Christopher Isherwood and His Twink: How to Date a Gay Novelist Who Is Older Than Your Dad
When I was 25, I moved to Berlin with a beat-up copy of Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories tucked in my bag. Like many hobosexuals and fagabonds before me, I considered the book a lodestone, a guide to transmuting aimless searching and polymorphous desire into meaningful experiences. So when I heard that Farrar, Straus, and Giroux was releasing The Animals,a collection of the letters of Isherwood and his longtime lover, artist Don Bachardy, I knew I had to read it.
Bachardy met Isherwood when he was 18 and Isherwood was 48 (a year older than Bachardy’s own father). Despite the age difference, the couple spent the next 33 years together. Though love affairs and artistic exploits frequently sent them ricocheting around the world, they maintained a deep and unbreakable connection. They expressed this affection (and frustration) through “the Animals,” personae the two adopted in their letters. Bachardy acted as Kitty and Isherwood called himself Dobbin, Kitty’s faithful horse.
Bachardy, now 80, still lives in the house the couple shared in Santa Monica. Shaking with faggoty fan boy excitement, I called Bachardy to discuss The Animals and what it’s like dating a famous old man who was older than his dad.
VICE: How did your letters become a book?
Don Bachardy: It was my idea. I’d saved all of Chris’s letters, and after his death, I found that he’d saved all of mine. Reading through them just made me think the material was too good not to share it with others. There’s almost nothing, no letter in the book, that is missing, except one, though I can’t remember now where in the sequence it is.
Did you ever discuss publishing something like this with Chris before he died?
No, no, no. And the animals at the time would have been horrified at the suggestion that they would ever be revealed and their letters [would be] published in a book. They would have been quite shocked by such an idea.
What changed your thinking?
I came across both sets of letters and it was very strange reading them again, but interesting too. There were even some laughs in the material, our attempts to entertain each other. There were things I would have liked to have changed—would have changed if I could—but then it’s always a mistake to tamper with any mementos of the past.
Introducing the 2014 Fiction Issue
This summer’s fiction issue is themed around movies—”Hollywood,” Clancy Martin says. We shared an intuition that a lot of the most interesting writing being done today is being done for movies and TV. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that we watch a lot of movies. So we made a long list of our favorite movies and looked up the writers who worked on them, and we harassed them and their agents and their publicists for months. We started with a really long pitch letter, but we learned that in LA it’s proper etiquette to write three-word-long emails. We tried to romance them by inviting them to dinner at the Chateau Marmont. An interesting thing about the writers in this issue—David Mamet, Michel Gondry, Louis Mellis, Alec Sokolow, John Romano, Merrill Markoe, Kevin McEnroe—is that none of them gave a damn about what we could pay. In fact not one of them even brought it up. So maybe one lesson of this issue is, if you want to be a writer and not have to scramble for every dollar, the old maxim holds true: Go to LA.
But back to movies. Here’s what we like about movies: They have stories. They are entertaining. The dialogue is simple. We were watching Searching for Bobby Fisher last night at the hotel in Chennai. William H. Macy says, “It’s just a game.” He’s the father of a seven-year-old chess player talking to another father, and we know that what he means is, “I’d like to rip your head off and s**t down your throat.” Similarly, just a few nights ago we were watching The Shining, and the actor who plays the manager of the Overlook Hotel describes the murders to Jack Nicholson during the job interview. He says, “I can’t believe it happened here, but it did,” and all three of the men in the room somehow already understand that it’s going to happen again. Because of the genius of actors and directors, there’s so much you can do—as a writer—with a line of dialogue that you just can’t do in other forms of writing. But all this is covered in an interview with Robert McKee—Alec Sokolow (Toy Story) makes McKee work through his theories, and Tony Camin, possibly stoned, asks McKee the tough questions, e.g., “Wasn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit the third in the trilogy ofChinatown?” There are also a few pages of Nabokov’s screenplay version of Lolita with notes in his hand, masterfully introduced by Blake Bailey, and a story by Thomas Gebremedhin that evokes Santa Monica like no other fiction we’ve read (and ought to be a movie).
Anyway, we asked Steph Gillies and Debbie Smith to art-direct again, and again they knocked it out of the park, with work by Richard Phillips, Martin Parr, and others. We also have some work by traditional (i.e., non-movie), LA-based writers about LA, and a story about Lindsay Lohan by James Franco, and fiction by Emily McLaughlin and Benjamin Nugent.
Pick up a free copy of our fiction issue anywhere VICE is distributed, but those go quickly, so subscribe to make sure you get a copy every month. You can do that here. If you’ve got yourself an iPad, download our free app for even more pictures, extended video footage, and special extras.
