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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Please welcome to the world … Peter Christopher Campfires of the Dead and the Living: The Collected Stories of Peter Christopher (11:11 Press)

 

Introduction by Chuck Palahniuk

Peter Christopher popped my cherry. Reading-wise.
Until Peter, I’d tell you that so-and-so was good reading. You know, the writer with his own shelf at Blockbuster Video. The third-person patch on what H. P. Lovecraft used to do. That billion-selling, second-rate Hemingway. What did I know?
I say Blockbuster because this was 1991? 92? Peter had gone to Columbia to study under Gordon Lish with writers such as Amy Hempel and Mark Richard and Tom Spanbauer. Tom had moved to Portland and taught the style of Minimalism in a workshop he called “Dangerous Writing.” Tom invited Peter to come west, and what Peter came to teach us, he called “submerging the I.” His theory being that fiction told in the first-person – I walked… I read… – held the most power and authority because a personality seemed present and accountable for the how-and-why the story was being told. The context.
That’s something that third-person omniscient “voice of God” narration can’t do. As per Peter, the modern reader is smart enough to know that the storyteller – even a fictitious storyteller, especially a fictitious storyteller – has her motives and slant on the truth. So if a story took place in that old-fashioned, third-person, once upon a time it was bullshit.
The catch was, Peter Christopher warned us that readers hate a story riddled with the first-person pronoun “I.” That “I” reminded the reader that she was only a witness. The story was happening to someone else. The solution? Peter called it “submerging the I.” Simply put, you told the story in first-person but used the first-person pronoun seldom if ever. Doing so you sidestepped the thudding I…I…I… sound of a self-obsessed bore. What’s more you’re forced to point the camera at everything else. Submerging the I breaks your work open.
Take Cory-Anne. For months she’d brought the same story into Tom’s workshop. It was always about her nephew dying, and she’d cry when she read it aloud. In short, it was about Cory-Anne. Her writing wasn’t getting any better, and she cried harder each week so it didn’t seem that Cory-Anne was getting any better, either. Peter came west at Tom’s invitation and asked us to submerge the I. He urged Cory-Anne to write something new.
Within a month she broke out. It was by submerging the I, or reading the work of Amy Hempel and Mark Richard. Or it was reading Peter’s work, the stories in this book. But Cory-Anne wrote us a story that left Tom’s workshop in silent awe for a moment.
At that Peter knelt on the floor and began to kowtow at her feet. He led the writers in a chant of her name as he continued to bow before her. And this time Cory-Anne didn’t cry. She glowed. She’d written an astounding short story. She’d taken herself almost entirely out of the drama and given us a story in which we felt like characters.
It’s a glorious moment, when a student writer breaks out their own voice. One day they’re writing mawkish, tedious stuff. And the next week they’re being cheered. And that moment wouldn’t have happened without the advice and the patience of Peter Christopher.
Me, I once sublet a huge loft at14th and Hudson in Manhattan with Peter. At the time it was a district of meat packers, where pigeons ate the raw fat and waded through the beef blood in the gutters. Nights, the area teemed with trans-gender sex workers. A half-block west of our door, the old West Side Elevated Line ran as a ruined no man’s land as far uptown as 35th Street. It was a fast way to walk uptown, but so dangerous no one ever used it. It’s now the ritzy New York High Line. Years later, the New Yorker magazine hosted a party for me at a lux nightclub named Apartment, and I attended, shocked to find that the space was the same one Peter and I had rented.
During our shared sublet it was winter, and I drank coffee all day so I could go out all night. Every evening the Italian restaurant below our place held a different bachelor party, but you could set your watch by it. Promptly at 9:30, the stripper would begin to dance to Madonna’s Material Girl. The song list never varied and as long as the party lasted, the male crowds cheered up through the floors. Even once the night’s party died down, I could blink awake after midnight to see sex workers on the roof, staring down at me through the skylights.
Peter told me how he’d once worked for Big Golden Books, a children’s imprint at Penguin Random House. It was strange to think of Peter working on books like The Poky Little Puppy and The Little Red Hen. He’d already lost an eye to cancer and always worried the cancer might come back. Tom told me that Peter had always clung to university teaching jobs because he wanted the health insurance – in case the cancer came back. That’s why Peter had published so little of his own fiction.
Peter brought so many people fully into the world. First by writing and thus showing us what excellent storytelling could be. And second, by teaching. Me and Cory-Anne, we’re better writers due to him. And we’re better readers thanks to Peter Christopher.
For twenty years I’ve pushed people to find and read his collection Campfires of the Dead. It was out of print for so long that getting a copy was near impossible. And now, here it is. In your hands. And here I am writing to repay an old, old debt to the man who taught us all.
May this book make you a better reader. If you write, may it make you a better writer.

 

 

Campfires of the Dead and the Living is a collection of short fiction by Peter Christopher. This volume contains The Living – an unpublished collection of stories written between 1990 and 2004 – and Campfires of the Dead – Christopher’s first collection, out of print for more than three decades and originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1989.

Peter Christopher taught at Georgia Southern University for many years and was a recipient of a 1991 National Endowment of the Arts fellowship in creative writing. Though only Campfires of the Dead was published during his lifetime, through his teaching, mentorship, and friendships, Christopher had a lasting impact on writers Harry Crews, Gordon Lish, and Chuck Palahniuk among others.

Buy ‘Campfires of the Dead and the Living’

 

 

HERE IS A VISION AND VOICE THAT YOUR HEART AND BLOOD WILL NEVER FORGET. IT IS ABOUT THE FORGOTTEN, THE HURT, AND THE HELPLESS, BUT PETER CHRISTOPHER’S MAGIC MAKES THESE PEOPLE WHOLE AGAIN. I AM GRATEFUL FOR FINDING THIS BOOK. — HARRY CREWS

PETER CHRISTOPHER? A CASE WHEREIN IT’S THE MAN, NOT THE LITTÉRATEUR, THAT DEMANDS REMARK—TO WIT, NEVER KNEW, WILL NEVER KNOW, AN INSTANCE OF BETTER, DEARER, SWEETER. THAT WAS PETER, NONE GREATER, NOT JUST A MENSCH BUT A MENSCH AND A HALF. –- GORDON LISH

PETER CHRISTOPHER WAS A DEEP-HEARTED AND CLEAR-EYED BEHOLDER OF EVERY RANK LOVELINESS OF THE HUMAN ESTATE. HE WAS A MASTER OF THE SLANG-SHOT SENTENCE OF MANIC DOWNTRODDENDOM, A GENIUS OF THE NERVE-STRETCHING VIOLENT QUIETS OF THE FAILING AND THE FAILED. HERE IN ONE ABOUNDING VOLUME ARE THE LONG-OVERDUE DÉBUT OF ONE COLLECTION OF SOUL-BOILING FICTIONS AND A RETURN TO CIRCULATION OF ANOTHER–THE LEGACY OF AN EXTRAORDINARY WRITER REWORKING THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY WITH FULL, DETERMINING FORCE. –— GARIELLE LUTZ

FOR YEARS I’VE BEEN XEROXING PETER CHRISTOPHER’S STORIES FOR MY WRITING STUDENTS. FINALLY, HERE ARE CHRISTOPHER’S COLLECTED STORIES, A BOOK SO FULL OF GRIT AND HEART, COMPASSION AND RAGE, THAT I CHALLENGE YOU TO READ HIS STORIES WITHOUT BEING CHANGED AS A PERSON WALKING THE EARTH. CAMPFIRES OF THE DEAD AND THE LIVING IS A REMARKABLE, MUSCULAR BOOK BY A BRILLIANT AND FEARLESS WRITER. –- VICTORIA REDEL

