meryl Streep and Colin Firth could not save the movie. Something about The Light In The Piazza
made me change my mind about musicals. It was so realistic in the sense that I could put myself in the position of Clara, portrayed by the delicate Elfin-like Samantha Hill. Samantha perfectly demonstrated the maturing of Clara, turning from a sweet, innocent mummy's girl to a girl who realized the importance of freedom and finding her voice.
What really stole the show was the performance by Katey Wright, who played Clara's neurotic and over-protective mother. Her performance was relatable because I too have problems with over protective family members. Though Miss Wright's character was over protective, you could see that she was a mother who only wanted what's best for her daughter and struggled with problems between her and her husband. The last song (Fable) Miss Wright sang made my eyes well up with tears. She sang about letting her daughter go and trusting she would make the right decisions. I think that night at that moment I saw the future, and what I could expect. Like reading a book I was lost in the moment not waking up until the long thundering claps broke throughout the theatre.
Her grandfather's (69) review
of The Light in the Piazza
which runs until October 9.
Death, Achilles & The Tortoise & Eugene Luther Gore Vidal's Messiah
Monday, September 26, 2011
Most prominent among the negative mental states is fear, above all the fear of unreal dangers, such as death. Death, Epicurus insists, is nothing to us, since while we exist, our death is not, and when our death occurs, we do not exist (LM 124–25); but if one is frightened by the empty name of death, the fear will persist since we must all eventually die. This fear is one source of perturbation (tarakhê), and is a worse curse than physical pain itself; the absence of such fear is ataraxy, lack of perturbation, and ataraxy, together with freedom from physical pain, is one way of specifying the goal of life, for Epicurus.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Mr. Davis, 42, who was convicted of murdering a Savannah police officer 22 years ago, entered the death chamber shortly before 11 p.m., four hours after the scheduled time. He died at 11:08.
|Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936. |
By Kim Severenson
NY Times: September 21, 2011
I watched CNN from 10:30 until a press conference was given outside the Jacksonville, Georgia penitentiary. Anderson Cooper who always seems to have the last word was out of his league when he asked the on site CNN reporter something close to this, “What can I possibly ask you in a situation like this one?”
The media spectacle that I watched included people asking, “What were his last words?” “Did he go quietly?” I wondered why so many people had to be present for the execution or why the relatives of the murdered policeman had wanted to be present. Would the pleasure of revenge bring the victim back? One word that I loathe is the increasingly used word (an ugly word at that) closure as, “We finally arrived at some closure.”
When I switched off the TV I thought about death and the first thing I did was to look for my copy of Gore Vidal’s Messiah
of which I will write about here. I then thought of my first dealings with the realization of the existence of death.
These first inklings all happened when I was around 8 years old living at Melián 2770 in Coghlan, in Buenos Aires. Melián was two blocks from one corner of Hospital Pirovano. And the corner was not far from the entry and exit that horse-drawn hearses took for removing dead patients. My friends and I would often watch these hearses parade by with their plumed horses and their exquisitely dressed coachmen. We knew that the hearse going would be empty but coming back we would run out. We would be mesmerized by the polished mahogany coffins that would lie behind the bevelled glass windows. The clopping of the horses’ shoed hooves on Melian’s cobblestones, were for me the first sounds of death.
It was when I was around 8 that my neighbour’s son slammed his Vespa into a train. He had been returning from his job as a night watchman and went through the level train crossing. They had an open coffin wake and I sneaked in to see. What I saw was the bandaged face (eyes closed) of my neighbour’s son. It was my first look at death.
In 1952 when Eva Perón died there were huge funeral ceremonies including a public wake that was ominously called capilla ardiente
or flaming chapel. It was then when listening to the radio or watching the newsreel at the movies that I first heard the funeral music of Chopin and Édouard Lalo. Evita’s funeral was my first glimpse of the pomp and ceremony of death.
It was in 1966 when I purchased Markings
by Dag Hammarskjöld (translated by Leif Sjöberg & W.H. Auden) at a English bookstore on Corrientes that I read this and I have come back to it often since:
It occurs to you in a flash: I might just as well never have existed. Other people, however, seeing you with a guaranteed salary, a bank account and brief-case under your arm, assume that you take your existence for granted. What you are can be of interest to them, not that you are. Your pension – not your death – is what you should think about ‘while de day lasts’.
The fuss you make is far too much:
I really have no need of such. (Birger Sjöberg.)
