Dec 062014
 

vidal

(Please note: the draw has been extended until Monday morning, December 8. Winner will be announced then)

The other night, a friend texted me from a party. She couldn’t remember the name of a fragrance she was wearing, and everyone there kept asking about it, drunk on the scent. It was Carillon Pour Un Ange, I reminded her. I get this a lot, because I introduce Tauer perfumes to many people just as they’re first dipping their noses into the cosmos of scent. And the reaction to a Tauer is always very strong and favorable. They’re scents you remember, even if you can’t remember that tricky name. This woman had a bottle because a friend we share had been introduced to the scent through me, then bought his mother some, then some for himself, then our friend. Another friend I’d introduced to the scent showed up at a summer get together last year radiating a good foot ahead of herself. Already she was worried, thinking ahead, about running out. It made her very nervous. She couldn’t imagine not smelling that way, or receiving that many compliments as a matter of routine. The scent altered her social landscape in a way she’d become dependent on.

One night, the writer Barbara Herman was in town and I had some friends over to sniff perfume. They were essentially newbies. They’d smelled department store scents. I trotted out at least fifty fragrances, probably more. We smelled for I guess about four or five hours. Again, probably more. The Tauer scents I have are in a special cabinet and I hadn’t pulled them out and at some point I realized my guests hadn’t smelled any of those, so I carried in five or so. Everything kicked up a notch. They went from one to the next and back again; each was even better, the definitive favorite, until they smelled another. Barbara and I are so jaded. We exchanged knowing looks, because, you know, we’ve seen this a million times. We’ll never have that shock of the new back.

When another friend contributed to the kickstarter campaign for my film Only Child, she was given a purse spray of Loretta. This made her curious about Andy’s scents, so she went to Luckyscent and ordered samples. A month later she was a sophisticate with her own bottle of L’Air du Desert Morocain.

I could tell you more. It happens all the time for me. But when the Tauer Advent calendar starts every year I try to remember as many of those friends as I can, so I can encourage them to try their luck.

Tauer scents are, you probably know, special. And the advent calendar is a month long celebration and communion revolving around them.

This year, the draw here on Evelyn Avenue is for a Tauer Explorer set, three 15ml bottles of your choice from the Tauer line.

I’m keeping it pretty simple. To qualify, list a few of your highlights from 2014: cinema, art, perfume, your choice.

Please note: The draw is worldwide. Some exceptions are Spain, Croatia, Russia, and Greece. Tauer cannot ship to those places. The prizes will be shipped for free from Switzerland by Fedex. Local taxes, VAT and import fees may apply and are not covered by Tauer. The winner is responsible for making sure he/she is allowed to import the prize. The winner’s address remains confidential and is only used by Tauer to deliver the prize.

I will conduct the draw the morning of Monday, December 8. At that time I’ll email the winner and announce the conclusion.

Best of luck.

Above is an image from a documentary called Best of Enemies, which premieres at the next Sundance festival. The movie looks at the the infamous series of debates conducted between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. in the 60s, during which the two exchanged now legendary barbs. The film hasn’t been shown yet, but it’s my favorite, because…I can.

 Posted by on December 6, 2014
Oct 162014
 
Photo by Kerry Tribe depicting her depictions of the Doheny murders.

Photo by Kerry Tribe depicting her depictions of the Doheny murders.

You’ve probably seen the Greystone Mansion dozens of times, without realizing what exactly you were looking at. The house has been colonized by the fantasy logic of many films over the years – absorbed, remapped, and reassembled according to the narrative demands of the cinematic narratives into which it’s been inserted. Rooms of the house have appeared in everything from Dead Ringers and Death Becomes Her to The Witches of Eastwick and X-Men.

The Tudor Revival mansion on this (still) elaborately landscaped estate in Beverly Hills was built in 1928, commissioned by oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny for his son, Edward “Ned” Doheny, Jr., and his family. At the time it was the most expensive house built in California (price tag: between 3 and 5 million). Its 46,000 square feet feature 55 rooms. The grounds span 16 acres.

Four months after moving in, Ned and his personal secretary  Hugh Plunket died in a guest bedroom while others were present in the house. The official story, widely reported, was that Plunkett killed Ned and himself in a fit of rage over news he would not be receiving a raise. Rumors then and now suggest a more complicated scenario, having to do with an alleged romantic relationship between Ned and Hugh.  Plunkett was considered unstable and unwell and had openly refused to check himself into the Camarillo sanitarium, against the ‘advice’ of the Doheny family and associates. The deaths occurred against the ongoing backdrop of the Teapot Dome Trials, which involved bribes for oil access, among other things, and deeply implicated the Doheny family. Both Ned and Hugh had been called to testify. Hugh’s institutionalization might have prevented that. The deaths certainly did.

Plunkett arrived at the house around 9:30 that evening. The deaths occurred an hour or so later, after conversation between the victims was said to have become “heated”.  Three hours passed before authorities were notified. The staff’s testimony felt scripted and rehearsed, according to detectives at the crime scene. Most of the rumors put the gun in Plunkett’s hand. In Raymond Chandler’s novel The High Window, the Doheny deaths are thinly fictionalized as the “Cassidy Case”, and Philip Marlowe theorizes that the millionaire, not his secretary, was responsible.

Ned’s widow, Lucy, continued to live in the house for years. Along with the grounds, it was eventually sold to another egregiously wealthy occupant, then saved from demolition by Beverly Hills in 1965. The property stewed with its ghosts until 1971, when the grounds became a city park. The house has been rented out for film use for decades, and for a time (1969-1982) was the headquarters of the American Film Institute, which paid the city of Beverly Hills a dollar a month for rent.

A few years ago, artist Kerry Tribe reenacted some of these rumored theories for a piece to be exhibited inside the Greystone Mansion, shooting on location within the rooms of the house. All of the dialog in the resulting film was taken from the films shot at the house over the years and made to conform to the Doheny story’s dictates.

After seeing parts of the film, called alternately There Will Be___” and Greystone, I talked to her, and heard a few of her own ghost stories (the house is considered haunted) as well as some of the more popular accounts circulated over the years. I was curious about the shoot, the experience, and the process of conceiving the piece, so I emailed her the following questions:

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How did your piece “Greystone” come about?

I was invited to propose a site-specific artwork for a one-night black tie event to be held at Greystone Mansion called “The Ball of Artists,” which was essentially the fabulous last hoorah of Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-organized mega series of exhibitions surveying the Los Angeles art scene from 1945-1980.

I don’t know what they expected me to propose, but certainly not a film of the scale I ended up making. All of the invited artists were given tours of the mansion by the City of Beverly Hills Park Rangers who run the place now. That’s when I first learned about the many tragedies that had occurred there: in the years shortly after the murders explored in my film, a child died falling out a window, two maids committed suicide, and it’s believed that a manservant died in a fight in the basement.

