Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Gore Vidal + R.I.P.s

Well he had to go sometime - he seemed alarmingly frail in the last few years after his long sojurn in Italy.  Gore Vidal (1925-2012) of course was a novelist, essayist, playwright and screenwriter, and a leading liberal voice and commentator from the 1960's onward. I was in my 20s then and loved his screamingly funny novel MYRA BRECKINDRIGE (heck, we even liked the movie ...) and its follow-up MYRON, capturing that dawn of movie-buffery perfectly. I also liked those collections of essays - essential to have them in bound volumes (like Pauline Kael's movie reviews). I particularly liked MATTERS OF FACT AND FICTION in 1977 where he cast his eye over the current best-sellers and told of his times with the "golden bird" Tennessee Williams in Italy after the war when they were young ... other titles included YELLOW STAR AND PINK TRIANGLE and REFLECTIONS ON A SINKING SHIP. His first memoir PALIMPSEST in 1995 was illuminating and his second, POINT TO POINT NAVIGATION in 2006 even more so - not only on his ruminations on sex and politics and than bisexual world he believed in, but also all those people he knew from Garbo to Tennessee Williams and Nureyev and the Newmans as well as the Kennedys and oh just about everyone ...

Then there is the fiction: that influential early novel THE CITY AND THE PILLAR in 1948, making him famous or notorious in his 20s, those short stories in A THIRSTY EVIL, and those other novels we liked dealing with Roman history or American politics: JULIAN, KALKI, TWO SISTERS, THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS, MESSIAH, BURR, WASHINGTON DC, EMPIRE, HOLLYWOOD and those others .... what a prodigious output. Those plays like THE BEST MAN and his time in Hollywood, scripts for THE CATERED AFFAIR, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER and he supposedly sexed up BEN HUR for Wyler to give Massala the motivation of lusting after Ben (but they did not tell Heston), then there was CALIGULA .... he appears in FELLINI'S ROMA and THE CELLULOID CLOSET and also scripted Clements' IS PARIS BURNING? (Clements, war labels).

The quotes: "It is not enough to succeed, others must fail".

He was seen as the last of the ruthless, witty grandees prepared to rat on his own political class. He ran for Congress from New York State, been welcome for a while in the White House when Jackie Kennedy (to whom he was related) was its chatelaine;  He moved from TV chatshows (where he was always a lively presence) to Hollywood studios to literary feuding.  He famously refused to enrol as a heterosexual or a homosexual, not confusing desire with team games; and yet he wrote one of the first influential gay novels. He was perhaps the last defiant man of letters, and he got us to love Hollywood in the "golden age".
Vidal & Newman in Greece

Because of his matter-of-fact treatment of same-sex relations in such books as THE CITY AND THE PILLAR, Vidal is often seen as an early champion of sexual liberation. In the September 1969 edition of ESQUIRE, for example, he wrote, "We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime ... despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word 'natural,' not normal." I also recall a great long interview he did for PLAYBOY in the late 60s.
Gore, Tennessee & JFK in 1958

PALIMPSEST is a book about a young man on the move, on the make, on the rise: sexy and brash. It also includes a romance: Vidal's boyhood lover Jimmy Trimble who died at Iwo Jima. Then there was Howard Austen, his partner for 53 years (the secret, Vidal insists yet again, was "no sex"). He was also once engaged to Joanne Woodward and was lifelong pals with her and Paul. Confined to a wheelchair after his return to the States, Gore has finally departed at age 86. We really won't see his like again. But we will be returning to that treasure trove of fiction, comment and memoirs. There are several compendiums of his selected writings... One of today's obituaries refer to him as "the man who knew everyone" - rather like our Dirk Bogarde here in the UK, and asks "Could anyone again ever have the career of Gore Vidal?"
Thanks to the great PEPLUM site for this photo of William Wyler, Christopher Fry, Gore and Charlton Heston on the set of BEN HUR, which proves that Gore was involved in the production, despite Heston and others later playing down his involvement ...


Chris Marker (1921-2012) - Of all the French film-makers who emerged in the 1950s, Marker was by all accounts the most forward-looking with pioneering films like SANS SOLEIL. His masterpiece - I have not seen it but know it is acclaimed - is LA JETEE, a poetic time travel tale from 1962 told almost entirely in still images (and now Nr 50 in the new "Sight & Sound" top 50 films).

Tony Martin (1913-2012) - Vocalist and actor, he lived to be 98, a peer of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Although he never became a full-fledged movie star, he was featured in 25 films, most of them like ZIEGFIELD GIRL and TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, made during the heyday of the Hollywood musicals. A husky 6 feet tall and dashingly handsome, he was often cast as the romantic lead - first married Alice Faye and then in 1948 Cyd Charisse whom he spent 60 years with until her death in 2008 .... you could say some guys have all the luck.

Maeve Binchy - the popular Irish novelist who has died aged 72. Her books are great upbeat reads which make one feel good, capturing the upbeat sunny side of Irish life, I have enjoyed several of them - whereas Edna O'Brien, my particular favourite, caught that darker undercurrent of the Irish character, a nice contrast to the Binchy view.

Marvin Hamlisch - aged 68, composer and musician, winner of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. . THE WAY WE WERE, A CHORUS LINE  etc. He started out his professional career as a rehearsal pianist for FUNNY GIRL, beginning a long history of working with Barbra Streisand.

Robert Hughes - aged 74, Influential Australian art critic and historian, author of that great tome on the settlement of Australia "The Fatal Shore" and that television series THE SHOCK OF THE NEW. He was also Time magazine's art critic.

Judith Crist - aged 90, that other infuential American movie critic (along with Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris). I loved her pithy comment on that dreadful 1965 Warren Beatty-Leslie Caron comedy PROMISE HER ANYTHING - "but don't take her to this"! 

1 comment:

  1. Commendations on a wonderful post which captures so well the passage of time, and the varied enthusiasms which our interests in movies can lead us to.