Tag Archives: Flannery O’Connor

Friday finds

In which the pioneering rapper talks up a Los Angeles architectural landmark. Learn more about the Eames House here. Some of Ice Cube’s best raps here, here, here, and here. NSFW, unless you work at Death Row Records.

You know you want to hear Flannery O’Connor reading “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” So what are you waiting for?

Ace thriller writer J.D. Rhoades talks about why he decided to go indie and start publishing new books (and out-of-print backlist titles) as e-books.  His new one, Gallows Pole, will scare the snot out of you.

Madam Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, interviews Solveig Eggerz, author of Seal Woman.

When you’re introduced to a fencer, don’t do the squiggly arm thing. Just don’t.

In which Frederik Pohl reminisces about the Battle of the Douchebag, the Battle of the 4-Color Border, and the night spent with Harlan Ellison on Long John Nebel’s talk show.

From Psycho to Casino, from The Man with the Golden Arm to Anatomy of a Murder, it’s a tribute to the title sequences directed by Saul Bass.

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Flim-Flannery

Wise Blood

Though I appreciate Criterion DVDs almost as much as I love Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, I’m in no hurry to get the new Criterion edition of Wise Blood, John Huston’s long unavailable 1979 adaptation of O’Connor’s first novel. Forty bucks is a pretty steep price for a single disc package, and while obscurity and Huston’s auteur status have worked to inflate the film’s reputation, the sad fact is that Wise Blood isn’t all that good a movie. 

I’m tempted, though, because Criterion has assembled a better than usual array of extras, chief among them an audiotape recording of Flannery herself reading “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a story that still packs a devastating punch. If I succumb, that’ll be the reason, though I’ll probably also get a kick out of the filmed chat with Huston, as reliably entertaining an interview subject as ever sat down before a camera.      

Peripherals and extras are pretty much the only reason to watch Wise Blood.  Huston’s omnivorous taste for fiction led him to adapt a formidable range of novels, and while everyone correctly reveres smashing successes like The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra MadreWise Blood was too slippery and singular a creation for him to grasp. The tale of Hazel Motes, the preacher’s son who sets himself up as the head of the Church Without Christ (“Where the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk, and what’s dead stays that way”), requires O’Connor’s narrative voice, which is as bone-dry and harshly funny as one would expect from a devout Catholic taking in the South’s cavalcade of exotic Protestant sects. Without that voice, the outward grotesquerie overwhelms the interior subtlety, the humor becomes too broad and cruel. When the story takes its abrupt turn toward Gothic horror, Huston seems to have reconceived Wise Blood as a singularly weird episode of Green Acres in which Eddie Arnold accepts Jesus by burning his own eyes out with lime.       

The curious thing about the film is that while the direction and tone are all wrong, the acting is never less than excellent and sometimes superb, particularly in the case of Brad Dourif’s striking turn as Hazel Motes, which came on the heels of his touching performance as Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (Regrettably, the sheer weirdness of the Hazel Motes character probably helped typecast Dourif into serial killer and freako roles.) There are also memorable appearances by Harry Dean Stanton, Ned Beatty and Bill Hickey. Amy Wright’s performance as Sabbath Lily is fine enough to make you regret that the screen was less accommodating to her talent than the stage.

But if Hazel Motes preaches the Church Without Christ, John Huston makes Wise Blood the film without Flannery. He found his groove again a few years later, with Prizzi’s Honor and The Dead, but Flannery O’Connor tripped him up. That’s okay: she does it to all of us. That’s what makes her worth reading, even now.

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Topics for further study

Teilhard de Chardin plus “convergence” equals Flannery O’Connor?

Albert Camus plus Conan the Barbarian equals Elric of Melnibone?

Review and discuss.

