Keeping my Day Job

In which I give voice to my dormant self: art historian, film theorist, English teacher.

A Modest Rebuttal to Julian Fellowes

Romeo and Juliet (2013)

Julian Fellowes, the man who brought us Downton Abbey, has now adapted Romeo and Juliet, which opened last night in the United States. I haven’t seen it, and this essay will not be about his film. Rather, like many in the twitterverse, I have been struck by comments he made about the changes he has wrought with the text, and I just can’t leave them unremarked upon:

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The Tale of Mr Stripey and Early Girle

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Wauwatosa’s Schmitt Family and Black Mountain College

I am going to break this time from the precedents I have established on this blog and just tell a story. Four years ago, while doing some volunteer research for the Wauwatosa Historical Society, I met Rupert Schmitt, Jr., on the internet and we became fast friends. Rupert is the grandson of Conrad Schmitt, founder of the Midwest’s most prominent stained glass studio in 1889. But that is not the story I would like to tell. Rather, the story is about Rupert, his siblings, and their place in an amazing chapter in American art history. Much of this comes from my conversations and emails with Rupert, and from Mary Emma Harris’ book, The Arts at Black Mountain College (MIT Press, 1987 & 2002)

In 1933, with $14,500 in pledges and buildings borrowed from the YMCA, a small group of educators and artists – among them Bauhaus refugees from the new Nazi Germany – came together near Asheville, North Carolina to found Black Mountain College. Josef Albers, having also fled Germany with his wife Anni, joined the faculty that first year, despite some resistance from the founders because Albers could not yet speak English. Meanwhile, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Betty, Elaine and Conrad Schmitt were taking their crayons out of their desks at St. Jude the Apostle School; their younger brother Rupert Jr. was speaking his first words.

The Schmitt children’s grandfather, Conrad, founded the Conrad Schmitt Studios in Milwaukee in 1889. At their height, the Schmitt Studios were second only to Tiffany in stained glass production and quality. Conrad’s son and heir to the business, Rupert, built a Tudor-revival home for his family in Wauwatosa in 1926, many of the floor-to-ceiling leaded glass windows adorned with stained glass from the Studios. Rupert Schmitt’s wife Elizabeth grew orange poppies during the war, and painted them; his daughters raised sprouts in the kitchen; his sons played with their dogs and hiked in the woods; and the entire family enjoyed Gilles Frozen Custard in the summer.

In his book, The Interview and other poems (iUniverse, 2008), youngest son Rupert Schmitt Jr. writes:

 … My sister Elaine spent her days
Drawing.
Father said, don’t draw movie stars
That is a waste of talent

I still have her drawings
My family playing bridge
Uncle Otto and my father Rupert
My mother Betty and Aunt Alma

There is a sketch of me
Curled up
Sleeping on the couch.

There is a drawing with colored red paint
Of my chickens and me
Although my sister got the coop
She could not draw the cluck.

Though sketching me curled forever on the couch
She left out my exhalation
And failed to catch my dreams.

Betty Schmitt (1923-2007) was the eldest of the Schmitt children and the first to enroll in Black Mountain. She came to study art with Albers in the mid-1940s, but left after a short time to study dance with Martha Graham in New York. Elaine Schmitt (1925-2004), who had already studied art at the Milwaukee State Teachers College for two years, followed Betty. In 1944, Elaine attended the Art Institute of Chicago’s summer school, but by 1945, Betty had persuaded their parents that Elaine belonged at Black Mountain studying with Albers, so she enrolled for the Summer Session, and remained for the Winter Session. Elaine studied drawing and design with Albers, and became known as the “Matière Mama.” In Albers’ matière studies students first handled objects to fully understand their qualities and textures, then drew only what they saw, with no reference to self-expression. According to the diary she kept during those years, Elaine drew a sketch of a pig’s stomach and Albers praised this piece enthusiastically, while adding “Now throw it out,” suggesting that it smelled. After the 1946 Summer Session, Elaine moved to New York, and later that year she married fellow Black Mountain alumnus John Urbain.

