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).

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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;

A Poem by Irving Layton

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INSOMNIA
After the bath
you lay on the bed
exposing layers
of beautiful washed skin
we both stared at in surprise;
long strands of hair, shiny and damp
under the yellow sunlight,
fell over your shoulders:
they made two exclamation marks
with your stiffened nipples.

And gently you fell asleep
at my side;
while I, my sweet, stayed awake
all night
who had your uncovered beauty
to think about,
your nipples troubling me
in the night
like two mysterious asterisks.

From the Page

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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.

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