T.S. Eliot

3 Stories


Terence Davies

'Sunset Song'

TD

Over the last four decades, the English filmmaker Terence Davies has produced a deeply personal body of films that explore the longing inspired by movie fantasy and the intermingling of memory and history, marked by a distinct cinematic style. Well known for his aversion to stories set in present day, his period pieces include ‘The House of Mirth’, ‘The Deep Blue Sea’, and ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’. His recurring themes of emotional (and sometimes physical) endurance and the influence of memory on everyday life are beloved by audiences young and old alike. Davies’ latest film, ‘Sunset Song’, follows suit with his go-to thematic agenda and is an intimate epic of hope, tragedy, and love at the dawning of the Great War. The film spans a young woman’s endurance against the hardships of rural Scottish life, based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Ahead of his screening at NeueHouse Madison Square, the dogmatic filmmaker sat down with us to discuss relationships, his biggest regret, and the difficulties of living in the modern world. 

 

NeueJournal: A great deal of your work explores your childhood. Have you found catharsis in this? What is the biggest challenge in facing your life for art?

 

Terence Davies: Well, it’s not cathartic. I thought that would happen, but it never did. It throws into relief both joy and sorrow, and you wonder what they’re for. That’s been the biggest thing. The greatest thing that I regret, and in fact could have changed if I would have, was that I was brought up a Roman Catholic and I was very devout until I was 22. When I discovered that I was gay there was no turning back, and in England, it was of course against the law. That’s my biggest regret; I wish I’d not been through that because it made my teenage years very, very miserable. If I were able to change it I would be straight, very good looking, with a very good body, but very stupid, because that is an unconquerable combination.

 

NJ: Ignorance is bliss.

 

TD: Being stupid, especially (laughs).

 

NJ: You gravitate towards period pieces. What is it about different eras that appeal to you so strongly?

 

TD: The stories are always what I respond to, and they happen to be period pieces. That’s all. The problem with modern movies is that I can not use all this equipment. I have a mobile phone with one number on it, and if it rings and it’s not the number I have saved in my phone, I switch it off and chuck it. I’m so terrified of modern technology. I’m terrified of the modern world because I don’t understand it. I can’t interpret it, I don’t know what one does with all this information and why it’s needed. I think it’s almost a denial of the world, and I find that repellent. But the world has changed in a way I don’t understand. 

 

NJ: It’s refreshing you haven’t played into this technological future.

 

TD: But if I was your age I would have to. What I think is shocking is children are being bullied at school because they don’t have the right phone. Bullying is iniquitous, but not to have the right phone?! Isn’t it awful? It’s a piece of technology – what does it matter?!

 

NJ: Absolutely. Would you ever consider creating a film set in a modern age?

 

TD: Well if I liked the story…I mean, I’ve written one, which we’re probably doing sometime next year, based on a lovely book by Richard McCann called Mother of Sorrows, but that only goes up to about 1980. That’s sort of about as modern as I get, I think. As I said, I just don’t perceive the modern world in the same way, and because I don’t understand it I can’t make anything from it. It would be like saying, “Make a film about a family of Eskimos.” Well, I don’t know anything about Eskimo culture or infrastructure or the way their families work. Maybe one day I shall, but something tells me I probably won’t (laughs).

 

NJ: Your films have all been widely received with praise, however, what has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

 

TD: Oh gosh, that’s hard. I don’t see them as accomplishments. I never watch them after they’re finished. There are bits of them I like, and I think, “Oh, that’s rather good.” But I suppose what gives me enormous pleasure – and it’s not an accomplishment, really – is working with such lovely and talented people who’ve made life infinitely richer. These people are artists in their own right and you can’t make a film without them, and that’s been lovely – to see people who are very talented and who have given so much of themselves, of their souls. I find that very moving. If you give up yourself, there’s no greater present.

 

NJ: Your work investigates relationships. How would you define love?