In 1946, Elaine’s Teachers College classmate, Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), joined her at Black Mountain. Ruth, the child of Japanese immigrant parents, was incarcerated at the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arizona when the Japanese American Student Relocation Council helped her obtain a relocation card in order to move to Milwaukee and study at the State Teachers College in 1943. Ruth attempted to obtain employment at the Schmitt Studios, but prejudice at the time prevented that. Similar prejudice prevented her from doing the student teaching her degree required, so she finished her studies at Black Mountain. Until her death just a few weeks ago, Ruth remained a practicing artist and sculptor in San Francisco, where the fountains she sculpted adorn many city parks.

Conrad (b. 1927) was the third of the Schmitt children to arrive at Black Mountain. Conrad had dropped out of Marquette High School at 17; worried about the draft as World War II raged on, he followed his sisters to Black Mountain. Once there, he helped build a stone wall and to plan a bridge over a stream and culvert (which he illustrated with an orange, lemon and apricot). Conrad dreamed of going to the Illinois Institute of Technology to study architecture with Ludwg Mies van der Rohe, but his father prevailed, and at 18, Conrad enrolled in Catholic University. Conrad Schmitt soon despaired of drawing renderings of gothic cathedrals at Catholic University, so he spent his time playing bridge in a local school and in a tavern but “Had a hard time getting graded for that.” Conrad dropped out of Catholic University after one semester. He moved to Greenwich Village and lived on MacDougal Street, as his brother Rupert writes:

Stayed in a cold water flat. In winter soot came in. The bathtub was in the kitchen, toilet in the hall…. Conrad twisted wires like Calder, drank wine and ate bread. He had his friend post letters from Washington D.C. This kept the story going. Dad sent money. Dad said, come home. ~ Email from Rupert Schmitt, September 30, 2009

Instead, Conrad returned to Black Mountain, and set up a glass studio. He had supervised stained glass installations at churches, learned stencil painting from the Schmitt Studios’ Augie Anderson, and worked with his brother Rupert on jobs in Wausau and Omaha. In his second time at Black Mountain, Conrad studied with Josef Albers, who thought he had much talent. He also studied with the mathematician Max Wilhelm Dehn, who fled Europe after Kristallnacht, taught briefly in Idaho, and came to Black Mountain in 1944. (A sketch of Dehn by Elaine Schmitt can be found on page 127 of Mary Emma Harris’ book.) After this second period at Black Mountain, Conrad attended the University of Chicago where he studied with Milton Friedman and ultimately received his MBA in Finance. Conrad went on to found insurance companies in Wisconsin and Minnesota, eight substance abuse and addiction treatment clinics, and several preventative medicine companies. In 2009, Conrad conferred with members of the Minnesota congressional delegation on the Affordable Care Act.

Betty Schmitt returned to Black Mountain in 1948 with her husband Warren “Pete” Jennerjahn (b. 1922), an art alumnus of the Milwaukee State Teachers College. In the summer of 1948, Josef Albers briefly took the helm of the democratic faculty/student-run school. Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Richard Lippold, Buckminster Fuller came to teach in the Summer Session, and Robert Rauschenberg first arrived as a student. That summer, Betty Schmitt Jennerjahn taught dance and worked and studied with Merce Cunningham, under whose direction she danced with Rauschenberg, while Pete, with funds remaining under the GI Bill, studied with Cunningham and John Cage, and worked as Albers’ assistant. Betty’s brother Rupert wrote the following poem, “Betty and Merce,” about a photograph taken during the 1948 Summer Session (which can be seen on page 157 of Harris’ book):

Elizabeth
AKA Leapy
Given that name by Pete
For obvious reasons
And Eskimo
Because of her eyes

When I think of the Sistine chapel fresco,
The index finger of God
The index finger of Michelangelo
Almost touching,
I recall Betty’s black and white image.

