If you’re a struggling writer attempting to get your first project off the ground, Matthew Weiner has some reassuring life advice
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Christina Hendricks and Matthew Weiner on the set of AMC’s Mad Men

I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on “Kubla Khan” for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes. (more…)

Charlotte Jansen (AnOther) on a new book of photographs by Daniel Kramer

In 1964, American photographer Daniel Kramer met a little-known 23-year-old singer and songwriter from Minnesota. His name was Bob Dylan. “I certainly never imagined the extent to which we would work together that year,” Kramer says, “let alone the impact the year of work would have for both of us.” From 1964 to 1965, Kramer would photograph Dylan extensively – and it was during that time that the musician would first synthesise acoustic folk and blues to rock pop, producing what is widely regarded as his most original and influential body of work. The songs he made in that period, from It Ain’t Me Babe to Mr Tambourine Man, would change the course of pop music forever, and go on to inspire countless musicians for decades to come, from John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Neil Young to Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Patti Smith.

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Michael Wood (NYRB) reviews four biographies of the American filmmaker and raconteur
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Orson Welles arrives at the premiere of Citizen Kane on 1 May 1941. The actor, director, producer, and co-screenwriter is 25 years old.
There is a special risk in writing about Orson Welles. The dimensions may get a little out of hand, as if they had to mime the physical size and imaginative reach of the subject. Patrick McGilligan’s excellent biography of Alfred Hitchcock takes 750 pages to cover the director’s life and his fifty films. By page 706 of Young Orson, Welles is about to start shooting Citizen Kane, his first full-length movie: he is twenty-five years old, and he lived till he was seventy. There is a thirty-nine-page postlude about the day and night of Welles’s death.

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Frank Rich (Criterion Collection) reads Mike Nichols’ 1968 film as a text that anticipates a cultural revolution
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Dustin Hoffman
Before there was “the Sixties,” there was the relatively more tranquil 1960s. To appreciate the cultural excitement whipped up by The Graduate, it’s useful to recall that it belongs to that quieter part of the decade before the apocalypse. At the time of the film’s Christmas week release in 1967, the national divisions over civil rights and the Vietnam War were raging, but the explosions of 1968—Lyndon Johnson’s abdication, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Chicago riots—were still months away. Yet somehow this movie, technically a romantic comedy with a nominally happy ending, caught the drift of the boomer generation’s growing alienation from the status quo and captured a new zeitgeist that was in the air but had yet to fully take hold. That it did so is all the more impressive given that The Graduate contains not a single reference to a contemporary headline. The characters are uniformly upper-middle-class (or wealthier) and white. The protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, may have just graduated from college but he seems not to have heard of pot, and his many anxieties do not include a fear of the draft. When plot complications propel him from Los Angeles to the University of California in Berkeley, we don’t meet that campus’s radicals but instead some unreconstructed frat guys who seem to have been living in a bubble since the Eisenhower fifties. Just the same, intimations of a brewing youth rebellion ripple through the entire film. The Graduate, an elegant exemplar of old-school high-end Hollywood filmmaking,anticipates the counterculture without ever enlisting in it. [Read More]

 

Critics respond to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 film, the first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)

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Uncorrected Proof of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

After a publishing career of more than 50 years, Thomas Pynchon has finally allowed one of his novels to be filmed. Inherent Vice, which has been adapted and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is all about a stoner private detective named Larry “Doc” Sportello in 1970 southern California, called in by an ex-girlfriend to investigate the sinister disappearance of her married lover. It is an occult mystery upon which Doc attempts to shed light using the torch he still carries for her.

The resulting movie is a delirious triumph: a stylish-squared meeting of creative minds, a swirl of hypnosis and symbiosis, with Pynchon’s prose partly assigned to a narrating character and partly diversified into funky dialogue exchanges. Each enigmatic narrative development is a twist of the psychedelic kaleidoscope. (more…)

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William S. Burroughs in Paris

From BBC Radio 4:

Think of American writers in Paris and the chances are the first people to come to mind are the Lost Generation of the 1920s – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and friends. But a period every bit as significant in the development of American letters and the culture more broadly is often overlooked. (more…)