And then I started to hear about the hundreds of films, videos and commercials shot there, many of which I was of course familiar with. Walking through the mansion feels less like stepping back in time than stepping into another, purely cinematic dimension. There’s the bowling ally where Daniel Day Lewis’s Plainview bludgeons Paul Dano’s Eli to death in There Will Be Blood. There’s the grand staircase where Toby McGuire’s Peter Parker encounters Willem Defoe’s Norman Osborn (a.k.a. the Green Goblin) in Spiderman.  For years I’ve been interested in the varied and complicated relationships between memory, film, history and time-based art and when I realized that the mansion was something most of us had actually seen and might remember from one film or another, while the terribly history that took place there seemed to have been all but forgotten, I started to get excited.

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It’s interesting to me, researching the Doheny murders online, that the facts are fluid. Everything from the circumstances surrounding Plunkett’s entry into the mansion that night to where he was when the doctor arrived varies according to the source. That’s different probably in news reports from the time of the event, yet those accounts seem to have been staged or scripted as well, to protect the Doheny name from further scandal and to bury all sorts of unsavory truths. Your film reenacts the story based on five different theories. What are those theories?

The five scenarios that play out in my film are the five scenarios that I feel to be even remotely plausible. The official story – what was printed in all the papers at the time — was that Hugh Plunkett, who had worked for the Doheny family for years, had been sick with a terrible cold or flu and a bad case of insomnia when he came by the mansion on the night of February 16, 1929. Ned Doheny and the family doctor had been trying to convince Plunkett to check himself in to a sanitarium to recuperate. Plunkett was nearly delirious and argued with Doheny, who placed a call to the doctor for assistance, at which point Plunkett shot him. The doctor, having been called, arrived at the mansion shortly thereafter to discover Plunkett in a deranged state. Seeing the doctor, Plunkett shot himself in the head, at which point the doctor discovered Doheny’s body in the guest bedroom Plunkett often slept in.

There was never an inquest and the case was closed after just two days. But a lot of evidence suggests a cover-up, albeit a bizarre one, and of all the possible ways these men could have died, I’m certain it didn’t happen like this. The police were only called three hours after the second death occurred, and when they arrived, they were made to wait outside. When they finally came in, they found the gun by Plunkett’s body, warm to the touch.

Mrs. Doheney, home at the time of the shootings, acknowledged that she’d heard something when the first shot rang out, but claimed she’d thought it was furniture being turned over. There was the cigarette conspicuously burned down in the hand Plunkett would have used to hold the gun. Most significantly, the blood patterns on Doheny’s head suggested that he’d died face down and had subsequently been turned onto his back. On further questioning about this point, the doctor changed his story: Doheny was in fact still alive when he was discovered, but barely. In trying to save his life, the doctor turned Doheny onto his back, but his efforts were in vain. He continued to maintain that Plunkett was alive and brandishing his weapon after Doheny had been shot— testimony that, if believed, would prove at least that Plunkett was responsible for his own death.

This official version makes no reference to the fact that both dead man had been called to testify before the Senate in relation to charges that Doheny Sr. had sent them to deliver a black bag containing $100,000 cash to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, in exchange for the exclusive drilling rights to an oil-rich government-controlled territory known as Elk Hills. The family had been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Plunkett to check himself in to a sanitarium. The official version also sidesteps any matters of intimacy between the two dead men who, it’s widely believed, were lovers. In light of these circumstances, and the evidence found at the scene, four other explanations seem far more plausible.

Lucy Doheny, wife of Ned and mother of their five children, may have killed them both. The two men, finding themselves forced to choose among testifying against Doheny Sr., perjuring themselves or, in Plunkett’s case, going away to a nuthouse, may have conspired to take their own lives. Doheny Sr. clearly had a motive to dispose of them both before they could testify and may have hired someone to kill them, though I find it hard to believe he’d intentionally kill his only child. This is why I opted to have the hit man in my film shoot Doheny first in a case of mistaken identity before disposing of Plunkett. Finally, it’s possible that Ned Doheny, known for his love of both shooting and alcohol in the age of prohibition decided one night to take matters into his own hands and end it for both of them. This to me seems most likely, and it’s how I chose to end my film.

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Ned Doheny at the crime scene.

How do you approach a narrative like this, dealing with memory and representation and the way a story is recreated and put through the rock tumbler of memory and public opinion until its polished surface resembles something different, when really the story can never be known? What does the story become there?

The film presents the official version first, and then more or less discredits it as the other versions unfold, intercut with bits of the crime scene investigation where a young investigator tries to make sense of the bungled cover-up. Goofy as it is in moments, the film is actually very careful never to show anything that fundamentally could not have happened. It would have made for a much better story if there were some logic to the turning over of the body, the placing of the gun in the oven, the planting of the cigarette in the dead man’s hands. But the logic driving those actions remains a mystery to me. The premise of my project is that I had to shoot in the mansion, using only dialog that was originally said in the mansion, to tell the story of what might really have happened in the mansion, and not to show anything that is patently false. Not the easiest way to make your first narrative, but considering those parameters I think we did OK.

dohenyroom.pg

I’d never heard of Greystone Mansion –  or the back story – before we talked. Immediately I was bummed that all this time the grounds, if not the house, have been open to the public, free of charge. It’s like a public domain haunted house, and I’ve missed it during all my trips to LA. What I love about your piece is how it uses the lore surrounding the house and the Teapot Dome scandal and brings all those assorted ghosts back into the house in a different way – a film haunted by other films and ideas inserted into the house that spawned them. Those movies re-purposed Greystone, and you re-purposed them. What appealed to you about the idea of combing through the screenplays of the films which have used Greystone  as a set and recycling them into a reenactment of the Doheny deaths?

Your idea that this is a film haunted by other films is so great. It’s also about a home haunted by its own repressed history. Somewhere in the writing process I began to think of the mansion as my film’s actual protagonist. All my characters are amalgams—collages who speak exclusively in phrases written for someone else. But the mansion is somehow always just itself. Greystone has been witness to a lot of crazy shit—the drama around the Doheny family, but also the drama of the countless film productions that passed through since.

As I tracked down and transcribed all the scenes of all the feature films that used Greystone as a location (I couldn’t simply work from the screenplays because what’s on paper often differs from what makes it into the can), I was struck by how much of the existing dialog so genially inserted itself into the story I wanted to tell. It quickly became clear that Greysone Mansion is where people with budgets go if they want to demonstrate the corrosive nature of excessive wealth (Indecent Proposal, The Big Lebowski, There Will Be Blood) or show a home where the logic of normal social relations don’t apply (Flowers in the Attic, X-Men, House of the Damned). Conveniently for me, lots of movie characters have been shot at or killed in the mansion, so finding the words to make those scenes work was never much of a problem. I had this 333 page Word document with all my transcribed dialog and I’d just search for the things I needed people to say. At times it felt like the piece was writing itself.

