Tag Archives: Tennessee WIlliams

This is not a bookstore review

On a recent trip to Roma, I’d planned to visit an English bookstore to pen a review for this site, the Open Door Bookstore in Via della Lungaretta. However, I was caught up in the history of the Eternal City. I managed to conquer all the major sights, but ran completely out of time.

Fortunately, I came across a hidden find on a pilgrimage to the Spanish Steps. I headed to this area to re-trace the steps of the fictional character Mrs. Stone in the magnificent short story by Tennessee Williams, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone.

The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone

The Steps are atmospheric and full of tourists and singing troupes of European school children. Think a punk version of the Von Trapps from The Sound of Music. It is here that the poet John Keats died of consumption in 1821, at the age of just 26, in a tiny room overlooking the steps.

spanish-steps

But alas, I digress. I stumbled into Caffe Greco for an espresso fix impressed by the charms of its shop front. I was indeed pleasantly surprised to find a cove of autographed portraits, busts and statues. For the café has been a favourable haunt of writers and artists since 1760. It boasts a customer list that has included Goethe, Baudelaire, Casanova, Gogol and Hans Christian Anderson. The Piazza di Spagna has been a magnet for artistic souls, with Byron, Balzac, Wagner and Liszt also exploring this rich area.

Caffe Greco

I did need a literary fix during the holiday though, as I quickly got through Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove, a kind of twist on the Lolita myth with a Mum having a complete infatuation on her stepdaughter’s 17 year-old boyfriend. Shades of Anais Nin and lush descriptions of the Mediterranean setting. So I visited the international book store at Termini, close to my hotel, where I picked up a copy of a Philip Roth that I had not read, Deception. (Had to pay a striking 15 Euros, but when in Rome and all that).

termini book store

A clever dialogue between two adulterers before and after their meetings, sheer debauched, intelligent and humane. I can always rely on Roth to challenge and entertain at the same time. The cashier, who served me without making eye contact, appeared to be engrossed in a book under the counter, hence her lack of acknowledgement.  Sadly she was busy texting. Damon Albarn sings it quite rightly in his latest offering,

We are everyday robots on our phones.

I found myself wandering around open book stalls that sold volumes of Italian novels. I recognised authors translated into Italian by their cover artwork. The little market-like emporium also sold vinyl LPs (long player records) and grossly explicit pornographic DVDs with front covers on full display. Bizarre indeed!

book stalls

I did chuckle to myself thinking, I may not have made it to the book store I had planned to, but I had managed to experience a literary café, a literary supermarket and fall upon an alternative type of entertainment centre.

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A year in books – John Maguire

My book shelves are like a finely pruned tree, books are added and it can at times get unruly, some are given away, some stay. In 2013 I have seen several new beautiful blossoms appear and a few titles that have gone straight into the compost.

stack-of-books

I started the year with Stephen King’s ON WRITING, given to me by a gifted local play writer, Paul Williams. An honest and candid insight into the craft of writing and the demons that nearly destroyed King’s talent, till creativity helped to decimate them and turn negative experience into the positive.

I enjoyed Stephen Spender’s THE TEMPLE, which reminded me of Goodbye Berlin. Alan Hollinghurst’s THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY was a fantastic exploration of human character, yet I felt the water started to become shallow towards the end of the story and my interest waned.

I read the WORLD FILM LOCATIONS: LIVERPOOL, purely from a narcissistic angle, as I had contributed three pieces on films shot in the  Pool of Life, The Fruit Machine, In the Name of the Father and Dancin’ thru the Dark.

I spent four months of the year – April, May, June and July – working on my play PORN0VISION which was staged at the Lantern Liverpool. This meant I kept away from fiction and consumed solely SIGHT AND SOUND and the newspapers.

Stephen Leather’s NIGHTMARE reignited my taste for pulp horror in August.

THE MARRIED MAN by Edmund White introduced me to this writer and I developed a hunger for his work, taking in HOTEL DU DREAM, another work of fiction, then the factual GENET, a biography of the playwright and then THE FLANEUR, a wandering around Paris, which made me yearn to re-visit the City of Light and lose myself in its sophisticated decadence and Bohemianism.

KEEPING FAITH by Toni Piccoult raised some interesting questions about religion, yet didn’t offer any attempts of explanation, it failed to keep my faith.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS  by Erin Morgenstern simply a magical spectacular, a feast for the imagination.

As Autumn turned to Winter, my need for tales of terror developed, starting with THE HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS by Adam Nevill,  tapping into my innate fear of puppets.

