Hazlitt Magazine

Secrets Among Distractions: The Power of Wimmelbooks

The suspended crowds depicted in these “teeming pictures” provide the opportunity to explore overwhelming chaos. 

Future Imperfect

The rapper may be off in another dimension, but he’s a realist. And realism is messy.

'A Society That Can’t Speak is Like a Body That Doesn’t Feel Pain': An Interview with Anjan Sundaram

Speaking with the author of Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, about violence and repression in Kagame-led Rwanda and the dark side of supposed symbols of progress.

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Secrets Among Distractions: The Power of Wimmelbooks

The suspended crowds depicted in these “teeming pictures” provide the opportunity to explore overwhelming chaos. 

A hippie serenades his hairy friends, irritating two campers in the process, while a butler serves wine to a wealthy-looking couple nearby. An adjacent tent collapses flat on the person sleeping inside, as a watching crowd of kids laugh and parents scowl. A few feet away, children pull back a door to reveal a man in his boxers, women flock to a boat full of shirtless studs, and one man’s careless hammering sets off a chain of collisions and falls. Hikers pant with exhaustion, small animals pose for pictures, and mermaids pop out of the river. Overwhelmed? I hope not. There’s more than half of the scene to still explore, and Waldo hasn’t shown up yet.Though the goofy cartoon characters and slapstick-y pratfalls populating Waldo’s travels aren’t immediately reminiscent of Renaissance art, the children’s classic Where’s Waldo? comes out of a tradition pioneered by Netherlandish artists Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel: men who created panoramas packed with figures both acting and being acted upon in imposingly dense scenes of life. Martin Handford, Waldo’s creator, has said each two page layout of a single scene takes him up to two months to finish, and that each complete collection contains hundreds of characters. This surplus of subjects is the hallmark of a wimmelbilderbuch, translated from the German as “teeming picture(s) book,” a book dedicated to and predicated on a “certain degree of disorder and chaos” as Cornelia Rémi puts it in her academic survey of the same.  Since German illustrator Ali Mitgutsch created his first in the 1960s, they’ve evolved into something of a staple of children’s literature. The books cultivate the curiosity they employ through their tacit faith that curiosity is not something that must be won or wrested from a lethargic and unclever mind but a pre-existing characteristic. They normalize intensive curiosity by embedding dozens of discrete scenes in one cohesive, large one. This cacophony of spectacle implies secrets among distractions; in a mass of people, at least one of those folks is bound to be doing something interesting. Because wimmel pictures are so obviously packed with information, viewers are inspired to be thorough in their gaze, to attend to each corner and shadow; any pocket of the scene may contain a satisfying surprise. Here, a ladder is knocked over and the painter is about to fall. There, the yelling of one angry driver distracts him from his imminent collision with another. There is no point in looking if you’re not going to look closely.*Though wimmelbooks are prime objects for philosophical reflection, little has been written about them (in English, anyway) beyond Rémi’s 2011 interrogation of their operation and effects. Consequently, her thoughtful essay is regarded as both seminal and definitive, though it neglects several important points. In her attempt to honor the mysterious, compelling quality of wimmel pictures, Rémi inadvertently undersells them. Wimmelbooks, she writes, must lack “clear rules or instructions,” otherwise the images lose the “remarkably open” quality that ensures “numerous elements might act together” in any variety of ways. This definition excludes all of the Where’s Waldo? series, Graeme Base books like The Eleventh Hour—an animal-animated rhyming mystery embedded with clues and codes—and even the otherwise text-free, US version of In The Town All Year Round (scenes of the same areas of a small town as it goes through the seasons) which provides suggestions of what readers should look out for where foreign versions did not. Worse, it obscures the intrinsic, seductive nature of a teeming picture in and of itself, which incites investigation and study by nature of its composition regardless of the book’s verbal container.This luxury of complete discovery never arises outside of art. A wimmelbook may imply or indicate outright that some elements are more valuable than others, even if that implication takes a form as simple as the title, which is the case with The Birthday Cake Mystery by The Tjong-Khing, a wordless depiction of various animal families over the course of one afternoon. (The title prioritizes the cake’s journey above other antics that take place throughout the tale, albeit with a light touch.) But readers—or more accurately, lookers—must ultimately discern important items from unimportant items on their own terms. Even if the early pages suggest where one’s attention should be focused, lookers’ own tastes and responses inevitably take the lead. Avid Waldo fans may be more excited when they find the tail of Woof, Waldo’s pet, than they are when they find Waldo himself. Others, like me, can recall tableaus from certain landscapes that don’t feature the recurring Waldo characters at all but are well-studied favorites nonetheless: a man’s flying carpet ripping on the top of a minaret, or the pet cats of two rival witches falling in love. Martin Handford professes a lifelong interest in crowds and chaos that seems to have seized his imagination with greater urgency than did Waldo himself. The character is simply the excuse to depict those raucous gatherings.Why does this matter? Because wimmel images, including those centuries old paintings by Bosch and Breugel, allow each looker, young and grown alike, to create their own hierarchy of what matters the most. In this way, they replicate the opportunities for attention that arise in our everyday lives. Each living being around us is in a constant state of flux and sometimes in a state of emergency—about to fall from a ladder, or drive into another’s car. The mutable character of the world, which includes and influences the variability of our fellow living beings, is forever shifting our circumstances. In a reality teeming with other subjectivities operating in an infinitely dynamic environment, when and where and why we do we deploy our attention and investment? Wimmelbooks don’t provide any answers outright, but they offer exposure to this question again and again. They—limitedly—immerse us in the multitudinousness of life, which is so overwhelming in real time that we can rarely take it in.   Life is relentless.Wimmel pictures highlight this effulgence as they simultaneously tame it. This luxury of complete discovery never arises outside of art. If you stare out your window at a truck about to back into a parked car, you’ll miss the funny face a girl on the sidewalk makes at her sibling in the same moment. If you watch two barflies showily make out, you miss the other two nearby who are in tears. Real life, or live life, also makes it difficult to share what you notice with others. Think of any moment when you tried to point out to a companion a celebrity who passed out of view too quickly for them to catch, or a fiercely arguing couple, or a car with a strange paint job. We regularly see things that we cannot share. Observation can make for a lonely pastime when the scene in question is not frozen and arranged to be exposed. * “What’s happening?” our brains wonder when we encounter living figures in art. Actions cause reactions; actions produce consequences. This elementary truth, courtesy of time and human nature, is the source of storytelling, and it’s responsible for the way we usually understand the world. Even wimmelbooks’ distant grandfather, the fantastical painter Bosch, whose work later influenced the Surrealists, composed his scenes to include chronological and narrative designs. The plain image of someone carrying a cake already speaks to a history and a future, to specific circumstances that led up to and will follow that exact moment. It is how existence works. We ask “what’s happening?” because we know there’s a story. And in life, there is always a story because there’s always something happening. Or rather, there are billions of somethings happening in every second, every split second, every quarter second. The slightly malevolent undertones of “teeming” hint at this, as do the other vaguely menacing translations of wimmel: swarming, crawling, bristling, overrun by. Life is relentless. It does not stop, and there is so much of it. Wimmel pictures highlight this effulgence as they simultaneously tame it. Through the elimination of actual motion, time stops, and viewers can take as long as they like to study the visual information with which they’re presented. Wimmelbooks create a world where everyone is deserving of acknowledgment, and we are given the time to bestow it. We can locate Waldo, Woof, the missing parrot, Hannah, and the birthday cake, but only nestled within a spread of life that clamors for equal consideration, and leaves us with more questions than answers. When Slate’s Ben Blatt tried to ascertain a pattern as to where Waldo usually materializes in his books’ pages, he determined two precisely placed horizontal bands within which viewers would have the most luck spotting the missing man. But solving the books’ titular mystery provides him with little satisfaction. “That leaves a more intriguing question left unanswered,” Blatt writes. “Why is Waldo there? Why, Waldo?” Images can reveal only so much. The rest is lost to us, swept away in the swarm of ordinary life.
Fighting ‘Erasure”

“Compared with words like ‘diversity’ and ‘representation,’ with their glib corporate gloss, ‘erasure’ is a blunt word for a blunt process. It goes beyond simplistic discussions of quotas to ask: Whose stories are taught and told? Whose suffering is recognized? Whose dead are mourned?”

"Compared with words like 'diversity' and 'representation,' with their glib corporate gloss, 'erasure' is a blunt word for a blunt process. It goes beyond simplistic discussions of quotas to ask: Whose stories are taught and told? Whose suffering is recognized? Whose dead are mourned?"-Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Magazine: "Fighting 'Erasure'"
‘A Society That Can’t Speak is Like a Body That Doesn’t Feel Pain’: An Interview with Anjan Sundaram

Speaking with the author of Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, about violence and repression in Kagame-led Rwanda and the dark side of supposed symbols of progress.