Her arm horizontal
Merce Cunningham’s arm
Reaching
Reaching
Reaching
For the light.
Both
Focussed, intent,
Still
Dancers
On tip toes
Dancing
Still.

Josef and Anni Albers resigned from Black Mountain in the spring of 1949, but not before securing Buckminster Fuller to lead the 1949 Summer Session. The Jennerjahns returned to teach silkscreen (Pete) and dance (Betty). During the summer session, Betty and Pete also performed in several of Charles Olson’s Verse & Theatre productions, and that fall the Jennerjahns created the Light-Sound-Movement Workshop. The Workshop interjected improvised theater, dance and music with projected images and text, and vast elaborate sets which often involved the audience as active – and costumed – participants, and Pete led his students to create their own percussion instruments. The Light-Sound-Movement Workshop did not continue in its established form once the Jennerjahns left Black Mountain in 1951, but the seeds had been planted; in the summer of 1952 John Cage staged his “Theater Piece #1” in the dining hall, which is now generally recognized as the first “Happening.”

After spending a year in France, the Jennerjahns moved to New York where Pete taught art at Hunter College and Cooper Union for a few years until they moved to Long Island. There, Pete taught at Adelphi University while Betty taught art at The Waldorf School of Garden City. The Jennerjahns continued to work in many media; Pete played the saxophone and clarinet and learned to play the flute in 1965. Later he and their son Hans composed music for flute and guitar. Several years ago, the Jennerjahns participated in an exhibition of Black Mountain artists at the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The Jennerjahns moved to Sedona, Arizona, where Betty died in 2007. Betty’s watercolor, Still Life (Basket of Fruit), is in the collection of Harvard University Art Museums – a gift of Josef Albers – and is reproduced on page 83 of Mary Emma Harris’ book.

In 1997 Betty wrote:

My creative life has gone through many stages; art student, dancer, maker of wall hangings, painter. The last stages of my paintings were landscapes and then waterfalls, both east and west. But last year I wanted to move away from references to the natural world, but I didn’t know how to do it in a way that was valid for me….I find, after a time, a feeling of comfort and familiarity. I am working in the way I did when I would toss a piece of lace across some velvet in a way that spoke to me. Or I am carried back to doing a color study with Albers at Black Mountain College, or in Switzerland with Herr Wagner painting a yellow and blue exercise. But perhaps most amazing to me is to be back to doing the crayon drawings I loved at St. Jude’s School.

After Black Mountain, Elaine and John Urbain moved to Paris for a year in 1950, so Elaine could study at the Academie Julien. The Urbains became well known for their many stained glass mural commissions for clients such as Anheuser-Busch, Niemann-Marcus and the University of Louisville. John eventually became the Artistic Director at Philip Morris. One of the Urbains’ most renowned commissions is a stained glass panel illustrating 16th Century essayist Michel de Montaigne’s “On being a citizen of the world.” This piece, commissioned by the Container Corporation of America in 1950, is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution (1984.124.294).

Portrait of Lucy Swift, c. 1945, Elaine Schmitt Urbain, Collection of the Asheville Art Museum

However, Elaine became even better known for the socially and politically conscious portraits she drew in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. She was actively involved in the anti-war movement in the 1960s, as a member of the War Resisters League and the Catholic Peace Fellowship. In 1963, she travelled to Rome as a delegate of the Women’s International Peace Pilgrimage to speak to the Pope. In the 1980s she lived in Mallorca, ran a gallery there (funded by her brother Conrad) and became known as “the Artist of the People.” The Urbains ultimately divorced, and Elaine died in Milford, Connecticut, in 2004; John died in April, 2009. The Asheville Art Museum is home to a number of Elaine’s works, donated by John and their son, Michael.

The social conscience Elaine displayed as an adult had its roots in her youth, as her brother Rupert writes in his poem, “My sister Elaine Pied Piper of the Urban League”

I remember
Elaine led us,
To our backyard.
Seven black kids
One white boy.