 

TD: I think love is when you want the best for the other person, even if it means they’re not with you. You care for them at a very deep level. You have moments when you’re with the person you love, moments when you’re not, and the moments when you’re apart are very hard because you wish to be with them. There’s an English poet, called Philip Larkin, who wrote a poem about a medieval tomb, called An Arundel Tomb. The man and the woman were nobility and they have effigies above their tombs, and he just talks about this tomb and says wonderful lines, like, “Snow fell, undated.” The last line is, “What will survive of us is love,” and I think that is selflessness. Or, as Bette Davis says in All About Eve, “You look across the room and they’re there, and you think, ‘He’s there.'”

 

NJ: What film, or films, inspired your choice to become a filmmaker?

 

TD: I became a filmmaker by accident, so they didn’t directly inspire me, but all the films I saw that I loved, especially when I was growing up, were huge influences. The American musicals I adored because my sisters adored them, and all the big commercial movies of the mid-fifties that were about women: All About Eve, which was slightly earlier, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, All that Heaven Allows, and Magnificent Obsession. The main people were women, and I grew up with my sisters. I loved my brothers, but being gay, I warmed to my sisters, so all those films influenced me. 

 

Also, what we had in Britain then, was a cast of people who were wonderful in comedy, and they were a huge influence as well, particularly that language. I do love language; when it’s well done it’s just thrilling, and there certain films that I treasure, not just because they’re wonderful films, but because of the voice-over. There’s Sunset Boulevard, and there are wonderful things in that. When Joey goes to get his car and says, “He never asked how you were doing, he just looked at your heels and knew the score.” Isn’t that a fabulous piece of dialogue?

 

NJ: What is the last film you watched?

 

TD: I don’t go that often now, but the last one I saw that I think is a very good film, very underrated, was a film by Bertrand Tavernier called Laissez-Passer, or Safe Conduct in English. It’s based on real events and real people, about a Paris film studio during the occupation, and how these people are gradually made to collaborate inch-by-inch. It’s wonderful.

 

NJ: What do you consider the lowest depth of misery?

 

TD: I think despair. When you lose hope, that’s the hardest of all. Despair is worse than any pain. I’ve had it on a number of occasions, especially when my mother died. She was the love of my life, and it was unbearable, but you have to try and cope with it. Despair is awful. It’s awful.

 

NJ: What does happiness look like to you?

 

TD: Well, a lack of despair (laughs)! But small things give me joy. You listen to a lovely piece of music that reminds you of when you first heard it or the way the sun falls on the rain… All those things are the great pleasures for me. The symphonic cycles of Bruckner and Sibelius, the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and the sonnets of Shakespeare…they give me utter joy. 

 

NJ: How would you describe the current state of the world?

 

TD: Road pee. To see the people in power behave the way they do, you think, “How on Earth have we avoided war for all this time?” I do think that huge blocks of countries getting together and meeting and presenting, while the other blocks aren’t is an implied threat. I think that’s awful. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and it shouldn’t be about money, but unfortunately nowadays everything is driven by money, by power, and, worst of all, by narcissism. That’s the most repellent, and I really can’t bear it.

 

Photography: Tyler Nevitt for NeueJournal

The Door to Hell

Florence Welch & Vincent Haycock discuss
chaos & the underworld

FLORENCE & THE MACHINE - Feature Image Crop

Musician Florence Welch, the fiery redhead of Florence and the Machine, and video director Vincent Haycock talk about chaos and the underworld on a cross-country bus.

 

VINCENT HAYCOCK: When was the first time you fell in love? And looking back, do you think it was true love or just a crush?

 

FLORENCE WELCH: I fell in love with a boy in a band when I was 17. He was my friend’s oldest brother, and my best friend fell in love with his other brother. They are still together after 11 years. I’m no longer with the boy in the band. He’s not in a band anymore, either.

 

I think I was in love with him. I was certainly obsessed with him. I still think we had one of the best kisses of my life, although youth and alcohol may have played a big part in that. We kissed at a house party on a kitchen sideboard. It doesn’t sound romantic, but I was in heaven.

 

Who was your first kiss?

 

VH: As I get older, I’ve been losing these memories. I honestly can’t remember very well, but I do remember kissing a girl named Jessica in grade school. Afterwards, my friend read her diary, and then told her that I had read it, so she slapped me in front of all our classmates. It was terrifying.