It is rare to read intimate stories about people struggling against the weight of modern dictatorships. Rarer still are the urgent depictions of people trapped by history, living in fear.In Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, writer Anjan Sundaram takes the reader into the heart of Rwanda, a country that is hard to know and is still battling demons of a genocide that occurred more than 20 years ago. During his near five-year stint in Kigali, Sundaram ran a journalism training program and discovered, through the experiences of his students, what it’s like to quietly defy the state.“You cannot pay attention to what they show you,” one of his students says of the government, “but need to listen to those they keep silent.”Sundaram’s astonishing account of Rwandan voices silenced could only have been possible through careful observation and immersion. His earlier work, an intense portrait of the Democratic Republic of Congo, used similar telescopic, story-telling techniques. Sundaram recently spoke to me about learning how to look at a dictatorship.*Judi Rever: In your first book, Stringer, there’s a cinematic moment where you meet up in Kinshasa with a teenager named Guy who makes a living on the streets. He’s with a friend named Patrick and a girl named Sylvia with eyes “large like leaves” who inhales a joint through her nose. You strike off to the stadium on a lark, at night, on a two-wheeler—recklessly enjoying the ride—and you’re holding hands with them as you walk up the stairs of the coliseum. You describe them expressing a range of emotions, from anger to joy. It’s an incredible few pages. It’s unusual because you’re not only an observer; there’s very little distance between you and them. It sets the tone for the book. Is it something that you set out to do, engaging with people so closely or did it just happen spontaneously because you were in Africa or in Congo?Anjan Sundaram: I think the intention I set out with is to immerse myself in an environment and in a place and with people. And that certainly comes before I even think of conceiving anything, even a book. That’s how I like to explore the world and live in the world. That’s what happened both in Congo and Rwanda. In both cases I went without an explicit plan to write a book. I just began to live as fully as I could and try to reduce the distance, as you say, between me and the places I am in—to try and see the world from their point of view. I begin as a person looking in from the outside, and the reader goes on a journey with me as I unravel and explore and am exposed to both Congo and Rwanda. And along the way you meet characters who help me in that exploration and become companions for both me and the reader. This is very much how I like to tell a story.You’ve been compared to a young V.S. Naipaul for your “discerning curiosity.” How do you see yourself when you read that kind of comparison? As a writer you’re a professional observer, but in these books what we’re getting is something more extraordinary. We’re getting your observations, but it’s almost as though we’re moving away from you and we’re experiencing your characters viscerally. So the attention shifts completely.Through my closeness with my environment and with my characters, the reader begins to feel like they’re exposed to that environment and they’re feeling it through me. How do I feel? I feel like each book is encapsulating an emotion—a series of emotions—that I felt at a particular time. Each book bottles that emotion up and sets it down on the record. I don’t see myself as anything but as a series of emotions. And hopefully I’ll go through life feeling emotions as richly and as fully as I can, and recording them and transmitting them through these books. But if you were to step away from the books and step away from these experiences, I don’t see myself as a figure. My ability to live goes only so far as I’m able to immerse myself in places and feel places and people richly. And I think if I were to stop being able to do that then I would stop living in a certain way, and stop being.In this book, Bad News, you move “deeper within the repression.” At one point you travel to an area in the Rwandan countryside where you’re not allowed to go. You haven’t asked permission to go there, so you’re going against the power of the government, and we’re feeling that fear with you, with an extreme sense of curiosity. You arrive at an area of roofless huts, and it’s a scene like out of a tribal war. It feels apocalyptic. I’m wondering if you can encapsulate why the huts were roofless in that village and what happened to the people. What did you see there?I had heard rumors that people had been made homeless. And I set out with a local journalist to investigate these rumors that weren’t being reported in the press. When I arrived at these villages I found the huts were without roofs, the thatch was on the ground. People were living outside. Some people were living in the few cement structures still in the village stuffed into rooms with goats and pigs. It looked like a war zone. It looked like some great calamity had happened, and yet I could see no signs of a war. I could see no signs of visible aggression. It’s just that the houses had been dismantled. It was completely surreal. And I asked the people, “Who did this to you … was it the army or the police?” And what they said was not what I had expected. They said: “we did it.” What they said was President Kagame almost whimsically had declared that he felt the thatched roofs were primitive. And the local authorities, in their extreme zeal and desire to please Kagame, went out and ordered people to take off the thatch from their roofs. And because people were unable to speak … who were they going to speak to or complain to? There was no one. There was no media, no recourse to justice. The people simply complied with the order; they had no choice. And so they pulled down the thatch from their roofs. And then they asked the authorities, “Now where do we go?” And the authorities shrugged and said, “Well, we’ll have to wait for replacement houses to be built.” It was an education for me because it was a moment when I realized the extent of the catastrophe that is possible when a society cannot speak and when there is no free speech. And this is when I saw the effects of the dismantling of free speech in the country. A society that can’t speak is like a body that doesn’t feel pain. If our body were not to feel pain, we could cut off a limb and we would not know it because we would not feel it. And this is what I felt was happening in Rwandan society. Great harm was being done. And because it was not being reported, people weren’t aware of the full extent of the harm and they continued almost mindlessly sometimes. Because there was no one to cry out and stay stop, this is hurting.And somehow that story brings us back to Gibson, one of your students who becomes a close friend of yours. He’s really in many ways the heart and soul of this narrative. He’s somebody you point out is interested in the philosophy of Hegel, and how appearances are taken for reality in Rwanda. Can you tell me what Gibson was trying to show you in Rwanda?Gibson was one of my favourite students. He was an incredibly talented man. He wrote beautifully. He wrote these perfect paragraphs; each paragraph flowed from the other. And Gibson’s story moved me more than some of the high-profile journalists in Rwanda because of our personal connection and also because his actions seemed so benign. He wasn’t trying to take down the government. There was no malevolent motivation on his part, and to be honest, the threat to him was also intangible. There was nobody standing with a gun to his head. It was all phone calls, threats and rumours and the spoken word. And all of these somehow combined, and it was only the moment that Gibson left the country that I realized there was something really powerful here.I was aware how much Rwandans are attached to their country and attached to their land. It’s a country of many exiles, and there’s a great sort of feeling of repossession of the country and attachment to their homes. And for this man to feel he needed to flee the country and go to a slum in a neighboring state with very little money, it meant that there had to be something powerful at work. And that’s sort of what introduced me to the notion that there was another world in which things were operating that I wasn’t fully aware of. That’s when I began my investigations. Gibson, before he left the country, taught me how to look at Rwanda and how to look at a dictatorship in a certain way. He taught me that we can both see the same thing but have a completely different experience of it. These streets that were Rwandan symbols of progress—that were well paved and that I’d been on many times—Gibson pointed out to me that those roads were empty. And it was true. They were empty, but it had never struck me. Where were the people? They were on our road that was unlit, cobblestone where people could trip and fall, but it was a space where people felt safer because they felt they were unobserved by the state. And so we begin to see that what others see as progress might be seen as entirely different and in an even fearful way by people for whom those roads are built. And again, it points to the importance of free speech. How do we know that the things we’re building represent progress to people? The only way we can really know is when people can speak freely and tell us how they feel. And this is something that is rarely done in Rwanda. People like to speak for Rwandans and say, “Oh, they have nice roads, they have a good health care system, they have this and that. They should be happy,” without asking Rwandans who are unable to speak freely whether those Rwandans would accept the trade-offs that are made on their behalf by the world.Gibson, at the end of the story—after he flees and loses his mind, loses his identity—strikes me as a tragic hero. He starts off as a sage, trying to tell the truth and showing you what’s underneath. But in the end, because he is punished, he loses his identity. It’s almost as if Rwanda has lost its identity because it’s lost its voice. Is Gibson a metaphor for Rwanda?I think it’s true that we begin to think what we say. When you are constantly repeating propaganda in a certain part of your mind, you begin to assimilate it and believe it. I experienced this myself in a small way. In the beginning of the book I hear this blast and I go to the scene of the grenade blast. And I can find no confirmation in society of this blast, and so the idea sort of disappears and I begin to question whether I heard it in the first place.But I’m reluctant to speak for Rwandan people as a whole, because I feel they cannot speak for themselves. So I do feel that anyone who claims that they know what Rwandans are thinking is in some sense arrogant or disingenuous, because how can we know what they are thinking when they’re not free to say it themselves?You write about Rwanda being “a mirage of a country.” When I read that I took it to mean that what you see on the surface is not what people’s lives are actually like and that the country is built on and fed with propaganda. The propaganda informs Rwanda and shapes our view of it, certainly in mainstream media.I think it also links to the fact that there is no vibrant journalism. I think the world’s view of a country, more than we think, depends on local narratives. World correspondents depend a great deal on local journalists for their information, and when local journalists are not free or are gone, that void is filled by propaganda. That becomes the de facto worldview on Rwanda. That’s one of the reasons why Rwandan propaganda has become so effective and powerful.Your book, in a number of places, is an indictment of international agencies and western governments there; you suggest they’re sustaining the repression. What is your opinion of foreign journalists there? There were a number of foreign journalists that lived in Rwanda when you were there and could leave anytime if they needed to. Were they doing the job that they should have been doing?I think everyone was playing a careful game. Everyone was trying to work out how they would continue doing their job, in an honest way, without getting thrown out of the country. Rwanda presents you with a stark choice: If you criticize the country, you get thrown out.I remember during the 2010 elections, there was a Reuters journalist who wrote about some of the subtle ways in which the government was controlling voters and telling them to vote for Kagame. The stories were wonderful. Among the donors, however, I don’t think there was much honesty on their part. They knew about all the repression but they chose to ignore it or to raise it simply in meetings with the Rwandan government and then send them a cheque on the weekend. So the financial flow to the Rwandan government never stopped despite the growing repression. And this was a choice the donors made consciously in Rwanda. They chose for the Rwandan people. They said, “You are Rwandan and therefore you do not need to live freely as long as your economy is growing, and you should be happy with this.” And this is something they would never accept in their own countries or for themselves, and yet they were imposing it on the Rwandan people very consciously.At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that these books are in part telling the emotions that you bottled up during your experiences in Congo and Rwanda. There’s also the way in which we deal with these countries and the effect of Western aid policies. I get the impression you feel a sense of responsibility not only to Rwanda but also to the journalists you taught and saw struggling. Did that sense of responsibility drive you creatively?I guess what drove me was a sense of affection for them and sympathy with them. I became involved in my students’ lives only because I was working with them and knew them as human beings. And the more I knew them the more they became my friends. When they ran into trouble I wanted to help them, and they unraveled this world in which I saw people living very restricted lives.I do feel responsible for recording some of the things that I experienced and some of the stories of Rwandan journalists because they saw their country was heading in a direction that was wrong or dangerous. They stood up to the government and they suffered for it. And now their names are hardly spoken of in Rwanda because they are seen as enemies of the state. I felt a certain responsibility to record their stories so that these people who stood up to the government are not forgotten, and that we remember that Rwandans did ask for their freedoms, and did ask for freedom of speech, and did ask to be able to speak up about the disappearances and the imprisonments and forced exiles that were occurring in their society. They did try and they were crushed by an incredibly powerful system. That was something I witnessed and I wanted to make sure in my way that these people were not forgotten for their courage and their bravery and for their clarity of vision. They saw early, they saw clearly, and they responded in ways that tried to protect their society.The book pays homage to a number of people who are no longer alive, such as Andre Sibomana and Charles Ingabire. But you have to tread delicately because some of the journalists you talk about—whose lives are being revealed—are still there and need to be protected. That’s the balancing act, I suppose.This is a kind of unique book in a way, I think. Most books I’ve read, novels like 1984 or Solzhenitzyn’s work, [with] historical dictatorships that are easy to portray as repressive like Stalin’s or Mao’s, are all written from the point of view of exiles. But this book is describing the underbelly of a dictatorship that still exists in contemporary society and that comes with its own peculiar set of challenges and effects. And yeah, you have to play a kind of balancing act in order to be able to describe that without negative repercussions. It’s something that’s difficult to do.
Featuring Kyrell Grant
On thigh gaps, thirst, and Kanye’s masculinity.
Banner for Country Darkness by K.L. Ricks for Hazlitt
Country Darkness Pt. 2

