James Franco Reviews ‘The Great Gatsby’ Movie
The challenge Baz Luhrmann had in adapting The Great Gatsby to film was similar to what Walter Salles faced with On the Road: how to stay loyal to the era depicted, while still retaining the rawness of the original text. Salles did a great job of capturing the ambiance of 1950s America, but it could be argued that his Dean and Sal didn’t have enough zeal—enough of that desire to live, live, live.
The old saying is that a good book makes a bad film, while a paperback potboiler like The Godfather makes a great film. But this wisdom is derived from the idea that a good book is made by the writing, and if it’s adapted into whatever, its magic is lost. As just about every (film) critique has already noted—and they’re right, if repetitive—most of what makes The Great Gatsby great is Fitzgerald’s prose. We allow the classics to get away with so much because we love the characters. But when older stories are revived for film, the issue of the past and present must be rectified. But that lack was not a function of anything missing in the actors or the general direction as much as it is a result of the passage of time, the encasing of a book in the precious container of “classic” status.
Anton Chekhov Versus Jeffrey Dahmer
Long considered one of the forefathers of the contemporary short story, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) has continued for more than a century to be held up as an example of how to tell a human tale. There is perhaps no larger precursor for realistic short fiction in its most popular form: clearly stated, socially involved narrative displays that set out to objectively mimic human life. I can certainly tell you that more than a few times while studying fiction as an MFA student, Chekhov was passed on like some holy washcloth everyone should rub their faces on.
You might also be familiar with Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994), who raped and murdered 17 known male victims over a period of 13 years. Made most infamous for his proclivity to store or cook and eat parts of his victims’ bodies, Dahmer remains one of the most unnerving of all repeat killers, despite his oddly calm and mechanically regretful outward demeanor. I can’t remember ever having a teacher mention Dahmer as someone I should use as a model for good art.
And yet, somehow in my mind these two keep crossing paths. I find I can’t help myself from thinking about Dahmer every time I hear someone mention Chekhov, like a lurking shadow in my spirit. I can’t help but want to draw them out, to put them together in a cage and watch their brains bump. Finally, the other day I started culling quotes from both and began to find weird intersections between their thoughts. Below I’ve pitted some of each against each other, and tried to make sense of the wide gap between the two.
I realize this likely means I will never be allowed to teach collegiate fiction.
CHEKHOV: “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.”
DAHMER (of his first victim): ”I, uh, didn’t know how else to keep him there other than to get the barbell and hit him, over the head, which I did, and then strangled him with the same barbell.”
If I could point to one artist’s quote that has done the most damage to keeping things interesting, it’s Chekhov’s faux-ominous gun. Besides the fact that it completely discounts the concept of mystery or aura, what it really means to me is Chekhov imagined his audience as too stupid or bored to appreciate anything that doesn’t go boom, kind of like a 19th century Russian take on Michael Bay. A gun is a gun and a face is a face and death is death. There’s no need to pretend just because we’re in a novel or a movie that everything you see has hidden purpose, or can’t be beautiful without application to the human.
Over the next month, in celebration of the forthcoming release of Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, we will be featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like “Taipei fashion,” “Taipei carbs,” “Taipei babies,” and “Taipei animals,” among others. The images were taken between January and February 2013 during one of his semiannual visits to the Taiwanese capital, where his parents live.
This week’s photos are named after a term* in Taiwan, which Tao’s mom says she first heard on TV, for people who seem unable to stop looking at their phones while in public.
All photos and captions by Tao Lin.
*literal translation from Mandarin is something like “head-lowered [‘group’ or ‘troupe’].”
Taipei will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now. To read an early excerpt from the novel that we published in 2011 titled “Relationship Story,” click here.
This woman is staring at her Samsung Galaxy thinking, What am I trying to look at? what is my finger wanting to push? The screen is black.
The teenager with white shoes is trying to convince himself that no one can see what he’s looking at and that, even if they could, he shouldn’t feel embarrassed, or whatever, because he’s only, at the moment, looking at his Gmail account. The man in the red-striped shirt is trying to cancel his Boingo account for what must be, he thinks, the 20th time, or something insane like that, in probably not even a full year.
This man is rereading an article titled “CNET Asia’s Top 10 phones.” His LG Optimus G is ranked number seven. He doesn’t know how he feels about this. Being worse than six phones, on a list of ten phones, seems bad, but being listed at all—how many phones are there? hundreds? thousands?—seems good.
This woman thinks Anne Frank’s diary is pornographic. Is she the cry-baby on the week?
An Interview with Harmony Korine
In 1998, shortly after his feature-length directorial debut, Gummo, Harmony Korine published a novel called A Crackup at the Race Riots. The book is built from an insane collage of images and thoughts, including lists of ideas for movies, titles for novels, suicide notes, joke routines, celebrity rumors, and strange short scenes and dialogues involving rapists, amputees, dogs, vaudeville performers, and manic-depressives. Like all of Korine’s work, it is a rare collision of fun, fucked, funny, sad, and bizarre—the kind of thing you pick up every so often just to buzz your brain. For years the book has been out of print, fetching prices upward of $300 used online, until recently when it was repackaged and rereleased by Drag City. Harmony was kind enough to get on the phone with me and talk about the making of the book.
VICE: The first thing the reader sees when they open A Crackup at the Race Riots is a picture of MC Hammer at age 11. Why did you decide to start the book that way?
Harmony Korine: At the time I was doing a lot of narcotics. I remember basically the process was that I would hear things, or I would see things… I would hear somebody walking down the street, and maybe they’d say something interesting, and I’d put it on a piece of paper. Or I would see a pair of socks hanging from a telephone pole with a Star of David on the ankle, and I would just write that. Or whatever… I’d see someone juggling some toilet paper, and I would describe that. And then I would see a picture of MC Hammer at age 11, and I would just think maybe it all kind of came from his imagination.
The book is a thought in MC Hammer’s mind?
Well, it could be. Like most things in life, it could be. [laughs]
So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you basically started acquiring bits and pieces and then just let them fall as they may on the paper, in the order you found them?
Not exactly. What happened was I would just write everything down. I’d write things in crayon or on the side of the wall in my apartment, or on a typewriter or whatever. You would just see things, you know… cut them out of books. I might hear something really crazy that somebody said on a city bus, like somebody might be spewing some kind of crazy racial rant, and then I’d go back home and write that down, and then I would just look at it for a while, and I would imagine, like, What if it wasn’t that guy on the bus? What if Harrison Ford said that? What if I was actually riding a horse or something, and Harrison Ford was riding a horse, and we were riding somewhere, we could even be racing, and what if he just turned to me, and he said that same exact thing that I just heard? And I was like, Whoa! The context completely changed the humor. That’s basically what the book is. I started thinking about it like that, and there started to be these thematic connections in that way, and after I had amassed all of these fragments, these tripped-out, micro narco blurts, I went back and recontextualized them into something that was closer to a novel, or closer to a novel idea.
Over the next two months, in celebration of the forthcoming release of Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, we will be featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like “Taipei funny,” “Taipei food,” Taipei babies,” and “Taipei animals,” among others. The images were taken between January and February 2013 during one of his semi-yearly visits to the Taiwanese capital, where his parents live. This first selection is titled “Taipei babies.” All photos and captions by Tao Lin.
Taipei, will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now. To read an early excerpt from the novel that we published in 2011 titled “Relationship Story,” click here.
100 Literary Rumors
I don’t know what you’ve heard but I’ve heard a lot of shit. People whispering in hallways and Gmail chatting about all kinds of dark secrets. People up in parties with their coat and hair all looking nice and their mouth just full of you wouldn’t even want to know. I’ll tell you anyway.
Lydia Davis can’t stand the sight of children wearing bike helmets.
Richard Brautigan never crossed state lines except on foot.
Jack London loved braiding men’s hair.
Matthew Rohrer claims to have never been inside or seen an ad for Chili’s.
Jack Kerouac was addicted to licking stamps.
Jhumpa Lahiri has collected more than 200 personally autographed headshots of Al Pacino.
“’Wow, cool sky!’” was the original first sentence of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
Gertrude Stein was on the payroll of the New York Mets.
Virginia Woolf passed the bar exam in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.
T.C. Boyle ghostwrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire.
Gordon Lish religiously eats at the Applebee’s on Times Square on the 13th and 18th of every month.
Michiko Kakutani‘s Gmail password is wolfdickfourteen.
Barry Hannah hated the sight of charcoal.
Gary Lutz has beaten Mike Tyson’s Punch Out more than 400 times.
From ages eight to 18, Ann Beattie earnestly believed she was born wrapped in a shower curtain.
Dave Eggers bathes in almond milk every Sunday and video records it.
Thomas Bernhard hated the color blue until the creation of Cookie Monster.
Angela Carter had an erotic fixation on pumping gas.
The wallpaper on Mary Jo Bang’s laptop is a photograph of Rod Stewart holding a baby up to the sun.
George Orwell wore a cock ring 24/7.
Andre Breton lost tens of thousands of dollars due to his inability to remember a flush beats a straight.
Marco Roth believes people who drive white cars are innately selfish by definition.
Samuel Beckett lost every game of chess he ever played by eventually conceding.
Karen Russell owns an original audio recording of Carmelo Anthony reading Gravity’s Rainbow aloud from beginning to end.
Joyelle McSweeney once threw a football so hard she burst all the veins in her right arm and had to have the arm surgically replaced with a fake.
Paul Auster has responded to over 8,000 missed connections ads on craigslist under various pseudonyms.
Though he can see fine, Michael Martone prefers to read in Braille.
Ron Silliman started a Kickstarter campaign under a pseudonym attempting to raise funds to buy the RZA’s childhood home.
Italo Calvino peed sitting down.
The Richard Hell Interview
Richard Hell—legendary punk rock iconoclast, intrepid novelist, poet, and now memoirist—is lounging on his couch in the cozy East Village pad he’s called home since 19 fucking 75. Considering how brutally forthcoming Richard is about his drug use in his new autobiography I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (“Thirty years later, I still have the scars on my left forearm”), it’s a surprise that he looks significanty younger than his 63 years. His litany of feats since he escaped to New York are a total mind-blow.
In Tramp, Hell vividly recounts his gun-toting cowboy dreams as a young miscreant and his rabble-rousing school-dropout years before hitting New York City and altering its landscape. He helped create the punk template with a fuck you attitude, birthed anarchic style with tattered, thrift-store threads, botched hairstyles that Malcolm McLaren later swiped for the Sex Pistols, started Television with Tom Verlaine, put CBGB and Max’s Kansas City on the punk rock map, wrote era-defining tunes like “Blank Generation” with his band the Voidoids, survived life as a junkie, and penned Burroughs-level dirty sex ‘n’ track-marked novels and poetry.
Hell’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp is epic badassness. He hides little about his life’s trajectory and his disdain for Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, his undying love for Dee Dee Ramone and Bob Quine, the drugs, the music, and the debauchery. Just don’t ask him about being Jewish and what he thought of Marquee Moon. He’d much rather talk about his dick.
VICE: When did you start writing I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp?
Richard Hell: Right after my last novel (Godlike) came out in 2006. It’s been a long haul. But I did a bunch of things—other projects—as I was doing it, too. Still, it was a slog. It’s twice as long as anything I’ve written before. And also more confusing. It gets delicate to write about yourself [laughs].
I assume it’s much easier to write fiction.
Yeah, yeah. It’s easier to write fiction. You’re right. But it was a long process figuring out what to keep and what not to keep. Things are coming back to me that I forgot to mention [laughs]. Still, it hits you when you’re working on a book like that, that it will be easy enough to spend 600 pages describing one day.
But you kept journals over the years. Did those help in putting the book together?
I did, yeah, but I was never really systematic about it. They were really useful. But it’s not as if I could wonder what I was doing some month from looking at my journals. I’d go three months without writing anything in there and then just open it up and just write a page. But they were helpful. They did nail down dates and did also just show me exactly what was going on in my head.
When you started writing Tramp, was the book already bought?
Oh, I never do that. I’ll write the book, then I’ll go look for a publisher.
So, there weren’t any publishers on your ass to write an autobiography?
Are you kidding me? Noooo! In fact, I was turned down by probably about six or seven publishers. There were basically two offers. The book was in sloppier shape then. I did send it out because I was so tired of working on it. I really OD’d on it. I was nauseated and I just wanted to find a publisher—just to get a little charge goin’, ya know? [laughs]. But I got the ideal publisher for it, and it worked out great. No regrets, really.
