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Life is a Cabaret: Christopher Isherwood on the real Sally Bowles, Berlin, writing and W. H. Auden
04.03.2014
08:58 am

Topics:
Books
Literature

Tags:
Christopher Isherwood

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Christopher Isherwood’s best known fictional character is Sally Bowles, who appeared in his novel Goodbye to Berlin, published in 1939. Sally was a singer in a Berlin nightclub, The Lady Windermere, off Tauentzeinstraße, and was supposedly an heiress (her father owned a mill in Lancashire), and had grand ambitions to become a star.

She had a surprisingly deep, husky voice. She sang badly, without any expression, her hands hanging down at her sides – yet her performance was, in its own way, effective because of her startling appearance and her air of not caring a curse of what people thought of her…

Sally with her emerald green nail varnish (“Divine decadence, darling”) was memorably played by Liza Minelli in the film musical Cabaret, opposite Michael York as Brian Roberts (originally Christopher or “Herr Issyvoo” in the book) and Joel Gray as the Emcee, in 1972.

Sally was more than just one of Christopher’s greatest creations, she was in fact based on the journalist and actress, Jean Ross, who had once shared rooms with Isherwood at Nollendorfstrasse 17, Berlin in the early 1930s.

As Isherwood describes Ross, in this interview on Day at Night from 1974, she was a slightly larger-than-life character, who had the looks of the Hollywood film-star Merle Oberon. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Ross was raised in England, before being sent to finishing school in Switzerland. She attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she had a bit part in a “Quiky Quota” movie. Ross then moved to Berlin on the promise of some more film work, but this proved to be false, so she began a new career in modeling. It was around this time in 1931 that Ross met Isherwood, as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography explains:

The two became close friends and Isherwood immortalized her as the eponymous heroine of Sally Bowles (1937), subsequently incorporated in his Goodbye to Berlin (1939). Although Ross later claimed that she was not really like Sally Bowles, most of the more outlandish anecdotes Isherwood used in his portrait were based on fact. She insisted that she was a much better singer than Sally Bowles, but her family disagreed.

An affair with a Jewish musician called Götz von Eick, who subsequently became an actor in Hollywood under the name Peter van Eyck, led to her becoming pregnant, and she nearly died after an abortion. She was visiting England when Hitler came to power and so decided not to return to Germany, settling instead in Cheyne Walk, London, where she joined the Communist Party; she remained a member for the rest of her life.

Inspired by Ross and her various wild adventures, Isherwood wrote a long short story, “Sally Bowles,” which he originally intended to include in his novel Mr. Norris Changes Trains, which was published in 1935. Isherwood sent the story to the editor John Lehmann, to be included in his literary magazine New Writing, but he thought it too long. Lehmann also had problems with certain aspects of the story—Sally’s abortion, and the possible issue of a libel suit from Jean Ross. Isherwood claimed the removal of the abortion scene would turn Sally into a “silly little capricious bitch” and would ruin the story’s finish. He also managed to convince Ross to give her permission for the story to be published, little knowing how successful and financially rewarding the fictional Sally Bowles would be.

I am a big fan of Christopher Isherwood’s writing and found him utterly charming and fascinating in this interview on Day at Night, where he talks about his time in Berlin during the thirties, his friendship with the poet W. H. Auden, his life at university and in America, his family, and how his writing is a voyage of self-discovery.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Christopher Isherwood: Revealing documentary ‘A Single Man 1906-86’

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Nothing is secret’: The Art of Niki de Saint Phalle
04.03.2014
08:38 am

Topics:
Art

Tags:
Niki de Saint Phalle

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Most days, I walk past the Gallery of Modern Art, on Royal Exchange Square, in the heart of Glasgow. The GOMA building was originally a library, but since 1996, it has been a gallery. Each time I pass the building, I always notice the beautiful glass mosaic made by Niki de Saint Phalle that glitters on the exterior, triangular pediment of the building, which changes with the movement and color of the (admittedly mostly gray) sky, the light of buildings opposite, and the shadow of the traffic below. It sparkles like a jewel, always makes me happy and reminds me of the beautiful, passionate art of Niki de Saint Phalle.