Bungalow 89 – A Short Story by James Franco About Not Sleeping with Lindsay Lohan
I was in Bungalow 89 of the Chateau Marmont, the old hotel where the stars stay. The hotel is tucked behind a wall, off Sunset Boulevard, just west of Laurel Canyon, right in the heart of Hollywood. Bungalow 89 is in the cottage area, apart from the main building, where the pool is. It was dusk.
Bungalow 89 is not famous like Bungalow 3 (Belushi) or Bungalow 2 (Rebel Without a Cause). It is only famous in my own mind, because it’s where I first met Gus Van Sant, and because I have been living in it for the past nine months while they do repairs on my house. When I met Gus here, he sat in the comfy chair in the living room and played a little red guitar and talked to me. It was back when he was casting the supporting roles for his film about Kurt Cobain’s last days alive. The role he liked me for eventually went to Lukas Haas, the kid from Witness, with Harrison Ford. Haas was one of the original members of the Pussy Posse, the group centered on the young Leo DiCaprio, back in the 90s, post-Titanic and pre-Scorsese.
Lukas Haas had a gay sex scene in Gus’s film. It was with Scott Green, the guy who talks about having to fuck a guy with a big cock in the Chinese-café scene in My Own Private Idaho. His monologue was probably based on at least some reality; he had helped River Phoenix do research for his young-hustler role in the same film. Which reminds me of a story Gus later told me about River in Portland, during preproduction. River was pulled over by the cops for wearing jeans with a hole in the front so big that his dick hung out.
There was a Hollywood girl staying at Chateau Marmont. She had gotten a key to my room from the manager. I heard her put the key into my front door and turn it, but I had slid the dead bolt and that thing—I don’t know what you call it; it’s like a chain but made of two bars—that kept the door from opening.
She said, “James, open the door.”
Across the room was a picture of a boy dressed as a sailor with a red sailor cap, and except for his blondish hair (closer to my brother’s color) he looked like me.
She said, “Open the door, you bookworm punk blogger faggot.”
Anyway, you’re all probably thinking, “What kind of fucking story is this? What happened to Maury from the beginning? This is all over the place. He’s just throwing a bunch of his grad school applications and some random tidbits together because he procrastinated and he doesn’t have a story. And you know what? I hate all those stupid literary references, they’re fucking annoying and stupid, they’re just his way of bragging about the books he’s read, well, you know, what James, who gives a fuck? We’ve all read them. And it’s not like you use them in any analytical way, you just cite little pieces of gossip. Wow! So impressive.” Well shit, ok, ok, maybe, maybe my references are just a way of bragging. Not like I haven’t heard every other author brag about his childhood reading lists from Nabokov to William Saroyan to Harold Bloom who all claim to have read shit like Schopenhauer when they were five. And I can’t believe that I brought up Harold Bloom, he’s the pseudo-intellectual’s favorite reference, popular criticism, whatever, he’s a genius, blah, blah, blah, anxiety of influence. And, yeah, maybe I am writing this last minute, but I’ve had a lot to do! I went to Boston this weekend for an old high-school buddy’s wedding, and then I stopped off in Iowa to look at the writing program. I’m trying to get into grad school, OK? I’m busy!
Read James Franco’s latest piece for VICE, Paying for Paying for It
P/T editor position available. Details HERE
If you’re a writer in New York you should do this!
I Have Voluntary Tourette’s (and Am Insane)
It seems like just yesterday when Blake Butler, all doe-eyed and full of weird collections of words, began writing for us on a weekly basis. Over time, what started as a regular space for him to write about literature morphed into something bigger. During the last couple of years Blake has branched out to explore topics as diverse as the horrors and wonders of a Wendy’s Pretzel Burger to thedusty rumors of literary giants to interviews with both emerging and established authors. This is Blake’s 100th post for VICE.com, and to mark the occasion he told us he wanted to write “something more personal” than his usual fare. In that spirit, he sent us the below peek inside his brain.
I have long been a creature of habit and repetition. The more any day feels exactly like the one before it, the more comfortable I am, and the more productive I become in whatever I happen to be working on. At the same time, I hate planning. I never know what I want to do until just before I do it. Plans—even fun ones like having dinner or watching a movie with someone at the house—seem designed to disrupt my concentration. As uptight as this might make me sound, on the outside I feel I’m generally easygoing, even at times when my insides are all screaming.
This daily masking of discomfort has instilled in my person an odd habit of regular stress relief in the form what I’ve come to think of as “Voluntary Tourette’s.” In other words, I make repeating patterns of private sounds that I don’t necessarily have to make the way someone with actual Tourette’s literally can’t control, but that I perform now throughout the day with such regularity that it seems like I can’t stop, or at least haven’t stopped for over a decade. For the most part I can keep myself from doing these things in front of others, though after a few days in the same room as someone I’m on a trip with or whatever they start leaking out, slowly opening into my regular manners of conversation.