Did you plan on Tramp being your next project after you were done with Godlike?
No, I had to figure that out. I thought writing Tramp was gonna be easy in comparison because I figured I had the… narrative… so that solves a lot of problems. Then I’d just try to figure out how to write good sentences. It sure turned out to be a lot more complicated. I kept getting turned around and all the fuckin’ internal turmoil figuring how to regard my own self… I mean, that’s really confusing.
Did you feel like by writing the book, you were penning a de facto obituary?
No, it’s nothing like an obituary. An obituary is just a really flattering curriculum vitae. That wasn’t the issue.
When you were writing the book, were you cognizant about other musicians writing memoirs, like Patti Smith (Just Kids) and Keith Richards (Life)…
I can’t see this interview in VICE magazine.
Why? OK, I’ll ask you some more provocative questions [laughs].
Yeah, you’re supposed to ask me about my dick or something.
Yeah, you’re right. Who’d you bang?
Zanesville – New Fiction by Nathaniel Rich
Illustrations by Conor Nolan
Nathaniel Rich is 32 years old, and he’s written and accomplished more than you will if you live to be 100. His novel The Mayor’s Tongue, published a few years after he graduated from college, was praised by the New YorkTimes and everyone else who’s not illiterate, and it earned him comparisons to a young Paul Auster. Nathaniel’s new novel, Odds Against Tomorrow, comes out in April from Farrar, Straus and Giroux and will no doubt earn him similar praise. On the side, he’s also worked as an editor at the Paris Review and cranked out brilliant essays and journalism for the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and… well, you get the idea. He was inspired to write “Zanesville” after hearing the real-life tale of Terry Thompson, who killed himself a few years ago after releasing 56 tigers, bears, lions, wolves, leopards, and monkeys from the animal refuge he ran in Ohio. All names and details in Nathaniel’s short story, however, are entirely fictional. (Except for the bit about the monkey having a nasty case of herpes. That’s totally true.) “Zanesville” is Nathaniel’s first story for VICE.
If only Roger had bought the rabbit. Harriet had already picked one out, a mangy albino with red eyes like embers, but her heart wasn’t in it. Harriet’s heart wasn’t in anything, really, not since her visit to Dr. Doom. She said she had chosen the albino rabbit because it seemed like the saddest one. But all of them seemed sad to Roger. Not just the rabbits—every animal that wheezed and shrieked and rattled its cage at WeLuvPets!: the black-eyed ferret, who looked like he’d been socked in a bar fight; the degu trailing his long skinny tail like a strand of saliva; and especially the hedgehog, worrying a crumpled ball of newspaper until he fell sideways, panting from exhaustion, his quivers trembling in panic.
Between the incessant screeching of the cockatiels (“Help!” they yelled. “Help-help-help-HELP-HELP-HELLLLLP!”) and the odor—a soupy miasma of damp fur, urine-soaked hay, and formaldehyde deodorizers—Roger could feel a full-blown migraine coming on. A dark hand gripped his brain stem and began to squeeze. He handed Harriet his credit card and told her she could choose whatever damn rabbit she wanted. He’d be waiting outside by their bikes.
But on his way out he was distracted at the cash register by a pair of gleaming eyes. They stared from a glossy brochure, Exotic Pets 4 Sale. He recognized those eyes. He had seen them before, a decade earlier, during the war—it must have been somewhere in Quảng Trị province. His platoon had set up an ambush in a dense thicket of acacia and evergreen. He remembered the heat most vividly; he would never forget that, the sun much closer to the earth than it ever got in the States. Also the obsessive humidity, the weight of his jungle boots, the exuberant sucking of the mud, the mysterious fringe of yellow crust that formed on his neck where his steel helmet touched his skin. And he remembered that he had been lying under his thatch cover for nearly five hours, trying not to flinch too violently every time a blood-brown leafhopper flew into his mouth, when he’d felt a tug on his left boot. He turned, expecting to find Collins or one of the others, but he could only make out a bulky shadow advancing through the blackness like a floating blanket. There followed a loud, anguished scream. Roger and the other men, forgetting their training, leaped wildly from their positions, just in time to see a 400-pound cat dragging Collins by his ankle across the forest carpet.