If even dying is to be made a social function, then, please, grant me the favour of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.
Hammarsjöld got his wish. In September 1961, Hammarskjöld learned about fighting between "non-combatant" UN forces and Katangese troops of Moise Tshombe. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire on the night of 17–18 September when his Douglas DC-6 airliner SE-BDY crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Hammarskjöld and fifteen others perished in the crash.
I have the recurring thought and wish to die, like Hammarsjöld, vaporized in an airplane crash. It would be clean and neat. There would be no remains to be found that could possibly be inserted in any pine box.
As most humans I have thought of death often and more so as I lived in Mexico for many years. It was a place where bakeries sold sugar skulls ( on demand you could buy one with the name of your loved one, a very much alive loved one, nicely scribbled on its forehead with coloured cake filling and sequins.) on the día de los muertos
. As a teenager I looked forward to my Colegio Americano school bus passing by the huge Panteón Dolores with the elaborate tombs, and moss growing on its flaking walls.
It was in 1964 that I met Ramón Xirau
at the University of the Americas. I took as many of his philosophy classes as possible. I remember so well that day when he (with a slight and calming smile on his face) told us of us Epicurus, “Death is non feeling. Non feeling is not painful. Death is not painful. Death should not be feared.”
And of course no matter how much we dwell on Epicurus’s words the very thought of non thought, the very thought of non being is what is so scary to us, or at least to me.
It was about that time that I became enamoured with existentialis, and I read Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. It was then I read and re read Albert Camus's The Stranger.
I was at first startled by Meursault's nonchalance on going to his mother's wake. I could not believe his empty talk and his complaint of the stiffling heat of the wake and how it was a dicomfort. It was then that I thought I caught one and for a short while (perhaps a few months) I paraded around being unfazed by most things as I played my own version of Meursault.
|La Santa Muerte|
My friend Abraham Rogatnick who died (of a willingly untreated prostate cancer) a couple of years ago at age 85 told me that there was no reason to fear death as death was not different from coming into this world. If anything he said that coming into being, considering that you were slapped in the bum, after having had a unmemorable but pleasant existence in a warm mother’s womb, was the scariest aspect of life or death.
Rogatnick told me he was not afraid to die. I visited him daily for weeks before he died. He knew he was going to die. One day I brought Ambrose Bierce’s story, Parker Adderson, Philosopher
, the account of the captured Union Army spy who is ready to die the next day as he must. The commanding Confederate officer cannot understand the man’s lack of fear and cannot believe such statements as, "We all have to die, some of us sooner than others.” But the officer finally figures it out and tells the spy, “You are ready to die so you shall die now. Take him away.” The spy is unprepared for immediate death. He is unprepared for an unprepared death. Spy and officer scuffle and both die in the struggle. I asked Rogatnick if he would be afraid if death faced him that instant. His answer, was, “No.”
For the rest of us we can only wonder how we will face death if like the Union spy we are given moments to reflect on it or if we are blessed (is it one?) with a painless death in our sleep.
|Premortem Daguerreotype of Boy Lying in Bed With a Ball|
It was around 1994 that I purchased a beautiful used picture book called Sleeping Beauty – Memorial Photography in America
by Stanley B. Burns, M.D. (Burns, in 1995, subsequently visited and lectured in Vancouver so I was able to chat with him and he wrote a pleasant dedication in my book). The book with wonderful but startling portraits of dead people, including children (see above and below) taken mid 19th century, begins with the following:
All likenesses taken after death will of course only resemble the inanimate body, nor will there appear in the portrait anything like life itself, except indeed the sleeping infant, on whose playful smile of innocence sometimes steals even death. This may be and is oft-times transferred to the silver plate.
Photographic and Fin Art Journal, March 1855
|Postmortem Daguerreotype of The Same Boy Lying In Bed|
Annonymous circa 1848
As soon as photography was invented people saw in it its ability to record reality in ways that painting could not. For a while photography was indeed captured reality. A few thought that a camera could capture in a murdered man’s eyes an image of his murderer. Some how were not aware of the pre-Socratic Zeno of Elea who has Achilles race with a female tortoise who is given a head start. Even though Achilles is the faster runner he has to get halfway between his starting point and the tortoises and so on in the famous paradox that was not really to be solved in a satisfying way until Newton and Leibnitz invented the calculus. While the photographs of dead American Civil war soldiers were perhaps the first that showed death in the unblinking new reality of photography it was not until 1936 that Robert Capa's photograph (now under siege of controversy) of the moment of death of a loyalist soldier (above) or Eddie Adams' photograph of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan's, Chief of National Police, summary execution of handcuffed prisoner Ngueyễ
n Van Lém Viet Cong soldier gave us the closest look we would ever have of death until later vidoes of people beeing beheaded dulled our senses to the shock.
