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Spotlight on … Joy Williams The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (2015)

 

‘It’s become fashionable these days to say that the writer writes because he is not whole: he has a wound, he writes to heal it. But who cares if the writer is not whole? Of course the writer is not whole, or even particularly well. There’s something unwholesome and self-destructive about the entire writing process. Writers are like eremites or anchorites—natural-born eremites or anchorites—who seem puzzled as to why they went up the pole or into the cave in the first place. Why am I so isolate in this strange place? Why is my sweat being sold as elixir? And how have I become so enmeshed with words, mere words, phantoms?

‘Writers when they’re writing live in a spooky, clamorous silence, a state somewhat like the advanced stages of prayer but without prayer’s calming benefits. A writer turns his back on the day and the night and its large and little beauties, and tries, like some half- witted demiurge, to fashion other days and nights with words. It’s absurd. Oh, it’s silly, dangerous work indeed.

‘A writer starts out, I think, wanting to be a transfiguring agent, and ends up usually just making contact, contact with other human beings. This, unsurprisingly, is not enough. Making contact with the self—healing the wound—is even less satisfactory.) Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories’ shadows—and they’re grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough.

‘E. M. Forster once told his friend Laurens van der Post that he could not finish a story that he had begun with great promise, even brilliance, because he did not like the way it would have to finish. Van der Post wrote, “The remark for me proved both how natural stories were to him and how acute was his sense of their significance, but at the same time revealed that his awareness was inadequate for the task the story imposed upon it.”

‘I like van der Post’s conception of story—as a stern taskmaster that demands the ultimate in awareness, that indeed is awareness. The significant story possesses more awareness than the writer writing it. The significant story is always greater than the writer writing it. This is the absurdity, the disorienting truth, the question that is not even a question, this is the koan of writing.

‘Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in an essay on Jesus, “When a person loses the isolation, the separateness which awareness of the presence of God alone can give, he becomes irretrievably part of a collectivity with only mass communications to shape its hopes, formulate its values and arrange its thinking.”

‘Without the awareness of separateness, one can never be part of the whole, the nothingness that is God. This is the divine absurdity, the koan of faith.

‘Jean Rhys said that when she was a child she thought that God was a big book. I don’t know what she thought when she was no longer a child. She probably wished that she could think of a big book as being God.

‘A writer’s awareness must never be inadequate. Still, it will never be adequate to the greater awareness of the work itself, the work that the writer is trying to write. The writer must not really know what he is knowing, what he is learning to know when he writes, which is more than the knowing of it. A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light. The writer is separate from his work but that’s all the writer is—what he writes. A writer must be smart but not too smart. He must be dumb enough to break himself to harness. He must be reckless and patient and daring and dull—for what is duller than writing, trying to write? And he must never care—caring spoils everything. It compromises the work. It shows the writer’s hand. The writer is permitted, even expected, to have compassion for his characters, but what are characters? Nothing but mystic symbols, magical emblems, ghosts of the writer’s imagination.

‘The writer doesn’t want to disclose or instruct or advocate, he wants to transmute and disturb. He cherishes the mystery, he cares for it like a fugitive in his cabin, his cave. He doesn’t want to talk it into giving itself up. He would never turn it in to the authorities, the mass mind. The writer is somewhat of a fugitive himself, actually. He wants to escape his time, the obligations of his time, and, by writing, transcend them. The writer does not like to follow orders, not even the orders of his own organizing intellect. The moment a writer knows how to achieve a certain effect, the method must be abandoned. Effects repeated become false, mannered. The writer’s style is his doppelgänger, an apparition that the writer must never trust to do his work for him.

‘Some years ago I began writing essays. They were strident, bitter pieces on topics I cared about deeply. I developed a certain style for them that was unlike the style of my stories—it was unelusive and rude and brashly one-sided. They were meant to annoy and trouble and polarize, and they made readers, at least the kind of readers who write letters to the editors of magazines, half nuts with rage and disdain. The letter-writers frequently mocked my name. Not only didn’t they like my way with words, my reasoning, my philosophy, they didn’t believe my name. My morbid attitude, my bitter tongue, my anger, denied me the right to such a name, my given name, my gift, signifier of rejoicing, happiness, and delight.

‘But a writer isn’t supposed to make friends with his writing, I don’t think.

‘The writer doesn’t trust his enemies, of course, who are wrong about his writing, but he doesn’t trust his friends, either, who he hopes are right. The writer trusts nothing he writes—it should be too reckless and alive for that, it should be beautiful and menacing and slightly out of his control. It should want to live itself somehow. The writer dies—he can die before he dies, it happens all the time, he dies as a writer—but the work wants to live.

‘Language accepts the writer as its host, it feeds off the writer, it makes him a husk. There is something uncanny about good writing—uncanny the singing that comes from certain husks. The writer is never nourished by his own work, it is never satisfying to him. The work is a stranger, it shuns him a little, for the writer is really something of a fool, so engaged in his disengagement, so self-conscious, so eager to serve something greater, which is the writing. Or which could be the writing if only the writer is good enough. The work stands a little apart from the writer, it doesn’t want to go down with him when he stumbles or fails or retreats.

‘The writer must do all this alone, in secret, in drudgery, in confusion, awkwardly, one word at a time.

‘The writer is an exhibitionist, and yet he is private. He wants you to admire his fasting, his art. He wants your attention, he doesn’t want you to know he exists. The reality of his life is meaningless, why should you, the reader, care? You don’t care. He drinks, he loves unwisely, he’s happy, he’s sick … it doesn’t matter. You just want the work—the Other—this other thing. You don’t really care how he does it. Why he does it.

‘The good piece of writing startles the reader back into Life. The work—this Other, this other thing—this false life that is even less than the seeming of this lived life, is more than the lived life, too. It is so unreal, so precise, so unsurprising, so alarming, really. Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader’s face. Whenever the writer writes, it’s always three o’clock in the morning, it’s always three or four or five o’clock in the morning in his head. Those horrid hours are the writer’s days and nights when he is writing. The writer doesn’t write for the reader. He doesn’t write for himself, either. He writes to serve … something. Somethingness. The somethingness that is sheltered by the wings of nothingness—those exquisite, enveloping, protecting wings.

‘There is a little tale about man’s fate and this is the way it is put. A man is being pursued by a raging elephant and takes refuge in a tree at the edge of a fearsome abyss. Two mice, one black and one white, are gnawing at the roots of the tree, and at the bottom of the abyss is a dragon with parted jaws. The man looks above and sees a little honey trickling down the tree and he begins to lick it up and forgets his perilous situation. But the mice gnaw through the tree and the man falls down and the elephant seizes him and hurls him over to the dragon. Now, that elephant is the image of death, which pursues men, and the tree is this transitory existence, and the mice are the days and the nights, and the honey is the sweetness of the passing world, and the savor of the passing world diverts mankind. So the days and nights are accomplished and death seizes him and the dragon swallows him down into hell and this is the life of man.

***

‘This little tale with its broad and beastly strokes seems to approximate man’s dilemma quite charmingly, with the added caveat that it also applies to the ladies (“she” being “he” throughout here, the writer’s woes not limited by gender; like Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit, the writer knows there’s no enjoyment to be had in this life). This is the story, then, pretty much the story, with considerable latitude to be had in describing those mice, those terrifying mice. But it is not for the writer to have any part in providing the honey—the passing world does that. The writer can’t do better than that. What the writer wants to do, to be, is to be the consciousness of the story, he doesn’t want to be part of the distraction; to distract is ignoble, to distract is to admit defeat, to serve a lesser god. The story is not a simple one. It is syncretistic and strange and unhappy, and it all must be told beautifully, even the horrible parts, particularly the horrible parts. The telling of the story can never end, not because the writer doesn’t like the way it must end but because there is no end to the awareness of the story which the writer has only the dimmest, most fragmentary awareness of.