HERE’S A BULLETIN FROM THE OTHER AMERICA, THE DOWN AND OUT, THE DAMAGED, THE UNLUCKY, THE DISENFRANCHISED. . . SEARING STORIES TOLD IN ROUGH AND POETIC LANGUAGE. UNFORGETTABLE AND NECESSARY. —- LEE SMITH

I READ PETER CHRISTOPHER’S CAMPFIRES OF THE DEAD AND THE LIVING IN FRONT OF A SPACE HEATER (AN INDOOR CAMPFIRE) IN CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE WHERE THE RACCOONS HAVE COME OUT FROM THE DARK TO PLAY WITH THE CHIPMUNKS. GENTLY AND UNAPOLOGETICALLY SURGED WITH DOMESTIC WILD ANIMAL LIFE AND EVERYDAY TEDIUM, CHRISTOPHER’S EVER UNRESTRAINABLE, SHIFTING STORIES DARE US TO CARE. HIS STORIES ARE LEISURELY COMPASSIONATE, SPERMATICALLY ORIGINAL, AND DEFTLY DEFIANT OF ALL CAUSTIC ARROGANCE BY FAITHFULLY RECORDING THE COMIC DISCORD AND CONSONANCE IN OUR HUMANITY. THE TITLES TO HIS STORIES ARE A RIOT! HE IS FUNNY. HE IS WILD. HE IS UNEXPECTED. HE DOES NOT PONTIFICATE. HE DOES NOT FLICKER NOR FLINCH NOR WHINGE LIKE A FRIGHTENED CAT, BUT BOLDLY TUGS AND PULLS AND TICKS AND FLIPS OUR IMAGINATION WITH AN EYE FOR CONVERSATION AND AN EYE FOR QUOTIDIAN DETAILS. HIS SUAVE, SIDESPLITTING STORIES WILL WARM YOUR BITTERED HEARTS UP LIKE A SHOT OF WHISKEY AGED OVER NIGHT BY THE DISTILLED MALTED GRAIN OF HIS WORK’S TRANSIENT TIMELESSLY AND KEEP THEM SOBER UNTIL YOUR HEART AND MIND BECOME HYSTERICAL WITH PETRIFIED FEVER FOR THE UNKNOWN. –- VI KHI NAO

 

 

