Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Library is Now Open: Brad Stevens' "The Hunt" & Art Decades Issue #2

There were few sanctuaries as enticing growing up as the library. Stuck in a small working class burg and feeling like I was destined for pariah-kid-stasis, the library was an oasis that held many secrets, wonders and, most importantly, methods of escape. It still holds a bit of that power for me today, especially when it comes to glancing around and scoping out the variety of materials. Sleek tomes and colorful paper magazines lining up in a pristine formation and awaiting your eyes and hands.

The section that always pulls me first is the new fiction. There's the usual mix of chick-lit, science-fiction, historical dramas, something with a fantastical dwarf on it and some tawdry knock off of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Go ahead and feel free to channel your inner Kurtz here and go “...the horror....the horror.”) One of those tomes could very well be “The Hunt” by Brad Stevens. Brad first entered my stratosphere with his excellent work in the film writing world, including articles for my old periodical stomping grounds at Video Watchdog and his Bradlands column over at the British Film Institute's (BFI) website. “The Hunt” is his first fictive book and stands out as a unique debut. “The Hunt” centers around Mara Gorki, a writer whose work is massively successful overseas but is restricted in her homeland, which is a dystopian United Kingdom where women are treated like second to seventy first class citizens in every conceivable way.

The hostile atmosphere includes the legally imposed dress code of no pants or shorts for women over the age of 18, including corporal punishment via caning if broken to the rabid verbal abuse from various men of the cloth. However, the capper being the titular “Hunt” itself. Basically, a handful of very wealthy “gentlemen” pay for the privilege to hunt for women in an abandoned section of the city that has been quartered off by the government. As opposed to that old chestnut, “The Most Dangerous Game,” instead of hunting to kill, these men like their kicks on the sexual-sadistic side and track down these women, who are all drafted in by the government. There are rules, included intentional murder being one of the few actual taboos, but in a near future where women are basically regarded as mentally stunted vessels for the anger and damaged id impulse of key men who have been rewarded for their misogyny as opposed to being educated against it, things get on the vile side fairly quickly. It's a lesson that Mara learns intimately when she ends up being recruited.

Now from that description and those similar to it that you can read elsewhere online, you might be getting images of some ghastly Eli Roth film meets “A Handmaid's Tale.” The latter is somewhat close to the mark but you can mercifully kill the former. While Steven's does not pull any punches when it comes to the specifics of torture, his language neither lingers or delights in it. His prose in general is very clean, neatly written and yet has a quiet warmth and pulse to it that makes it all the more compelling. It's an unusual mix to see that kind of writing when it comes to such extreme material. The common tendency is to glory in the guts and agony and have the prose practically wiggle with every shriek, moan, leer and scream. But that is not the literary voice here and it is Stevens' restraint coupled with his clear love of his female characters, especially Mara and her partner, cineaste and film writer, Yuki Morishita. (A relationship the two naturally have to keep secret, since homosexuality is also forbidden.)

Speaking of, his handling of Yuki and Mara's relationship is quite sweet and feels authentic. “The Hunt” also features some extreme snarking on E.L. James fan fiction gone awry, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” As a whole it's a disturbing and smart read with solid characters, a bit of conspiracy theory and a peek into a future that doesn't feel too unreal whenever you see another news story about women all over the world having acid thrown into their faces, murdered for being a victim of rape or being robbed of the choice to be in control of their own body.

Now that you have a book picked out, you gotta have a magazine to go with it. With its striking cover and lush formatting, the second issue of the brand new periodical, Art Decades, is a fine choice. After its strong debut issue, Issue 2 continues in the fine tradition of loving art, unearthing past artists and celebrating the ones that are currently creating. The starting gate lets you know that the contents are gonna be good, with the following Joe Strummer quote taking the helm: “The way you get a better world is, you don't put up with a substandard any thing.” It's a bold move from such a young mag but bold is good and it sure as hell is better than boring.

The first main article is an excellent piece by Tara Hanks entitled “Pauline Boty: Pop Artist & Woman.” It's such a strong piece, offering fascinating and needed insight into one of the most under-looked pop artists that emerged out of the 50's and 60's. Boty was hampered by her gender, since while the art world is still fairly male dominated now, it is still miles ahead from the uber-macho atmosphere back when she was alive and working. Dying at the young age of 28 did not help much either. On top of that, knowing that several of her works are still missing in action, makes pieces like this one so important. A good article is a fun way to kill some time but a great article is one that plants a seed.

After that, there's the gorgeous photo layout, “My Time's Up,” based om The Raveonettes song of the same name. With photographer Whitly Brandenburg serving as the melancholy model backed by the twin muses of the aforementioned song and Jean Rollin's film “The Iron Rose,” it is one of the most standout visuals of the entire issue. Photographers Jeremy and Kelley Richey make great and dreamy use of the cemetery locale, as well as Brandenburg herself, whose presence has all the childlike beauty of a doll but with the air of one who has seen and felt something far older than her physical age.

Speaking of The Raveonettes, if you're a fan of the Danish indie rock band, then you are going to l-o-v-e this issue, since the “Time's Up” spread is followed up with an in depth interview with the band, a small article from Kelley about being a fan, a piece covering their entire discography and yet another photo spread inspired by one on their songs. The latter is based on the song, “Boys Who Rape Should All Be Destroyed.” (Love the title and feels fitting after reading “The Hunt!”) The layout itself is very nicely photographed but lacks the gritty gut punch that one would expect, especially with having influences like Abel Ferrara and “Lipstick” director Lamont Johnson noted at the beginning. But just the mere fact that a layout exists entitled “Boys Who Rape Should All be Destroyed” exists and is in this issue is commendable in and of itself.

There's also a second part of Erich Kuersten's piece, “Lou Reed in the Seventies.” (The first part is in the debut of Art Decades, naturally.) It's a fun piece to read with a Gonzo lilt, even though I have some personal disagreements. (Giving “Metal Machine Music” one star is bad enough, but Reed's masterpiece, “The Bells” only meriting two? Two?!) On the film side of things, there is a brief but super-fun interview with the great Mary Woronov conducted by Dave Stewart. Ms. Woronov alone is a legend, but the fact that she name checks one of the most underrated Warhol's Factory associates, writer Ronald Tavel, makes it even more of a must read than it already was.

 An equally sweet treat is Kent Adamson's “Cannon Man,” which is his appetizer of a piece about his time with working for the legendary Menahem Golan, the man, whom along with his cousin, Yoram Globus, took over Cannon Films in 1979. It was their reign that produced an amazingly wide breadth of films ranging from Barbet Schroeder's “Barfly” and the way underrated “Last American Virgin” to many a vehicle for action stars like Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. Adamson's writing pops and leaves you wanting to read more and more about his time with this truly unique character who left an undeniable imprint on film.

Back on the musical tip, there's also filmmaker/writer Salem Kapsaski's revealing and creatively stimulating interview with underground Italian musician Daniele Santagiuliana, as well as Steve Langton's terrific and memorable piece about seeing Joy Division live. (A pleasure so few ever will get to experience.) This issue also features more stunning imagery, some good poetry and even more great pieces by such talents as Marcelline Block, Silver Ferox and more.

Art Decades Issue #2 is a more than a solid follow up to its rock star debut and has planted seeds, some definable and others more mysterious, that will surely take some vivid and colorful bloom in the very near future.

This concludes our brief but hopefully enriching and teensy bit chewy trip to the library. Make sure to keep your slip and return the materials on time.

Copyright 2015 Heather Drain

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