A tapas of terror was provided with Susan Hill’s DOLLY, THE MAN IN THE PICTURE and THE SMALL HAND.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ Autobiography was titillation with a capital T, part National Enquirer, part poetic, an  insight into the warts and all life of the American scribe.

ABSOLUTE BEGINNER Patsy Kensit’s self-penned offering on her life was four hours  of my life I will not ever get back. But my passion for  her disco hit I’M NOT SCARED, means all is forgiven.

In stark contrast, APRIL ASHLEY’S ODYSSEY was inspiring and captivating, even with all the name dropping.

Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in NYC during the Seventies, is possibly THE best biography I have read………all glamour and damage, seduction in piss elegance!

Gave into the word of mouth hype and read John Williams’ STONER, a beautiful observation of the human soul, an Everyman tale that actually made me cry on the train at the end pages. Craven Arms on the Cardiff line will always be etched in my memory box now.

Now in beginnings of 2014, I have nearly finished P.L. Travers’ MARY POPPINS, surreal little tales from the Nursery, it has also provided me with a new mantra to get organised in the year ahead, ‘SPIT SPOT’.

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The Charming Depravity of Tennessee Williams

North and South meet as ten minutes hate‘s guest writer John Maguire considers Tennessee Williams.

The autobiography of Thomas Lanier Williams, otherwise known as Tennessee, is almost written in his own blood, chronicling his creative and personal journey. He did not just make emotional, thought-provoking and entertaining drama, he lived it.

He wrote some of the most iconic 20th Century pieces of theatre, among them The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Rose Tattoo.

Work!!the loveliest of all four letter words, surpassing even the importance of love most times.

Flirtatious, tragic, witty, annoying, all adjectives that can be applied to his character, Blanche DuBois, from the brutally raw triumph, A Streetcar Named Desire. Equally though, these very terms can also be applied to the late Tennessee, the very creator of this tragic heroine.

Behind every monster there is a Dr. Frankenstein working on the creation’s wiring, circuitry and emotive feeling. If  we are totally honest, we all have a little bit of Blanche in us, deep in the recesses of the human soul, there is that vulnerability, confusion and desperation. In the character of Blanche, Tennessee predicted how indeed his own life would eventually play out, he inevitably almost became her.

The 1977 musing on his life is a frank, to the point, tale. He is dangerously self-aware.

I was a writer, and consequently a kook

It is a welcome read at this particular period in the publishing calendar.  Traditionally, the book market will be awash with many a self-penned (or ghost written) reveal. The United Kingdom this week has Morrissey’s simply titled, Autobiography, Alex Ferguson’s imaginatively titled, My Autobiography and One Direction’s Where We Are, all in the Top Ten sales charts.

To open the proceedings of his own life dramas, the celebrated playwright does not try to disguise the reason he has decided to put ink to paper, it’s all about the coinage, he is solely in it for the money.

tennesse williams typewriter

With his plays and controversial short stories, The Inventory of Fontana Bella and Desire and the Black Masseur, he had always used the fictions to curtain his real life shenanigans. Now he does not just drop the mask, he peels it off literally.

The form he chooses to narrate his anecdotes is free association. Time is blended, present and past entwined, in the pages of this work. The enfant terrible of British theatre, Steven Berkoff, also used this structure in his excellent Free Association.

Life is made up of moment to moment occurrences in the nerves and the perceptions and, try as you may, you can’t commit them to the actualities of your own history.

The journey is decadent and depraved, taking in his childhood in Mississippi, to St Louis and New York. One thing that leaves the reader after being at this somewhat autopsy of Williams’ life is the ingenious way he poeticises the everyday.

I finished the work before 7 am, awaiting a bus, sometimes known as a ‘tramp chariot’ in these here parts. I immediately found myself seeing things  with a more poetic perspective. A hovering black raven over grass became a black piece of floating silk over a sea of shining green emeralds. The sky scape over the council houses now looked like a canvas of purple pink candy floss clouds.

READ this biography for the wit alone, for the poetry but we do not really need the shock tactics and graphic hints at his fookery.

Sexuality is an emanation, as much in the human being as the animal. Animals have seasons for it. But for me it was a round the calendar thing.

On the other hand it must be remembered, society has become a great deal more open and liberal in the last thirty years. That is in some countries, places like Russia need to really get with the programme. As Stonewall fantastically put it, some people are gay, get over it.

