Saturday, November 06, 2010

Michael Cunningham: A Homo at the End of the World

Handsome, erudite Michael Cunningham is the author of six novels - Golden States (1984), A Home at the End of the World (1990), 1995 Flesh and Blood (1995), The Hours (1998), Specimen Days (2005), and By Nightfall (2010) - plus an acclaimed work of nonfiction, Lands End: A Walk in Provincetown (2005) which blends history and creative nonfiction to create a portrait of the fabled resort town he loves...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1952, Cunningham attended Stanford University, and later the University of Iowa, where he was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop; his early short stories appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and the Paris Review.

Although openly gay, Cunningham resents (as well he should) being pigeon-holed as a 'gay writer'; despite this, he has always been out. Understandably, there is still a tendency in the conservative book trade to treat a 'gay writer' as a niche writer, to only promote their work in the gay press, and to only stock their works in gay bookstores - stores which are dwindling in number as big box bookstores continue to gobble up their smaller counterparts in an attempt to create a monopoly.

Cunningham, though, has found a wide readership, and deserves much credit for being a gay writer who brings gay characters into the larger mainstream context (despite the threat of being labeled 'hetero-normative' by militants in the blogosphere and beyond). His novel The Hours won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a PEN/Faulkner Award, as well as a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Book Award; it was also made into a smash-hit movie, which won an Academy Award for Nicole Kidman (who played Virginia Woolf in it). He also wrote the screenplay for a film version of A Home at the End of the World.

Partnered for nearly 20 years, Cunningham teaches at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and in the creative writing MFA program at Brooklyn College. He lives in New York City.
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Remembering... Brad Davis

Politically, Brad Davis has served the AIDS movement well, since he is widely regarded as the first well-known heterosexual man to die of AIDS; Magic Johnson notwithstanding, the myth that men can contract the disease exclusively through heterosexual sex has largely been debunked.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough Davis (born on this day in 1949) technically died of an assisted suicide in September 1991, he did have AIDS at the time; whether or not he was strictly heterosexual, though, remains a matter for debate. His widow insists he was, but then she would; Davis had been addicted to needle drugs prior to his sobriety in 1981, which in theory could have led to a relapse and accounted for his infection.

Or he could have dabbled in the man-on-man action; judging by the photo he certainly would have been given ample opportunity. Certainly he was no stranger to it, having been an actor in New York in the 1970s and having appeared in 1978's Midnight Express (which featured a graphic prison rape) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle (1983), as well as playing the lead in the original run of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart (1985), which was about AIDS.

Davis kept his illness (along with many other things) secret right up until the end; in his last film appearance (which was posthumous) he played himself in The Player (1992).
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Happy Birthday Sally Field

Amazingly, Sally Field today turns 64; even more amazingly, she still looks like Sally Field, rather than a Frankenstein's monster version of Sally Field, a fate which has befallen many of the women of her generation in Hollywood. (This means you, Joan Van Ark...)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough renowned for such comedy fare as TV's Gidget (1965-1966) and The Flying Nun (1967-1970), and later for films like Punchline (1988) and the hilarious Soapdish (1991), Field has also excelled at drama, turning in a searing and prescient performance in Not Without My Daughter (1991).

Still acting, Field returned to TV recently in the show Brothers & Sisters, which was created by the well-respected gay playwright and all-around wunderkind Jon Robin Baitz. Then, in 2007 Field won an Emmy for portraying Nora Holden Walker on Brothers & Sisters, which was given an unexpected boost of publicity when Fox censored anti-war remarks she made during her acceptance speech.

The two-time Oscar winner - for Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984) - will always have a place in my heart for her portrayal of M'Lynn Eatenton in Steel Magnolias (1989), which I mention so often on this blog it's in danger of becoming an inside joke.

That's right: we like her! We really like her! (Aw, c'mon; you didn't think I'd write a post about Sally Field and not go there, didja?)
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"The Goonies Are Good Enough" by Cyndi Lauper

It's not Cyndi Lauper's birthday or anything, but the earlier Glenn Frey video got me thinking about music videos tied to the promotion of movies and television; You Belong to the City was obviously tied to the TV show Miami Vice, and this one to the Steven Spielberg movie The Goonies.

In many ways (not all of them good), the film was a watershed for Cyndi; hired as its musical director she got to choose the music for the soundtrack from the bands she admired most, including a spot of early exposure for The Bangles. She worked so hard on the project though that she was hospitalized, although the reason for this was not entirely the movie's fault.

