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Wild West Hero: An Erotic Novella
Wild West Hero: An Erotic Novella
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rocking of the Trailer, the Burning Sun of Spain, November 28, 2014
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Thom Wolf takes pen in hand to bring us the thrilling story of what actually happens on the set of the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 70s. A film scholar as well as one of today most acclaimed erotic novelists and short story writers, Wolf combines the critical acumen of the reviewer with the raw passion of one who fell in love with the good looking stars of these "westerns all'italiana" as much as with their violence, suspense, and revolutionary underpinnings. The (fictional) movie he chronicles is called Dollars in the Dust (1969) and his protagonist and narrator, young Eddie Drake, is new to film, though hardly to the casting couch, when he arrives in the remote Spanish location used for so many of the Italian coproductions of the period. He knows little Spanish or Italian, so he's lonely, but buoyed by knowing that the great Hollywood western star Hank Kinney is due on set for the last two weeks of shooting.

Wolf writes well of Eddie's loneliness and self-doubt, and about he has to negotiate his hidden sexuality in the mazes of Hollywood and international film production. There were then no "out" stars, or even "out" extras for that matter, but among those in the know there have been, for twenty years or more, whispers about the great superstar Hank Kinney, now down on his luck and reduced to playing in the sort of films he hopes will never reach America. Eddie is all excited to meet his co-star, but when the famous actor arrives he disappears into his trailer and won't respond to the director's entreaties. In despair, director Benito (sort of a Sergio Leone character, trying to make a masterpiece out of hackneyed materials and a tiny budget) send Eddie in to lure out Hank Kinney. In the heat of the Spanish noon, all of Eddie's dreams come true, but first, pure pain.

Not only the pain of fearing that your dreams of stardom will evaporate like dollars in the dust, but the pain of being invaded by the titanic male members first of insatiable Italian bit player Sandro, and then another one for whom the huge encroachment of Sandro will have only been a loosening up. Like many of Wolf's most memorable characters, Eddie experiences life through the sensitive membranes that make up his hot, molten, stretchable core, and between these two guys he's often left too sore to sit comfortably on his palomino. That feeling, and the endless plains of Pamplona, and the unforgiving sun of Spain, are the things I will take away from Wild West Hero long after I stop reading it with one hand, longing for Eddie to find the happiness he deserves. It is a book to treasure, to inflame, and you will never look at Django or Once Upon a Time in America in quite the same way after reading about the secret lives of their Wild West Heroes.

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II
Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II
by Farah Jasmine Griffin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.56
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4.0 out of 5 stars Triptych for the Double V, November 26, 2014
Reading Harlem Nocturne, I was constantly reproving myself for how little I knew about the Double V campaign that took place during World War II here in America. Indeed I had never heard of it before. Double V stands for "Double Victory" and it was an initiative pioneered by leftist and progressive groups trying to convince black American workers to put their backs into the War against Fascists overseas, while pursuing the nascent civil rights struggle at home. As Farah Jasmine Griffin explains, this double campaign was something new; in World War I we learn that black leaders were known to downplay their own political causes in times of national warfare, presumably to show white folks that black men and woman could magnanimously put being "good citizens" ahead of their own basic human rights. Well, no more of that in WWII, at least in Harlem, but Griffin shows how the struggle to keep two separate victory campaigns alive simultaneously was not always easy, perhaps especially for the women artists of the community during the War and in the troubled years immediately afterwards.

Only incidentally is this a biography, but I did ménage to learn far more than I had already learned about the three whom she selects as her principals. Pearl Primus based her modern dance choreography of what she could observe as ordinary black life both in the US and in Africa, insisting on the unbroken chain that linked the two continents. Herself an accomplished dancer, though with a body sometimes dismissed as clunky and short, she could jump straight up into the air five feet or more, from a standing position, a feat that left onlookers amazed.

In contrast, novelist Ann Petry hailed from the black bourgeoisie of Connecticut; Griffin describes her initial descent into Harlem almost as an act of "slumming," but she was assuredly drawn to working class life and the hardships endured by women in the Harlem homefront. Was she a communist? It's hard to say, though all three of the subjects of Griffin's book found that, if you ignored or shunned the leftist arts and political organizations, literally no one else supported you at this time. Frustratingly, many of the most interesting parts of her subjects' lives occurs after Griffin leaves them (roughly around 1950), and we learn only in an epilogue that Petry basically abandoned her role as America's greatest female black novelist in 1953, writing only stories and children's books until her death, and we never really find out why. I for one would love to read THAT HILL GIRL, a vehicle for the white star Kim Novak, that brought Petry to Hollywood in 1957, but Griffin supplies just enough material on that project to tantalize, not enough to please.

Mary Lou Williams was my favorite story, perhaps because Williams was the least "diva-like" of the personalities Griffin treats. (Although who doesn't love a great diva?) I remember seeing her when I was a boy, at the Smith Haven Mall in my hometown of Smithtown, Long Island, playing jazz piano in public and entertaining a whole shopping mall's worth of shoppers. My mother told me to remember this moment forever, for Mary Lou Williams was a genius. I wanted to hang out with my gang, but she said, hush, just be still, take this moment and listen to the gods with both your ears. I stood there and eventually I could understand what my mother was talking about. God bless them both, my mother and Mary Lou Williams, and thanks to Dr. Griffin for producing such a readable, if much too brief, book on a stimulating time and place.

The God of Longing
The God of Longing
by Brent Calderwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.77
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man of Tomorrow, September 12, 2014
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I saw this young man read a few years back, and I made a mental note of his name, and then I went to an open reading at the San Francisco Museum of Performance + Design when I heard he was going to be what they call the feature. He’s got a lot of charm as a performer, he’s tall, good-looking, and he can even bring out a guitar and sing like Glen Campbell, so what’s not to like? But sometimes all that charm can fool a poet’s audience into thinking there’s more there than there is there, as Gertrude Stein once wrote about Hemingway or somebody. I vowed I would wait until a press put out Brent Calderwood’s first book, so I could read the words without the distraction of that personality, just to make up my mind. Now The God of Longing is here, and I can report, even if he was a troll his poetry could still deliver.

I start with the title, trying to remember my ancient Greek and asking myself, who was the god of longing on Mount Olympus? Calderwood’s writing veers sharply between the high romantic mode and the slangy, quotidian I did this I did that of O’Hara, only he’s more explicit about sexual matters than even the old horndog Frank O’Hara allowed himself to be. The first poems in the book all reach back to various bygone eras of romance, from the pre-Raphaelite “The Golden Hour,” to the Rodgers & Hart Tin Pan Alley minor key “Stay Little Valentine Stay,” to the postwar homosexual irony of “Ballad of the Kind Young Men.” Later the poems pass through the region of great geological unrest—the days of the quake. But not everything is loud, nor cataclysmic, in this collection. Thematically there’s the tension of gods versus men, the tension between boys and men, the passages of time that turn a sweet love sour, that turn a boy into a man, and how these passages sometimes run, like a subterranean creek, deep underneath the surface of life so that you don’t really know they’re occurring. In every case, both loud and quiet, Calderwood finds a vehicle appropriate for what he wants his poem to do. (In that sense I wasn’t wrong, in thinking of him as a performative poet, but it’s the poems themselves that are performing themselves on every page.)

Turns out the god of longing is from Augustine, and his name was Himeros, and in the name of this god we detect the words for “him” and for “Eros.” Calderwood’s characters speak of a broken home, a brother fatally ill, an absent father; we get the picture of a boy isolated by his fears and by the pressures of his peers to be studly and straight; a fat boy who, slim as he makes himself in gay adult life, can never get over the shame of being a freak. These are strong issues and Calderwood creates tension wisely by reining in the emotion with a variety of formal devices. In “Abecedarius,” one of the most striking poems, each line of free verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet, from A to Z: “So he goes to the room marked BOYS at/ Twelve each day, pretends to/ Urinate, then stays in a stall till the bell rings at one.” Elsewhere, in a more comic mood—though one equally resentful of the marks of beauty each man must carry like armor, Calderwood writes a poem about anal bleaching, and he makes it a villanelle—again, I suppose to ward off the bad magic of his subject matter.