The black kids
Stepped carefully from Lannon stone to Lannon stone
As if avoiding
Alligators.

I was also afraid.

In the photograph
We are sitting
In a semi circle
Around a campfire
Toasting marshmallows
In Wauwatosa
A middle class suburb
Of Milwaukee
Wisconsin.

Rupert Schmitt Jr. (b.1932), whose poetry, family archives, emails, phone calls and memories inform this essay, attended Black Mountain in 1950, after graduating from Wauwatosa High School (now Wauwatosa East). Rupert Jr. studied writing at Black Mountain, after which he earned his BS and MS, attending several state schools. For many years Rupert earned his living as a consulting biologist, a technical writer, and a faculty member of a community college. He is currently an artist in residence at the Curley School Center for the Arts in Ajo, Arizona, where he wrote The Interview, a novel, The Mad Professor (iUniverse, 2011), and is working on his memoirs. He maintains a blog “Holed up in Ajo,” and has displayed his wood carvings in the Day of the Dead Show in Ajo. Both The Interview and The Mad Professor are available through Amazon, or directly from Rupert.

In the summer of 2007, works by both Jennerjahns and both Urbains were exhibited in a group show called “Up From New York” at Maine’s Damariscotta’s Gallery 170. In 2011, Pete Jennerjahn exhibited at Yvette Torres Fine Art in Rockland, Maine, which continues to display his work and the work of dozens of Black Mountain alumni on their website. Black Mountain College closed its doors permanently in 1957, several years after the last of the Schmitt children attended; its history lives on at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina, and with the Black Mountain College Project, chaired and directed by Mary Emma Harris.

Living on the Edge

As has so often been true in our nation of explorers and immigrants, the border is once again in the news. These days, some people consider the border to be something which needs a secure, impenetrable and insurmountable fence. To some it is a place people die trying to cross while others profit. To some it is insufficient to hold back the tide of drugs and drug money flowing in one direction or the other. And there are those for whom it demarcates who is legal and who is not. But even as we argue about laws and regulations, these laws and regulations are themselves another kind of border, using words to build the fences which define who is in and who is out.

 

In 14th Century France, the word bordure, a precursor to our word border, referred to the “edge of a sword” (OED). As its French precursor implies, borders have a martial history, as wars redraw the borders and redefine the power structures which both enforce and defend them. Borders are drawn and redrawn as resources and topographies are reassessed, reallocated and redefined. The border is essential to establish relationships of power and difference, and by drawing the border, a nation/society/culture establishes a strict definition of difference from its outsiders.

 

In Borderlands/La Frontera (Aunt Lute Books, 1987), the late poet Gloria Anzaldúa wrote extensively about the history of what is now the US/Mexican border. Anzaldúa described centuries of conquests, power transfers and the drawing and re-drawing of borders. And throughout the shifting borders and power relationships, pictographic documents known now as codices documented the movement of tribes, and shifting land ownership and family power relationships.  Before the Americans, and before the Spanish, “the Aztec ruler, Itzcoatl, destroyed all the painted documents (books called codices) and rewrote a mythology that validated the wars of conquest and thus continued the shift from a tribe based on clans to one based on classes” (Anzaldúa 32). In a 2009 essay, “The Chicano Codex: Writing against Historical and Pedagogical Colonization” (College English 71. 6 , Jul 2009: 564-583), Damián Baca writes that following the Spanish conquest, these new rulers also destroyed the existing codices, but soon began commissioning new ones with both pictographs and written text, which they found preferable to use to mediate land disputes (Baca 571). In a 2010 essay, “Imagining a Multiplicity of Visual Rhetorical Traditions: Comics Lessons from Rhetoric Histories” (ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 5.3, Dept of English, University of Florida), Franny Howes wrties that the codices were “mnemonics for a larger performance: the images acted as shorthand” (Howes, par. 29). The codices, a hybrid art form of images, language, and performance, have a long history as the perfect document to describe the border.

