Archive for the Readings Category

The Life Obsessive With Wes Anderson

Posted in Movies, Readings with tags , on June 25, 2008 by plagiarismbeginsathome

On a spur-of-the-moment train ride to Rome with the filmmaker whose reality bears a distinct resemblance to his movies.

Wes Anderson did not know where he was going. The problem was not that he was lost, but that his mind kept wandering, darting off in too many directions at once—a common and not entirely unwelcome problem for the 38-year-old director. Part of him wanted to stick around Venice for another day or two, now that the Venice Film Festival was over and the promotional business surrounding The Darjeeling Limited, his new film, was behind him. He liked Venice, liked the whole idea of wandering the catacomblike streets of a city that should have been swallowed up by the Adriatic centuries ago. But there was talk of moving the party elsewhere—to Paris, maybe, where he has kept an apartment since 2005; or perhaps to Rome, where some friends were heading. Eventually Anderson would have to figure out a way back to Manhattan, his other semi-permanent residence, in time for Darjeeling to open the New York Film Festival, but logistical details like that were, for the time being, best left out of the picture.

“I’m thinking Rome,” he eventually said, as if Rome were an appetizer he frequently orders, and twelve hours later he finds himself here: on a train bound for the Eternal City, joined by Roman Coppola and his girlfriend, Jennifer Furches. Coppola and Furches are the director’s old friends who, like most of his old friends, double as frequent collaborators. This is the dynamic at the heart of what those close to him affectionately refer to as “Wes’s world,” which resembles a vaudevillian family by way of Evelyn Waugh. Coppola, for example, is the cousin of Jason Schwartzman, the star of Anderson’s Rushmore, and together the three of them wrote the script for Darjeeling. (Furches was script supervisor.)

That we happen to be traveling by train to discuss a movie that takes place on a train was not part of the original plan, though I’m starting to think of it as yet another example of Anderson’s knack for retouching reality with an idiosyncratic gloss. (It may be connected to his fear of flying as well; until recently, Anderson traveled to Europe by boat, and he far prefers trains and automobiles to anything airborne.) Also somewhat peculiar is the fact that buried in one of Anderson’s monogrammed suitcases is 10,000 euros in cash—about $14,000—an amount that may or may not be legal to carry, and that was given to the director by Bill Murray, who asked that the money be “delivered to Luigi.”

 

 “It’s not as weird as it sounds. Luigi was Bill’s landlord when we shot The Life Aquatic,” explains Anderson, talking about his last movie, parts of which were filmed in Rome.

“But,” I ask, “wasn’t that back in 2004?”

“Yeah, Bill can be a little weird with time. But there’s no hard feelings or anything. I think Luigi and Bill have a pretty good rapport, though Luigi will probably be happy to get his money.”

 

Anderson often finds himself in situations like this: real-life circumstances that have the same absurd, art-directed quality as his films. You may be tempted to shake your head and simply say that Anderson has been incredibly lucky, which is true, but that doesn’t give enough credit to his talents—not just as a director, but more generally as someone who has constructed a life almost preposterously conducive to the pursuit of fantastical whims. When he was editing Darjeeling, for instance, he convinced Fox Searchlight to rent him a suite at the Inn at Irving Place, an unmarked hotel on Gramercy Park designed to re-create an era of faded glamour that probably never actually existed. Given that Anderson owns a spacious loft in the East Village that doubles as a work space, and that the studio could have rented any number of generic editing rooms for significantly less money, the logic behind this could be considered questionable. “I remember walking in there and thinking, Man, only Wes would figure out a way to pull this off,” recalls the photographer Gregory Crewdson, who befriended Anderson at a dinner party four years ago. “There was the little guy behind the desk, the narrow wooden staircase leading up to the room—it was just perfect. In his films he creates a very particular and unmistakable world, and I guess you could say the same is true in his life.”

You need only watch a few frames of one of his movies to spot it as an Anderson production. Though he is originally from Texas, there is something distinctively European in his obsession with aesthetics: a belief that the way something looks is what dictates how it will make you feel. His impeccably composed wide-angle shots have the feeling of a childhood fantasy: wistful, more than a bit ridiculous, with a darkness creeping in at the edges. Pepper in some resurrected classic-rock songs; deadpan dialogue; themes of failure, nostalgia, and fractured families; and the result, at its best, is a world unto itself.

Though his films have collectively grossed only $100 million—a large-sounding sum until you realize it’s exactly what they cost to make—he is supported and adored by the studio system. “For studio executives, supporting Wes is like collecting art,” says one friend. “It makes them feel they have great taste.” The appeal is the films, of course, but also the persona of the eccentric auteur. He is an abnormally tall man, or at least a man so pale and so skinny that he appears to be abnormally tall. And he dresses primarily in suits custom-tailored to be a half-size too small, giving him the look of one of the off-kilter characters he puts on screen, further evidence that Anderson’s life is his work, and vice versa.

None of which is lost on Anderson himself. Last year, he made an excellent commercial for American Express in which he simultaneously parodied and breathed new life into the Anderson Myth. In the ad he is seen clothed in a vintage safari jacket, a viewfinder dangling from his neck, filming a (fictional) movie starring Schwartzman. Anderson walks through the set making sure every detail, no matter how absurd, is just so. “Can you do a .357 with a bayonet?” he asks a prop man, and two seconds later—presto!—a sketch of the nonsensical weapon is produced. Shot outside a French château, the ad borrows the theme from Truffaut’s Day for Night—just the kind of sly reference loved by Anderson. Shooting a commercial is, for many directors, simply a means to earn quick money. But for Anderson, who more recently shot an equally distinctive series of ads for AT&T, the experience had the unique benefit of allowing him to further the storybook life he was delicately lampooning. At the time he made it he was living in the Paris apartment recently vacated by Kirsten Dunst, who had been renting it while filming Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. It was a decadent and exorbitantly expensive place that Anderson converted to an editing suite, with AmEx paying the rent.

His talent, in other words, has become his trust fund. But one gets the impression that even Anderson, these days, can find living in Wes’s world a bit claustrophobic. I first met him on a bright, windy afternoon in Venice, two days after Darjeeling had been screened for the public for the first time. With Schwartzman and Coppola, we were waiting for a water taxi to shuttle us off to lunch at an outdoor café. At one point Anderson complimented Schwartzman’s new sunglasses, and then suddenly turned to me, concerned with how I would interpret the seemingly banal exchange. “Oh God, I bet that’s the first line of your piece, isn’t it?” Anderson said. “Wes Anderson, notorious for his attention to detail, carefully observes the black retro sunglasses that the young Schwartzman has pulled from his pocket …” Later, when a breeze picked up during our meal, he turned up the collar on his seersucker suit and again quoted from the article he was writing in his head: “Anderson then pensively turns up the collar of his blazer, pulling it tight around his skinny frame to cover the monogrammed dress shirt underneath…” Pause. Laughter. “I’m sorry, man,” he then said. “I’m in a weird mood these days.”

Such a mood is understandable, especially given the circumstances surrounding the Venice Film Festival. One of the most prominent members of the Anderson contingent has been notably absent these past few days. It was just over a week earlier that Owen Wilson—a friend of Anderson’s since his days at the University of Texas, his first writing partner and most regular collaborator—tried to commit suicide. Anderson approaches the subject carefully. “He’s never had a time like this in his life before,” says the director. “His life has changed so radically in the last few years, and in ways that most people never have to deal with. He’s one of the funniest, smartest guys I’ve ever known, one of my best friends in the world. I know I’ve been depressed myself before—most of us probably know something about what it’s like…” He doesn’t complete the thought. “I went to see him last week in L.A., and, you know, he’s doing very well. He’s going to be fine.” Another pause. “I call him every day to keep him updated on what’s happening with the movie. I wish he was with us. He’s a major part of our project, and he has the right to be there with us.”

It was the 1998 release of Rushmore that radically altered Anderson’s life. He was hailed as a visionary, fetishized by his fans, encumbered by expectations. It was only his second movie—his first, Bottle Rocket, would become a cult favorite later in his career—but it offered everything an indie audience desired: an endearingly arrogant and peculiar teenage outsider (Schwartzman); a love triangle that was both twisted and innocent; and, of course, Bill Murray, in a surprising role as a wealthy, unhinged developer who, because he is Bill Murray, became an immediate icon of middle-aged angst. It also introduced to the world the Anderson aesthetic. Simply put, Rushmore did not look or feel like any other movie.

This is an accomplishment that comes with a price, guaranteeing for the director that everything that followed would look and feel like something: a Wes Anderson movie. Three years later he released The Royal Tenenbaums, a more ambitious ensemble piece about a New York family of gifted children who, as adults, had fallen on hard times. Thanks in part to a cast that included stars like Gene Hackman and Gwyneth Paltrow, Tenenbaums introduced a larger audience to Anderson’s style, which this time out seemed, depending on your tastes, to be either more defined or more distracting. As a meditation on family and adulthood, the film succeeds, movingly, and it certainly made clear how much more exciting American cinema is with someone like Anderson around. But there were moments—remember the Dalmatian mice?—when Tenenbaums risked being a bit too curious with its curiosities. (“Yes, yes, you’re charming, you’re brilliant,” chided A.O. Scott in his review. “Now say good night and go to bed.”) Then came The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau–inspired fantasia that left even some of Anderson’s most loyal fans impatient. There was a sense that the director had become pickled in a world of his own creation.

Novelty has a shelf life. Aquatic was seen as a beautiful failure, a study in style stripped of substance. In talking to Anderson you can tell that Aquatic was a difficult movie for him—beginning with its making. Like just about everything in his life, Anderson prefers a movie set to be a communal and intimate environment, which was difficult to maintain while dealing with the cold world of sound stages, special-effects crews, and the heightened expectations that come with an ever-expanding budget. (Aquatic cost close to $60 million, more than twice what Tenenbaums did.) “There were so many damn trailers,” he says of the filming process. “Every actor had like three trailers. And it’s not just the expense, but when you have all your actors watching ESPN on satellite, they’re not thinking about the work, so you have to pull them into it. You tell the actors you’re ready, you wait, you check their makeup, you monkey around, you wait some more—all of this over and over, and it doesn’t make the movie any better.” Discussing it seems to exhaust him, as if he were reliving the experience. “We just put everything into it, and it kind of, you know, got a bit of a rough ride,” he concludes. “I think it’s generally thought of as the least loved of all my movies.”

“When they say a movie is ‘too smart for its own good,’ as if we’re trying to show how great and cool we are…sometimes it hurts my feelings.”

It’s hard to gauge how personally Anderson has taken the criticism. At one point I bring up a recent essay by Michael Hirschorn in the Atlantic Monthly arguing that, as a culture, we are “drowning in quirk,” an aesthetic he defines as the “embrace of the odd against the blandly mainstream.” Citing Anderson’s movies as a prime example, Hirschorn claims that the problem with quirk is that it “can quickly go from an effective narrative tool to an end in itself.” Anderson, who in person is typically quite calm, becomes suddenly animated by the topic. “You know, I’ve heard that argument a million times, and it’s completely uninteresting to me,” he says. “It’s just deadeningly unoriginal. If you have ideas that you think can contribute to a movie, that you think might help you honestly enjoy it more…” He trails off, thinking. “Now I’m sounding bitter, aren’t I? Okay, my response to that is that sometimes it hurts my feelings.” Another pause. “When they say a movie I make is smarter-than-thou, that the movie is ‘too smart for its own good,’ as if we’re making movies to try to show everybody how great and cool we are…well, that’s just not the case. We’re trying our hardest to entertain people, to make something people will like, something people will connect with. I don’t think there’s a great effort to try to make some statement about ourselves, you know?”

Some artists thrive on defending their work, on the idea of being in combat with the culture; Anderson is not among them. By the time he was finished promoting Aquatic overseas, in the summer of 2005, he says he found himself feeling depressed. This was not a monumental or debilitating sadness, more like the low-simmering melancholy that defines his characters. He had some ideas for a new project, but they remained stalled in the Anderson gestational phase: sketches of disconnected scenes and dialogue scribbled in the small notepad he keeps in the breast pocket of his blazer.

Anderson decided that in order to be productive he had to leave New York, where he has lived and worked for nearly a decade—that it would be “interesting” to live outside of America for a bit. The director called up Schwartzman, who was then living in Paris, shooting Marie Antoinette. “Could I maybe crash in your guest room for a bit?” Anderson asked. “Whenever you want,” Schwartzman assured him, and shortly thereafter the two were roommates.

It turned out to be the beginning of a European adventure that, somewhere along the way, ended up producing The Darjeeling Limited. The movie features Schwartzman, Wilson, and Adrien Brody as three estranged brothers who travel through India by train in order to find themselves and bond with each other and “say yes to everything,” as Wilson’s character puts it. This “spiritual journey” is played for laughs, though like all of Anderson’s work, the comedy is born out of sadness—a fractured family attempting to repair itself.

Anderson first got the itch to shoot in India after Martin Scorsese—an avowed fan who in Esquire once anointed Anderson “the next Scorsese”—introduced him to The River, a lush and evocative 1951 film made by Jean Renoir. The idea for the brothers traveling came from Husbands, a 1970 John Cassavetes movie about three suburban husbands escaping to London. “But my main idea was not the train, not India, not the brothers,” says Anderson. “My main idea was, I want to write with Roman and Jason.” One night when Anderson was holed up in Schwartzman’s Paris apartment, he read a few pages of his notebook to Schwartzman—a scene that ended up being the film’s opening. It wasn’t long before Schwartzman and Coppola had signed on, and the three of them set aside a month to travel through India by train. It was there that most of the script was written.

“I guess we went to India as research,” says Anderson, “but the more precise-slash-romanticized description would be that we were trying to do the movie, trying to act it out. We were trying to be the movie before it existed.”

On the trip to Rome, Anderson and company move about the train as if it belongs to them. They abandon the suitcase full of Bill Murray’s money and head to the dining car for pasta, prosciutto and melon, and numerous half-bottles of wine. After lunch they sneak into a business-class cabin (from which, later, they will be ejected when an Italian politician arrives with armed guards). Coppola and Furches decide to kill some time by completing the Times crossword puzzle; they are soon stumped, and turn to Anderson, an amateur crossword junkie, for assistance. “Mind if I hold the paper?” Anderson asks, setting the crossword in his lap, pulling an erasable pen from his pocket, and casually taking control of the situation. He gives the sense that everyone is participating, working together, and yet—as he fills in one answer after another—it becomes clear that the end result would be the same if Anderson were sitting there alone.

 

“I think we’re just being entertained,” jokes Coppola.

“Oh, no—I couldn’t do this without you guys,” says Anderson, a statement that comes across as both true and false.

 

It is perhaps not unlike his collaborative process. His friends seem to act as conductors for his imagination: triggering it, encouraging it, very rarely questioning it. There were times on the set of Darjeeling, for instance, when Anderson would doubt his instincts: “Okay, am I doing too much of a ‘thing I do’ here?” he would ask the crew. Coppola was quick to quell the director’s insecurities. “Roman would always express his appreciation for being inventive and making what we thought was a strong choice.” As Coppola puts it, “When you do something that really is your instinct to do, then what more can you ask of yourself?”

Still, Anderson was tense at the premiere in Venice. It is the same at all premieres—Anderson worrying about how his movies, crafted in something of a parallel universe, will play in the world at large. “Mostly it’s just a process of steeling oneself for what’s going to happen. I’m sitting there thinking, Is the movie gonna be received with a lull of silence? Or with a boo?” says Anderson. “That’s a common thing in Europe, you know? They boo here.”

For the record, they did not boo. The early reviews were mainly positive, much more so than with Aquatic, though there was the requisite grumbling that the movie was “good but more of the same,” as Anderson puts it, shaking his head, after reading what Variety had to say. But the director does not seem particularly hurt or defensive this time around. “It’s probably not a good idea to put too much of your self-esteem on something like this, because, really, you can make a bad movie and it can be well received, and you can make a good movie and it can be badly received,” he says. “I think people who’ve done it a lot have learned, like the Coen brothers, for instance. My impression of them is that they really aren’t that vulnerable to what comes back at them. And they could get anything from any of their movies. Like The Big Lebowski, the first time I saw it I thought it didn’t quite work, but the second time I saw it I thought, Oh, I didn’t get it. I just didn’t understand it. And I really loved it then.” He adds, “You know, everyone’s limited. You can only do so much. I think in the end all I can do is say, Let me live the moment. I can still do what I want to do. I’m lucky enough to be able to do these movies so far.”

Two weeks later, over the phone from his Paris apartment, Anderson briefs me about how he fared during the rest of his travels. After we parted ways in Rome, he tells me, he delivered the money to Luigi, clearing Bill Murray’s outstanding debt. For the next few days he dined at his favorite restaurants until he decided it was time to head back to Paris. A sleeper train was momentarily considered for the journey, until a better idea struck. “We ended up slowly wandering our way back to France in a Roman taxi,” Anderson says, as if nothing could have made more perfect sense.

By David Amsden

New York Magazine, Published Sep 24, 2007

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Letters push Garbo slightly into view

Posted in Movies, Readings with tags , on June 25, 2008 by plagiarismbeginsathome

For close to 40 years film scholars and biographers of Greta Garbo have waited for the day when 55 letters and 32 cards and telegrams that the actress wrote to Mercedes de Acosta, a playwright, screen writer and poet, would be unsealed at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Garbo fans hoped that the letters would finally reveal truths at the center of Garbo’s mystery, particularly about the sensitive and ambiguous matter of her sexuality. Now many of the letters have been made public, but in true Garbo style, the truths about her private life remain elusive.