I love the song and its video to bits (even though Cyndi's continuing involvement with professional wrestling nearly spelled the death of her career). Old-school wrestlers such as The Iron Sheik, Captain Lou Albano, Roddy Piper, André the Giant, 'Classy' Freddie Blassie, The Fabulous Moolah & Nikolai Volkoff appear, along with the cast of the movie (including a cameo by Spielberg himself!), members of The Bangles, Cyndi's then-boyfriend and manager David Wolff, and Cyndi's mom Catrine, who also appeared in Girls Just Want to Have Fun with Albano.

She cut The Goonies 'R' Good Enough from her set list in 1987, but reinstated it in 2006, to much acclaim from her fans. It's enduring fame resides in the fact that it was the first two-part music video, although the second part is rarely seen these days.

Except, of course, on the Pop Culture Institute... Enjoy!
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The Death of Tchaikovsky

Born in May 1840*, the musically precocious child who would become Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky began piano lessons at the age of five, and within three years had surpassed his teacher; despite this epic talent, he was trained as a civil servant at the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt was his mother's death from cholera when he was 14 that caused him to turn to music for solace; whether he found it there is a matter of debate, but a month after she died he'd composed a waltz in her honour, and from that point he never stopped composing.

By 1862 he had convinced his father to support him, quit his civil service job, and joined the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied under his cousin Nikolai Zaremba and Anton Rubinstein.

In July 1877, Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova, despite a frank assertion that he did not love her and never would; the composer's homosexuality has been much debated, mainly by those whose agenda cannot allow its admission. Nevertheless, five days after his marriage, he attempted suicide - a sure sign that not all was well on the honeymoon; six weeks after marrying they separated for good. She died in 1917, having spent the last twenty years of her life in an insane asylum.

For a time the suffering caused by coming to terms with his sexuality seems to have given Tchaikovsky's work the poignant melancholy for which it is renowned; as successful as his career would become, though, it was a palace built of clouds, and could not last.

That year, Tchaikovsky acquired a patroness, named Nadezhda von Meck, whose beneficence allowed him to quit the Conservatory and focus on composing; over the next 13 years they would exchange more than 1200 letters but, despite a couple of chance encounters, never spoke. Instead they treated the 1884 marriage of Tchaikovsky's niece Anna Lvovna Davydova to von Meck's son Nikolay as a symbolic substitute for a marital union of their own. Von Meck withdrew her patronage and friendship suddenly in 1890, citing bankruptcy.

Tchaikovsky died nine days after the debut of his Sixth Symphony - the Pathétique - under mysterious (or at least peculiar) circumstances. Although his death has been attributed to cholera, it may have been that he drank cholera-tainted water on purpose, so as to end his life. One theory, which is gaining much popular traction, is that he had been condemned by a 'court of honour' of his old classmates at the School of Jurisprudence; either he could suffer the public revelation of his homosexuality, the ruin of his reputation, and exile to Siberia, or kill himself. In the end it may have been arsenic poisoning - whose symptoms resemble cholera - that did the deed.

Stricken ill, Tchaikovsky repeatedly refused to see a doctor; in his final delirium, he called out only for his old friend von Meck. He died in his brother's apartment at about 3 am on this day in 1893. He was 53.

Tchaikovsky's funeral was arranged and paid for by the Tsar, Alexander III, which shows the high regard in which he was held (but which may support another theory, that it was the Tsar and not the court of honour who had ordered his suicide). 8,000 people attended his memorial service at Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, chosen from a list of 60,000 who expressed a desire to attend. He was buried in the Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

20 years later, Russians were still commemorating the day Tchaikovsky died - albeit in a less frank way than we do here at the Pop Culture Institute...

*Or April, depending on whether you prefer the Julian or Gregorian calendars...  For the record, here we use the Gregorian calendar, which is used pretty much everywhere in the world today.
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In Memoriam: Harold Ross

The founding editor of The New Yorker was a mass of contradictions; his brash personality and occasional philistinism clashed with the sophisticated tone and intellectualism of the magazine he created and launched in 1925. He was, in the words of his successor, 'a genius in disguise'...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1893, Ross began his career as a journalist writing for newspapers beginning in high school; by 1918 he landed a job with Stars and Stripes, where he made many influential contacts that would come in handy later: Alexander Woollcott, Cyrus Baldridge, Franklin Pierce Adams, and Jane Grant, who would become his first wife in addition to helping him co-found what was then an entirely new kind of publication. Through Woollcott many members of the Algonquin Round Table would come to write for him as well.

The New Yorker was a success nearly from its inception; having survived six turbulent months at the outset, the magazine went on to weather the worst years of the Great Depression with an increase in both subscriptions and ad revenues, mainly due of course to the exceptional talent on staff, including James Thurber, E. B. White, Katharine S. White, S. J. Perelman, Janet Flanner (aka 'Genet'), Wolcott Gibbs, John O'Hara, Robert Benchley, and Dorothy Parker. Much of Ross' success as an editor can be credited to his knack for spotting and nurturing talent in writers, although he often did so in a bullying manner.