Editor’s Note: Always leave your phone on vibrate.

Future Imperfect

The rapper may be off in another dimension, but he’s a realist. And realism is messy.

One of the most popular rappers in the world is a morose, drug-addled, self-loathing, free-associative megalomaniac who, by his own off-hand admission in the intro to “March Madness,” may not even recognize the words coming out of his mouth. Atlanta’s Future may not be the most unlikely pop star ever, but there’s disparity between his bleak, disquieting output and his prominence in (and influence on) hip-hop’s ecosystem.While sometime collaborator Drake excels at crafting ideal product—see the just-released “Summer Sixteen” for Drake’s version of going rough around the edges—Future stubbornly retreats further and further into his own psyche. Since his Monster tape dropped over a year ago, he’s put out material at a frightening clip, including last summer’s DS2, a chart-topping doom-and-gloom opus that’s decidedly ambivalent about, well, pretty much everything that’s fun or rewarding about being a hyper-successful musician. At its most robust—think certified hits like the aforementioned “March Madness” or “Fuck Up Some Commas”—Future’s music admits very little light. At times, it’s an utterly joyless, sometimes scalding form of introspection constantly teetering on the edge of an abyss. For every line about needing love, or affectless reference to threesomes and sex on call, there’s one that brags about smashing every Instagram chick of note. Future may sound forlorn as he talks about buying cars and cribs but disillusionment is itself a luxury item. As much of a bummer as this music can be, it’s also almost certainly conflicted. Future can’t stop himself but he also doesn’t particularly want to. That’s why Tom Breihan can aptly describe “Perkys Calling” as “a party song and an addiction song at the same damn time.” That’s why it’s so important to look at Future’s success not as some triumph of pure art or a radical break with the rest of the rap world so much as it is trap music plus perspective, non-stop partying with a tinge of regret, misogyny occasionally undercut by a conscience or longing for something better. Future may off in another dimension, but he’s a realist. And realism is messy. There’s something oracular about him, in the sense that an oracle dispenses truth while unable to disclose any more than it’s given.Future is hardly the first rapper to look inward, expand the genre’s range of emotion, or favor sparse, atmospheric tracks. What makes Future so compelling is how intent he seems on breaking down rap’s conventions, seemingly for his own amusement or out of sheer disillusionment. The trend continues on Purple Reign, his latest unofficial release. Future’s vocals are a ravaged, haunting sing-song as he deploys Autotune like an effects pedal gone haywire. He rides the beat effortlessly, at times haphazardly, finding tricky pockets of rhythm to fit in stray words or emphases. Lyrics tumble out seemingly at random; even his most fully formed thoughts fail to connect, despite touching on frequent rap fare: Crime, money, drugs, strippers, wealth, and just generally being the best. The beats he chooses are minimal and woozy, anchored only by skittering drums and—this goes for Future’s music as a whole—an uncanny knack for melody that at least partly explains his immense popularity.But Future doesn’t just break the mold, he actively scorns it. He makes purists groan while at the same time scraping much of the luster off from a hedonistic, glamorized materialistic rap lifestyle that he can barely bring himself to enjoy. If Future didn’t make such irrepressible music, and if he weren’t such a supremely confident presence in the booth, he’d be more important for what he isn’t rather than what he is. When Lil Wayne declared himself an alien from outer space, it was to assert his Superman-like dominance over all the competition. Future is downright otherworldly. It’s not hard to imagine, him, literally or figuratively, wandering through some desolate, craggy landscape, rapping about the finer things and good times in a desperate attempt to convince himself that all is not lost, or to soldier on in search of … well, whatever it is that Future wants.All of this assumes, though, that Future has any idea what Future wants. Depending on whom you ask, Future is either a mad genius or a zonked buffoon; when asked about What a Time to Be Alive, his largely forgettable collaboration with Drake, Future answered simply, “it never happened.” What did he mean? Who knows. Who cares. The same goes for his multiple alter egos like Future Hendrix, The Wizard, and Super Future, introduced cannily at the beginning of tracks as if they offer real context for the listener. That these identities exist is almost more important than whether or not they’re intelligible to anyone. There’s something oracular about him, in the sense that an oracle dispenses truth while unable to disclose any more than it’s given. For a rapper who has gone out of his way to lay himself bare in his music, Future remains largely impenetrable, perhaps even to himself.Therein lies much of his appeal. The more the man seemingly unravels, the further he stretches the boundaries, the more his vision coalesces. The better we get to know his art—a word he’s thrown around on more than one occasion—the better we come to correctly misunderstand Future. And in that, we’re probably not far from the truth. If he’s lost and flailing, we’re at least learning to plumb those depths with him. The more he recedes, the more we appreciate him from a distance. The less sense he makes, the more it delights. What makes Future such unstoppable pop music is that he’s damn adept at inviting us into his world and compelling us to stick around past the initial lure.Future often runs the risk of lapsing into self-parody; listening to him these days can be a decidedly one-sided experience. Except that despite itself, Future’s music is charismatic and catchy. This might seem like an odd thing to say about such unremittingly bleak material but Purple Reign is fun. This is entertainment, not spectacle. Take Future’s seemingly incessant drug intake: Lean to take off the edge, Percocet to get numb, Xanax to float above it all, molly as anti-depressant, weed for a general state of disorientation, acid and mushrooms on principle alone. By his own admission, Future is an addict. At the same time, it’s a boast, a statement not only about how fucked up he is but also how much he loves to be fucked up. Altered consciousness may be a way out for some, but for Future it’s a way into a preferred state, albeit one that stands apart from the rest of the world.To see Future as a poet of existential pain or a one-man crusade against rap norms is to ignore his accessibility, his ability to connect with listeners despite venturing so far out. It’s heady stuff, to be sure. But Purple Reign, like almost everything else he’s done since Monster, isn’t half-empty. Despite itself, it’s brimming over. We can fight this impulse and hold fast to critical assertions about Future-as-avant-garde. Except as internally wracked as he may be, as many mixed signals as he might send in his music, Future is a professional out to make hits and be the best. Innovation is a byproduct of just being himself, not an end in itself or something that should happen at the expense of making music that just plain knocks. It certainly never comes at the expense of connecting with his millions of fans because without them, his ego really is empty. Whatever demons he’s trying to wrestle down, Future is a master craftsman exactly because he’s wrapped the genre in something bizarre and new without ever losing sight of larger audiences. His sophomore effort Honest was panned for pandering; this prompted the immortal line “tried to make a pop star and they made monster.” The irony is, this monster has virtually dominated the genre since breaking free of its expectations. The more we allow ourselves to appreciate Future’s good times as much as we do his misery, the less it matters that Future will, until further notice, remain fundamentally unknowable.
The 10,000 Year Clock

Somewhere out in Texas, a group is building a machine to challenge the human perception of time. 