Excerpt

FISHING, WITH WHAT I HAVE

My grandfather, the fisherman in our family, stood in his backyard of afternoon light. My grandfather waited for me in the light off whitewashed clapboards of fence and barn. From the back porch, I could see him the way I knew him best, wearing the soft clothes he wore, holding his hat. My grandfather Caron was the stander at the stove, the sweeper and card player those summer afternoons with Grandma Rose and the other women with their shoes slipped off in the grass under the card table in my grandfather’s backyard. Grandmother Caron, my mother too, all those other women, had something in them different from my grandfather and from me–they were different quiet with different secrets, but that is a different story. For this story, my Grandmother Caron was the one snapping the teeth of my suspenders into biting up my pants. She was the one who had my baseball cap on me.
Out in the heat and light, my grandfather put on his hat. His hand held my hand. His strength and his tallness had us walking on the grass. Our walking shadow was a fisherman, who had pulled up a boy on the hook of the fisherman’s hand. Our shadow disappeared into the bigger shadow of my grandfather’s barn. His ladders and lawnmower, his Ford, seemed to me to wait for him from the deeper shadows. Climbing–with my grandfather helpingme, boosting up my backside–inside the Ford, the seat sank under me as if I was crawling, or swimming, in the belly of a giant fish that we were letting swallow us. From before, my grandfather’s Ford fish had swallowed his cob pipe and his fold of tobacco, a penny become underwater green I found between the seats, a pistachio nut. I stood myself against my grandfather starting the Ford. From that springy height, I could see into the back seat, see his fishing pole and reel, his blanket.
Light came from everywhere onto and off the shiny metal and glass of his car while grandfather drove us. His Ford finned us through the deep water of familiar streets. The salty red from the shelled nut was sucked out. The shell too hard for me to crack was spit into my hand and wiped on my pants while I looked at my grandfather under his hat. He was my mother’s blue eyes and her nose on a man. His eyes and the rest of him steered us through a rattling of light, the tunneling of shadow from trees taller than he was. I rested my small arm over his suspenders, which were bit with tiny metal fish teeth wider than my suspenders. My small fingers felt the way over the hills of him until my hand was out the
window. Air blowing cooler, heavy as water, pushed at my hand. I felt where we were.
At the bottom of the hill was MacSheen’s Store where Grandmother Caron bought me red sodas. The store was carried off behind us. The world itself was water sliding around us. The house where my mother was born went by. The place where grandfather got gas for his Ford came gliding up and by. I knew the Dairy Bar was coming up. With my hand, I could feel the wind as if from the Dairy Bar sweeping around the bend. The Dairy Bar had nearly floated by us when grandfather slowed the car, air whistling to a flutter in the window vent. He turned the steering wheel with his hands that tied knots for fishing. The car popped, pinged over gravel. We quieted to a stop. Through the glass of the windshield, through the sunlight on the Ford’s green hood, through the big windows of the Dairy Bar, I saw people sitting at the counter on swivel stools. I saw a man with too much potato in his mouth putting some potato back on his spoon.
“When you eat pistachios,” my grandfather said to me, “try not to wipe your fingers on your pants.”
I felt for the penny in my pocket. Grandfather held open the car door for me stepping down. The heat was like heat from an oven, as if Grandmother Caron’s stove was held open huge on the summer afternoon. Grandfather guided us between the sides of cars too hot to touch.
Inside, in the cool of the Dairy Bar, I touched, pulled and let go the metal knobs of the cigarette machine holding my father’s Lucky Strikes. A woman sitting in a booth laughed a croaky laugh with cigarette smoke wisping out from between her teeth. Dirty dishes and cups, a spoon, clacked under the counter wiped clean for my grandfather and for me. Grandfather helped me up, lifted me to sitting at the counter. Grandfather sat, put his hat on the counter. He ran a hand on the gleam of his head. Light chopped from off the blades of the ceiling fan at the sweating metal of the milkers, at more knives and forks and spoons set out for us, at the coffee pot, at my grandfather’s head. The ceiling fan cooled the sweaty band of hair around my head where I had taken off my baseball cap.
“Hello, Leo,” the woman wearing all blue on the other side of the counter said to my grandfather. “Hot enough for you?”
“Hello, Adelle,” my grandfather said to the woman. “Hot enough to keep me and my boy sitting with you a while.”
“Lucky for the brookies,” the woman said and smiled in such a way that her smile seemed to include all of us.
My grandfather laughed and said, “Lucky for us.”
When the woman asked my grandfather what we wanted to have, my grandfather told her, “My boy likes to fish for himself.”
I told the woman what I wanted. My grandfather told her he wanted a slice of apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
While waiting, I smelled cooking egg and coffee smells. I turned around and around on my swivel seat. I turned all the way around. I saw my grandfather in the light striking him again and again.
The woman brought my grandfather’s pie and ice cream first. He waited for her to bring me mine before he would eat. His vanilla ice cream ran melting while he waited. My grandfather was the one who watched over me. He was the one who waited
for me to take the first bite.
A man no longer the father he was drove us fast. A flock of birds in their little lives flew faster trying to keep ahead of us. From where I sat by the window, I saw that the man had my father’s face. His smoke and his Ballantine beer smells were my father’s smells. His hair, his glasses, his teeth had some secret I was afraid of, a secret I knew was different from the secrets of women or what was known between my grandfather and me. The man drove us in my father’s car by broken cornfields. My grandfather was in the same ground of another field. His fishing pole and reel were cobwebbed in the shadows of his barn. I looked at the man wearing my father’s face and hands. When he turned his head and saw me looking at him, I looked out the car window. Sunlight came through the clouds the same as in the painted picture of Jesus above my Grandma Roses’ bed. In that picture, Jesus was a fisherman held upon the water by the giant sunlit hands of his father.
More little birds burst up over a cornfield. The birds headed for some woods. I looked at the man turning the steering wheel with the hand with the ring on the finger that showed he was married to my mother. I drew lines on the fogging window with one of my fingers.
The window had fogged up again by the time the man stopped the car under trees by the side of the road. Outside the car, I stood in leaves lifting in the wind. The light coming through the leaves was such it seemed that I could look and not miss looking at any thing in the world. The man smoked a Lucky Strike while walking in the wet leaves up ahead. The leaves scuffed up dry from underneath smelled of summer afternoons. I looked back between branches blown clean of their leaves. Ahead, the man was walking by a pond with ghostly old stumps.
Things came to this: leaves of red and gold on a pond. Between and on the leaves, on the water mirrored with light, a boy with his father’s eyes, his teeth, looked up at me looking down. Trees with a few leaves seemed to float upside down. Clouds crossed quietly as if in some other wind. Through and under this other world, mossy twigs and leaves rested rotting. The boy touched at the bones of his face.
I looked up and saw the man weeping, touching at the water with a stick.
Fish, tiny fish, sprayed from the water into the air.
“Did you see that?” he said to me.
I once saw my father naked, crawling on the floor, eating what was left in ashtrays, hitting his head on the wall over and over leaving hair and blood on the wallpaper until my mother called the doctor, who came and took him away for a long time.
I sat in my dead father’s canoe out in the cold in a field. Shadows darkened the snow where the field ended, where the woods began. The hills and sky were losing light. What was colder, the sky or the snow? When I moved, the canoe my father never got to go fishing in creaked on snow so cold and hard the crust could cut me. The cold had crawled up from the metal of the canoe into my father’s boots that I wore, into the three pairs of socks.
Wind and colder came with the going of the light. The few leaves left curling on branches chittered. My lips tried to warm my teeth. My coat sleeves were tubes where I tried to work warm air. I remember thinking that if I died then, out in the field or down by the river, maybe no one would find me until spring. Cattails with calling blackbirds would grow out of me, up through my soggy old coat. Someone would call my mother and she would have to come fetch what was left of me–a twig, some hair, a sock–from out of the cattail thicket. I heard branches skinned in ice clicking against other icy branches. A dog howled somewhere down the hill through the woods. Some old tracks, the hollowed of the canoe’s run again and again, crusted from the field and down through the hard snow in the woods. I poked at the crust with the poling stick. I chipped ice chunks while the cold held in the metal of the canoe burned at my backside through my grandfather’s rotting old blanket.
The fire whistle set the dog to howling some more. The dog seemed to howl the news that it was time for my Grandma Rose and the others to get out of work. I could see down the hill through the woods to the road, to the roofs of row houses along the river frozen over, to the mill where Grandma Rose worked. Getting to work, shoving off, I pushpoled from on my knees. The canoe, taken, scraped faster along the crust. The windy cold in my mouth was a fishhook. The cold on my teeth was the sound of the push pole ticking on icy crust. I closed my mouth, warmed my teeth with my tongue, while the canoe scraped down through the woods closing in on me faster. I pushed, again, harder, dodging trees.
At the bottom of the hill, it seemed as if something was waiting in the woods to get me. Something, it seemed, was getting ready to jump me taking aim at a hump of snow with my poling stick become a spear.
I dragged the canoe behind a log by the side of the road. I crossed the road trying to stamp feeling into my feet. I clunked along on the ice blocks that had been my father’s boots, making my way behind the row houses and past a dog chained to a barrel. I was in the car wrecks river-banked before the dog let loose with a howl. On the other side of the river, the mill windowed down light. Women were walking through that light on the snow. I could see her coat, Grandma Rose in her coat with her own say-so and secrets walking with the other women and men to cars snow covered in the parking lots. The night’s coming on was helped, I believed, by the lights of the mill.
With that coming-on feeling on my shoulders and on my neck, I started across the icy river. The colder was colder than before. The ice groaned, moved, under me. I kept going, slower, tapping at the splintering ice with my spear as I went. A bubble as big as I was moved under the ice under his boots. I did not call to my grandmother, who I could see so clearly. I did not yell to her or to the other women waiting while the men brushed snow from the cars. The boy I was, my father’s son–and not some drowned dog, not a fisherman caught in the long weeds in the cold dark under the ice–would not and did not call for help from those soon shouldered snug into cars heading for home.
More than halfway across the broad slide of the river, in what little light was left from the sky, I saw a glint. Again, under the dark ice, there was a flash, a metal glint. The metal moved and I saw it was a fish.
On my knees, I looked through the ice. I could see the eyes, the gills and fins, the tiny teeth of a fish. I tocked the ice with my stick. A bubble billowed long. I tocked again. The fish stayed caught.
From where I sit writing this, I can see out the window. I can see the house across the street. The house is rotting clapboards and flaking paint in the afternoon light. A woman and a boy come out of the house, the boy shading his face with a hand while looking up at the woman. Holding hands, talking, the woman
and the boy go out the gate and along the sidewalk. I cannot see them any more.
I look down at what I have written, and I know that I am caught. I know that I am not getting away from any of it.

 

 

‘This book is probably the best example of these unfairly forgotten books and of a great writer few knew and who is no longer with us to share his words and sentences.

‘Peter Christopher was a Lish student from the Columbia U days (along with Amy Hempel, Christopher Coe and Anderson Ferrell), whose collection, Campfires of the Dead (1989) is as fine a first volume of short stories as any of the best being released today via the Flannery O’Connor Award, the AWP Awards, Drue Heinz, Juniper, Dzanc, or the Iowa Short Fiction Award. The fifteen stories were developed in Lish’s class and published in either The Quarterly or a special issue of StoryQuarterly that Lish edited. We remember well, in 1989, finding this book in a Los Angeles store and getting giddy when reading it. Where did this whacky gfeat fun stuff come from? They are quirky stories about people in love and who hold out-of-the-ordinary jobs, such as the narrator of “The Careerist,” that opens:

Ever think what chicken-sexers think all day?

Well, this chicken-sexer thinks mostly him and me and Sweet Miss Stringbean. Make him Billy Bollitt, sometimes mill rat, most time drunk, my best friend. Make me Sarno, chicken-sexer. Make Miss String Bean Billy’s sweetheart.

I think mostly of Billy and me and Sweet Miss Stringbean and working as a chicken-sexer and all…make that as a chicken-sexer all night. I work the night shift (17).

‘The flap copy reads: “Peter Christopher produces sentences that you would have to be three strong men and jump from behind to try to paraphrase—and even then you still couldn’t do it.” Lee K. Abbott provides a blurb, stating: “Move over, Barry Hannah, and make room for a deskmate with his own bent horn to toot!”

