Todd Petty / Don't Kiss me
Combative and cautionary, Lindsay Hunter's most recent short story collection, Don't Kiss Me, offers readers fierce independence. The sophomore story collection is intent on grossing out and alienating some readers, but strange, unique and charming enough to attract plenty more. At just 175 pages, the collection includes 25 very short stories, most of which are written in colloquial language, oftentimes in the vernacular of a child – immensely honest and unfiltered.
Hunter's formal experiments are sometimes interesting, and other times distracting. The longest story in the collection, "Our Man," is a detective story bifurcated in newspaper-like columns of text leaving the reader some latitude in deciding how to read the story. The title story in the collection, "Don't Kiss Me," meanwhile, is written in all capital letters.
Thematically, the stories address issues like sex, gender, age, loss and loneliness. "My Boyfriend Del" tells the story of a 30-year-old woman who takes on a nine-year-old boy as a boyfriend while "Leta's Mummy" tells the story of a problematic and ghoulish mummy who lives beneath the floorboards in Leta's home.
Like the content, the prose is raw. At her best, Hunter's prose sings with gritty emotion. The following paragraph from "My Boyfriend Del" shows Hunter's use of vernacular and drama:
"Back at his house he asks if I want to play Princess Leia and I am touched, I know he'd rather have her for a girlfriend than me, It'd be an honor, I tell him, and he hands me my light saber and then knocks it out of my hand with his. You're dead cinnamon-bun dumb-hair, he says, looking up at me through his bangs, my hand is throbbing from where his light saber hit, again I die for him, I shudder and quake and cry out and fall at his feet and die."
At times, the collection is perhaps too intent on shocking the reader, too craving of attention.
"We smoke out back, a while ago someone wrote, You so ugly on the seat of the one chair out there, it's a badge of courage to sit in the ugly chair, the pedicurist declaring me so ugly that I could scare the shit out of poop."
But with sentences like "Loneliness as nightly death, bed a burial," from the story "Gerald's Wife," Hunter pares away much of the artifice from fiction, exposing the most essential meaning at its core. Bold and often beautiful, Hunter's Don't Kiss Me boasts a collection of stories that are both inventive and heart-felt, contemporary and full of genuine feeling in strange and unexpected places.
My Inner Creep / Paul Charles Griffin
Paul Charles Griffin reviews The Girlfriend Game by Nick Antosca, with text by Juliet Linderman and photographs by Gabrielle Stabile.
Refugee Hotel / Linda Kleinbub
Eyes closed, a thin young woman holds her hands up to her head. Her long dark hair flows halfway down the front of her body. Her fingers are perfectly manicured with dark nail polish. Although she looks quite young, she wears a gold wedding band on her finger. But the expression on her face draws one in, haunting and ethereal, almost in a state of troubled tranquility. She is just one of the refugees photographed in a eloquently moving book, Refugee Hotel, with text by Juliet Linderman and photographs by Gabrielle Stabile.
Refugee Hotel is a provocative collection of photographs and oral histories. The experiences of men and woman who have resettled in America from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Burundi, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Their unique stories convey the hardships they've endured getting to America and the adjustment to the new life they found here.
Refugees tend to settle in areas where other refugees from their country can be found. In Amarillo, Texas refuges from Burma, Iraq and Somali can be found. 30 year old Do Lian Zam, aka "Elis," traveled from "Tedim City, Burma to Bangkok, Thailand to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia to Hong Kong to Los Angeles, California to Houston, Texas to Amarillo, Texas." While he was living in Malaysia he was arrested for being an illegal immigrant and spent 9 months in jail before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave him a refugee card and allowed him to come to America. His troubled life led him to live in fear. When he got to America he "thought, Who is going to pick me up? Who is going to take care of me? Where I had to go, I didn't know. I didn't know anything. But when I went outside the hotel, people smiled and said hello, and it refreshed my heart; my heart was open."
We never learn the name of the woman in the photograph. She is only identified in a photographic key, at the back of the book, as being a native from Burma who now lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Those whose oral histories we learn are never matched with their photographs, only their native homelands and the American cities where they now live. Everyone who appears in the photographs in this tome remains anonymous.
Felix Lohitai , age 48, traveled from "Rokon, South Sudan to Agojo refugee camp, Uganda to Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya to Nairobi, Kenya, to Brussels, Belgium to Newark, New Jersey to Saint Paul, Minnesota to Waterloo, Iowa to Grundy Center, Iowa to North Manchester, Indiana to Erie, Pennsylvania" where he now lives. He now works for "Habitat for Humanity to facilitate home ownership for refugees." He has been living in America since 2003, "this is my country now, and I will be a U.S. citizen; I will carry a U.S. passport. When I first was chosen to come here a caseworker told me, 'You are going to the United States. That is your country, and don't ever, ever feel like a stranger.' Everybody in America is a stranger when they first arrive. But in 50 years our grandchildren will just be like everybody else."
Sarah Driver / Mary Hanlon
Sarah Driver's films are feverishly haunted by the ghosts of a pre-Giuliani New York City. Her work consists of four: You Are Not I (1981, short) Sleepwalk (1986) When Pigs Fly (1993) and The Bowery-Spring (1994, short). She wrote and directed several plays, produced Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise with her longtime partner Jim Jarmusch, and coined the phrase "necrotourism" post 9/11. With Jarmush behind the lens, and Nan Goldin as set photographer, this small yet cohesive body of work deserves recognition.
You Are Not I, 1981:
Based on a short story by Paul Bowles, You are not I was named one of the best films of 1981 by the Cahiers du Cinema. Shortly after, the film burned up in a fire and was lost, until, in a Passion of Joan- style recovery, was discovered amongst Bowles belongings in Tangiers and screened for the first time in over 20 years in 2010. You Are Not I follows Ethyl, (Susan Fletcher) an escaped schizophrenic, as she stumbles upon the aftermath of a terrible accident. With the coupling of Fletcher's starched-white dress and the grainy black and white film, You Are Not I is unsettling and immersive. Ethyl opens the mouths of the dead, who have been lined up neatly on a slope of hill, and meticulously places stones in their mouths, leaving their heads uncovered and mouths agape. She rides in the back of a car alongside another tortured victim, her silhouette strangled in backlight, counting antiquated roadside service stations and tallying them in a journal. Experiencing You Are Not I is akin to waking from an eerie dream you can't quite remember, but that's potent enough to loiter in your psyche. The film is absent of score, aside from Fletcher's buttery, sedated voice. In close up, her blackened eyes mesmerize; uninhibited, and her jumbled mind suddenly make sense as she sees things backwards, forwards, and upside down. In some ways like Theodore Dreyer's Joan, You Are Not I arrives at catharsis with little action and dialogue.
It's the year of the dog in Sleepwalker, and Nicole (Fletcher), a print shop worker, takes a job from a peculiar man named Dr. Goo translating an ancient Chinese script. As she does, her life emulates the story, and wackiness unfolds. Her roommate's hair falls out, and she is visited by a woman dressed in red named Echo who warns her of what's coming. Elements of fantasy and magic realism drive the story, but Sleepwalker transcends genre. Driver's visuals drive the plot, colors and framing revealing far more than actions. Fletcher is an ideal vessel; her monosyllabic voice and under-reaction to the increasingly strange circumstances keep the film in balance. Perhaps Driver's characters appear one-dimensional, but with intention, as they function as paradigms to synthesize the environments she shapes. A scene in the printing shop shifts into an experimental jazz piece, as the office's many apparatui click into rhythm, and a fresh faced Steve Buschemi squints at negatives over a flickering light table. A saturated gaggle of multicolored rotary phones ring in unison while vintage computers delight. Nicole rides the elevator down and the doors open on every floor, each mise-en-scene odder than the last. As she descends further she meditates on the sky out of the top of the rusty freight elevator, looking up hundreds of feet as the angles of the building connect in the distance and a smudge sunlight curls into the corner of the frame. The unity of enchanting scenarios and stunning cinematography in Sleepwalker result in an offbeat, original work.
When Pigs Fly, 1993:
Dedicated to "The ghosts who walk with us", and inspired by Topper, When Pigs Fly is perhaps Driver's most conventional film. Joe Strummer scores Pigs, which is set in an east coast port town (actually Munich) full of Irish pubs and empty fishing yards, captured beautifully by cinematographer Robby Mueller. Marty (Alfred Molina) is a struggling jazz musician living in a mess with his dog, and the opening sequence crosscuts between their dreams as they sleep, full of jazz and cocktails. Frank (Seymour Cassel) is a stingy, ill tempered bar owner where Shelia, Marty's girlfriend is a go-go dancer. After discovering an old rocking chair in the back shed of the bar, Shelia gives it to Marty for his house, unaware it would come equipped with a pair of ghosts, Lily (Marianne Fathfull) and Ruthy (Rachel Bella). When Pigs Fly is a quiet piece, always a gloomy gray sky, and a Helmut Newton-esque call girl standing on the peak of the town's bridge, perhaps a local German model? The characters are sympathetic and genuine, struggling for closure. As Molina walks with his inherited ghosts, he sees the past of his town, his family, and the experience is equally whimsical and grave.