"Thank You" – New Fiction by Alejandro Zambra
Alejandro Zambra is one of our favorite living writers. His first book, Bonsai, won the Chilean Critics’ Award for Best Novel of the Year in 2006. We first read his work when Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Ways of Going Home in 2013. What distinguishes Alejandro from his contemporaries is the sweetness and intimacy of his writing, and his confidence in letting himself be as he is. As you read his work, there’s never the impression that he is second-guessing himself, thinking, “So-and-so would do it this way,” or “Such-and-such editor would say that.” He exhibits this remarkable confidence on the page, one that allows him to be himself and to speak, a special kind of generosity. It feels like knowing and speaking to a sweetheart—it never feels like he’s an author who pretends, or tries to teach, or falls into egotistical traps. Flaws in writing often come from flaws in character. Alejandro doesn’t seem to have any of those. He’s just a lovely, special, strange person who seems to look at his actual world and describe it in his actual, natural voice, and he leaves it at that. He has the authority that J. M. Coetzee, V. S. Naipaul, and Bret Easton Ellis have all identified as the writer’s bedrock.
“I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”—“No we’re not,” they answer in unison, and it’s the truth: for a little over a month now they’ve been sleeping together, they eat, read, and work together, so that someone with a tendency to exaggerate, someone who watched them and carefully parsed the words they say to each other, the way their bodies move closer to each other and entwine—a brash person, someone who still believed in these sorts of things, would say they really loved each other, or that at least they shared a dangerous and generous passion; and yet they are not together, if there is one thing they are very clear about it is precisely this, that they are not together. She is Argentine and he’s Chilean, and it’s much better to refer to them like that, the Argentine woman, the Chilean man.
They’d planned on walking, they’d talked about how nice it is to go long distances on foot, and they even reached the point where they were dividing people into two groups: those who never walk long distances and those who do, and who they believe are, because of that, better. They’d planned on walking, but on a whim they hailed a taxi, and they had known for months, even before they’d arrived in Mexico City, when they’d received a set of instructions that was full of warnings, that they should never hail a taxi in the street, and up till then it had never occurred to them to hail a taxi in the street, but this time, on a whim, they did it, and soon she thought the driver was going the wrong way and she said as much to the Chilean in a whispered voice, and he reassured her out loud, but his words didn’t even get to take effect because right away the taxi stopped and two men got in and the Chilean reacted valiantly, recklessly, confusedly, childishly, stupidly: he punched one of the bandits in the nose, and he went on struggling for long seconds while she shouted, Stop it, stop it, stop it. The Chilean stopped, and the bandits let him have it, they showed him no mercy, they may have even broken something, but this all happened long ago, a good ten minutes ago. By now they’ve already given up their money and their credit cards and they’ve already recited their ATM PIN numbers and there’s only a little time left that to them seems like an eternity, during which they ride with their eyes squeezed shut, “Shut your eyes, pinches cabrones,” the two men tell them.
Writing to Live in Hollywood – by James Franco
It’s safe to say that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a poor relationship with Hollywood. He had three periods of steady work with the studios: in 1927, at the height of his fame; in 1931, when he was in need of money for treatment for Zelda; and in 1937, when he was on contract with MGM making a paltry $1,000 a week. All of these Hollywood sojourns ended in frustration for both Fitzgerald and the studios.
Fitzgerald spent the last year and a half of his life in Los Angeles. At that point, his only steady income was from the piecemeal sale of the Pat Hobby Stories to Esquire. The Pat Hobby Stories are the collected tales of a desperate hack scriptwriter who shuffles around the studios of Hollywood scrambling for work to pay for his drinking. Fitzgerald died at the age of 44 from a series of heart attacks before he could effectively organize the stories into a single work for Scribner. It wasn’t until 20 years after his death that the Pat Hobby Storieswere collected into a single volume,
The Pat Hobby Stories are Fitzgerald’s final testament on Hollywood. In a twisted way, they are also his last nightmarish take on his own place as a great writer brought down by circumstance. Bruce L. Chipman pointed out in his book on Hollywood novels called Into America’s Dream-Dump that the Pat Hobby character is probably “the frightening image of what Fitzgerald saw himself becoming.” Like Fitzgerald at the end of his life, Pat is dependent on intermittent Hollywood jobs to make ends meet. But although Fitzgerald had suffered from debt and demoralization, he was nowhere near the depraved and irredeemable state that Pat Hobby has succumbed to. So Pat Hobby is not an autobiographical figure as much as an ironic clown that allowed Fitzgerald to write about his plight as a writer who was writing to live, rather than as a author who was living to write. The distinction between the two is made clear to an east coast novelist by Pat Hobby in the story “Mightier than the Sword.”