The daughter of an aristocratic French banker and an American mother, De Saint Phalle was educated in America, where she first showed an interest in art by painting the fig leaves red on the statues at her school—it was an early sign of her desire to rebel against bourgeois conventions. In her late teens she began a modeling career and was featured on the cover of several fashion magazines. Having eloped with her childhood sweetheart, the writer Harry Matthews, de Saint Phalle gave birth to a daughter in 1951. However, she soon found marital bliss to be stifling, and perhaps also suffering from post-natal depression, the young mother had a nervous breakdown.

As part of her recuperation, de Saint Phalle was encouraged to take up painting. She was taught and influenced by the painter Hugh Weiss. After the birth of her second child in Spain in 1955, de Saint Phalle continued to work at her painting, leading to her first exhibition in 1956.

Niki de Saint Phalle believed she was condemned to reveal “every emotion, thought and experience” in her work.

“Everything is used. My time, great joys, tragedies and pains—it’s all my life, nothing is secret.

The documentary Niki de Saint Phalle: Introspections and Reflections examines the life and art of the artist, from her earliest paintings, through her performance and film work, to her iconic sculptures, which all made Niki de Saint Phalle one of the best known artists of the twentieth century.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Having Fun with Elvis on Stage’: All banter, no songs, this is the weirdest Elvis album ever
04.03.2014
07:40 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Elvis Presley
Colonel Tom Parker

Having Fun with Elvis on Stage
 
Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s friend/assistant/manager/svengali/whatever, was trying to figure out a way to release an Elvis album to which RCA, Elvis’ usual recording label, would own no rights. The problem was, contracts being what they are, RCA had exclusive rights to music released by Elvis. At some point he came up with a solution—release an “Elvis album” with no music! In 1974 Parker’s Box Car Records released the only LP it would ever release, an all-banter album with no songs at all called Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. And Parker owned the rights outright.
 
Tom Parker and Elvis
 
The album had two tracks, “Side A” (18:06) and “Side B” (19:00). Both sides consisted of a long succession of short, context-free snippets of Elvis talking on stage, introducing the next song and so forth. Since Elvis is seguing from this or that song, you get a lot of truncated audience clapping noises. If you are supposing that there is some rhyme or reason to the way the clips were put together, well then, you’ve overestimated the ingenuity of Col. Parker. Later RCA would release it as well; there is a CD release of it, billed as a “Special Extended Edition”—only who on earth would want this thing to be longer?
 
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Understandably, Having Fun with Elvis on Stage has come in for its share of abuse. It’s made a lot of “worst records of all time” lists, sometimes even making the top slot. The generally gentle Allmusic.com gave it one star (there really was no other option) and wrote of it, “Some have called Having Fun With Elvis on Stage thoroughly unlistenable, but actually it’s worse than that; hearing it is like witnessing an auto wreck that somehow plowed into a carnival freak show, leaving onlookers at once too horrified and too baffled to turn away.” Ouch. And yet, that’s not unfair.
 
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Some have compared Having Fun with Elvis on Stage to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, but it’s nothing like that. You know the expression, “I’d pay to see that person read the telephone book?” Having Fun with Elvis on Stage is the rock music equivalent of that. Elvis was so immensely popular that people bought even this. It reached #130 on the Billboard charts and, almost incredibly, made it to #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. The album had the (small) disclaimer on the cover “A Talking Album Only” but a good number of people didn’t notice, didn’t care, or were so enamored of Elvis that they enjoyed it anyway. Personally I think when people got home and put it on, they were pissed.

Here’s Side A, in full. I have to say, I’ll take 45 minutes of Paul Stanley’s banter any day.
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Boy George and Jerry Falwell talk androgyny on ‘Face the Nation,’ 1984


 
In the early ‘80s, the USA had a minor collective shitfit about blurred gender divisions. The subject emerged into the mass consciousness almost out of nowhere—all of a sudden, three mainstream movies had cross dressing as their central themes, and Michael Jackson and other androgyny-friendly musicians were experiencing huge pop chart success. Obviously, genderfuck had been a part of rock culture for a long time—it was a decade earlier that David Bowie and Lou Reed made career moves of conspicuous bisexual posturing, and then of course there were the New York Dolls—but MTV pumping Duran Duran, Haysi Fantayzee, and the Belle Stars into millions of Midwestern living rooms newly wired for cable was an altogether different level of cultural penetration.

The appearance of artists like Annie Lennox, Dee Snider and Pete Burns definitely startled a lot of normals, but the figure who, all by himself, racked up by far the high score of shat Middle-American underpants was Boy George of Culture Club. He was such a harmless and goofy figure, but 30 years ago, a lot of people found him genuinely threatening. DM’s Martin Schneider recently made a well-deserved poke at the Midwestern response to Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers tour. As I was a teenaged Clevelander at the time, I can personally vouch for the truth of that piece. A lot of “grownups” fully lost their shit about Boy George.
 

I still don’t get what the big deal was.

Of course, the national news media had to explore the issue for baffled masses in grave danger of seeing the totally artificial social construct to which they were accustomed fall slightly apart on a superficial level. Leslie Stahl, for one, explored “The Feminization of America” on Face the Nation in 1984.
 

 
I love how “the feminizing of society” is illustrated with clips of men doing laundry and caring for infants. Who, WHO I ASK YOU, will save this degenerate civilization from the horror of fathers acting like parents? But as the segment continued, I found myself astonished that the discussion was civil, adult, and not completely trivializing. Megatrends author John Naisbitt offers some perfectly sensible if perhaps simplified insights, and then JERRY FALWELL of all people is genial, respectful, and, though obviously faaaaaaaar from progressive in his views, he’s not totally insane and hateful. The way he was towards the end of his life, I honestly expected him to do some bonkers shit like blame a tornado on Yentl. Imagine a similar conversation as it would happen on Hannity, McLaughlin, or The Five today, and weep for what we’ve lost in just 30 years.
 

 
Apologies, by the way, for the huge glitch in the middle of Falwell’s comments. Not that it’s likely they were illuminating or anything, but I did try to locate an alternate video, and turned up nothing. It’s probably not that great of a loss—in part three, Falwell predictably, and in scripturally unconvincing terms, goes on to defend the American post-WWII gender status quo as God’s eternal and ineffable will, and is called out on his blatant cultural and class biases by co-panelist/actual smartest person in the room Benjamin DeMott. But the most intelligent and moving comments in the whole segment come from Boy George himself. The insights he proffers in his one-on-one interview with Stahl remain relevant today, and fully make up for my disappointment that he and Falwell weren’t on the live panel together. I generally dislike the Internet’s abuse of the adjective “epic,” but god damn, THAT would have been a valid use.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Polish prison tattoos preserved in formaldehyde
04.03.2014
06:14 am

Topics:
Art
Crime

Tags:
tattoos


 
Fresh off the heels of my post on Frederik Ruysch’s creepy embalming art comes this disgusting/fascinating collection of preserved tattoos from Polish prisoners. Even before you get to the whole “stolen chunks of flesh” part of this collection, I’m always disturbed by the “poke-and-stick” kind of tattooing that most of these appear to be. I’ve seen poke-and-stick done with everything from glass shards to nails, and the “ink” could be anything from ash to a ball-point pen—there’s obviously a high risk of infection. (Not to be a snob, but I had my tattoos done like a respectable person—in a sterile environment by an old biker.)