‘Why do I write? Writing has never given me any pleasure. I am not being disingenuous here. It’s not a matter of being on excellent terms with my characters, having a swell time with them, finding their surprising remarks prescient or amusing. That would seem to be a shallow pleasure indeed. Rewriting, the attention to detail, the depth of involvement required, the achievement and acknowledgment of the prowess and stamina and luck involved—all these should give their pleasures, I suppose, but they are sophisticated pleasures that elude me. Writing has never been “fun” for me. I am too wary about writing to enjoy it. It has never fulfilled me (nor have I fulfilled it). Writing has never done anyone or anything any good at all, as far as I can tell. In the months before my mother died, and she was so sick and at home, a home that meant everything and nothing to her now, she said that she would lie awake through the nights and plan the things she would do during the day when it came—she would walk the dog and get birdseed and buy some more pansies, and she would make herself a nice little breakfast, something that would taste good, a poached egg and some toast—and then the day would come and she could do none of these things, she could not even get out the broom and sweep a little. She was in such depression and such pain and she would cry, If I only could do a little sweeping, just that. … To sweep with a good broom, a lovely thing, such a simple, satisfying thing, and she yearned to do it and could not. And her daughter, the writer, who would be the good broom quick in her hands if only she were able, could not help her in any way.     Nothing the daughter, the writer, had ever written or could ever write could help my mother who had named me.

‘Why does the writer write? The writer writes to serve—hopelessly he writes in the hope that he might serve—not himself and not others, but that great cold elemental grace which knows us.

‘A writer I very much admire is Don DeLillo. At an awards ceremony for him at the Folger Library several years ago, I said that he was like a great shark moving hidden in our midst, beneath the din and wreck of the moment, at apocalyptic ease in the very elements of our psyche and times that are most troublesome to us, that we most fear.

‘Why do I write? Because I wanna be a great shark too. Another shark. A different shark, in a different part of the ocean. The ocean is vast.’ — Joy Williams

 

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Further

‘Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223’
Joy Williams @ Wikipedia
Joy Williams @ goodreads
‘Karen Russell on how Joy Williams writes the unspeakable’
‘Our Heroes Simply Write: Joy Williams, Unedited’
Podcast: Joy Williams on Bookworm
‘REMEMBERING ROBERT STONE: JOY WILLIAMS’
Joy Williams page @ Facebook
‘The Mission’, by Joy Williams
‘Some thoughts on Joy Williams
‘Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp’, by Joy Williams
‘Joy Williams is an unsettling genius’
‘Ode to Joy Williams’
Buy ‘The Visiting Privilege’

 

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Extras


Joy Williams reading “George & Susan”


Joy Williams reading her essay ‘Why I Write’


Joy Williams’ “Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child” – An Electric Literature Single Sentence Animation

 

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Joy Williams interviewed by Tao Lin
from Bookslut

 

Tao Lin: In your story, “Yard Boy,” from your first story-collection, Taking Care, and in many stories since, you talk about being enlightened, about seeing things without preconception, which means allowing the possibility that inanimate objects have feelings and thoughts, that everything is relative and arbitrary, and other concepts involving “enlightenment” such as that the physical world is an illusion and that nothing can be “known.” In those worldviews “morals” seem irrelevant, or aren’t addressed, since they require assumptions and those worldviews tend to not want to assume anything. In your nonfiction, though, you seem to have morals, and seem to be “against” certain things like hunting, cruelty against animals, destroying the environment, etc. How do you reconcile that in your life? When you are making choices in your life, like choosing whether or not to pay more money for food or transportation that won’t destroy the earth, what do you think about? Do you more live your life like a work of art (fiction), or like a work of rhetoric (nonfiction) or some other way?

Joy Williams: You can get away with a lot more writing nonfiction (I’m not talking lies as has been the trend but attitude) than you can writing fiction. In a work of rhetoric you can take a stand, make a case, inform and inspire, scream and demean. You can’t be angry in fiction — it’s all about control. You create worlds in order to accept them. You create worlds open to interpretation. Facts have limitations. At the Univ. of Wyoming where I’m in residence for a year, there is this wonderful little geological museum wherein there is THE FLUORESCENT MINERAL ROOM. There are maybe thirty rocks in there sitting quietly on shelves, modest rocks, nice rocks, but nothing lovely or extraordinary about them. But when you flip a switch — Press Switch Here — the room goes dark and the rocks blossom into the most intense and varied colors. They are really expressing… something. Now the explanation for this is helpfully posted on the wall: Certain stimuli, such as ultraviolet light, disturbs the atomic structure of certain minerals. The energy released as the structure returns to normal results in the emission of visible light.

And there you don’t have it. Far better to have a fictional Yard Boy, prone to love and awe, come to his own understandings which he certainly would have had if he had been fortunate enough to find himself in the Fluorescent Mineral Room at the University of Wyoming.

TL: When I read your stories I feel that everything becomes more accurately balanced out and then I feel calmer, I feel “better.” There is an attempt, I feel, in your writing, to not give anything more “importance” or “weight” than anything else, and to not “rule out” anything. It is like how a child sees things — without preconception. Or more accurately, maybe, how a robot or tree would see things — without even the preconception of consciousness. Do you write or read to feel calmer, to feel less scared of death and other mysteries, to feel less “bad”?

JW: No.

TL: You write about nonexistence a lot, about being either not-yet-born or “dead,” and have been focused on this pretty steadily, in your writing, for more than 30 years — speculating on what it actually is (to not exist), making jokes about it, and “trying out” ways to feel and think about it. Has this affected your life in concrete reality, do you think, as opposed to someone who thinks less, and less creatively and originally, about not existing?

JW: Annie Dillard quotes someone who ventured that “the worst part of being dead must be the first night.” The themes you mention are in the new novel I’m working on as well. Back to the non-expressible. I so wish I were smarter! All art deals with the peculiarity, the strangeness of our situation. We do all this stuff — we think, we marvel, we despair, we care — and then we die. That makes no sense. Surely we should be spending our time differently since that is the case, but how? With the injustice, the political stupidity, the destruction of the natural world, it is tempting to believe (in our non-believing) that things are not what they seem, that there is a link between the dead and the unborn that can replenish the void we know awaits each of us and all we love.

TL: What things have made you feel excited in your life?

JW: Excited? Why do you ask?

TL: You said about The Changeling, “That book was just destroyed. It was an awful experience. […] I felt at the time that some of the reviewers wanted me to die. They just wanted me to stop writing. They were saying, ‘We have other writers out there who we have to deal with and all the writers yet unborn, so please go away.’” Your recent novel, The Quick and The Dead, however, received a lot of praise from almost every reviewer and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Why do you think “critics” reacted differently to the two different novels?

JW: The late ’70s were a tough time for women novelists. We were supposed to be feminist, engaged, angry. It was really, weirdly, a very conformist time. (Of course, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon came out around then and she avoided those problems profoundly and beautifully.) The Changeling is about a guilty young drunk named Pearl on an island with feral children. The prose is lushly stark and imaginative, the method magical, even demented. Feminism did not need a guilty drunk! The Quick and the Dead had larger, more charming and annoying characters and a bigger theme. It’s a better book. It was published in 2000, a millennium baby. Maybe people were more willing to contemplate the straits between the living and the dead. Still, the critics didn’t like it that much.

TL: Throughout the ’70s and ’80s there was a term, “K-Mart Realism,” or “Minimalism,” that journalists used for a group of writers you were sometimes mentioned with — Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Bobbie Ann Mason, Frederick Barthelme, etc. Did — and are — you interested or excited by work from that “group” of writers?

