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Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on Jane Campion’s “2 Friends” (1986)

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new essay on Campion’s breakthrough film in Senses of Cinema.

As Foster writes in Senses of Cinema 84 (September, 2017), “fearless, ruthlessly economical and deeply felt, 2 Friends (1986), Jane Campion’s first feature – actually made for Australian television, and clocking in at a spare 79 minutes – is a modest yet accomplished film, and a stunning debut. Working from a screenplay by Helen Garner, Campion traces in reverse the lives of two young Australian schoolgirls, Kelly (Kris Bidenko) and Louise (Emma Coles) from the collapse of their friendship back to its promising beginning, when all things seemed possible, and the world was bright and new.

Of course, this told-in-reverse format has been used in a number of other films, most notably Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), but Campion’s tale is told from a female perspective and uses this unusual narrative strategy to tap into the experience of female friendships, and, in particular, the difficulties young bright women have navigating a world than is not designed for their success. As Elbert Ventura notes in a perceptive essay on the film in Popmatters,

‘when the movie begins, Louise and Kelly don’t even seem to belong in the same story. Louise is a prim, sullen teenager in a resolutely middle-class household. Dressed in her schoolgirl uniform, she hardly looks the sort who runs with Kelly, all punk and dissolute. Kelly, we learn, has left home—Louise hasn’t seen her in ages—and has been living with “friends” in poverty in a desolate beach town. The movie’s opening chapter ends with an eloquent scene. As Louise reads a letter from the long-departed Kelly, Kelly’s voiceover comes on the soundtrack. Halfway through, Louise drops the missive, but Kelly’s voice remains, reciting the letter. It’s a poignant expression of a friendship past exhaustion.’

But how did their friendship unravel? Campion takes us from this bleak beginning back roughly a year, in five sections, to show how uncaring parents, and in particular families split apart by divorce and remarriage, have brought this rupture about. At the same time, the film is resolutely and revolutionarily feminist, in the purest sense of the word; it’s told entirely from a female perspective, and the men and boys who drift through the film are either weak, predatory, or as the girls describe them in one scene, ‘hopeless.’

As we move back in time, it becomes clear that the punked-out Kelly was once a gifted student with university potential, having passed along with Louise the extremely difficult entrance exam for the exclusive City Girl’s School, a surefire stepping stone to higher education. But Kelly’s stepdad Malcolm (Peter Hehir) a shiftless, jealous lay about, refuses to let her attend, thus not only breaking the bond between the two girls, but also wrecking Kelly’s future with a single stroke.

Kelly’s mother Chris (Debra May) seems weak and ineffectual, and Louise’s mother Janet (Kris McQuade), though seeming to care for Kelly in a maternal fashion, cannot effectively intervene. And so Louise goes off to City Girl, and Kelly winds up on the dole, living in a squat, doing drugs and wandering the streets. For a female spectator, it is acutely painful to witness, but it is also deeply satisfying to see uncomfortable truths about all young women’s lack of place in society so plainly stated; in this way 2 Friends is much like Campion’s finest film, Sweetie (1989).”

You can read the rest of the essay here; this is a deeply felt film that deserves much more attention.

“Star Trek: Discovery” Premieres Tonight on CBS

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

From left to right: Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru, Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham, Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou in Star Trek: Discovery (Jan Thijs/CBS).

I was interviewed a few days ago by George M. Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal about the return of this iconic franchise, and here’s a brief portion of the article: “The last Star Trek series, Enterprise, warped off into television syndication more than 12 years ago after a lackluster first run of four seasons on UPN, now known as The CW.

It finally revealed a franchise that had run out of original ideas and energy, showing its age after more than 30-something years in 2005. Absence or nostalgia makes the heart grow fonder, apparently. Now 51 years into Trekdom’s existence, the franchise, which is set 10 years before the original Star Trek, returns to the medium where it first gained a smallish, but rabid following — television.

When Star Trek: Discovery premieres tonight at 8:30 on CBS,  it will represent the first Trek series to hit the airwaves since Enterprise’s departure. It will star Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh in the leads. Television, however, has evolved into its own final frontier.

Fans shouldn’t get too comfy with the prospect of 15 new episodes of a series available to them over the air. After Discovery’s one-hour premiere on broadcast TV, the show will promptly beam onto CBS’ streaming platform, CBS All Access, where it will cost fans $5.99 per month to subscribe with limited commercials and $9.99 without.

‘Debuting the show on CBS broadcast television will give the series a wider audience initially,’ said Wheeler Winston Dixon, the Ryan professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska, ‘but CBS is smart to move the series to All Access, where it will reach a much more rabid, fan-based audience, and episodes can be streamed and viewed at will — which is the most popular platform for millennials.'”

You can read the entire article here – the move from broadcast TV to streaming is the future.

Robert Heide: 25 Plays

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

The brilliant American playwright Robert Heide has finally put together a collection of his work.

I have known Bob for a long time, and have seen many of his plays produced, such as The Bed (1965), in which two young men listlessly share an enormous double bed, seemingly unable to get up, or do anything at all; and At War With The Mongols (1970), but Bob has been so busy with his other work – lectures, books on Disney and pop culture, and other projects – that somehow, his true vocation as a playwright almost got lost in the shuffle. I have a more detailed review of 25 Plays forthcoming in Quarterly Review of Film and Video – in addition to his theatrical work, Heide also wrote several screenplays for Warhol, who shot a split-screen film version of The Bed in 1966, now being restored by The Museum of Modern Art – but for the moment, let’s just savor the fact that at last, all of Heide’s work is now available in one massive tome, and what an accomplishment it is!

As the jacket copy for 25 Plays notes, “Robert Heide is a seminal playwright in the Off-Off-Broadway coffee-house theater movement. His plays have been produced in New York’s Greenwich Village at the famed Caffe Cino and in the East Village by Ellen Stewart at La Mama E.T.C., by Crystal Field and George Bartenieff at Theater for the New City, by Irene Fornés and Julie Bovasso’s New York Theater Strategy at Westbeth, at Lynne Meadow’s Manhattan Theatre Club, and many other venues. His early studies began in the theater department at Northwestern University. In New York, he studied for two years with Stella Adler, who then sent him to apprentice with John Houseman at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut; he also worked with Uta Hagen and with director Harold Clurman. His mentor and close friend, Edward Albee, invited him to become a member of the Albee/Barr/Wilder Playwrights Unit. In the 1960s, he acted in Andy Warhol’s films Camp and Batman/Dracula. As a member of the Playwrights/Directors Unit at the Actors Studio, he attended sessions conducted by Estelle Parsons, Ellyn Burstyn, and Horton Foote.” And that’s just for starters.

Having grown up on 1960s theater, and people like Edward Albee (The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, The Sandbox) and Robert Patrick (The Haunted Host), I was still struck by how absolutely original Heide’s work is, and how much of a personal vision he conveys in each one of his plays. For Bob, the world is a place of terror and fascination, throwaway culture and momentary diversions, pop stars and celebrity disaster, all of it documented with a dispassionate detachment that surely brought him to Warhol’s attention. Heide’s work is constantly surprising and challenging, and the characters in his plays – young suburban couples, the lonely and the lost, the famous and the infamous – are real, flawed, three-dimensional human beings. The major surprise to me is that it’s taken this long for a complete collection of his plays to come out – they really change the way one thinks about Off Off Broadway in the 1960s.

So, here’s Bob on the cover, and more on this later – it’s first rate work.

Flash! Patty Jenkins Finally Inks Deal to Direct Wonder Woman 2

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Patty Jenkins has finally signed a deal to direct Wonder Woman 2 – after a long, long fight.

As Borys Kit wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, “Patty Jenkins is returning for Wonder Woman 2. After an unusually lengthy and tough negotiation, the director has closed a deal with Warner Bros. to helm, co-write and produce the sequel to the movie sensation of the summer.

The deal is precedent-setting, making Jenkins the highest-paid female filmmaker in history, though getting to this point was ‘challenging,’ according to one source. [Negotiations have been going on in earnest since August 19th, when it was rumored that a deal was imminent; now it’s September 11th; this should have been settled long ago.]

Jenkins came on to Wonder Woman as a replacement for director Michelle McLaren, who left the project over creative differences. But she became an indispensable figure and, along with star Gal Gadot, the face of the movie in the months before its June opening.

But Jenkins only had a deal for one movie.

When the film became an immediate hit, lassoing over $103 million in its opening weekend, Jenkins and her camp found themselves in a very enviable position. Negotiations began for her return after that first weekend but dragged on even as the movie showed remarkable staying power, becoming a true (and rare for summer 2017) phenomenon. The pic grossed over $402 million domestically and has topped the $800 million mark worldwide.

Sources say Jenkins will receive directing and writing fees in the high seven figures (think somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range) on Wonder Woman 2 but, more significantly, will have a considerable backend. (At her peak, filmmaker Nancy Meyers earned in the $5 million range, according to sources.)

The deal is a superheroic leap for Jenkins, who was paid $1 million for directing the initial Wonder Woman but was looking to get something more on the level of Zack Snyder’s pay after he helmed Man of Steel, according to sources. Just as Wonder Woman broke barriers for superhero movies, Jenkins’ deal breaks a glass ceiling for women directors.”

It’s ridiculous; this deal should have been signed long ago, and it’s just more evidence of the fact that women don’t get an even shake in Hollywood, or elsewhere in the business world, for that matter. Why on earth should Patty Jenkins have had to fight so hard for what was clearly her due? They would have given this to J.J. Abrams or Zack Snyder (but thank God they didn’t) a loooooong time ago.

Gadot already is attached to the follow-up, which Warner Bros. will release on Dec. 13, 2019.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Here’s a really exemplary group of honorees, all deserving of accolades.

As Kristopher Tapley notes in Variety, the latest group of honorary Oscar honorees are – at last – a diverse group. As Tapley writes, “this year’s crop of honorary Oscar recipients, scheduled to be feted at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Governors Awards ceremony on Nov. 11, represents ‘the broad spectrum of what we aspire to do with these awards,’ newly minted Academy president John Bailey says. ‘It’s really fascinating to see the breadth of the four honorees and just how different their careers have been.’

Set for recognition are writer-director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep with Anger), cinematographer Owen Roizman (The French Connection, The Exorcist), actor Donald Sutherland (MASH, Ordinary People), and director Agnès Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, The Beaches of Agnes).

It’s the first slate of Governors Awards honorees under Bailey’s watch, after the cinematographer won the reins of the Academy at the organization’s most recent election just under a month ago. However, Bailey notes that he was ‘totally agnostic’ in the selections, so it’s just a happy coincidence that a fellow cinematographer got the call this year.

‘I’ve known Owen for 35 years or so and he was a president of the [American Society of Cinematographers],’ Bailey says. ‘I never actually worked with him but I certainly have always been incredibly moved by the commitment he’s had to his work and the variety of work that he’s done.’

Bailey has been an outspoken supporter of Varda’s in his time as an Academy governor. As recently as Thursday afternoon, just before departing for the Telluride Film Festival (where Varda’s latest film Faces Places screened), he was speaking with passion about how overlooked she has been throughout her career, particularly as a driving inspiration for the French New Wave movement. Varda’s name has been in the mix for honorary Oscar recognition in the past.

‘We have people who might be under consideration one year, but then their strongest advocates support them the next year and they pick up new ones,’ Bailey says. ‘The two Lauras [Dern and Karpman] were very supportive of [Varda]. It’s so wonderful that dynamic women governors spoke on her behalf.’

Speaking of being overlooked, Burnett knows something about that. Widely respected among filmmakers and cinephiles, he and his work have never quite penetrated the popular discourse. He received a career’s worth of notice 10 years ago, however, when his 1978 film Killer of Sheep finally saw release. ‘There are a number of filmmakers that, in terms of the media and in terms of the so-called studio mainstream, are kind of off the radar,’ Bailey says. ‘But for filmmakers, they are inspiring and committed people.’

And it’s pure happenstance, Bailey points out, that Burnett is set for a sold-out film scholars lecture at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater Thursday night. The event will consist of a talk by Indiana University’s James Naremore pegged to his forthcoming book Charles Burnett: A Cinema of Symbolic Knowledge, followed by a screening of Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger.

But of course, Sutherland makes for the splashiest of the honorees this year, or at least the one most outside the industry will recognize. The most arresting stat to mention here, however, is that despite a body of work that amasses more than 100 features, Sutherland has never received an Oscar nomination.

‘I’ve known Donald going back before Ordinary People and I remember when the nominations came out, I was stunned then, as I have been multiple times,’ Bailey says. ‘But we all know the Oscar nominations are a result of many different factors. [The Governors Awards are] not like the Oscar nominations, where there is a lot of promotion and broad-based cultural support and advocacy. This is purely something that is internal with the Board of Governors, and there’s something about actually being given an award by your peers, rather than the industry at large, that is, to me, incredibly moving.’

It’s especially nice to see Varda, the true pioneer of the New Wave, and Burnett, one of the most unrelentingly individual filmmakers in recent memeory, get such recognition. Varda has long since outstripped the work of her contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who in the 1960s were the stars of the movement, moving smoothly from film to digital video. And Burnett has created a truly one-of-a-kind body of work under exceedingly difficult circumstances, offering audiences a deeply personal vision that encompasses all of life.

The Award ceremony will take place on November 11, 2018.

We’re Back! – UNL Dept. of English

Friday, August 18th, 2017

We’re back! Classes start Monday August 21st – UNL Dept. of English.

I’ve just attended the “welcome back” meeting for faculty and students in the Bailey Library in Andrews Hall, for the UNL Department of English, and it was a joyous and positive occasion. There are literally dozens of superb programs, courses, lectures, and other events planned for the 2017 – 2018 academic year, and everyone in the room seemed ready to start the year with deep and infectious enthusiasm.

It’s going to be an exciting year. The English Department offers a variety of choices and courses for students, including Literary and Cultural Studies, Composition and Rhetoric, Creative Writing, Nineteenth-Century British Literature, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, LGBTQ / Sexuality Studies, Great Plains Studies, Digital Humanities, Ethnic Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Film Studies, Place Studies and many other opportunities for learning. The department’s remarkable Writing Center is another invaluable resource for students, helping them to workshop papers and other assignments as part of their course work.

The department is also the home to Prairie Schooner, one of the nation’s leading literary journals, and the epicenter of African poetry for the world, with a living commitment to publish as many African and African-American poets and writers as possible; in addition, there are courses in post-colonial theory, queer theory, LGBTQ literature and film, and so much more. Kelly Payne, the Department’s advisor for all these programs, does an invaluable job in helping students find the courses they want.

Above all, the department strives for inclusivity for all. As the mission statement for the department states, in part, “we, the faculty of the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, believe that one of the greatest strengths of our department is that in all areas of our curriculum—literary and film studies, creative writing, composition and rhetoric, and the digital humanities—we help students develop their capacities in imaginative reasoning so that in their lives as citizens of the world and members of their local communities they can discern connections and synthesize across seemingly incommensurable ideas or beliefs.

Imaginative reasoning is the ability to use the imagination to think hypothetically about the world in all its diversity—the past, present, and future, the local and the global. Such an ability, we believe, enables all of us to engage critically with social and political phenomena because it allows us to re-envision what is possible and to dream up audacious solutions to seemingly insoluble problems, solutions that might at first seem implausible but, once dreamt up—once imagined—suddenly seem possible. These moments of imaginative insight compel us to ask: Why are such solutions deemed impossible or implausible to begin with? Who says so and for what reasons? What prevents us from dreaming of alternatives, of imagining other paths, in the first place? . . .

By educating students in multiple literacies, we offer them the intellectual skills they need to intervene actively in political, civic, and cultural affairs in their communities. This literacy work—fostered through analyzing literature and moving images, the creative and rhetorical production of texts, and the critically-informed development of digital environments—involves imagining political, civic, and cultural futures that might better serve the entire body politic; it also requires deeply investigating the diverse cultural traditions that have led to and influenced the current cultural scene.”

This is why an education in the humanities is more essential today than ever – to foster curiosity, to break new ground, to explore new ideas, to discover and consider texts (both literary and visual) that offer us new ways of seeing the world, and to challenge us to ask “why” and “how” when considering the culture that surrounds us in all forms, whether on the printed page, or the computer screen, or as a film projected in a theater. The UNL Department of English is one of the most exciting and challenging places to be right now, offering a first class education to students, with reciprocal learning on all sides, embracing the core values of

Pursuing social justice
Affirming diversity
Engaging with a broad array of real and imagined communities based on empathetic understanding
Fostering a sense of belonging
Instilling a desire for civic engagement

In short, the UNL Department of English, as well as the other departments of the University, are clearly focused on the many changes and challenges of the 21st century, creating a vibrant atmosphere for learning, thinking, and embracing our shared cultural heritage. This is the real reason for the humanities – to bring us closer together, to create conversations and discussion, and to honor and explore the work of humanists around the world, no matter their discipline, as we strive to create an inclusive community for all.

Welcome back to the UNL Department of English for the 2017- 2018 school year!

Reset! More Than 990 Posts On This Blog! Back To The Top!

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

There are more than 990 entries on this blog. Click on the button above to go back to the top.

Frame by Frame began in 2011 with a post on Nicholas Ray – now, with more than 990 posts & much more to come, we’re listed on Amazon, in the New York Times blogroll, and elsewhere on the net, as well as being referenced in Wikipedia and numerous other online journals and reference websites. And this is just the beginning.

With thousands of hits every day, we hope to keep posting new material on films and people in films that matter, as well as on related issues, commercial free, with truly open access, for the entire film community. So look back and see what we’ve been up to, and page through the past to the present.

USE THE SEARCH BOX IN THE UPPER RIGHT HAND CORNER TO CHECK FOR YOUR FAVORITE TOPICS.

There are also more than 70 videos on film history, theory and criticism to check out on the Frame by Frame video blog, arranged in carousel fashion to automatically play one after the other, on everything from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to film aspect ratios, to discussions of pan and scan, Criterion video discs, deep focus, and a whole lot more.

So go back and see what you’ve been missing – you can always use the search box in the upper right hand corner to see if your favorite film or director is listed, but if not, drop me a line and we’ll see if we can’t do something about it. We’ve just updated our storage space on the blog, so there will be plenty more to come, so check it out – see you at the movies!

Click on the image above & see what else you can find!

Best Story Ever – Robert Forster – “Don’t Quit”

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Robert Forster is an excellent actor – but at one point, things looked bleak.

As he points out in the brief interview above, Robert Forster has been an actor working in Los Angeles for nearly 50 years – and he’s still hitting it out of the park. But there was a time in the 80s and 90s when the work wasn’t coming – connections dried up, he was getting lousy parts by his own admission, but he kept going at it everyday to see what he could do to turn things around.

As he tells it, he was sitting in his usual breakfast spot when Quentin Tarantino strolled in for some food. Forster had tried out for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs years before – and thought he killed at the audition – but he didn’t get the part. But rather than being bitter, when Tarantino walked in, Forster hailed him as a friend, called him over, and they started chatting.

The end result; he got one of the leading roles in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, which jump started his whole career again, and led to roles, in among other things, a little television show called Breaking Bad, to say nothing of his recurring role in David Lynch‘s reboot of Twin Peaks. As he put it, the whole thing came about because of three rules he follows:

*Accept all things; that gives you a good attitude;

*Deliver excellence right now; that gives you the best shot at the best future you’ve got coming;

*And never quit; you can win it in the late innings if you don’t quit.

Words to live by; and they certainly work for him!

Denis Côté’s New Film: “A Skin So Soft” at Locarno

Friday, August 4th, 2017

A Skin So Soft: “there’s nothing but them and the struggle with themselves.”

Denis Côté continues to consolidate his reputation as one of the most important filmmakers working today with his new film A Skin So Soft. The film recently premiered at The Locarno Film Festival, and won rave reviews from every quarter, which if you ask me is about time – he’s an absolute original. My sincere thanks to Gwendolyn Audrey Foster – one of the most perceptive viewers of Côté‘s work –  for bringing this to my attention.

With such films as Drifting States (Golden Leopard in the Locarno Video Competition in 2005), All That She Wants (Best Director Award at Locarno in 2008) and Curling (another Best Director Award plus a Leopard for Best Actor in 2010), Côté is clearly a major talent, and yet his films are often misunderstood by mainstream critics. They also, of course, need to get much more distribution, but that’s true of so many thoughtful films in 2017.

Here’s an interview with Côté by Muriel Del Don from the journal Cineuropa, in which he talks about the genesis of the film, what it is and what it is not, and how he approached the material in way that’s absolutely different from films that dealt with body building in the past.

Cineuropa: Why did you decide to film the world of bodybuilding?

Denis Côté: For a long time, I had wanted to make a documentary about one of the protagonists, Benoit, but he didn’t really want to lift the lid on everything in his private life. So then the project just stayed inside my head. I have a number of health problems, and observing these men in their pursuit of perfection seemed to be a way of striking up a conversation with my own ailing body, in a very real way. I became interested in them again, looking at all the awe-inspiring photos they posted on their Facebook profiles. I interviewed several of them, then I finalized the cast.

Cineuropa: Your film is very powerful but extremely human at the same time, going far beyond the clichés linked to bodybuilding. How did you manage to “protect” your characters, without falling into the trap of voyeurism?

Denis Côté: First of all, I watched the classic Pumping Iron, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I told myself that we had seen all there was to see about bodybuilding. Then there are those countless TV reports and other highly conventional documentaries revolving around diets, drugs and all those hours of training. I thought the ‘subject’ had been filmed quite enough using a head-on approach. I decided to skirt around the edges, even if it meant occasionally drifting towards the extreme fringes. Besides the fitness centers, we see ordinary guys with families, some less glamorous moments, and private and intimate scenes that the other films on the ‘subject’ do not concern themselves with.

The idea of impressionism has caught on, and it was the fragility of these giants that really guided my perspective. But the lads still didn’t understand what I was looking for. They wanted to glisten and explode onto the screen to a thundering soundtrack, but all I was asking them to do was the washing-up. In the end, they were happy to show us another face. They thought it was ‘different’. I filmed people with passions, not their feats and achievements. You can really feel the tender and human angle, because it’s a film about human beings with passions, rather than a movie about bodybuilding.

Cineuropa: In A Skin So Soft, the dialogue is scarce, and there is a complete lack of music and voice-overs. In contrast, “human” sounds are very prominent, almost magnified. What was the thinking behind this?

Denis Côté: That comes down to the need to film what we see less of in the other films centering on this world. If I steer clear of interviews, informative content and statistics, what’s left? Bodies – bodies suffering, bodies that are satisfied, at rest or in a state of quasi-euphoria. I hunted down the slightest physical expression but also the slightest hint of anxiety. They are always on show, always performing, and they are very much aware of their image. Sometimes it’s the camera bothering them, at others it’s the sheer emotion of achieving their goals. I had no screenplay to work with, so I sought out these tell-tale signs of vulnerability.

Cineuropa: The bodies that you depict are supremely perfect, statuesque but simultaneously very sensual. Were you aiming to upend the established roles surrounding relationships of seduction by shattering the stereotypes linked to the insensitive, chauvinistic muscle man?