Alexander Rose leans back in the café chair, and in a soft, steady voice, begins to tell the story of how you might visit the clock:You and your fellow adventurers would drive into the desert, somewhere past the town of Van Horn, Texas. Around sunrise, you would begin your hike across the valley floor, aiming for the rock cliffs, walking a canyon path that gets narrower and narrower, until you arrive at the cliffs’ base. You’d find a curious opening that looks like it could be either geological or man-made, and if you ventured inside, after a few hundred feet of dim cave pathway, you’d come upon a door. If you were brave enough to pass through, you’d see that the cavern walls had changed from rough limestone to hewn rock, that you’d moved from the natural world into a mysterious built one.“If you looked up,” Rose says, “you’d see light filtering through from the surface, even though you are 500 feet underground. You’d be seeing it filtering through what looks like machinery over your head. And there’s a spiral staircase and a shaft. So you’d start walking up the spiral staircase.” This machinery, an enormous, carefully wrought column of stainless steel instrumentation inserted into the mountain bore, will be the clock, meant to last for 10,000 years, a monument—and a challenge— to the human perception of time.Your brain edits time—one of its most fascinating perceptual mechanisms.Rose is the executive director of The Long Now Foundation, the group that is building the clock, under construction now with a launch date in the undetermined future. But the foundation members have already richly envisioned that otherworldly ascent up a twisted staircase. As he sips coffee in a sort of oddly timeless café—1940s pop standards wafting through the background clatter, classic neon on the walls—near the foundation’s San Francisco office, somewhere out in Texas, a giant diamond-edged saw is carving limestone slices from the bore, creating the central stairway that will wrap around the clockwork. In Seattle and in California’s North Bay, engineers are machining the clock’s internal mechanisms, trying to fabricate parts sturdy enough to stand the test of time. A heck of a lot of time.The clock is the brainchild of star programmer Danny Hillis, who conceived it, Rose says, “as a kind of antidote to what he had spent most of his life working on, which was building the very fastest supercomputers in the world.” The problem, Hillis felt, was that the cultural emphasis on speed was prompting people to sacrifice the good of the future for the needs of the present. As a species, we had become too focused on short-term time spans like electoral cycles or fashion seasons. “His fear was that there were certain problems that could only be solved on a much longer timescale,” says Rose, “things like climate change or hunger or education. These are not things you solve in a four-year election horizon.” The clock would be a counterexample, Rose says, essentially “the slowest computer in the world,” a behemoth that would force you to see yourself not at the forward edge of time’s progress, but at just one point along its way. “The original kind of poetic version of it was a clock that ticked once a year and bonged once a century and the cuckoo would come out once a millennium,” says Rose.Eno designed the chime sequence, which will produce almost enough combinations for the 3.65 million days of the clock’s life, assuming it won’t ring on the days when it has no visitors.Rose, a lanky industrial designer with a thoughtful, deliberate manner, was The Long Now’s first hire. The nonprofit was established in 1996—or rather, 01996. (They’ve already converted to a five-digit year.) The phrase “long now” was borrowed from British musician—and Long Now board member—Brian Eno, who realized upon moving to the United States in the 1970s that “now” in New York City meant something a good deal faster than it had in England. “He called having a larger time sense the ‘long now,’ ” says Rose. “And so we took that and stretched it out even further to mean really the last 10,000 years and the next 10,000.” They chose 10,000 as a civilization-scale time marker. You can count it backward to the beginning of the anthropocene, or the rise of agriculture around 8000 BC, when people began to have a discernible effect on their environment. And now the clock will count it forward.Rose continues describing what you’ll see if you climb the clock’s stairs: “You would pass lots of machinery, all of it still. Some places you’d get a chance to actually wind it up.” The staircase will lead to a main room with a display of dials, which will show the date when people last visited—maybe yesterday, maybe a thousand years ago. In case people make this visit so far in the deep future that they no longer understand the Gregorian calendar, this display will also read time out in the position of the sun, moon, and stars.Visitors looking at the dials, says Rose, might notice another curious thing: “There is a pendulum still ticking away, even though the dials haven’t moved in a thousand years.” There would be an obvious-looking hand winder, and if you chose to crank it, he says, “you’d see all the astronomic dials move and all the dates move and update. And they would stop when they hit now.”The clock will have two power sources: hand-winding and a thermal mech- anism that harnesses the temperature differential between day and night. Extra energy will be stored in a weight system, enough power to keep time for 100 years without sun or people. When the clock is fully wound, it will chime at solar noon, a unique peal of ten bells each day for 10,000 years. (Or at least very nearly. Eno designed the sequence, which will produce almost enough combinations for the 3.65 million days of the clock’s life, assuming it won’t ring on the days when it has no visitors.)As the chamber spirals around the clockworks, Rose says, it will get tighter and tighter, until you finally emerge in a cathartic breakthrough at the top of a cliff. “Then you have this big 270-degree view of the high West Texas and New Mexican desert,” he says. But more importantly, after your close experience with this massive time sentinel, you and your friends are “hopefully somewhat changed by the experience, and travel home together, talking about it and thinking about it.”And thinking about time is complex. Perception includes metasensory, or polysensory, experiences, which draw information from multiple sense organs. There is no one time-telling organ, no time cortex or lobe; indeed, the neural function of timekeeping is likely distributed throughout the brain. And we use many of our senses together to gauge time. Imagine a herd of wild horses running across that Texas flat. You can see time in the arc of their approach, in how they seem to grow bigger as they get closer. You can feel time, if you lay your hand on the trembling ground. Thanks to the Doppler effect, you can hear time as they thunder past. And your brain, ultimately, edits time—one of its most fascinating perceptual mechanisms. It must, because time comes to us through these organs at varying speeds. It syncs these inputs to produce a coherent experience for you, so that the horses and their noise and the vibration from their hooves all seem to arrive at the same moment.Time is also a cultural phenomenon, measured through man-made devices and used to modulate our behavior, making it perhaps the ultimate commingling of hard and soft biohacking forces. We’ve taken time cues from natural cycles both inside and outside of our bodies: our sleep/wake cycle, the movement of planets and stars, the change of tides and seasons. We’ve translated these into counting mechanisms, from sundials to calendars to clocks, of which The Long Now project is merely an enormous example. But it’s not the first major attempt to calibrate our time perception as a species, to coordinate our lives as a human society. So if you want to understand time, you have to examine it on more than one level. What kind of time you perceive really depends on what kind of clock you are reading.Excerpted from WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians, and Scientists are Transforming Human Perception, Once Sense at a Time by Kara Platoni. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.
What people expect from my black son

“I often worry that I’ve chiseled him into what I think will keep him free from harm without stopping to consider what that means to his authentic self. But if that’s the price my son has to pay in order for him to survive childhood, I’m okay with that.”

"I often worry that I’ve chiseled him into what I think will keep him free from harm without stopping to consider what that means to his authentic self. But if that’s the price my son has to pay in order for him to survive childhood, I’m okay with that."-Nam Kiwanuka, TVO: "What people expect from my black son" 
Winona, Forever

Ryder has always been trapped in her own anticipatory nostalgia, and the public has always wanted to keep her there.

