Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm seeing Pavement tonight

but I'm having a Kraftwerk afternoon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Greatest Hits

It's hard to believe that FWL has been in existence since 2005. Looking back at the archives I'm pleased at how much it's evolved since the early posts, where my giddiness at clicking the "publish" button renders a lot of the writing slightly ridiculous. Still, I'm proud of this blog, however minor in the grand scheme of things it might be.  I also have a few favorite posts, and I've always wanted to compile a list of links to those.

So here's introducing FWL's Greatest Hits, found on the right side of the page. These links are determined solely by me, unless someone writes me suggesting I add something to it. I'll keep updating when I get a spare moment or two. Check them out.

David Denby on The Social Network

I just read Denby's review in the New Yorker, which is as much a profile of David Fincher as an actual review. It's a good article. Like Goldstein, he makes the Citizen Kane comparison, but below is the passage that seems most relevant in light of my previous post.
The movie is not a conventionally priggish tale of youthful innocence corrupted by riches; nor is it merely a sarcastic arrow shot into the heart of a poor little rich boy. Both themes are there, but the dramatic development of the material pushes beyond simplicities, and the portrait of Zuckerberg is many-sided and ambiguous; no two viewers will see him in quite the same way. The debate about the movie’s accuracy has already begun, but Fincher and Sorkin, selecting from known facts and then freely interpreting them, have created a work of art. Accuracy is now a secondary issue.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

truth vs. Truth

This Patrick Goldstein column in the LATimes caught my interest this morning, as it expresses concern about Hollywood playing fast and loose with the facts in The Social Network. He makes a couple of interesting points:
The modern dramatist largely gets to use real life as modeling clay, happily bending and twisting the character in ways that give the story its most appealing shape and heft.


When it comes to how much reshaping is allowed, our rule book is eminently flexible. The better we like the story and respect its teller, the more slack we cut the film. A thousand and one journalists bashed Norman Jewison's “The Hurricane,” which took a host of liberties in telling the story of boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, largely because they thought the film was sentimental schlock. British playwright turned screenwriter Peter Morgan has done at least as much dramatic invention with “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen,” but he's escaped almost entirely scot-free, largely because critics hold his work (and intentions) in high regard and, of equal importance, none of the principals have ever publicly complained.
It seems almost too obvious to bring up, but this isn't a practice limited to the modern dramatist. Goldstein knows that, right?

One of his assertions is in the form of a lament for the more "literary" ways that 20th-century filmmakers fictionalized historical figures; he points specifically to Citizen Kane as an example, and suggests that our audiences these days demand "reality" even if films don't stick to the facts.

Do I really have to invoke Shakespeare here?

There's also this odd refusal in the article to make distinctions in the meaning of "truth" as expressed by those Goldstein quotes. He pursues his thesis doggedly -- that Hollywood values story over factual honesty -- but he never goes any deeper than that. He even gets a chance to when he quotes Danny Boyle in talking about his fact-based movie 127 Hours, "It may not be factual, but it's truthful." Having quoted it, he moves on, emphasizing the filmmaker's preoccupation with story, rather than the more meaningful idea: that dramatists (usually, hopefully) value emotional, philosophical, psychological, human truths over dry articulations of facts. Is Goldstein ignoring this because he's not given it any thought? Or because it might undermine the skeptic's tone he seems to be striving for?

If anything I'm most impressed by the immediacy with which filmmakers have given Mark Zuckerberg the "History Play" treatment. It seems fitting in our sped-up age. I can't wait to see the movie, but I'm anticipating allegory and/or big ideas about technology, modernity, America. Literary ideas. I don't know what kind of truth I'll find in it, but I expect Sorkin and Fincher to have bigger things on their mind than a historical timeline. If a timeline is all I want I can stay home and find it on the internet.

I was drawn to

this article by Randy Kennedy in the Sunday NYTimes because of a brief passage about Larry Rivers, but it's an interesting read overall, focusing on the impact an artist's history has (or should have) on his or her work, something I wrote a little bit about here.
The photographs of Ernest C. Withers — of the Little Rock integration battle, of the Emmett Till murder trial, of the aftermath of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — are among the most powerful records of the civil rights movement. They have lived on in dozens of books and museum collections.

But would these images be seen differently if the captions noted that Mr. Withers was known in some circles not by his name but by an Orwellian cipher, ME 338-R — the code used by the F.B.I. to identify him in the reports he filed for many years as a paid informer?


[T]he news raised much more difficult and fundamental questions — ones central to photography and documentary work but to the history of art and popular culture as well — about artistic intent, about the assumptions and expectations of the viewing public and about the relationship between artists and their work.

There has been no shortage of reminders recently about the rockiness of this terrain. In July, word came that the painter Larry Rivers — no paragon of virtue, but generally seen as a kind of genial playboy of the New York School — had pressured his two adolescent daughters into appearing in films and videos in which the girls were naked or topless, interviewed by their father about their developing breasts.

This news cast a shadow over perceptions of his work, but should it, any more than Picasso’s deep misogyny or Caravaggio’s murderous temper has over theirs? Any more than T. S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism or Rimbaud’s probable connection to the African slave trade has over their poetry?

Or in an example with closer parallels to Withers, should we think “On the Waterfront” a lesser movie, or even see it in a different light, because it was directed and written by two men, Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg, who named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee?
I'm reminded of an outraged paper I wrote in college about On The Waterfront where I indignantly attacked the film after reading it as an apology for Kazan's naming names. I got a good grade, but my professor wrote variations on a lot of the questions that Kennedy asks in his article. I do think it's impossible (not to mention unwise) to try and detach art completely from its historical and political context. Still, there's a difference between talking about Larry Rivers' George Washington Crossing the Delaware and Larry Rivers' creepy stuff with his daughters; both might be products of a complex, morally ambiguous artist (although what art isn't?), but I don't think one aspect of an artist's history by default informs everything he produced.

Ernest C. Withers and On The Waterfront seem more complicated to me. That said, the power of Withers' images are self-evident. The history might make an assessment of the artist ambivalent, but the photos are major documents of historic importance far greater than his own personal history.

And as for On The Waterfront, I remember seeing it at a Brando night double-feature with Streetcar at the New Beverly several years ago. I hadn't seen it since I wrote that paper as an inexperienced, self-righteous undergrad, and I was stunned by its brillance. Read it as allegory or don't; it's a great film, and its greatness is due in part to the controversy that informs it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ruined and Don Shirley

Don Shirley gets at a little of what my reservations (if you'd even call them that) were about Ruined on his LA Stage Blog column here. Here's the pertinent passage:
Lynn Nottage’s depiction of the brutalities of the Congo civil war ends with a scene that could have been written for a romantic comedy. I appreciate her attempts to ennoble the resilience of the victims, to find a shred of decency in a hellhouse, but it’s difficult - literally and figuratively - to connect the dots between the next-to-last scene, in which everyone appears to be doomed, and the smiling finale. How exactly did the central characters escape the grim situation of that penultimate scene?
There's a little hyperbole there; it's not the ending of a romantic comedy by any means, particularly if you consider Mama Nadi's admission in the final scene. But it is a pretty drastic shift. He invokes the Sarah Kane comparison (as I did last week) giving Nottage passing credit for her insistence on "intermittent lifts," as he calls them.

He seems most peeved about continuity issues in the main character's description of offstage characters, though, suggesting it raises a "question of authenticity." I was struck by the offstage women Mama Nadi mentions too, but I chalked that up to focus and necessity, whether it's driven by economics (as Shirley suggests), or narrative. How that's a critique of the show's authenticity is a little lost on me.

Unrelated, but based on his description of Mysterious Skin in the same column, along with some of the other reviews out there, I'm intrigued.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More on Irma Vep and camp

Michael Lorre, one half of the duo performing The Mystery of Irma Vep in West Hollywood through the end of September, writes a thoughtful essay on camp at LA Stage Blog. Here's what I liked the best.
Style acting, in general, seems to be a foreign language these days. It’s not trained like it used to be which is a shame because film and TV acting history is something most actors should know and understand. Sitcom acting has more in common with 1950s theatre than modern acting. The West Wing plays like a Frank Capra film from the 1930s with all that talk-as-you-walk three-minute takes and breakneck pace. Watch an old episode of NYPD Blue and tell me they are not doing Damon Runyon-speak right out of Guys and Dolls. Each year new examples come around. Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives are examples of high camp just like Dynasty was in the ’80s which can be traced all the way back to films like The Women (1939).
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Little Girls from Little Rock

Here's the original--

And now for the drag--

I love queens who do their own singing.

And he's a bonus one, with some extra stuff thrown in. I love the Japanese titles!

I really enjoyed Ruined

at a preview on Tuesday night at the Geffen. It completely stressed me out for the bulk of its running time, which is a compliment.

I also enjoyed this profile from the LATimes of the women in the show. I had a pretty complicated response to the climax and resolution of the play; I'd love to write about it in some detail, but since it just opened I don't want to go all spoilery on you so I'll just say this -- it goes from extremely (and powerfully, effectively) dark to, well, less dark, at the very least.

I don't know if it's the depressive or the pessimist in me but I'm always struck by how I almost reflexively question "up" endings in serious plays, no matter how measured they may be. And then I have this internal dialogue about why I do that and if it's fair and what it means that I'm so constantly suspicious of expressions of optimism these days. There's a quote in the LAT article that I think addresses Lynn Nottage's intentions around this issue:
Nottage based her play on the experiences of refugees she met in Africa and intends her characters to be not tragic victims but complex, real people who embody fragility and resilience, pain and pride. For them, life not only can but will go on.
And that's abundantly clear throughout the play, which is one of the reasons it's so potent.

Of course I'm not the only one who does this either. I'm reminded of a quote from an LATimes profile from last year; she addresses critics who "took her to task" for the softness in her tough main character, mentioning the bleak vision of the late playwright Sarah Kane:

"My response?" says the playwright briskly. "They have never been to Africa. They have never spent time with these women to understand that you can be brutalized and still find a way to heal. It was very important for me to be optimistic about that and still tell the truth." Nottage pauses.

"Maybe some people wanted a 'Blasted'-type play," she says heatedly, referring to Sarah Kane's unrelentingly grim wartime drama. "But I can tell you, that woman killed herself. And that's the difference between her and me!"
I like that. With all due respect to Sarah Kane, that is.

Incidentally, the other piece worth reading is at LA Stage Blog; it's a profile of Russell G. Jones, who gave one of my favorite performances in the show.

Also incidentally, my other favorite performance in the show is given by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, who gives this actorly, challenging performance that begins as merely curious and works with the writing to slowly, carefully draw focus until she delivers a series of devastating scenes. The way she and her subplot work have stuck with me the most since seeing the show.

Friday, September 10, 2010

David Hare on Mad Men

LAT Culture Monster posted a link to this article in The Guardian. It's a nice bit of writing by David Hare about Mad Men.

Here's an excerpt.
Critics of the series have tried to suggest that what we are watching here is fancy soap – the lives and loves of a group of people in a shared milieu. (They echo the complaints made against greatly successful contemporary novels such as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.) But no soap I ever watched has the governing metaphor of authenticity. If Don Draper has no idea what he really thinks and feels, who does? Who exactly are these people? And is anything they say or do real – to themselves, or to us? As someone who likes never to spoil their pleasure by reading about the things they most enjoy, I have tried to avoid commentary. But whenever I have seen Mad Men described I have been doubly mystified. Why on earth do people call it a satire? And why is its real subject commonly assumed to be the 1960s?


[S]urely the reason that the alcohol, the sexism, the insecurity, the duplicity, the bare-faced lying and the status anxiety at work have taken such hold on the public imagination is because they so perfectly match our own experiences. Has anything really changed? Isn't the whole joy of Mad Men's immaculate re-creation of one way of life that it reminds us so vividly of another – namely, our own? Having recently spent eight months researching the banking business, I can't say I saw women in the City of London in 2009 treated all that differently from how the men treated Peggy, Betty or Joan in 1963. The cocktail cabinet wasn't exactly jammed shut either.

And as for satire . . . well, the triumph of the series is it doesn't waste time on the predictable business of making fun of advertising. Satire's been done before, and usually badly. No, for once, here is a group of professional people who resemble us, both in the unlikeliness of what they have to do and the seriousness with which they set about it. They use their flashes of occasional inspiration to make possible something which may or may not be worthy of them. What's being identified – and only occasionally mocked – is the mixture of fear, swagger and resignation with which so many employees in specialised businesses now swerve along assault courses designed by distant owners with whom they have no particular relationship, and who, in return, have absolutely no interest in their wellbeing.

Seymour Pine

Kevin sent me this obituary today.
Seymour Pine, the deputy police inspector who led the raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, on a hot summer night in 1969 — a moment that helped start the gay liberation movement — died Thursday at an assisted-living center in Whippany, N.J. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his son Daniel.

Inspector Pine, who later apologized for his role in the raid, was commander of the New York Police Department’s vice squad for Lower Manhattan when he led eight officers into the Stonewall Inn, an illegal club frequented by cross-dressers, just after midnight on June 28, 1969.

Altehough the ostensible reason for the raid was to crack down on prostitution and other organized-crime activities, it was common at the time for the police to raid gay bars and arrest cross-dressers and harass customers.

The club, on Christopher Street near Seventh Avenue South, was owned by members of the Mafia. Inspector Pine later said he conducted the raid on orders from superiors.

About 200 people were inside. When the officers ordered them to line up and show identification, some refused. Several cross-dressers refused to submit to anatomical inspections. Word of the raid filtered into the street, and soon hundreds of protesters gathered outside, shouting “gay power” and calling the police “pigs.”

The turning point came when a lesbian fought with officers as she was pushed into a patrol car. The crowd rushed the officers, who retreated into the club. Several people ripped out a parking meter and used it as a battering ram; others tried to set fire to the club. It took police reinforcements an hour and a half to clear the street.

It was the start of several nights of rioting, during which the police used force to disperse crowds that sometimes numbered in the thousands. Fewer than three dozen protesters were arrested, but hundreds were detained and released.

“The Stonewall uprising is the signal event in American gay and lesbian civil rights history because it transformed a small movement that existed prior to that night into a mass movement,” David Carter, author of “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution” (2004), said in an interview. “It is to the gay movement what the fall of the Bastille is to the unleashing of the French Revolution.”


He once told me,” Mr. Carter said, “ ‘If what I did helped gay people, then I’m glad.’ ”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I found

this review by Michael Feingold of a couple of NYC Fringe productions interesting in its thoughts about how modern perspectives on gay identity shape the way we view the past. One of the plays up for critique is Tom Jacobson's homegrown show, The Twentieth-Century Way. I worry Feingold ignores the point of the show in order to better serve the thesis of his article (or maybe he just misses it, I dunno), but I'll set that aside and focus on some of the earlier passages, which seem relevant to me in light of my weekend at the Thomas Eakins show at LACMA.
All three of the youthful gay political plays I saw this past month apply a contemporary, absolutist outlook to gay history: Either people are gay or they aren't. Such plays ignore the notion that past times, with their very different circumstances, might have compelled different solutions. The past offers alternatives that we tend to overlook: The same England that made Oscar Wilde into a gay martyr also produced Lord Arthur Somerset, who, during the Cleveland Street scandal, dodged the very bullet Wilde was to take by fleeing to France and living in exile.


The complex web of possible choices that history offers helps explain its fascination for playwrights: Its events seem written in stone and yet aren't. If somebody's will had been weaker or stronger, if someone had chosen a different action at a pivotal moment, everything might have turned out differently. History concerns what people did; how and why they choose their deeds becomes the source of its theatrical appeal.
Feingold goes on to use a show called Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party to talk about this notion of "absolutism:"
Lincoln's sexual preference is a cut-and-dried issue: Either he was gay (no matter how many children he and Mary Todd produced) or he absolutely wasn't (no matter how intense his affection for Joshua Speed). The notion that he may have cherished, embraced, and perhaps even come to orgasm with Speed, and still been content with Mary and the kids, doesn't fit in the contemporary schema. At best, it would simply make Lincoln a tormented bisexual, grudgingly fulfilling his husbandly duty while his heart yearned to romp with the handsome flatboatmen of his youth.
I was reminded on reading that of Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins, at LACMA, which I saw on Labor Day. The show is full of male nudes photographed by either Eakins himself or some of his students and companions. They're mostly bathing, in small groups of men, but in sometimes pair and solo portraits too. The photos are innocent enough, and the assertion from the curator is that Eakins was interested in classical depictions of athletes and this photography was an extension of that. Still, a modern viewer will likely be struck by the homoeroticism of the photos (and the paintings, for that matter).

I know this is a controversial issue all by itself, but the exhibit takes a moment in one of the title cards to point out that modern attitudes about sexuality ignore 19th-century customs about male bonding, something I think is certainly worth taking into account. That said, I'm not convinced that there was no such thing as homoeroticism in the late 19th century, even if a modern audience is more inclined to put some kind of "absolutist" label on him and his work. Eakins was friends with Whitman, so surely he wasn't ignorant of the notion either.

Feingold continues with what sounds like a lament:
The sense that [Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party] fails to make, one might say, mirrors the sense that America, over the past few decades, has been increasingly unable to make of itself, on the sexual front as on every other.
Kind of a bleak outlook, isn't it? I'm not sure I buy it, either. In contrast I'd point to a little bon-bon of a show at the tail end of the Eakins exhibit called Palimpsest, by an artist named Tad Beck. Beck stages reproductions of Eakins' photographs and places them in ornate silver frames. Although the photos are rather faithful renderings of Eakins' compositions, the frames accentuate the quaintness of the compositions while introducing a camp element. And there are modern touches, elements that underline the homoeroticism one might find just a hint of in the innocent, classical poses of the Eakins show. I like that the show is titled Palimpsest; I just looked it up at to confirm the meaning and think both its definitions are apt:
1: writing material (as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
2: something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface
I guess I have more confidence in our artists' ability to make sense of our country, our society, our selves; and to explore, reveal, and even create the diverse layers and aspects beneath the surface of our history. And what else could a history play possibly be but a view through a modern lens? I don't know why anyone would write a play if she wasn't, in some way, writing about today. Absolutist or not, is The Twentieth-Century Way only about the twentieth-century? I can't speak for the other plays because I haven't seen them, but I think that's (at least part of) what Feingold's ignoring to make his article work.

Monday, September 06, 2010

I finally got around to

seeing The Kids Are All Right over the weekend. I've been looking forward to it for ages now, and maybe I let my expectations get a little out of control, but I have to say the movie confounded me. The gender and sexual politics of it are so complicated I can't even get into it; I have lesbian friends who angrily refuse to accept its central complication -- the affair between Julianne Moore's and Mark Ruffalo's characters -- and while I found the movie more or less did its work setting up the circumstances for that event, I can't say I blame my friends for their frustration. For me it just raised more questions. Has she ever been with a man before? How would that history inform her response to the affair? I'm willing to dismiss accusations of reinforcing male fantasy or whatever antiquated stereotypes and tropes the movie's trading in if I could just get a little more detail.

The near universal praise of the movie is surprising to me, too; I love Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo so much I can barely stand it, and while I wouldn't criticize their performances, as a whole the movie struck me as oddly pedestrian. There seemed a kind of casual, unstuffy bohemian intention about the whole thing. That all sounds nice in theory, but it may explain the alienation I felt from it; even the movie's dramatic build lacked urgency for me.

And I couldn't help but find the boho vibe a little off-putting, particularly in the affluence of the characters. There seems to be no satirical toughness about this fact either, save for an indignant, drunken speech about heirloom tomatoes and composting by Bening's drunken OB-GYN that, as much as I appreciated the substance of her rant, made me want to throw a drink in her face because of the cruelty of the moment. Moore's character might've been kookier, or less together than Bening's, but at least she had a curiosity about her, a kind of searching awareness about her own dissatisfaction that made me empathize. And then she went and fired the poor gardener. How are we supposed to view her in light of this event? Is this a satire about the hypocrisies of so-called liberated liberals or isn't it?

I love that this movie got made and I (mostly) appreciate the politics of its premise, but I wish I related to it as closely as so many critics assert that I'm supposed to.

Thank goodness for Anthony Lane. I think he's the token dissenter in the "top critics" tab on Rotten Tomatoes, and I found myself nodding my head at most of his assertions. Here's an excerpt--
All of this is made so much worse by everyone’s aching need to be holier, and hipper, than thou. The California that we get in this film is a greener, gayer update of the California that Woody Allen took such perfect potshots at, more than thirty years ago, in “Annie Hall,” the difference being that [co-writer/director Lisa] Cholodenko doesn’t always know that it is funny. She wants us to laugh at Paul’s initial response when he learns of the family setup (“I love lesbians!”), and she rightly notes the casual, bantering racism of the liberal bourgeoisie (listen to Jules address a Mexican gardener), but do the screenwriters not realize that half of the women’s conversation—“We just talked conceptually,” “It hasn’t risen to the point of consciousness for you,” “It’s so indigenous!”—is pure, extra-planetary prattling and nothing but? The prattle turns chronic when Jules, who fancies herself as a landscape designer, is hired by Paul to reshape his back yard; she suggests “a trellisy, hidden garden kind of thing,” or, alternatively, “you could go with the Asiany.” I wouldn’t trust her to pick a rose.

As anyone could have predicted, this new friendship soon becomes what Jules would call making-outy, as she and Paul put down their plants and retire to his boudoir. What Cholodenko, at her sneakiest, is doing here is to ask what occurs when a moral elasticity encounters sturdier, more traditional forms of living.


Just as the California sunshine somehow loses its relaxing suffusion and hardens into a cruel noontide, so, by an irony that Cholodenko may not fully have intended, the climax of “The Kids Are All Right” grows suddenly humorless, and close to vengeful, in its moralizing glare.
Just for kicks I revisited Cholodenko's debut, High Art, a few months ago, and I was stunned at how well it held up; it's tough, edgy, well-acted, and sexy. I know a movie about family isn't necessarily going to have those qualities, but I missed them all the same. Still, I feel like I should give Kids a break and revisit it on DVD too; that way I can get past all my expectations and just focus on the performances.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

I have a habit

of getting to plays the weekend they close, so it seems pointless to mention them on here. I went to see The Mystery of Irma Vep last night, thinking it was closing weekend, but it turns out they're extending again.

I wanted to get to it after seeing The Sorrows of Dolores at Outfest in July so I could get more of a Charles Ludlam fix. I'm glad I did. I especially liked the second act, when things got really silly.

Here's the LAWeekly review of the original mounting of the show last October. Check it out if you can before they close it for real.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I appreciate

this post on the Guardian's theatre blog by Andy Field called "The Shock of the New." It seems written in response to the ways certain British productions are challenging the audience relationship, something I wrote about recently.

Here are a few choice excerpts.

I believe passionately in the value of constantly reimagining the relationship between audience and performer and the world. I also believe the politics and meaning embedded in the form an experience takes can speak as loudly and as articulately as the content of that work. As such, it is important to explore the forms that live performances can take as well as finding new and interesting things to say. Doing something is, in the end, maybe our most articulate and resonant way of communicating.


I'm noticing increasingly that the way in which I and others have celebrated this originality can be unhelpful. I worry that emphasising how original something is above all else, though it's an easy way of championing unconventional work, ends up in the end devaluing it. Largely this is because in highlighting its novelty, you often suffocate its context. The work becomes unfairly reframed by what it is rather than what it does.... When in actual fact the show is about the specific relationship between audience, place and artist – structured and facilitated by whatever new thing they are doing.


Perhaps people, such as myself, who write and think and talk about this kind of work, have a responsibility to articulate what artists are doing more sympathetically (Emphasis mine) – not to reduce projects down to their constituent parts, however easy and enticing that may be. To enjoy the flourishing of new forms and new mediums as much as their first iteration. To understand what something does, as well as what something is. Context as well as concept.
It cuts both ways; just as highlighting its novelty might suffocate its context, so too does highlighting its lack of novelty. It also creates a reflexive devaluation of everything that lacks said novelty. And of course I would raise questions about how one defines a work as "novel" in the first place. That to me is all context, although not necessarily in the way Field means it. I'm thinking social, political, historical, aesthetic, you name it.

There are those among us who see novelty --or better yet, value -- in subtler innovations, or quieter, more thoughtful expressions. And there are those who expect a deeper engagement with the work in order to uncover them.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Queer Arkansas

A classmate of mine from Hendrix College, Brock Thompson, has written a book called The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South. Some passages from the book appear in this week's Arkansas Times.

A major excerpt is about gay- and race-baiting by Winthrop Rockefeller's opponent for governor in 1966. Here's an excerpt of the excerpt--
[Democratic gubernatorial candidate "Justice" Jim] Johnson had a formidable opponent in Rockefeller and immediately set out to discredit him on the grounds of his sexuality. Johnson had labeled Rockefeller as the "prissy sissy" and "winsome Winnie" since his days as head of the Industrial Development Commission. In 1955, in Arkansas Faith, Johnson's newsletter for his group the White Citizens Council, Johnson's accusations as to Rockefeller's sexuality were extremely subtle, but always called to mind the burning and irrevocably linked issues of race and sexuality.

When he moved to Arkansas, Rockefeller brought his trusted aide, a black man, James E. Hudson, to run his ranch operations. Johnson's publications described Hudson as a "wiry, balding negro who has been Winthrop's right hand man since the two first teamed up as young men in New York City 18 years ago." The publication states that Hudson was afforded so much respect and responsibility from Rockefeller that locals went along, "granting him a courtesy all too rare in most southern states." The Arkansas Faith further reported, "they called him 'Mister'." From that point, Johnson would do more than hint at the nature of their relationship. The rumor that Rockefeller "sodomized black men" was now added to the litany of charges against him.
Read that whole bit here.

Two other excerpts are published as well, about lesbian separatist movements in northwest Arkansas in the 1970s. You can read them here and here.

Congrats to Brock!