Friday, December 12, 2008

Bettie Page, 1923-2008

Bettie Page died yesterday. I suppose there’s not much I can say, except that I liked her as an icon, and that her look appealed to my personal aesthetic and I think defines a certain major axis/image of beauty in our culture. I have previously already written a “tribute” of sorts to her — my poem “Bettie Page” is published online in Free Verse and can be read here.

It’s interesting that Page’s death has made so much news, since she was or at least seemed to me to be such an underground or subcultural figure. News stories mention that she appeared in Playboy and that she helped lay the groundwork for “the sexual revolution.” From what I have read, the Playboy appearance came about not because she specifically posed for the magazine, but because Hefner later received pictures of Page and liked them. Her centerfold depicted her in a Santa hat. They certainly didn’t use any of her dominatrix poses.

The photo currently being used on CNN and elsewhere shows Page on a sunny beach — a nice picture to be sure, but far from the darker image she usually portrayed and which is her signature style. Given that that is possibly the only one most people will see of her, it seems as if the media is trying to whitewash her, or to portray her something like a brunette Marilyn Monroe, which is really doing her a disservice. Don’t get me wrong, Marilyn Monroe was great, but Bettie Page was completely different and completely original.

As far as the “sexual revolution” stuff, yes she was known as a pin-up in the 50s, but she didn’t really resurface as an icon until the 80s or so, and then in a very underground, non-mainstream kind of way. She herself didn’t seem to want the spotlight at all, though in 2006 she did say in an LA Times interview: “I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.” In any case, I guess it’s good to see her getting her due in her time of death, even if the media wants to pretend they were there all along.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely

I saw Harmony Korine’s newest film, Mister Lonely (2007), which recently came out on DVD. There have been some bad reviews, some mixed, some good, but I really thought it was a great film. Diego Luna plays a Michael Jackson impersonator who meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (played by Samantha Morton), who takes him to a commune of other impersonators. This storyline is juxtaposed throughout the film with images of nuns jumping out of an airplane as an act of faith, and surviving unharmed. There are some great scenes of the nuns plummeting through the air. Werner Herzog is amazing in this section as a German priest. Seemingly, the two parts are unrelated, yet both have to do with communal living and the sense of being alienated or separated from mainstream society. Both storylines end tragically.

The reason why some people may not have liked this film, I am guessing, is that it works more on images and associations, rather than on plot. However, there is a narrative, especially in the impersonator section. The commune is defined by a very weird interpersonal dynamic, dominated by a controlling Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant). The group puts on a show to display their talents, which almost no one comes to (the location is rural Scotland). There is a sense of doom hanging over the whole situation, as their sheep have come down with a case of foot-and-mouth disease and have to be slaughtered (the Three Stooges do the shooting). In a couple of signal moments, we discover Chaplin’s cruelty toward the Marilyn character. A possible love story between Michael and Marilyn is unrealized in the turn of events. The Michael character will go on to find himself, in a sort of twist — you might have initially thought the message was that he already had. Questions of identity are oddly subverted.

I liked the fact that this film brings back together Anita Pallenberg (playing the Queen of England impersonator — kind of ironic, no?) and James Fox (impersonating the Pope). Both starred in Nicholas Roeg’s Performance (1970), and there are similar themes in Mister Lonely of identity and alienation. Their presence is a clever allusion.

What I liked best about Mister Lonely, though, were its standout scenes and images: a manic version of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” with a whacked-out Lincoln (Richard Strange) shouting the piece while spinning a basketball on his finger under harsh lights, the opening sequence of Luna on the mini-bike with the strange stuffed monkey trailing behind (vaguely reminiscent of the bike-riding scenes in Gummo?), the verité stuff outside of the convent, the later scene of the dead nuns floating in the water, etc. The images are constructed almost like images would be in a poem. These are the building blocks, not the storyline/s. And only with Herzog is the emphasis really on dialogue. In the “making of” feature included in the DVD, Korine mentions that a lot of the images originally came from dreams. These are what resonate, and I think are the real point of the film. Korine approaches film as a visual art firstly; it is thusly that his themes and ideas come across.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Begnal in Google Book Search

Google Book Search’s preview of Ancestor Worship includes maybe about half or so of the collection. (Not sure what that does for sales of the book, but the online thing somehow seems to work for music. Some bands are even putting whole albums on MySpace now, and I guess if you really like it you’ll still need to have it....)

Google also gives selections from the Salmon anthology, Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007, including my three anthologized poems.

Strangely, brief snippets of my poem “The Conquest of Gaul” appear in the Google preview of Poetry Wales issue 38.3 (2003). They look like someone has torn thin strips out of the magazine’s pages and pasted them into a notebook.

Something like that is going on with the shredded version of my chapter in Louis Armand’s Avant-Post: The Avant-Garde under “Post-” Conditions. See for yourself.

You can also get a glance at Honeysuckle, Honeyjuice: A Tribute to James Liddy (which I edited). It looks like somebody similarly ripped out a piece of the cover, and highlighted my last name with a yellow marker....

(A collage function would be an interesting addition to that site, allowing the user to create Dadaist cut-up poems out of the scraps....)