Artwork by Florence Welch & Vincent Haycock | NeueJournal Issue 1

FW: Do you think that having a family has affected the way you work? Does it make you think more romantically about the world? Now that you have this stability, does it encourage you to be more adventurous in your work? You’ve found the light in your life, so are you free to explore the dark in your art?

 

VH: I think it has made me much more serious about my work. Your emotions shift when you have a family. Instead of spending time falling in love or being heartbroken, or on Tinder, or whatever you do now, you can invest that energy and passion into your work. It’s also an amazing source of inspiration, love, and support. I think it has made me look at the world in a very different way, more optimistically, but it hasn’t stopped any passion for the dark side.

 

FW: I always wonder how having a family will affect the way I write songs. . .

 

 

VH: What’s your favorite dance move Ryan Heffington has come up with so far, and what does it mean?

 

FW: I love the hands-to-mouth to mouth-to-hands one. It pops up a lot in St. Jude. It’s like the things you want to say to someone but can’t, so you place it into their mouths—like a sacrament. You are drawn to biblical references almost as much as I am. Is this a new thing, or has it always been part of your work?

 

VH: I’ve always been fascinated by the iconography and stories that come along with the Bible, Dante’s Inferno, Homer’s Odyssey, etc. There is so much amazing story- telling and poetry written in those books, really beautiful themes and characters, metaphors and lessons. They’re the greatest pieces of fiction ever written.

 

FW: What was the first work you ever produced?

 

VH: I made some surf videos in the ’90s. Me and my friends filmed each other surfing and fucking around: skateboarding through shopping malls, lighting garbage cans on fire, etc. That’s what you did in California during that time, and honestly, that energy, the mid-’90s punk vibe, was what led me to want to be creative. It inspired me to make something more than a living. The first thing I think I started and finished, with an actual end product, was an issue for Juxtapose Art Magazine. I art-directed a couple of issues back then. I was super young and really into the SF music and art scene, so for me at that time it was a huge deal. I was really proud. Do you need to live in a constant state of chaos to be creative?

 

FW: I FUCKING HOPE NOT. I wonder what creativity is going to come out of this broken foot. The making of the album was actually a pretty calm and methodical process; Marcus saw to that. He made sure I had a schedule, a lunchtime, and I wasn’t allowed to use him as an agony aunt, because I came to him a pretty broken mess: heartbroken, hungover. I’m so grateful to him for giving me that structure, because the year before was pretty chaotic. I wrote a lot, but most of the songs are about wanting to be released from some kind of chaos, so its a self-perpetuating cycle.

 

I know we’ve talked a lot about Sam Shepard. One of his stories was the inspiration for the “Lover to Lover” video. What other authors inspire you, and where else do you find inspiration? Is it in things you see, or in conversations?

 

VH: William Burroughs has always been a huge inspiration for me—and T.S. Eliot and many others—but Sam’s is such a common man’s poetry. It really hits home for me, since I grew up in California in the dusty valleys of Salinas and beautiful shores of Big Sur. His words remind me of my childhood, teen- age years, and I still find tons of meaning in his stories today. One of my absolute favorite stories is by Jorge Luis Borges, titled “El Muerto.” I’ve been working on making it into a film.

 

FW: Dog Days was written after I saw an art installation by the artist Ugo Rondinone. Who is your favorite artist?

 

VH: I love a lot of Californian artists—Ed Ruscha and Raymond Pettibon, for example—but my true loves are Francis Bacon and the photographer William Gedney.

 

What does Odyssey mean to you?

Artwork by Florence Welch & Vincent Haycock | NeueJournal Issue 1

FW: I guess I felt like I needed to understand what I had been though to make this record. As so much of it was internal, I wanted to represent it visually in order to claim it, to understand and re-appropriate it. Otherwise it all just goes to waste. That’s where you come in. It’s a big undertaking working with an artist for a whole album. We’ve kind of kidnapped each other in a creative sense. What on earth made you agree to this?

 

VH: I’ve always believed in you and your music, and I trust you. You’re the first artist I’ve worked with that I would cast if I weren’t doing a music video for you. It’s so rare to be able to have this type of freedom and collaboration. I feel lucky to be a part of this, and I hope it never ends. Keep writing songs. Maybe the album could have, like, 40 B-sides. What’s your favorite part of our Odyssey so far?