I actually hate such forms but it’s a mark of my respect for this young poet that I’m giving him the thumbs up despite his attraction to the formal. Elsewhere, in “Swim,” we find the three-line stanza beloved of William Carlos Williams, the triadic measure he called the “variable foot,” supposedly one that could contain the raw power of America; and next to “Swim” the astonishing intimacy of “Intermission,” in which a speaker examines his boyfriend’s frenulum, in prose, to the point of no return, or so I read it, whereupon the poem erupts into the broken line of verse. If you don’t know what a frenulum is, don’t worry, he spells it out in a delightful allegory of him and Eros. In The God of Longing, Calderwood’s most striking poems resolve and revolve around an ever-shifting display, a pageant on the age-old conflict between Apollo and Dionysus, between the ecstatic experience and the quieter moments of remembering it, or wanting it so bad, so bad that sometimes it’s good, real good, exquisite in fact.

Expect to see this book on many of the “best of 2014” lists, and Brent Calderwood, get ready, a lot of young men will be picking up this book and wanting to write just like you, and to get there, they’re gonna start by first investigating your frenulum.

by Liv Ullmann
Edition: Hardcover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can I handle the seasons of my life? One woman's poignant reflections in snow covered hills., May 13, 2014
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This review is from: Changing (Hardcover)
In Liv Ullmann’s memoir Changing, only a few colors stain the crystal radiance of the skies above Norway, gray, pink, white, black; someone holds the great Norwegian star for a few minutes, then lets her fall back to the rocks of Faro Island, and yet even though it hurts to be so deeply in love, and you’re betraying your husband, you still feel like life is worth living. All your allegiances are to the theater, and then top the cinema of Ingmar Bergman. All the phones are rotary, yet she longs to work on stage because that is one place in which you don’t hear the phone, she says. How different from today, where you can stay in touch with your daughter even if you are onstage playing one of your signature parts (in Liv Ullmann’s case, she became famous as she tells us at nineteen, in a Scandinavian town beginning with a “S,” (I just looked it up, it was “Stavanger”), playing Anne Frank; and later there was her sensational success as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which she takes on a long straw hat circuit trail in the Sweden of the 1960s, and Norway in the 1979s, entertaining farmers and forest rangers in run down dinner theaters that had not seen a single play for over thirty and in some cases over one hundred years.

Everywhere the weather haunts her. The sun breaking through the snowcaps, the threat of the ground shifting beneath your feet, that moment between autumn and winter when you can see your refection in the snow covered hills. When this book came out during America’s bicentennial, it made an enormous impression on young California feminists and hedonists, who took the message of perpetual cosmic and personal shift to heart. The young Stevie Nicks took the emotional and wintry landscape of Ullmann’s difficult Scandinavia and condensed this book into her signature song. Like “Landslide,” Ullmann’s memoir is haunted by the puckish spirits of a girl child, her own child self, orphaned by a WWII accident and a beautiful, willful mother, and by her own daughter Linn, whom she gave birth to during her five year long affair with director Bergman. One or the other of the two little girls appears on nearly every page. As Stevie sings, “I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I’ve built my life around you.” Bergman was so jealous that he was the source of all of her fears and joys. He was like Lindsay Buckingham, the way Stevie writes about him in “Silver Springs.” Then little Linn broke the ice and made Liv see she was living in what had turned into an emotional nightmare.