Flashback to 1977, to be overtly talking about same-sex relations and a battle with drugs and liquor takes some courage. Alas, his sad descent that can physically be seen in his writing style in these pages is quite unsettling.  He yearns for a companion as he is sick of promiscuous fast food sex; his friend suggests he picks someone up to which he honestly replies,

There’s nothing emptier, nothing more embarrassing….each time a little bit of your heart is chipped off and thrown into a gutter.

Mr. T.W’s Argentinian tango with Mr. Alcohol and Mr. Narcotics is revealed in the somewhat rambling and self-pitying, towards the final act of the book.

It can be difficult to follow and at times he is like a sizzled Uncle at a wedding, he can just go on and on, unpredictable, all around the park with his explanations sometimes not linked, only to then slap the reader with a treasure in his last phrase, or a gem of wit. He is at his most amusing when he is being catty without realising it,

She was a voluptuous piece and he was voluptuous too, and when you say a man, a bridegroom is voluptuous; it’s not a compliment to him.

By the time Tennessee was rewarded with fame and credibility for his craft, he had managed for years to keep running from the dogs of depression, they may have been consistently nipping at his ankles, but when he did start to slow down, they took a chunk out of his inner core, then the self-doubt and the lack of confidence managed to invade him.

Other creatives do manage to either realise the dogs can be tamed – or in the drastic cases put down – but unfortunately Tennessee Williams was a little blinded by the poisons discussed, so instead the hounds were empowered.

Sometimes I wonder if it is healthy for a writer to use their own emotional stock in his or her work. For I guess every time a play is performed, or story read out, the plaster is ripped off and the wound becomes more intense creating a deeper scar. Possibly the case with this Southern scribe.

tallulah-bankhead-018

The tale is entertaining, both comic and tragic with tragic a cast of glittering stars, including Andy Warhol, Tallulah Bankhead, Brando, Bette Davis…….on and on the list goes, just like a Tennessee anecdote.

williams warhol

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Trashaday

John meets John, as guest writer Mr Maguire meets director Mr Waters in Liverpool…

Let Saturday 9th November be now known as TRASHADAY, for this year, I had the pleasure of spending a wintry Saturday afternoon in the company of a cinematic master, Mr John Waters.

john waters

Waters was in the ‘Pool of Life’ for a series of events (part of the internationally renowned homotopia). The masterclass took place in the Sci-fi-esque environs of LJMU Screen Schools, Redmond Building.

Waters has often past praised fellow creative Mr Tennessee Williams, another champion of the outsider. Quite fittingly, the class began with a screening of BOOM!, (an adaptation of a Williams play, The Milk Float Doesn’t Stop Here) so, so bad it’s good, a visual camp treat, full of lines of genius,

Hot sun, cool breeze, white horse on the sea, and a big shot of vitamin B in me!

BOOM! starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, (think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and add copious vices and addiction); pictures like Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  and The Taming of the Shrew, may highlight the majesty of the chemistry between the toxic lovers, BOOM! illustrates how terribly they are also capable of acting.

boom

The kind of movie that simply would not get made today, in a cinematic environment that lives and is terminated by test screenings, there is no way that a studio would ‘get’ this unique B movie-esque work.

Waters revealed how the film was produced in collaboration with the poison that is alcohol and ALL on set were in some stage of inebriation during the working day, if not downright capernoited.

Looking through the telescope now, back at this feature, the film has a postmodern trashy edge that does in fact work. Intentional or fluke, genius or rebuke? We will never know.

After the screening Waters took questions and answers from an enthusiastic audience. He answered with a cool poise and at no time got snarky with the audience interactions.

The Dickens of alternative cinema spoke candidly about his work, portraits of trailer trash outsiders, freaks, individuals with a whole arsenal of eccentricities, characters with a capital ‘C’. There is no such thing as normal only peeps you don’t really know so well and John Waters’ cinematic treats remind us of this completely.

A catalogue of oeuvre packed with witty writing and twisted plots. Taking quirky oddities and making them positive attributes. Waters brought to the world’s attention Divine, another champion of the underdog, transformed from an overweight suburban geek into a creature of glamorous brilliance.

divine

Allegedly the inspiration behind Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I am still haunted by the sight of Divine proudly singing You Think You’re A Man But You’re Only A Boy on Top of the Pops.

The afternoon gave an insight into the mind of an individual craftsman of creativity. A man gifted with an inventive imagination that can be expressed as surreal mayhem.

There is a Bowie song called All the Madmen and the lyrics recant how the narrator would rather stay here with all the madmen then perish with the sad men roaming free. When watching a film by this creative force, I would rather be with the circus of Waters’ disciples of trash, be a part of the insanity than not.

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