These scientific photographers thought that they could capture the moment when the soul left the body. That may explain the two portraits here of the boy alive and then dead. As a little boy I would try to keep alive the little birds that fell of the trees of our Buenos Aires garden. I would feed them milk with droppers but always the eyes would cloud over and they would die. I could not understand but I did accept an inevitability.
John Cave smiled for the first time. I suppose, if I wanted, I could recall each occasion over the years when, in my presence at least, he smiled. His usual expression was one of calm resolve, of that authority which feels secure in itself, a fortunate expression which lent dignity to even his casual conversation. I suspected the fact that his serene mask hid a nearly total intellectual vacuity as early in my dealings with him as this first meeting; yet I did not mind, for I had experienced his unique magic and I already saw the possibilities of channelling that power, of using that force, of turning it like a flame, here, there, creating and destroying, shaping and shattering … so much for the spontaneous nature of my ambition at its least responsible, and at its most exquisite! I could have set the one-half world aflame for the sheer splendour and glory of the deed. For this fault my expiation has been long and my once exuberant is now only an ashen phoenix consumed by flames but not quite tumbled into dust, nor re-created in the millennial egg, only a gray shadow in the heart which the touch of a finger of windy fear will turn to dust and air.
Yet the creature was aborning
|Rebecca Stewart, La Santa Muerte|
[archaic form of born] that day: one seed had touched another and a monster began to live.
“The first day? The first time?” The smile faded. “Sure, I remember it. I just finished cosmeticizing the face of this big dead fellow killed in an automobile accident. I didn’t usually do make-up but I liked to help out and I used to do odd jobs when somebody had too much to do and asked me to help; the painting isn’t hard either and I always like it, though the faces are cold like…like…”He thought of no smile and went on: “Anyway I looked at this guy’s face and I remembered I’d seen him play baseball in high school. He was in a class or two behind me. Big athlete. Ringer, we called him…full of life… and here he was, with me powdering his face and combing his eyebrows. Usually you don’t think much about the stiff (that’s our professional word) one way or the other. It’s just a job. But I thought about this one suddenly. I started to feel sorry for him, dead like that, so sudden, so young, so good-looking with all sorts of prospects. Then I felt it.” The voice grew low and precise. Iris and I listened intently, even the sun froze in the wild sky above the sea; and the young night stumbled in the darkening east.
With eyes on the sun, Cave described his sudden knowledge that it was the dead man who was right, who was part of the whole, that the living were the sufferers from whom, temporarily, the beautiful darkness and non-being had been withdrawn. In his crude way, Cave struck chord after chord of meaning and, though the notes were not in themselves new, the effect was all its own… and not entirely because of the voice, or the cogency of this magician.
“And I knew it was the dying which was the better part,” he finished. The sun released, drowned in the Pacific.
In the darkness I asked, “But you, you still live?” “Not because I want to,” came the voice, soft as the night. “I must tell others first. There’ll be time for me.”
I shuddered in the warmth of the patio. My companions were only dim presences in the failing light. “Who told you to tell this to everyone?”
The answer came back, strong and unexpected. “I told myself. The responsibility is mine.”
That was the sign for me. He had broken with his predecessors. He was on his own. He knew. And so did we.
The principal protagonist Eugene Luther from Gore Vidal’s 1954 novel Messiah
I first read Messiah
around 1960. I was a fanatic of science fiction and both Gore Vidal with Messiah
and Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan
were firmly, then in the science fiction camp. In fact The Sirens of Titan (1959) was nominated for Hugo Award.
In this third reading of Messiah
find that I agree with Larry McMurtry’s take:
Messiah: A Neglected Book by Gore Vidal
November 16th, 2006
In a review of Gore Vidal’s new memoir, Point to Point Navigation
, in the New York Review of Books Larry McMurtry drops his nominee for unjust neglect:
One reason I wouldn’t mind taking my near-complete holdings of Gore Vidal away to a far place is that there maybe I could just enjoy reading the writer and not always be having to ponder the Personality. There’s not much wrong with the Personality: he’s usually on the right side, and eloquently so. But the best of the writing is much more telling than the Personality or any Personality, is likely to be. I refer particularly to Julian, to Homage to Daniel Shays, and to the excellent Messiah, a book that’s not remotely had its due.