 

Into the new world of the post-NAFTA US/Mexican border, came the Codex Espangliensis (Moving Parts Press, limited edition, 1998; City Lights Books, trade edition, 2000), a collaborative work by Enrique Chagoya, Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Felicia Rice. Just as codices had throughout the history of the borderland, the Codex Espangliensis suggests a new topography for the new border relations of NAFTA – a new pictography, a new historical syntax, and a new language for the borderland.

 

There are sixteen panels in the Codex Espangliensis, wherein we find images of Superman, Mickey Mouse, Che Guevera, paintings by Dali and Picasso, Don Catarino, sixteenth century Western etchings and pre-conquest codex pictographs. Up against these images, some contained in frames, while others are not, are the writings of Gómez-Peña, many adapted from his 1996 book, The New World Border (City Lights).

 

At the very beginning of the Codex (or is it at the end? The Codex, which is accordion folded like Mesoamerican codices had been, can be “read” from left to right or from right to left), Superman hovers between what might be a Western engraving and what might be a Mesoamerican pictograph of Aztec warriors. Words at the top and bottom of the panel ask in Spanish and English what the difference is between “fee-trade art” and a “free art agreement.” In the mythology of Superman, he is an immigrant, not a natural-born US citizen. He also has a dual identity: Clark Kent is a journalist, a scribe and observer. Here our immigrant commercial superhero/scribe, in a culturally hybridized suit (there is a “Day of the Dead”-type skull on his leotard where his “S” would usually be), flies over the frames and borders of the other two images, and over the fold of the panel. We are left to ponder the relationships of art, language and commerce; the commercial, political and artistic roles of the images and words on the page; and the relations of power inscribed into both the art of commerce and the commerce of art.

 

A few panels later (or is it before?), on panel 6/10, 1920’s cartoon characters Mickey Mouse and Don Catarino, two more successful commercial art products (Mickey in the US, and Don Catarino in Mexico), share the page with cartoon-y reproductions of two famous and influential Spanish paintings, Pablo Picasso’s 1907 Desmoselles D’Avignon and Salvadore Dali’s 1931 Persistence of Memory, both now immigrant paintings, painted in Spain but currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A pictograph of what appears to be a Mesoamerican scribe shares the space with the cartoons and the paintings. The text is Gómez-Peña’s account of the Five Worlds:

 

First World – A tiny and ever shrinking conceptual archipelago from which 80% of the resources of our planet are administered and controlled.

Second World – aka ‘Geopolitical Limbo.’ Greenland, the Antarctic continents, the oceans, the mineral world and the dismembered Socialist Block.

Third World – The ex-underdeveloped countries and the communities of color within the ex-First World.

Fourth World – The conceptual place where the indigenous and deterritorialized peoples meet. It occupies portions of all the previous worlds.

Fifth World – Virtual space, mass media, the U.S. suburbs, the art schools, the malls, Disneyland, the White House and La Chingada.

 

Dali’s clocks, Picasso’s women, Mickey Mouse, Don Catarino, and the Mesoamerican scribe, or at least their images, have all been de-territorialized by being severed from their historical and geographic context and separated from their authors, authority and provenance. Each of the images, by its contiguity to the other images and the text passages, serves to destabilize the others, as it is itself destabilized by them in turn. Thus, their re-contextualization on panel 6/10 creates a collage or hybrid of the Fourth World. Like Superman, with his original dual identity, and his hybridized borderland identity on panel 1/15, the images on panel 6/10, read together, seen together, create a constantly changing topography of definitions and identities, as each reader brings their own knowledge, context, and what Dave Hickey might call connoisseurship  to understand the images and words.