Acosta gave the letters to the Rosenbach in 1960 with the stipulation that they remain unopened until 10 years after the death of the last of the two women to survive. Acosta died in 1968 and Garbo on April 15, 1990 — 10 years and a day before they were opened to interested parties on Sunday. In the letters, which cover a range of topics from celebrity to everyday life, Garbo addresses Acosta as ”boy,” ”sweetie” and with other terms of endearment. She warns Acosta, who frequented the gay bohemian circles of 1930’s Hollywood, to be careful to keep her letters private. She scolds her for gossiping about their friendship. She invites Acosta to come and see her.

But then, in 1948 many years after the relationship began, she coldly tells her to stay away and, in so many words, that she wants to be alone.

Only about one-fourth of the letters were on view at the Rosenbach, although a spokeswoman for the museum described them as a representative sample. None contained any outright professions of love or references to what could clearly be defined as romantic get-togethers. Only minimal quotation was permitted.

”There is no concrete evidence any sexual relationship between these two women existed,” said Gray Horan, Garbo’s grandniece, who was present when the letters were opened and who is believed to have read all of them privately.

In many ways the letters made available to the press are what one might expect from the very private and decidedly practical movie star. She asks Acosta to do errands, gives her diet advice and reports on doctors’ visits. There are complaints about the burdens of celebrity. There is even a mantra: Garbo was a yoga advocate. There is a tracing of Garbo’s foot; she had big feet, size 10. Garbo even sent Acosta stock tips.

The nature of Garbo’s sexuality has always been debated because for more than 20 years years she communicated an electric and ambiguous sexuality that riveted moviegoers and a larger public.

She was believed by biographers to have had romantic relationships with such men as her leading man in ”Flesh and the Devil,” John Gilbert; Leopold Stokowski; and George Schlee, a businessman.

She frequently referred to herself as a boy in public and favored mannish clothes, especially trousers. ”I have been smoking since I was a small boy,” she would say. And, ”I am a lonely man circling the earth.” One of her biographers, Barry Paris, wrote, ”Garbo liked to confuse people, or at least not clear up their confusion, and mysteriousness was both instinctive to her, inside, and part of everyone’s projections, outside.”

A rather self-dramatizing figure, Acosta alluded to having had love affairs with Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne and Isadora Duncan.

Acosta was born in the United States to aristocratic Spanish Catholic parents. She wore her jet-black hair slicked back like a man’s and dressed in a black cap, long coat and trousers. A feminist and suffragist, she was married to an artist, Abram Poole. The two were said to have an ”open” relationship.

In Acosta’s 1960 autobiography, ”Here Lies the Heart,” she describes first catching sight of Garbo in what was then Constantinople, Turkey, in the late 1920’s. Garbo was ”one of the most hauntingly beautiful women I had ever beheld,” she wrote.

Then, in 1931, in a sequence described in her autobiography, Acosta met Garbo in person at the screenwriter Salka Viertel’s house in Hollywood. When Garbo admired Acosta’s bracelet, Acosta gave it to her. She and Garbo met again, she wrote, and this time Garbo gave her a flower.

The two went off together to an island in Silver Lake in Nevada. There followed ”six enchanted weeks,” Acosta wrote, though one of Garbo’s biographers, Karen Swenson, says it was probably more like two. ”With her hair blown back, her face turned to the wind and sun, she would leap from rock to rock on her bare Hellenic feet,” Acosta wrote of their time at the lake. Nowhere in the biography does she explicitly say the two were lovers.

The relationship cooled on Garbo’s part. Acosta pursued Garbo, with Garbo occasionally bestowing a few crumbs of affection. In 1935 they met in Sweden. ”I was a wreck after she went,” Garbo wrote to Salka Viertel, according to Ms. Swenson’s biography, ”and I told her she must not write me. We had a sad farewell.”

Still, Garbo seems to have strung her along. In 1957 Garbo arrived on Acosta’s doorstep, according to Ms. Swenson, and announced, ”I have no one to look after me.” But she refused to give Acosta her phone number. In 1960 Acosta published her autobiography, and Garbo never spoke to her again.

© THE NEW YORK TIMES, April 18, 2000 by DINITIA SMITH

Fear and Loathing at 25 – Thompson reflects on the addictive properties of professional journalism (by P.J. O’Rourke, Nov 28, 1996)

Posted in Readings with tags , on June 24, 2008 by plagiarismbeginsathome

Rolling Stone Magazine

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was first published here in Rolling Stone 25 years ago. We, the times, the country and the world have changed. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s book has not. It was then and is now a perspicacious, seminal, nonpareil, virtuoso work, the kind of thing that sends you to the dictionary looking for a word that does it . . .

atavistic adj. of or pertaining to a characteristic found in a remote ancestor, e.g., the velociraptor, but not in nearer ancestors

. . . justice.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is also a sort of accident. It was a literary byproduct. In the midst of some intentional journalistic brilliance, Thompson had a happenstance of artistic genius. In 1971, Hunter was deeply and rather dangerously involved in writing about the killing of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar. Hunter had a good source on the story, Mexican-American lawyer and political activist Oscar Acosta. But Oscar was surrounded by youthful hotheads paranoid of any connection to an Anglo, however sympathetic to the cause that the gabacho was supposed to be. So, Thompson suggested that he and Acosta take a weekend jaunt to Las Vegas. They’d have time to chat in private on the drive.

The rest is history. Sort of. Physics, anyway. Chemistry, definitely. Abnormal psych, for sure. Plus PE and lunch.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas addresses the great themes of late-20th-century literature — anomie, being and nothingness, existential terror. But two things separate Hunter Thompson from the common herd of modern-lit angst peddlers. First, Thompson is a better writer. He flips Kafka over on his back like some big insect. He makes Genet sound like a children’s-book author — Fuzzy Bunny and His Puppy Pals Blow Me. Compared with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Albert Camus’ The Stranger becomes a lame jail-house whine, and all of Sartre is just some French doofus sitting around in a cafe, saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Second, Thompson makes us laugh. This is something we’re unlikely to do during performances of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, even if we’re as high as Raoul Duke. Hunter Thompson takes the darkest questions of ontology, the grimmest epistemological queries, and by his manner of posing them, sends us doubled over in fits of risibility, our sides aching from armpit to pelvic girdle, the tops of our legs raw from knee-slapping, beer spitting out of our noses. We laugh so hard that at any given moment, we’re almost as likely to vomit as the 300-pound Samoan attorney.

Read Beckett, Sartre, Camus, Genet and Kafka and you’ll say: “Life is absurd, the world is meaningless, and all of creation is insane.”

Read Hunter S. Thompson and you’ll say: “Life is absurd, the world is meaningless, and all of creation is insane — cool.”

The Unerring Quality of DOPE LOGIC . . . Writing in FEAR and the Worship of RULES . . . the Democracy of DRUGS

At the time you were writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you implied that things had gone wrong with the ’60s, that it was a flawed era.

Well, the truth of the matter was, there was Kent State, there was Chicago, there was Altamont. The ’60s was about the Free Speech Movement long before it was about the flower children. I was more a part of the Movement than I was of the Acid Club. But you knew that something was happening. You have to remember that acid was legal. [Ken] Kesey was a leader of the psychedelic movement. Berkeley was a whole different thing. The music was another thing. There was the Matrix [club], Ralph Gleason, everything.

I had the best time of my life in the ’60s, and I rail and curse against it because I miss it. But when we really get to talking about it, and when I really get to remembering what actually happened, I recall that it was a horrifying period.

I might quarrel with your interpretation of the ’60s as meaning nothing, but then I’ve said since then that we really had the illusion of power — the illusion of being in charge. Which was quite liberating. We did drive one president out of the White House.

What went wrong?

Killing the leaders of it didn’t help a lot — and Chicago in 1968, Kent State, Nixon being re-elected. But I would have one or two shades of disagreement with you about the ’60s. It’s to be expected. Yeah, in your assessment of the ’60s, I think you’d call it a time of dumb sheep or when the goats sacrificed themselves.

Well, there is that lemminglike quality to the ’60s.

I happened to see the ’80s as that. And God knows what the hell the ’90s are. They are just brazen with rules. Rules are worshiped — to the point where football and basketball referees are becoming celebrities. And the compulsion, the lust, to be on TV: It may be the governing instinct of our times. We’re into a new world. We’re at the decadence. I keep saying there will be no year 2000.

You have given a pretty negative depiction of the effect of drugs in your work. Basically, nothing happy happens to people when they take drugs. Instead, it’s Edge City. There’s a lot of stuff that you’ve written that Nancy Reagan could have used — “Kids, this is what’ll happen.”

Whether it’s negative or not, the reality of it is, you start playing with drugs, the numbers aren’t on your side for coming up smelling like roses and being president of the United States. I did at some point describe the difference between me and, say, [Timothy] Leary’s concept — you know, that drugs were a holy experience and only for, you know, the drug church. I am in favor of more of a democratization of drugs. Take your chances, you know. I never felt that, aside from a few close friends, it was my business to advocate things.

Do you think there’s anything interesting about drugs for making art?

Yeah, totally interesting. But it took me about two years of work to be able to bring a drug experience back and put it on paper.

And not make it sound like a script for The Trip with Peter Fonda.