The Bowery-Spring, 1994
Part of the French series Postcards from New York, The Bowery is a condensed but fascinating glimpse at the old days of The Bowery, with appearances by Luc Sante, June Leaf, Joe Coleman, and Driver herself. A brief history of "the domain of ghosts", Driver briefly meditates on McGurk's Suicide Hall, a last-stop for prostitutes who died in large numbers by swallowing carbolic acid, and stops to listen to tales from old sailors in the tattoo shops. Joe Coleman opens the doors to his Odditoruim, which boasts a lock of Charles Manson's hair, a cancerous liver stretched into a decorative accessory, and a framed letter from notorious cannibal Albert Fitch to the mother of his final victim.
Father Unforsaken / Jon Curley
The narrator of Michael Kimball's fifth novel seeks to recount and commemorate his deceased father, the eponymous Big Ray, whose massive girth is only surpassed by the legacy of disquiet he bequeaths to his son. The actual incidents of psychic damage inflicted over the course of the father's life on his family— starkly portrayed and incrementally associated to maximal disturbing effect— matter much less than the mechanisms of memory with which the narrator must contend in evoking him. Ray is described in hindsight in all his repulsive gluttony and reprehensible behavior—food and family are both greedily devoured by an insatiable eater and ogre. This epitome of domestic terror has no redeeming graces whatsoever and yet the son stutters in judgment, unable to formulate a decisive damnation of the father. Rebuke is proffered along with an impulse to understand and show compassion to an unregenerate lifetime bully. So this novel, itself dedicated to a dead father, becomes not a trite exposition of therapeutic maneuvering but a deft study in extreme ambivalence, which gives it a delirious, precise, and pressurized power.
Told in squibs calibrated into almost clinically dispassionate tones, the story begins with the fact of the father's death from cardiac arrest and then veers back and forth on details and speculations about his life. Estrangement between father and son is severe but not absolute; filial determination to contrive enduring, meaningful, and positive connections to his forbear enforces a kind of psychological desperation that can never fully pull itself out of a logic of recuperation bound to fail. The complex attachment to the family is here brought to unbearable life with a nuance normally quashed for melodramatic surges and revelatory hysterics more suited to a sitcom.
Revelation does reside here—and concluding passages clarify the extremity of Ray's terribleness—but it mostly emerges in the reader's retrospective appreciation of the narrator's deeper struggle, the conflict whether to relent or strive ceaselessly to embrace the seemingly unredeemable. Such an overture has broad ethical implications and applications, and Kimball serves the reader well in demonstrating the difficulty of fathoming the monstrous, the depraved, the awfully familiar. For all the extensive (non-judgmental) commentary on Ray's grossly massive frame, he is ultimately an inconsequential absent present, a sounding board/body on which the son can cast his wavering claims on paternity, the weight of heritage, and the sustainability of even base-level affection. Rather than being written large like the immensity of the father's body, the narrator's chronicle of undergoing the strain of formulating humanist principle, mobilizing reluctant scruple, is subdued and subcutaneous, an intellectual questing. With Big Ray, Michael Kimball establishes a crucial fictional index of wrenching human dilemma and a sure-fire addition to his impressive body of work.
Kenneth Rises / Mary Hanlon
Kenneth Anger made films the way he thought they should look, illuminating some the most prohibited subject matter of his time. His apathetic attitude towards narrative drive and general disinterest in Hollywood's opinion of him made him a founding father of American Underground and Queer Cinema, influencing Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol and Martin Scorsese to name a few. Hollywood has a way of objectifying people yet personifying objects, and Anger does the opposite. In these early works, which are flooded with images of the Occult, homoeroticism and dark subcultural references spanning over three decades, Anger's embrace of a chaotic narrative underscores his themes of helplessness in the face of nature.
America's bipolar relationship with sexuality has historically aroused a war between a puritan agenda, total deviance, and everything in between. Anger is blessed in his ability to fetishize masculinity, and his work, like the archetypal daemons that haunt it, is neither good nor evil, but a balance of both. He made his first film, Fireworks, in 1947 when his parents were out of town. It was based on a dream he had which was influenced by images he'd seen in the news of the 1943 zoot suit riots. In Fireworks Anger plays the dreamer, at the mercy of several sailors, one of whom at the film's end lights a roman candle in the crotch of his pants. At the film's first screening Alfred Kinsey bought a copy to show to his students. While the majority of post WW2 films are clouded by a sanitized veneer of culture, or are bursting with subtext like the many noirs that would later reach cult status, Fireworks is an undiluted work of instinct and eroticism, touched by themes of sex magick. Anger gestures towards the fallible line between hetero and homosexuality, and how powerless we are to our environment and our primitive nature, conscious of it or not. His films suggest that we cannot control sex or nature, that they are one in the same.