‘Christopher has been linked with former Lish student Tom Spanbauer; the two would often co-teach the “Dangerous Writing” class together. I have come across several blog and bulletin board entries about these classes, all positive. Christopher seemed to have fallen off the publishing map after Campfires of the Dead, although he did win an NEA Fellowship and worked as a journalist. In 1998, he was hired by Georgia State University’s English Department. In 2002, a new collection, The Living, was announced as forthcoming from Sandhills Press; it seems the small press never issued the book, or went defunct, because we cannot find a listing for either the press or the volume. His obituary in the George Anne Daily mentions a second book, Lost Dogs and Other Stories, but we cannot find that listed anywhere, either (it could be a chapbook, a limited edition, or a private printing).

‘Christopher died in 2008 from complications of liver cancer, age 52.

‘If ever there was a Lish writer who should have a book reprinted today, Peter Christopher holds the poster. Or perhaps publishing what he left behind in the folders is due. Anyone out there got the gumption for this consumption, to re-ignite this campfire for the living?’ — Gordon Lish Edited This

 

 

lost and found
by Suzy Vitello

Here’s a good story.

About a year ago a writing acquaintance, Steve Arnt, called me up out of the blue to ask if I was missing a particular book from my shelf. I drew a blank, because I have several hundred books: some on shelves, some in boxes, some in tubs.

He’d been looking for an out-of-print book by a writer named Peter Christopher. The book was called Campfires of the Dead, put out by Knopf in 1989.

“Yes, yes,” I said. “I know that book. I have that book. I knew Peter.”

“You certainly did have that book,” he said. “It’s inscribed to a Suzy V. That has to be you.”

I was in Hawaii when I got the call, on a deeply-anticipated holiday, one my husband and I had planned for over a year. We didn’t know when we planned the trip that our house would be on the market, and, in particular, that our house would be on the market with a flooded basement, and that we would need to retroactively permit an addition put on illegally by my ex-husband years earlier.

Why all of this is important to the story is, about a month before our trip, during staging and dismembering hell, in the worst real estate market in two decades, my current husband and I hauled three truckloads of “yours, mine and ours” crap from the basement. Lots of it mildewed, moistened, stinky and ruined. But some of it merely heavy and cumbersome.

What I’m getting at is that Pete’s book, the one you see in the picture with the very personal, lovely inscription, was a casualty of the dysfunctional triage. Where did Steve Arnt find it? Goodwill.

Now, I’ve done a lot of stupid, irresponsible things in my life. Once, I left my four-year-old daughter locked in the car while I ran into a coffee shop for an espresso. A cop was at the car’s window when I returned, two seconds from hauling me to some sort of bad parenting jail. Back in college, I often swam naked in a local reservoir, and often there were drugs involved, or alcohol, or both. I was a poor swimmer and prone, at that time, to anxiety attacks. Drowning was a real possibility. And I won’t even go into all the usual post-adolescent hyjinks. But being careless with something as sacred as a rare book–a rare, personally inscribed book at that, is inexcusably egregious.

So anyway, what happened next was, I conveyed my embarrassment and thanked Steve, who had called me so he could return my book, finished my holiday, sold the house, moved into a new house, and failed to follow up with Steve about my Campfires of the Dead.

But last week, at Lidia Yuknavitch’s Powell’s reading, there, sitting full-faced across the room, was Steve. And guess what? He still, after a year, was eager to return the book to me. So, we met for coffee, and there, on the cafe table, was Pete’s book, not one bit mildewed, water-logged or otherwise ruined. And I’d forgotten how lovely the inscription was, and how it referred to a particularly glorious summer in 1993 when I’d met him on the Oregon Coast during a writing workshop given by Tom Spanbauer, and that I had continually dropped food on my feet while we shared writing and nuthorns and laughs.

 

 

 

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p.s. Hey. Today’s a special day here on the blog as it/we/I get to use its facilities to help introduce a really remarkable book. You’ll understand why when you delve into the post, but, briefly, Peter Christopher was a superb writer who died way too young whereupon his work, which was published in a number of prominent venues in his time, was largely forgotten until Andrew Wilt at 11:11 discovered it, was blown away, and, long story short, sought out Christopher’s survivors leading to this book that returns Christopher’s work to print and hopefully prominence. I’ve read the book, and his stories truly are something. Anyway, do explore the evidence above, and be an early re-discoverer of a real talent. Thank you! And many thanks to Andrew and 11:11 Press for helping occasion this welcome mat. ** Tea, Hi. Happy he/his stuff piqued you. I need to read that BR Yeager. I haven’t yet. I’ve always loved how devising or dedicating a piece of writing to someone can be such a powerful and ideally rich form of tribute. More than with a film or even a song, I think, maybe because with writing the tributee (and others) can see and feel the writer’s care and effort and thought involved. Or else I’m just romantic about writing, but I think I’m right. As long as the unpredictable series of twists and turns of my week aren’t of the unpleasant sort — and with my current situation, they could be — I’ll happily accept a clone of your hopeful week. Take care. ** David Ehrenstein, Your link didn’t take, but ‘I Died’ sounds … promising? ** Dominik, Hi!!! Sure, power sharing is the ideal, and what better City Hall could there be, as you well know. Yes, I didn’t think my yesterday love was asking too much. There used to be one near me, but it closed due to lack of attendance, so maybe it was a big ask. I sure hope your yesterday love did his duty. Did Anita hear anything? Hopefully a very positive anything? Love making everything and everyone in the world inflatable via a blinking red shirt button, G. ** Jamie, Hey, Jamie. ‘AKA Serial Killer’ is a pretty good place to start, actually. Hm, I don’t know if he influenced Benning. It would surprise me, to be honest, but it could well be. Benning popped in here one day recently to my great honor, so maybe, if he’s still lurking, he can answer the question himself? I will now be all over ‘Hell Fest’ by as soon as tonight, we’ll see. Both for pleasure and research purposes (re: our film). And ‘Haunt’. It’s just called ‘Haunt’? Hold on. Is it the one from 2013? Monday was a headache because it was consumed by trying to reach an agreement with a certain someone with whom we work on a contract to set up a bank account that will fund our film and that we’ve been trying to get said someone to set up for many, many months. But I think it got accomplished while I was asleep, whew. Today I’m going to see a ‘fete foraine’-themed art exhibition and visiting a great store here dedicated exclusively to pop-up books and maybe Zooming with some LA film collaborators, so it should be an improvement on yesterday. And your Tuesday was … spectacular in what respect? Ha ha, anti-Pearl Jam love, thank you! Much appreciated! Although they do get a teeny weeny amount of positivity from me for once bringing Robert Pollard onstage to sing ‘Baba O’Riley’ with them as his backing band. Thusly. Continue to feel right as rain, man. Love, me. ** Damien Ark, Hi, Damien! Well, luckily many haunts operate throughout the month of October, so you have a chance. There were actually a number of OC haunts in that post. ‘The 17th Door’ in Fullerton is one of the very best haunted houses in the world. Another post for your book, absolutely, yes, please! Know that the blog is pretty surely going to be on vacation for much of October, so it might have to happen before or after, depending on your timing. Peace and love and don’t forget horror! ** T, Yay (!) on snagging a fave of yours with that post. Yes, a friend in Japan told me the post lined up with the premiere of his new, quickie film. He said he will report back. You’re working near me? Dude, surely you’d be up for a coffee break coffee collab with me, or a before or after work thing? If you want. I’m around. Sucks extremely that said job is trying to eat everything great that you do. Don’t deprioritise! Or at least not mentally and psychically. Turn your moments of non-taxed brain power into a lab. My life needs some lip balm, how did you know? I hope Tuesday turns your coworkers into broken slot machines. xoxo, D. ** h now j, Hi! How lovely to see you! I’m mostly okay. Yes, that does sound like a lot to deal with. I’m so sorry. I wish I could break off the Eiffel Tower and point it at you and use it as a magic wand. Very, very best of luck and everything else with everything that’s taxing your great self. Take good care, and here and I are always here if you need us. ** Right. You know what do: check out Peter Christopher. Thank you very much, and see you tomorrow.