When she left, Liv fled to Southern California as Stevie did. “Time makes us bolder,” said the latter. “Even children get older.” Eternal changing, but one thing that did not change is Liv’s penchant for human depravity. She dated Henry Kissinger, and apparently thought this behavior sort of cute. She had the opportunity many times to poison the world’s most evil living man, and yet she stayed her hand. The only star who comes off looking bad in this “Landslide” of an autobiography is Vanessa Redgrave, like Liv a stranger in Hollywood, but otherwise an inhuman freak who is interested in Liv only if she will write her a huge check to support the cause of violent Trotskyite revolution. It was a strange era in Hollywood, one never to be repeated, a time in which these two weird, beautiful, Nordic powerhouses could each be asked to anchor a huge Hollywood musical: Redgrave the box office disappointment Camelot; Ullmann, the total disaster of the legendary Lost Horizon musical. I guess there was also Jean Seberg, weird like them, European sort of, sort of respected for her acting, and so perplexingly cast as the lead both men wanted in Paint Your Wagon. But she at any rate was from America, like our own songwriting virtuoso, the one and only Stevie Nicks. I can only say that Camelot, Lost Horizon and Paint Your Wagon would have all been improved with the casting of Nicks, who has never been given her due in American movies, nor those of any other country or planet!

The City of Palaces: A Novel
The City of Palaces: A Novel
by Michael Nava
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.31
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5.0 out of 5 stars He returns in triumph, March 26, 2014
It spans decades, from 1897 through the spring of 1913, and like all the best historical novels manages to do two things simultaneously—a, it sweeps you out of your own world into one you’ve perhaps only vaguely imagined, and b, makes you realize how the events of the past in fact are the crucibles through which the present was poured and found its shape. The City of Palaces is rich with blood and revolutionary anger and the stench of disease, and yet at heart it’s a love story.

Something of a Mexican Romeo and Juliet really. Miguel Sarmiento is no peasant, in fact he’s a doctor, but he knows he’s not in the league of the Gavilans, the aristocratic and wealthy family whose palace dominates all others in its neighborhood.

Dona Alicia is the grande dame of the city, the merciful and benevolent patroness of a teeming clinic. Her private life, tragic, for her face has been scarred by pustules, her great beauty ruined, her visage always draped like Medusa, and yet she yearns for the tender embrace of a man—but who would have her?

Under the romance lies the epochal and agonizing drama about the native peoples who are being rounded up and exiled from their own lands. These people are just about untouchable, despite the fact that they are the rightful owners of the land under the Spaniards’ feet, just as the great City itself is built on the shards of the
Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Sarmiento is newly returned from seven years away in
Europe, and once back the impossible contrasts of Mexico City begin to shake his reserve. His practice is largely built of the society ladies his father once treated, but he is also a crusader for social justice and does his best for the Indians, truly the wretched of the earth. A growing group of revolutionaries have begun to see the truth, that European systems of capitalism and culture have pitted mestizo against pelado without thought of human feelings or liberty, only in pursuit of the eternal peso.

Among these intellectuals the doctor’s dandy of a cousin, Jorge Luis, a paradoxical exquisite whose jaded air conceals a fellow feeling for the underprivileged and the oppressed, for he himself is gay in a high Catholic society dedicated to pushing back sexual difference. If any of you know Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 novel At Swim Two Boys, some of the same dynamics play themselves out here in The City of Palaces.

Even novices to Mexican history, those of us who remember Paul Muni and Bette Davis as Juarez and Carlotta, and then only a fuzzy succession of generals, saints, chamuyeros, and heroes, will find yourselves glad you didn’t know more, because you have the pleasure of not knowing what happens next, and I expect even Mexican historians will be totally hanging on every word, not least for the love story which combines medical drama and the mad lust which I have come to know as a Michael Nava trademark. If you liked Magnificent Obsession, or All That Heaven Allows, think of this as the sweeping historical drama that Douglas Sirk didn’t live to make. It is transcendent and will make you fall over, sobbing and loving every minute of it.

An Ordinary Boy
An Ordinary Boy
by Brian Centrone
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.99
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5.0 out of 5 stars Your money's worth and much more, March 17, 2014
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Tom Grove is one of those unforgettable characters whom people either love or despise, or somewhere in the middle, as you can tell by the twenty wildly varying reviews on this site, to say nothing of those Brian Centrone’s debnt novel has elicited elsewhere. An Ordinary Boy is a book that everybody has an opinion on, if you can get past the first fifty or so pages. If you missed them, you would still have quite a substantial body of work on your hands.

When we meet Tom first, he is starting freshman year at ”Anadam,” an East Coast university with a diverse student population, and his upper crust parents are dropping him off at his dorm room. This is a common way to introduce a new student at a new school, and serves the triple purpose of introducing our appealing young hero—well, appealing but for some obnoxious traits which will be tamed or cut back by novel’s end—and we also get to see his amusingly clueless parents and meet his studly straight roommate, Joey Arkin of the football team. We learn that most everyone at Anadam shops at Bergdorf Goodman, which suits Tom down to the ground, He’s a gay Republican, and at this point I was like, OK, then the hell with him! But Centrone’s storytelling talent won me over quickly enough, to the point where I could at length ignore young Tom’s appalling POV and his quips about the “politically correct” that make him seem like young William Buckley only less sexy. Right away we see Tom being stuck in an unfortunate position, being set up by his mother, a monster of the first order, with a boy next door type called Matt.

Matt’s an adorable Abercrombie & Fitch type of guy whom Tom loves right away, but he’s not ready to settle down, why, he’s not even twenty yet. Tom’s dreams of young love meet an awful smash when Matt neglects to take his virginity on holiday break, forcing Tom to deal with some less savory elements he meets on the seedy side of town, one of whom catches his attention and brings out his submissive side. Centrone writes superbly about lust and desire, and one of the best scenes brings us Tom, confused and horny, learning how much he longs to bottom for a guy, and yet unfortunately he gets more than he wanted, and the rest of the novel deals with a long period of PTSD for Tom, so suddenly An Ordinary Boy’s not as humorous (or satirical) as it once was. The novel has enough plot and meat to it for two or three ordinary novels, but Centrone knows what he’s doing and manages to keep the plot skeins firmly interwoven like the best Persian rugmakers of ancient tradition, plus as a garni, the latest technological advancements like texting acronyms and Scruff. It all leads up to the most elaborate and dramatic wedding scenc since 1967’s The Graduate. By that time you’ll be very glad to have made the acquaintance of “An Ordinary Boy.” Get it!

Incidentally, the book got me to wondering, do actual wealthy families still go to all the middle class bother of dropping their children off to college in person? So old-fashioned and bourgeois I would think. Why don’t the Groves hire one of those outcall services that do it for you? They obviously could afford it, and it’s not like Tom was their first child so that visiting Anadam would have the thrill of novelty. Indeed he’s they’re fourth, no wonder they’re blasé. These new services pick up your child and make sure he’s limo-ed to his new school and they wait and have extra keys made and vet the roommate. This would have been nice in Tom’s case but no, so we sympathize with him all the more after finding his parents so retardataire on social niceties.

World's Fair Gardens: Shaping American Landscapes
World's Fair Gardens: Shaping American Landscapes
by Cathy Jean Maloney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.41
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quickly Made Gardens a Treat for the Curious, March 14, 2014
Cathy Jean Maloney is one of our leading garden historians and here she seems equally adept in deciphering the curious history of the world's fair in America. You will not find much analysis of capitalism here, though there are some defining moments in which nationalism, the capitalist drive, and heavy planting commingle in which even Miss Maloney raises some questions. But for the most part this is a boosterish examination of why World's Fairs came to be, why they needed gardens, and in general, how each has left the city is was built in better than before. The razing of huge acres poses no ethical problems here, not when gardens are the result. And what a vast swatch of history she covers, from the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, to the futuristic 1939 World's Fair in New York that brought the Trylon and the Perisphere to Flushing Meadow.

Everywhere her thought are about the gardens, and which imported plants mad their debut in what exposition. One gets the picture that the US on its own had a tiny repertoire of native flowers, and that most of the famous flowers came from other lands. For many years, foreign nations were invited to build their own pavilions and plant their own gardens, and in some cases this led to disastrous results, for often enough what grows well, in say France, fails to blossom in, say, Buffalo. And if she had to find a fault with World's Fair culture, Ms. Mahoney would say that far too often the gardens were a hurried afterthought, not given enough time to properly develop, and all concerned were crossing their fingers tightly until the day of the show.

Frank Sherlock, new poet laureate of Philadelphia, you would do well to read this book from cover to cover, but above all Chapter One, which details the making of your city's lovely Fairmount Park. You could even today stroll to the Horticultural Center there and gaze up at what is still called "Miss Foley's Fountain," while the present day Japanese garden and tea house is but an outgrowth of the original, Orientalist-and-how "Japanese Bazaar" of 1876. I remember when our nation was at war with Japan in the early 1950s, the Japanese garden was shuttered up under pain of jail sentence for trespassing, for the public outcry against all things Japanese was intense. Frank, have you ever visited either of the two brick restrooms across the way from the Horticultural Center? As you enjoy their comforts, know that they, too, are souvenirs of the Centennial Garden Exposition of 1976, though the plumbing and client base have both been updated and kept fresh. You probably also know the CTA fountain, still sprinkling pure H2O at people after 140 years, but did you realize it was installed by Catholic people, the original Prohibitionists, to give fair-goers a watery alternative to the foul saloons and beer gardens of the fair? All you had to do was to bend over, and sip. I know everyone has an agenda for the new Poet Laureate, but at least give the flowers a look in, will ya? The public will love you even more than they do already.

Ann Harding - Cinema's Gallant Lady
Ann Harding - Cinema's Gallant Lady
by Scott O'Brien
Edition: Paperback
Price: $30.75
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a life!, March 12, 2014
I read Scott O’Brien’s Kay Francis book and I have to say, this one’s markedly better and I like Kay Francis and I like the book. But either Harding has something in her storyline that Francis lacks, or O’Brien has gotten better at writing. Some of it is that Harding’s long career kept her working right into the 1960s and into the company of actors still living who contribute in meaningful ways to O’Brien’s carefully constructed mosaic of Harding’s life. It was an incredible career, filled with ups and downs, but from the very beginning star quality exuded, that something special one can’t put one’s finger on. Ann Harding was the colonel’s daughter off screen and on, though what that meant to her changed radically from moment to moment. She could act as though she were valiant and stiff upper lip, like the subaltern trained to downplay personal desires for the greater good of the regiment, and then again being her father’s hostess or representative on base gave her what my grandma used to call “airs,” a better than thou sort of persona that must have driven her rivals wild.

O’Brien splendidly charts her progress from army “brat” to theatrical rebel, part of an early American modernist generation, and his account of her emergence in Susan Glaspell’s feminist plays, and the Hedgerow Theater of her mentor Jasper Deeter (doesn’t he sound like a character in God’s Little Acre) makes you actually see the actress on the stage, performing a new and authentic form of theatrical alchemy and embodying her characters, even the least likely parts, such as the vamp flapper. Her sheer talent might have made her a stage idol like Ina Claire or Katherine Cornell, but instead, Hollywood found her, her extraordinary Nordic hair, long as Rapunzel’s and her blue eyes one critic called “sundrops of sky,” and right from the start she became a star at Pathe. “Pathe>” I asked myself, “What’s that?” Maybe the reason Harding’s stardom faded so quickly is that the studio itself failed to exist for very long, being bought out only a few years later (by RKO) whereupon the Colonel’s daughter found herself improbably losing parts to upstarts like Kate Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. Still, she had had a great run, if a lousy marriage, to a ham called Harry Bannister, who seemed to enjoy taking Harding down a notch or two, financially and emotionally. Their daughter, Jane, seems to have replicated Ann Harding’s own trajectory, raised by a distant, often absent mother and a father driven by other passions.

