Tag Archives: Norman Mailer

THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM

I’m not talented. Wee Gee was a real photographer… I’m lightweight stuff… I think of myself as a fashion historian… [Street photographer] Harold Chapman was the biggest influence on me… He taught me to be invisible. “Stop waving that camera around like a fan,” was his expression… 

I’m strictly interested in the way women dress in their own lives. — Bill Cunningham*

Cunningham—New York City’s greatest postwar documentarian of street style—was incredibly self-deprecating, claiming that his New York Times colleagues dismissed his regular columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” as “filling around the edges of the ads.”

Arriving in New York in 1949 at age 19, Cunningham went to work as a milliner at Bonwit Teller and the high-end boutique Chez Ninon, where Jacqueline Kennedy and Babe Paley shopped for line-for-line copies of couture originals. While Ninon’s proprietors valued his contribution, they did their best to push him away from fashion and into “straight” journalism—above all keeping him away from Diana Vreeland, fearing the eccentric editor would irrevocably seduce/corrupt the impressionable young man.

(Of course, Cunningham and Vreeland eventually met, and the photographer went on to document nearly every show the doyenne of fashion staged at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.)

In the new documentary THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM—directed by Mark Bozek, and constructed around a long on-camera interview he shot with the photographer in 1994—Cunningham tells his tale: making hats under the name “William J,” sharing a loft at the Carnegie Hall studios with Bobby Short, Marlon Brando, and Norman Mailer, decamping to Paris for the shows during his U.S. Army stint in Rochefort-sur-Mer.

In the early 1960s, Cunningham wrote a column for John Fairchild’s Womens Wear Daily, and in 1967 was given a small Olympus-Pen by David Montgomery, who worked with Antonio Lopez. A Cunningham street photo of Greta Garbo was published in the Times in 1978, and his career at the paper began.

The year of the film’s interview is key. 1994 was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and several times during the second half of the film, Cunningham breaks down in anguish at the loss of loved ones, including Lopez and his partner Juan Ramos.

THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM

Now playing.

Royal

11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles.

Playhouse 7

673 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena.

Town Center 5

17200 Ventura Boulevard, Encino.

From top: Bill Cunningham in Paris in 1970, photograph by Jean Luce Hure. All other images by Cunningham: street views, New York (3); Grace Coddington, New York; Anna Piaggi; Josephine Baker, surrounded by models including Pat Cleveland and Bethann Hardison, at the “Battle of Versailles” fashion show, 1973; Kay Thompson, who choreographed Halston’s segment of the show; Diana Vreeland, New York, at the Costume Institute in the 1970s; André Leon Talley, Vreeland’s then-assistant, at the Costume Institute; Vreeland and Marisa Berenson; Sonny Bono, Cher, and Ahmet Ertegun (in glasses); Gloria Swanson, New York; Greta Garbo, New York; street scene, New York; Gay Pride Parade, New York, 1970s; Juan Ramos (left) and Antonio Lopez; James Kaliardos (second from left), Stephen Gan (second from right), and Cecelia Dean (right) in 1991, displaying issue #1 of Visionaire. Below, Cunningham in Paris. Images courtesy and © the estate of Bill Cunningham and Greenwich Entertainment.

GODARD’S ONE PLUS ONE

As part of the Los Angeles Filmforum series 1968: Visions of Possibilities, MOCA will screen the Los Angeles 4K restoration premiere of Jean-Luc Godard’s ONE PLUS ONE—part documentary of how the Rolling Stones developed their song “Sympathy for the Devil” at Olympic Studios in London, part 1968 political agitprop by Godard in the wake of the May uprisings.

“Godard had the crew lay down tracking rails that ran in a figure-eight throughout the studio… In ten-minute takes, Godard followed the song’s metamorphosis from a straight-ahead rocker to a pantheistic samba. Drummer Charlie Watts put down his drumsticks in favor of Algerian hand drums, and the four backup singers (including Marianne Faithfull) congregated around a microphone for gospel exhortations.

“The last night of the shoot ended prematurely as the studio caught fire when a gel filter on an overhead light ignited.” — Richard Brody*

Alternating with the studio footage are scenes Godard shot with Anne Wiazemsky playing “Eve Democracy,” who, followed by a documentary crew, responds to elaborate political questions—many of them lifted from a 1968 interview Norman Mailer did with Playboy—with “yes” or “no” answers. “In bringing Wiazemsky to London and casting her as the absurd and naïve Eve Democracy, Godard mocked not only democracy but Wiazemsky’s non-revolutionary commitment to it.”*

ONE PLUS ONE

Thursday, November 8, at 7 pm.