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Friday finds

beefheratThe first volume of John “Drumbo” French’s memoir of his years in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band is coming out in June. The Captain Beefheart Radar Station has the good news, and some teaser pages from the publisher. Here’s a recording of a 1993 interview (with musical accompaniment) that Beefheart did with Co de Kloet on Dutch radio station NPS. Here’s a 13-minute documentary about the Captain from 1994, loaded with his curious takes on life and interesting turns of phrase. Check out Raymond Ricker’s report on the Captain’s 1981 performance at the late lamented Stanhope House in northwestern New Jersey, highlights of which included Ricker’s jaw getting pierced by the broken end of the headliner’s gong mallet. Beefheart novices will find this bargain CD collates the best two of his listener-friendly records, while this CD showcases his jangly, weird style to best effect.

Joyce Carol Oates reviews Brad Gooch’s new biography of Flannery O’Connor. Guess I’m just going to have to buy the thing.

Hollyword: ActorViggo Mortensen has his own boutique publishing house, Perceval Press. Now director Bret Ratner has Rat Press.

Desolation vacations: Sail the Great Pacific Garbage Patch! Visit the world’s deserted amusement parks!

Hmmmm — this looks interesting. A spring trip to Washington D.C. may be in order.

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Madame Mayo has lots of advice for writers. Good advice, too.

A secret passage or hidden room is the perfect addition to your home, and Creative Home Engineering will build it for you. Dennis Cooper’s post includes video clips of secret entries employing rotating fireplaces and bookshelves that slide back when you pull on a favorite title. There’s also a rundown of some of the better-known mansions equipped with secret passages. If this all sounds like nothing but good spooky fun, be sure to read the tragic history of the Sessions House.

Stop Smiling is, in the words of editor Nate Martin, a magazine that “harkens back to the golden age of magazine publishing — think 70s-era Esquire — with plenty of long-form interviews.” Sounds good to me.

Yea, verily, Robert Crumb hath completed the Genesis project. The first book of the Bible, retold Crumb-style as a 201-page graphic novel, will be issued in the fall. On a related note, my single favorite piece of Crumb artwork has been reissued as a gorgeous, top-quality giclee print. Maybe if I sell a book this year . . .

a-short-history-of-america3

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Unwise blood

Dwight Macdonald coined the term “scholar-squirrel” to describe a certain kind of biographer who excels at piling up immense quantities of details and anecdotes about his subject while allowing the spirit — the very reason he wanted to write the biography in the first place — to slip away as he runs down yet another acorn of info. Judging from this review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, biographer Brad Gooch had trouble telling the forest from all the hollow trees he wanted to fill:

 The most useful fact Gooch has uncovered is  that  O’Connor, as a child, loved reading the volume called Humorous Tales in her family’s edition of Edgar Allan Poe. It sounds at first like a satiric joke or at any rate an oxymoron: Who even knew Poe wrote humorous tales? But if they didn’t exist, O’Connor would have had to make them up, for precisely this combination of horror and humor lies at the heart of her enterprise. She was funny before she was anything else; and if she learned to use her biting wit in the service of her complicated theological and psychological vision, that is only because, as she explained to one reader of Wise Blood, “I just unfortunately have Haze’s vision and Enoch’s disposition.” That the churchless preacher Haze should end up blind, while we last encounter his sometime-companion Enoch wandering forlornly around the countryside in a gorilla suit, gives an extra little Poe-like twist to the words vision and disposition.

The reviewer, Wendy Lesser, has a good take on what I like best about O’Connor’s work: 

What Poe had, and what O’Connor either inherited or, more likely, invented, was the courage to confront the horrifying without flinching. In Poe, this seems unallied to any belief system: Cruelty alone (his characters’ cruelty toward one another, his toward them) prevails, and madness is the ordinary state. O’Connor has taken on these extreme conditions, but she does so with the word of God ringing in the background. It is never a word we can take at face value; often it comes to us from the mouths of corrupt preachers, congenital morons, cruel parents, hate-wielding provincials, and madmen of all stripes and colors. But it keeps sounding nonetheless and refuses to be ignored. You could read all of O’Connor’s work and conclude that she hated God, with an amused and bitter hatred; you could, with somewhat less support, imagine that she loved God and all his creation; but you could not emerge from a thorough reading and conclude that she was indifferent to God. If her God seems unfamiliar, it’s because he’s not one we’ve seen much of in the centuries since he left off torturing his saints with arrows, flames, and boiling oil.