It’s an incredible story. If ever you’ve read a Hollywood roman a clef and wondered who the original was—even a nutty film like “What a Way to Go!” or a play like “Little Me—I think I’ve found the answer, it was probably Ann Harding, who embodies every cliché career heartbreak of “I’m Still Here,” and then some that even Sondheim left out, like the late in life turn to Tea-Party style libertarianism (trying to abolish the income tax!) and “adopting” a younger female “ward” who becomes her “companion.” Scott O’Brien steers us through all the shoals on which many biographers fall afoul, and does a great job of describing maybe the first 25 films in which Harding starred—if she hadn’t gone on to the final fifteen all would have been well, one feels. But even they have their benefits, the way that Lana Turner’s final fifteen do, or Joan Crawford’s.

I can’t say I like Harding, but I respect her as a great actress who, especially in the 30s, was a complete reason to see a movie for. If she had made nothing else but “The Animal Kingdom” and “Peter Ibbetson” she would have had earned eternal cinema eminence, and yet she made dozens more almost as good. And yes, that adventure in Cuba with the sharks circling around her is, like, straight out of the world’s best movie that was never made!

Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson (33 1/3)
Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson (33 1/3)
by Darran Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.58
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ah! Melody, March 9, 2014
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It’s like it says in Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of books about Serge Gainsbourg there is no end.” This book, newest volume in the famous Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series, is well worth your while, even though it suffers from the most enviable of flaws, too much packed into each sentence. From the beginning, the series always had more excitement than fine writing, but the fan boy (and fan girl) aesthetic holds sway through the years and I’m glad. I learned rather less about Histoire de Melody Nelson than I thought I would, but way more about Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991), who in the years since his death seems like the most protean and exemplary postmodern talent of the 20th century.

It used to be that the 33 1/3 series was really decisive and they would publish no more than one record by any artist not matter how many good ones the artist or group had issued. (I wonder if that’s still true, didn’t I hear that a second Beach Boys LP was going to be covered soon?) Anyhow has the selection of “Histoire de Melody Nelson” provoked any cries of “unfair”? To me, it is great, but not that great. Maybe the ideal Gainsbourg record would be a compilation LP of his greatest songs, and he didn’t even sing all of them. But HdMN is a concept album, and Darran Anderson makes sure we understand that.

The individual numbers sometimes suffer from a lack of love I think. He is more interested in treating each of them as a hook or peg onto which he can hang a huge and well-sorted grab-bag of Gainsbourg lore and fact. He’s like a kid who has so much to say he thinks he’ll die if he doesn’t get to say it all, right away. This leads to sentences in which more than one set of parentheses are used, such as this: “While Jane filmed Alba pagana (released in English as May Morning(, a campus suspense notable for a tagline superior to the film (‘First comes the wine. Then the wild dancing. Then the love. Then the killing of the sacrificial victim’), Serge stayed in their hotel in England, sketching out ideas and snippets of lyrics, towards what would eventually become sonnets and alexandrines.” Whew, long sentence, and Anderson still manages to leave out a crucial word in his breathless race to the finish: the phrase “a campus suspense notable for a tagline” seems to be missing a noun, doesn’t it? “A campus suspense thriller,” maybe, “or suspense movie” I’m just speculating on his process, forgive me Darran Anderson if I’ve got it arsebackward!

Psychological insight is acute here, and he doesn’t balk at articulating the worst sides of Gainsbourg. Anderson tells us that, like Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, Gainsbourg was nervous about marrying Jane Birkin because she had previously been married to a towering and domineering figure—in Jane’s case, the genius musician John Barry. Thus we see Gainsbourg apparently trying to outdo and thus slay John Barry. Check that metaphor, as they used to say in the New Yorker. “The epic Breakdown Suite from Si j’etais un espion (If I Were a Spy) was Gainsbourg confronting the work of John Barr head-on; Moriarty wrestling Holmes at the top of the Reichenbach Falls.” Wow! Sheer teen boy power in that comparison. He is good at marking turning points in Gainsbourg’s development, whether or not they relate directly or not to Melody Nelson. For example, he and his first wife manage to sneak into Salvador Dali’s apartment one night to make love among its surrealist appointments. and Anderson tells us matter-of-factly, “After that night, art and sex were forever intertwined in Serge’s head.: I have to say, in my head too, after deep immersion in this splendid, slightly nutty, psychobiography.