 

The borderland of the Codex Espangliensis is a transient and transitional place, echoing the words of Gloria Anzaldúa: “The US/Mexican border es una herida abierta (“open wound”) … A borderland is a vague and undetermined space created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition” (3). The border, and the stories of borders in the codices, defines the space of that which is other to power. Just as the physical border is protected by the border patrol, the cultural border is protected by the construction of multi-faceted, ever-changing, hybridized identities of otherness. The borderland is the home of those who are defined not by what they are, but by what they are not. As Gómez-Peña said last year, in his “Philosophical Tantrum,” “My community is not confined by ideological, national or ethnic boundaries, mine is a community of difference, and therefore fragmented, ever changing and temporary, always temporary.”

 

Much of the Codex is recycled, re-contextualized and hybridized: performances, poems, essays, Mesoamerican pictographs, high art, comic books and popular culture. It is a book which can be entered at any point, and be read in any direction. Both structurally and thematically, the Codex Espangliensis is a history without linearity, a history without a narrative arc, a history which is always fully present. It is also a history of contradictions, multiple identities, languages and voices, moving borders and boundaries and therefore without a single, omnipotent source of authority (it is perhaps not coincidental that the Codex is a collaborative work). And, like its predecessors, the Codex is a history composed through art, literature and performance; as Gómez-Peña says in his “Philosophical Tantrum:” “When you don’t have access to power, poetry replaces science and performance art becomes politics.”

 

On panel 6/10, we are directed to send our responses to our “nearest Gringostroika representative.” In The New World Border, Gómez-Peña includes a “Glossary of Borderismos (1992-ongoing),” which defines Gringostroika as “a continental grassroots movement that advocates for the complete economic and cultural reform of U.S. anarcho-capitalism” (The New World Border 242). In Gómez-Peña’s paradigm, just as Gringostroika seeks to replace NAFTA with a Free Art Agreement, the New World Order is replaced with the New World Border, “a great trans- and intercontinental border zone, a place in which no centers remain. It’s all margins, meaning there are no ‘others,’ or better said, the only true ‘others’ are those who resist fusion, meztizaje, and cross-cultural dialogue” (The New World Border 7). The work of the Codex then also becomes the embracing of “otherness,” and a non-monolithic, de-centralized self-construction of hybridized identities.

 

Borders and treaties establish the power relationship of Self and Other in war, politics and commerce. Art and literature often depend on the similar relationship of subject and object (seeing and seen, reader and text). So…. does my reading of the Codex Espangliensis destabilize and fragment me; does it re-contextualize me; does it take me to the borderland? Or, am I simply reading the Codex in a Fifth World effort to consume it and the Gringostroika? To my chagrin, I imagine it is the latter. Why else would I be so thrilled that Enrique Chagoya continues to produce codices, several of which he brought to Milwaukee this year, and that Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Felicia Rice are collaborating on a new project, Documented/Undocumented?

Leaving Me Breathless

I went to see John Carpenter’s Halloween when it came out in 1978 for one reason – the four minute tracking shot at the beginning (see it here).I didn’t stay to see the rest of the movie; I was a film student and went just for the tracking shot which I read somewhere was influenced by the tracking shot which opens Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958). I don’t remember what I thought of the Halloween tracking shot then, but I did watch the rest of the movie years later on TV. Halloween uses the opening shot (actually two shots edited together seamlessly to appear as one long take) to establish the initial crime and criminal, while also explicitly implicating the audience. We may be “seeing” through the eyes of the murderer, but are we really just watching, and not also spying and perhaps killing?

This is actually very different from the opening shot of Touch of Evil, which is a little shorter at 3 ½ minutes; you can watch it on YouTube. Touch of Evil uses wide screen and depth of field, the camera moves in and out, up and down; it centers its gaze first on the bomb, as if from the point of view of the bomber, but then pulls away so that we can watch him. It follows the car for a while, until the honeymooning couple enters the screen and takes its attention. Various plot-significant characters pass through the image as the camera follows the couple, then the car again, to the border check-point. True to its time, the shot ends with a kiss, and a cut to the exploding car.

