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Germaine Greer vs. Diane Arbus: ‘If she had been a man, I’d have kicked her in the balls’

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Though Diane Arbus was famed for her photographs of “deviant and marginal” people “whose normality seems ugly or surreal,” she did not want to be thought solely as a photographer of freaks. This in part may explain why Arbus accepted a commission to take a portrait photograph of Germaine Greer for the publication New Woman. Unless, of course, the magazine’s editors thought there was something freakish about the Antipodean academic, journalist and feminist?

On a hot summer’s day in 1971, Arbus arrived to photograph Greer at the Chelsea Hotel. Greer was on tour with her book The Female Eunuch and had most recently taken part in an infamous head-to-head with Norman Mailer at New York City’s Town Hall. Seeing the diminutive photographer was overly laden with equipment, Greer helped Arbus up to her hotel suite.

Greer may have been showing consideration to the photographer, but the session soon turned into a battle of wills as Arbus ordered the Greer around the room, telling her to lie on the bed, and then straddling her as she snapped away. Greer later related meeting with Arbus to the photographer’s biographer Patricia Bosworth:

It developed into a sort of duel between us, because I resisted being photographed like that—close up with all my pores and lines showing!! She kept asking me all sorts of personal questions, and I became aware that she would only shoot when my face was showing tension or concern or boredom or annoyance (and there was plenty of that, let me tell you), but because she was a woman I didn’t tell her to fuck off. If she had been a man, I’d have kicked her in the balls.

Unable to deliver a telling kick, Greer opted not to co-operate.

‘I decided “Damn it, you’re not going to do this to me, lady. I’m not going to be photographed like one of your grotesque freaks!”  So I stiffened my face like a mask.

Greer would later claim the duel with Arbus as a draw, but as Howard Sounes noted in his superlative cultural biography of the Seventies:

The editors at New Woman evidently thought Greer vs. Arbus had resulted in defeat for the photographer, for her pictures were never used in the magazine. In a letter to [her husband] Allan, Diane discussed her attitude to the shoot, perhaps revealing her approach to her subjects generally. She wrote that she had liked Germaine Greer personally, considering her to be ‘fun and terrific looking…’ Nevertheless she went out of her way to depict her in an unflattering light. As she said, ‘I managed to managed to make otherwise.’

The picture from the session, printed posthumously as ‘Feminist in her hotel room, NYC, 1971’, is in fact fascinating, not least because in close-up, Greer’s neatly plucked and re-applied eyebrows more than a passing resemblance to the transvestite in curlers Arbus photographed back in 1966.

Arbus was not best suited to working as a freelance photographer—the hours spent pitching ideas that often came to nothing, or struggling to earn agreed fees from indifferent publishing houses to maintain her independence, caused her deep depression. Taking fashionable portraits of celebrity figures was hardly the work for an artist photographer who believed:

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

 
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Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Happy Days’ created by David Mamet and other sitcoms we’d like to see

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I love these mind-bending title cards from some memorable TV series from four or five decades ago—I only wish there were more of them. They appear to be the Photoshop handiwork of Johnny Walker. To adapt a witticism of one of the commenters on the page I found this, it’s only a rumor that early drafts of David Mamet’s first play used the title Sexual Perversity in Milwaukee.

Delirious possibilities for other TV shows abound: how about Get Smart created by George Orwell? Or The Patty Duke Show created by Vladimir Nabokov? Gilligan’s Island created by Kurt Vonnegut? Saved by the Bell created by William Golding? Diff’rent Strokes created by Richard Wright?

Your turn!
 
I Dream of Jeannie created by Germaine Greer
 
Mork & Mindy created by Philip Roth
 
via Ken Levine’s blog

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
1967: Documentary on ‘The Summer of Love’

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The joyful hedonism of the 1960s was in part a response to the trauma to the Second World War. The same way the twenties swung after the first great conflagration. And like that decade, it was primarily the white, upwardly mobile, metropolitan, middle class that enjoyed the sex, the drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll.

London may have been swinging in 1967, but for the rest of the country not a lot changed. It would take until the 1970s for most of the country to get a hint of what London experienced. The most important changes, apart from pop music and American TV shows, were the legalization abortion and de-criminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults - both of which set the scene for bigger and more radical changes in the 1970s.

Yet, as so many of the media are Baby Boomers, the love of all things sixties ensures TV fills its schedules with documentaries on that legendary decade. 1967: The Summer of Love is better than most, as it covers the cultural, social, and political changes that the decade brought. With contributions form Germaine Greer, Donovan, Nigel Havers, Bill Wyman, John Birt and Mary Quant, together with some excellent color archive, this documentary is a cut-above the usual retro-vision.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Germaine Greer in ‘Darling, Do You Love Me?’

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Before writing her revolutionary feminist text The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer tried her hand at becoming a TV personality. In 1967, she briefly appeared alongside Michael Palin and future Goodies, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie in Twice a Fortnight. She then co-hosted the comedy series Nice Time in 1968, with DJ Kenny Everett and Jonathan Routh. Alas, neither made her a star.

In 1968, Greer also starred in this odd little film, Darling, Do You Love Me?, written and directed by Martin Sharp. In it, Germaine played an over-bearing, vampish female, who demands of a rather sappy, little male, “Darling, do you love me?” After much shaking, cajoling and strangulation from Greer, the man eventually says, “I love you,” and dies.

What are we to make of this? How love makes us needy? Or, perhaps, the old adage, if at first you don’t succeed..? For Greer did try and try again, until writing her landmark book. No more TV comedy after that, though she did pop-up in George (007) Lazenby’s 1971 movie, The Universal Soldier.  One can only wonder what would have happened if Nice Time had been a hit.
 

 
With thanks to Ewan Morrison
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment