Glamorama: An Epic Poem for the 90s?

I’m currently reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama, his 1998 novel about a very good looking model living in New York City. I don’t think in my entire life have I been so bombarded with pop culture, and yet, the novel probably doesn’t even come close to touching on the real celebrity and cultural saturation I’m exposed to on a daily basis. I’m far from finished the novel, and I haven’t even hit the midpoint, so I’d appreciate no spoilers from this point on but I can’t help wondering if any film has successful captured the anarchy, lifelessness and over-saturation of celebrity and brand culture. I can think of some filmmakers who come close, in one way or another, but none who do it with the viciousness and skill of Ellis.

Two names do come to mind, Quentin Tarantino and Richard Kelly. Tarantino’s oeuvre is unfortunately too limited to really touch on what I am referring to, though I think he is capable of what I’m searching for. Death Proof especially brings Tarantino’s favoured classic throwbacks into a candy coloured 21st century, porn-ification and girl power coming face to face. Richard Kelly, most notably in Southland Tales, probably comes closest to achieving a kind of over-saturation of shallow material culture, but lacks all of the artistry, violence and comedy that Ellis is so good at.

From what I can tell, Ellis may be the closest we have to an epic poet for an era. His vision may be limited, but it is focused on the central “ideological” founding of most of our lives. I remember once doing a brief, mostly un-memorable, project on the poet Ezra Pound, who had attempted and failed to write an epic poem about the era he lived in. At its core, an epic poem is not just a piece of art, but it is an instructional pamphlet on the ways of life and values of a particular culture. Pound found the globalized, capital obsessed 20th century impossible to really pin down, and he never completed his piece (which was focused almost entirely on money), but maybe Ellis comes close. If there is one thing that even Ellis’ detractors can agree on, is his rare ability to evoke and capture an era, even if it is largely negative.

Personally, though there are certainly a lot of problematic ideas and interpretations associated with post-modernism, would argue the necessity of a lot of its artistic “tools”, in reflecting our modern era. For a film or any piece of art to truly capture or reflect our modern culture, and still be critical of it, I cannot see how you could avoid or ignore elements of pastiche, collage and referencing. To ignore the intertextuality of the world that surrounds us is futile, even conversationally and in terms of connecting with each other, pop culture has taken the place of religion and ethnicity.

Of course, maybe it’s wishful thinking that any filmmaker could truly capture the insanity of Glamorama, or maybe we’ll have to wait several years down the road for some visionary to capture the work of another visionary. Film has a way of sometimes needing to catch up with fiction, and I’m not sure there exists a filmmaker who is insane or ambitious enough to tackle this pickle. Then again, American Psycho was made… and it’s a decent film.

Some inane questions:

  1. In an ideal world, who would you choose to adapt Glamorama?
  2. What film would you say is most reflective of our current way of life, at least in the sense of an epic poem… not only an accurate re-creation of our world, but one that embodies or even criticizes our values, etc. You can also set your own boundaries in terms of years, and location, if you so desire.

I read books too… Memories of My Melancholy Whores

I am not only a reader, but I am not a person who writes about what she reads. I maybe average three books a year if I am lucky and I never have any strong impulse to convey my feelings towards them in writing. Not necessarily because I am not moved by them, often it’s the opposite… I often struggle most with works of art that touch me deeply. Last year I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I loved both, and they quickly fell into the really tiny pool of books I consider very dear to my heart. Considering I was 2 for 2 last year, I wonder why I don’t read more. Maybe it’s because it’s not accurate to say I don’t read; I just don’t finish. I have a huge library of books, and I could not only the basic storyline of most, but comment on the author’s style or approach. I’ve touched on their contents, but never fully committed to them.

I wish I could say my New Years Resolution was that I should read more; I think it’s a beautiful way of escaping the world. And yet, I am too unconfident to make those kinds of Resolutions, the only one I set for myself this year was to be happy, which is probably the most impossible of impossibles. Despite all this, we are not even through January and I have not only started a book but I have finished one! Sure, it was short… barely even a novel, it’s a novella I think… but the point is, I finished a book!

I finished Memories of My Melancholy Whores hours ago, it was published in 2004 by acclaimed author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The basic storyline is, on his ninetieth birthday a man buys a night with a fourteen year old virgin in a brothel. What a scandal! The book is not as icky as it sounds, and though disturbing, it is never self-consciously so. It is not really the story that is the thrust of this book, but rather the various meditations and states of the protagonist, who seems at once completely satisfied with his life, while also filled with yearning for missed experiences and opportunities. The greatest of these is love, and though he has been sexually active and enthusiastic from his very early adolescence on, he feels as though he has never known love.

When he arrives in the small brothel room where he is to meet his virgin, he finds her naked, and fast asleep. At first he is disheartened and even attempts to stir her, but he soon resigns to the situation and finds incredible beauty in her serenity and innocence. The night passes, and by morning, she is still a virgin and he returns home. He asks for the girl again and again, only asking that this time she is without make-up, but every night repeats itself. He is not frustrated though, and soon creates this oddly beautiful romance within his mind between himself and this sleeping girl. He even decides that her power over him is so strong, that what he is feeling is finally love. His conviction that he is in love inspires great change in him, and is reflected in his work (as a columnist) and as an individual. At ninety, he makes a profound change in himself. His incredible happiness though, eventually turns to paranoia and worry, and he is torn apart by his affections. He experiences incredible jealousy, and also fear that he might encounter her when she is waking and lose everything that he has.

It is difficult to really look at what he has with this young girl as love, because in many ways it is not real. Then again, perhaps it is more real than many of my own relationships and friendships. Though never reciprocated, the element of touch and closeness is essential for him. It is uncomfortable only that it is unconventional, and breaks with many taboos relating to age and intimacy, but his experiences are so viscerally similar to that of love, and though the initial circumstances are morally questionable, they take on new meanings as the narrative progresses.

When the old man meets women from his past, there is a strong sense of nostalgia and camaraderie. There is a warmness that I find enviable, more enviable than the strength of his feelings of love. Yet, for him they are not as real or as true as his love for his sleeping beauty. Still, it is through his encounters with these women that he is at his most real, that we have the greatest feeling for what he is and why he is. He is a man who never marries, but is defined so completely by the women of his life. There is even something to be said about his insistence on paying women, as early on, he mentions that he cannot stand making love to a woman who he doesn’t pay. Even if she gives herself to him freely and refuses his money, he will make her accept some kind of payment. What of this? Is it a reflection of his loneliness, a fear of allowing himself to be seen as himself. Or is it a strange form of gratitude for brief moments of affection and being wanted, for he strikes me as a profoundly lonely man.

Marquez’s literally style is difficult to describe, perhaps because I lack any talents at describing styles of writing. It is effortless and bare, though the writing style reflects the mannered intellectualisms of it’s protagonist, it is also smooth and easy to read. There is something so unconsciously passionate and simple in its self-consciousness. As if the character narrating is so completely self-aware of whom he is, but is only aware of a false image of himself. The writing is at once humble and self-indulgent, and is always viscerally visual. It is all so very spare, but every word, and every sentence seems essential and loaded with meaning and nuance. You truly feel the weight of a man who has lived for nearly a century, for all his weaknesses and naiveté. As it is a book that can easily be read in a single sitting (it only took me two), I can recommend it without feeling guilty that you might hate it, though I doubt anyone would (unless you are an Iranian conservative politician).


Also, while looking for a nice image for this post, I stumbled upon this pretty awesome website; The Book Cover Archive. It is not only a beautifully designed website, but features a variety of information on book covers, while also featuring a huge amount of images and designs. As someone who always judges a book by it’s cover, I find it infinitely fascinating, even just to browse aimlessly. A few favourites I came across;

From the Page


An pertinent excerpt from my current novel, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover

So they had given the gift of themselves, each to the youth with whom she had the most subtle and intimate arguments. The arguments, the discussions were the great thing: the love-making and connexion were only a sort of primitive reversion and a bit of an anti-climax. One was less in love with the boy afterwards, and a little inclined to hate him, as if he had trespassed on one’s privacy and inner freedom. For, of course, being a girl, one’s whole dignity and meaning in life consisted in the achievement of an absolute, a perfect, a pure and noble freedom. What else did a girl’s life mean? To shake off the old and sordid connexions and subjections.

Tell me about your favourite novels about D.H. Lawrence and your favourite adaptations of his work. I’m very interested in exploring his writing and the films that spurred from it more thoroughly.