Ross died in December 1951, at which time he was replaced by William Shawn; during his tenure as editor, Harold Ross personally oversaw 1,399 issues of The New Yorker.

In 2006 the whole of the magazine's output - 4,109 issues published over 80 years from February 1925 - were put onto DVD-ROM and sold as a set, one of which was snapped up by the Pop Culture Institute for its archive; it currently resides next to a companion coffee table book and CD-ROM collection of cartoons from the landmark publication, released the previous year. Together they bring to light not only Harold Ross' brilliant idea - that being a New Yorker is a state of mind rather than a geographical situation - as well as his life's work.
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"You Belong To The City" by Glenn Frey

What day couldn't be improved by a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline? And what video couldn't be improved by the inclusion of a little Crockett & Tubbs?

As promotional tie-ins go (and there were so many of this kind of video in the 80s they're practically a sub-genre unto themselves) I think this one is done pretty well, especially in how it integrates the footage from Miami Vice, giving the video a sense of time (the show aired at 10 pm Friday during its first 2 seasons).

Birthday wishes go out today to Glenn Frey, whose musical impressive musical resume before and after he co-founded the Eagles includes this little ditty, You Belong to the City, from 1985.
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"An Address to the People on The Death of the Princess Charlotte" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I. THE Princess Charlotte is dead. She no longer moves, nor thinks, nor feels. She is as inanimate as the clay with which she is about to mingle. It is a dreadful thing to know that she is a putrid corpse, who but a few days since was full of life and hope; a woman young, innocent, and beautiful, snatched from the bosom of domestic peace, and leaving that single vacancy which none can die and leave not...
With these words did poet Percy Bysshe Shelley attempt to assuage the immense national grief at the passing (on this day in 1817) of the Heiress Presumptive, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales; of course, the fact that he later went into a bit of political rant on behalf of the perpetrators of the Pentrich Rising is neither here nor there...

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POPnews - November 6th

[The Hawker Hurricane was as instrumental in winning
the Battle of Britain as the brave flyboys who flew them.

1528 - Shipwrecked Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca became the first known European to set foot in Texas, apparently.

1789 - Pope Pius VI appointed Father John Carroll as the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States, to serve the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

1844 - The Dominican Republic adopted its first constitution.

1860 - Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th US President over Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, Constitutional Unionist John Bell, and Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas.

1861 - Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America.

1865 - CSS Shenandoah, commanded by the Confederate Navy's Captain James Waddell, became the last combat unit of the American Civil War to surrender - to the HMS Donegal's Captain James Aylmer Dorset Paynter of Britain's Royal Navy - after circumnavigating the globe on a voyage during which it sank or captured 37 vessels; the Shenandoah fired the last shots of the war off the Aleutian Islands.

1869 - Rutgers College defeated Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey) 6-4 at the first official intercollegiate American football game, held in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

1888 - Benjamin Harrison was elected 23rd US President over Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland.

1900 - William McKinley was elected to a second term as US President over Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

1928 - Herbert Hoover was elected 31st US President over Democrat Al Smith.

1935 - The first flight of the Hawker Hurricane occurred at Brooklands, during which the prototype fighter plane was flown by P.W.S. 'George' Bulman.

1942 - Carlson's Patrol - undertaken by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion under the command of Evans Carlson during the Guadalcanal Campaign - began; lasting until December 4th, the patrol would prevent troops of the Imperial Japanese Army under Toshinari Shōji from escaping the island, inflicting losses of around 500 while sustaining only 16 fatalities.

1947 - Meet The Press - which had begun on radio on the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1945 - made its television debut, before settling into a weekly schedule by September 12th of the following year. The show's first moderator was Martha Rountree, who had created the show's format along with Lawrence E. Spivak.

1956 - Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected to a second term as US President over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

1975 - The Green March began when as many as 350,000 unarmed Moroccans converged on the southern city of Tarfaya and waited for a signal from King Hassan II to cross into Western Sahara with the aim of putting pressure on Spain to hand over the province to Morocco; the terms of the Madrid Accords, which were signed by Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania, did not solve the impasse over Spanish Sahara, and the region remains in political limbo.

1977 - The Kelly Barnes Dam - located above Toccoa Falls Bible College near Toccoa, Georgia - failed, killing 39.

1984 - Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as US President over Democrat Walter Mondale, who had previously served as Vice President under Jimmy Carter.

1999 - Australians voted to retain Elizabeth II as Queen of Australia in a referendum, although there remains some debate as to whether or not Her Majesty or Her Majesty's Governor-General is currently head of state there.

2004 - An express train collided with a stationary car near the English village of Ufton Nervet, killing 7 and injuring 150.
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