And to do it right means you must retain that stuff at the same time you experience it. You know, acid will move your head around and your eyes, and whatever else you perceive things with. But bringing it back was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do in writing.

You can kid about it. But to really put it down on paper, to be honest about it . . .

Well, that’s what Vegas is about. It’s about the altered perceptions of the characters. To me, that’s really the bedrock of the book — their responses to one another’s questions. It’s like in The Three Stooges: that story where they were out in the rowboat in a lake and it sprung a leak. And the boat was filling up with water. So they decided to bash a hole in the bottom of the boat to let the water out. Now that’s drug reasoning.

Is there any reason to distinguish Fear and Loathing from fiction?

I remember one Friday afternoon it had to be decided for the New York Times — “A work of the imagination” was what [Random House editor] Jim Silberman came up with. Of course, it didn’t stick. We went to “nonfiction,” which led to it being categorized as “sociology.”

Ouch. Anyhow, the way you write is what replaced fiction. All these guys — Camus in The Stranger, Beckett in Waiting for Godot, Ionesco with all those imaginary rhinoceroses running around — they are trying to construct a fictional world that makes points about the absurd nature of modern life. You were just writing what had happened and blew them out of the water. The reality of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas gives it a power like Henry Miller that, to me, imaginary rhinoceroses and Ionesco just don’t achieve.

Well, we did have imaginary alligators in this one.

But it was real imaginary.

As far as I was concerned, I was writing what happened to me in Las Vegas. It was just in the gonzo thinking, taking it one step further.

I wrote it deliberately as a cinematic treatment. But I was too ignorant to know that interior monologue doesn’t work well cinematically. That’s what makes it so hard to film.

Which is why Where the Buffalo Roam didn’t work in certain ways.

Just a bad writing job there. But I think more happens in the mind in Las Vegas. That’s why we had so much trouble filming it. How do you film fear? And also a certain kind of psychosis?

For that matter, how do you write about it?

Well, you know, I wrote it in the process. I wrote it by hand at first, in notebooks.

You started while you were actually there in Las Vegas.

And in fear.

Quite reasonably.

Oscar had left me there with a pound of weed and a loaded .357, and some bullets in his briefcase.

And no money.

I couldn’t pay the bill. And I was afraid. And I was waiting for the right hour to leave the hotel through the casino.

And earlier I’d slowly, you know, moved stuff down to the car, small amounts, in and out. But there was one big, metal Halliburton [suitcase] that there was no way to get out. I was trying to pick the right time to leave. I remember at 4:30 in the morning, a poker game was going on, nothing but poker games. I just walked through the casino nonchalantly carrying this big Halliburton. I was afraid. I was afraid of taking off, you know, in a red car, on the only road to L.A.

What was scarier: Oscar leaving you in this situation or Oscar being there?

I’d have preferred to have him there. Just all of a sudden being alone in a situation where you had been abusing drugs [thoughtful pause] — but not intentionally; we had gone there to do a story.

You went there to work.

I was afraid the whole time. I was in bad enough condition as it was. And, you know, I’m jumping a hotel bill out in Las Vegas and then trying to drive to L.A. in a red car.

Not entirely sober.

That’s not your best way to go — a stolen gun, a pound of weed. There was this big bulletin board on the edge of Las Vegas: attention, 20 years — for marijuana.

For me, the key moment of the paranoia was the enormous, frightening sign outside the hotel window. Oscar wants to shoot it. But you say, “No, let’s study its habits first.”

We’re feeding off each other. There’s a knock on the door, and somebody says, “Well, it must be the manager ready to shoot our heads off.” And the response from the other person is to immediately get a knife, open the door and slit the [guy’s] throat.

Yeah, try this for dope logic: On Las Vegas‘ cover, Oscar wanted: By Hunter Thompson and Oscar Acosta. He said, “I’m not some fucking Samoan,” which I had written to protect him. I said, “Oscar, you’re a fucking member of the California Bar Association. You’re engaged in extremely public hearings protecting the guys who tried to burn down the hotel when Reagan was speaking.” I put Samoan in there for a reason. God almighty [displays the back of a hardcover copy of “Las Vegas” with a caption identifying Acosta], I wrote that. Yeah, I told him, “This is crazy.” But he insisted on this photograph and being identified in the photograph.

But can you be productive on drugs? I mean, we know that drugs definitely give you different viewpoints, looking at the world through a fly’s eye and so on.

Without the drugs, we would not have gone to Las Vegas. Well, we would have had completely different experiences. And the logic of the whole thing was drug logic: Here are Oscar and I in the middle of this weird murder story [“Strange Rumblings in Aztlan,” RS 81], and there are all these bodyguards around. “I can’t stand it anymore.” “These fuckin’ spics.” You know, half of them are threatening to kill me. The feeling was, “I can’t even talk to you.” The logic of, “Let’s go to Las Vegas and dump them,” which we do, that wouldn’t have happened without drugs. It was the right thought. But drugs get to be a problem when the actual writing time comes, except just as a continuation of the mood.

On a HELL-BOUND Train . . . GATSBY vs. the GOOPS . . . Reading for POWER and Fitzgerald’s LEVERAGE

You’re fairly aggressive. Journalism is a wonderful way to exorcise aggression.

That is one of my main frustrations of not writing a column anymore.

I just don’t know of anything better in the world than the justified attack on authority figures that also uses humor. Is there anything that beats making fun of people?

Not if they’re the right people. I think the shared perception is huge in that. You know what works: If they jump, you know you got the right word. With readers, I was surprised, and still am, at the very solid and articulate mass of people out there who are extremely varied but really do like me and agree that I’m expressing their feelings. I believe that journalism and fiction have to do that. It’s not just amusement.

Fiction writers, even when they use interesting techniques, are often not audience directed. If you’re a journalist, you have to be directed toward your readers.

Newspapers give you that connection with your reader. You’ve got no choice. You are fucked if you’re not connected.

So what do you tell people who say they want to become writers?

Ye gods, that’s a tough one. I think that one of the things I stumbled on early, as really a self-defense mechanism of some kind, was typing other writers. Typing a page of Hemingway or a page of Faulkner. Three pages. I learned a tremendous amount about rhythm in that way. I see writing really as music. And I see my work as essentially music. That’s why I like to hear it read out loud by other people. I like to hear what they’re getting out of it. It tells me what you see. I like to have women read it. If it fits musically, it will go to almost any ear. It could be that that’s why children relate to it.

And also you know if you’re getting your reader to hear it the way you want it heard.

I like to hear them getting it. Boy, that’s when you know you’re on the same fucking frequency. Without the music it would be just a mess of pottage.

Did anybody read aloud to you as a kid?

Yeah, my mother did. We were big on stories in the family — fables, bedtime stories. The house was full of books.

There was no wall in the house that didn’t have bookshelves. It’s like this house [points to rows of shelves]. The library, to me, was every bit as much a refuge as a crack house might be to some gang kid today. You know, a library card was a ticket to ride. I read every one of those fucking things. My mother was a librarian for the Louisville [Ky.] Public Library.

John Updike’s mother told him that the whole Rabbit series read like an A student’s idea of what a high-school athlete’s life is like. . .

Wow. To have his mother say it: “I knew there was a reason I was always disappointed in you, my son.” Imagine the struggle that my mother had to go through.

How did she feel about your writing?

For 10 years, the fact that I was a writer had little to do with the fact that I was seen merely as a criminal on a hell-bound train. My mother had to be down there on Fourth Street, at the main desk of the library, and had to have people come in asking for my book before she was convinced that I had a job.

What was the first book, the first whole book, you read?

Good lord, man — anybody who would remember that is probably in some kind of trouble or lying.

No, they say that drug addicts always remember the very first time they had the drug, or alcoholics remember the first drink.

[Pauses] Jesus, I think you’re right.

I think I am, too.

Well, in my grandmother’s bookcase there was a book called The Goops. I was maybe 6, 7. It was a rhymed thing about people who have no manners — people who drooled. The Goops, they use the left hand; they chew all their soup. The Goops were always being punished for rudeness. My grandmother pulled it out for me to let me know that I was going against history. It was like a poem on every page, iambic pentameter definitely, and she gave me a sense of rules, and she managed to shame me for being a Goop — and being a Goop was like being a pig and lowlife. And it registered.

What about the first grown-up book that you read?

You’ve got to keep in mind that through high school, I was a member, actually an elected officer, of the Athenaeum Literary Association, which really governed my consciousness. It started out at Male High [in Louisville]. We’d gather around on Saturday nights to read. It was a profoundly elitist concept. It ended up being a kind of compensation for cutting school. You know, “What have you got? Where were you yesterday, Hunter?” “Well, I was down at Grady’s, on Bardstown Road, reading [Plato’s] “Allegory of the Cave” with Bob Butler and Norman Green, drinking beer.” I don’t know, it was fun. We were reading Nietzsche. It was tough, but when you’re cutting school, you’re reading for power, reading for advantage. I’ve always believed: You teach a kid to like reading, they’re set. That’s what we did with Juan [Thompson’s son]. You get a kid who likes to read on his own, shit, you’ve done your job.