The tiger, surrounded by the adrenalized soldiers, made an easy target. Its flank was perforated by approximately 80 rounds of ammunition. Collins escaped with only several light lacerations along his calves. The men dragged their trophy through the high grass to their next position. The Hueys weren’t scheduled to retrieve them for another 48 hours, however, and they worried that in the jungle heat the animal would rot. One of them had mentioned that tannic acid, which was used for curing deer hides, was present in urine. Two days later, back at camp, the five marines posed for grinning photographs next to the piss-pickled carcass.
Roger found Harriet at the register with Bunnicula and a five-pound sack of alfalfa.
“Honey,” he said, and Harriet looked up abruptly because he never called her that anymore. “I got a different idea.”
Trip Report: I Went to Lit… Sober!
This is not a picture of me at Lit. There are no pictures of me at Lit. People don’t take pictures of you when you’re boring. Photo by Nick Gazin
The Lit Lounge, if you aren’t from New York, is a leering black hole from which few memories escape intact. If the standard, workaday memory is already 50 percent confabulation, the average Lit memory is about eight frames of reality cobbled together by stains, visible regret, and thick strands of ropey vomit. It is not a bar for the light of weight, or early of work hours. Or the sober.
Having come off a bit of an excessive weekend/week/several weeks, I’ve decided to take it easy for a little while and let my body rebuild. Please though, I’m no hero. There are literally millions of boring humans on this planet whose boring lives do not require them to stew their livers and sinus cavities in a caustic broth of various poisons on a semi-nightly basis. They simply come home from work, pop in a House DVD for a few hours, then take their clothes and shoes off before they go to bed.
I’ve been more than happy to play tourist in this quaint little lifestyle for the past few days, but before my jaunt through sobriety I’d promised a friend of mine I would DJ this week with him at Lit. Before I could bail he put my name on a flyer, so by law I had to go. Again, I appreciate the sympathy, but there are literally hundreds of people who had to call their “drinking days” to an early end and still somehow manage to enjoy the festive camaraderie of barlife without a single sip of alcohol. I would merely be walking a few hours’ length in their arrow-straight footsteps. And besides, how eye-opening would it be to observe such a familiar social setting in the exact opposite state of mind as its participants? I mean that’s the whole reason we take acid, isn’t it?
Also not me. Photo by Nick Gazin
Here is how my “evening” went:
10:00 - Got in and ordered a club soda. Ordering a club soda means one of two things to a bartender: You are fighting against God’s will to quell a tidal wave of rising barf, or you are a former alcoholic. I don’t know which category they think I fall into because when I said “thanks” a burp came up and it sounded like “thaaaUNGHx.”
10:12 - People are just starting to fill in here and are probably on only their second or third drink. Every conversation I can hear sounds pretty articulate. There’s one short guy at the end of the bar who looks sort of like Charlie Day, same build too. He’s talking to the bartender. This is all normal stuff.
10:15 - Talking to two guys about conventional business, shit that happened during our day, Smiths lyrics, recent movies. One of them has a slight slur going, but this doesn’t put him at any perceptible advantage or disadvantage in the trialogue. He’s holding his own just fine. More importantly, neither of the two has sussed me out as sober.
10:20 to 11:10 - Time to DJ. I’d mistakenly thought this would be easier to do sober than wasted, but it was actually kind of nerve-racking. A lot of people will try to tell you various things that DJing “is,” like an art or important, but all of what DJing IS is playing songs that don’t make people throw glasses at you. That said, some of what DJing is is fucking up the volume or starting a new song too quickly (or at least when I do it) and some other of what DJing is is not giving a shit when that happens. Booze helps with this. At least it does when you’re a nervous pygmy shrew of a man who wears his regrets and embarrassments like a tween girl’s charm bracelet. Sorry if the gain was up too high on the Singaporean version of “Funny Funny.”
11:12 - The next DJ told me she “Really liked my set.” This seems suspicious.
11:15 - Bummed a cigarette to a British girl who liked the pin on my coat. Then we talked about what part of Brooklyn we’re each from, then how shitty it would be to have to be in a war, then how much worse it would have been to be in a war 500 years ago. Then the conversation was done and we stopped talking until we each went in. There was literally no more to say. I think she knew I wasn’t drunk.
11:20 - I had no clue the bathrooms here smelled like this. Someone should say something.