It’s a crude, primitive art-form, but it’s hard for me to see these pieces, which were a part of some one’s actual body, completely removed from their former humanity. Still, the images are kind of fascinating. There’s basic old school flash, of course, but the juvenile, coarse pornographic images are even more interesting. Not all tattoos, even ones done in prison, represent some deeper meaning or cultural affiliation, but with some of these you have to wonder what possessed some one to risk infection for a dirty little doodle.
 

 

 

 
More tattoos after the jump…
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘People paint to The Fall. They write novels listening to The Fall. Strange people’
04.02.2014
02:25 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Mark E. Smith
The Fall


 

“People paint to The Fall. They write novels to The Fall. The guy who wrote Silence of the Lambs wrote it… people like that. Strange people.”

Mick Middle’s low budget documentary about Mark E. Smith and The Fall was completed in 1994, but not seen until 2009 when it was made available as part of the Northern Cream DVD. 1994 was a good time to make a documentary about The Fall because at that point they’d been around enough to have gone through several incarnations—the group’s membership has been a revolving door since the beginning—including the Brix period of most of the 1980s when many feel Smith created his best music. That would include The Fall’s two collaborations with dancer Michael Clark. This is the period that I am the most interested in, so I thought this short film was a lot of fun.

Cigarette in one hand, pint in the other, the ever… charming Smith reveals how his father hated pop music, so there was never even a record player in the house until he was fourteen. When the kids at school talked about the Beatles and the Stones, he had no idea what they were going on about.

Asked if anything positive came of the “Manchester scene,” (i.e. The Smiths) Smith replies with characteristic bluntness: “Nowt.” He also slyly says that if you drink “out in the open” (in a pub) you “don’t become an alcoholic.”

When the interviewer asks Smith about the group’s fanatical American fans, particularly in California, he replies that “It’s funny, America… your’re talking about twenty countries there, in one country. Like the time we went to Cleveland and they hated our guts.” Smith says he thinks Los Angeles is the “most boring town in the world. The most boring city I’ve ever been to in my life.”

He just doesn’t know the right people here.

Fun fact: “Hip Priest” is used in the film adaptation of Silence of The Lambs, during the scene when Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) hunts down Buffalo Bill in his home.
 

 

Bonus clip: The twin drum attack of “Eat Y’Self Fitter” caused British DJ John Peel to claim that he’d fainted on air and had to be revived by his producer.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Death defying: Helmet cam captures terrifying motorcycle accident
04.02.2014
10:29 am

Topics:
Sports

Tags:
motorcycles

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Motorcyclist Jack Sanderson was incredibly lucky to walk away with only minor injuries after his bike crashed on the Cat and Fiddle Road, in Buxton, England.

The accident happened after Sanderson overtook two motorbikes and swerved to avoid an approaching car, as he told the BBC:

” I was too impatient. I should have stayed on the white line, I saw the car, and thought right I’m going to have to go off there.

“I’m just happy to walk away with my life and maybe it could be a lesson to others. If it slows anyone down by just one mph then that’s something.”

Sanderson was thrown from his 600cc Kawasaki bike down a 40 ft embankment. The whole accident was filmed by Sanderson’s helmet camera and he posted the video on YouTube to warn other cyclists and drivers.  You might want to skip ahead to around the 2:10 mark.
 

 
Via the Manchester Evening News.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Britpop’ with Oasis, Blur and Pulp
04.02.2014
10:04 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Pulp
Blur
Oasis
Britpop


 
I have always thought Britpop was a bit like another famous British institution, the Carry On… movies. Both had likable and identifiable characters: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey in the Carry Ons; and Damon, Jarvis, Noel and Liam in Britpop.

Both produced populist entertainment that was at once nostalgic and contemporary. The Carry Ons offered traditional music hall humor, poking fun at British institutions like the army, the National Health Service, education, unions and foreign holidays. While Britpop drew its influence from Sixties’ pop (Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks), and mixed it up with a punk rock swagger.