When you started reading on your own, who did you turn to?

When I was in the Air Force, I went into a feeding frenzy. I read contemporary stuff — The Fountainhead. I had Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Kerouac, ee cummings. The thing that was important to me about Hemingway at the time was that Hemingway taught me that you could be a writer and get away with it. The example he set was more important than his writing. His economy of words I paid a lot of attention to. That thing about typing other people’s work was really an eye-opener to me. Nobody suggested it to me. I just started doing it. I had Dos Passos — that’s where I got a lot of my style stuff, the newsreels up at the beginning of his chapters. I came to Fitzgerald early. At 19 or 20, The Great Gatsby was recommended to me as my kind of book.

I’ve said before, Gatsby is possibly the Great American Novel, if you look at it as a technical achievement. It’s about 55,000 words, which was astounding to me. In Vegas, I tried to compete with that.

I didn’t realize Gatsby was that short.

It was one of the basic guiding principles for my writing. I’ve always competed with that. Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life. Shoot, I couldn’t match 55,000 no matter how I chopped. I even chopped the ending off.

There are few things that I read and say, “Boy, I wish I could write that.” Damn few. The Book of Revelation is one. Gatsby is one.

You know Hemingway’s concept: What you don’t write is more important than what you do. I don’t think he ever wrote anything as good as The Great Gatsby. There are lines out of Gatsby — I’ll tell you why it’s so good: Fitzgerald describing Tom Buchanan. You know — athlete, Yale and all the normal stuff, and the paragraph ended describing him physically. Fitzgerald said about Tom Buchanan’s body, “It was a body capable of great leverage.” Back off! I remember that to this day, exactly. You finish Gatsby, and you feel you’ve been in somebody else’s world a long time.

You’ve said that you initially wanted to write fiction and that you saw journalism just as a way to make ends meet.

Essentially to support my habit, writing.

Do you still work with fiction?

That brings us to Polo Is My Life [RS 697].

Were you working on Polo from a sort of a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas point of view, or was it a fictional construct?

Both. I had to do it journalistically as serial coverage [for Rolling Stone], then adapt it, which is where the real mix came in. I was struggling with the fiction — the rats in the rafters over the pool were rumors that I tried to relate to the story.

Rumor is a form of truth, after all.

Remember the Muskie thing? That wasn’t a lie. I wrote that there was a rumor that he had taken Ibogaine [“Not much has been written about the Ibogaine Effect as a serious factor in the Presidential Campaign, but toward the end of the Wisconsin primary race — about a week before the vote — word leaked out that some of Muskie’s top advisers had called in a Brazilian doctor who was said to be treating the candidate with ‘some kind of strange drug’ that nobody in the press corps had ever heard of.” RS 108]. I started the rumor, but there was a rumor.

It was a real rumor.

With Polo, the journalistic aspect in covering events wasn’t at all what I had in mind. After all, Polo Is My Life is a horrible joke, you know, a mean, wicked title. I became suddenly and deeply and intensely involved with a woman who was seriously into polo and planning to leave her husband. We were going to run away. This was a horsewoman, you know. About 5 [feet] 10 [inches]. I mean, a raging beauty. She had a two-goal rating. I met her one afternoon — bright sunlight. She had her horse tied up outside, and she said, “Well, I can’t run away with you, actually. Who would take care of my ponies?” And I looked at her funny, and she said, “You don’t understand, polo is my life.” That’s where the title came from. It had nothing to do, really, with polo. It was a love story. The polo-match coverage gave a body to it that was good for Rolling Stone, for articles. But it got away from the original idea.

NEW and RARE . . . Two Weeks in LAS VEGAS . . . a LIGHTHEADED Feeling . . . Drunk, HORNY and BROKE

What is gonzo journalism?

I never intended gonzo journalism to be any more than just a differentiation of new journalism. I kind of knew it wasn’t that. Bill Cardoso — then working for the Boston Globe — wrote me a note about the Kentucky Derby thing [“The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” Scanlan’s Monthly, June 1970] saying, “Hot damn. Kick ass. It was pure gonzo.” And I heard him use it once or twice up in New Hampshire. It’s a Portuguese word [actually, it’s Italian], and it translates almost exactly to what the Hell’s Angels would have said was “off the wall.” Hey, it’s in the dictionary now.

Not many people get to add anything to the dictionary.

That’s one of my proudest achievements. It’s in Random House [and many other dictionaries]. I’m afraid to quote it.

Where did the phrase “fear and loathing” come from?

It came out of my own sense of fear and a perfect description of that situation to me. However, I have been accused of stealing it from Nietzsche or Kafka or something. It seemed like a natural thing.

I was never really sure how long you actually spent in Las Vegas.

The chronology gets weird. There was a huge break between the Mint 400 motorcycle race — which we were all very excited about — and the DA’s conference. I was there in early summer. What happened is, I came back here to Woody Creek [Colo.], then I went to San Francisco. The first half of it was clearly a story — we’d agreed on it. But I guess I got back here, and some mail had accumulated. At the time, I was a member of the International Association of Police Chiefs, since I was the chief magistrate of Woody Creek. And I would get all these magazines and propaganda and stuff, and invitations, and one of them was the National District Attorneys Conference, in Las Vegas. I guess I was thinking Vegas 2 already: “Hmm, this story’s not finished, really.”

It needed more “research.”

Yeah, this was a breakthrough. So I called Oscar, and I said, “Hey, are you ready to go? We have another date in Las Vegas.” He resisted at first, but he couldn’t resist me. And this time he flew in, and I flew in. Our cover was absolutely essential. I had registered for the conference, sent in a check — it was $125 apiece — talked to Jann [Wenner]. I had told Oscar, “Don’t tell anyone we’re going to penetrate the deepest bowels of the enemy. This is not funny.” I hadn’t told anybody around here. Unfortunately, when I got on the plane, there is the Pitkin County [Colo.] district attorney, Jim Moore, whom I knew pretty well. He said, “Hi ya, Hunter, where you going?” And I said, “Holy shit.” We took separate seats, and for a while I wrestled with it. Maybe I said, “That’s funny, I’m going to Las Vegas, too.” Maybe I got into the seat next to him; anyway, I confessed: “I am going to this convention, and I’m going as Raoul Duke. I’m undercover totally, and unfortunately you know about it. I didn’t mean for this to happen. And can I count on you to guarantee my cover?” “Uh,” he said, “Yeah, I think so, yeah.”

He ended up being very helpful; I don’t think he ever blew my cover. He suffered through it the whole time, that entire week in August. In the book, the break’s not really clear, but it went from June to August.

It feels as if it could have happened in a week or a four-day weekend.

It was two one-week blocks. The preparation before, in L.A., it was already a part of it. I knew what I was doing there, and I knew it was very dangerous. Oscar was an investigator. I was a magistrate. The story was still rolling.

How did you do the actual work on Vegas? What was the drill?

Right after Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, he wrote a very small book, not much noticed. And I remember reading that he said, “I wrote that just to cool out after The Sun Also Rises.” I was working on Salazar, an ugly murder story. You know how you get. You get that, “Fuck, damn, where shall we go now?” You know, “Whose throat can I eat?” And when I got stuck out in that Holiday Inn near the Santa Anita racetrack, outside Pasadena [Calif.], I was there to work on this murder story. That was work, boy, that was blood. And, boy, that role got very, very tough. That’s why I went to Las Vegas. And when I came back from Las Vegas, I was still writing that story.

So you’d work on Vegas as a break from the real assignment on hand?

Yeah. I’d write from the notes I’d made all the way from before I left there. But it was really my notes as I was fleeing. I stopped as often as I could. I was just an image on the freeway, a red convertible driving fast to L.A. on the 305. So I would stop and make these copious notes in these weird honky-tonk joints. I’d start out about dawn. I’m just thinking, “Ye gods, this is a story.” The lead, I think, was the first thing I wrote. I don’t think it was ever changed. And no doubt it came from a list somewhere: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” And you asked me if books seemed to me like drugs, for fuck’s sake.

It’s extraordinary how different the two pieces of writing are.

They were written at the same time, same hotel room. It was a 24-hour-a-day gig. I’d speed, and I would just write. I remember it was the spring meeting at Santa Anita, and I was surrounded by horse people. Everywhere around me, all the other rooms were jockeys, tall blond women, owners, gamblers. I was the weird one there.

Yeah, I suppose. What was the response when you filed this new story?

The staff then was a pretty tight group. We had dinner down at some Mexican restaurant we used to go to a lot, to celebrate the bringing in of the great Salazar saga. That was the event. We sat at a booth — white Formica table — there were four of us in there: Jane [Wenner], Jann, me inside and [former Rolling Stone editor] David Felton. I might have said something to Jann that afternoon like, “I got a little something extra.”

But I remember sitting down there across from Jann — it was just the two of us at first — and I just said, “Hey, try this.” I think the first day it was nine pages — somehow it went in nines. It was just my handwritten notes, which went on and on and on. That was the thing about Rolling Stone in those days: It was logical. Here I’d had one great triumph and said, “Hey, wait a minute, come over here, I got something better.” And I knew somehow it was better. I knew it was special. It was a different voice. Jann read it. He was the one for a real judgment.

He made me an offer. Can you imagine anyone doing things that way now? But it was just entirely natural, and it’s always been that way. It was, “Hey, hot damn, this is good. What else do you have?” I’d say, “This is a large thing; I’m full of energy here,” and that energy meant finishing something. And he went right along with it.

You don’t get that too often.

I’ve always appreciated that moment.

I’ve never been able to decide what makes me most envious of you as a writer, whether it is the “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive” or when Oscar turned to the hitchhiker and said, “We’re your friends. We’re not like the others.”

We happened to pick up this kid on another road, not on the road from L.A. to Las Vegas. I was driving; it was the first time around — the red car. I saw a kid hitchhiking. A tall, gangly kid. I said, “What the hell?” and I pulled over: “Hop in.” “Hot damn,” he said, “I never rode in a convertible before.” And I said, “You’re in the right place.” I was really pleased. That was a true thing. I identified with him. I almost said, “You want to drive?”

Which would have been a good idea in the event.

But all those events, it’s the attitude that really seems to meld them together. Granted, my behavior may be low-rent, but it was investigative journalism: “I’m new and rare.”

You were, after all, looking into things. Albeit those things didn’t exist.

It was my assignment. I had two assignments: I was there to cover the Mint 400, and I was there to cover the DA’s conference. What are people bitching about?

It wasn’t like you didn’t write anything. That’s the thing that usually pisses editors off.

Sports Illustrated rejected the 2,500 words that I sent them; all they wanted was 250 for a caption. “Not acceptable for our format.”

I can see the layout problem they might have had. Was Ralph Steadman in Las Vegas during any of this?

No, we sent it to him all at once when it was finished. When I went to Las Vegas, one of my jobs was to find physical art: things that we used, cocktail napkins, maybe photos — we didn’t have a photographer. But that concept didn’t work. I rejected it. It was a cold afternoon, Friday, on a deadline in the Rolling Stone offices, when I rejected [Art Director Robert] Kingsbury’s art for the “Vegas” story. It was a real crisis: “What do we do now?” This is one of those stories that you read in bad books. I said, “What the fuck, let’s get Ralph Steadman. We should have had him there in the first place.”

We’d worked together on the Derby piece and also on the America’s Cup nightmare. It never got published. Scanlan’s had gone under. Ralph and I had become somewhat disaffected, estranged, because of his experience in New York — his one and only experience with psychedelics, with psilocybin. And he swore he’d never come back to this country and I was the worst example of American swine that had ever been born.

If I had had my way, Ralph would have gone with me to Las Vegas. It was some kind of accountant’s thing: “Save on the art,” you know. I didn’t like the cocktail-napkin thing, but it wasn’t that big a story, really. And, you know, Ralph wouldn’t do it unless he was paid $100,000 or something like that. But when the other art was rejected, I think Jann was there: “Let’s call Ralph.” The story was done. It was one of those, “How fast can we get it to him? How fast can we get it back?” And, you know, we got him on the phone. You know [British accent], “Thot bastuhd. Well, ah’ll hav a luk at it. Ah, yes, I cahn probably do it.” The manuscript was sent off. He’d never been to Las Vegas.

I don’t think it was probably necessary for someone to have been to Las Vegas to illustrate that story. I mean, the visuals were kind of “internal.”

Yeah. But there was no more communication with him for, like, three days. We were all a bit nervous. And I would say, “Don’t worry, he said he would do it.” But his heart was full of hate. In about three to four days, a long tube arrived at the office. Great excitement. I was there when some messenger brought it in: a big, round thing. And we went to the art department. It was huge. Very carefully, we pulled the stuff out and unrolled it. And, ye gods, every one of them was perfect. It was like discovering water at the bottom of a well. Not one was rejected; not one was changed. This is what he sent.

There was one year when there seemed to be a festival of biographies done on you. Have you read any of them?

Were there three biographies in one year? I think they were all betting — you know, there was a pool betting on which day of the year I would die. But I never read any of them, no. I saw pieces here or there. But I didn’t want to read them because I didn’t want to get pissed off at my friends.

You could write your own memoirs.

Well, I’ve been working on these [collected] letters. It’s an incredible thing, seeing my life unreeled in front of me. You don’t know what the next box is going to hold when you review your life page by page. I don’t know how many people would volunteer for that. Have it reviewed in public, you know, and publish it.

I’ve been humiliated, really, to see how much time I spent between haggling over small amounts of money and being broke. All that effort, it’s a wonder anyone had any time to work at all.

It’s one of the mysteries of youth, isn’t it?

Yeah, drunk, horny and broke. Somehow, there were 48 hours a day and 18 days in the week. But the suffering of going through 10 years of it. “Free-lance journalism” — that sounds romantic now, right? But the desperation — teetering from one word to another.

EPILOGUE: Road Man for the LORDS of KARMA . . . MR. NABOKOV Will See You Now. . . . SEX and GOD

Here’s a question: Are you religious? Do you believe in God?

Long ago, I shucked off the belief that the people I was dealing with in the world, the power people, really knew what they were doing at all. And that included religion. The idea of heaven and hell — to be threatened with it — was absurd. I think the church wanted it to keep people in line. I’ve kind of recently come to a different realization that I’m in charge, really. That it comes down to karma. Karma is different things to different countries, but in the Orient, karma comes in the next generation.

And ours comes in the mail.

I’ve kind of updated Buddhism. In other words, you get your rewards in this life, and I think I’ll be around again pretty quickly. Karma incorporates a measure of behavior, and in my interpretation, like everything else in this American century, it’s been sped up — you know, the news, the effect of the news, religion, the effect of it. The only kind of grace points you get there is, they let you rest for a while sometimes. I may be sent back. I see myself as a road man for the lords of karma, and I’m not worried about my assignment. Of course, a lot of people have good reason to worry.

I think I know several people who are probably walking around as bugs right now.

Three-legged dogs on a Navajo reservation. Yeah, Pat Buchanan coming back as a rat on the great feeding hill in Calcutta. In Buddhism there is an acceptance of the utter meaninglessness and rottenness of life. I think Nixon got his karma in his time.

OK, check off God. How about sex? You don’t often get graphic on us. Is writing about sex as hard as writing about drugs?

It’s difficult to do.

Are there any writers who you think do it effectively, honestly, dirtily? And honestly.

Well, I think that Nabokov could.

A beautiful writer.

Hell of a good writer. A friend of mine, Mike Solheim, was up in Sun Valley [Idaho] back in the early ’60s. He told me that Nabokov used to come to the Sun Valley Lodge with an 11-year-old girl. He said it was weirder than Lolita: “It’s very nice to meet your niece, Mr. Nabokov.” Well, that goes back to the new-journalism question, about writing from experience.

When you read it, you knew this was from real experience. This was not Thomas Mann writing Death in Venice, which seemed to be a student’s idea of what a hopeless crush would be, as if he’d observed someone go through it.

And the reason for that is, Nabokov was up at Sun Valley Lodge with an 11-year-old girl.

I’m afraid Lolita strictly fits into the gonzo framework.

But, man, that’s where the fun is. You know, why write about other people’s experiences?

Edited version of Truman Capote’s interview of Marlon Brando in Kyoto, Japan, 1957

Posted in Readings on June 24, 2008 by plagiarismbeginsathome

Sayonara

The little maid on the fourth floor of the Miyako Hotel, in Kyoto, led me through a labyrinth of corridors, promising, “I knock you Marron.” The “l” sound does not exist in Japanese, and by “Marron” she meant Marlon – Marlon Brando, the American actor, who was at that time in Kyoto doing location work for the motion picture version of James Michener’s novel Sayonara.

“Oh, hi,” he said. “It’s seven, huh?” We’d made a seven o’clock date for dinner; I was nearly 20 minutes late. “Well, take off your shoes and come on in. I’m just finishing up here.” Looking after the girl as she scurried off, he cocked his hands on his hips and, grinning, declared, “They really kill me. The kids, too. Don’t you think they’re wonderful, don’t you love them – Japanese kids?”

His quarters consisted of two rooms, a bath and a glassed-in sun porch. All that he owned seemed to be out in the open. Shirts, ready for the laundry; socks, too; hats and ties, flung around like the costume of a dismantled scarecrow. And cameras, a typewriter, a tape recorder, an electric heater that performed with stifling competence. Pieces of partly nibbled fruit. And books, a deep-thought cascade, among which one saw Colin Wilson’s The Outsider and works on Buddhist prayer, Zen meditation, Yogi breathing and Hindu mysticism, but no fiction. He has never, he professes, opened a novel since April 3 1924, the day he was born, in Omaha, Nebraska.

While he may not care to read fiction, he does desire to write it. The lacquer table was loaded with overfilled ashtrays and piled pages of his most recent creative effort, A Burst of Vermilion, a film script.