 “The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding.”At 17, Winona Ryder underlined those words by Holden Caulfield in one of two copies of The Catcher in the Rye she was carrying with her. “Me and Holden are, like, this team,” she said. Ryder has since referred, more than once, to J.D. Salinger’s magnum angstus as her bible, and has since mentioned, more than once, that she has read it about 50 times. When she was 19, her boyfriend11Johnny Depp was her boyfriend at the time. gave her an auction-bought Christmas card with Salinger’s signature on it. At 20, Ryder still took Catcher in the Rye wherever she went as a kind of adult pacifier. She even wrote Salinger a fan letter, though she never sent it. “I kind of said, um, that I, uh, just how much it meant to me, and thanked him for it,” she told Premiere. Ryder did, however, send him a note in 1994, along with the Christmas card. “Dear Mr. Salinger,” it read. “I received this as a gift because I’m a big fan, but I want to return it to you because I respect your privacy.” The only god she really believed in sent her a “thank you” in return. “It was amazing,” she told Esquire. “I mean, it’s possible that his publisher just typed it and had him sign it or something, but it was the greatest thing ever.”At 27, Ryder was still praying at the altar of the prep school hero. That year she showed Vogue magazine a Tiffany frame she had received as a gift from a friend. One side held a picture of her in 1990 at age 19, black clad, sunglasses, slumped on a couch, giving the finger. The other held a page from Catcher in the Rye, the one in which Holden sees “Fuck you” on the wall of his 10-year-old sister’s school (“I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say ‘Holden Caulfield’ on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say ‘Fuck you’”). Two iconic teenagers, 40 years apart, side by side. “I was in Paris promoting Mermaids and I was a total insomniac and going nuts and having the worst time of my life,” Ryder explained. “It’s a very adolescent me, but it reminds me of that time so much...”For many of us, though, Winona Ryder is all the reminder we need. “There’s something of an expectation for young actors not only to play young, but to have that intuition of what their generation is going through and to be on that wavelength,” says Timothy Shary, a film scholar who has published multiple books on teen cinema including Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in American Cinema Since 1980 and Teen Films: American Youth on Screen. “For girls of my generation who were awkward or a little bit strange, Winona Ryder was both relatable and aspirational,” wrote Alana Massey in BuzzFeed last year. Though Ryder was often described as the ingénue, this implies a passivity Ryder eluded in every one of her teen films—in Square Dance she beats up a woman who takes advantage of a mentally handicapped man, in Beetlejuice she sacrifices herself to save a pair of ghosts, in Heathers she encourages her boyfriend to blow himself up (then uses his body to light her cigarette), in Edward Scissorhands she falls in love with a goth anti-hero, in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael she spurns the local hunk and in Mermaids she propositions him. These were films in which she didn’t so much play a character as perform her own. “Winona is an actress who works directly from primal instinct,” her Alien: Resurrection director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, said. “This instinctual way of working is a rare quality usually only found in children.”That her acting—that she herself22“She has made a choice to be innocent, and that’s not to suggest there’s anything false about it,” Beetlejuice writer Michael McDowell told Life. “She’s innocence through and through.”—is childlike is understandable considering she reveres Caulfied, a character who reveres children.33She also exalts children and has only ever been willing to give signatures to “under-thirteens.” Like him, teen Ryder was the smart, ambivalent outsider searching for a place in a society that opposed those very things. Even into her twenties, in Reality Bites and Girl, Interrupted, she was more of a delayed adolescent than an adult. Ryder was unable to move on because of what moving on meant. And we weren’t either. Our Nonistalgia keeps her cloistered to this day in adolescence, alongside then-boyfriend Johnny Depp, before he cashed in on his eccentricity. But despite our attempts to resuscitate the past—Beetlejuice 2, Heathers: The Musical, Marc Jacobs—and as young as Ryder continues to look, she is no longer that ‘90s ingénue. In that sense she and Holden really are a team. “[Caulfield’s] central dilemma is that he wants to retain a child’s innocence, solipsism, and clarity,” wrote Harold Bloom, “but because of biology he must move into either adulthood or madness.”*She was named after Winona, Minnesota—her place of birth—which took its name from a Dakota Sioux legend, in which the goddess Winona chose to leap off a cliff rather than marry a man she didn’t love. Her friends call her Noni, as in “no knee.” Her last name is Horowitz (well, Tomchin, but that’s another story44The Horowitzes adopted the name of the family they travelled with from Eastern Europe to Ellis Island.). She considered the name unphotogenic so, for her career, her dad chose Ryder instead (perhaps while listening to a Mitch Ryder album) after they briefly paused on October (her birth month) and Huxley (one of her favourite authors). Her parents are counter-culture intellectuals—they created the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library, the largest cache of psychoactive drug literature in the world—who raised her in a California commune. Growing up, she was inundated with old movies and older books. At seven, she saw Greer Garson in Random Harvest. “I wanted to be like her,” Ryder told Seventeen. “Nothing could compare with Garson’s face, her expressions […] All those old movies affected me; they gave me a tingling feeling when I watched them. I wanted to be part of them, even the ones with tragic endings.” But she wasn’t sent to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater (ACT) until she was 12 after a bunch of kids at school saw her dressed in a suit—her gangster movie phase—called her a “faggot” and beat her up. She enrolled to meet more people like her and got in by performing a monologue she adapted from J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. “I’m marvellous now. I just never felt so fantastically rocky in my entire life.”A year in, Ryder auditioned for filmmaker David Seltzer. He was casting his new movie, Lucas, specifically the role of Rina, a young teen lovesick over the titular character (Corey Haim) who is lovesick over a cheerleader (Kerri Green) who is lovesick over a quarterback (Charlie Sheen). Seltzer was making his choice based on one scene in particular, outside a school dance where Lucas has failed to take his crush. Sitting by the water contemplating a bottled dragonfly nymph, Lucas is joined by Rina, who observes its ugliness.. Lucas: It turns into something very beautiful, Rina. Rina: Is that possible? Lucas: Can you imagine that? Turning from something ugly into something beautiful? Rina: No, frankly I can’t.“I read the scene with her and she broke my heart because she was maybe speaking a truth from deep down,” Seltzer says. “I thought probably Winona would be relegated to the unattractive friend for the rest of her career.” Watching the scene, that’s difficult to see. Though only 13, Ryder, with her stillness, her serene delivery, her ability to bewitch just by looking and listening, is an island of charisma. Perhaps all she needed to hear was Seltzer’s direction—“The camera will read your mind”—or perhaps she simply came out that way. Regardless, she dominates her few scenes, the mature poised foil to Haim’s agitated youth. (Seltzer admits, “it was not a great match because she seemed to be so much older than he was.”) At the end of the shoot, the young actors took turns sharing what Seltzer had taught them, each one fawning over his technique—except Ryder. “David taught me how to peel an orange in one piece,” she said, Seltzer recalls with a laugh. “She was not gonna play that game. It was pure Winona.”Her first starring role was only her second film appearance ever and the first of many in which she played younger than she actually was.55Her breasts were reportedly bound for the role. “She had a beautiful figure at 14,” says co-star Jane Alexander. “She was already quite mature.” In the family drama Square Dance, 14-year-old Ryder plays 13-year-old Gemma, a farm girl who falls in love with a 21-year-old mentally disabled man (Rob Lowe) after leaving her grandad (Jason Robards) to live in the city with her estranged mom (Jane Alexander). Alexander, who also co-executive produced the film, says that director Daniel Petrie auditioned hundreds of girls, “and then Winona walked in.” She only had one credit, but her presence was legion. “She had her own very strong personality—very authentic, very observant, forthright,” Alexander says, “she radiated a kind of naturalness not only on screen but off as well.” Ryder has credited Alexander with teaching her patience between shots and Robards with teaching her to be more natural. “If I hadn’t worked with people like Jane and Jason, I probably would have blown a lot of roles,” she said. She referred to both Robards and Alexander as her mentors, though the latter denies she taught Ryder much at all. “If I did anything it was just to say hold on to whatever emotion you have,” Alexander says. “Emotion was very readily available for her.”Tim Burton sensed it after only watching her once. And he remembered it while casting his new movie about a pair of ghosts who haunt a family and befriend their young daughter, Lydia Deetz, a Wednesday Addams type. “I had asked about Winona Ryder because I had seen her in Lucas and she had a really strong presence,” the director explained in Burton on Burton. She also looked the part. “A lot of those clothes were my clothes,” Ryder told Vogue in 1989. “My skin was actually that pale.” And from the first scene, reclining on a couch, she descends like an anemic Cleopatra into the moving bustle, the eye of the storm. “My whole life is a dark room,” Lydia says beneath a black veil. Then: “It says live people ignore the strange and usual. I myself am strange and unusual.” Ryder felt a kinship to Burton, who was an outsider like her (“I am utterly alone,” Lydia writes in her journal, the first of her many Salingeresque narrations66She also journals in Heathers and Girl, Interrupted, and has a voiceover in Mermaids.). “Tim talks my language, you know?” she said at the time. “We have the same sensibility.”[[{"fid":"6692926","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"770","width":"770","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]It seemed the rest of the world did too. Beetlejuice opened on April Fool’s Day, 1988, and earned $32 million in its first two weeks, followed by an Oscar for Best Makeup. As Mark Salisbury wrote in Burton on Burton, “Weird was good, weird was acceptable, weird was successful.” And so was Winona Ryder.Winona Ryder’s weirdness was appreciated less off screen. “She was very observant of the meanness of teenage girls,” Alexander says. “Heathers was a real story as far as I could ascertain from what Noni told us about her school life.” But that film didn’t come around until two years later. First-time screenwriter Daniel Waters sold New World his jargon-stuffed jet-black comedy about four teenagers—three Heathers, one Veronica— who form a popular clique at fictional Westerberg High. With the help of Jason Dean—a homicidal variation on the rebel without a cause—Veronica Sawyer kills off the most popular Heather and frames it as a suicide, setting off a deluge of copycats. Waters was inspired to write the script by the rising number of teenagers who were killing themselves in America in the ‘80s. “The movie definitely came out of the sanctification of not only teen suicide, but teenagers in general,” he said. According to John Ross Bowie’s book Heathers, Waters envisioned Veronica Sawyer as “Travis Bickle in a Molly Ringwald package.” He wanted Jennifer Connelly for the role. The studio wanted Justine Bateman. No one wanted Winona Ryder.