Messiah deals with the rise of the next great religion of Western civilization, and the collapse and destruction of Christianity. It takes the form of the memoirs of Eugene Luther, a former apostle of Cavism. Founded by one John Cave, a California Undertaker, Cavism holds that it is a good thing to die–a holy thing, in fact, preferable to living. After the experience of the Jonestown massacre, David Koresh, and the Heaven’s Gate cult, Vidal’s dystopia seems less fantastic than it did when the book was first published in 1954.
Oh, yes, and note the sly jokes: John Cave (J. C.) and Eugene Luther (Vidal’s full name is Eugene Luther Gore Vidal).
What’s fantastic is to imagine Myra Breckenridge or Duluth written by Luther Vidal
In glee I read John Cave’s description of painting the stiff. Inside Sleeping Beauty – Memorial Photography in America
I found a clipping I had cut out from the NY Times on February 16, 2004. Here is the description by the Harlem undertaker Isaiah Owens of the “stiff” James Patterson (see picture with photographer):
At the funeral home he was dressed, as his family had requested, in a Lakers jersey, but the smile, the innocence, the deep serenity was all Isaiah Owens, Mr. Owens said. “When you look at him,” he said, “you are seeing what I look like on the inside.”
Now the shutter clicked. Another portrait done.
“That right there is me, Mr. Owens said, “It’s me, all me.”
While John Cave might have agreed, if you happen to read Messiah
you will find out that Eugene Luther might not have. As for Eugene Luther Gore Vidal’s opinion I don’t have a clue.
An Unsettling & Freckled M
Sunday, September 25, 2011
On October 17, 1995 I photographed a young woman with red hair and lots of freckles in my studio. It had all started a week before when my friends Patrice, Ian and I had been having coffee at a fashionable downtown café called Zubeez
. I watched a very beautiful server and I suddenly had an idea. I told my two photographer friends that we would find someone to photograph and that we would do so independently and most secretly and then we would have a one evening show in my studio. I called the lovely server to our table and I told her of our idea. She indicated she was interested. We made a date for the four of us to meet at a studio where we would put all our cards on the table.
When we met at the studio (the last time all four of us would be together until the opening about a month hence) I told the lovely server, “We are going to photograph you individually and probably in more than one session. You are not to tell any of us what the other is doing. If at any time any of us ask you to undrape (take it all off) you are to accede to the request. If you have a problem with this, tell us now.”
After the little speech I took a picture of the four of us.
I was to photograph the young and beautiful server in three separate sessions. I shall call her M. M was a budding actress who became a regular at Bard on the Beach and from there she leaped to Strattford, Ontario and received a glowing review in the NY Times.
The first session was one of getting to know each other. I used different poses and lighting schemes I my studio and I never asked her to change her clothing or to remove it. I wanted to go at it slowly. It was only in the second and third sessions in my garden and basement bathroom that the clothes were removed. Some of the nudes I took of M are the finest I ever shot. In particular there are ones where I used my mother’s antique Mexican red rebozo.
After the show (we were all indeed surprised as to what the other had done with M that we decided to continue with the series and we photographed two other women this one
and this one
) I made the mistake of displaying one of M’s photographs (a lovely nude) at a rave party. A couple of days later I received a scary letter from her lawyer (“Ignore this at your own peril,” it ended) that instructed me not to use the photographs for anything and that I was strictly prohibited from even displaying them in my portfolio. I ignored the letter but I never did display the pictures in public again.
I have ambivalent thoughts on the whole affair now. Just from looking at the pictures of the first session I am pleased to see that again I had taken sort of unglamorous but quite honest pictures of M. Just by simply darkening my scans and showing in more detail her freckles the pictures seem to be edgier and grittier.
I am confident enough in my own talents to indicate here that even if other photographers have taken her pictures and some of these have been in Strattford posters, I have my honest doubts that anybody ever captured her gamut of expression (although the ones here are mostly very serious as I picked only those) as well as I did. I am also sure that my nudes of her will be the best ever taken of her and perhaps some day she just might change her mind and seek me out.
On the other hand M might see this blog and I might just have to suffer the consequences at my own peril!