 

FW: I don’t know. Maybe standing on that mountain in Scotland? It looked the way I imagine the gates of heaven would—from the underworld of what king, of what man. We’d made it to heaven. The Odyssey was real. We’ve been all over the world with this. What would be your dream location? As you know, I’m up for anything.

 

VH: The “door to hell.” It’s a natural gas opening near Turkmenistan. It’s a huge, mile-wide, fiery pit that suddenly opened up in the earth’s crust and revealed a fiery pit below.

 

FW: I think we should go there. For sure.

 

Christopher Bollen

Failure as a Natural Energy Source

NeueJournal Issue 1

We asked Christopher Bollen–former editor-in-chief of Interview Magazine and newfound novelist–about his work life and his life’s work.

 

NeueJournal: What is your work mantra?

 

Christopher Bollen: My father was a construction worker. He woke up at 5am every morning and left by 5:30. He returned home at around 6pm from a job site, sweaty, exhausted, against the ropes. And then he’d be asleep by 11 and wake up at 5am the next morning. That is working. What I do, by comparison, is very difficult, very mentally exhausting, sometimes laborious and tedious, on occasional torturous—but if I think writing and editing is anything to complain about, I need to wake up.

 

NJ: What is your favorite skill?

 

CB: In me or in others? In others, the ability to sing (which I don’t possess). In me, I can cock either of my eyebrows like a soap-opera actor; you’d be surprised how rarely that comes in handy. Is kindness a skill? I think I’m kind. I’m good at games.

 

NJ: What inspires you?

 

CB: Travel inspires me massively. Even if it’s just a drive north. Especially if it’s a flight overseas. Other books inspire me, appreciating the way certain writers corral words. Sometimes friends inspire me.

 

NJ: How do you feel about failure?

 

CB: I’m terrified of failure. Failure is one of the best natural energy sources I know. And the fear of failure changes as you get older—I don’t mean that it lessons or you learn to mitigate it. I mean, failure swings to new branches. I used to feel I’d be a failure if I never wrote a novel. Now failure for me is wasting time. Laziness, sloth, indecision, that’s failure for me right now.

 

NeueJournal Issue 1

 

NJ: If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

 

CB: I don’t want to know anything. UNLESS you are allowed to do something about it. For instance, I’d like to know if I ever go broke or become homeless, but only to be able to change that outcome. So I am curious how I will die and at what age—probably more curious than most people—but knowing that information would be the cruelest torment that I wouldn’t even wish upon a mouse.

 

NJ: What’s the worst excuse you’ve used to reschedule a meeting?

 

CB: I’ve learned not to give an excuse. Keep it vague. “Something’s come up, something awful, something I can’t get out of, I don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to know. Could we reschedule?” But you asked for the worst excuse: those are always the true excuses. I couldn’t catch a cab; the door was painted shut; I was on the radio when you called—the true ones are the least believable.

 

NJ: Who are your favorite writers?

 

CB: Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, I’m starting to get into Janet Malcolm.

 

NJ: What’s the difference between a fantasy and an idea?

 

CB: I have no idea. I guess you could infer that an idea is something you can act on while a fantasy can never be willed into reality. But I disagree. Lots of fantasies come to life. Oh, how about this: an idea is a practical, working method to make a fantasy a reality.

 

NJ: What has been your biggest career challenge?

 

CB: Re-convincing people. The world likes to see you one way and that’s your category and if you happen to break into a new field or medium or process that threatens that distinct categorization, humans, wired as they are, will fight you on it. They don’t want to re-think their categories. They don’t like when you unglue yourself from one box and try to stick yourself in other boxes. So that has been a challenge: moving from editor to writer, nonfiction to fiction. Because even still some folks treat this novel-writing business as a cute vanity project between magazine deadlines and it kills me.

 

NJ: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

 

CB: I had a New York friend whose response to any quotidian story—good or bad, up or down—was always “you gotta pay the rent.” You gotta pay the rent. Because it’s true. At the end of the month, the rent is due and you better have figured out a way to pay it. Everyone has to pay the rent. And then the rest is all for fun.

 

Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal