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We’re Back! – UNL Dept. of English

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!

See All The Movies You Want For $10 A Month?

August 16th, 2017

Under a new proposal, you could pay $10 a month, and see a new movie every day.

As Isabel Gottlieb reports in Bloomberg News, under a new scheme proposed by one of the co-founders of Netflix, you could go to the movies every day for a month for just $10. Sound impossible? Maybe it is – but “as movie theaters struggle with tepid sales, Mitch Lowe has an extreme proposal for how to get more people into seats: Let them come to all the showings they want for about the price of a single ticket each month.

Lowe, an early Netflix Inc. executive who now runs a startup called MoviePass, plans to drop the price of the company’s movie ticket subscriptions on Tuesday to $9.95. The fee will let customers get in to one showing every day at any theater in the U.S. that accepts debit cards. MoviePass will pay theaters the full price of each ticket used by subscribers, excluding 3D or Imax screens.

MoviePass could lose a lot of money subsidizing people’s movie habits. So the company also raised cash on Tuesday by selling a majority stake to Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc., a small, publicly traded data firm in New York. The companies declined to comment on terms of the financing but said MoviePass intends to hold an initial public offering by March. Helios and Metheson shares rose 5.7 percent to $2.95 at the close Tuesday in New York.

Ted Farnsworth, chief executive officer at Helios and Matheson, said the goal is to amass a large base of customers and collect data on viewing behaviors. That information could then be used to eventually target advertisements or other marketing materials to subscribers. ‘It’s no different than Facebook or Google,’ Farnsworth said. ‘The more we understand our fans, the more we can target them. . . .’

Lowe, a fixture of the home video business who helped get Netflix off the ground and served as president of rental-kiosk operator Redbox, was named CEO last year. The privately held company declined to disclose subscriber numbers or financial information. Lowe said the data-based business model is still ‘years in the future.’

With the new strategy, MoviePass hopes to resolve what Lowe sees as the biggest factor to blame for the theater industry’s decline. He said the high price of tickets, not competition from Netflix or Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video service, is a big part of what’s keeping people away.” Could it work? Well, I know that one of the factors impacting theater going is the price, and I think it’s true that –

“People really do want to go more often,” Lowe said. “They just don’t like the transaction.”

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster Screening at Studio 44 – Stockholm

August 15th, 2017

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s video is being screened at Studio 44’s Short Film Festival in Stockholm, Sweden.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster‘s video, Sleeping with The Fishes, is being screened by invitation at as part of the Studio 44 Short Film Festival, hosted by the Stockholm Culture Festival, August 15 – 20, 2017. Studio 44, Stockholm, Sweden, curated by Helena Norell and Mats Landström.

Studio 44 is an artist run collective in Stockholm; the Studio 44 Short Film festival is a wide-ranging event including animation, narrative, documentary, experimental video and film, feminist, queer, and anti-racist films, featuring work by 40 film and video artists from 15 different countries.

You can view Foster’s films on Vimeo by clicking here.

You can view Foster’s Vimeo Channel by clicking here.

As Foster says of her work, “chance is my favorite collaborator. I often allow ideas to emerge by manipulating images and sound with little or no intentional ‘plan.’ I create abstracts, slow films, unusual sound designs, music, and video installations that are described as hypnotic, surreal, and enigmatic.

I like to explore liminal spaces between film & video, real & virtual, abstract & representational, aesthetic & philosophical; disrupting binaries whenever possible. Some of my films are punk feminist, political and eco-critical; confrontational and abrasive, but other times I fashion slow cinema, inviting contemplation and active meditation.”

As Foster notes of Sleeping with The Fishes, the work is “a surrealist collage in honor of Luis Buñuel and André Breton. ‘Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other 22 in dreams.’―Luis Buñuel. ‘Words have finished flirting. Now they are making love. The same is true of images.’―André Breton.”

Foster’s films have been screened at The Nederlands Filmmuseum, The Rice Museum, The Collective for Living Cinema, Swedish Cinemateket, National Museum of Women in the Arts, DC, Bibliotheque Cantonale, Lausanne, Switzerland, International Film Festival of Kerala, India, Films de Femmes, Créteil, Outfest, The Museum of Modern Art, Women’s Film Festival of Madrid, Kyobo Center, Korea, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Université Laval, Quebec, Forum Yokohama, Anthology Film Archives, Amos Eno Gallery, NY, SLA 307 Art Space, NY, Maryland Institute College of Art, NETV, and festivals and venues around the world. This is yet another honor in her career as a video artist.

This is a remarkable accomplishment; congratulations to Gwendolyn on this event.

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

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”

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!

“Take The Hardest Path” – Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy”

August 8th, 2017

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini at work on the set.

In July 2009, I wrote in Senses of Cinema about Rossellini’s remarkable Voyage to Italy that the film “was shot from 2 February through 30 April 1953, on a variety of locations throughout Italy, including Naples, Capri, Pompeii, and at the Titanus studios in Rome, and was a tempestuous production throughout. The plot is simple: an unhappily married couple, Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex Joyce (George Sanders) are traveling from London through Italy to Naples, where they have inherited a villa.

Their marriage is a shambles, and they quarrel constantly; indeed, it is hard to imagine a more ill suited couple in the history of cinema. Katherine, relatively young and vibrant, seems trapped in a loveless match with the ill-tempered, dour Alex, who thinks only of money, and openly flirts with other women while ignoring his wife. Katherine has made the journey not only to sell the villa, but also in the hope that the “voyage” will reignite the passion of their marriage; instead, as the trip becomes more complex, and fraught with delays and interruptions, Alex’s boredom and frustration turns to outright hostility towards his wife.

In desperation, Katherine recounts to her disaffected husband the tale of a former suitor who, long ago, has been passionately in love with her; but Alex is unmoved, and Katherine seems resigned to the fact that their marriage will end in divorce, as soon as the necessary papers for the sale of the villa have been signed. The couple decide to split up, and spend their remaining time in Naples separately; Katherine visits a series of natural wonders with a succession of paid, only professionally attentive Italian tour guides, while Alex seeks out the company of a group of British nationals vacationing in Capri.

Katherine’s time is nevertheless redolent of the state of her collapsing marriage; viewing the ruins of Pompeii, with human bodies still entombed in centuries-old ash, as well as witnessing first-hand a small volcanic eruption on a tour, Katherine seems lost, lonely, and disconnected from the world around her, yet at the same time she years for some sort of human compassion. Alex is clearly disinterested.

And yet, in the film’s final, unforgettable sequence, as the now-reunited, but still-quarreling couple watch a passing religious procession, they are seized with an unexpected emotion, and fervently embrace each other, declaring their love, and wondering how they could possibly have become so estranged. Their renewal of love is a miracle, entirely inexplicable by any conventional narrative standards; the entire film, indeed, has been consistently moving away from such a reconciliation.

Love appears to have conquered a seemingly irreparable emotional breakdown. It is one of the most unexpected and transcendent moments in not just all of Rossellini, but in all of cinema; as one might imagine, the ending was also highly controversial at the time of the film’s release, and remains so, because it seems to come out of thin air, rather than in response to any section or aspect of the film’s narrative exposition.”

Much of the film was improvised; often Rossellini didn’t really know which direction the film was going in. The actors, especially George Sanders, were often irritated by Rossellini’s seeming indecision during the production, but the director was searching for something through the film, something perhaps related to his difficult and ultimately doomed relationship with Ingrid Bergman, who worked with Rossellini in three of his films, and abandoned her Hollywood career to work with him in Italy.

As I observed back in 2009, “Voyage to Italy is a film in search of itself, a film that only knows its own conclusion when it appears, miraculously, in front of it, arriving at a final destination that no one in the audience could possibly have foreseen. And yet, the final moments of the film seem absolutely ‘right’; indeed, it seems to be the only possible conclusion to the film.” And yet this could not have been an easy path to take; rather, it was a jump into the void, with only the slightest idea of how the film would finally end. And yet only with such a quest can anything worthwhile be made; if you aren’t searching for something, then you are lost.

“When you don’t know which path to take, choose the hardest one.” – Roberto Rossellini

New Videos by Wheeler Winston Dixon

August 4th, 2017

Here are some new videos I’ve made: click here to see the group of roughly 100 new works.

I’ve been going through quite a tear lately making new videos. Sketchbook is one of my favorites, especially the section roughly halfway through at a rave. As Chris Riddell notes, “The computer is a tool, just like pencil or charcoal, allowing illustrators to manipulate images from their sketchbooks.” And so that’s how I approach this, using the raw materials from life to create an impressionistic vision of existence.

But I’ve also compiled a group of my favorite recent videos – about 100 in all – which you can see by clicking here – the total run time is about 6 hours. As Paulo Cohelo wrote, “I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.” These are some of the images, then, that I have wrested from the storm.

You can see the collection of new videos by clicking here – enjoy.

Movie Theaters’ $1.3 Billion Stock Collapse

August 4th, 2017

2017 hasn’t been that great for movie box office figures – what does the future hold?

As Anousha Sakoui and Emma Orr report on the Bloomberg News website, “Hope is fading for a feel-good ending at the U.S. box office. After several months of flops like Warner Bros.’ King Arthur and EuropaCorp’s Valerian, movie studios and theaters are beginning to acknowledge that their streak of record-setting ticket sales may be coming to an end. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the world’s biggest cinema chain, laid out a worse-than-projected outlook for the North American box office this week.

That announcement dragged down shares of theater stocks, wiping out $1.3 billion from the value of the top four cinema operators in North America since Aug. 1. Even with a new Star Wars, a Marvel superhero movie and the sequel to Blade Runner on the docket for the holiday season, the box office is unlikely to make up for a ‘severe hit’ in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. To date, receipts are down 2 percent in 2017, and AMC is projecting a 1.5 percent decline for the full year.

The concern is that the slump isn’t just a run of bad luck. Cinema operators have managed for years to keep increasing sales by raising ticket prices amid stagnant attendance, but a sharp drop in film going would make that harder to sustain. And the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers. Movies featuring once-reliable draws Jack Sparrow, the Transformers and the Mummy did poorly in the U.S.

Meanwhile, competition is heating up. Netflix Inc. and other digital distributors are creating more original movies, and consumers have more demands on their attention than ever, from Snapchat to YouTube. Further exacerbating the trend, studios are expected to push for a new premium video-on-demand window this year.

It’s possible that Hollywood could reverse the trend next year, when a new movie about Han Solo, an Avengers film, and sequels to Deadpool and Jurassic World are scheduled. ‘This is very typical of the movie business,’ said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘You could make the argument that the slate for next year looks really good, which should grow the market next year in North America. That part’s a cyclical thing, and it’s likely to come back.’

And movie-theater operators Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Imax Corp. aren’t facing the same level of pressure as AMC, which is carrying almost $5 billion in debt after expanding its empire to Europe, with acquisitions in the U.K. and Sweden.

Controlled by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group Co., AMC has become the poster child for China’s incursion into Hollywood. Concern that Dalian Wanda’s international investments may wane is adding to AMC’s troubles. ‘With China cracking down on funding for AMC’s majority shareholder, Dalian Wanda, the cinema chain faces murky prospects given its high debt level and appetite for global M&A,’ wrote Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.”

Now, it could be that we’re just going through a run of bad films – or it could be, as Sakoui and Orr note, that “the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers.” I’d argue it’s the latter, and though a new Star Wars or Marvel film may come along that rocks the box office, eventually this is a formula that’s bound to collapse. The figures above show it – theatrical box office is steadily going down.

But then again, what are the theaters to do? Audiences have been force fed junk for so long that they no longer know what a more thoughtful, challenging film looks like – they wouldn’t know how to approach anything that doesn’t have three act plot format, cardboard cutout characters, and a massive dose of CGI. Can you imagine if Ingmar Bergman’s Persona were released theatrically today? Or Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (which incidentally, holds the record for the biggest box office success for any foreign subtitled film to this day, adjusted for inflation)?

No one would come. Contemporary audiences only want genre films, franchise films, spectacle films, and superhero/heroine films. That’s it. And furthermore, theaters are locked into multi-year contracts stretching into the next decade for upcoming films from Marvel, DC, Disney, Lucasfilm (bearing in mind that Marvel and Lucasfilm are part of Disney) so they have to run their films no matter what.  What are theater owners to do? They could convert their auditoriums into gigantic videogame parlors, with multiplayer games on the screen, but that, too, would eventually fade.

The future is online. The future is streaming. The future is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and similar companies. The future is people sitting in their living room watching web series, or feature films, on their 50″ plasma, streaming from the web, or cable – if they still live in the dark ages – but the future is not in movie theaters. It costs too much to go out, the prices at the concession stand are out of control (it’s really the only way the multiplexes can make any money), and furthermore, in today’s violent society, theaters are simply not safe. And with Amazon and Netflix making their own features, distributed through their own online network, who needs movie theaters?

The outlook for theatrical exhibition is grim indeed – what can turn it around?

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

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”

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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