In Eaux d'Artifice (1953) Anger films the gardens of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy, built in the sixteenth century and all functioning through gravity. He films a dwarf named Carmila, introduced to him by Fellini, who is adorned in exquisite period dress with a wispy feathered headpiece. His intention in casting her was for the gardens to appear larger, and he spends most of his time focused on long shots of Carmila, capturing her voyeuristically, or filming the water droplets at various speeds, isolating them in sparkling sunlight. As one of the stairways floods, Carmila descends under shadowy trees, water rushing underneath her and patches of light catching her feathers. Anger used heavy red filters and scored the film to Vivaldi's four seasons, editing it to the music, much like he edited his actress to her environment. Clara Bow regarded Eau D'Artifice as Anger's sexiest work, and it lives up to this through its celebration of water and the hypnotic shots of light and reflection. His ability to transition from classically beautiful subjects and environments and satanic rituals, yet maintain a cohesive body of work, proves evident one can make films the way they want to, if they truly are invested in their material.
Anger's choice to film in the moment and figure it out later was what inspired Andy Warhol. While in New York, he met a pack of bikers at Coney Island, and asked if he could film them. The final result was the gay cult masterpiece Scorpio Rising. With a few tungsten lights and 16 mm film, Anger transformed a bunch of straight bikers from Brooklyn into gay icons. He staged nothing, even the scenes of a biker named Scorpio, shirtless in white jeans and a cap lying in bed surrounded James Dean Posters, and huge jars of pure methamphetamine. As Scorpio takes a snort of meth, the noose he's fashioned above his bed sways behind him while he loads his gun. By incorporating popular songs like Bobby Vinton's Blue Velvet and Ricky Nelson's Fools Rush In among many, Anger infuses the images with strange emotion; he frees the music from its intended purpose and manufactures a sensory result. During a Halloween party Anger crashes, the biker's exclude their girlfriends from the spotlight, parading around, some nude, causing the film to come across much queerer than it may have otherwise been. And in a blessing from the gods of irony, while Anger was editing back in LA, a film reel intended for a nearby Sunday school called "Last Journey to Jerusalem" was delivered to his doorstep. He considered it a serendipitous occurrence, cutting scenes from it into Scorpio Rising. When the Lutheran Church tried to sue him, he scolded them for showing their students such bad films.
The forces of nature, directly linked to sex, are something Anger has always approached casually. The hedonistic rituals in films like Invocation of My Demon Brother and Lucifer Rising don't seem to be harming anybody, and perhaps elements of the Occult, like its worship of nature, could do a planet experiencing massive destruction to the environment a solid. The polarities of Satanism and Pentecostal Christianity seem oddly comparable in their extremities and aspects of spiritual oblivion, but which is doing more damage? Kenneth Anger is a filmmaker that is seen and talked about rarely, and his influences can be seen everywhere. Perhaps what's so monumental about these works are that they signal the commencement of an era, and document an artist possessed by fearlessness and an unadulterated desire to project exactly what he sees.
To Assume a Pleasing Shape / Tatiaana L. Laine
Joseph Salvatore’s collection of short stories offers something for everyone, particularly if one is looking to delve into (Salvatore’s) explorations of sexuality. If perhaps “Reduction”, a lengthy tale obsessing about a woman’s breasts, becomes tedious, there is always “Unheimliche," about a woman’s quest for a home vs. a house, with cultural differences and semantic details highlighted. Perhaps “Practice Problem” a math-themed tale of Boston youth with shapes and patterns at every turn is what you’ve been searching for.
Salvatore plays with different literary styles for effect in each piece. The long run-on sentences of “Practice Problem” gives us the breathless energy and anxiety of this Boston web of youth. We follow each long strand into the next, knitting until we come full circle. In “Annus Horibilis, or The Carpenter, or Cal,” we are given several versions of a short story about a young woman, Jessica, who uses her literary pursuits and romantic anguish to fantasize about a potential perfect beau, The Carpenter. This dream guy, an environmentally-conscious, gorgeous example of sensitive masculinity, never happens. Instead, when Jessica encounters a real-life man in her CPR class, she is so deep into her story that she’s unable to speak to Cal, much like a dream sequence-fade-to-reality of a John Hughes movie. Perhaps it is a cautionary tale of living in one’s fantasies while life happens outside one’s head. “Forget being persecuted; she was that worst of all things: unnoticed.”