James Franco on Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God
It is Cormac McCarthy’s m.o. to uncover the underbelly of American history and explore some of the most violent and immoral acts swept under the façade of progress and civilization. The cyclical recurrence of violence is his bass beat. I find that the epigraph forBlood Meridian says everything about the endless conflict between men that is ever-present in his writing:
Clark, who led last year’s expedition to the Afar region of northern Ethiopia, and UC Berkeley colleague Tim D. White, also said that a re-examination of a 300,000-year-old fossil skull found in the same region earlier shows evidence of having been scalped.
THE YUMA DAILY SUN June 13,1982
But even though violence, depravity, and unending inhumanity are in ALL of Cormac McCarthy’s books, he is also a writer who has won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and is part of the Oprah Book Club. After his Tennessee Gothic period culminated with Suttre and he moved to Texas to write Blood Meridian, he began to nestle bits of humanity in between acts of chilling violence, offering a chord of hope that was rarely found in his earlier books. Take No Country for Old Men, which features the lamenting officer who makes us feel that at least someone is trying to do what’s right. Or look at The Road, which plants a tender relationship between a father and a son in the midst of a blasted, postapocalyptic landscape. With The Road, it was the book’s glimmer of hope—something McCarthy has attributed to the birth of his son—that contributed to the novel’s popularity, caught Oprah’s interest, and made it transcend the postapocalyptic genre.
However, unlike the books of The Border Trilogy or The Road, McCarthy’s early work have no room for hope. They are immersed in darkness and violence, and then silence before they erupt in more pain. This bleak quality is certainly characteristic of Child of God,McCarthy’s third book after The Orchard Keeper and Outer Dark. Last year I directed an adaptation of Child of God. It just premiered at the Venice and Toronto film festivals to what I’m told are great reviews especially for my lead actor, Scott Haze. (Sadly, I can’t read any reviews about myself, even the good ones in the best outlets, because it’s like a drink for an alcoholic. I read one review about myself in The New York Times and the next thing I know I’m wondering what Perez Hilton thinks about my love life or what Just Jared thinks about my latest jacket.)
James Franco on 120 Days of Sodom
Not long ago I caught a double feature of portraits of creative types at the IFC Theater on 6th Avenue in New York: Noah Baumbach’s great Frances Ha, starring Greta Gerwig at her best, and Paul Schrader’s strange The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan and the porn star James Deen. The first movie capitalizes on the filmmakers’ knowledge of New York culture for its quirky and moving portrait of a dancer’s struggle amid financial and personal woes. The second movie purposefully showed unlikeable movie types in Los Angeles using each other and being disgusting for no good reason. It was a depressing film, not because the characters were all anti-heroes, but because it seemed like everyone could have had more fun depicting such people. If you’re going to get depraved, at least have fun doing it. And if it’s not fun for the filmmakers, it’s probably not going to be fun for the audience. That said, I am still a Schrader fan for his stylish explorations of America’s underbelly and a Brett Easton Ellis fan for his unabashed and flagrant embrace of narcissism and nihilism.
While waiting in line for my small popcorn, no butter, I saw that the IFC was selling a new Criterion edition of Pier Pasolini’s Salò: 120 Days of Sodom. I bought it along with a special Werner Herzog shirt that mashed his name with a Danzig logo. I had seen Salò years before on VHS after buying it out of some bargain bin on Melrose. I felt dirty watching it alone in my little Sherman Oaks apartment. If you don’t know, Salò is the name of a town in Italy where Pasolini plays out some of the activities that the Marquis de Sade describes in his masterwork, 120 Days of Sodom. The text was written while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille for some sort of extreme behavior in a brothel (Whipping? Stabbing? Sodomy? Whatever it was was nothing compared to what is described in 120 Days). Sade’s text catalogues the depraved acts in an isolated chateau that a quartet of wealthy decadents inflict on a group of teenagers that they have either kidnapped or procured for this purpose. The descriptions of the live acts practiced on the teenagers are interspersed with sexual narratives from a group of old women hired to spice up each day with such lewd stories from their own youth. In the textual format both the acts imposed on the teenagers in the present and the storytellers’ narratives about the past are flattened into the same mode of delivery. There is little difference between an old prostitute talking about her experiences and Sade relating what the rich perverts are doing to the children, you readboth things. But in the movie, the stories from the past are told and the acts with the teenagers are shown. “Manga, Manga” says one of the men to the children when they are forced to eat their own shit that has been collected in a large pot. And we watch them consume it. (It’s really just berries, and sausages, or something like that, covered in brown sauce.) On film what is shown and what is told are very distinct.