Jazz And Surrealism: Paris In The 1920s

I’m off to Portland, Oregon on Saturday for Bizarrocon and donuts. I’ll be gone for about three weeks but when I return I’ll be full of writerly information and other helpful things.

I’ve read in a couple of different places that Portland is “becoming like Paris in the 1920s,” all the writers and artists are flocking there. I don’t expect it to look the same as 1920s Paris, even Paris doesn’t look the same as 1920s Paris, but I hope to be inspired by a similar artistic atmosphere.

The Années folles (crazy years) was a time between wars where everyone who wanted to make art, dance to jazz or just get a drink (America was under Prohibition) converged on the city. Gertrude Stein held court at her artistic salon (described in her book The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas), Andre Breton was leading the Surrealist movement, and Anais Nin was a brief fixture of the Montparnasse cafe scene.

A Surrealist Ball, by Man Ray
A Montparnasse Cafe

If you wanted to get a glimpse of dancing girls (*whisper* in the nude) you could pop off to The Folies Bergère. One of the headliners at the time was Josephine Baker, a woman of colour treated like a second class citizen in her native America and a star in Paris.

Tracking shot in the 1927 Clara Bow movie Wings:

Below is a promotional film for Josephine Baker’s ‘new’ show. Contains 1920s boobies:

Paris was known for the latest fashions:

And finally, a silent travelogue through all the city had to offer. Toodle pip, and I’ll see you on the other side of my own adventures!

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Book Review: Surrealist Women, An International Anthology

Hello my little dustpan brushes sprinkled with attractive gems. Recently I read Surrealist Women: An International Anthology. The kindle version is slightly cheaper than the hardsurrealist-women-cover copies but still costs a whopping thirty pounds. I do think it’s worth saving up for, however, as it is an almost exhaustive encyclopedia of all females involved in the art movement from the twenties to sixties counter-culture to now, including examples of their work.

The essays at the beginning of each new era, separated into chapters, refutes the idea that women were not as involved as men. While they were not seen as full members during the twenties they were just as passionate, and only a decade later their participation exploded. It only seems to be outside critics and scholars who have omitted them since.

This passage offers an explanation for the reticence at the start (Andre Breton’s wife, Simone Kahn, wrote several letters to her cousin Denise Levy in the early years): “Although masculine egotism surely existed in the Surrealist Group, what is known of Kahn’s correspondence refutes the temptingly simple but shallow argument that the relatively small production of the first women surrealists can be blamed on male chauvinism alone. What held these women back, more than likely, was a complex of inhibitions and fears inherited from centuries of French and European patriarchal, capitalist, Christian culture; notions of “feminine reserve,” “woman’s place,” and “biological destiny” that they had internalized more or less unconsciously as children and which continued to wreak havoc in their psyches in later years, despite themselves.”
Meret Oppenheim's 'furry cup'
Meret Oppenheim’s ‘furry cup’
The author mentions other biographies of individuals but Surrealist Women is packed with primary research and any omissions of a particular writer/artist’s contribution to surrealism is addressed. She also looks at surprising aspects of surrealism, such as it’s affinities with Trotsky and other leftist leaders as well as feminism. In the early thirties the wall street crash brought a tide of woman-hating against those who ‘stole the jobs of men.’ Two high profile murder cases took place in France during that time, the Papin sisters – maids who killed their bosses – and Violette Noizierre. Both were reported vitriolically by the press as examples of women running amok, but apparently the Surrealists were one of only a few groups to point out that all women involved were being abused and possibly acted in self-defense.
I discovered several writers and artists I had never heard of as well as learning more about others. As a huge fan of Anais Nin I was excited to discover Nelly Kaplan who, under the name Belen, wrote “erotic tales of black humor.” She is also a filmmaker, one of her best known being A Very Curious Girl (1967).
There was also Suzanne Cesaire, born in Martinique. Though her husband, Aime, often overshadowed her, she was very active and started the magazine ‘Tropiques’ with him. There’s Joyce Mansour, the best known Surrealist female poet once told by Breton himself “Your gift is that of a genius,” and Rikki Ducornet, artist as well as author, who has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges among others.
I enjoyed it and learned a lot, and now have plenty of further reading and art to explore, as will you.
Below is a short documentary about Leonora Carrington, also featured in the book. Incidentally one of her stories is in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, another I highly recommend.

