photo manipulation by nacrowe
IT/LL BE BETTER TOMORROW (SQUITTEN, 2006) is a sparse, no frills documentary focused on the life and cultural legacy of HUBERT SELBY JR, literary cult hero and author of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (GROVE PRESS, 1964) and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (PLAYBOY PRESS, 1978) among other titles that centered around the death and destruction of that most seductive of nonexistent myths: the AMERICAN DREAM. i like to think of him as a prophet who showed AMERICA its dark soul, much like other notable clarion voices before him.
the documentary, as you would expect, details the struggle of his journey, which began in his beloved BROOKLYN. leaving school after 8th grade to join the merchant marines during WWII, he ended up contracting tuberculosis which left him scarred and bedridden at at stateside sanitarium where over four years he had multiple operations that result in part of his lung being removed along with six of his back ribs. he had lifelong medical issues dating back to this period, but he was lucky, as he was the only survivor from his ward. during this period he decided to be a writer.
and maybe that pain and isolation he encountered allowed him the PSYCHIC FREEDOM to fearlessly pursue the depths of humanity on display in his work. in the documentary several people make the observation that the subject at hand is the absence and replacement of love. unfortunately the censors and religions hypocrites at the time couldnt get past the JUNKIES, PROSTITUTES and UNION LEADERS of his first novel LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN to appreciate such. makes me wonder what they get out of their bible. whatever greater fame he had at the time was gained through the notoriety of being the subject of such obscenity trials both stateside and in ENGLAND. but who cares about cretins that can't appreciate art.
along with his physical ailments, the other carryover from his time at the sanitarium was an addiction to opiates, brought on initially by prescribed morphine but bloomed in subsequent years into a full-blown heroin addiction. his eventual conquering of both heroin addiction and alcohol dependence midway through his life was the second major conquest of his life, having now beat the odds twice.
the literature that followed made his name, but he took to conventions of grammar, punctuation and basic norms of identifying speakers in a manner that made them bend to his will for his own agenda. i've mentioned this before in my previous entry (linked HERE) on SELBY but for me one of his greatest technical achievements is to have paragraphs with multiple characters speaking without quotes or tags revealing identification ( such as "he/she said"). the cadence and flow of the characters' use of language reveals their individual identities, which only further reveals SELBY's mastery as a writer. cant think of anyone else able to pull that rabbit from their hat.
his later life resulted in him collaborating with screenwriters as well as teaching writing workshops at USC. while never gaining the level of notoriety commensurate with his talent during his life beyond cult status, he was much beloved as showcased by the sheer involvement of noteworthy figures who speak on his influence in this documentary including musicians LOU REED and HENRY ROLLINS, writers JERRY STAHL, AMIRI BARAKA, LUKE DAVIES, NICK TOSCHES, GILBERT SORRENTINO and RICHARD PRICE, actors ELLEN BURSTYN, ALEXIS ARQUETTE and JARED LETO and directors ULI EDEL and DARREN ARONOFSKY.
much like HUNTER S. THOMPSON, SELBY had a deep hatred of the GEORGE W. BUSH administration and their misadventures abroad as well as their abuses to free speech and the AMERICAN constitution. both were ashamed of their country in the wake of his rise to power.
its not hard to think of what their reaction to our current predicament would be. despite SELBY stating outright that his later years were his darkest due to the new administration, we have only slipped deeper into that well of despair in the years since.
but the dude was the ultimate survivor. and i believe ultimately so are we.
photo & text by nacrowe
there is an interiority to SABRINA (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2018) by NICK DRNASO that i really appreciated. the idea that in an increasingly digital world where all of human experience is reduced down to IMAGES, SOUNDS, WORDS and VIDEOS emanating from a screen, that all of reality is really what we choose it to be. in essence our senses have been hijacked and our ability to trust our perceptions has been compromised.
SABRINA presents narrative surrounding the abduction and murder of a CHICAGO woman and how such gets played out online when the video of such goes viral. illustrated efficiently yet plainly with muted colors and faces with seemingly no emotion, this graphic novel ingeniously utilizes LANGUAGE as the locus of tension and action. language here serves to deliver these plainly depicted figures into a surreal psychodrama. in essence digital media has the transformative ability to make us all question our sense of IDENTITY and our relationship to each other. with relatives, friends and significant others thrown in the mix in the public square that is the internet, disinformation and false narratives are proposed and take hold in the collective consciousness, some forwarded by unsympathetic actors with personal agendas and others by professional journalists. it is all the same racket an loved ones of the deceased are merely products to be analyzed, investigated and questioned with contempt.
their humanity is compromised at the behest of public intrigue.
this book is less about a murder victim and more about the collateral damage that has befallen the families of tragedies such as SANDY HOOK who have been the target of disinformation campaigns by the likes of ALEX JONES and other nefarious conmen leeching off the body politic with their conspiracy theories under a false flag of patriotic fervor and the limits of free speech and personal freedom. funny how concepts such as CIVIC DUTY, PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY or even HUMAN DECENCY enters the picture with these bloodsuckers. but they are just a symptom of our collective appetite for tragedy from which we all vicariously experience at a distance. we are all vampires feeding off each other.
