Browsing: Art Memo

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MY FIRST GRETA GARBO experience was the 1933 film Queen Christina. From the moment she appeared on the screen, I found myself breathless, overcome by her cinematic presence. I barely paid attention to the story or the other characters; all I saw was Garbo.

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Starting out on uncannily similar footing, the two writers are separated by a categorical boundary that keeps them on separate shelves at your local library. Hemingway was a hardboiled novelist and Crane a rhapsodic poet, the former notoriously homophobic, the latter indisputably gay.

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The success of James Kirkwood’s novel, P. S. Your Cat Is Dead,was repeated in 1975 by his play of the same title, which quickly became a staple of regional theaters.

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IN ITS ONGOING, heroic effort to bring older gay titles back into print, Valancourt Books sometimes publishes acknowledged classics, like James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms, one of my top choices for the Great Gay Novel, or lesser-known works by significant writers, like The Fall of Valor (which I reviewed in the May-June 2017 issue of these pages), by Charles Jackson, the author of The Lost Weekend. And sometimes, fortunately, it publishes oddities like the 1959 British novel Chorus of Witches, by the otherwise unknown and probably pseudonymous Paul Buckland. By no means great, it is completely enjoyable to read and provides a glimpse into aspects of gay British life over sixty years ago.

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A SCENE in Jane Campion’s film The Power of the Dog took me back to the years I spent growing up in Montana, where the story is set. Peter Gordon, a boy in his teens whose widowed mother has married one of two brothers who own a large cattle ranch, walks past the open tents where men who have spent the day haying are resting. The men begin to whistle, “the whistle men give to a girl,” as it is described in the novel on which the film is based.

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[A] much later piece changed my life: Antonio Canova’s early 19th-century Perseus with the Head of Medusa. At the time, this statue loomed on a landing at the top of a mammoth staircase, its placement making the space around it feel like an altar.

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Inseparable is a bildungsroman that documented the emotional, physical, and sexual awakenings of its protagonist. It is, in fact, a fictionalized account of de Beauvoir’s unrequited love for her friend Elisabeth Lacoin (aka “Zaza”). In the novella, Zaza is known as Andrée and Simone is called Sylvie.

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Kahlo at La Casa Azul and Sackville-West at Sissinghurst truly became artist-gardeners in a bewitching combination of wildness and restraint, all passion spent on their astonishing and memorable visual spaces. Their gardens have inspired my own. During the pandemic, my love of gardening has flourished, giving me so much comfort, purpose, and joy, as Kahlo and Sackville-West surely found in theirs.

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            Released in 1969, the year of the Stonewall Riots, and garnering considerable attention in the media and recognition from the major film award organizations, Midnight Cowboy was a remarkable achievement for its time.

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            Why was I so moved at the end of Maurice? I may never have watched an LGBT-themed movie or read a book with gay protagonists, but I had seen queer characters in media before. The names and faces changed but the story remained the same …

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