In “Unheimliche,” the narrator, a twenty-five year old woman, explains a dream she had about “home,” a concept some people spend their entire lives chasing. She also attempts to put into words the idea of a home vs. her home vs. being at home vs. feeling like home, to a German architectural student who is apparently critical of her “romantic American female bullshit”. “… and I get scared again, but not like a nightmare-scared, but like something harder to describe, something almost uncanny, something unhomely, but this feeling only lasts a little while and then I force myself to wake up – an ability I possess that, despite your claiming it to be bullshit, has actually been the very thing that has saved me so many times from choking on the smell of all these bodies.”
“Practice Problem” is a math-themed story, without the overt OCD or Asperger’s Syndrome of, say, Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company. The math references are cohesive but not annoyingly overbearing. It tells the tangled tales of a group of Boston youth, unfolding and leading from one character to the next. We can imagine each character, and perhaps even know a few of them in our own lives. The long-run on sentences emphatically tell us the youthful tales of love, sex, abortions, sexual orientation, domestic violence, and friendship.
Joseph Salvatore has produced a collection of short stories reminding us that one’s identity is not created overnight, and that each experience lends itself to the process.
Elka Krajewska, Bound / John Reed
Elka Krajewska, Bound: light by Anthony Mccall, sound by Bunita Marcus
In the American experience, scale is all. A big land to conquer. Big dreams to tear out of the world. Big egos, big defeats, big victories. Beyond the American spectrum, scale will more often flitter beyond the spotlight; a thought, an instinct, a budget. Within America, the inclination is to weigh scale—the big novel, the huge public-works installation—as the very soul of the endeavor.
Through this perspective, Americans measure themselves, their arts. We enlarge popular personalities to the scale of the universe: stars. In balance, we harbor our personal insecurities; we fear we are little more than cells, shuffling over a planet, which is itself hardly more than a pixel.
Elka Krajewska’s Bound, a walk through performance at Lehman Maupin Gallery on April 12, led a surging mass of viewers through a meditation on the very big and very small. Krajewska pressed through the hall, toe-tapping button lights on and off, and projecting a bead of light on the walls, ceiling, and crowd. The circle of light—like that produced by a magnifying glass—expanded and jumped with the fits and flurries of a handheld camera. But the beam was also intensely patient, and mesmerized the watchers. In a semi-hypnotic state, viewers followed Krajewska—herself moving trancelike—in a winding and doubling-back exploration of the light sources. Buttons on the walls flickered on and off with the press of Krajewska’s cheek, hip, chin.
A score by Bunita Marcus ommed quietly in the recesses. The music, created by striking and stroking chords inside a grand piano, gave the impression of the sounds inside one’s body—or in a hushed engine room, generating, working, but in a zen-like mum.
The ongoing nature of Bound accentuates this sense of perpetual engine and perpetual movement. The moment of the light snapping on, or off, is bound to an instant, but that instant of consciousness is no more than a single point. Krajewska—now working on a diagrammatic set of drawings elaborating on the performance, as well as a video—has no intention of giving us a proper beginning or ending. The collaborative side of the project—with Marcus’s composition and a “light score” by Anthony McCall—sets Krajewska as a cell in another body, with its own lifecycle.
The origins of Bound are equally evolutionary; the piece previewed at the Orchard Gallery in 2007, and in turn was a response to a fragment of a 1989 film by Karin Schneider and Nicolas Guagnini, which in turn incorporated a recorded demonstration of Hand Dialog, an interactive work by Clark and Hélio Oiticica from 1966. Hand Dialog, an elastic Möbius strip, endlessly joins by the wrist two moving hands. In keeping with the solitary/solidary juxtaposition in Bound, the sited demonstration of Hand Dialog employs only one user, while the assumption (“dialog” not “monologue”) would be that Hand Dialog was originally intended to join two different people.
Krajewska’s hands, crossed and bound in video equipment throughout the performance, bring this contemporary trope to the forefront. We are more solitary than ever—alone at our computer screens. But we are also, increasingly, part of an entirety: everyone is tracked and on the grid, and we interact, through email/web/social sites, with anyone we want, whenever.
There, perhaps, is the great horror and promise of our moment. We are becoming something larger. And we are posed with the question: shall we also become larger in spirit.