SABRINA even depicts the extended circle of the victim engaging in this sort of behavior, checking out conspiratorial blogs and websites, listening to right wing news in an effort to make sense or draw order from the nihilistic notion that there is no meaning or lesson to draw from such a senseless act of VIOLENCE. and for me that tension is the crux of this narrative and where DRNASO succeeds wildly in this subdued yet immensely affecting graphic novel. that very need to define what is undefinable rather than look truth in the face and realize that there is no greater intent or purpose for human suffering. anything else is a fabrication conceived out of existential pain. conspiracy theories, hope, religion are all symptoms of this nihilistic worldview. maybe the proliferation of information via the internet has only gotten us closer to that realization or distracted us from it with a renewed sense of creative abandon.
interesting book worth checking out.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
in the obtuse documentary BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE (CITIFILMWORKS, 1983) by director HOWARD BROOKNER we are provided a rare glimpse into the mind and writings of the influential BEAT writer WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS through not only his narration, but interview footage with peers and acolytes such as ALLEN GINSBERG, TERRY SOUTHERN, LUCIEN CARR, HERBERT HUNCKE, BRION GYSIN, PATTI SMITH, FRANCIS BACON and JON GIORNO as well as his only son WILLIAM BURROUGHS JR (who passed on during the time of filming).
we follow BURROUGHS as he guides us through his past including his time spent as a child in ST. LOUIS as well as his time at HARVARD, medical school in VIENNA, his failed attempt to enlist with the OSS (now the CIA) during WWII and subsequent fall into HEROIN addiction in NYC which was around the time he made the acquaintance of JACK KEROUAC and ALLEN GINSBERG. this continues through his marriage to JOAN VOLLMER and brith of his son through her accidental shooting in MEXICO and his son's eventual death in his 30s due to the chronic effects of alcoholism. littered throughout this personal narrative we find BURROUGHS reading excerpts from JUNKIE, NOVA EXPRESS, NAKED LUNCH, THE WILD BOYS and EXTERMINATOR! among other publications. we learn that NAKED LUNCH was written during his time in TANGIERS in the early 1950s when he was able to make use of the lax customs of local pharmacies to indulge in narcotics.
as a documentary this film was exceedingly dry. this is partly due to BURROUGHS prodding vocal affectations that seem to drone on ad infinitum. its funny, if i wasnt a fan of his work than i would find this film impossible to stomach, but he is a figure that pretty much brought POSTMODERNISM to literature in the 20th century and is a preeminent literary figure among his peers. his work is almost like a collage in art terms or montage in film terms as his cutouts served to provide jagged juxtapositions of concepts, words and phrases that seemingly spawned new visualizations and ideas out of multiple perspectives connected over space and time.
to verbalize his influence on modern culture, which has only bent more towards his worldview in the digital age of fractured realities where truth isnt relative, its irrelevant. seemingly we are in a post-truth and post-morality world where everyone is a JUNKIE for information. brutal low-grade gossip or refined, well-articulated and researched essays all fill the same fix and are mainlined and discarded the same, onwards looking for the next hit.
so this all makes me think that to experience this film expecting a straightforward presentation of a coherent narrative is wholly missing the point. if anything this film is a snapshot that is out of focus and out of context. a brief window into his late life mindset after a long fruitful yet painful career. it is up to his to draw our own conclusions on the worth of his perspective and words. on us to provide the context for this disjointed documentary of a man whose trade was navigating moral and temporal ambiguity.
photo & text by nacrowe
for anyone unfamiliar with the BEAT writers and their impact on modern culture, well beyond poetry, the graphic novel THE BEATS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (HILL AND WANG, 2010) is an excellent starting point. while providing a fairly definitive, warts-and-all overview of the three main writers associated with the movement in JACK KEROUAC, ALLEN GINSBERG and WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, it also deftly chooses to contextualize them within the greater SAN FRANCISCO POETRY RENAISSANCE scene that found them with writers like KENNETH REXROTH, MICHAEL MCCLURE, PHILIP WHALEN, WILLIAM EVERSON, GARY SNYDER, ROBERT DUNCAN, LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI and GREGORY CORSO as well as other important related figures like AMIRI BARAKA, CHARLES OLSON and ROBERT CREELEY. this breadth of scope results in a wider perspective about the greater influence of a movement that largely defined an era in art, poetry and literature that is still reverberating today.
i appreciate very much that the art and text both don't attempt to gloss over the fact that the three main figure (KEROUAC, GINSBERG and BURROUGHS) were involved in activities that put them at the edge of society. i understand back in the 1950s being openly homosexual was an issue and that our society has come a long way in accepting all forms of sexuality, but all three were confirmed pederasts which is still remains major taboo (for good reason). not that i am conflating the two. the all also engaged in petty crime and drug sales across state lines and in the case of BURROUGHS, manslaughter. some (KEROUAC and BURROUGHS) where petty, xenophobic, racist, solipsistic and in later life (ironically) bitterly homophobic. they were a collective that took sexuality, drugs, the written and by extension experiential consciousness to their polar extremes, which very much informed the breadth and potency of their work. the authors don't condone such, but merely present such in a straightforward manner in order to evoke a clarity of message and mission.
the choice in showcasing their exploits within a context of the greater literary and academic scene at the time and shortly thereafter provides necessary insight into how they were perceived at the time and why they are referred back to constantly today as touchstone influences.
in an era that demanded conformity during the rise of foreign fascism, their ability to wave their own freak flag of individuality provided an example of unadulterated freedom and personal liberty, for good or worse, down the line. hard to tell which.
text by HARVEY PEKAR, NANCY J. PETERS, PENELOPE ROSEMONT, JOYCE BRABNER, TRINA ROBBINS and TUL KUPFERBERG.
art by ED PISKOR, JAY KINNEY, NICK THORKELSON, SUMMER MCCLINTON, PETER KUPER, MARY FLEENER, JEROME NEUKIRCH, ANNE TIMMONS, GARY DUMM, LANCE TOOKS and JEFFREY LEWIS.