Brando had been in Japan for more than a month, yet even the film’s director, Joshua Logan, was impelled to say, “Marlon’s the most exciting person I’ve met since Garbo. A genius. But I don’t know what he’s like. I don’t know anything about him.”

While we were awaiting dinner, he lolled his head against a pillow on the floor, dropped his eyelids, then shut them. When he spoke, his voice – an unemotional voice, in a way cultivated and genteel, yet surprisingly adolescent – seemed to come from sleepy distances.

“The last eight, nine years of my life have been a mess,” he said. “Maybe the last two have been a little better. Less rolling in the trough of the wave. Have you ever been analysed? I was afraid of it at first. Afraid it might destroy the impulses that made me creative, an artist. A sensitive person receives 50 impressions where somebody else may only get seven. Sensitive people are so vulnerable; the more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalised, develop scabs. Never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much. Analysis helps. It helped me. But still, the last eight, nine years I’ve been pretty mixed up …”

The voice went on, for like many persons who are intensely selfabsorbed, he is something of a monologuist. “People around me never say anything,” he says. “They just seem to want to hear what I have to say. That’s why I do all the talking.”

Watching him now, I felt as if my initial encounter with him were being recreated. It was a winter afternoon in New York, 1947, when I attended a rehearsal of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Brando was to play the role that would bring him general recognition, Stanley Kowalski. But on the remembered afternoon, I hadn’t a clue to who he might be. Arriving too early, I found the auditorium deserted and a brawny young man atop a table on the stage, solidly asleep. Because he was wearing a white T-shirt and denim trousers, because of his gymnasium physique – the weightlifter’s arms, the Charles Atlas chest (though an opened Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud was resting on it), I took him for a stagehand. Or did until I looked closely at his face. It was as if a stranger’s head had been attached to the brawny body. For this face was so very untough, superimposing an almost angelic refinement and gentleness on hard-jawed good looks. The present Brando, the one lounging on the tatami, lazily puffing filtered cigarettes as he talked and talked, was, of course, a different person. His body was thicker; his forehead was higher, for his hair was thinner; he was richer. There were other alterations. His eyes had changed. Now he looked at people with assurance, and with what can only be called a pitying expression, as though he dwelt in spheres of enlightenment where they, to his regret, did not.

The subtly tender character of his face had been preserved. Or almost. Manoeuvring a word in edgewise, I asked, “How did you break your nose?”

” … by which I don’t mean that I’m always unhappy. I remember one April I was in Sicily. A hot day, and flowers everywhere. I like flowers, the ones that smell. Gardenias. Anyway, I went off by myself. Lay down in this field of flowers. Went to sleep. That made me happy. I was happy then. What? You say something?”

“I was wondering how you broke your nose.”

He grinned, as though remembering an experience as happy as the Sicilian nap. “In Streetcar, some of the guys backstage and me, we used to go down to the boiler room in the theatre and horse around. One night I was mixing it up with this guy and – crack! So I walked around to the nearest hospital. My nose was really busted. They had to give me an anaesthetic to set it, and put me to bed. Not that I was sorry. Streetcar had been running about a year and I was sick of it.”

(Recalling the incident recently, Irene Selznick, producer of the Williams play, said, “Suddenly his face was quite different. Kind of tough. For months I kept telling him, ‘But they’ve ruined your face. You must have your nose reset.’ Luckily for him, he didn’t listen to me. Because I honestly think that broken nose made his fortune. It gave him sex appeal. He was too beautiful before.”)

Brando made his first trip to the coast in 1949, to play the leading role in The Men, a picture dealing with paraplegic war veterans. His attitude to the film business, he summed up by saying, “The only reason I’m here is that I don’t yet have the moral courage to turn down the money.”

Sensing silence in our conversation, he dissolved it: “Still, movies do have the greatest potential. You can say important things to a lot of people. About discrimination and hatred and prejudice.” Upon his Tokyo arrival, Brando informed some 60 reporters that he had contracted to do Sayonara – the tale of an American jet pilot who falls in love with a Japanese dance-hall girl – because it strikes at such prejudices. Also because it would give him the “invaluable opportunity” of working under Joshua Logan. But time had passed. And now Brando said, with a snort, “I give up. I’m going to walk through the part, and that’s it. Sometimes I think nobody knows the difference. For the first few days on the set, I tried to act. But then I made an experiment. In this scene, I tried to do everything wrong. Grimaced and rolled my eyes. What did Logan say? ‘It’s wonderful! Print it!'” A phrase that often occurs in Brando’s conversation, “I only mean 40% of what I say,” is probably applicable here.

Dinner was taking a long while. When it arrived, I was replying to inquiries Brando had made about an acquaintance of mine, a young American disciple of Buddhism leading a contemplative, if not entirely unworldly, life inside the gates of Kyoto’s Nishi-Honganji Temple. The notion made Brando’s face become still. He listened with surprising attention. My Buddhist friend often conveyed himself to the local cinemas. He had read that Marlon Brando was in town, and longed to meet him. Brando was little amused. The puritan streak in him, which has some width, had been touched. “It’s like the other day on the set,” he said. “We were working in a temple, and one of the monks asked me for an autographed picture. Now, what would a monk want with my autograph?”

He stared questioningly at his scattered books, so many of which dealt with mystical subjects. “What I’d like to do,” he presently said, “I’d like to talk to someone who knows about these things. Because …” Just then the maid skated in balancing vast platters.

“Because,” he resumed, “I’ve seriously considered – I’ve very seriously thought about – throwing the whole thing up. This business of being a successful actor. What’s the point if it doesn’t evolve into anything? All right, you’re a success, you’re welcome everywhere. But it doesn’t lead anywhere.” He rubbed his chin with the towel, as though removing stale makeup. “Too much success can ruin you as surely as too much failure.”

“You know, it took me a long time before I was aware that that’s what I was – a big success. Then, when I was in Streetcar, and it had been running a couple of months, one night – dimly, dimly – I began to hear this roar. It was like I’d been asleep, and I woke up here sitting on a pile of candy.”

As we ate, Brando returned to renouncing his movie-star status. He decided to compromise. “Well, when I get back to Hollywood, what I will do, I’ll fire my secretary and move into a smaller house,” he said. He sighed with relief, as though he’d already cast off old encumbrances. “But,” he frowned, “it has to have a fence. On account of the people with pencils. I need a fence to keep them out. I suppose there’s nothing I can do about the telephone.”

“Telephone?”

“It’s tapped. Mine is.” By whom? He chewed his steak, mumbled. He seemed reluctant to say, yet certain it was so. “When I talk to my friends, we speak French. Or else a kind of bop lingo we made up.” My host located a letter buried among the plates, and read it while he ate, like a gentleman perusing his breakfast newspaper. Presently, he remarked, “From a friend of mine. He’s making a documentary, the life of James Dean. He wants me to do the narration. I think I might.” He pulled his apple pie toward him. “Maybe not, though. I get excited about something, but it never lasts more than seven minutes. Seven minutes exactly. That’s my limit.” Finishing his pie, he gazed speculatively at my portion; I passed it to him.

Many critics reviewing Dean’s first film, East of Eden, remarked on the well-nigh plagiaristic resemblance between his acting mannerisms and Brando’s. “He had an idée fixe about me. Whatever I did, he did. He used to call up.” Brando lifted an imaginary telephone to his ear with a cunning, eavesdropper’s smile. “I’d listen to him talking to the answering service, asking for me. But I never spoke up. I never called him back. No, when I -”

The scene was interrupted by a real telephone. “Yeah?” he said, picking it up. “Speaking. From where? Well, I don’t know anybody in Manila. Tell them I’m not here. No, when I finally met Dean,” he said, hanging up, “it was at a party. Where he was throwing himself around, acting the madman. I took him aside, [gave him] the name of an analyst, and he went. And at least his work improved. Toward the end, I think he was beginning to find his own way as an actor. But this glorifying of Dean is all wrong. That’s why I believe the documentary could be important. To show he wasn’t a hero; show what he really was, just a lost boy trying to find himself. That ought to be done, and I’d like to do it – maybe as a kind of expiation for some of my own sins. Like making The Wild One”, the strange film in which he was presented as the Führer of a tribe of fascist-like delinquents. “But. Who knows? Seven minutes is my limit.”

Brando began to weave his fingers in the air. “Acting is such a tenuous thing,” he said. “A fragile, shy thing that a sensitive director can help lure out of you. Now, in movie acting, the important, the sensitive moment comes around the third take of a scene; by then you just need a whisper from the director to crystallise it for you. Gadge [Elia Kazan’s nickname] can usually do it. He’s wonderful with actors.”