Masao Adachi Day

 

‘Masao Adachi (b. 1939) is a true revolutionary artist, a filmmaker whose unshakable political beliefs have shaped his vision of cinema as an intense engagement with its audience and with its time. A recognized and widely published theorist, a profound thinker about cinematic form Adachi realizes his ideas through his films, inventing avant-garde techniques to shatter cinematic conventions and challenge viewers to understand the complex, often incendiary, issues grappled with in his work: sexuality, politics and the always forestalled but ever urgent promise of revolution.

‘Adachi’s films and career testify to the impressive vitality of the underground film movement as a little recognized shaping force of postwar Japanese cinema. Indeed, formative to Adachi’s cinematic imagination was his membership in the late 1950s in the radical student film clubs so instrumental in the student protest movement that crested and ultimately splintered with the massive strikes against the controversial ratification of the Japan-US Security Treaty in 1960. Working as part of a collective, Adachi realized his seminal early films, Bowl and Closed Vagina which are equally legible as experimental films and allegories about political activism. The notion of a non-hierarchical collective, with the director just one voice among many, would remain a core principal of Adachi’s cinema. The complex layering of meaning in Adachi’s student film continued in his work with the late Koji Wakamastu (1936-2012), first writing and eventually directing a series of politically outraged “pink films” whose combination of perverse sexuality and radical politics were like nothing seen before on Japanese screens. Demented and visionary, Adachi-scripted, Wakamatsu-directed films such as The Embryo Hunts in Secret and Sex Jack are recognized today as pioneering dark visions of another, secret side of the post-war Japanese miracle, a dark psycho-sexual nest of repression, trauma and guilt. Adachi’s search for a radical cinema able to raise awareness of the invisible net of political hegemony gave way to his extraordinary AKA: Serial Killer, a pseudo-documentary about a nineteen-year-old murderer that gave form to the so-called “landscape theory” Adachi pioneered, offering a series of coldly objective images of landscapes and cityscapes that the young killer may have seen, environments that shaped his warped, troubled perspective.

‘In pursuing his belief in the cinema as an instrument and even a weapon in the struggle against the capitalist-imperialist juggernaut transforming Japan and so much of the post-WWII world, Adachi went further than just about any artist in Japan. Following their controversial and outspoken appearance at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, Adachi and Wakamatsu traveled to Lebanon to make a film in support of the Palestine resistance. The result was Red Army/PLFP: Declaration of World War a newsreel-style propaganda film whose fiery call to arms Adachi himself would follow in 1974 when he abruptly abandoned filmmaking and returned to Lebanon to join the Japanese United Army. For the next twenty-eight years Adachi withdrew from the film scene he had so electrified, his activities remaining largely unknown until his arrest in Lebanon on passport violations and his extradition to Japan where he served a brief prison arrest and where he remains today in a kind of limbo, forbidden by the government to leave the country. Under the watchful eye of the authorities, Adachi’s return to cinema revealed none of his powers diminished, his revolutionary beliefs still strong, although tempered now with a distinct melancholy. This quality is apparent in his impressive first feature film in over thirty years, Prisoner/Assassin, an abstracted and partially autobiographical meditation on imprisonment, exile and the consequences of sacrifice for a higher cause. Affirming Adachi’s status as one of the masters of political counter-cinema, his latest work testifies to his unfailing conviction and vision of film as an artistic weapon for awakening its audience to the revolutionary struggle for truth.’ —- Haden Guest

 

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Stills














































 

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Further

Masao Adachi @ IMDb
FILM = ACTIVISM. THE REVOLUTIONARY UNDERGROUND CINEMA OF MASAO ADACHI
Book: ‘Le bus de la révolution passera bientôt près de chez toi – Ecrits sur le cinéma, la guérilla et l’avant-garde (1963-2010)’
JAPANESE RED CINEMA: KOJI WAKAMATSU & MASAO ADACHI
Book: ‘Masao Adachi’ by Gō Hirasawa
The Making of an Internationalist: Interview with Masao Adachi
Masao Adachi – Midnight Eye interview
Attaining Vertical Thinking – Masao Adachi As Possibility
A Bright Darkness: Masao Adachi
Repletion: Masao Adachi’s Totality
Messages in a Bottle: An Interview with Filmmaker Masao Adachi
Figures of Dissent : Masao Adachi
A Japanese Director’s Path to Revolution

 

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Extras


Masao Adachi


Tokyo / Lebanon by Masao Adachi


L’ANABASE DE MAY ET FUSAKO SHIGENOLU, MASAO ADACHI ET 27 ANNÉES SANS IMAGES

 

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It May be that Beauty has Strengthened our Resolve (2011)

‘Philippe Grandrieux is one of that rare breed of directors who consistently strive for the impossible. One of the few others is called Masao Adachi, and with him in front of the camera, Grandrieux redefines the possibilities of the portrait film. Adachi decided to become a filmmaker after reading André Breton’s surrealist manifesto. But if the struggle for freedom is the defining project of surrealism, the 71-year-old Japanese avant-garde director is preoccupied just as much by the struggle itself as he is by the strenuously won freedom. Adachi is one of the most radically political, uncompromising and headstrong filmmakers of his generation. But even if one has not already had the chance to see one of his rarely screened films, there are nonetheless all sorts of reasons for spending an evening in his company. Grandrieux has produced a congenial portrait which is more about making radical choices, and about thinking in and not least acting through images. Grandrieux’s typically pitch-black and atmospheric pictorial universe transforms the cinema into a psychological ‘dark room’ that overcomes the limitations of the medium to expand the spectator’s range of experience. Revolution is also an image. The question is, how one turns that image into reality. (Masao Adachi).’ — dafilms


the entirety

 

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Interview

 

Harry Harootunian: I’ll start with a general question, which was already supplied by the last point you made in your video address you had sent to us at the time of your showing, where you say that “my principle is to see politics and media as one and the same thing. I have never separated them in my thinking, and I think it is time to make art again as our own thing without worrying about institutional judgments.” While I agree with the sentiment, it raises the question of why and how does film allow you to engage with a specific social situation as a condition of actually acting upon it?

Masao Adachi: This is really an enormous question, so the answer may come in a roundabout way. As a person who makes films, I believe that film is basi- cally a product of my own imagination. Those people who watch films also try to see them through their imagination. For cinema, this mutual relation of imagination is everything. I make films following my imagination, and this process itself becomes my thinking or message.

Additionally, when I express my thinking through cinema, there are two possible methods. One of those methods is to try to tell my own private story as honestly as possible. Another method is to project everything that is built up from my imagination. That is to say, to project the memory of reality, the things that we conceive but aren’t necessarily real, to put forth an image of unreality, or what we might call a way of observing the relationship between the antirealistic or antipersonal things of the world and our own reality.