JW: Of the ones you mention, it’s Carver who’s the stand-out, and he very much disliked the term minimalism as it was applied to his own work. The editor Gordon Lish was the maestro of minimalism and under his uncanny pencil, many an ordinary story became a very good one. Minimalism as a productive style can be very affective, alarming and satisfying, but I don’t think there ever was a pure strain of it. For a time, it was just a kettle into which many a strange fish were flung. Now with America’s miniaturization of not irrelevance in the world, it might return to the short story in grim and freshened renewal. Certainly the days of the giddy blowhard are over. I hope.

TL: I feel like your writing has become more concrete and less abstract over time. There are more scenes and more of a narrative, I feel, especially in your last two books, The Quick and the Dead & Honored Guest, than in your first books, specifically State of Grace & The Changeling. I like your writing more with each new book. It seems funnier and calmer now to me, I can picture things easier, the sentences feel to me more interesting like you spent more time selecting each sentence that is allowed in each story. I feel like most writers become more abstract over time, you seem like the exception to me. Do you ever think about this? Why do you think you became
more concrete over time, or do you not think (or have not thought about) that?

JW: A writer is always seeing pitfalls inherent in a skill he thinks he’s already mastered. You write, you change, everything changes. The pressures on language fail to evoke the desired effect. The “gift” you feel you may have undeservedly received can’t be used for everything. The dependable friend has become untrustworthy. Your ear goes, or confidence that the delivering word will appear, erodes. You get sick of fulfilling your characters, your ease with Time evaporates. Endings, beginnings, impossible. Strategies change. It never gets easier, that’s for certain. Abstraction in fiction is supposed to be bad, but it can be just the struck match that illuminates. Much of a writer’s work is to unexpress the expressible as well as the opposite. And the “concrete” is essential to both.

TL: At the end of one of your essays on writing you said, “None of this is what I long to say. I long to say other things. I write stories in my attempt to say them.” Is there mostly just one thing that you long to say, so that you try, in each story, to “say it all,” to express that one thing, or are there different things that you long to say, each requiring a different story?

JW: The conundrum of literature is that it is not supposed to say anything. Often a reader can enjoy a story or novel simply because he can admire the writer’s skill in getting out of it.

In Corinthians there is this passage: Behold, I show you a great mystery: we shall not all sleep but we will all be changed… in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye… This is one of those terrifying Biblical passages, though not as terrifying as many others, that addresses the unspeakable heart of our human situation and commands us to be aware. The best stories, I think, always contain this annunciation of awareness, no matter how cloaked. Emerson said, “No one suspects the days to be gods.” Stories can’t be gods of course. Maybe little godlets.

TL: Do you have an “ideal” that you strive for (some already existing story, novel, movie, or song that you think of) when you write a short story? A novel?

JW: No. The first note must be sounded and why have it be another’s? To name an ideal and then seek to riff it anew is an exercise for writers’ workshops.

TL: What story or novel writers, if any, do you feel are (or were) trying to “get at” the same things you are?

JW: I can tell you who I admire greatly — writers who always move and trouble me — Sebald, Coetzee, Delillo. They are rigorous, merciless novelists of great beauty and integrity.

TL: Do you like to be around people and go to parties and drink alcohol?

JW: Not really. I’m shy.

 

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Book

Joy Williams The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories
Knopf

‘The legendary writer’s first collection in more than ten years—and, finally, the definitive one. A literary event of the highest order.

‘Joy Williams has been celebrated as a master of the short story for four decades, her renown passing as a given from one generation to the next even in the shifting landscape of contemporary writing. And at long last the incredible scope of her singular achievement is put on display: thirty-three stories drawn from three much-lauded collections, and another thirteen appearing here for the first time in book form. Forty-six stories in all, far and away the most comprehensive volume in her long career, showcasing her crisp, elegant prose, her dark wit, and her uncanny ability to illuminate our world through characters and situations that feel at once peculiar and foreign and disturbingly familiar. Virtually all American writers have their favorite Joy Williams stories, as do many readers of all ages, and each one of them is available here.’ — Knopf

 

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Excerpt

The Bridgetender

I am trying to think. Sometimes I catch myself saying just those words and just in my head. It seems I got to start everything in my head with something in my head saying I am trying to think. I remember how it begins but can’t remember how it ends. Even though it’s over now. It don’t seem right that it could be over and me back where I’ve always been not even knowing what it was she gave me or what I should do with it.

Because the bridge is still here and the water and the shack. And though I haven’t been to town since she disappeared, I imagine the town’s still there too. Her fancy car is still here sitting on the beach, though it seems to be fading, sort of like a crummy photograph. It’s a black car but the birds have crapped all over it and it’s white now like the sand. Sometimes it hurts my eyes. The chrome catches the sun. But as I say, sometimes I can’t hardly make it out at all. It ain’t really a car anymore. It wouldn’t take nobody anywhere.

What it is I think is that before she came I knew something was going to happen and now that she’s been, I know it ain’t. She didn’t leave a single thing behind. Not a pair of panties or a stick of gum or nothing. Once she brought over a little round tin of chicken-liver patay. Now I know I’ve never eaten chicken-liver patay so it must be around here somewhere, but I can’t find it. My head’s fuller’n a tick on a dog. Full of blood or something. And my prick lies so tame in my blue jeans, I can’t hardly believe it’s even gone through what it’s been through.

She was like smoke the way she went away. She was like that even when she stayed. She’d cover me up, wrapping herself around me tight, tasting sweet and as cool as an ice cream cone, smelling so good and working at loving me. Then she would just dissolve and I’d fill right up with her like a water glass. I can’t recall it ending, as I say, but I know it’s stopped. Black rain at four in the afternoon like it used to be. Black trees and empty sky. And the Gulf running a dirty green foam where it turns into the pass.

But I can think about it beginning. So. That first morning I come back to the shack to get a bottle of beer and there’s a big brown dog sitting there drinking out of the toilet bowl. He’d drained it. And looked at me as though it was me and not him that had no right being there. Drained it and sat and stared at me, his jaws rolling and dripping at me. Now, I like dogs all right but I could see this one was a bum. In the Panhandle, I had two catch dogs that was something to watch. Them dogs just loved to catch. They was no nonsense dogs. But this canlicker was a bum. Somebody’s pet. A poodle or something. The big kind. Before I got around to giving him a good kick, he pushed the screen door open with his paw and left.

I was so mad. It ruined my beer because I drank it all in one swallow and it was just too hot for that. I got a headache right away. And an ache around my ribs. So I got another beer and drank it real slow, thinking of how I could really cream that dog. I figured I wouldn’t hunt him out. I got better things to do than that, I hope. But I’d coax him along and then push him off the bridge and that would be one sorry dog when he finally dimed out. And I was thinking and figuring how to get that brown dog, not even thinking then how queer it was that there should be any dog at all, because I hadn’t seen a thing for six months around the
bridge or on the beach except wild. And I hadn’t seen another person in that time either and then as soon as I remember this, I see the girl walking along the beach with the dog.

She’s in a bright bikini and long raggedywet hair and I remember how long it had been since I’d seen a girl in a bikini or any girl at all because my wife had left me a long while ago, even then having stopped being a girl in any way you could think of, and went back to living in Lowell, Massachusetts, the place she come from and left just to plague me. Somewhere, in that town, setting on a lawn outside a factory, is or was a chair fit for a giant’s ass. Forty or fifty times bigger and crazier than a proper chair. And she come from that town. And she sold off my dogs to get back to it on a one-way ticket on a bubble-topped Trailways.