Denis Côté: Right from my first few visits to the fitness centres, or whenever I saw a competition, I noticed that there was absolutely no sex appeal, nor any so-called ‘normal’ games of seduction. It’s a world that is sexualized very little, even though everyone is constantly half-naked. It’s all about pure performance. The men and women never look at one another in a lustful way. They check each other out, but only from a performance point of view, with perhaps a smattering of jealousy.

They examine one another from head to toe, all the while silently giving marks out of ten. It’s a far cry from sexualizing the relationships, and that took me by surprise. To the casual observer, it therefore becomes quite astonishing to see all of this homoerotic electricity go utterly unnoticed among the bodybuilding enthusiasts. The most awe-inspiring bodybuilders are not extremely macho. They don’t talk about sex; they don’t hit on people. That may seem strange, but in the end, it’s logical. There’s nothing but them and the struggle with themselves.

See the trailer here – I’ll have more to say on this remarkable film in the future.

Frederick Seidel’s “Widening Income Inequality”

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Frederick Seidel is the quintessential New York City poet – this is his finest work.

I knew Frederick Seidel back in the 1960s, and owe him a great deal; he was one of the people with whom I put together the first film course at Rutgers University in 1966; he was unfailingly kind and generous in his dealings with me; and he got me a job at Life Magazine reporting on the New York experimental film scene in the late 1960s, just before the magazine folded. I met Tommy Thompson, the essayist and novelist there, as well as Brad Darrach, and that’s where I first learned to put pen to paper in some sort of serious fashion – and it’s all down to Fred.

Seidel has been writing poems for years, and they’re always remarkable for their honesty and candor, as well as the grace with which he floats the words on to the page – the result of a great deal of effort, by his own account, which nevertheless seems just right in the finished poem, as if “of course – that’s where this was heading.” He publishes prolifically in The London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review, and now many of his most recent poems have been collected in a volume aptly titled Widening Income Inequality.

Seidel has long been part of the Manhattan literary scene; in the 1960s, Esquire published a piece on “who was hot” in the New York City publishing world, and there was Seidel at the red hot center of all the action – just where you would expect him to be. Seidel is independently wealthy, and this informs the backdrop of much of his work; something he’s not in the least ashamed of, and why should he be?

Seidel is direct and clear in these new poems on his obsessions (fast cars are a top item) as well as his fears (growing older among them), but he never loses a certain mordant sense of humor about the vicissitudes of existence. He spends his time writing and working, never gives readings, doesn’t teach, and devotes himself solely to his craft.

As he put it in a 2016 interview with Alain Elkann, “I require a very great deal of time to do the work in. I want gallons of time to do the work. It gives you the opportunity to hear it, to smell it over, to meditate, to listen to what you are writing. You work and you work, and then comes a moment when the poem abandons you, the poem is finished. What has not been sufficiently emphasized is how important the sound is, the sound the language is making.”

The jacket copy for Widening Income Inequality notes that “Frederick Seidel has been called many things. A ‘transgressive adventurer,’ ‘a demonic gentleman,’ a ‘triumphant outsider,’ ‘a great poet of innocence,’ and ‘an example of the dangerous Male of the Species,’ just to name a few. Whatever you choose to call him, one thing is certain: ‘he radiates heat.’ (The New Yorker).

Widening Income Inequality, Seidel’s new poetry collection, is a rhymed magnificence of sexual, historical, and cultural exuberance, a sweet and bitter fever of Robespierre and Obamacare and Apollinaire, of John F. Kennedy and jihadi terror and New York City and Italian motorcycles. Rarely has poetry been this true, this dapper, or this dire. Seidel is ‘the most poetic of the poets and their leader into hell.'”

It’s a remarkable volume from first page to last – sometimes elegiac, sometimes angry, sometime puzzled at the way the twists and turns of existence have unfolded, sprinkled with memories of lost friends from New York society, such as Bobby Short, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, William Styron – and yet he keeps on moving into the future, living in the moment, in the minute – always scanning the horizon for something new.

If you’re looking for something bracing, original, and absolutely fearless – read this volume.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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