In Halloween, the tracking shot joins our gaze to that of the killer; in Touch of Evil, our point of view is not through a character’s eyes, but in both movies, the tracking shot reveals to us the truth of the crime. Both movies rely on the framing of image and narrative through the long take – they show us what to pay attention to. Both movies position us and move us, the viewers, through space, time and point of view. But while Halloween seems to inscribe us in a specific point of view – that of Michael Myers – at least initially, Touch of Evil clearly inscribes us as movie goers, on the other side of the screen. Watching Touch of Evil, we are on the outside looking in – we have a point of view no character but ourselves can possess. Or, to put it another way, we can only identify with the camera’s gaze.

Michael Chabon’s most recent book, Telegraph Avenue (Harper: 2012), has a twelve page interlude in the middle of the book (239-250): Section III – “A Bird of Wide Experience.” But this is not just any twelve page chapter; it is a twelve page sentence. Yes, there are innumerable words, numbers, commas, quotation marks, and parentheses, but there is only one period, at the end, where convention tells us it would be closing out a complete thought. This run on sentence brought the long takes and tracking shots of my film-school days to mind, in the way that the opening chapter of Cooper’s Pioneers conjures up the painterly grandeur of Hudson River School landscapes.

For twelve breathless pages, the parrot, Fifty-Eight, swoops and glides past all the major characters of the book, as words describe, philosophize and digress about these characters’ pasts, presents and futures. A little bit of narrative moves forward; a little bit of back-story is revealed; and a whole lot of ambience is suggested. Like the camera in Touch of Evil, the bird in Telegraph Avenue glides past the key characters, connecting them and us spatially through its flight. But unlike the camera in Touch of Evil, or Michael Myers in Halloween, we do not “identify” with the bird, we do not see through its eyes. For as Fifty-Eight flies, we read about things the bird does not witness and could not understand, interpret or explain.

This twelve-page sentence, with its plethora of commas, has a palpable rhythm – dare I call it jazzy or poetic? (Telegraph Avenue is, after all, the story of a record store just across the bay from the city of Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg.) The twelve-page sentence must be read all in one long take – for there is no period or new paragraph to allow the reader to take a break. The long take makes me aware of myself as a reader, holding a book and turning the pages. I become as conscious of the language and the book itself as I am of the narrative – the poetry of the words, the rhythm of the commas, the breathlessness of a twelve-page complete thought, but also the touch of the paper as I turn those twelve pages, and the weight of the book. As the run-on sentence continues, I increasingly identify with the physicality of reading, while never leaving the narrative. Chabon’s twelve-page long take is a particularly bookish way to position me as a reader, similar to the filmic way tracking shots position viewers.

The Ides of June

Biholde! Thre dayes agoon -
Twas the Ides of June!
The dayes nou are longe, warme is the sonne,
And muchel flours in my gardin blosmen!
Myn yen loven the colours, my nose the smell,
But myn herte listeth best the tales hir tell.

Enterlacen with my New Dawn Rose
Is the clematis my dochter chose
The erste summer we dwelt at this hous;
Thilke clematis lavender is.
Sithe she were yong, onli a girle,
She and ich wolde plaunt flours,
Everich yere on Mooder’s Daye;
Eek dide we plaunt a memorie.

Rose

The red rose which to my Mock Orange recheth
My fader fifti years ago planteth.
My fader did shape his garden as might a scoler;
He rede and lere muche aboute horticulture.
Thilke rose he chose to plaunte on the lane,
Yet for this entencioun, can I nat explain,
The chois of slik a straunge forme,
For the branches pricken, and rechen asonder,
Past thilke rose noon wighte desireth to wander.
But sith I removed hit to my gardin,
Plaunted waye in the bak,blissful haveth hit ben.
And blissful have I also ben, seinge my fader,
Ai thilke rose blosmeth in shades of madere.
A ful fetis flour in proper governaunce,
My patrimoyne oueth now avaunce.