“I read Heathers and for the first time ever I thought, ‘I’ve got to play this,’” Ryder told British magazine The Face in 1989. “It wasn’t a question of wanting to or thinking I should, it was a case of nobody understands this like I do.” She had gotten the script from Beetlejuice’s screenwriter, but her agent had begged her not to do it. She didn’t listen. Producer Denise Di Novi remembered the actress sitting in her office at New World (with her mom) saying, “I’ll do the script just for $1. I’ll do anything, I don’t care how much you pay me.” But even though Waters thought she was a “great actress,” he didn’t think she was “attractive enough.” It wasn’t the first time Ryder, whose first four characters were described as “homely,” had heard that.77In 2013, Ryder told Interview magazine that when she was around 15, mid-audition a casting director told her: “Listen, kid. You should not be an actress. You are not pretty enough.” So she popped into Macy’s, got a makeover and, according to Waters, “She threatened to kill herself or us if she didn’t get the part.”“I am looking for someone in this world to relate to.”She was the part: Veronica was semi-goth, Ryder was too. Veronica was less feminine than her big-haired friends, Ryder was too (minus the monocle). And both of them had thoughts beyond the lunchtime poll, thoughts they put in their journals (“I wanted to tie into that tradition of the girl’s book,” Waters said). Ryder also had a personal connection to the story: a goth outcast at her high school had been venerated post-suicide by the very people who had alienated her while she was alive. “It just really struck me because I was so disgusted by the behaviour of my school,” Ryder said. Then there was the J.D. Salinger connection.88Not to mention The Replacements: Westerberg was named after the band’s lead singer, Paul Westerberg, because Waters was a fan (though it’s unclear if Ryder’s fandom preceded the film). The original draft of Heathers used Catcher in the Rye as Heather Duke’s suicide sign off. But Salinger “balked at the idea,” so it was replaced by Moby-Dick. Holden was thus left to infuse the story more abstractly, through Veronica’s alienation from her parents (and adults in general) and Ryder’s equation of adolescence with battle99The Catcher in The Rye is considered by some to be a war novel in disguise.: “What kids do to each other in high school is as bad as what adults to do each other in war.”In the end, Waters transformed Veronica Sawyer from Travis Bickle into the “Albert Speer of Westerberg High,” a.k.a the sorry Nazi. He told John Ross Bowie he “softened” the character because of Ryder’s “wobbly” approach (a word he no doubt borrowed from Pauline Kael’s New Yorker review: “Winona Ryder is lovely looking, but her role is too wobbly and ‘real’ for the mock outrages that surround it”). Ryder and her character were continuous, her performance transcending mere charisma. One scene in particular has her laughing with J.D. at the funeral of two football players—Veronica shot them both—but then a little girl, presumably a sister of one of the deceased, turns around, crying, to look at them. The way Ryder’s laugh slowly dissolves, the way she tilts her head like an empathetic puppy, anchors the satire. She is the moral center. “It’s just like they’re the people I work with and our job is being popular and shit,” Veronica tells J.D., and you believe her. It’s not her intention to kill the Heathers, just to mature beyond them. As she puts it, “I say we just grow up, be adults and die.”Heathers heeded her advice and succumbed at the box office, making only a third of its small budget back. Film professor Timothy Shary compared its release in 1989, after a spate of suicides, to releasing a movie about school shootings a year after Columbine. But then came home video (and then came cable), and suddenly it was a cult classic. “I think that Heathers just got young people thinking about hypocrisy,” Shary says. “It got young people talking about the ironies of behaviour and of course it’s an indictment of the clique and the caste system of high schools, which so many teenagers hate and yet participate in.” To this day, Veronica Sawyer is Ryder’s favorite character.There was nowhere to go but down. In the late ‘80s Karen Leigh Hopkins wrote a dusky magic realist ensemble on iconography that she likens to Francois Truffaut’s Day For Night. The original script for Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael had no role for Winona Ryder, but then Hopkins conceived Dinky Bossetti, a 15-year-old girl who thinks she’s the long-lost daughter of a long-lost local celebrity. Dinky dyes her clothes charcoal, barb wires her room, writes raunchy poetry1010Dinky recites the following poem to a decidedly uncomfortable class full of junior high schoolers: From a deep, immaculate kiss she spread her two ripe, dripping limbs and then I happened. And the moon throbbed and fought with an angry sun all that day and all that night. Until it forced me out. Now I scald here... alone. Touch me. With your white words and your dead hands. Now before I freeze. And become one of you. and, like Ryder, is ostracized by her classmates, who use her for target practice. She prefers “books to dolls, boots to ballet slippers,” and proclaims, “Who understands anybody, really? Who wants to? It’s hard enough trying to understand yourself.” Says Hopkins of Ryder, “She was so the character. She’s so smart and unusual and daring.”Released in October 1990 around Ryder’s 19th birthday, Roxy Carmichael suffered from flat direction—save the odd Burtonesque flourish—and made only a small fraction of its budget back. But it was intriguing enough for a financing company to have recently approached Hopkins about directing a remake. “I think we need the movie right now more than we did 20 years ago,” she says. Hopkins is referring specifically to the film’s familiar theme of isolation. “For me the movie was about, I relate to no one,” she says. “I am looking for someone in this world to relate to.” Ryder admitted in Premiere in 1989 that Dinky “is sort of a lot like me,” though Hopkins didn’t realize it initially. “I think that she really understood Dinky’s intelligence and the difference between who Dinky was and the rest of the world,” Hopkins says. “Not that she wanted to be different, simply that she was and she owned it.”Ryder’s next role was sort of a lot unlike her. In Edward Scissorhands she plays the kind of girl she always complained about: a strawberry blonde cheerleader. “Kim was like the girls in eighth grade who called me a weirdo and threw Cheetos at me,” she said. The plot—a man with scissors for hands is introduced into a suburban community—came from a drawing Tim Burton had made years earlier, the culmination of his teen years. “It was the feeling that your image and how people perceive you are at odds with what is inside you,” he said in Burton on Burton. The director saw Johnny Depp—a teen idol on the outside, a hippie on the inside—in a similar struggle. And while Ryder wasn’t Kim, she found a piece of herself in the character. “Physically, my role in Scissorhands was everything I’d been anti throughout my whole life,” Ryder told the UK magazine Select in 1991. “But the reason she fell in love with Edward was because she felt different.” The pale Hayley Mills wig made Ryder’s eyes—the feature anyone who knows her can’t help mentioning—pop even more, turning her into Margaret Keane with a pulse. “Both these actors have a great sort of silent movie quality, you know, people able to say something with their eyes without having to speak,” Burton says on the film’s DVD commentary.The last time teenage Winona Ryder played a teenager, she reverted back to being an outsider. In Mermaids she was Charlotte Flax, the religious daughter of a sacrilegious single mother (Cher). Based on Patty Dann’s 1986 novel, it’s another nostalgic coming-of-age drama, this time set in 1963. “I’ve always been intrigued by mermaids being half fish/half woman,” Dann explained via email. “The Flax women seem like mermaids—all of them, half child/half grownup.” While her mother wears body hugging polka dots, Charlotte dons a tunic and cross and tries to pray away impure thoughts about the local convent’s caretaker (Michael Schoeffling, famous for playing perfect guy Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles before chucking Hollywood for a woodworking career in Wilkes-Barre). Her behaviour recalls Ryder’s old testament, Catcher in the Rye. “Ambivalence, the simultaneous presence of positive and negative feelings in almost equal degree, dominates Holden throughout the book,” wrote Harold Bloom. It was a theme Ryder would revisit in Reality Bites and Girl, Interrupted, but in Mermaids it was underscored by Charlotte’s voiceover.1111Ryder, who claims to “work from the inside out,” loathed this aspect of the role. “I’m used to being told what to say, but not what to think,” she told Harper’s Bazaar, “that’s usually left up to me.” “I loved the fact that she was completely inconsistent,” Ryder said. “I’m completely inconsistent.”*Winona Ryder arrived at the perfect time. Film scholar Timothy Shary characterizes the teen genre as “cyclical.” Ryder’s first film, Lucas, was released at the end of the hyper-hormonal Porky’s era (AIDS and teen pregnancy ruined it for everyone), five years before the release of Boyz N the Hood. In the period between 1986 and 1990, during her teen career, there were about 250 American films about adolescents, the most memorable being nostalgic thefts of innocence such as Dirty Dancing (1987), Hairspray (1988) and Dead Poets Society (1989). Three of Ryder’s films—Great Balls of Fire, 1969, Mermaids—adhered to this theme. She was in a sweet spot: post sex-crazed, pre-violence crazed—the ideal landing pad for a wide-eyed alien.1212This may explain why John Cusack’s oddballs in Say Anything, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer fluorished at this time too.“You’d be hard pressed to say who was an average girl in teen movies after the mid-80s,” says Shary. The Brats had moved on, and so had John Hughes (his last teen film, Some Kind of Wonderful, came out in 1987), though no one forgot about them. “[Hughes] showed that you could make sensitive teen films that didn’t have nudity that didn’t pander to the supposed teen sex urge,” Shary says. He thinks this was “a contributing factor in helping set up an actress like Winona Ryder who could come along in the later ‘80s and be taken seriously as a teen actress.” While Hughes muse Molly Ringwald pined for the rich guy, Ryder merely pined for herself. “Molly Ringwald was embraced as something of an American sweetheart,” explains Shary, “and I think Winona Ryder took on roles that she thought would be a little more cynical, a little bit more hardened.” And she wasn’t shy about it. “Those kinds of films are so corny,” Ryder said of the Hughes cannon. “I couldn’t believe how teenagers didn’t mind getting those labels slapped on their back.” Heathers was held up as a counterpoint—Waters told Entertainment Weekly, “there’s a whole other wing of the high school they weren’t going into”—and Ryder was proud of that. “There are a lot of really smart kids out there who don’t want to be insulted by John Hughes,” she said. Perhaps it is not just a coincidence, then, that in Edward Scissorhands Tim Burton turned Hughes regular Anthony Michael Hall into a psychopath while in Mermaids Ryder fucked ’80s ideal Jake Ryan after Molly Ringwald only dared kiss him.