One of Brando’s most memorable film scenes occurs in the Kazandirected On the Waterfront: the car-ride in which Rod Steiger, as the racketeering brother, confesses he is leading Brando into a death trap. Could he use the episode as an example? “Well, let’s see.” He puckered his eyes. “I didn’t like the way it was written. Lot of dissension going on there. I was fed up with the whole picture. All the location stuff was in New Jersey, dead of winter – the cold, Christ! And I was having problems at the time. Woman trouble. Let me see. There were seven takes because Rod Steiger couldn’t stop crying. He’s one of those actors that loves to cry. We kept doing it over and over. But I can’t remember just how it crystallised itself for me. The first time I saw Waterfront, in a projection room, I thought it was so terrible I walked out without even speaking to Gadge.”

A month earlier, a friend of Brando’s had told me, “Marlon always turns against whatever he’s working on. It seems to comfort him to be dissatisfied.”

It was 10.30pm and below the windows, the hotel garden, with its arrangements of rock and tree, floated in the mists. He said, “Have you been to Nara? Pretty interesting.” I had, and yes, it was. An hour’s drive from Kyoto, a postcard town set in a showplace park, the apotheosis of the Japanese genius for hypnotising nature into unnatural behaviour. Then, as though apropos of Nara, he said, “Well, I’d like to be married. I want to have children.” It was not, perhaps, the non sequitur it seemed; the gentle safety of Nara just could suggest marriage, a family.

“You’ve got to have love,” he said. “There’s no other reason for living. Men are no different from mice. They’re born to perform the same function. Procreate.” (“Marlon,” to quote his friend Kazan, “is one of the gentlest people I’ve ever known. Possibly the gentlest.” Kazan’s remark had meaning when one observed Brando in the company of children. At ease, playful, appreciative, he seemed their emotional contemporary, a co-conspirator.)

He went on, “That has been my main trouble. My inability to love anyone.” He stood there as though hunting something – cigarettes were found; inhaling, he slumped on the pallet bed. “I can’t. Love anyone. I can’t trust anyone enough to give myself to them. But I’m ready. I want it. And I may, I’m almost on the point, I’ve really got to …” His eyes narrowed, but his tone, far from being intense, was indifferent. “Because – well, what else is there?”

“Anyway, I have friends. No. No, I don’t,” he said, verbally shadowboxing. “Oh, sure I do,” he decided. “Some I don’t hold out on. I let them know what’s happening. You have to trust somebody. Well, not all the way … Do you know how I make a friend?” He leaned a little toward me. “I go about it very gently. I circle around and around. Then, gradually, I come nearer. Then I reach out and touch them, ah, so gently …” His fingers grazed my arm. “Then,” he said, “I draw back. Wait awhile. Make them wonder. At just the right moment, I move in again. Touch them. Circle.” Now his hand travelled in a rotating pattern, as though it held a rope. “Before they realise it, they’re all entangled, involved. I have them. And suddenly, sometimes, I’m all they have. A lot of them, you see, are people who don’t fit anywhere. But I want to help them, and they can focus on me; I’m the duke. Sort of the duke of my domain.”

Brando yawned; it had got to be a quarter past one. “Let’s have another cigarette,” he said as I made a move to put on my coat.

“Don’t you think you should go to sleep?”

“That just means getting up. Most mornings, I don’t know why I do. I can’t face it. Anyway, I may work later on.” Outside, it had started to drizzle, so the prospect of a nightcap was pleasing. He suddenly said, “My mother. She broke apart like a piece of porcelain.”

Though born in Nebraska, where his father was a salesman of limestone products, Brando, the family’s third child and only son, was soon taken to live in Libertyville, Illinois. There the Brandos settled down in a rambling house. Milking the cow was the daily chore that belonged to Bud, as Marlon was then nicknamed. Bud seems to have been an extroverted and competitive boy. Rebellious, too; rain or shine, he ran away from home every Sunday. But he and his sisters were devotedly close to their mother. Always, Mrs Brando had played leads in local dramatic productions, and always she had longed for a more brightly foot-lighted world. Her son, talked out of some early clerical ambitions and rejected for military service in 1942 because of a trick knee, packed up and came to New York. Whereupon Bud, the plump, towheaded, unhappy adolescent, exits, and the man-sized and very gifted Marlon emerges.

Brando has not forgotten Bud. When he speaks of the boy he was, the boy seems to inhabit him. “My mother was everything to me. I used to come home from school …” He hesitated, as though waiting for me to picture him scuffling along an afternoon street. “There wouldn’t be anybody home. Nothing in the icebox.” Lantern slides: empty rooms, a kitchen. “Then the telephone would ring. Some bar. ‘We’ve got a lady down here. You better come get her.'” The image leaped forward in time. Bud is 18, and: “I thought if she loved me enough, trusted me enough, we’ll live together and I’ll take care of her. Once, later on, that really happened. She left my father and came to live with me in New York, when I was in a play. I tried so hard. But my love wasn’t enough. She couldn’t care enough. She went back. And one day” – his voice grew flatter, yet the emotional pitch ascended – “I didn’t care any more. She was there. In a room. Holding on to me. And I let her fall. Because I couldn’t take it any more – watch her breaking apart, like a piece of porcelain. I stepped right over her. I walked right out. Since then, I’ve been indifferent.”

The telephone’s racket seemed to rouse him from a daze. He walked me to the door. “Well, sayonara,” he mockingly bade me. “Tell them at the desk to get you a taxi.” Then, as I walked down the corridor, he called, “And listen! Don’t pay too much attention to what I say. I don’t always feel the same way.”

·

Excerpted from The Duke in His Domain, by Truman Capote. Copyright 1957, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973 by Truman Capote. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group. Originally published in the New Yorker, November 1957.

Larry David on being married to an environmentalist

Posted in Readings on June 24, 2008 by plagiarismbeginsathome

Larry David 

(The following is adapted from a speech given at Earth to L.A., an NRDC fund-raiser.)

Thirteen years ago I met a materialistic, narcissistic, superficial, bosomy woman from Long Island. She was the girl of my dreams. She read People magazine, watched hours of mindless television and shopped like there was no tomorrow. Finally I’d met someone as shallow as me. I was hopelessly in love. We got married in a touching ceremony in Las Vegas. The cab driver who witnessed it was deeply moved. But then after a few short months I began to sense that something had changed. She started peppering her conversation with words like ozone layer, sustainable forestry and toxic runoff. The very mention of the word diesel would bring on back spasms. I began to notice new people hanging around the house, people who were not in show business and wore a lot of tweed. Clearly something was amiss. She was growing. How hideous. But what was now all too painfully obvious was that I, Larry David, the shallowest man in the world, had married an environmentalist.

Who is responsible for this odious transformation? I blame it all on the Natural Resources Defense Council. Specifically one Robert F. Kennedy Jr. One day my wife heard him speak, and for all intents and purposes, that was the end of my marriage as I knew it. He poisoned her mind with all his talk of clean air and clean water. My advice to you: Watch out. He’s tricky. Very, very, tricky.

Because I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that the woman who lives in my house and occasionally sleeps in my bed is not the woman I married. The woman I married would not interrupt me after 30 seconds in the shower and tell me, “That’s enough. Get out! You’re wasting the water.” The woman I married would not scream at gardeners and threaten to call the police if they didn’t turn off their leaf blowers. The woman I married would not chastise me for flushing a toilet. That’s right, flushing a toilet. This is where I draw the line. I said, “I can take shorter showers, I’ll even shampoo and condition without the water on, but you’ll never get me to stop flushing. I was raised to flush. I enjoy flushing. It is one of my few pleasures. You will not take that away from me.”

Once I came home from playing golf. “What are you doing?!” she screamed. “Don’t you dare come in here. You’ve got pesticides on your shoes. Those golf shoes cause cancer. I don’t want them in my house!” But the worst of
it was the night I got a call at work. It was 10 o’clock at night. I was doing a rewrite. “Your wife is on the phone!”
“Yes?”
“Mitsubishi’s building a salt mine in San Ignacio.”
“Honey, I’ve got a show tomorrow.”
“Didn’t you hear a word I said? They’re endangering the gray whale!”

For the next two years I couldn’t have one conversation without hearing the word Mitsubishi. “Mitsubishi, Mitsubishi!” She was obsessed with Mitsubishi. She’d go up to strangers on the street. “Don’t buy anything from Mitsubishi. They’re killing the whales!” Then she dragged me down to San Ignacio to see the whales. For three days I slept in a tent, drank from a canteen and conducted my business in an outhouse. She actually got to touch a whale, and had her first orgasm in six years.

Last year a friend of mine hit on hard times. No job, in debt, had nothing, about to get kicked out of his apartment. I loaned him $5,000. “How dare you loan him money. You could’ve given that money to the NRDC.”
“But he has nothing. He’s starving.”
“I don’t care! Let him starve.”

I thought I hit pay dirt with Seinfeld. I wasn’t the one who hit pay dirt. The NRDC hit pay dirt. No sooner do the residual checks come in than they go out to the NRDC. I gave them so much money one year that lawyers were calling me up – “Mr. David, we’re thinking about suing Dow Chemical. Do we have your support?”
“Sure, go ahead, we’re about to sell third cycle.”

So please, ladies and gentlemen, I implore you. Do what you can to help clean up this planet so I can get my wife back. I don’t have that much more time. Thank you.