How many days did the shoot last and what special considerations did filming inside the house involve? What interested me, hearing you mention a brief overview of the conditions imposed by the organizers, was how the efforts to protect and preserve the house seemed to mirror the efforts to protect and serve the various stories all these years.

dohenyhall1

Filming at Greystone was tough. The organization that helps with archiving and fundraising is protective of the Doheny family legacy and didn’t provide any assistance. They only gave me the green light after I promised that all names would be changed. This, of course, was easy – my leads by necessity have the names of characters from the films their lines come from.

The City of Beverly Hills Park Rangers that look after the mansion and oversee all shooting genuinely care about protecting it and I have a lot of respect for how personally they take their jobs. They are the mansion’s first line of defense. The history is so rich, and these guys are really experts in it. One of them told me you could still make out blood stains on the murder room floor when he started working there ten years ago! So I appreciate all the restrictions they place on film crews. When Greystone was leased to the American Film Institute (from 1969 – 1982) the place apparently got trashed. They did a major renovation arecently and the place is finally back to its original glory.

The rangers agreed to allow me access for five days strictly limited to 8AM-6PM. If we were late getting out, we were expected to give up the extra time the following day. We were not permitted to use a full sized generator, which seriously limited our ability to light the most magnificent (and most frequently filmed) areas of the mansion—still a huge regret to me. We were not permitted to rig anything to the walls or molding. No dollies, no jibs, strictly limited crew, no liquids or food of any kind in the mansion. They were doing me (or I suppose the Getty Museum) a huge favor by waiving the usual fees, and I am so grateful for the trust they placed in me. But I’m not trained as a filmmaker, rather as a visual artist. I use film or video when it’s the right format for an idea, and I’d never made a narrative film before. The learning curve felt incredibly steep and the restrictions made it especially challenging.

Inspecting the gun.

Inspecting the gun.

What kind of direction did you give the actors? The performances feel almost like a séance, like mediums delivering messages from the dead.

We all agreed that it would be important to strike a balance between a kind of naturalism or authenticity and an acknowledgement that these lines had had other lives in other contexts. A few statements get repeated by different characters in different situations — lines like “Dear God!” and “It sounded like a gunshot!” seem to come up again and again.

Other lines are a force-fit: finding a gun warm to the touch is followed by “Look at this! Hot off the press!” These are some of my favorite moments, because they allow the film’s structural premise to show through without asking the actors to betray their characters. A lot of the dialog is so schlocky, it would have been easy to turn the film into a spoof of noir drama, and I didn’t want to push it too far. It’s also hard to keep an audience identified with your leads when you kill them every five or six minutes. We tried our best. I have tremendous respect for my cast. They worked very hard through many rehearsals to bring out the humor and the pathos in their often very clunky lines.

The foyer, circa 1965.

The foyer, circa 1965.

The security guard took you on a tour of the basement the night you wrapped, right? What were some of the stories he told you?

This is a hard one. If I start trying to explain these stories, I’ll sound like a fool, or worse yet, make him sound like a fool. There may be “logical explanations” for the many bizarre and disturbing things that have happened at the mansion in recent years, including things that happened during our shoot, but the cumulative effect is quite unnerving. I’ll offer a few examples, and you can make of them what you will.

A few years back, a park ranger was making her rounds at the end of an uneventful day. The house was empty. As she approached the top of the grand staircase she felt a rush of air and a sudden hard push on her back that sent her tumbling down the stairs. I don’t think she was seriously injured but she never went back to work.

A young woman, touring the house during pre-production for some shoot or other, was checking out the closet-sized meat locker on an upper floor. (Doheny Jr. had game brought onto the mansion’s grounds which he would routinely shoot from his window.) It’s a horrible space: the walls are tiled like a shower, there’s a hole in the floor where the blood could drain and it still smells faintly of mildew and death. Sadly, it’s also where a maid in the 1930s committed suicide. The metal latch on the locker door had been removed for safety reasons, but it was apparently still possible to find oneself locked inside because of how the meat locker door could get jammed closed if the hallway door was closed outside it. At the end of the tour, when the crew was ready to leave, the young woman was noticed to be missing. A search ensued and she was discovered, screaming and hysterical locked inside that dark meat locker. She had no idea how it could have happened.

On the evening we wrapped, the lead ranger kindly gave several of us a tour of the basement, which until then had been strictly off limits. The basement runs the full length of the house and is accessed by a broad staircase with a metal gate at the bottom. The gate is locked with a fat padlock, the keys to which only the rangers wear on their belts. There were two rangers still on site that evening: the guy giving us the tour, and the guy who was keeping an eye on the loading of our trucks a good hike up the hill.

Our ranger began the tour by using his key to unlock the gates, swinging them open, and leading us through. There were five of us, plus him. We spent perhaps 20 minutes down there. It was the worst-feeling place I’ve ever been, and I couldn’t get out fast enough. When we returned to the gates, they were closed again, just as they had been when we arrived, the padlock shut tight. I remember the flash of confusion that crossed the ranger’s face. He looked at us and asked when or why one of us would sneak off to do that. We were all dumbfounded and suddenly he looked truly spooked. Then he laughed it off. He had a key, after all, and he easily reached through the gates from the inside to unlock the padlock on the outside. He suggested that Plunkett or Doheny was probably messing with us, a little goodbye trick to remind us that they could have made things more difficult.

I nearly shit my pants. I rushed up to the trucks to ask my crew and the ranger who was watching them if anyone had left the group and headed towards the mansion. Nobody knew what I was talking about. Little things like this happen at Greystone all the time there.

How did this project relate to the work you’d done before, and how did it extend into different areas or directions?

In the past I’ve made works that use the literal mechanics of the medium to try to explore issues related to memory and cognition. Working with the medium metaphorically and phenomenologically, you could say. Often the film and the apparatus that allows us to experience it have been front and center in my work – a single film plays through two adjacent visible projectors in H.M. (2009) for example. Or audio tape traces the gallery walls in Milton Torres Sees a Ghost (2010). In this case, the structural and phenomenological interests have less to do with the physical material than with how the story is told, and the idea that there is this vast repository of semi-remembered cinematic history we share. In both cases, I’m interested in producing a kind of self-awareness in the viewer: a kind of balancing act between identification and critical distance.

The Great Room, as it appeared in There Will Be Blood.

The Great Room, as it appeared in There Will Be Blood.

When you screened it outside the mansion, in a theatrical environment – when the ghosts were removed from the house and installed elsewhere – what kind of response did it get?

It only showed in Greystone Mansion for one night, and that was great. I wish I could go back and see it there again. I felt like something was coming full circle; like I was finally bringing to light other ways of thinking about what happened that horrible night. I was screening it for the guests of the Ball of Artists and a few key members of my wonderful cast and crew, all decked out in their finest. But I was also screening it for the real or imagined ghosts of Hugh Plunkett and Ned Doheny whose presence, for the first time, seemed absolutely quiet to me that night. Everything had come full circle. And of course the mansion is just so incredibly gorgeous. That night there was art everywhere, and festivity and light.