I think it is the task of filmmaking to produce work without catego- rizing or distinguishing based on these two methods or directions. We nor- mally refer to the first method as that of documentary and the second we call feature film, and make various categorizations based on these and other methods. Yet, on my part, I want to make films, whether documen- taries, dramas, or any other kind of film, by focusing on that relationship between the two methodologies. For example, those things that are part of Japan and those which are not, those things that are part of cinema and those which are not, like paintings or novels. I work from a basis of wanting to demolish these categories.

From this basic stance, along with the thought that what we call the political is society itself, it is the form of history itself; in addition, I also feel that film and revolution, or film and arts, or politics and arts, are inseparable. Moreover, in recognizing that, at the same time, I would like to present their inseparability. There are times, depending on the subject matter, when it takes the form of a perfectly normal film [laughter], but the decision is based on the situation in which I find myself. To put it very schematically, the thematic content is the critical relation that happens in between so- called politics and art, without resorting to a theory of cinema.

However, as I said previously, I feel that the problem of imagination is at the heart of everything, so a mere critical relation is finally insufficient. Therefore, while I will continue to think about these and other questions as Professor Harootunian poses them, I would like to explain the basic position and circumstances around making the films A.K.A. Serial Killer and The Red Army/PFLP. With regard to the political conditions at that time, domestically the nation was in the midst of reinforcing the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty had been in place for ten years [since the 1960s] and with it the new political relationship between the United States and Japan. At the same time, it was a period in which the oppressive sociopolitical tendencies to further solidify Japan’s political and economic system began anew. That is only the political aspect, but in fact, Japan possessed a very rudimentary social structure, and when there is some political trend or cul- tural current, everything else gets pulled into that [prevailing] trend in one fell swoop. That was the character of Japanese society.

In addition to the domestic situation, within the international sphere, there was first the Korean War, and then after that the Vietnam War, which was a continuing current in the social conditions in which we lived. It was within this situation that various cultural and artistic experiments and models exploded with great vibrancy onto the scene. However the vast majority of these experiments were those in which exploiting technological qualities made possible through the development of industrial economics took precedence and had absolutely no direct correlation at the level of content with the contemporary conditions or social trends.

Within the field of film, for example, 8mm film cameras began to spread to the point where anyone could make a private film and conduct all kinds of experiments. It was a time in which the spread of scientific technology on a mass level also began in the fields of art and music, and the flourishing of various experiments using new concepts and methods that broke with classical models. Within such trends, I always held to the thought of seeking a better way at the level of method to tie together these new possibilities with opportunities that were less trained on technology.

Around the time of the making of A.K.A. Serial Killer and The Red Army/PFLP, I was also involved with various other films, but the question of how to face the new political and social oppression was always among my biggest concerns. A suffocating sense of enclosure stemming from politi- cal oppressiveness underlay these feelings, and this took on an extremely sharp form. The theme of A.K.A. Serial Killer, about the serial killer Norio Nagayama, comes from this, and I was thinking about how to express that feeling of enclosure itself, the problem of how to break that feeling, in various film experiments. For that reason, my own interest was also torn between reality and the negation of that reality. As a result, I myself feel conditions under which I was changing are well reflected in the different methods employed by A.K.A. Serial Killer and The Red Army/PFLP.

HH: You felt torn between that sense of enclosure on the one hand and the political situation?

MA: Yes. Consequently, my interest in art and politics, or what we might call the relationship between culture or media and politics, my interest in that relation itself, was escalating.

HH: So all the films you were particularly concerned with or making were in some way or another mediated by this concern for the divergence you perceived occurring in Japanese society at that time?

MA: That’s right. In the films I completed in my earliest student years, I made films explicitly with the theme of politics or [dealing with] the political environment. However, I did not attempt to express those themes in a political manner. As I said at the beginning, even there, imagination is everything, so I believed it was more important to think about how to work with metaphor.

HH: In other words, you are saying that you were responsive to the specific political situation at that moment, but in the films that you made at that moment, their content does not really deal with the situations explicitly. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s the form of those particular films that really speaks to that contemporary situation or alerts us to the force of an immediate political environment.

MA: That is definitely one characteristic. Theoretically, I moved toward the “theory of landscape” (fûkeiron), and from theory of landscape to news- reel films, and finally reached a point where I was trying to make my own low-budget diary-like films. At the same time, there also appeared another project that envisaged screenings as a movement (jôei undô) . . .

HH: Some of us called attention to a similarity between French Situationists and the theorization of fûkeiron, inasmuch as they were both simultaneous and contemporary with each other [inflecting the same conjuncture], and often shared similar views on how to configure fields of action. Can you speak about how fûkeiron was formed among groups of people with whom you were actually working or connected at the time?

MA: The making of A.K.A. Serial Killer progressed as we tried to develop a script for the film, traveling around to each area of Japan that Nagayama had lived in while he was drifting about the country. As we did this, there were continuous debates, centered around staff members Masao Matsuda [film critic] and Mamoru Sasaki [scriptwriter], over how to grasp the theme of the movie, in other words, the world view of the protagonist, Nagayama, and then how to put that into visual language. At the same time, I was think- ing, from the perspective of film style, about whether we should shoot it as a documentary or incorporate dramatic elements.

When we stood within the landscape that greeted Nagayama’s everyday life, there was something that we could feel was common to every landscape in every town we visited. This was just at the time in Japan when, politically, there began to be all kinds of clamor about casting off the post- war, and, economically, the flames of Japan’s policies for high economic growth were reaching a peak. In every region that we came across, the old towns where citizens had made their daily lives were crushed, incongruous groups of tidy buildings sprouted and shot off into the horizon, the rustic lanes of old villages were replaced with concrete and turned into highways, and even in the landscape of preharvest fields there hovered a suffocating air of efficiency and mass production. When we felt this, we were convinced that Nagayama, however far he drifted, must have been seized by this same suffocating sense of continual oppression. In other words, every place you went in Japan was turning into small urban zones modeled on Tokyo, and even the historic scenery of famous places was transformed into commer- cialized tourist spots through catchphrases used in television campaigns, like “Discover Japan.” This situation itself, though not in some solidified form, involved the overflowing will of the government and the power of the time. Certainly it was not only Nagayama—rather, the oppression incorpo- rated all the people who lived in these transformed places. So we were con- vinced that Nagayama, with gun in hand, kept firing at this landscape itself, and that this is how he became embroiled in the serial killing incident. The theme of the movie A.K.A. Serial Killer was decided—we resolved to depict the figure of arbitrary power that appeared in the landscape, comparing it with the alienated and threatened sense of existence experienced by Naga- yama himself. This was the beginning of the fûkeiron debates, wherein the subjectivity of each individual was simply swallowed up by the “reality of landscape being expropriated by power,” and we made the besieged spirit of Nagayama the protagonist. Thus some elevated dramatic factor, as well as even the so-called documentary method, was unnecessary, or, rather, would be damaging to fûkeiron. We created the film by focusing on the con- tinuation of landscape alone.

These fûkeiron debates that began during the production of A.K.A. Serial Killer soon drew the reactions of friends who were photographers and painters; the debates continued to expand, and all manner of experi- mental art works from a wide variety of fields was born. However, at that time, we had no direct exchange with theoretical trends or film movements abroad, and so I had no idea that similar efforts were being made in other countries. Instead, we had put out the monthly journal Eiga hihyô [film criti- cism], and the debates, centered on the efforts of creating a new film move- ment, were advanced there; we could say that the so-called fûkeiron was molded by Masao Matsuda’s theorization of this situation. Ultimately, fûkei- ron was born from and flowed out of the conditions in Japan at that time. Later, I came to learn of the existence of a confluence of movements and theoretical exchanges in the West through the work of people like Jean- Luc Godard, and I had a strong sense that, “Wow, truly a simultaneous and global movement could happen.” Then I began to look not only to the making of film but also to the importance of screenings as a movement (jôei undô). It was at that point that I became a guerilla [laughter].

HH: But being a guerilla in this instance means leaving the world of the imagination for acting on it, doesn’t it?

MA: Yes, but at the same time I would say I am very much a romanticist. As a very basic standpoint, I went on to make another new film and started my life in the guerilla society with a guerilla lifestyle. So, for me, to be a cineaste and to be a guerilla are almost interchangeable, although people say they are confused; on the one hand a cineaste, and on the other hand a gue- rilla—but no, through my body they are one and the same thing.

HH: So, in other words, becoming a guerilla is also sustaining the imagination?

MA: Yes. For instance, even within my lifestyle as a guerilla, in the begin- ning, I was living far too casually, and I was often scolded, “Mister, what the hell do you think a revolution is?” After being there [in Palestine and Lebanon] for twenty-six years, although some Japanese guerillas had come as volunteers and learned to read and write Arabic, I alone was unable to do so. Those days were too full as it was.

HH: Right, I kept thinking of that work by Jean Genet, where he goes to Palestine. But I’m not sure whether he ever learned Arabic, either.

MA: Once, I saw him in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. I tried to talk with him, but he never spoke with anybody—Palestinian or non-Palestinian. Many artists and writers came to see him in the hotel, but there were no conversations with him. He was just drinking wine quietly. He said he was very ready to come here and so studied many important things; and he wrote, as a message to all journalists and artists, “I have no chance to talk with all of you” [laughter]. A Japanese critic, Inuhiko Yomota, who had visited Palestine later, was also surprised when I recounted the episode. In Tunisia, he had tried to see Genet to ask him about his stay as an immi- grant. Thinking about it now, Genet could never ultimately recognize him- self in the place where he actually existed [even when he was sitting in a refugee camp], and I think this may have been an internal problem for him. Yet I wonder if even a single person noticed the deep and overflowing sym- pathy he held for the Palestinian people that existed within that silence. In later years, he wrote about the silence he maintained at the time. I read his posthumously published reflections, Un Captif amoureux, and it was really wonderful.

Just to bring the conversation back, of course, I ordinarily did film work with people like Kôji Wakamatsu and Nagisa Oshima. That in itself was exciting, but somehow I felt my involvement was kind of limited. Wakamatsu could understand my feelings in that regard, but Oshima was extremely critical.

HH: Why so?

MA: He was of the opinion that if you don’t bring everything into the film, all your anxieties and thoughts, then you are not a director. I think Oshima is a very fine documentarist, and sometimes his narrative cinema is also of a very high level, politically and humanistically. But, at the same time, he wanted to put everything within a frame. I said no: the frame will be there, but, at the same time, the audience should decide. It is fine for the film- maker to put all his feelings into the work, but he should make films where the audience can watch it more freely as well.

 

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12 of Masao Adachi’s 14 films

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Bowl (1962)
‘Overripe with psychosexual poetry and stark, oneiric rituals, Adachi’s filmmaking debut, made while he was still an undergraduate, counts among the more resonant accomplishments of the now famous Nihon University Film Club. Adachi’s obvious fascination with the wide-eyed watchfulness of childhood and the uncanny is an expression of the important surrealist strand running throughout the post-WWII Japanese avant-garde.’ — Harvard Film Archive


Excerpt

 

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The Closed Vagina (1963)
‘The struggles of a woman and her male partner – where the woman suffers from a sealed vagina – in a world that views her as an object of pleasure and reproduction. Adachi’s follow-up to Bowl using the figure of a woman suffering from an unusual sexual aliment has often been taken as a controversial allegory for the political stalemate of the Leftist student movement after their impressive wave of massive fiery protests failed to defeat the neo-imperialist Japan-US Security Treaty. The ritualistic solemnity of the charged sexual scenes contribute to the oneiric qualities of Closed Vagina which Adachi would later insist was an open work, not meant to deliver any kind of deliberate political message.’ — Harvard Film Archive

Watch the entirety here

 

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Abortion (1966)
‘Wakamatsu collaborator and revolutionary activist Masao Adachi directs his first pinku: a strange parody of exploitative birth films centring on a gynaecologist obsessed with separating sexual pleasure from reproduction. Fascinating viewing, but not the best starting point for exploring Adachi’s work.’ — Dave Jackson

 

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Galaxy (1967)
‘In between collaborations with Nagisa Oshima and Kōji Wakamatsu at the latter’s production outfit, Adachi completed Galaxy completely independently. The film, which is considered the first feature-length experimental film to be produced in post-war Japan, is a sepia-toned dream instigated by a beachside car breakdown. In it, a young male driver wanders through a fantasy replete with violence, surreal apparitions, and grotesque illustrations. The vignettes which are by turns funny and terrifying proceed in a looping cycle and we end where we began, with a busted car. Notably, Adachi enlisted Fluxus musician Yasunao Tone to compose Galaxy’s jittering score.

‘The film was featured on the opening program at Tokyo’s Theatre Scorpio (named for Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising), which became a center of underground film exhibition in the years to come. Later, Adachi would complete several leftist pink films and experimental documentaries before (like a mirror oposite of novelist Yukio Mishima) joining the Japanese Red Army in the Palestinian liberation movement of the 1970s, eventually settling in Lebanon.’ — Nightletter

Watch the entirety here

 

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Sex Zone (1968)
‘Inspired by the true story of a Geisha murdered in a city famous for its baths, Adachi forged here his favorite style, a kind of conceptual documentary recounting the incident in monotone. The same event that at the beginning of Violated Angels escaped every principle of causality, is portrayed here as a singular anti-spectacle.’ — Letterboxd

the entirety

 

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Female Student Guerilla (1969)
‘Three high school girls about to take their final exam, secretly plan to ruin the diploma ceremony in order to avenge themselves of that school which treated them as delinquents. Two classmates who discovered their plan decide to join the rebellion.’ — MUBI

 

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A Woman in Revolt (1970)
‘Directed by radical leftist (and later terrorist) Masao Adachi, this is one of those great New Wave-era movies that mixes formal experimentation with pink-film, soft-core porn. A haggard old crone enjoys watching her daughter have sex with men. A husband and his mistress strangle his wife to death, then pay a young woman a million yen to dispose of her body. They have frenzied sex with each other while the girl buries the carcass under the floorboards just a few feet from them. Every once in a while, there’s a few seconds of unmotivated musique concrete or synthesizer blips; every once in a while, a sudden flash of washed-out color for no apparent reason. No morals, no lessons, no meaning. The sex is feverish, but passionless.’ — Doug Dibbern

Watch the entirety here

 

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Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (1971)
‘Masao Adachi’s A Gushing Prayer figures the possibility for lived contradiction. The film was produced in the wake of the American occupation of Japan and its forced assimilation of Japanese society to Western values, yet it offers a cross-examination of the struggle against the occupation. This structuring is typical of Adachi’s work and thus, despite the historical specificities of this film, A Gushing Prayer is a prayer for us all. It asks: how is it possible to escape the perceived totality of history and of capitalism?