I previously posted some of my own thoughts on this subject. I’m not sure I agree that Wise Blood is a better novel than The Violent Bear It Away, but it’s certainly populated with some of the most memorable grotesques in American literature. Lesser’s right about O’Connor’s humor: it’s one of the things that threw off John Huston when he tried to adapt Wise Blood as a film. He had the sense to cast young Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes, but he  couldn’t quite grasp the bitter wit that O’Connor, a devout Catholic in the Protestant South, brought to bear on her subject, and the film comes off as an episode of Green Acres directed by David Lynch.

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From Flannery to jihadi

Thanks to this David Hajdu piece, I now know about the charming link between writer Flannery O’Connor and songwriter Lucinda Williams:

If you’re going to run around with peacocks, which is what people generally do in the pop-music business, you could have no better training than Lucinda Williams had at the age of five. Her father, the poet Miller Williams, taught college in Macon, Georgia during the late 1950s, and every two or three weeks he would take his daughter on a short drive to visit Flannery O’Connor, who loved peacocks — she had a small flock of them in her backyard and another flock in her writing. O’Connor let the girl chase the magnificent, noisy birds, and Lucinda Williams would for the rest of her life carry a child’s memory of the writer lady and her bizarre pets. After all, to have played with the peacocks in O’Connor’s yard is kind of like having swatted butterflies at Nabokov’s house. 

Continuing our theme of connections: Flannery O’Connor was hostess to the young Lucinda Williams. The older Lucinda Williams recorded a duet with Steve Earle. Steve Earle recorded a song about John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.” The Taliban are allies and co-religionists of Osama bin Laden. So there’s your path linking Flannery O’Connor, author of Wise Blood and “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” with the author of 9/11.

Come to think of it, Hazel Motes from Wise Blood has more than a bit of Taliban in him, even if he is a Christianist obsessive instead of an Islamist.

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Friday finds

A recording of John Steinbeck talking about “certain angers” he felt while writing The Grapes of Wrath is now available as part of a CD set of author interviews issued by the British Library. Listen here. The recordings, many of them unheard until now, feature 30 Brits and 27 Yanks: F Scott Fitzgerald reciting Othello; Tennessee Williams lambasting critics; Raymond Chandler drunkenly slurring his way through an interview with Ian Fleming; the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf; the sole recording of Arthur Conan Doyle, talking about spiritualism; and an apparently incomprehensible explanation of her writing method from Gertrude Stein.

Years from now, after the dust clouds of snobbery have cleared, Stephen King may turn out to be the midpoint between H.P. Lovecraft and Flannery O’Connor. At least, that’s what this interview has me thinking. I liked the original incarnation of The Stand, but when the “restored” version with an additional 400 pages of text came out, my reaction was to say that life is too short. Now I’m thinking I should give the novel a look (or a hoist) sometime soon.   

More hoodoo poppycock has been written about Robert Johnson than any other blues musician. Nevertheless, it’s intriguing to think that someone may have turned up a previously overlooked photo of the man, of whom only two photographs are known to exist.

Philip K. Dick’s screenplay for a never-made film version of his novel Ubik is now available. Read it while wearing one of these uber-cool T-shirts.

Tour Italy with Jen. Tour the Weidelsberg with Gabriele. Tour the Erie Cut with Bill. Tour a real crystal palace with Neil. Cross the Great Plains with Brad. Ian goes inside the head of Chris Berens. And Lance sees a junco, partner.

If you’re going to be in the vicinity of New Brunswick, N.J. this coming Wednesday, you might want to go see this guy at this place. That’s what I’m going to do, if the commute from The Land of Overpriced Dirt isn’t too bad.

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