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Darling Krista Kay seems the Audrey Hepburn of Powell's. She's smart (she can spell "cosmopolitan" backwards while blindfolded), talented (she's an artist and successful freelance photographer), and super stylish (she drives a vintage Volvo and gardens in high heels). But is she really the lady she first appears? After looking over her picks, we're no longer so sure. Her choices tend toward film, art, and photography books about people from the hirsute side of the tracks. If this sounds like your idea of sophistication, you're in the right place. If you're looking to recreate Holly Golightly's bookshelf, you may want to reconsider.
Books on Film
I don't know much about film, but I can keep up
with the best Hollywood gossipers. In an attempt to elevate and justify my shameful
interest in the lives of celebrities, I found a terrific book. Easy Riders
Raging Bulls begins with Hollywood in bad financial shape in the 1960's.
Films made outside the US were considered daring and innovative, while Hollywood
was producing heavily formulaic Doris Day or Rock Hudson vehicles. Studios didn't
have a clue what was making British and European art films successful and were,
for the first time, willing to cede power to young directors. Film equipment
became smaller, more portable, and cheaper. Actors in these new films were grittier,
story lines involved characters that weren't necessarily "good guys" and technical
correctness was challenged. Films from this era included Bonnie & Clyde,
The Graduate, Rosemary's Baby, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, The Godfather, Nashville,
Shampoo, Carnal Knowledge, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Apocalypse
Now, Jaws, Klute, Star Wars, and American Graffiti. This book is
a perfect combination of film history and densely packed tales of Hollywood
scandal and titillation.
In Tin House #6 we get more Hollywood
academia, but with a literary slant. This magazine (more book-like in reality),
published quarterly and based in Portland, is sexy intellectualism at its best.
We are treated to interviews with directors Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy,Repo Man),
Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Safe) as well as an interview by Ann Magnuson
with writer Jerry
Stahl (read Permanent
Midnight). Learn about Henry
Miller living in California and painting watercolors, read a portion of
a screenplay based on the life of photographer Diane
Arbus (let us all collectively pray that the movie does her justice). These
people at Tin House are my kind of scholars. This is their first, and
hopefully not last, theme based issue.
I couldn't wait to get my hands on this
book simply because it fed my infinite hunger for Rolling
Stones information. More specifically, I was looking to spy on the Stone
of my dreams Charlie Watts. Thanks to Oldham's memoir I got fresh material.
Oldham was a young, cheeky, hustling scenester and entrepreneur looking to make
it big in 60's London. Oldham was a master at selling an image and he developed
the driving sex and anti-establishment force that would become the Greatest
Rock & Roll Band of All Time. Oldham says, "People say I made the Stones. I
didn't. They were there already. They only wanted exploiting. They were all
bad boys when I found them. I just brought out the worst in them." Sure, the
Stones are hot, but it's only Charlie who really blows my hair back.
If you like your history bloody, rowdy, insolent, and glitter-filled,
this book is for you. Please Kill Me tells the story of the evolution
of punk through testimonies of those who were there. The story begins with the
kink and drugged sounds of the Velvet
Underground in 1960's NYC, through the formation of the MC5, the Stooges
and Detroit rock to Patti
Smith. Theatrics and visually confrontational theater combined with the
rock & roll of the time gave birth to The
New York Dolls, who cross pollinated with London's Malcom McLaren, inspiring
Ramones and Blondie
form, punk is featured in Vogue magazine, Sid and Nancy are dead, and
then the Ramones go to LA to film Rock & Roll High School. This book
is dark, sick, and perfectly satisfying.
I wasn't reading Burroughs
at 12 years old like 95 percent of my Powell's coworkers. I was reading V.C.
Andrews and maybe that explains my susceptibility to sordid books. Child
Bride embodies everything I love about trashy biography. It contains driving
ambition, fame, fantastical excess, glamour, scandalous sex and rock & roll.
I've always been fascinated with Priscilla and Lisa Marie but they have kept
a frustratingly low profile. Child Bride exposes Priscilla's single-minded
determination to marry Elvis Presley from the unbelievably young age of 10 years
old. Both she and her mother were devoted Elvis fans and at 14 Priscilla's fantasy
of meeting Elvis came true. Her family was transferred to Germany where Elvis
was stationed as a GI. With her parents' consent, 14 year old Priscilla embarked
on a strange courtship with the King of Rock & Roll. At 17 Priscilla was taken
out of high school to live at Graceland. She married Elvis four years later.
Only the bravest reader will proudly pull this book out in public.
Photography is an accident-prone medium and this collection of black and white
anonymous photographs taken by amateurs, making every possible mistake, is full
of genius. These small, orphaned images were shot during the golden age of the
black and white snapshot, 1910 through the 1960's. These images are deliciously
wrong. They derive their charm and energy from the serendipitous accidents:
over and under exposure, lens flare, skewed horizons, blur, and amputated limbs.
These anonymous amateurs spare us agonizing self reflection and their work is
refreshingly innocent and successful as Art (with a capital A) because of it.
One of my favorite photo discoveries comes from a young, male
artist who worked in New York in the 80's, whose tragically brief artistic career
ended with his death of AIDS related complications at the age of 30. Mark Morrisroe's
work is erotically charged drawing from his life as a gay man and a male prostitute.
He photographed himself, friends and lovers in dark, grainy, distressed color,
integrating Super 8 stills and black and white Polaroids. His work is decadent
and his subject matter inseparable from his life. His work is technically experimental
and takes on a sketchbook quality which includes titles and comments scrawled
on the edges of his images. Morrisroe recorded the lush beauty and eroticism
of his own personal documentary and his work is some of the most achingly sensual
and intimate I've seen. He shot haunting self portraits up until his premature
death at which time his last words were, "Turn Oprah off: I don't want her to
I'm not usually a fan of autobiography but The
Naked Civil Servant is an exception. Quentin Crisp's book describes his
life as a very "out" homosexual, with an outrageously effeminate manner and
dress, living in London from the 1920's through the 1940's. Crisp was a flaming
queen with the philosophy, "It was better, I need hardly say, to seem like a
truly appalling woman than not like a woman at all." He wore an extreme amount
of make up publicly at a time when eye shadow and nail polish on a woman was
frowned upon. His physical appearance was intended to attract maximum hostility
and it did. Crisp writes of poverty and social rejection with a keen, warm wit
and his determination to be himself is an inspiration.
Brightly and beautifully designed,
this "comic book" is encyclopedic, dense eye-candy illustrating an oppressively
sad story of injury and loneliness. Ware's book is a semi-autobiographical account
of his first contact with the father who abandoned his family. Jimmy Corrigan
is a socially and emotionally inept, unhappy man who is dominated by his mother.
The father/son meeting that drives the story line turns out to be another failure.
Jimmy's fantasies and dreams as well as his family history are brilliantly interwoven
between Jimmy's unfortunate and excruciatingly empty "real life". Ware's clean,
sharp, simply detailed drawing style will boggle your mind while the story chokes
you up and makes you squirm.