Note: In its entirely, Liveblog by Megan Boyle is over 25 hours long. It is broken into three parts, the longest of which is 22 hours, 40 minutes. Due to the length of the video, Vimeo tends to experience playback issues. For smoother playback, it is recommended that you visit the actual Vimeo page (rather than the embedded videos above) and download the original file.
In mid-2018, Nick Toti wrote a series of articles on the movies of Megan Boyle (made in collaboration with her ex-husband Tao Lin) for the website Hammer to Nail. Prior to this, Nick did not know Megan, but through the process of interviewing and writing about her, a friendly acquaintanceship developed. Later that year, Nick read a notice online suggesting that Megan would be doing an insane 48-hour-long nonstop reading of her 700+ page novel, Liveblog. Nick immediately reached out to ask Megan if she wanted him to fly to New York and document the event. She said yes. The result of this misguided endeavor is Liveblog by Megan Boyle, a 25-hour-long video (reading the novel took less time than initially anticipated) that is both a straightforward documentary of this one-of-a-kind literary event and, more subtly, a playful sort of cinematic endurance test (both in its making and for the viewer). Shot on glorious miniDV using an obsolete consumer-grade camera, Liveblog by Megan Boyle is a celebration of that most beautiful of human impulses: making things unnecessarily difficult for oneself by doggedly adhering to arbitrarily adopted principles.
On the one-year anniversary of Megan’s marathon reading, Peach, an art space in Rotterdam run by Ghislain Amar, hosted installation that included a screening of Liveblog by Megan Boyle in its entirety. The screening was followed by a discussion with Megan, Nick, and Ghislain at Rotterdam’s Center for Contemporary art, Witte de With.
Nick’s Abandoned Speech
In preparation for the talk at Witte de With, Nick prepared a short introductory speech to provide context for both his movie and Megan’s book. (Pictures of Nick writing his speech can be found above–in case anyone was wondering why he was so rudely typing into his phone during his own screening.) After arriving at Witte de With, Nick quickly realized that it was a much less formal event than he had imagined, so he decided against reading his prepared piece. It is included here for anyone who is interested.
I met Megan Boyle the same way many people have met her: on the internet. One of the sundry misguided movie-related projects that I waste my every waking moment on is a column for the website HammerToNail.com in which I write detailed analyses of relatively unknown works by misfit/oddball filmmakers. It was 2018, so I naturally thought it was the perfect time to write about the three movies Megan made with her ex-husband, the author Tao Lin, back in 2011. At the time of their initial release, these movies were somewhat widely covered in the relatively underground press as something of a publicity stunt to maybe, like, kind of promote Megan’s and Tao’s respective writing careers, or at least to get them more twitter followers, or whatever media people projected onto young American writers at a time when young American writers were generating enough energy to merit media attention in the first place.
In my inimitable prescience, I approached these works seven years after everyone else had utterly stopped giving a flying fuck about them. The reason for this is simple: where others saw their movies as an avenue for hot copy that might generate a precious few extra clicks, I saw them as significant contributions to the history of avant garde cinema. Lost in that ocean of clicks was the simple fact that these earnest, crudely produced movies are subtle masterpieces that marry content and form while also serving as a valuable ethnological record of a specific place/time/milieu that may otherwise have been forever lost in the shifting sands of digital content.
I interviewed Megan as research for the series of articles I went on to write about her movies. I also contacted her publisher and received an advance copy of her new novel, Liveblog. By the time the articles were published, I knew more about Megan than any healthy acquaintance probably should. This, however, is utterly unexceptional.
Anyone who has read Liveblog knows that Megan is an exceptionally open person. She demonstrates an extreme vulnerability as if the typical defense mechanisms that people develop somehow mysteriously skipped her. She’s also incredibly intelligent and self-aware. Vulnerability, intelligence, and self-awareness are a dangerous combination, perhaps especially in a young American woman. It would be one thing if she simply demonstrated these qualities in a private lifelong downward spiral of drugs, sex, depression, and crushing alienation, but Megan takes it a step further. She weaponizes her vulnerability through writing. This shit is no longer just her own isolated problem. It’s also the problem of everyone who reads her. And if you read her and don’t feel implicated in the endless parade of horror that is life as a vulnerable, intelligent, self-aware 20-something girl in America, then you aren’t reading correctly. Megan would probably disagree with that last statement, but that’s because she’s incredibly generous and a better person than me. She’s wrong, though, and I’m right. We’re all terrible people for reading her book instead of actively seeking out every fucked up suffering kid in the world and working with them to fix this machine that produces sadness and disillusionment otherwise known as western civilization.
Ostensibly in promotion of Liveblog, but actually because she’s a crazy person who no one ever stops from making terrible decisions, Megan decided to hold an event in which she would read her entire 707 page novel for a live audience nonstop over the course of two days. With all the moral integrity of an ambulance chasing tabloid photographer, I decided to make a real-time documentary of the entire event. My assumption was that this would be a spectacular trainwreck that might understandably end with Megan having a complete mental breakdown, trapped in the psychological hell of endlessly reliving the events of her book.
Instead, Megan disappointed me by demonstrating what can only be described as a superhuman level of resilience, powering through every one of those 707 pages without even losing her voice. There were some emotional breakdowns and some moments of intense personal disappointment, prompted by equal parts physical exhaustion and frustration with the travails of her seven-years-younger protagonist self. Her reading was deeply felt, and when it wasn’t it was numb in the ways a marathon runner goes numb to that unnatural extremity to which her body is being pushed. It was literature as an Olympics-level event for which only a lifetime of awkwardness punctuated by periods of violent self-loathing could adequate provide training. But Megan has lived this shit in real life. Reading it was nothing.
I said earlier that Megan weaponizes her vulnerability by writing about it. While I believe this is true, it isn’t the complete truth. Liveblog started as the real-time record of a young woman in crisis. But Liveblog the published book is something altogether different. It’s the holstering of the weapon, the taming and re-education of a vicious attack dog. If you’ll spare me the critical indulgence of speaking abstractly about creative production, I think we go back to the sources of our pain over and over again for a reason. First we need to externalize it so that out isolated pain becomes a shared pain. Empathy might bring some understanding, and if not then at least the rush of oversharing may dull some of the pain. The next step is taking that externalized pain and crafting it into something that stands on its own merits, divorced from the source of one’s real life pain. Megan did this by spending five years editing Liveblog into a book. But even that wasn’t enough. Once the book was finished, she had to share it with a rotating audience of friends and strangers while fighting against emotional and physical exhaustion. The very idea of this performance inspired me to fly across the country and create a movie about it at a significant financial loss in addition to the countless hours spent reviewing footage, editing, color-correcting, coordinating with soundtrack musicians, tinkering with graphic design choices, writing title cards, and then trouble-shooting the endless technical problems that come with making a movie that takes longer to watch than it takes the earth to complete a full rotation. And then, after all that, Ghislain Amar and Peach Gallery took the next logical step and presented this travesty, this waking nightmare and crime against good sense, to a rapt and supportive Dutch audience here in Rotterdam. And now that audience will take Megan’s pain with them and in turn share it with their own friends, families, coworkers, and strangers on that new ferry that everyone in South Rotterdam has been talking about today*.
We do this for a very simple reason: we believe in Megan’s pain. We love her pain because we are sadists, but we also love it because we are masochists. With every new level of abstraction, Megan’s pain becomes my pain, becomes your pain, becomes OUR pain. We share this pain because there is enough for everyone, and we all inherently know that people are at their best when they share what they do not need to hoard. Megan’s pain is her gift to the rest of us. So is her humor, her charm, and her incredible talent. And so is her heart—that, like her voice, withstands every possible strain without ever breaking.
*This comment about the ferry was a cheap joke that Nick included to get an easy laugh from this specific audience. It won’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t in Rotterdam that weekend when ferries were all anyone seemed to be talking about.
And If That’s Not Enough of Nick Ranting About Megan…
Links to the series of articles Nick wrote about Megan Boyle’s (and Tao Lin’s) production company, MDMAfilms:
More videos from Nick Toti (et al)
Megan’s YouTube Channel
Peach’s “Liveblog” event page
Witte de With “Liveblog” event page
More music from Caleb Graham (who did the music in Liveblog by Megan Boyle)
p.s. Hey. Wondering how to spend as much of your 48 hourlong weekend as productively as possible? Wonder no more because more than half of your weekend is now spoken for, if you like, in the form of Nick Toti’s new 25 (!) hourlong film record/adaptation of Megan Boyle’s epic work and 2018 book Liveblog by Megan Boyle. Of course, going for mere tasters is also a possibility if your coming hours are otherwise spoken for. Anyway, you’ve got a feast, all thanks to Mr. Toti’s having made the grand entrance of his giant film a gift to this humble blog. Explore please. Thanks, and massive thanks to you, Nick! ** polarvortex, Hi, welcome, and thank you. Yes, I remember reading about the theory that Larsson was the secret. ** David Ehrenstein, Ha ha. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein is still offering treasures and booty from his collection in the form of books, CDs, and DVDs to you who want them or who need Xmas gifts for your beloveds stat. Contact him here: email@example.com. ** Bill, The whole novel is pretty much intensity incarnate. Oh, I read about ‘Scream Queen’ somewhere. I didn’t know what it was, but it’s been on my radar ever since. Okay, sounds fun enough. Thanks, Bill, and have a weekend of excellence. ** Sypha, Yes, such sad news about Simon Morris. So terrible in so many ways. Hugs to you. RIP. ** _Black_Acrylic, I think that’s totally plausible. ** Steve Erickson, Oops, on the YouTube blockage. I will say there’s something refreshing about one of ‘our’ videos not making it to ‘your’ shores because the opposite is very frequently the case. I saw the Pop Group way back when, and I think I remember thinking precisely that. ** Quinn R. Hi, Quinn! Very nice to see you, man! Happy holidays to you too! Yep, I’m here for the duration. I do enjoy living in a place where it actually gets cold and where the city is concise and inherently beautiful enough that the Xmas lights/decorations makeover actually has a powerful effect, yes. Unlike LA, where I did enjoy the whole season too, mind you. But it’s not sentimentality, I don’t think. Sentimentality/nostalgia is one of my big enemies in life. I’m somehow imagining Xmas in Florida is not too, too far from an LA Xmas. Okay, about delaying the MFA application. I guess it makes sense that you would want to head into that feeling a full head of steam, as they say. I look forward to reading those upcoming pieces by you. Mm, it does sound like you’ve got some inappropriate internal demons to banish. I think I might have suggested to you before that insecurity is nothing but a lie. Not that that helps. I tend to think insecurity is collateral damage from thinking of oneself in regard to others and what one perceives that others are achieving or succeeding at and that such perceptions are always and inherently just one’s generally baseless fantasies. I’m not suggesting therapy necessarily, but it sure helped me to my huge surprise at the certain rough time in my life. I was fairly wracked with anxieties in my 20s, yes, especially the early 20s. But not so much about my writing at least. I always pretty much allowed myself to believe in my belief that if I stuck to writing and was diligent and patient my writing would work and centralise me and make my other insecurities and anxieties feel more peripheral, which is what weirdly happen. Maybe it helped that I’ve never been cynical even at my lowest. I just somehow was always a basically optimistic and idealistic person who believed the future was a cure. On Zac’s and my new film, we’re starting to try to raise the funds to make it. So just writing grant proposals and sending them off. My new novel is looking for a publisher, so I’m just waiting anxiously to see what happens there. Well, I hope the holidays is very spirit-raising for you and that there’s happiness galore, inner and outer. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Sleeping enough is way key, if you ask me. Or I need enough of it to even get by. Interesting assignment/project. Do you think the slowness you’re dealing with is an indicator that nonfiction filmmaking might be the more suitable venture for you? I know that fiction seems to be inherently tougher, although it’s the opposite for me, but I’m weird. Naturally what you’re writing about is extremely interesting to me. Huh. Quinn’s email does show up here privately, but I don’t know if I should pass it along because of the privacy thing. You’re not on Facebook, right? Quinn’s on Facebook, and you could reach him there, if you are. Or hopefully Quinn will see this or your message and get in touch. Quinn, Corey Heiferman would like to write to you, if you feel like hooking him up with your email addy. I’m on a very heavy deadline to finish the TV series script and there’s a huge ton of work to do, so my ‘holidays’ are going to be spent working open something that I basically can not stand at this point. So quiet outside, the opposite of quiet inside. I hope your time is more carefree. ** Okay. You know what you have in store locally so go nuts, and say/type something to Nick please, and I’ll see you on Monday.