The Carry Ons came out of drab, gray, post-war Britain, while Britpop was more of a media construction, a handy (or possibly lazy) way to categorize the very disparate talents (Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Powder, The Boo Radleys, Menswear, Elastica, etc) that appeared during the drab, dull years of Conservative political rule during the 1990s.

Britpop was pitched as a nineties reinvention of the “swinging Sixties,” with two bands—Oasis and Blur—dominating the pop charts (much like The Beatles and Rolling Stones once did). There was a much publicized “fight” for the number one spot in 1995. Blur won with the single “Country House,” Oasis came in second with “Roll With It”—they may have lost the battle but Oasis eventually won the war.

If you have ever wondered what all the fuss was about, or why those days back in the 1990s were an exciting time to be young, British and full of hope for a better future, then this documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Britpop will explain all. It’s a wonderfully made and very entertaining film that brings together Noel and Liam Gallagher, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, 3D (Massive Attack), Louise Wener (Sleeper) and artist Damien Hirst, amongst others, to discuss, pontificate and reflect on why Britpop was arguably the last great musical movement from the UK—which says much, as it is now twenty years ago. If you haven’t seen this documentary, it is certainly worth seeing, once. Enjoy.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Dingbat hand-feeds alligator breakfast cereal
04.02.2014
08:27 am

Topics:
Animals

Tags:
Florida
Alligators


 
A Florida—go figure—woman living in a senior community caught her neighbor hand-feeding an alligator. “She would bring food back and forth and feed him and he would hang out there all day with her,” Lynette Miller said.

Miller captured video of the woman in Port St. Lucie last year and says she saw her multiple times feeding the gator. “She nicknamed the gator Puppy Puppy. She would yell at him and he would come,” Miller said.

Other neighbours also saw the gator. “I would hear ‘puppy, puppy, puppy.’ I thought the woman was calling for her husband. But she said ‘no, I am calling for the alligator,’ ” Grace LaPlace said. Neighbours say they saw the woman feeding the gator all different kinds of food including cereal.

If this lady was a character on The Walking Dead I’m pretty sure the other humans would just shoot her.
 

Via Arbroath

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
London Underground: Early counterculture doc with Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg, Pink Floyd


 
Granada Television produced this fascinating TV time capsule “It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down” as a special part of their Scene at 6:30 series. The program focused on the young counterculture / hippie scene in London and features Miles, the Indica Gallery and the editorial board of The International Times underground newspaper. Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are seen at the International Poetry Incarnation and we are taken to The UFO Club where Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd are playing a live version of “Interstellar Overdrive” (Also heard on the soundtrack is an early version of their “Matilda Mother,” then called “Percy The Ratcatcher” and “It Can’t Happen Here” by The Mothers of Invention).

Paul McCartney is a talking head interviewee (although not framed as such) in the studio, intelligently discussing the nascent underground scene. Macca was an active part of the London underground, financially supporting the Indica Gallery and bookstore—he even built the bookshelves himself—and IT. McCartney, the Beatle who soaked up cutting-edge culture and avant garde influences long before the rest of them did, is seen in four segments during the show, and as a wealthy, intelligent and well-respected person representing the counterculture to people who might fear it, as you’ll see, he knocks the ball straight out of the park:

If you don’t know anything about it [the counterculture], you can sort of trust that it’s probably gonna be all right and it’s probably not that bad because it’s human beings doing it, and you know vaguely what human beings do. And they’re probably going to think of it nearly the same way you would in that situation.

The straights should welcome the underground because it stands for freedom… It’s not strange it’s just new, it’s not weird, it’s just what’s going on around.

“It’s So Far Out It’s Straight Down” was broadcast in March of 1967, so it’s pre-Summer of Love. The time seems so pregnant with promise. This is the exact moment, historically speaking, when pop culture went from B&W and shades of gray to vivid color. If you put yourself in the mind of a kid from the north of England watching something like this on television during that era, it’s easy to see how this film would have brought tens of thousands of young people into London seeking to find these forward-thinking cultural movers and shakers to become part of “the happening” themselves.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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