I never knew her real well. She wore more clothes, jesus, you’d think she was an Eskimo. Layers and layers of them. I never knew if I got to her or not and she’d be the last to tell me. She never talked about nothing except New England. Everything was better there, she’d say. Corn, roads, and movie houses. The horses ain’t as mean, she’d say. The bread rises better up North. Even the sun, she’d say, is nicer because it sets in a different direction. It don’t fall past the house this way at home, she’d say. I was a young man then and I never cheated. I was a young man and my balls were big as oranges. And I threw it all away, god knows where. She caught my stuff in her underwear and washed it away in the creek.

When I think about what a honey bear I was and how polite and wonderfully whanged and how it was all wasted on a loveless woman… She had a tongue wide and slick as a fried egg. And never used it once. I guess that’s what I was waiting on but I might just as much have hoped for oil in the collards patch. She said she was a respectable woman and claimed to have worked in an office in Boston. But she didn’t have no respect for the man and woman relationship and she didn’t have no brain. She couldn’t bring things together in her head. I’d bring her head together all right if I ever see her again. I’d fold it up for her so she’d be able to carry it in her handbag. Selling the best catch dogs in the State of Florida for a bus ticket.

So. I see the girl in the bright bikini and all I can think of is the old lady. It’d been so long and all I could think of was that witch I once had or maybe never had. I spent all this time here over the water not imagining anything. I just see that when I see the girl. And I got scared. I felt as though I caught myself dying. Like you’d catch yourself doing something stupid.

I walked across the bridge and climbed up into the box and got the binoculars. They belong to the state but they’re mine as long as I leave them here. And, I figure, the girl’s mine as long as she keeps herself in range. She’s walking down the beach, stopping every few yards and squatting down and setting out a stick. She’s got a bathing suit on that’s like two Band-Aids. Promising but not too promising. She had a knife strapped around her waist and wore a big wristwatch. She also had a notebook.

It wore me out watching her. She’d squat down and write something and then spring up again so graceful like she knew someone was watching her and gave the bottoms of her bikini a little flip with her finger. I watched her for a long time, but she didn’t do nothing spectacular. I was real happy just watching a near naked woman move. Every once in a while she’d go into the water and swim out a few hundred yards, that damn dog swimming beside her barking like hell, and each time when she come out it was like that bikini had shrunk a little bit more and she was falling out of it every which way all plump and bubbly white.

I watched her until she got out of sight, around a bend in the beach, and then I started looking at other things. Mess of birds in the mangroves. Mullet boats way offshore. And what I’d later know was the girl’s car parked on the hard sand under some cedars. A weird-looking vehicle. I know right away it’s from Europe or someplace foreign. A mean car shaped like a coffin. But it reminded me of sex too, you know, though I never seen a machine that reminded me of sex before. But that car set me to feeling things, like the girl, that I hadn’t felt maybe never. Though I knew what they were. And it felt so good feeling them.

I finally put up the binoculars. Wiped them off. The glass was getting milky from all the wetness in the air. As a matter of fact, I think they was shot from my never using them, never caring for them at all. Lots of things are like that. Life, you know, it begins to rot if you don’t use it. Everything gets bound or rusted up. Tools especially. Gear. My tool. Ha ha.

It worried me a little about the binoculars since they belong to the state. They could hassle me about them. Like they could about the bridge. Because the bridge sure ain’t being what it’s supposed to be. If a boat ever wanted to come through and I had to wind this devil back I believe it would just fall apart, the whole apparatus, like one of them paste and paper bridges you see blowing up in war movies. But no boats come through anyhow. It just ain’t a proper waterway. The channel needs to be redug or a good hurricane’s gotta come through here and clean everything out. A pretty beach. Good fishing but no boats come and no people either. Something happened here years ago, I heard. A sickness or something. In the water. An attack or something coming in on the tide. Somebody died or got hurt. You know the way these things are. People remember bad news even though they might never have heard it in the first place.

So the state has let it slide. Though you never know when they’ll show up and raise all sorts of hell because things ain’t how they want them. But it was them and not me who built this crazy beach and it was me and not them who saw, on my first day on the job, the sign just above them rotting joists around the crank that says caution when installed proper this sign will not be visible.

Well, it ain’t my concern. And I’ll tell you I never really expect the state to come and hassle me. They know they got a bargain. It takes a special man to put up with living out here. I don’t think anybody will come at all. Though I’d been waiting on this girl. It sure is easy to see that now.

So. After she got out of range, I went back to the shack and took a shower. Goddamn frogs come out of the wood and sat there while I did it. Like to have broke my neck slipping on them. Put on clean clothes and cut my nails. Prettied myself up like a movie idol. Had a beer and fell asleep right in the chair in the middle of the day. Which was unusual. And when I woke up it was practically black out and the girl was there looking at me.

She was feeding Corn Flakes to her dog. Piece by piece. My Corn Flakes. She was so brown from the sun, she was shining. And she was so warm-looking that I started to sweat. And she started right in, hardly saying anything but chatting like we were old pals. Then she come over to me and darn if she didn’t sit on my lap and blow in my ear. God, she was warm. It was like being baked in a biscuit. And chatting all the while. I’d forgotten, you know, it’s a whole new vocabulary with a good woman.

So the first night went by and the sun come out. The dog was still working on his balls over by the sink. And my baby tickled me up with a pink bird’s feather. Bright pink like it come out of a cartoon. A roseate spoonbill feather, she said, for her specialty was birds. Ha ha, I said. Because I knew where her talent was.

But she was a nut on seabirds. She talked about them all the time she was frying up breakfast. Eggs and side meat and pancakes. She made up the best plates of food every day she stayed and we fed each other up. But that first day she entertained me… honey and butter dripping all over. Like I had died and gone somewheres a lot better than heaven.

But when she wasn’t tending to me and making up inventions, she was always going on about them birds. She had a canvas bag she was always toting around and damn if inside there weren’t two dead birds, perfect in every way except for their being dead. She didn’t know what kind they was and she was toting them around until she could find a book that would tell her. And there were little speckled eggs in that bag too, no bigger than my thumbnail, with a hole in them and all the insides gone. And other crap she picked up along the beach. And the knives. Dinky little things. She said they was for predators on land or in the sea but they couldn’t do no real damage, I told her that. Do in a splinter is about all.

What she was doing with them birds was making a study on how they copulate. And what I learned, I’ll tell you, is that them terns are dumb. They don’t know what they’re doing because all they’re really thinking about is making nests and eggs. This is because, the girl said, they don’t have the time. Their hearts beat so fast they don’t live long and their heads are only full of getting food and keeping alive. But I never seen anything sloppier with screwing. No wonder I never noticed them doing it in other springs. It don’t look like nothing at all, not even the big birds, the pelicans and whatever.

But that girl’s big pretty eyes would fill up with tears when she talked about them. She told me to respect them because they live their lives so close to dying.

OK, I said. I understood that.

But it’s the inventions she made up that I can’t quite puzzle out. And she started in on them the first day directly after I lapped up all them pancakes. She never made me pretend to be things I wasn’t. Only things I was. But I believe we went through a hundred changes the days she stayed with me. We didn’t have costumes or nothing naturally but it was like we were playing other people doing things. Though all the time it was us. I was a gangster and she was the governor’s daughter, you know, or I was a bombardier and she was the inside of the plane. Or I was a preacher, maybe Methodist, and she was a babysitter. And even her dog did it because sometimes he was like a whole other object, you know. Or like he became a feeling in the shack and quit being a dog.

She messed up time and place for me. And just with her, I felt I was loving the different women of a thousand different men. We just went on for five days with them inventions and never did the same one twice. She’d go off sometimes in her fancy car, I don’t know where. I’d lie there while she was gone, not even able to move hardly nor sleep neither. Lie there with my eyes open, trying to think what was happening, listening to the sound her car made traveling over the bridge, and it was like the bridge went on for miles, it was the only car I’d heard traveling for so long. There were four silver pipes sticking off the end of that car. I never seen anything like it. I was trying to think, but never once did I think about her not coming back. She always come back.