On the other hand, it’s great to see Greystone getting into festivals like Rotterdam and London and Views from the Avant-Garde, because the piece tries so hard to look like a normal film, and I find myself relieved that it can pass. I also like to think about film buffs in the audience recognizing lines here and there. On the other hand, showing it in a gallery / museum context is more comfortable for me. This sort of conceptual, programmatic way of making work has a legacy people are familiar with, and I have a modest but loyal audience who I can trust will read this work in relation to other things I’ve done.

 Posted by on October 16, 2014
Jun 262014
 

facebook

1. I sign onto Facebook at something like 8 p.m. and there at the top of my feed is a picture of a friend with two other people I have decided it’s best to pretend not to pay attention to. I would probably like the picture if these two others weren’t in it, because my friend looks happy and great, but I’m concerned what liking it with them in it will convey – that I tolerate their presence in the world? that their slights against me are forgotten or, maybe worse, remembered but now set aside? I sign off before I have too much more time to think about it.

2. A few hours later I post something cranky but possibly funny – the humor in it making fun of my own crankiness, which becomes in my head a sort of impenetrable wall of sound at times and requires leavening – and people start liking it. I worry they might be liking it for the wrong reasons. I consider clarifying in some way but realize this could go on forever, counteracting the intended levity.

3. Eventually, an old friend comments on this post, in a way that seems to be calling me out for my crankiness. Can’t I just let people who say stupid things be, he seems to be saying, stupidly. I want to scream at him that he is clearly not getting the subtleties. Why am I so hard on people, he seems to be saying. Is that what he’s saying? I can’t decide. Why must people post this kind of shit right before I go to bed, giving me a first things first item for the following day? I feel very persecuted and misunderstood and stare at my dog like she couldn’t possibly understand.

4. I sign off then sign on again. I close my laptop. I open it back up again. I can’t let the whole thing go. If I respond too emphatically to his comment I’m revealing that I think about these things more than I’d like people to know I do. It’s important to me that people don’t get the idea I harbor things. I’m pretty obsessive about this. I decide again not to respond, and secretly vow to despise the old friend in my sleep.

5. The following day, just as I’ve gotten over the slight, the old friend posts a comment on his own page about a stranger who judged him in the course of a casual conversation, offering unsolicited commentary on a subject which had nothing to do with him. I am concerned that the old friend doesn’t see his hypocrisy.

6. Six people who never liked any of my pages have sent me invitations to please like their own. I feel, as I often do, that the world is very unfair, not because they didn’t like my page, and not because they ask that I like theirs, but because I want to point this out to them and realize I can’t, unless I want to develop a reputation as a malcontent. As I think about this an invitation arrives. Would I like to attend this event where I will see at least three people I have committed myself to never running into? I gaze fixedly at a tree outside the window, wishing to be that tree.

7. I post a photo on my page and my mother comments on it in a way which seems to me to be exacting revenge in a passive aggressive way for an old slight dating back to the time I was 25 years-old. I remember the time before my mother knew about Facebook, when I could visit her house and take a photo and post it on my page with text along the lines of “get a load of this”. I spend about five minutes missing that time like a friend who has died.

8. My mother tags me in a photo I would prefer people not see. I call my mother and ask her, in so many words, why she insists on acting like my mother in public. She responds by bringing up old slights dating back to the time I was 25 years-old. I picture in my head a place somewhere outside the range of Facebook where we could sustain the illusion that it’s possible for us to get along without picturing our younger selves fighting the good fight over old slights. I try to combat the urge to unfriend my own mother, which strikes me as very Shakespearean. I google Shakespearean to make sure I know what it actually means.

9. I do not like as many pictures as I should, I am told by a friend. She likes more of my pictures than I do hers. This at first seems very petty to me and I tell her so. I’m what seems to me sufficiently indignant. Later I post a picture that virtually everyone else we know likes and she doesn’t, and I see her point. It’s like going to a party where someone you know very well can see you but persists in pretending you haven’t entered the room. I want to apologize, but that would pave the way for possibly endless conversations about conduct on social media and the role it plays in our friendship. Instead I go to her page and like the first thing I see. I google Bette Davis’ history because it occurs to me this is kind of like how she was robbed of an Oscar several times then awarded one practically posthumously for a much lesser film, and learn that I’m thinking of some other actress.

10. I sign onto Instagram to get a break from Facebook, hoping to dwell in the almost purely visual where the slight of words won’t touch me, and every picture I see in my feed fills me with a hatred for humanity that shocks me a little, though not as much as I think I would expect. I have no words for this feeling, which builds as I move down the screen. How dare they, I realize I’m thinking. I decide I better sign off altogether before the hate builds into some kind of decision, followed by some action which will keep me up at night. Later I’m in bed staring up into the dark and think, over and over, “How dare they–what?” I fall asleep scrolling through the memory of my feed the way some count sheep.

(Photo of Barbara Herman by Brian Pera; this post in no way illustrates Barbara’s social media practices or thought processes)

 Posted by on June 26, 2014
Jun 162014
 
southfork3

Detail of the work: the glitter tears of Rudolph Nureyev

1. The bacon someone might be cooking when you arrive. “Hot stove!” “Watch it! That stove is hot!”

2. The book on the bookshelf published by Linda Simpson, a tribute to her friend and fellow East Village legend Page, full of pictures taken at places you remember being in the nineties.

3. The conversation you have with Lauren Kennedy – the hostess, who is also the curator – about the time she visited Linda Simpson’s apartment in the East Village, years after you did, where the crowd was almost exclusively gay men, except for the hostess/curator and another woman who said to her, “We are going to be best friends!”

4. The fact that this apartment and this time is tied to that apartment and that other time through the mind and friends in common, among whom the woman at Linda Simpson’s party did not ultimately in fact number.

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Artist Joel Parsons and the brunch spread

5. The artist is eating bacon next to you as he explains the work to someone who is eating the quiche you made.

6. The show is called An Emergency of Feeling: Groping after Nureyev and Platforms for Excesses of Desire (Stages are Beds) with The Devouring Darkness, Deep and Blazing Sweetness, Sticky Stump, and Faggy Melt. The artist is Joel Parsons, and the art depicts, among other things, jewel encrusted images of Rudolph Nureyev as only someone who happens to be hitched with a dancer and was barely legal when Nureyev died could see him, or so someone your age imagines.

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Joel Parsons: “The photos are groping, the drawings are platforms, and the curtain is devouring.”

7. You can stand there listening to the artist talking about his work and the history of Nureyev and his public as opposed to private lives while the artist’s dancer/choreographer partner sits in the other room, at this private gathering which isn’t about hiding anything, or certainly doesn’t mean to be.

8. The art, as in this show, might be up for only one day; is fleeting, and sort of fragile. Gone tomorrow, like Rudolph and Page.

9. The art, as in other shows here, might be up for longer than one day, and in those cases arrangements must be made with the hostess/curator to see the work.

10. Seeing the work on such occasions means dealing with the hostess/curator as a person named Lauren Kennedy and seeing art as something you experience in the real world, as opposed to her pretending to be peripheral, like for instance a realtor who arranges for you to see a house then slips into the background to allow the fantasy of living there unbothered by the reality of interaction.