Album of the Week: New Skin for Old Ceremony, Leonard Cohen

I’ve always liked Leonard Cohen. Being a fellow Montrealer, for a long time I liked him just “because”. Then when I started expanding my music taste in my teens, I’d be listening to Jeff Buckley and notice that the song had been written by none other than Mr. Cohen. Then in my last year of high school, I remember a teacher asking us to write a short essay on the following question: “Is Margaret Atwood Canada’s greatest writer”. No offence to Atwood, but I’ve never liked her prose, especially not in poetry (though I do enjoy Alias Grace)… so I argued that she wasn’t, even though I personally had a difficult time finding an alternative. I suggested both Roch Carrier and Mordecai Richler, because I felt that their work represented a far more vast representation of the “Canadian experience”. Looking back, I think selfishly, I clung to them as compatriots who shared my experience. Though Carrier was not born in Montreal, his writing on the lives of the Quebecois always felt more at home than anything that Atwood had written. There was also a sort of sentimental attachment to his children’s story, The Hockey Sweater, that was a staple for most Canadian childhoods, mine included. I’m also sure, Richler’s own children’s books played a big part in my appreciation for his work. I never suggested Cohen, though, I think if I were to go back, he would be my choice, no questions asked.

Earlier this year, I started listening to his music. I got my hands on his entire discography, and almost listened to it album cover to album cover. I was simply blown away, beyond a simple reflection of the so-called “Canadian experience”, which is still elusive as Canadians don’t seem to agree on who they are, it was a profound exploration of human relationships. With his songs he transcends any kind of nationalistic pride, or attainability. They simply exist, an often mournful cry for companionship and understanding, with brief, but full portraits of happiness and love. Though there are a few songs I’m not particularly fond of, every single album has at least a handful of songs that are able to touch or excite me in some way.

Though, it changes on almost a day to day basis, today I’ve settled upon “New Skin for the Old Ceremony”, as my favourite of his albums. There are personal reasons involved, as several of these songs remind me of people I care about, but also have served as inspiration for some of my recent work that I’m proud of (a rare feat indeed). Two songs in particular that never fail to move me are “Take this Longing” and “I Tried to Leave You“. Both are bittersweet, the first about an encounter between two lovers, possibly for the last time. While the other, about someone who can’t seem to leave, the reasoning is almost painfully obvious, but I don’t think love is ever obvious, which makes it so tragic. His songs all seem to have a natural appreciation and I’d even say, understanding, of women. Though most of his work seems to be about the struggle of human interaction, he has a unique sense of the individual. Even when a character or person seems elusive, there is always a marvel or magic to them, that reminds me of life in a wonderful way. I know my mother doesn’t really like Cohen because she finds his work depressing and, she is even known to say “Listening to him is enough to drive anyone to suicide”. Though I can’t deny the aching heartbreak and confusion that seems to pervade his work, something about it is calming and hopeful. I think in a lot of his work, even what we understand as “simple” emotions like happiness or sadness is complicated by unease and insecurity, and I relate to that in a way that makes me feel a lot better about the world around me.

This entry, more than anything else, was spurred by my reading of his novel “Beautiful Losers”. I’m almost finished, and it’s been a very long time, if not a lifetime since I’ve been so excited and moved by a novel. Experimental and raw, it is still very reflective and calculated. For a moment it reminds me of the work of the beat poets, especially Kerouac’s On the Road, but subdued and more introspective. It’s an exploration of relationships and interaction, history and the self. It typifies Canadian literature, without being obvious or clear. It’s a search for identity, and warmth. The protagonist working to survive each day, his best friend F living a life too big for any man is crushed by his own spirit and the unnamed narrator’s wife, who is doomed from the onset, unable to connect with a world that has already cut her short. Wildly explorative, sensual and experimental, the book is one of those rare pieces of art that seems to hit a stride of consciousness that replicates the logic of thoughts and dreams. It’s just free. Assuming I like it as much once I finish it (just a few more pages to go!), it might very well be my favourite novel.

That’s all I have to say about Leonard Cohen for now, I also just want to mention another Canadian song writing great I’ve been listening to a lot lately, Gordon Lightfoot. Take a listen.