On the fifth day, I went down with her to the beach. First time I been out of the shack. Hotter than a poor shotgun. No wind. We was walking over the bridge to the beach when she said, This isn’t a drawbridge. It’s a solid piece. There isn’t any grid. And so what do you tend, I’d like to know?

Well, of course it ain’t a drawbridge. Did she think I’d been here for all these years paid by the country, here every day with no vacation and never no real quitting time without knowing that the goddamn thing wasn’t a drawbridge?

I didn’t say nothing but just gave her a look telling her that she should tend to what she knows about and I’ll tend to what I know about.

The beach was full of eggs. She kept steering me around so I wouldn’t step on them. All them eggs cooking in the heat and the birds going crazy over us as we walked along. Diving down and screaming, shitting on our heads. I went down to the water to get away from them. I was still put out with the girl and wasn’t paying her any mind. She was trotting up and down the beach, slaving like a field hand, writing things down in her book. Finally she run right by me and fell in the water. Tried to tease me in. Took off her suit and tossed it in my face. Skin there like the cream in a chocolate eclair. But I paid her no mind. That day was so white my eyes ached. I was floating and felt sick. All that sun, it never bothered me before. She come out and sprinkled water all over me from her hair and even that wasn’t cool. It was hot as the air. I was mad because I felt she was thinking my thoughts weren’t real. But then I said, Come on, I been without loving too long. Because I thought her loving would pick me up. And we went back to the shack, me with my eyes closed and my arms resting on her because it hurt so bad looking out on that day. It ain’t never been that bright here before or since.

So we went back. And I was a lumberjack and she was a dancehall cutie. And I was a big black lake and she was a sailboat coming over me. But that night she and that dog was gone.

There are sharks, I know. I seen them rolling out there. And the bars sometimes are tricky. They change. Fall off one day where they didn’t the day before. But it don’t really seem dangerous here. I just don’t know where she went to. Leaving nothing except that car, which like I say is sort of fading out. Rats building their nests beneath the hood. I hear them in it when I walk close.

So it’s over but I can’t help but feel it’s still going on somewheres. Because it hasn’t seemed to have ended even though it’s stopped. And I don’t know what it was she gave me. Maybe she even took something away. And I don’t really even know if she’s dead and it’s me sitting here in the pilothouse or if I was the one who’s been dead all the while and she’s still going on back there on the Gulf with the birds in the sun.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Scunnard, Hey, Jared! Cool. My Donald Sutherland story isn’t that exciting, but one time back in the early 80s when I was living in NYC, a few other young writers and I organised a birthday dinner for John Ashbery at this swank restaurant on the Upper West Side. So we were having dinner, and at the next table, I noticed that Donald Sutherland was having dinner with his son Kiefer and that it was not a pleasant dinner. They were arguing and glowering at each other. At some point Donald S. looked over and saw John Ashbery, and he was clearly very in awe, jaw dropped and everything. Kiefer, who didn’t seem to know of John Ashbery, got really pissed at his father for being so distracted from their argument, and he threw his glass of water in Donald S.’s face and stormed out. At that point, John Ashbery noticed Donald Sutherland sitting there, and he was clearly in awe, jaw dropped and everything. And Ashbery and Sutherland, with water all over his face and shirt, just sat there staring at each other in awe for a moment until Donald S. stood up, and started to leave. As he did, he said loudly to John A., referring to his face and shirt, ‘Sorry I’m so pathetic.’ And John Ashbery said back to him, ‘Not a problem, so am I’. ** David Ehrenstein, He’s cool. Granted I haven’t watched ‘Fellini’s Casanova’ in ages, but I remember really digging it. I might have been on acid or something though. ** Bill, Hi, B. The protests were down a notch in intensity, so it was relatively only mildly raucous. ‘Nocturama’ is nice, very odd. ** Dominik, Hi, D! My back is not quite normal, no, but it’s edging towards normalcy, I think, I hope. No, your cough came back full force? Yes, antibiotics, do it, go for it. You shouldn’t have to deal with that coughing shit. Cool you hate parties too. Yeah, I just feel extremely uncomfortable at them. I’m much better one on one. All that small talk and randomness just doesn’t suit my personality or something. Plus I don’t like alcohol, but, even back when I did, I still got bored and angsty at parties. The Saturday’s protest was way down in intensity. The mostly far right infiltrators who caused all the violence and destruction either didn’t show up or were probably arrested before they reached the city center. Yes, I was watching on TV last night the protests there where you are. They looked intense, as intense as ours if not even more so. It seems good, though, in theory, or at based on the little I know about your country’s awful government, or maybe I’m wrong? Work-filled weekend, it was, yes. Seemingly by the end of next weekend we will have turned in the full script and will then hopefully have something of a break for about two weeks. Snowing! Aw, I do envy you. I guess there’s still a chance we’ll get snow here, however unlikely. It has been cold enough. You have a great, great week, and definitely do what you must to kill that cough. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! How are you? Good to see you, man! Oh, wow, thanks a lot for writing that thing about ‘PGL’ for your Hammer to Nail list. That’s awesome. Everyone, The fine and eminent filmmaker and more Nick Toti has made a “best of the year” list for the Hammer to Nail site, and, sorry to toot my own horn, but ‘PGL’ gets some props on it, and, plus, it’s a chewy, enlightening read in general, so read it, yes? I think the way I found out about that Kobek book about XXXTENTACION was via a post you did on Facebook. How odd indeed. Must read, clearly. Thanks a lot, man! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Hm, I don’t know. About that connection or not. Great your film will get a public screening! Sounds sweet: the psych screening. Will you list the videos you showed somewhere?And a punk and post-punk sequel sounds tasty, obviously. Everyone, Here’s the Gay City News version of Steve Erickson’s 2018 film top 10 list, which I guess means a somewhat more gay version? ** Kewatyne, I watched all the ‘Hunger Games’ movies on plane flights, and I remember that time consequently passed, which was nice. Things are fairly chillin’ here, I think. I don’t know why ‘evil Chevy Chase’ sounds promising, but it does! It goes fine here, just workin’ on stuff, no big. ** Misanthrope, Dude has definitely done some movie role stooping in return for more than his usual fee at less than his usual commitment, but who hasn’t? Well, yeah, there are the now-dead former bad boys. Quite a few in my experience. I wasn’t going to mention them. All you can do is be your usual pillar of virtue around the lad and hope that deep down he’s learning by viewing. Whatcha doing for Xmas itself? ** Right. It’s not that uncommon that I suddenly decide to use the blog to spotlight the great, great Joy Williams, and it has happened again! Enjoy the spoils should they seem like spoils to you. See you tomorrow.

Donald Sutherland Day

 

‘After quitting the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Donald Sutherland spent a year and a half at the Perth Repertory Theatre in Scotland. In the early to mid-1960s, Sutherland began to gain small roles in British films and TV (such as a hotel receptionist in The Sentimental Agent episode ‘A Very Desirable Plot’ (1963). He featured alongside Christopher Lee in horror films such as Castle of the Living Dead (1964) and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). He also had a supporting role in the Hammer Films production Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), with Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.

‘In 1967, he appeared in The Dirty Dozen. The film, which co-starred Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson, was the 5th highest-grossing film of 1967 and MGM’s highest-grossing movie of the year. In 1968, Sutherland left London for Hollywood. He then appeared in two war films, playing the lead role as “Hawkeye” Pierce in Robert Altman’s MASH in 1970; and, again in 1970, as hippie tank commander “Oddball” in Kelly’s Heroes.