‘The cross-examination is figured through the bodies of young people. A Gushing Prayer is the story of four teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. The film is divided into vignettes that repeatedly return to the same question: “Can we beat sex?” Adachi has said of this period that he wanted to “describe the way in which society was blocked” and that his films are “are an image of society at the time: I wanted to describe the feelings of a generation whose story was beginning to be written. Violence was present in all structures of this society. I wondered how people who were not heroes could survive this”.

‘Despite this, the film manages to avoid nihilism through a battle with itself. During their experiments with sex, the teenagers continuously question each other and demand to know: “What do you feel?” Simultaneously, the film is organized as a meta-interrogation of form and style. The montage and mise en scene attempt to abstract us from its containment with the flesh. Shots are interrupted with political slogans and coloured filters saturate the shot with red, blue and green. But as each vignette ends, a new one begins in much the same way. This repetition ensures an active avoidance of linear order and fixity of meaning.’ — Lauren Bliss


Trailer


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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w/ Koji Wakamatsu The Red Army PFLP: Declaration Of World War (1971)
‘In 1971, Koji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi, both having ties to the Japanese Red Army, stopped in Palestine on their way home from the Cannes festival. There they caught up with notorious JRA ex-pats Fusako Shigenobu and Mieko Toyama in training camps to create a newsreel-style agit-prop film based off of the “landscape theory” (fûkeiron) that Adachi and Wakamatsu had developed. The theory, most evident at work in A.K.A. Serial Killer (1969), aimed to move the emphasis of film from situations to landscapes as expression of political and economical power relations. In 1974 Adachi left Japan and committed himself to the Palestinian Revolution and linked up with the Japan Red Army. His activities thereafter were not revealed until he was arrested and imprisoned in 1997 in Lebanon. In 2001 Adachi was extradited to Japan, and after two years of imprisonment, he was released and subsequently published Cinema/Revolution [Eiga/Kakumei], an auto-biographical account of his life.’ — Internet Archive


the entirety

 

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A.K.A. Serial Killer (1975)
AKA Serial Killer documents the social upheaval and political oppression that roiled Japan in the 1960s, profiling a nineteen-year-old serial killer Norio Nagayama. An indictment of media sensationalism, the film humanizes the young man by situating his crimes in the larger context of his environment.’ — Letterboxd

Watch the entirety

 

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Prisoner / Terrorist (2007)
‘Adachi took reality and made it surreal, this film, as cliché as it sounds, is based on real historical facts. It is based on the attack on the Israeli Lod Airport on May 30th 1972. The attack was executed by members of the communist Japanese Red Army recruited by the PLFP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). All the attackers were killed, all but one, Kôzô Okamoto he was captured and was imprisoned for 13 years. It is important to give the historical context to this film, the story is his time in prison.

‘The film starts off with the suicide attack and we quickly move to the imprisonment, this is where the journey starts, this man is taken to the limits, he subjected to all kinds of torture, using drugs and humiliation, they turn him to an obedient dog. All this time he’s losing his mind, questioning his revolutionary ideals and going in and out of insanity and humanity. Along this path of insanity our protagonist encounters figures from the Soviet times, from the French revolution and the Italian Gramshy. The imagery used is cold and gritty and wouldn’t feel out of place in a Shinya Tsukamoto film, the same can be said on the sound industrial design. Adachi turns this prisoner’s mind inside out as his thoughts and fears are manifested in front of us, but it’s more than just a prison psychological thriller, born from the revolutionary ideas and theories of the Japanese New Wave this film is bound in politics and experimentation. Adachi blurs the lines between cinema and revolution and as with all his films this one is no different, this is simply revolutionary.’ — HanTheCan


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Artist of Fasting (2016)
‘“During these last decades the interest in professional fasting has markedly diminished.” The opening words of Franz Kafka’s short story, A Hunger Artist, are echoed in Masao Adachi’s film, his first after a long hiatus. Where Kafka’s allegorical tale compared the purity of the artist’s intention with the commercial interests that chose to manipulate it, Adachi bluntly wields ARTIST OF FASTING (断食芸人) as a potted summary of modern politics and protest movement.

‘In an ordinary shopping centre, an unidentified man (Hiroshi Yamamoto) sits down on the street. A young boy is fascinated, takes a photo of him and it goes viral. The man is soon hailed as a “Hunger Artist” by the media, attracting fans, disbelievers, followers and pseudo-worshippers to surround his spot. Two Buddhist monks, for example, wait for him to achieve a kind of enlightenment, while the homeless and gangsters regularly steal the money and food that’s left for him.

‘ARTIST OF FASTING is not an easy film to watch, filled with both extreme absurdist humour and equally extreme sex and violence. There are at least two ways of viewing ARTIST OF FASTING, which is wholly in keeping with ambiguity of ideals that Adachi explores in the narrative. You could take the whole thing as satire, a systematic skewering of various societal tropes as each visitor to the “Artist” comes burdened with their own insecurities, agendas or greed. The Artist, just as he is in Kafka’s short story, is treated as if he is in a circus, complete with an official cage and armed guard.’ — Richard Gray


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p.s. Hey. ** Bill, First, no maybe. Thank you. There are a few haunted attractions in your general areas that look quite good if you’re into it. Time for me to create my horror movie queue as well. I’ll put ‘Surrogate’ as an ‘if need be’. ** Tea, Hi. Yeah, when I was young and starting out, writers like Sade and Genet and Burroughs did the same thing for me. I’m honored. I can certainly see why you’re enamoured with that guy. Muse. Thanks about ‘The Weaklings (XL)’. What’s your week looking like? ** Dominik, Hi!!! Yes about the Sotos, and, oh shit, I need to order that today if I’m not already too late, yikes. You not only can move to my town, you can be the co-Mayor with me! I think you’ve already probably figured out that my headquarters would be LACHSA Halls of Horror. So predictable, but nonetheless … I’ll make sure your love gets the maximum experience. Love opening a vegetarian/vegan food store, ideally a Naturalia, within walking distance of my apartment, G. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Yes, the High Desert one caught my fancy too. I’m going to try to get to it when I’m in LA although it’s about a two and a half hour drive from where I’ll be staying, so … hm. I’ll investigate Jerry Sadowitz, thank you. I love card magic. If you ever get to LA, be sure to go to the Magic Castle. It’s wall to wall to wall card magicians performing nonstop, and it’s a lovely place. ** Jamie, Hi, Jamie. Of course they have the exact same effect on me, obviously. I find it enormously uplifting, inspiring, etc. One of the highest examples of great Outsider Art, and not even so Outsider in some cases. No, what’s beautiful about the haunt community is that they seriously do it out love for the genre and the excitement of making them. With rare exceptions, when they do charge, it’s just in hopes of covering the expenses involved in making the haunts. They’re like poets in that sense, but working in a 3D horror experiential context. Or something. I could go on and on. ‘Hell Fest’: I’ll check it out, thanks! My weekend was a combination of lowkeyness and the usual film hassles/frustrations/logjam-breaking. Par for the course. Here’s to our respective weeks. Shaved love, wow, what a great idea. Anti-rickety love, me. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Yes, I hope and intend to see the vast majority of those haunts, although a few are quite, quite a far away from LA central. Nonetheless. And Zac and I will be taking/dragging our film associates and crew along with us for their education. I’m glad you’re feeling at least a little better. Enjoy the NYFF, lucky you! ** Okay. Today it’s Masao Adachi’s turn to sit in the blog’s filmmaker’s throne. Enjoy. See you tomorrow.

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