Anais Nin Interviewed by Studs Terkel In 1972 And Reading From Her Diary

Legendary bohemian and erotic diarist Anais Nin was interviewed in 1972. Enjoy her ponderings on Swallow Press, Henry Miller, her experimental film-making husband Ian Hugo (a pseudonym) and various other artistic types. Also have a peek at this article containing a film of her reading over spacey electronic music, Bells of Atlantis.

Here she reads from her diary (the version without the rude bits)

Maddie’s bizarre book club 4: including Bad Mags, fiction inspired by David Lynch, Anais Nin and Under the Skin teaser footage

Welcome to another round of literary oddities. Come in, sit down, pull up a chair and start crying.

Me at a party flicking through The Mammoth Book of Erotic Photography
Me at a party flicking through The Mammoth Book of Erotic Photography

1. Under the Skin by Michael Faber. Michael Faber is the author of Crimson Petal and the White (which was brilliantly adapted by the BBC, very unlike your usual TV period romp).

I don’t want to say too much about this dark sci-fi else I give it away, but I read it in summer and truly felt the cold of the lonely Scottish highlands and was enthralled by the ideas behind it. The only other thing I’ll tell you is that it almost made me turn vegetarian again…

It’s apparently being adapted as a film by Jonathan Glazer (of Sexy Beast and Birth) with the very lovely Scarlett Johansson. Here’s a disturbing piece of teaser footage:

2. In Heaven Everything is Fine by Various. I love David Lynch and I love the fact that he inspires other people to be creative. I found some of the stories in this book pretty and thought provoking but others somewhat… impenetrable.

However that’s my own opinion and everyone will get something different from it. Just be aware that linear narrative isn’t always something Mr Lynch is strictly concerned with and neither should you be if you’re going to give this a try.

3. Incest by Anais Nin. One of the most famous diarists other than Samuel Pepys, Anais Nin was a creative bohemian who wrote of her affair with both Henry Miller and his wife June which later became the basis of her first ‘unexpergated’ diary Henry and June.

The next book released with all the exciting bits left in, Incest, includes a bizarre affair with her own father, possibly a result of the now recognised ‘disorder’ known as Genetic Sexual Attraction as they hadn’t seen each other for twenty years.

Though I was at first put off by her over-wrought style and inflamed passions I was soon drawn into her beautiful and poetic vision of the world, and came to love her writing for those very things.

4. Extra-Terrestrial Sex Fetish by Supervert. Partly a wry take on scientific musings of how a person may cope with a fetish for aliens – a fantasy that can never be realised due to their absence from this planet – and partly one man’s erotic journey through an alien world laced with philosophical pondering evoking the Marquis De Sade. The main character is even called Mercury De Sade.

There’s a lot of intelligence behind the daft humour and I liked this book very much. Plus there’s a video clip of porn star Stoya reading from his/her other book Necrophiliac Variations whilst something is going on under the table.

5. Bad Mags Volume 1: The Strangest, Sleaziest and Most Unusual Periodicals Ever Published! by Tom Brinkmann. I’m not sure how many volumes there actually are of Bad Mags, but I’m fairly confident that there are enough strange magazines out there to fill several copies of these reference books and Tom Brinkmann appears to know a lot about them.

Bad Mags focuses on the same places in pop culture that midnight movies live, featuring such publications as Official UFO, Mobs and Gangs, Bizarre Life, Shocker, Love-In, Horror Fantasy, Wildest Films, Freakout, Biker Orgy and literally tons more. How can there be more? You ask. Read it and find out.

Well, there we are, I hope your eyes have remained clean and your mind untroubled. Read them and try not to weep. Au revoir!