Ode to Ida

by Shawn Crawford

Ida Lupino

A pioneer occasionally runs so far ahead of the culture the world forgets her contributions by the time they start to catch up. Such is the case with Ida Lupino, a woman so talented and visionary she practically invented the indie movie studio to achieve what she wanted.

If you remember Lupino at all, it’s probably as an actor. Originally from Italy, her family had entertained England for generations; her great-grandfather George provided background material to Charles Dickens for the theatrical family in Nicholas Nickelby. Lupino adored her father Stanley, an immensely successful musical comedian that would travel with his wife Connie to New York to perform on Broadway. Although she loved to write, her father insisted on her performing and had her schooled and trained to that end.

After appearing in some English films, Lupino traveled to Hollywood in 1933. Intelligent with a razor wit, the studios weren’t sure what to do with her and cast her in a series of comic films that did nothing to showcase her talent. She finally got a break appearing in The Light that Failed and then made two acclaimed pictures with Humphrey Bogart, They Drive by Night and High Sierra. Lupino developed a friendship with Bogart and got to witness first-hand the shouting matches between Bogie and his wife Mayo Methot. They christened their house Sluggy Hollow. Read more »

“I am a Pornographer”: Conversation with Saskia Vogel on her debut novel “Permission”

Andrea Scrima: Saskia, you’ve written a book that invites us into the BDSM community to explore the complicated emotional landscape lying at the heart of its negotiations over consent and—as the title you chose for your book underscores—permission. When the book begins, Echo, the young narrator, is submerged in a fog of emotional blunting following her father’s accidental death; she trusts bodies and the language they engage in more than emotional intimacy. We’re in southern California: the milieu is wealth and privilege, Hollywood beckons, and the narrative is full of gleaming surfaces. Can aspects of Permission be read as a social commentary?

Photo: Nikolaus Kim

Saskia Vogel: Thank you for that introduction, Andrea! The book certainly came from questions I had about the society I encountered when I moved back to LA after spending most of high school in Sweden and university in London. LA, where I was born and raised, was suddenly new to me. I could legally drink, which meant access to new spaces, and I finally had a driver’s license. I was also carrying years of distance and encounters with new cultures with me. Nothing about LA life was a given anymore. I thought it would feel like free space. However, when I arrived in LA as an adult, in my early twenties, I became aware of a strong current that asked me to conform to certain norms as a woman, for instance in how I presented myself. Dating culture was oddly formal, like we were supposed to demonstrate our skill in performing a script rather than make a connection. Looking back, I might suggest that the kind of abuse of power that was happening in the upper echelons of Hollywood, and I’m thinking of Weinstein here, trickled down into parts of society, creating a dishonest economy of sex and power. Very soon I found a group of friends who were deeply involved in the kink community. Half of myself, shall we say, was in that community, and the other was trying to navigate life outside of that community. There was quite a stark contrast between the BDSM community I knew—informed by mutual respect and consent, articulated boundaries, and an awareness of power dynamics—and my life outside it, which I experienced as far more patriarchal and conventional than my imagination of life in LA had been. Those two worlds left me with questions about the roles available to women in society, about who benefits from the existing power structures, and if there was a way out. I dropped my main character Echo right into the middle of these questions. Read more »

POST TRUTH ART? John Baldessari: Miro and Life in General

by Sue Hubbard

19348Photo-Joshua_White-jwpictures.com-2297This is my first art review of 2017 and, in the last few months, the world has changed dramatically. It's hard not to look at everything through the prism of Donald Trump's election as leader of (for now, at least) the free world. Culture is taking on new metaphors and resonances. Optimism, hope and humour? Can there still be a place for them? Are such emotions still possible or even appropriate as we stand on the cliff top looking out, like stout Cortez on a peak in Darien, towards the stormy seas of the future?

Born in 1931 the Californian artist John Baldessari was honed by the zeitgeist of the 1960s, that decade of revolt, revolution, muddled thinking and creativity. The granddaddy of conceptual art he's known for his magpie appropriations of painting, photography and language. In an increasingly prosperous post-war world his concerns were to dismantle old shibboleths and stretch early 20th century artistic boundaries to see how elastic they could become. Iconoclasm was the name of the game. By the early 1990s he was a celebrity. A 1990 retrospective organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, travelled across the United States and Canada. With wit and irony he deconstructed the processes of contemporary artistic practice to include language. "I guess", he said, "it's fundamental to my work that I tend to think of words as substitutes for images. I can never seem to figure out what one does that the other doesn't do, so it propels me, this kind of bafflement." His aim has been to be as "disarming as possible", whilst establishing or deconstructing meaning through juxtaposition. By beguiling his viewers he's offered his own laconic visual commentary. Often citing semiotics and, in particular, Claude Lévi-Strauss's structuralism, as a major influence on his treating language as sign and on his deliberate play between word and image, he's taken phrases from art manuals and quotes from celebrated art critics and painted them onto the surfaces of his canvases. For him there has been no reason why a 'text' painting shouldn't be just as much a 'work of art' as a nude or a still life. Everything has been up for grabs.

Looking at this new show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in London I couldn't decide whether John Baldessari is, now, a dinosaur – irrelevant to the current political and social landscape of this new autocratic post-truth world – or a sensitive barometer of it.

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All The Wrong Places

by Lisa Lieberman

Walden Lodge

Hollywood, California, Summer 1941

I believe that the person you are when you're eight years old is the person you really are.

I was creeping up on Geoffrey as he sat meditating on the lawn—not that I could be invisible, my girl's body draped in my mother's mink coat—but Geoffrey was in one of his trances. I could have danced naked in front of him and he'd have continued to stare into the void.

Sometimes I did go naked; lots of people did AllTheWrongPlacesFrontat Walden Lodge in those days. My father was known as a bohemian and bathing suits were optional around the pool, although you had to dress for dinner in the lodge. Winters could be chilly even in Southern California, but there were always a few diehards who went skinny dipping regardless of the weather. Starlets who'd do anything to get a part in one of Father's pictures. Englishmen, like Geoffrey, who'd gone to boarding schools where they made you bathe in cold water, year-round. He got used to it, found it invigorating. “Manly,” as my brother Gray put it, the arch tone in his voice laced with affection.

“Gray, darling. How would you know?” said Vivien, my mother, in the same tone, minus the affection.

I paused to kick off Vivien's high heels, which kept sinking into the earth. Barefoot, I moved stealthily over the silky grass, stalking my prey. The air smelled of citrus, the overripe sweetness of oranges that had fallen on the ground and were beginning to rot in the sun. We picked as many as we could, but there were always fruits we couldn't reach.

Years later, when I was in Sicily filming a B-movie with Adrian, beautiful, wounding Adrian, we stayed in a pensione in Taormina. Three months with my love in Italia! The movie was forgettable but I finagled a print from the director, mostly because of my scenes with Adrian. The Italian actress they got to dub my dialogue had this wonderful, husky voice. It's a treat watching us in Italian, where you don't have to pretend to follow the plot.

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