That grand, unwieldy masterpiece of film-criticism-as-camp. Both fun and bewildering, and often at the same time. Tyler is one of film criticism's pio...moreThat grand, unwieldy masterpiece of film-criticism-as-camp. Both fun and bewildering, and often at the same time. Tyler is one of film criticism's pioneers and iconoclasts whose turn for rediscovery is long overdue. (less)
Insightful, incisive... and ultimately more than a bit of exhausting. I'm drawn to the structure and style, which is primarily made up of reflective f...moreInsightful, incisive... and ultimately more than a bit of exhausting. I'm drawn to the structure and style, which is primarily made up of reflective fragments that are arranged in associative clusters of memories and content, but the text's greatest quality—the deep immersion into the author's psyche and his personal obsessions and desires—is also, ultimately, its greatest drawback (after a while one pines for some critical distance).
But as someone like myself who is interested in opera in a cursory manner, it's a nice crash-course on its history and many of its major figures and works, presented in a manner that is accessible through Koestenbaum's almost excessively personal and often very witty approach to the subject. And of course, as the title indicates, this is all intricately intertwined with discourses of queer sexuality in the 20th and 21st centuries, and it leads to some really beautiful connections and observations.
"When I as a gay person go backward to find or write the story of my sexuality, I am making it up, because sexuality has no absolute origin or motivation, though because sexuality is structured like a narrative, with crux, climax, and denouement, we are always hoping to unknot its beginning. Playing a record, I move backward in time to the imagined scene of recording... playing a record is like playing the Ouija, speaking to the dead, asking questions of an immensity that only throws back the echo of one's futile question, a repeated 'myself, myself...'" (less)
It's almost fail-proof material: the fascinating criss-crossing connections—both professionally and personally—of the queer* men whose art and dedicat...moreIt's almost fail-proof material: the fascinating criss-crossing connections—both professionally and personally—of the queer* men whose art and dedication to artistic ideals not only helped establish, in the words of cover synopsis, "a world of gay aesthetics and desire in art that was groundbreaking at the time and remarkable even today," but left an indelible mark on 20th century American art and culture in general. Though the (loooong) title indicates the three figures Leddick specifically focuses upon in his study, it quickly becomes apparent that the life work of these three men intersect with so many others that whole sections, if not entire chapters, become devoted to other individuals, including Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, Pavel Tchelitchev, Chick Austin, Jared French, Charles Henri Ford, and countless others. Leddick is particularly adept at evoking the vibrancy of the era and all of its various social, artistic, and sexual layers and nuances, and I appreciated the way that he attempts to analyze the vast set of interconnections between an artist's persona life and their artistic output, and a certain painting or photograph often serves as a kaleidoscopic prism through which to explore a wide array of topics historical, personal and otherwise. It certainly makes for an engaging and quick read.
This all said, I still have significant issues with this study. Leddick is also a fiction writer, and there were a number of times I wish that he let the material speak for itself instead of embroidering it with fiction-inspired literary techniques, as sometimes the tones becomes rather annoyingly gossipy, and I skipped all of the fictionalized chapters written in the second person ("you've worked with Miss Dietrich a couple of times and she can be quite a bitch," etc). These section, thankfully, are helpfully printed in italics and easy to spot and skim. It's not that I was looking for a sober, ponderous academic analysis of these figures—that would almost certainly be to miss the spirit of this particular milieu—but sometimes Leddick's approach undercuts his subject matter in a way I'm assuming he did not intend.
And really, it must, be said: if this book implicitly suggests some kind of a gay aesthetic sensibility, the tacky hideousness of this cover stands as a direct affront to it. The elegant Platt Lynes and Kirstein in particular would be horrified. For shame.
*I'm hesitant to categorically lump all of the individuals detailed here simply as "gay" in the same way that the book does, as many of these individuals did not have sexual relationships exclusively with men, and would resist categorizing their sexuality in such a rigid manner. As such, I fall back on the pedantically academic, equally anachronistic "queer," as it allows for a certain fluidity of sexuality and sexual expression that more accurately reflects historical realities. (less)
The essay "It's In His Kiss!: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism" has now proven to be ground zero for several papers I have resea...moreThe essay "It's In His Kiss!: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism" has now proven to be ground zero for several papers I have researched and written, ranging from Nightwood to Twilight, and I've always meant to read some of the other chapters (ranging from camp to "queer noir" to Rock Hudson to Fassbinder to porn) as well. One of these days.(less)
This is the kind of intimate and evocative book that one imagines oneself reading during a long, languorous afternoon in a cafe or while curled up in...moreThis is the kind of intimate and evocative book that one imagines oneself reading during a long, languorous afternoon in a cafe or while curled up in big comfortable chair besides a sunny window, allowing oneself to be caught up in the delicate strands of thought, memory and whimsy Guibert uses to pattern this brief collection of essays, vignettes and assorted musings.
Unfortunately, I didn't read any of Ghost Image in such conditions. Rather, I read almost all of it while being jostled during my daily work commute on San Francisco public transportation, vying for all-too scarce seating, trying to maintain balance through unnecessarily abrupt braking, sandwiched between fellow commuters just as desperate for a cup of morning coffee or anxious to just get home as I was, etc. As such, I wish to apologize to this book—I don't feel like my reading experience did it justice.
But perhaps that pays Guibert a great compliment—because I did want to keep reading in such unideal reading situations, to see where Guibert was going to lead me next. The best sections, for me, were the anecdotes, often serving as a portrait of a person, that often functioned as short stories—the opening memory of "discovering" his mother while taking her portrait, an encounter with a curmudgeonly neighboring pharmacist, the lessons learned from a professional photographic retoucher. There are also a particularly wonderful meditations on the nature of old home movies and polaroid photographs.
From moment to moment this was enthralling reading, but in the end I couldn't help but feel I bit underwhelmed, as if it ultimately hadn't added up to a whole lot. But upon further consideration, I realize that my less-than-optimal reading experience might have caused me to miss the subtle rhythms and wispy, cobweb-like connections and associations I suspect Guibert used to string all of these disparate fragments together. As such, I will simply say that I fully look forward to reading this collection again, and next time around hopefully catch what I might very well have missed. (less)