Rearview Mirror (A Memoir)
Rearview Mirror (A Memoir)
by Alana Stewart
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.60
95 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The Gold Standard, February 27, 2014
Alana Stewart’s writing captivates and provokes, with its continual “I’ve looked at life from both sides now” prismatic, for she was born without indoor plumbing and grew up with glamorous, dissolute trash for parents, and yet she wound up married to two of the most famous men in the world. When that was done she was about 39and has spent much of her life since then consulting one guru after another, including Deepak Chopra, who told her that happy thoughts lead to happy molecules. She also had to deal with losing Farrah Fawcett, her best friend who died in her arms. But since “Sam” (a mysterious Hollywood player she refers to only by a pseudonym—perhaps saving the details for a third memoir?)—there doesn’t seem to have been any other man in her life.

Indeed the most exciting thing that has happened to her since 1984, when she lost Stewart to model Kelly Emberg, was going on a reality show called “But I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here,” and being forced by peer pressure and the chance to stay on the show for one more episode, to stick her head into ten glass jars to try to grab a big key with her teeth, which sounds hard to do, but not ghastly, until she adds that each of the jars was filled with different creepy things like maggots, rats, and tarantulas. She shocked everyone by winning this challenge, but it made me a little sick to my stomach.

I wonder why, when she talks about Kimberley’s baby, that the father is supposedly screen star Benicio del Toro, a man a little bit older thn young Kim. Maybe there was some legal intervention that prevented her from naming del Toro, not that he’s so well known himself any more, but once upon a time, in the 1990s I guess, he was the next big thing after the Usual Suspects, and he was the third Puerto Rican actor to win the coveted Academy Award. Alana does gives us delicious pencil portraits of George Hamilton’s mother and brother, who hated her for taking away their source of income. Teeny Spaulding, George’s mother, was famous for her many marriages and her gold-digging ways with men, and she was also married to artworld legend Marcel Duchamp, who treated “Teeny” like she was his queen, but ro Alana, she was pure poison.

Outside of that people were pretty nice to Alana, except for Bernie Cornfeld who tried to have rough sex with her, but people like john Wayne and Merle Oberon (the first movie stars she met) were wonderful role models. Her problem was low self esteem, also being the child of an alcoholic, and also throwing herself at emotionally inappropriate men. Rod Stewart wrote “You’re in my Heart” about her, but once threw her out of a limousine in the worst part of Los Angeles and she didn’t have a dime and was wearing a short skirt and had to beg threatening black men for a ride home. Her oldest son, Ashley, abused drugs so badly that it ruined his promising teen idol career, whole Sean and Kimberley were heartaches in other ways. Alana is rarely happy a single day of her life, and in fact one wonders how she managed to live all these years, considering the fact that neither of her ex husbands gave her alimony or nothing. She was friendly with Peter Sellers, though once poured a cocktail on top of her rival, Britt Ekland. She recounts playing piano with Warren Beatty and Princes Margaret, though she refers to Margaret’s husband as Lord Tony Snowdon—is that right? Though Helmut Berger was not interested in women in general, he managed to make a nuisance of himself with Alana, telling her boyfriend Mick Flick that Alana belonged to him, in German, so that Alana did not understand what was being said nor why Mick just disappeared with a hurt white look on his face and his lips pressed into a thin flattened grimace. She also had problem’s with Rod’s family, a bunch of low class Scottish bumpkins who when they got together got drunk and sand songs she had never heard of. “I thought it was all silly,” she tells us, and you know what? I rather agree.

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