MOCA Grand Avenue

250 South Grand Avenue, downtown Los Angeles.

 

*Richard Brody, Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), 338, 340.

From top:

Film poster with Jean-Luc Godard’s title. (An alternative cut—titled Sympathy for the Devil by the producers—re-edited the soundtrack of the film’s final scenes.)

The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithful lay down the backing vocal track.

Anne Wiazemsky in her One Plus One final scene.

Godard and Mick Jagger during filming.

The Stones at Olympia Studios.

Image credit: ABKCO Films.

WRITERS UNDER SURVEILLANCE

Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, W.E.B. Du Bois, Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Terry Southern, Hunter Thompson, and Gore Vidal were all investigated by the FBI, and edited versions of these files have been collected in a new volume from MIT Press.

 

Writers Under Surveillance: The FBI Files, edited by JPat Brown, B.C.D. Lipton, Michael Morisy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Image credit above: MIT Press.

Below: Hannah Arendt in New York City, 1944. Photograph by Fred Stein.

TOWN HALL REDUX AT REDCAT

In the 1960s and ’70s, Norman Mailer was America’s loudest public intellectual, a boozing, brawling cartoon of machismo who, nevertheless, was a leading man of the Establishment Left. (He was a co-founder of The Village Voice and wrote Armies of the Night, a landmark text on the anti-Vietnam War movement.*) After Kate Millett, in her book Sexual Politics, described Mailer as “a prisoner of the virility cult,” he attempted to get his own back in an essay (“The Prisoner of Sex”) that took up nearly the entire March 1971 issue of Harper’s.

In the uproar that followed, Mailer was asked to moderate the “Dialogue on Women’s Liberation” panel at Town Hall in Manhattan, an event captured on film by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker in TOWN BLOODY HALL, and, in an exhilarating new stage production by the Wooster Group, dramatized as THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR.

The power and value of THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR (directed by Elizabeth LeCompte) are most apparent when the women on the panel speak to one another and to the audience. Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch), Diana Trilling (columnist for Partisan Review and The Nation), and Jill Johnston (Voice columnist and author of Lesbian Nation whose incantatory, shambolic radicalism is, to this day, transfixing) are portrayed by Maura Tierney, Greg Mehrten, and Kate Valk with a precision and, yes, delicacy that marshal a force much stronger than Mailer’s reckless buffoonery. (Mailer, unable to sustain the multitude of his contradictions, is simultaneously played by Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd, whose mismatched actions come together in a blur.)

Except for an opening monologue and coda (and a brief reenactment of scenes from Mailer’s film Maidstone), the dialogue for TOWN HALL the play is taken from TOWN HALL the film, which also screens onstage. This doubling produces an uncanny effect, at once majestic and comic. One scene from the documentary not included in the play (which runs about 65 minutes) takes place during the Q & A portion of the 1971 event. A writer with one book behind her (but many more to come) stood and asked the moderator a question:

“Mr. Mailer, in Advertisements for Myself, you said, ‘A good novelist can do without everything but the remnant of his balls.’ For years, I’ve been wondering, Mr. Mailer: When you dip your balls in ink, what color ink is it?” — Cynthia Ozick**

 

THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR, through April 1.

Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30 pm; Sunday, March 26 at 3 pm.

REDCAT, Disney Hall, downtown Los Angeles

redcat.org/event/wooster-group-town-hall-affair

*Armies of the Night (1968) is a “non-fiction novel,” and as a long-form example the “New Journalism,” it was preceded by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels (both 1966), and immediately followed by Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

**For Ozick’s complete statement and question, and Mailer’s response, see “I Love Cynthia Ozick” on YouTube.

Scott Shepherd and Ari Fliakos as Norman and Norman, and Kate Valk as Jill Johnston, in the Wooster Group production of The Town Hall Affair, at Redcat. Photograph by Steven Gunther

Scott Shepherd and Ari Fliakos as Norman and Norman, and Kate Valk as Jill Johnston, in the Wooster Group production of The Town Hall Affair, at Redcat.
Photograph by Steven Gunther