Daisy

From my fader have ich the Rose gentil,
And from my mooder, the humble dayeseye.
She yeven hit me fele yeres agoon,
When in my garden noght were wexen.
The dayeseye findeth spaces bar
And maketh hir home there.
Muchel blosmen standen on this sely flour
And hir covenable and freshe snou-wite colour.
Al through the yerd do ich my mooder finde,
In the humble dayeseye, she abideth in minde.

Rue

The Meadow Rue hath no memorie to be told,
But on the Ides of June hit is a delit to biholde.
Hit be a sely native flour, hit hath no care,
Hit plaunteth hit-selfe everywhere.
Maugree hire name, hit hath no regret:
Hire fetherlich blooms runneth riot
Amidst the roses’propre gentillesse.
And yet, somtyme ich liste hit alderbest.

Ich wil my gardin florisheth al the yere
As it doth in June, beaute so faire;
And with my kinrede and these blosmen,
Knotted and to memorie drawen.
But other-while the sighte of Ides of June
Is but a glimsinge, and nat an affiaunce.

Some Questions about Discourse, Business and the Movies

It’s been over three years since the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case, equating corporate speech with individual speech and with campaign financing, effectively decreeing corporations to be people and the exchange of money to be discourse. Let’s look at this not as a pivot or turning point, but as one interjection in an ongoing conversation. Is it a coincidence that our income tax system, by treating some corporate profits as individual income, has long conflated the identity of a “small business” with that of the small business owner? Is it a coincidence that our manufacturing economy is being increasingly supplanted by a service economy? Is it a coincidence that recent Hollywood films are also endlessly talking about business, commerce and the essence of corporate identity?

 

Josh Leguern, a conservative pundit, embraced The Dark Knight Rises, focusing on the downfall of Bane’s French Revolution-style populist uprising, as being ultimately a free market message, and a more powerful one for being conveyed in an entertainment package rather than a conservative polemic.[i]  But, is he forgetting that, in Hollywood, art also means business? That, in Hollywood, speech has always been for sale? Finally, has he missed Hollywood’s role in our new corporate discourse: the equation of individuals and corporations, and the equation of money, speech, and commerce?

 

From the human drones of Iron Man 3 to the meat markets of Magic Mike and Django Unchained, in the worlds of recent Hollywood narratives bodies have become commodities. At the same time, in these films, commerce and industry are represented as the business of individual entrepreneurs rather than corporate boards (Tony Stark and Aldrich Killian; Dallas and Magic Mike; King Schulz, Calvin Candie, and Django).  In these movies, business is an expression of individual identity, another instance of speech. We see individuals – bodies – defined by commerce, bodies which are not simply merchants and consumers, but also the product up for sale.

 

The stories in each of these three films turn on the representation of the body, and in these cases that body is almost always male. Tony Stark’s armor is broken and he spends more of Iron Man 3 not wearing it than wearing it; the human drones are broken bodies which are regenerated, but with an explosive flaw; and the Wag the Dog-style terrorist is really a tiny, earthy British actor. The camera follows Magic Mike both as he dances and as he tries to create his own business (and, just in case that is not enough, it repeats the process, albeit a little less sympathetically, with Dallas). And, the body is central to the narrative and imagery of Django Unchained – from the first time we see Django, chained and on his way to the slave market, to the dandy outfit he selects after his freedom is secured, to the many beating scenes, to Django’s triumphant victory over the slave owners.  If, in fact, we agree that the very process of selling a ticket for nearly any Hollywood movie turns bodies into commodities, what happens when the narrative discourse itself becomes an economy of the body – when the body becomes both currency and commodity, both signifier and signified? If businesses are people and commerce is speech, what are we saying?

 

And what about me, a woman paying to sit in the dark and gaze at all these pretty male bodies? That’s something to consider for another day… or maybe not.  Because these are, after all, traditional Hollywood films, following traditional narrative trajectories. In all of them, the guy gets the girl in the end. And, in all of them, at the end, he realizes that he wants the girl most of all.

 

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