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.
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!
Hello my little carts before the horse, I’ve still got a ton of editing to do so here are some original, silent Surrealist and Dada films. Toodle pip!
Directed by Rene Clair (though multiple people worked on the project), this was first shown during the intermission of a Swedish ballet at the Theater of Champs Elysées in Paris. Erik Satie provided the music for this and the ballet on the night.
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, Jujiro (Crossroads) was the most successful Japanese export to the West before Rashomon. Kinugasa belonged to the Dada and Surrealist influenced art collective Shinkankakuha (New Sensationalists).
I couldn’t find a copy with English subtitles, sorry!
The Life and Death of 9413 A Hollywood Extra (1928)
I’m fascinated by the dark side of Hollywood (aren’t we all?) so this might be my favourite. Directed by Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapić, the film was inspired by Florey’s own Hollywood experiences and features early use of Vorkapić’s film-making invention, the montage. Made in America, it was very successful.
The Seashell And The Clergyman (1928)
Touted now as the first surrealist film, Germaine Dulac’s film was overshadowed at the time by Un Chien Andalou, made a year later, and was not well received. Dulac’s films often featured feminist themes.
Emak Bakia (1926)
Man Ray is one of my favourite surrealists, possibly because of his amazing fashion photos. Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin) makes an appearance, the artist’s model, nightclub singer, memoirist, painter and all round fabulous 1920s bohemian. Emak Bakia means Leave Me Alone in Basque.
Well, hello, glad you could drop in! There’s salsa on the table. OK, no there isn’t, could you pop out and get me some salsa? I’ll…pay you later…
Let’s dive in and look at the weird words that have drifted past my eyeballs the last few weeks.
Naked Friends by Justin Grimbol. Not only does his surname sound like a crotchety troll living under a fallen log, but his book made me laugh out loud, or ‘lol’ as the unselfconscious say. Sure, it’s sometimes gross, quite juvenile and gamers will be sad at their portrayal (I’m sorry), but it really did tickle my funny bone.
It’s kind of a cross between The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time and Bored To Death in that the main character is an inept wannabe detective who advertises on Craigslist, but it’s definitely got it’s own feel. A feel that includes a layabout rich boy with three half naked girlfriends and a man called Boner who lives in his van.
2. Planet Mermaid by Leza Cantoral. Leza tickles my eyes with poetry and imagination. However don’t let that fool you, this novelette has some pretty shocking things in it and I don’t recommend it unless you’re fairly robust.
I enjoyed the fact that mermaid cliches were turned on their head – the water is icy so their skin and hair is dull, there’s no rainbow colours or tropical seas here. It’s darkly fantastical and very beautiful, and I’m really looking forward to more word magic from her.
3. The Last Girlfriend On Earth by Simon Rich. You might recognise a number of these short stories from a recent sitcom called Man Seeking Woman. Indeed the massively imaginative, humorous pieces on lost love, finding love, unreasonable men and women were strung together to form the story line of a man navigating surreal scenarios on his quest to meet a lady.
The original stories are perhaps even more enjoyable and I can’t believe he’s only 31 with so many credits to his name – several books, a sitcom, written for SNL and Pixar. I mean, does he sleep? Was he birthed pitching ideas to The New Yorker? Either way I really enjoyed his book and already have several others to get my peepers into.
Here’s one that made it into the sitcom, Cupid Intervention:
it’s not quite in the modernist, stream of consciousness style favoured by Virginia Woolf but the sentences gallop strangely creating a vivid, dreamlike feel, as if the reader is glancing about and taking note of all he or she sees. The people and events are vivid and mixed together in a memory soup.
An extra layer of oddity is added when Alice describes Gertrude as a genius, only of course it’s not Alice’s words, it’s Gertrude’s. Was it something Alice said to Gertrude or is she guessing, or having a joke?
If you love the art, literature and lifestyle of the bohemian 20s like I do you’ll love it, and you’ll want to go to Paris.
5. Cotton Candy by Kevin Strange. I thoroughly enjoyed this long short story of erotic oddity. It reads like a winding Victorian tale told through a letter, only with gang bangs and were-furries.
After his wife dies a professor fills his life with increasing decadence and daring sexual exploits, finding himself in a remote building filled with other men, one woman and large, plushy teddies… large plushy teddies that move when no-one’s looking.
Well, dear readers, there we are! Another bag of weird joy. May we meet again one darkened night, you’ll have to wait till I’ve got my slippers on though.
La Belle Epoch (or golden era, roughly 1871 to 1914) of Paris certainly enjoyed life on the dark side. Not only were gory horror plays performed for those looking for late night thrills, a person could chat about philosophy and the meaning of death over a coffin table.
The Grand Guignol was a style of theatre steeped in gore and fear that continued right up until 1962. Rich and poor alike would go to a performance and prepare to be terrified. Read more here.
The Heaven and Hell nightclubs were fantastically intricate drinking spots. The Cabaret of the Inferno was described thusly:
“Enter and be damned, the Evil One awaits you!” growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us. Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from “Faust” on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.”
After this spectacle patrons would visit the Cabaret of the Sky, a much more divine affair.
The club I find most intriguing, however, is the Cabaret of Nothingness:
“Large, heavy, wooden coffins, resting on biers, were ranged about the room in an order suggesting the recent happening of a frightful catastrophe. The walls were decorated with skulls and bones, skeletons in grotesque attitudes, battle-pictures, and guillotines in action. Death, carnage, assassination were the dominant note, set in black hangings and illuminated with mottoes on death.”