‘During the filming of the Academy Award-winning detective thriller Klute, Sutherland had an intimate relationship with co-star Jane Fonda. Sutherland and Fonda went on to co-produce and star together in the anti-Vietnam War documentary F.T.A. (1972), consisting of a series of sketches performed outside army bases in the Pacific Rim and interviews with American troops who were then on active service. A follow up to their teaming up in Klute, Sutherland and Fonda performed together in Steelyard Blues (1973), a “freewheeling, Age-of-Aquarius, romp-and-roll caper” from the writer David S. Ward.

‘The 1973 thriller Don’t Look Now was shot in Venice. Both Sutherland and co-star Julie Christie were praised for their performances. Sutherland found himself as a leading man throughout the 1970s in films such as The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Federico Fellini’s Casanova (1976), the thriller Eye of the Needle, Maximilian Schell’s 1976 German film-directed End of the Game, and as the ever-optimistic health inspector in the science fiction/horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) alongside Brooke Adams and Jeff Goldblum.

‘Sutherland also had a role as pot-smoking Professor Dave Jennings in National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978, making himself known to younger fans as a result of the movie’s popularity. When cast, he was offered either $40,000 up front or two percent of the movie’s gross earnings. Thinking the movie would certainly not be a big success, he chose the 40K upfront payment. The movie eventually grossed $141.6 million.

‘He won acclaim for his performance in the Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1976 epic film 1900 and as the conflicted father in the Academy Award-winning family drama Ordinary People (1980), alongside Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton.

‘Some of Sutherland’s better known roles in the 1980s and 1990s were in the South African apartheid drama A Dry White Season (1989), alongside Marlon Brando and Susan Sarandon; as a sadistic warden in Lock Up (1989) with Sylvester Stallone; as an incarcerated pyromaniac in the firefighter thriller Backdraft (1990) alongside Kurt Russell and Robert De Niro, as the humanitarian doctor-activist Norman Bethune in 1990’s Bethune: The Making of a Hero, and as a snobbish New York City art dealer in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), with Stockard Channing and Will Smith.

‘In the 1991 Oliver Stone film JFK, he played a mysterious Washington intelligence officer, reputed to have been L. Fletcher Prouty, who spoke of links to the military–industrial complex in the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. He played psychiatrist and visionary Wilhelm Reich in the video for Kate Bush’s 1985 single, “Cloudbusting”. In 1992, he played the role of Merrick in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Kristy Swanson. In 1994, he played the head of a government agency hunting for aliens that take over people’s bodies similar to the premise of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the movie of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 book The Puppet Masters.

‘In more recent years, Sutherland was known for his role as Reverend Monroe in the Civil War drama Cold Mountain (2003), in the remake of The Italian Job (2003), in the movie Fierce People (2005) with Diane Lane and Anton Yelchin, and as Mr. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice (2005), starring alongside Keira Knightley.

‘Beginning in 2012, Sutherland portrayed President Snow, the main antagonist of The Hunger Games film franchise, in The Hunger Games (2012), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014), and Part 2 (2015). During his appearances to promote the first Hunger Games film, he mentioned that he had been offered the lead roles in Deliverance and Straw Dogs but turned both offers down because he did not want to appear in violent films at the time. The role in Deliverance went to Jon Voight and the role in Straw Dogs to Dustin Hoffman, and both films enjoyed critical and box office success. After declining these violent roles, he quipped: “and then I played a fascist in 1900 by Bernardo Bertolucci.”

‘In 2016, Sutherland was a member of the main competition jury of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. On 6 September 2017, it was announced that Sutherland, along with 3 other recipients, would receive an Honorary Oscar, from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sutherland’s first Academy Award in six decades.’ — collaged

 

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Stills





















































 

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Further

Donald Sutherland @ IMDb
The long, unconventional career of Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland leads tributes to ‘fearless visionary’ Nicolas Roeg
Donald Sutherland on His Famous Don’t Look Now Sex Scene
Trust, Jane Fonda and falling out with his son Kiefer
22 Pictures of Young Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland: 10 essential films
Road Trip with Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren
Donald Sutherland on ‘Trust,’ ’70s Cinema and Sympathy for the Devil
BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs, Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland | Forever Young
Les larmes de Donald Sutherland
A Conversation With Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland has no time for Donald Sutherland’s movies, thank you
Proust Questionnaire: Donald Sutherland
‘I could tell you stories but I’d never get another job’

 

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Extras


Donald Sutherland receives Honorary Award at 2017 Governors Awards


Donald Sutherland is all about the power of the female

 

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Interview

 

When was the first time you came to Cannes?
It was in 1968 for Joanna, directed by Michael Sarne. At the end of the film, the young main actress, sitting on a small balcony at the back of a train, said: “I’ll be back!”. The entire theatre audience shouted: “Never!”. That was my first experience at the Festival de Cannes. I then came back for two films in particular, 1900 by Bernardo Bertolucci and The Day of the Locust by John Schlesinger.

What kind of films move you?
Good films! Films that tell a story to perfection and that manage to lighten up my life. Films that touch me deep inside my heart and soul, and that grow inside me, infect and consume me.

How often do you go to the cinema?
I used to go a lot when I was a university student in Toronto. I always had an afternoon free, and I’d go to the cinema at the end of my street. One day, it was screening a film by an Italian director that I didn’t know. I later found out that it was called La Strada and that the director in question was called Federico Fellini. His wife, Giulietta Masina, was one of the actresses, and the music was by Nino Rotta. I went to see the film and fell literally in love with it. I left the cinema in worship of films and the film industry.

Was La Strada your first shock at the cinema?
No. My first shock was watching Great Expectations, the film by David Lean, in 1946, with my mother. In one of the film’s scences, Abel Magwitch, played by Finlay Currie, jumps out from behind some trees. I jumped onto my mother’s lap and watched the rest of the film like that. That was my first shock of cinematographic purity. A long while later, in 1957, I went to see another film, by some guy that I didn’t know. His name was Stanley Kubrick and his film was called Paths of Glory. My life changed on that day. I was mad at the entire world. The mere thought of talking about this cinematographic experience makes me want to cry. Gillo Pontecorvo’s films have also moved me a great deal. The Battle of Algiers (La battaglia di Algeri) (1966) and Burnt (Queimada) (1969), starring Marlon Brando, are milestones on my path as a film lover.

What do you remember about your first audition?
It was in London, for a leading role. I loved the character that I was going to play, and I’d really worked hard on it. I thought that my audition was rather a success. I was waiting for my agent to call me; the following day, the phone rang, and there were the screenwriter, director and producer of the film on the other end. The screenwriter was the one to speak, to tell me that my audition had changed their lives. After my audition, they’d decided to change the way of making their film, but they weren’t going to offer me the role. I was speechless. They were looking for a Joe Bloggs, and told me that I’d never be somebody like that.

When was the first time you starred in a film?
It was in 1964 in Castle of the Living Dead (Il Castello dei Morti Vivi), a Z horror movie by Warren Kiefer, which is where I got the inspiration for my son’s first name from. I met the woman who was to become my second wife whilst shooting this film. She thought I was a good actor, and one day she asked a man (who had been Mussolini’s astrologer) to tell her what the future held in store for me. After he’d looked at my lucky numbers, he called me back and said: “You’re going to be a film star”. I had some incredible experiences in Italy.

At what point in your career have you felt the most contented?
From the minute I started this career. I’d always wanted to become an actor. When I went to see my father, who worked in sales, to tell him that I wanted to be an actor, he simply said: “OK”. Everybody else, in his shoes, would have said that I was crazy. He wanted me to take a unviersity degree before, to be able to do something else, just in case. When I was at university, I said I wanted to be an actor and one day, someone told me about an audition. First of all, I didn’t want to go, but some guy bet a dollar that I’d get the part. So I went to the audition to win the bet, not to get the part. When I arrived on stage, they laughed and when I walked off stage, they applauded. They gave me a standing ovation. I’ve never experienced that since.

You’ve seen cinema change and grow; what do you think of it today?
I think it’s senile! It was so much more adult and wonderful before. The film industry is going through an ordeal today for financial reasons, because mentalities are concerned about making a profit. At the time, there weren’t any of the parasitic tools like Facebook or Twitter. When Robert Altman’s film M.A.S.H was released in 1970, it didn’t receive any advertising but it was successful thanks to word-of-mouth, after just one screening. It was publicly screened for the first time in a cinema in New York, in the Upper East Side, at 9a.m. one morning. People were queuing twice round the block. It was another era, another business.

 

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18 of Donald Sutherland’s 190 roles

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Silvio Narizzano Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
Die! Die! My Darling reportedly occasioned a lawsuit by star Tallulah Bankhead, whose screen swan song this was. In one of the era’s many shockers that barged through the door opened by Psycho, Bankhead is a grieving mother who has gone around the bend and now tortures her would-be daughter-in-law Stefanie Powers. With Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Maurice Kaufmann, and—as a hulking lurking handyman—Donald Sutherland.’ — Quad Cinema


Excerpt

 

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Robert Aldrich The Dirty Dozen (1967)
‘The U. S. Army singles out 12 really tough guys, murderers and rapists and men like that, and assigns them to wipe out a chateau where a lot of German officers spend their holidays. Before the big mission, the “dirty dozen” train under the leadership of Lee Marvin. There are some nice, amusing scenes, especially when one of the dozen (Donald Sutherland) pretends to be a general and inspects some troops. In fact, right up to the last scene the movie is amusing, well paced, intelligent.’ — Roger Ebert


Excerpt

 

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Michael Sarne Joanna (1968)
‘Former 1960s pop singer turned film director Mike Sarne is probably best known for helming the infamous 1970 box office bomb Myra Breckinridge – an overblown, kitsch adaptation of Gore Vidal’s novel starring Raquel Welch and Rex Reed. But two years before his Hollywood debut, Sarne fashioned this quirky story of a wide-eyed girl (Geneviève Waite, who would later marry Mamas & the Papas singer John Phillips) falling in with the loose-living London crowd. Donald Sutherland steals the film as a flamboyant but frail, wealthy young man who invites Joanna on an impulsive trip to Morocco; while Calvin Lockhart (in his film debut) cameos as a street-wise hipster who Joanna falls in love with. Famously described by Gore Vidal as resembling ‘a collection of cigarette ads’, Joanna is very much a time capsule of London in the 1960s, and has much the same trippy qualities as Myra – especially its narrative structure, which is basically a succession of mad situations that Joanna finds herself in. Think Voltaire’s Candide transplanted to a mod London, but minus the debauchery.’ — What’s On TV


Excerpt

 

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Robert Altman MASH (1970)
‘Nearly 50 years ago, a film came along that changed the course of cinema. It made its director, Robert Altman, a legend. It made its stars—Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Sally Kellerman (among others)—into icons. And, above all else, it set a new standard for what a studio film could be. Today, M*A*S*H is most often remembered as a TV series. But before that, it was a rebellious landmark in the history of filmmaking.’ — Mental Floss


Excerpt

 

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Paul Mazursky Alex in Wonderland (1970)
‘After making a splashy debut with the 1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which he wrote (with partner Larry Tucker), Paul Mazursky experienced sort of a sophomore jinx with the comedy-drama Alex in Wonderland, starring Donald Sutherland and Ellen Burstyn. Inspired by the work of Fellini (specifically 81/2), who appears as himself in the movie, Alex in Wonderland was a more personal work for Mazursky but not nearly as sharp and poignant as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The film is both shallow and derivative.’ — Emanuel Levy


Excerpt

 

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Dalton Trumbo Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
‘The film is often sentimental, sometimes brilliant as well as horrifying, and it is intriguing to speculate on what Buñuel, whom Trumbo originally wanted to direct, would have made of it.’ — Time Out


Excerpt

 

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Alan J. Pakula Klute (1971)
‘Klute was one of the first paranoia thrillers of the 1970s, but it stands apart, preceding and seemingly presaging Watergate, the source of its unease hard to pinpoint: like Sidney Lumet’s The Anderson Tapes, released just a week before Klute, it dealt with covert surveillance and wiretapping. There was good cause to be anxious in the ‘70s: the Cold War, second-wave feminism, the sexual revolution, Vietnam, police corruption scandals, crowded cityscapes, the violence of the late 1960s. Maybe Watergate served as a lightning rod for a diffuse preexisting paranoia, let us give it a name and a reason — and Klute is one of the earliest articulations of the era’s uncertainty.’ — Birth. Movies. Death.


Excerpt

 

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Nicolas Roeg Don’t Look Now (1973)
‘Upon initial release, on a double bill with The Wicker Man (talk about a perfect pairing!), much of the conversation surrounding Don’t Look Now concerned a sex scene between Christie and Sutherland so frank that rumors still persist it wasn’t simulated. Today, the scene looks groundbreaking less for its explicitness and realism than for the elliptical editing style, which anticipated countless stylish, nonlinear flurries of montage (including a comparable love scene in Out Of Sight 25 years later). Meanwhile, the film’s reputation as an all-time creep-out rests largely on its shocking climax. (Would anyone even call it horror if it didn’t end how it ends?) That’s not to diminish Roeg’s ability to get under the skin, almost entirely through disorienting technique: sudden zooms, odd stings of audio, the jumbling of time and space during one of the numerous, influential intrusions of flashback. Roeg even leaves the Italian dialogue un-subtitled, to put us in the same confused position as Sutherland’s increasingly frazzled protagonist.’ — AV Film


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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John Schlesinger The Day of the Locust (1975)
‘Schlesinger doesn’t have the benefit of a whole novel to build up to this – although he could have used the slightly baggy second act more wisely – but when it comes it’s an astonishing scene of Fellini-esque horror. The political interpretation of West’s book, too, is nicely represented when Schlesinger shoots a faith healing ceremony to resemble Leni Riefenstahl’s footage of the Nuremberg rally. At the centre of the excess and carnage is a rock-solid ensemble, including Karen Black and William Atherton and headed up by Donald Sutherland as – no, really – Homer Simpson. Sutherland usually makes these everyman parts at least fifty per cent more interesting just through his own restless, impish intelligence, and this is as fine an example of that as I’ve ever seen. The most unforgettable character, though, is one you’ll wish you could forget – a very young Jackie Earl Haley as a nightmarish delinquent dressed as one of the Little Rascals. He easily out-chills Tom Sweet in the recent Childhood of a Leader; point of fact, I could easily imagine him growing up to be Rorschach.’ — Graham Williamson


Excerpt

 

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Bernardo Bertolucci 1900 (1976)
‘All in all, I loved Bertolucci’s 1900. By the end of it (I watched the uncut, 318 minute version and it was an effortless, engrossing, never over-long experience), I found myself feeling as satisfied as someone who’s just finished reading one of those wonderful, very long classic novels. There are, however, some major flaws, not just in narrative structure but also in content, and this is why I’ve given it “just” a 9/10. It’s rather disjointed and all over the place, like a huge, gangly foal rather than a harmoniously-formed horse.’ — Asa_Nisi_Masa


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Federico Fellini Fellini’s Casanova (1976)
‘Fellini was well into the decadent stage of this third phase of his career when he cast Donald Sutherland as a charismatic, increasingly cadaverous Casanova making a circular journey through the great cities of 18th-century Europe, starting during a Venetian festival and ending on a frozen Grand Canal. Vainly seeking wealthy patrons for his scholarly pursuits, Casanova is seen as both an intellectual figure of the Enlightenment and a licentious voluptuary of a corrupt society about to be swept away by the French Revolution. He’s inexorably drawn by his inclinations and reputation into a succession of chilly, unfulfilling sexual encounters, culminating in making love to a mechanical doll. The semi-coherent, death-obsessed narrative reeks of self-disgust and has the clammy atmosphere of an undertaker’s embalming room. Made entirely on fabulous Cinecittà sets, it’s superbly photographed and magnificently staged and Sutherland (who hated the experience) is a compelling presence.’ — The Guardian


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Claude Chabrol Les Liens de sang (1977)
‘French director Claude Chabrol has often used murder as a catalyst in his grim pix about upper-class French life. But here it is more psychosis, repression and jealousy than the more absorbing social patterns of his French work. It makes the pic somewhat ambivalent, for it is a sudden revelation of madness rather than having more depth in characterization and a harder edge focused on its police work.’ — Variety


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Philip Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
‘In 1978, director Philip Kaufman brought his own version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers to the screen, and on the face of it, his movie’s a typical remake as we now understand the term. It scales up the canvas from a small middle-class community to a city, brings in a slightly starrier cast, ups the budget, includes references to the original (including an absolutely perfect cameo from Kevin McCarthy) and adds in lots more showy special effects. Remarkably, though, the 70s Body Snatchers almost equals the brilliance of Siegel’s original – and this time, its downbeat conclusion isn’t sullied by a studio-enforced epilogue, as the residents of San Francisco come under silent attack from plant-like, other-worldly organisms.’ — Den of Geek


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Julian Doyle Kate Bush: Cloudbusting (1985)
‘If you’ve seen the video for “Cloudbusting”, released 30 years ago this month, you’ll know that it’s a cinematic, oddly moving tale of a young boy, played by Kate Bush in a ragamuffin wig, and his idyllic adventures with his dad, played by Donald Sutherland, who is working on a giant ray-gun contraption that can shoot at clouds to make it rain. At some point in the video, a group of men in suits arrive to snatch the boy’s father away, but not before the boy can reach into his dad’s jacket pocket and pull out a slim volume called “A Book of Dreams”.’ — Dazed and Confused


the entire video

 

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Werner Herzog Scream of Stone (1991)
Scream of Stone is unmistakably a Werner Herzog film in only a few ways, but when it does smack of the director, it’s as strong a movie as its name implies. When it doesn’t, what it most resembles is something lost to the weirdo backroom of your great local video store: a supremely silly yet strangely well-made anomaly just waiting for a semi-ironic rediscovery of its eccentricities and virtues.’ — Spectrum Culture


the entire video

 

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Oliver Stone JFK (1991)
‘Nagged by fears that shady characters in his own district might have been involved in the president’s assassination, Garrison puts together a case. He has three key witnesses. David Ferrie (Joe Pesci) is a mercenary working with anti-Castro Cuban exiles. He breaks down and confesses the entire plot to Garrison, complete with CIA and Cuban exile involvement. Immediately afterwards, he is murdered by his co-conspirators. Willie O’Keefe (Kevin Bacon) is a gay prostitute involved with the conspirators. He, too, confesses the whole plot to Garrison, exactly in line with Ferrie. Finally, Garrison goes to Washington to meet an unnamed government insider, X, played with unabashed brilliance by Donald Sutherland. In a coruscating monologue, X explains the full breadth and depth of the conspiracy, bringing in the entire military-industrial complex behind the American government.’ — The Guardian


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Fran Rubel Kazui Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)
‘It’s kind of a miracle that a Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series ever happened. To understand why, you have to witness the show’s very humble origins, to watch the movie that started it all—the one Whedon probably wishes you wouldn’t, the one that Buffy fans generally ignore, the one that only really gets discussed today as a footnote on what it ended up improbably inspiring. It’s rare enough that a show based on a movie turns out good or even popular. But for one to grow from the soil of a forgotten, very mild box-office success with mixed-to-negative reviews, only to take on a life of its own and build a loyal fan-base and run for seven whole seasons? We’re entering miracle territory.’ — AV Club


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Nicolas Roeg Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball (2007)
‘Nic Roeg, Miranda Richardson, Rita Tushingham, Donald Sutherland – there were a lot of reasons to go and see this film. However, (and I’m holding back here) – this is the worst kind of unadulterated nonsense I’ve seen in a long time. It gives me no pleasure to slate this director and cast, but what were they doing? It’s a complete mess of a film, highly insulting to it’s audience’s intelligence and I can’t imagine what Nicolas Roeg was thinking of. Obviously these high caliber actors were well paid for the trip to Monaghan, Ireland – but what it was doing being shot there is anybody’s guess. The original novel by Fay Weldon set the rural community as Somerset; the film screenplay by her son Dan Weldon doesn’t even bother to adjust to it’s Irish setting. A focal point is Odin’s stone – a Norse god! This film looks set for minority interest; a once great director fallen on his sword, and for the dubious sexual scenes horribly overacted by the floundering cast.’ — Abigailsparty


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p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Oh, I see, ha ha. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Thanks, it’s ever if draggily normalising. The train buche can not hurt, can it? No, you’re right. I love when the escorts and slaves toss in an odd topical reference. It adds a nice strain of realism to the mostly (I think) bullshitty goings on. Oh, the ‘PGL’ screening in SF is on Feb. 3rd. Time, place still in process. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Oh, that turned out great. It’s weird and beautiful, even in sparkle-depressing reproduction. Everyone, Head over to _B_A’s instagram and check out his new screen print ‘Diamond Dust Camperdown Elms’ with the slight warning that it’s more sparkly in person. And that’s really fantastic about your tutor’s recommendation. Wow, man, that pen is sitting more than squarely in your hand tight out of the gate! ** Misanthrope, Since it could be argued that art itself is gratuitous, pinpointing violence within it seems a bit needle in a haystack searching-like. I vaguely remember there being a certain kind of cozy, ultra-conventional charm to Maupin’s stuff. Nearly the last thing in the world I want to do is look at Warhol paintings for the eight billionth time, but the majority feels otherwise, obviously. What in the world will become of poor LPS, I wonder. Although some of my most anti-school, self-destructive, asshole-ish high school mates back when ended up being the squarest, most ‘centred’ guys you can imagine. Who knows? So sorry for all of that. At least you had fun in the big M. ** Steve Erickson, Huh, that livestream. I really enjoyed your film. It made me super attentive, and it looks just terrific. I do have one question, but I’ll email it to you. Anyway, congrats! I so would have loved to be at your psychedelic video shebang. I absolutely love that stuff, as you know. Well, impressing people, or trying, is part of escorting, I guess. I’m more surprised by the ones who post what seem to be the shittiest, least flattering photos of themselves possible, although the lack of self-consciousness in that is quite touching. Well, threebrokelads were outed as a total fake by a commenter, if commenters are to be believed, which of course they aren’t. But if threebrokelads was really some horny, pranking gent from a much earlier generation, it would not surprise. ** Nik, Hi, Nik! I did read the new Joy Williams, and, yes, it was the rush and beauty I had expected. Yeah, never press hard on a piece of fiction if you aren’t in the right situation. That’s a rule I try to remember. Terrific that you’re in those classes with Lauterbach and Ahwesh. ‘Writing lab’, tasty term. Exciting that you’ll get back to making/thinking about film. And surely she’s just the kind of teacher one would want for that venture. Yes, we’re close to nailing Episode 2 down enough to turn it over to Gisele for her input. Tricky #3 is still early-ish on. ‘No Home Movie’ is one of her greatest, I agree. Among the fiction ones, I quite like ‘Tout one unit’ ‘Night and Day’, ‘The Meetings of Anna’, but, yeah, I’ve never seen a film by her that wasn’t very rewarding. ** Okay. I was thinking about Donald Sutherland and how one can forget all the great work he did pre-‘Hunger Games’ and all of that, so I decided to line up a bunch of his works and present that to you. See you tomorrow.

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