11. The art show, which is arguably pretty queer, is also a brunch, the gayest meal of the day.

southfork5

Detail of the work

12. The art in fact hangs right beside the table, so that as you are eating quiche, also pretty gay, and strudel (borderline), you’re encouraged to make some connections.

13. Being in this house which is also a gallery called Southfork involves seeing art in a different way, calling into question the ways art is customarily shown. Not that this dawns on you at the time.

14. Calling into question the way art is shown happens over drinks and quiche and all kinds of acting out very few gallery spaces would make room for or realize maybe they should make room for. What dawns on you at the time are the drinks and the quiche and all kinds of acting out, and the art is experienced inside this cluster of sensation.

15. There is no separation between the tastes and agendas of the hostess/curator and the art she has selected and is presenting because in opening up her home to you she has made all that very visibly and concretely one thing.

southfork2

Detail of the work: groping Nureyev’s backside

 

16. You might be moved to make a connection between the words quiche and queef and queer while staring at what looks like an eruption of pink rhinestones from or along Nureyev’s backside.

17. Later, you might look up queef online and find a sample sentence which reads, Julia coughed loudly to drown out her queef as Brian pulled out, and feel awkward, because your name is Brian, and there’s another connection, and another erasure: a queef is regarded by the urban dictionary as an exclusively vaginal phenomenon.

18. The artist poses for pictures with a porcelain poodle which belongs to the hostess/curator and a dish of strudel – and the hostess/curator, while appreciating the word play, warns those involved that someone will need to wash the poodle’s backside.

19. No one here seems particularly determined to pretend there is no such thing as a backside. No one here would fault you for looking at one.

20. You are encouraged to make yourself comfortable, and there are actually places to do so.

21. The hostess/curator was busy cooking when everyone started arriving – she is wearing an apron when you get there yourself, navigating bacon. She doesn’t change to present a different persona, any more than she would clear out the furniture in her house to make it look more like what you think a gallery is supposed to be.

(Photos by Lauren Kennedy and Joel Parsons)

 Posted by on June 16, 2014
Jun 032014
 

eileen

She and her husband Guthrie had just moved into a house they built on the ruins of his grandmother’s hotel when I met them. That hotel had burned down some time in the 1930s, the second fire to decimate the property, and the second hotel. The trucks couldn’t make it up the hill back then and the flames probably would have outpaced them anyway. Eileen and Guthrie came from a long line of people who rebuild.

The place had been taken over by weeds by the time they built their home, and Eileen, a master gardener, set about getting it all under control. She planted in the most interesting places. You’d be walking the property and you’d come upon some little patch of plant life she’d cultivated where, say, crumbling remnants of the hotel’s walls still stood; it seemed her way of drawing your attention to all the odd nooks and crannies where life keeps happening, and I feel like it said something about her nature, how she saw the past and the stuff that keeps sprouting up from it. She was so quiet about it all, let you wander around and discover it for yourself.

When I first met her, through her son Bill, I was nervous, thinking she must imagine the worst of me. She might have, but while I stood there wondering how I should address her she extended her hand. “Call me Eileen.” She loved her son and seemed to know how flimsy happiness is. I think she had a grasp on humility too. Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago. At the time I couldn’t imagine knowing anyone that long, let alone making his happiness my concern for even a fraction of that time.

Eileen’s mother was living with them in an addition at the side of the house. Mrs. Emick had her own kitchenette and a bathroom. Everything was ceramic and gilt back there, suburban French Provincial. A bit of a museum. Her hair was dyed red and her nails were always perfectly done. She wore L’Origan at a time when there weren’t many people left who’d heard of it. You’d say L’Origan and people looked at you like you were stupid. We bought her a few bottles right before the local drugstores stopped carrying it, and found them in her bathroom drawer, one of them still sealed in cellophane, after she died.

I remember we’d go up there during the summer while Mrs. Emick was still alive and sit on one of the house’s various porches. The front porch ran the length of the place more or less, and looked out onto the Spring River. This is Hardy, Arkansas, where my own grandparents had lived and breathed. You’d sit there and the scene was animated by the same old soundtrack of crickets and locusts. I guess they were locusts.

The view from the porch looked just like it did in a photo I’d grown up with, a photo my grandfather had taken from Guthrie’s grandmother’s porch, several yards down the property. That house had burned down too but the porch was still there and they’d built a gazebo above it. I loved the dogged faith of Bill’s family. All these fires. They planted gardens. Between these two landmark porches were fountains made of rock indigenous to the area. Guthrie and Eileen kept them filled as long as they could with water lilies and goldfish, bringing the sound of the river closer to home. When the water lilies failed, and they inevitably did, they were replaced. I guess a lot of people replace dead plants, but not a lot of people who’ve see that many fires rip through, maybe.

The photo of the river was in the form of a postcard, and as a boy I’d taken one from a stack hidden away in my grandmother’s attic. My grandparents were realtors in Hardy and my grandfather’s pictures aimed to draw homeowners to the area. I’d carried the postcard with me my whole life, this fantasy, I thought, of a place that used to exist. I was really sold on it. I barely knew my grandfather growing up – my grandmother wouldn’t speak his name, so he was something like a fictional character in a narrative illustrated by these contraband images. I had no idea where in Hardy the postcard picture was actually taken, or that the possibility existed that it was a real view someone else had looked at as often as I had its facsimile. I can’t describe that feeling, the weird sense of time travel being on that porch involved, like stepping into the postcard. That profound sense of closure and feeling identified.

In the beginning my presence was a little divisive. Eileen welcomed me and accepted the situation. What’s a little division where the risk of fire is so real? I don’t know anyone that this sort of thing comes easily to, the hospitality she showed in a situation she could have so easily withheld it. It’s an effort, and so many people fail spectacularly at it. If things were uncomfortable it usually had to do with me, because that ease of self just isn’t there for me, and shame is probably just a major component of my personality. I couldn’t see how she’d possibly feel comfortable around me, no matter what she said or did, so I made sure to make myself uncomfortable. I felt it was just the decent thing to do. At one point we were standing in one of the cabins on the property, she and Bill and I. Bill was upset because others were. I was upset because he was and really, truth be told, I’d caused the rest by being there. Eileen presided over this as if we all had a lot of growing to do. She had the patience of a really good gardener. And it did all eventually work itself out in its own way and time, this little blip in a much bigger picture she could see better than the rest of us.

You can see someone else’s mother with maybe clearer eyes than they can, clearer than you can see your own, and after a while it dawned on me that Bill had a slightly distorted view of Eileen. Woe to the mother who makes mistakes, because they amplify in the minds of her children, taking on mythical proportions. You grow big and your mother grows smaller but the myths grow bigger than the both of you. It’s hard to see a person where your mother stands. You have to keep reminding yourself a picture isn’t the same thing as the place it shows. It’s a tremendously small moment you have with people.

Mrs. Emick died in her nineties. I couldn’t handle how unbearable it must have been for Eileen. More shame. I was in my twenties and terrified of how she must be feeling. I’d lost my own grandmother by then and was scared of being sucked back into a grief I’d worried I wouldn’t get over. I suspect Eileen had tried to prepare herself, being with Mrs. Emick every day those last years. But the stillness in that sudden absence must have been pretty deafening. I remembered it, and felt like anything I said would have been mute in the din of it. Maybe that’s it. I remembered it and wanted to remind Bill. You wake up one morning and someone you care about doesn’t.

There’s a loop in my head, especially today after hearing the news Eileen is gone. That moment we’d drive up the hill for a visit. Eileen somewhere out in some part of her gardens, heading our way at the sound of the car. Try to describe someone’s laugh. It’s just one of those things. I can hear hers in my head, this slightly self deprecating and childlike tone it had. We were greeted by it so often. Usually Bill would say something naively caustic as we swung our feet out onto the gravel, or she was just happy to see us, or adjusting to the bizarre reality of company after so much solitude and silence on the hill, watching things die and grow in time lapse.

 Posted by on June 3, 2014
May 122014
 

photo

This is a house in Hardy, Arkansas I spent some time convincing myself I might buy back in 2012.

It seemed like the perfect getaway at the time – not just because it was in Hardy, where my grandmother lived and died, but because it felt like “that place”, the kind where I could get a lot done and not be bothered unless I chose to be.

It has three bedrooms, two dens (one with an old stone fireplace typical of the area), a screened porch, an open air deck, a carport, and a garage. The rear looks out onto a small lake. It isn’t a very nice house, and the lake is probably riddled with snakes (The dock has caved in, if I remember correctly) but it looks like the places I remember from childhood summer vacations in Hardy.

One of the bedrooms has paneled walls, bright blood red patterned carpet, and a quality of light that makes you feel you’ve crossed the threshold back into the seventies. My childhood was largely intolerable – I can chart it through pinpointed moments of letdown, rejection, and sustained dread – but I enter into a space that seems trapped in that era and immediately feel a familiar sadness that settles me in some narcotic way I can’t seem to get enough of.

Walking through the house with the realtor I kept trying to ditch him. I wanted to be alone with my childhood. I figured if I could see what it felt like to be there by myself without someone selling the shit out of it to me and killing it dead I could imagine really being there and get back to the business of remembering.

This all went on for several months; maybe six or seven. I went back and forth, visiting, asking questions that showed how serious I was: “Now, I’ll want to get it inspected, right, because don’t they shut off the…pipes?…when a house has been sitting there for a while like this one I’m thinking I’ll probably buy?” Pipes and wiring sounded like I knew what I was talking about. I told myself I could afford the house because, aside from it being pretty inexpensive as far as houses go, a window was closing soon, and if I didn’t take this opportunity to prop it open no amount of money would gain me access to it again.

I pictured bringing all of my friends there, one on one and in various combinations. I never imagine people in the house where I live now. I rarely have people over. Here’s that thing you called to come over and get. That’s me having people over. They get as far as the front room. I don’t know what to do with them. Will they be bored but pretend not to be? If they’re pretending, how will I know? Will they want to watch TV or will we just talk? What happens when I want them to leave and they aren’t going anywhere? What if I decide in the middle of all this that I finally want to finish that book TV keeps distracting me from? What if being in my house they see me as if for the first time and they’re like, Who the hell are you?

photo copy

The house in Hardy made the prospect of being with people – in a house – totally uncomplicated. It was like sitting in front of my sister’s doll house when I was a kid, moving around all the furniture and the Madame Alexander dolls she’d arranged in the rooms. I could make the one from Gone With the Wind wear Little Bo Peep’s bonnet and move her from the den to the kitchen and the story still felt legible to me.

I will bring my friends here and we will talk and stare out at the lake, I told myself. We’ll wake up in the morning and like me they will want to sit first in this room admiring the stone fireplace, then in the little dining room where the yellow basket weave Linoleum makes us think of scrambled eggs and the cabinets, though meant to be white but faded to a weird yellowy cream from time, wouldn’t make sense to us any other way. I realize now that I wanted to bring them back to the seventies with me. I think the seventies make sense of other people for me and cut down on a lot of preliminaries. It seems ridiculous to me now that I imagined sitting around staring at stone and cabinets this way.

I thought they’d come down on the price. I thought, I can do this. I can make this work. Everything was stressful in my life at that point but it had been for a long time and I was tired but I was used to it.

But I let the idea die out for some reason. I stopped answering the realtor’s calls. I shut down my imagination. All for the best, because a year later the bottom fell out, and I saw that I didn’t know tired half as well as I thought.

A friend killed herself. Another friend spiraled into what I guess must have been a hard core mid life crisis. He almost took me down with him. He’s only recently started resurfacing. You can finally see the crown of his head emerging from the crap of it now. I spent so much time prone on my couch during this period of death and derailment that I started to worry I might be ruining it. I got self conscious, thinking people could look at my couch and see the wreck I was.

Maybe it was the friend dying. Maybe the mid life crisis. I’d been going for a long time, doing one thing after another. Up until then these things had all felt to me like sequential steps headed in the right direction. I didn’t know the direction but felt by moving in this straight line I was getting somewhere.

People always start these sentences with “Suddenly”, but that’s how it felt when things changed. I couldn’t see the point anymore. It all felt like walking in place. My friend was gone and Hardy was too. There was no window. You have to beat the happy ending syndrome out of yourself and you start with the idea of the window being a real thing. At some point it’s like traveling with your teddy bear at 40 years old.

Anyway, Hardy isn’t the place I remember. Every summer people come in droves to drink on the river and every year there are reports of some stupid death by drunken drowning. It’s like drowning in your bathtub; this is the kind of squalid death we’re talking about. Maybe people died much more meaningful deaths more often in the past but that seems to be over. People seem to be racing faster toward dying in ever more senselessly banal ways. You can’t even count on death being huge any more.

There was such a thing as gone and it was just a matter of me getting used to the idea.

Visiting Hardy last weekend, I asked my mom to drive me over to the house. Was the place still for sale? She thought someone was living in it. Maybe someone is, but there’s still a sign out front. I had little moments, standing there with my camera, where my imagination started going again. I could, I will, might, maybe. But I reined it all in.

 Posted by on May 12, 2014
Apr 172014
 
dolly 2
The other day, I visited Lauren Kennedy at her place for the first time, where we talked for a while at her dining room table (bright yellow Formica, with colored dishes set out like a trippy still life), and smelled perfume (She was all Hmmm this and Hmmm that – like most of my friends, a hard nut to crack when it comes to fragrance preferences). We must have talked and smelled for a few hours before she said, Come back here, I want to show you something that means as much to me as perfume does to you. And I thought, Oh God, the bedroom. You know, flattering myself. We get in there and I’m looking at the bed trying to remember the prepared speech I never get to use but always imagine will come in handy, but she was facing the opposite direction, so I turned, and there was this…wall of Dolly Parton.

I knew, sort of, that Lauren is very interested in Dolly, which is to say maybe obsessed. And I love obsessions, as long as they don’t involve mail made of letters clipped out of magazines and people waiting outside in the bushes. Sometimes, even then. But I especially like an obsession you live with, right there in your room. Right by the bed. The kind you wake up and see first things first. The kind you start your day off with and address before you go to bed. It’s right up there with an entire closet devoted to nothing but the object of one’s devotion.

I asked Lauren if she’d answer some questions about Dolly and her shrine and she obliged:

_________________________________________________

What would Dolly be the patron saint of, in your estimation?

Dolly Parton, patron saint of Steel Magnolias and Rhinestone Cowboys.

Why Dolly Parton?

Because she is the kindest, gentlest, most nonjudgmental, most beautiful, loving soul that has probably ever walked the planet. I love her for her humble roots and for never forgetting them, for making all that money and going back to build an economy in a poor part of Tennessee (I also just love whenever someone makes a destination out of a place that isn’t New York, LA, Chicago etc…). I love her for looking the way she does and being 100% unapologetic about it. Sparkle on, baby love. I love that I feel like if I ever did get to meet her (which would be probably the greatest thing that could happen in my life), that she would very kindly listen to me tell her how important she is to me and appreciate it. And love me back. And she embodies so much of what I love most about the South: the attitude, the expressions, the warmth… and she makes damn good music. She appeals to my favorite aesthetic sensibilities (over the top, ridiculous, sparkly) and the warmest parts of my heart where my family and the south live. She is the ultimate real deal no bullshit southern woman boss babe.

How long has this been going on?

Unclear. I’m pretty sure I’ve always loved her, but this slightly obsessive, collecting and very public love has been going on at least for 5 or 6 years.

dolly 1

What are some of your favorite Dolly Parton moments and why?

Probably my favorite moment has to be one from Steel Magnolias… when she talks about liking the idea of hiring somebody with a past (when she hires Annelle) it makes me feel like she’d want to hear all about all of it and just forgive me for anything – curiosity free from judgment is the best thing you can find in a friend. And “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” And when Spud takes her to the new location for Truvvy’s and she says “I’m a chain!” I’ve always dreamed about opening a business with 2 locations so I can say that. And when she yodels in Mule Skinner Blues. Because it’s amazing. And, “Nobody cries alone in my presence.”

If you had lunch with Dolly what would you want to talk about?

I would just want to listen to anything she had to say. I don’t even know. I’d probably just be on the verge of tears the whole time. It would be fun to hear about when she first started making music, Porter Wagoner and the like. I’d want to hear about all of her love affairs.

If the lunch was only five minutes, what would you want to make sure she knew?

How much I love her and that she and my Nanny are my favorite women of all time.

Can you tell me the provenance of some or all of the objects in the shrine?

The big poster was a gift from dear friends Julie and Bruce Webb after working with them at the Dallas Art Fair (Julie is as big a Dolly fan as I am and has an even more impressive shrine). The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas head shot with Burt Reynolds was a Christmas gift from my baby sister two years ago (the best gift she’s ever given me. Second is a very pretty brown quartz ring). The Dolly with the flowers is a gem I found on Etsy. The magazine was a gift from my friend Jenny. The Barbie doll was a birthday gift from one of my best girls, Lindsay in LA. and the book I bought because I needed it. I have the Playboy with her on the cover too that needs to get up there.

___________________________________________

Lauren Kennedy runs a gallery space called South Fork, which you can check out here, here, and here.

(Pictured above: Lauren’s shrine and the table she set for our visit)

– Brian Pera

 Posted by on April 17, 2014
Apr 102014
 

chair

Elisa Gabbert is one of my favorite writers. I carried her latest book, The Self Unstable, around with me for weeks, reading a page a day the way some people read their morning affirmations. Each of the book’s 90-something pages contains a single paragraph, and each of these concise paragraphs presided over my thoughts on its assigned day, informing my outlook and interactions with its strange, circuitous logic. When you search for the book on Amazon, White Girls, by Hilton Als, shows up right underneath it, which makes a lot of sense; both writers have a uniquely poetic way of viewing the world, making it clear just how much you’ve been missing. It makes you wonder where a person sits to write this kind of material, and what her own days look like…

1. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new manuscript of poetry based on a character I recently played, Judy from The Designated Mourner by Wallace Shawn. In the play, she’s quite cold and reserved, and her main function is to report the story “as it happened”; Shawn has said she’s the voice of truth in the play. You don’t see much of her inner life or emotions, whereas you get a lot of that from Jack, her husband. After spending so much time with this character, learning her lines and trying to figure out how to make her real, I found myself wanting to stay with her longer, and go deeper. So this project is an attempt to give Judy a new monologue. Incidentally, it’s tentatively titled L’Heure Bleue.

2. What kind of decisions do you find yourself making with it?

I’m basically using Judy as a filter or channel for my own experiences and emotions. So I’m choosing which thoughts/ideas/feelings that come into my head feel like they could be part of Judy’s experience, and then I have to ask the further question of how she would feel them and express them. I make a joke out of everything, but Judy’s very dry, so I can’t resort to humor. Her character is driven by heartbreak, so I have to find ways to funnel my little daily heartbreaks into one singular heartbreak and make them part of her story.

3. What have you learned from previous projects that are helping you out on this one? Conversely, what haven’t you learned that this is teaching you?

My last book is written in little blocks of prose which are, in a sense, pretty formulaic. I conceived the form in such a way that I could make progress even if I didn’t feel like writing; I could write just one sentence and save it and then eventually I’d have enough sentences to build into a little block. The Judy poems aren’t so formulaic, but I’m trying to make steady, piecemeal progress in the same way – if I only have a fifth or a third or half of a poem in me one night, I write it, then build more onto it when I can. But this manuscript is written in verse, so I’m having to relearn the line and figure out how I want lines to work here. I want the page to look something like a play, with those wide margins and lots of white space, so that’s informing how I write the lines. (Ha: I just noticed that “lines” can refer to poetic verse or theatrical dialogue.) These poems are also much more emotional than The Self Unstable, which was very philosophical and aphoristic. And they take place in an actual setting, not some abstract idea-space, so I’m writing more images. It’s a return to the kind of poems I was writing in my first book (The French Exit), but my approach is quite different.

4. Where do you work and how do you work?

I carry a little notebook in my bag and make notes for drafts when lines (or “scenes”) come to me. Lately, these poems often start when I’m at a poetry reading. I also get a lot of ideas when I go out for a walk or a run. I recently wrote one in a waiting room at a hospital, etc. But a poem never feels done until I see how it looks typed up as a document, so I try to minimize the time between initial notes in a physical paper notebook and getting them into a file on my laptop. It feels floaty and impermanent until I have it saved on my computer. So most of that finalizing happens in this big brown armchair in the corner of our living room. The chair was a gift, years ago, to my husband from my father-in-law, but the chair is really too small for him (he’s 10 inches taller than me), so it’s become my chair.

5. When do you think you’ll be done?

If my last book is any indication, somewhere between one and three years.

 Posted by on April 10, 2014
Dec 182013
 

RnR_OfficeStill

I’ve worked with Angela Dee three times now, exploring a character we first started shaping together almost five years ago. The obsessively orderly, emotionally compartmentalized proprietress of a motel called the Loomis, Joan figures prominently in the Woman’s Picture film series. Dee is the kind of actress you keep trying to find things to do with. She comes to set with a unique combination of preparation and flexibility, and Joan is always so fully fleshed out upon arrival that each time we restart is like a reunion with two people at once, actress and character. Neither feels like fiction. When I heard months ago that she was working on a pilot, I was intrigued, not just because I’d watch anything she does with the full confidence I’ll be entertained, but because the show is her baby, from conception to writing and execution, and I knew she’d bring all the resources to this project that she brings to mine, flexing a whole set of muscles I haven’t had the opportunity to experience yet…

-Brian Pera

EVELYN AVENUE: Tell me about what you’re working on now…

ANGELA DEE: Primarily, this last year has been dedicated to an indie TV Pilot I wrote called Rack and Ruin – a comedy set in a toxic, high-end fashion boutique in NYC.

What made you want to do it and how did you get it started?

I have been thinking about this show ever since I got a job working at Brown’s in London almost 20 years ago! In school I was torn between Fashion and Drama – I majored in both. Initially I chose fashion because… well, frankly I was petrified of being rejected by the big drama schools in London. I ended up getting a scholarship to the London College of Fashion and that experience, combined with many years working on-and-off in high-end retail, exposed the ugly underbelly of the beauty industry. From that first day working in the store I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all, just wanting to make fun of fashion and unmask the whole charade.

The show only came into existence a little under two years ago after I had fortified my confidence as a writer and director on a number of other projects. In the fall of last year I did a reading of the scripts with a group of friends to hear how it all worked and a couple of months after that we went into pre-production. It originated as a web-series but as I kept writing it just wanted to be a 1/2 hour show. So that’s what it is now. However, the pilot has 5 web episodes embedded in it just in case it finds a home on the web – which in today’s climate is likely. I wanted it to be as flexible as possible. I’d like to see it have a life out there however it will be taken.

You bring a unique level of acuity to the characters you play. How does that serve you in a project like this, where it’s also story and direction and a thousand other additional factoring decisions?

(Zoinks! I just had to look up acuity… should’ve looked into a language scholarship!) First off I didn’t direct the show. I really wanted to, but a few peers of mine, whose opinion I relied on talked me out of it – it can be very challenging to direct something you’ve not only written but are the lead in. So, I didn’t really have any input in the direction on set.

But, I’d say if I have acuity as an actor it might be because I’m a big observer of behaviour? It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love it. So, I suppose I’ve spent 20 years researching this project. Asking questions about the industry. Paying attention to how I behave in relation to it and trying to understand WHY? And taking copious notes on the comically sadistic things women will do to each other in the ‘privacy’ of a clothing store – as customers, employees, owners, etc.

So I know this world inside and out. I wrote each character as if I were playing her/him. It’s probably a bit obsessive, but I know EVERYTHING about them. I could answer questions about their favorite food, what underwear they wear, what their relationship with their family is like. I think it’s helpful to be that immersed in the world I am writing. So, for example, we had some dramas on set. One of the 5 main characters is a dog. And, on the day we were scheduled to shoot her… she got stuck on an elevator in midtown and didn’t show up.

I had to rewrite the entire pilot right there on set with 30 people waiting for me. I was petrified at first – the stress was unbearable – but once I sat down to do it the solution came very quickly and naturally. And I think that’s because of how well I knew the story – not just the pilot but a good 2 seasons worth of story-arcs and such. So I found a way to write her out without loosing her for the rest of the show. You know. For when I get a deal and a cable-networtk pays me to do the whole thing for real…

What have been the biggest obstacles and assets in making this happen?

The first major obstacle was the DGA (Directors Guild of America). Wow. They are not built for indie people like me.

But, I’d say the bigger obstacle would be what I am calling the “bitch” factor. There is a very key, very specific moment during the first day of shooting where I chose to be liked by people rather than stand up for the project. I’m really sitting in the residue of that. There’s always a moment on set where you have to stand up for a choice – whether it be as an actor, a director, a photographer, a writer, you name it – where you have to fight for something. And that fight is not for the weak at heart. It can make you look and feel like a “bitch.” Often times you will be the only one fighting that fight, so the stakes can feel especially high. And sometimes there’s no guarantee that what you’re fighting for is even the right thing to do but you have to fight for it nonetheless, and that can cause conflict. Sometimes in the moment that conflict can feel too overwhelming to face so you back down from it. But, I’ve learned that it’s better to suffer a little short-term discomfort (read: be a “bitch”) for long term success/satisfaction. I’m still trying to find that balance. It’s an awful feeling both in the moment and later.

The biggest asset has to be team morale. For whatever reason the entire cast and crew were pumped to be there. There is no replacing that energy. It is truly a gift. It helps get you through those tough 14-hour days, the no sleep, the cold/rain, the crises. I loved being on that set. It was very humbling.

What did you doubt during your work, and what did you have confidence in?

Doubt is truly the devil. And self-doubt is even worse. I was weathering a constant, internal self-doubt storm. Not so much as an actor but as a writer and as the de facto center of the movie-storm. I felt completely responsible for everyone there. I was acutely aware of problems as they arose and it felt awful to think that anyone on that set would suffer in anyway because of me. I burst into tears one day when I found out the actors had not been getting their call-sheets. They were all basically showing up to set not knowing what scenes they were doing or, in some cases, if they were even going to shoot at all. You kind of just pray that it’ll all be worth it at the end of the day but the doubt is there.

You know, ironically, while I had doubt as a writer at the same time I also had confidence in the story and my character. After all, I wrote the darn thing for myself! I felt so secure in my scenes and with the other actors. We had such an incredible time together. I would’ve liked to have played around with the dialogue a little more – there was absolutely no improv which to me is a shame when it comes to comedy. But regardless, it was really grounding to know so much about the world I was in. And seeing the other actors bring life to the roles that had been in my head for so long was just the most outrageous experience. Quite a high.

If you did it again what would you do differently do you think?

I would direct it.

What’s the status now?

We just finished the sound design. We still need to do some color correction and grab some pick up shots for the opening, but in the meantime we’re doing a cast and crew screening this week. My plan is to have this baby sold and/or launched at the latest by March of 2014. I have an awful lot of work ahead of me (pitching, promoting, sizzle-reels, etc). This next leg of production is a new area for me, so I imagine I’ll be on a steep learning-curve for the next few months.

(Above: A still from the series, featuring, left to right, Ashley Kuske, Markie Post, and Angela Dee)

 Posted by on December 18, 2013