“She has just about the most perfect face I’ve ever seen.” Though most of her films were not hits, Ryder was critically lauded, most notably with an Independent Spirit Award nod for Heathers and a Golden Globe for Mermaids. “By the time she got into her early twenties in the early ‘90s, she could have the clout to do movies like Dracula and Age of Innocence and be taken seriously,” says Shary. But that’s not why she became so iconic. According to Ty Burr’s Gods Like Us, that was also the decade that brought us the fan magazine boom. Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, InStyle, People and Us Weekly “revitalized an interest in the triangulation of women, fame, and personal style,” wrote Burr. “The magazines confirmed personas, created public narratives, represented public judgment in times of scandal, and dispelled the primal movie mystery by replacing it with an illusion of access and knowledge.” Though Shary concedes that gossip magazines “kept [Winona] in the public visibility,” he argues that Ryder was actually getting her “greatest critical reviews” ever in the ‘90s (her first Oscar nomination, for The Age of Innocence, came in 1993, followed by another Oscar nod for Little Women in 1994). But that’s not what we remember about that time. What we remember about that time is Winona Forever.*They saw each other for the first time two months after Heathers came out, on June 16, 1989, at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. She was 17, he was 26. It was the premiere for Great Balls of Fire and Winona Ryder arrived in a rosy Cadillac wearing a ghost-coloured figure-hugging Giorgio di Sant’angelo. She had gone from voluminous black to voluptuous pale (“Even though Heathers didn’t make a lot of money, I really was able to transition into a situation where people thought I could play an attractive role because of it.”) Her lips were raspberry and her eyes were peach and she looked delicious. Johnny Depp, the 21 Jump Street-born Bop regular who a year later would send up this very image in John Waters’s Cry Baby, appeared in a brown suede jacket, jeans and black shirt looking equally delicious. They had the same hair—short, dark, swept off their faces—and they were similar in other ways too. Depp was also unconventional, a Beat disciple and fan of Ryder’s godfather Timothy Leary, not to mention Salinger. His beauty was atypical like hers, too. “Your Johnny Depp kind of beauty was almost an alternative to Tom Cruise,”1313Tom Cruise would be named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1990 and Michelle Pfeiffer Most Beautiful. explains Lainey Gossip’s Elaine Lui.By the end of 1989 they would be engaged, and by the following December Depp would brandish his infamous Winona Forever tattoo. No longer was Ryder the vestal virgin. “I’ve had a lot of propositions in the last year,” she said before meeting Depp. “I’m really naive about stuff like that.” Depp, already divorced by 22, enlightened her. “It was a complete identity change,” says Lui. “She went from awkward girl to the most beautiful girl in the world with the most beautiful boy in the world and the most beautiful love in the world.” And they couldn’t shut up about it. “I love that girl. I love her,” Depp was quoted as saying at the time. “I love her almost more than I love myself.” Ryder was less emotive, but no less frank. “When I met Johnny, I was pure virgin,” she said. “He changed that. He was my first everything. My first real kiss. My first real boyfriend. My first fiancé.1414Though she was asked once before, when Lucas wrapped, according to director David Seltzer. He says Corey Haim developed a huge crush on Ryder during the shoot and bought her a diamond engagement ring, to which she responded, “Are you crazy?” (When I interviewed him in 2008, Haim downplayed his affection, calling it “puppy love.”) The first guy I had sex with. So he’ll always be in my heart. Forever.” The press couldn’t get enough. The paps hounded them at airports, the tabs hounded them in print. By May 1991 they were living together and the press hounded them at home. “We were both very young and pretty open about our feelings,” Ryder told The Daily Beast this past October. “We hadn’t learned yet to not share everything with everyone.” But she was a quick study. “When I was young, I was the sweetheart of the press,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 1990. “Then I became engaged to Johnny and it’s been bad ever since.” Her transformation can be traced through Vogue. In June 1989 Ryder appeared for the first time in the fashion bible in a vintage men’s suit—characterized as “part Annie Hall, part Holly Golightly”—while six months later, for her second issue, she posed in bed topless.1515Lying on her front, of course—she has always had reservations about nudity and sex, despite her family’s permissiveness. “My parents leaned to the conservative side, and hers leaned to the liberal,” ex Dave Pirner told Life magazine in 1994. “We’re both overcompensating.” Around that time Ryder read a “disgusting” article in another publication that counted her among a number of actresses who had unexpectedly large breasts. “It was the first time I read something that referred to me that way, and I thought, ‘They don’t think of me as a child actress anymore,’” she said. “I felt very violated.” Still, Ryder, once considered too ugly for Hollywood, became a regular face in fashion magazines. She didn’t dress the part, though, avoiding couture shows and doing her own hair and makeup for events, wearing (and re-wearing) vintage frocks on the red carpet and otherwise being matchy-matchy with Depp—oversized T-shirts, leather jackets, jeans.She had the perfect style at the perfect time. Grunge was shuffling in and non-conforming Noni, who was teeny tiny despite her curves, fit the heroin chic decade to a T. But she didn’t officially transform into a style icon until 1993—the year she went pixie. “Winona Ryder's new pixie cut recalls Audrey Hepburn's gamine chic,” Vogue announced and, just to make the trend stick, the magazine also ran a “return of the gamine” spread. “Fashion people love that shit,” says Lui of the actress’s haute couture cachet. “But, really, it’s the face. Those eyes. That’s boner face.” As proof, late celebrity makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin told Allure in 2000 that he never spent more than 15 minutes on Ryder’s makeup. “She has just about the most perfect face I’ve ever seen,” he said, “like a porcelain doll.”“There’s an obligation to commercialize something when you have a movie star in it.”She didn’t feel too gorgeous, though. At 17, Ryder had started suffering “horrible” anxiety attacks. A year later she pulled out of The Godfather: Part III in a tab-fuelled furor after developing sinus and bronchial infections on the set of Mermaids. “I didn’t take any time off,” she told Vogue. “When I did, I was really stressed out.” By 19 she was worse. “I was acting like everything was okay—smiling,” she said. “I was being watched all the time.” But she wasn’t sleeping again (she’s had insomnia since childhood) and was “miserable” filming The House of the Spirits. She admitted the press “took its toll” on her relationship with Depp, but it was more than that. “I was trying to have this life I wasn’t comfortable having and trying to be this person that I was reading I was,” she told Rolling Stone. “I was Winona! I was precocious! I was adorable! I was sexy!” She called it an identity crisis. “If you spend your most crucial adolescent years being watched by millions of people being told what’s good and what’s bad, you have no sense of who you are,” Ryder explained. She saw a therapist who diagnosed her with “anticipatory anxiety” —feelings of dread over anticipated events—and, quaintly, “anticipatory nostalgia.” (In the Times, psychologist Dr. Constantine Sedikides recently described this lesser known “condition,” which could be considered our current era’s raison d’être, as the drive to “build nostalgic-to-be memories.”) She was prescribed sleeping pills, to which she got briefly hooked. She then “tried to be an alcoholic for two weeks” but packed it in after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. Then, in April 1993, two years after canonizing their romance in a spread for UK Vogue, Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp broke up.*At one point Winona Ryder owned 12 guitars. “I never felt like a physically beautiful girl, but I’ve always felt like I was unique, and that mattered way more to me,” she told Vogue in 2007. “Getting into the music I was into was so much more about individualism than beauty.” Her house was populated with posters of The Clash, Patti Smith, The Runaways and The Replacements, and in 1990 she told Seventeen that the latter band’s frontman, Paul Westerberg, was her idol, which seemed to determine her future relationships. The Replacements are considered pioneers of alternative rock, and Ryder’s dating history reads like an encyclopedia of the genre. It’s as though she was trying, paradoxically, to assert her individualism through her relationships.Less than a month after breaking up with Depp, who originally wanted to be a musician himself, she started seeing Dave Pirner of the grunge band Soul Asylum. In addition to Pirner (who reportedly wrote “Just Like Anyone” about her), Ryder has been linked, in no particular order, to: Ryan Adams (he reportedly wrote “Cry on Demand” about her), Beck (he reportedly wrote “Lost Cause” about her), Conor Oberst, Pete Yorn, Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett, and Dave Grohl.1616She has reportedly been dating eco-clothing entrepreneur Scott Mackinlay Hahn—basically, Alexander Skarsgard with grey hair—since around 2012. She also inspired The Catcher in the Rye-referencing “Rollerskate Skinny”1717“She’s quite skinny like me, but nice skinny,” Holden says of his sister, Phoebe, age 10. “Roller-skate skinny.” by the Old ’97s—Rhett Miller told Nerve he wrote the track after Ryder broke up with Matt Damon and developed a crush on Miller during which she constantly spoke to him about her ex. “I wrote the song to mean, like, ‘Are you seriously complaining about your life? Come on,’” he said. Then there was Matthew Sweet’s “Winona,” a title suggested by a friend because Sweet liked the movie Heathers.It didn’t take long for her to become a punchline. According to Rolling Stone, on stage Courtney Love quipped, “Kurt is leaving me for Winona,” while a Sassy reporter theorized that men were starting alternative bands solely to meet Ryder. But the biggest joke of all was Reality Bites. Ryder’s 1994 film glamourized the grunge-wearing, literary reference-spewing, musician-fucking lifestyle she seemed to be living. It was a delayed-adolescence version of the coming-of-age movies1818Producer Michael Shamberg wanted a Big Chill for the 20s-set. she was famous for. She played Lelaina Pierce, a university valedictorian turned “unemployed waif,” who tries to eke out a living as an independent documentary filmmaker and inadvertently becomes a sell-out instead. “It’s about people trying to find their own identity without any real role models or idols,” Lelaina says of her film, which also serves as an apt description for Catcher in the Rye1919“[H]olden scarcely is able to learn anything in the course of his book, because he cannot invest his trust in anyone who is not an image of innocence and he knows that only the dead and the very young are innocent,” wrote Harold Bloom. “That makes survival very difficult for Holden, as he has no guides or teachers whom he can accept.” and Ryder herself. No wonder Helen Childress wrote the script with her in mind. “There just wasn’t anyone like her,” she said. Ryder was sold. “It was the first time that I laughed and smiled and really enjoyed a script that was funny since Heathers,” she said.How could she predict the film would morph into little more than a Gen-X Greatest Hits mix tape—a pastiche of Big Gulps, greasy hair, vintage clothes, pop culture references, and smoky coffee houses? As Ryder told The San Francisco Examiner, “the script for Reality Bites was very different from how the movie turned out, and most of us were feeling as if what was happening to my character’s documentary was also happening to the movie.” She took the blame, telling Life, “There’s an obligation to commercialize something when you have a movie star in it.”*Ryder was a reluctant movie star, and she was about to become friends with a quintessential one. Initially, Gwyneth Paltrow was favoured to play Janeane Garofalo’s character in Reality Bites. Then, three years after its release, People reported that Paltrow was recuperating at Ryder’s Manhattan apartment after splitting from Brad Pitt. Veronica is supposed to hate Heather, but at that point, she was best friends with one—Paltrow was the blond conventional star who was about to win an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. Ryder and Paltrow showed up hand in hand at the Cop Land premiere in  summer ‘97 and, even though by the end of fall Paltrow was dating Ben Affleck, she was photographed holding hands with Ryder once again at the Golden Globes in January. It was she who introduced Ryder to Affleck’s best friend.Matt Damon and Winona Ryder were an odd pair. On the eve of his Oscar win for Good Will Hunting, Damon was nowhere near the outsider Ryder usually went for. Elaine Lui thinks that was the point. “This was the only time in her life she’s been mainstream,” she says. “Matt Damon was her one shot at being a Heather … I think for a girl like Winona Ryder, who has been not normal forever, and always sees herself as not normal,” Lui explains, “it would’ve been intoxicating to just be normal.”Her relationship with Damon lasted two years, her relationship with Paltrow even fewer. For decades the rumour lingered, like a smudge of lipstick on a crisp white polo, that Paltrow had stolen Ryder’s Shakespeare in Love script.2020Paltrow recently swore to Howard Stern that this didn’t happen. “I think of her as a true silent movie actress.”But that Paltrow went on to become a lifestyle guru implies a fundamental disconnect that would have no doubt inevitably led to their uncoupling. Born to director Bruce and actress Blythe Danner, Paltrow was Hollywood pedigree, just like Angelina Jolie, who would win an Oscar after co-starring with Ryder in Girl, Interrupted. Jolie is now one of the most famous women in the world, even more so than Paltrow, though the two of them are united by their activities off camera, which keep the aging actresses shielded from Hollywood’s stubborn sexism. “Those two were way more prepared to exist in fame and figured out how to thrive,” Lui says. “Winona has never been able to figure that out and I don’t think she has it in her … It’s not enough to just perform and produce, you have to play that game. And the difference between Winona and Gwyneth and Winona and Angelina is that she doesn’t know how to play that game. She never did and she never will.”She’s been that way from the start. “I’ve gone to a couple of parties in LA to try to enjoy them,” Ryder told Premiere in 1989, three years after her first film. “But it really scared me and grossed me out. I see star fuckers and people who do stuff to be seen. It’s kind of ugly.” She was only 17 at the time and, by 18, her feelings hadn’t changed. “Now that I’ve had my first experience with the tabloids,” she told the Times, “if I’m in a limousine I’m afraid to talk to the person I’m with because of the driver.” She didn’t talk much in general. She kept her interactions with the press to a minimum—her first live audience chat was with Oprah for Mermaids—and for the longest time her only late night interview was with Charlie Rose. When she did speak, she was called out for rambling.2121“Digression!” She knew the “protocol” but considered it “lame,” so she chose her life over her career. “To a true artist the career stuff shouldn’t matter,” she said. “But it matters to too many of those people who call themselves actors but are really just posers.” The distinction was an important one, if only because her bible said so. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me,” Holden says. Ryder was torn—ambivalent as usual—between loving movies and loving Salinger. “For a long time, I was almost ashamed of being an actress,” she said. “I felt like it was a shallow occupation.” So it was less a boast and more a statement of fact when, after a series of flops (How to Make an American Quilt, Boys, Celebrity) and one hit (Alien: Resurrection), she told Vogue in 1999: “I am as famous as I ever will be. I will never get more famous than I am.” * “I have a feeling that you’re riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall.”                                                                                                 —The Catcher in the RyeOne morning Winona Ryder woke up—she was around 21 at the time—and felt “too sensitive to be living in the world,” so she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital for a week. No one spoke to her (except to medicate her). Still, she got a therapist out of it. That and Girl, Interrupted. “Someone who acts ‘normal’ raises the uncomfortable question, what’s the difference between that person and me? Which leads to the question, what’s keeping me out of the loony bin?” Susanna Kaysen wrote in her account of her own institutionalization. The book was just what the doctor ordered (or should have) for Ryder, who wished she had read it as a teenager. “I realized that what happened to me is not unusual,” she told Vogue. “It was like, ‘Oh, my God, my whole life I’ve tried to say that and I’ve never been able to.’”It took six years to adapt the 1993 best-seller, by which time Winona was 27 playing 18. Kaysen had several conversations with director and co-screenwriter James Mangold, but didn’t meet her alter ego until the film actually started shooting in winter 1998 (30 years after the events of the book had unravelled). She travelled to Pennsylvania to watch the shoot for a day, then spent a couple of hours with an exhausted, hungry Ryder in the evening. But the author found the encounter too short to divest the star of her celebrity. “You’re not really meeting a person, you’re meeting an artifact,” Kaysen says. “I didn’t feel we spent enough time together for me to get beyond my own reaction of meeting someone who isn’t really a person to me.” She did, however, glean that Ryder didn’t want to “model” Kaysen’s behaviour, but instead rely on her own. “I think she did a pretty good job of figuring out how to play a confused desperate girl and that may be because she has been that,” Kaysen says. “She didn’t have to meet me to figure that out.”“To us, Winona Ryder is a bona fide icon.”Girl, Interrupted is the last film regularly associated with Ryder. It is also the last film in which she retained the persona she was famous for: dark, intelligent, unconventional—a persona for which she was celebrated in her youth, but institutionalized as an adult. Despite being way past the coming-of-age period, here she was on screen once again figuring out where she fit in, which, really, wasn’t anywhere. Like Susanna, like Holden, Ryder was again stuck in limbo, something Mangold noticed on set. Observing her inability to make decisions, he called her “ambivalent,” to which she replied, “I am, aren’t I?” She was forever out of place, both on screen and off, but by 1999, when the film was released, everyone else had moved on. And Mangold knew it. “I think of her as a true silent movie actress,” he said, “and I think she’s a real rarity, maybe even an anachronism, in today’s talkie film world.” It was, after all, Angelina Jolie’s scenery-chewing sociopath who eclipsed Ryder and her glaringly prophetic opening line: “Have you ever confused a dream with life or stolen something when you have the cash?”* Two years later, the answer was “yes.” On December 12, 2001, Ryder was arrested while shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. She had broken her arm two months prior and was on oxycodone, later telling Vogue that she had gotten to a “weird point,” taking the meds without knowing if she needed them. “Have you ever taken painkillers?” she asked. “It’s just confusion.” Ryder thought that things had been taken care of, as they had been in the past for people like her at stores like this. She had even left her credit card on the counter. “She spaced out. That’s all that happened,” her dad said. “They could have simply said, ‘You could have put it on the credit card.’” Instead, as she walked out with more than $5,500 worth of clothes and accessories, they called security. While detained in the store’s offices, Ryder agreed to reimburse them. She was then arrested. “I never said a word,” she said later. “I didn’t release a statement. I didn’t do anything. I just waited for it to be over.” She retreated to her hometown of San Francisco and made a “conscious decision” not to work. A year later, in a very public trial, she was convicted of grand theft, shoplifting and vandalism and sentenced to three years of probation and 480 hours of community service, fined, and ordered to get counselling.2222Her probation concluded in December 2005Even without “the incident,” as Ryder referred to it, Elaine Lui thinks her career decline was imminent. And after the release of Alien: Resurrection in 1997, she had little to work with. “The stuff I was being offered was like: The Rookie Cop!” Ryder told Vogue. “And I was just, like, ‘I’m not The Rookie Cop. I can’t be The Rookie Cop.’”2323Though compared to Autumn in New York and Lost Souls, The Rookie Cop might have been an improvement.  [[{"fid":"6692931","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"770","width":"770","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]At the time of the crime, she had just turned 30. “I was definitely at a point where I was trying to figure myself out and figure out how to have a life when I’m not working or in a relationship,” she said. No one cared. It was three months after 9/11, that’s what they cared about. “She was a target for all of those feelings in that moment,” says Lui. “‘Well, of course a fucking celebrity doesn’t know how good she has it and has to walk in and just take things and take things.’” TMZ wouldn’t arrive until four years later, but already on the Internet2424No doubt one of the reasons the Free Winona T-shirt, created by L.A.-gift shop owner named Billy Tsangares, became so popular it ended up on the woman herself on W Magazine in June 2002 (not to mention me). Ryder’s trial unrolled minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.*After the fall, Winona Ryder got back up slowly, almost imperceptibly (an unfunny role in Mr. Deeds here, a part as an uncredited psychologist in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things there). She was more visible in her first major fashion campaign, in part because of its satirical meta-take on her offence. Designer Marc Jacobs, famous for weaving through his couture the kind of pop-citing mash-ups that now hegemonize the web, noticed Ryder’s trial “look” and chose her as one of the faces of his spring/summer 2003 campaign.2525It probably didn’t hurt that one of the items she reportedly stole was a  $760 cashmere sweater by Marc Jacobs. “I asked Winona to do the campaign because I thought she looked so beautiful in all these pictures that we’ve seen recently,” he told Hello!, “regardless of whether they were from the trial.” The ads show a crazed Ryder surrounded by newly purchased items, a pair of scissors nearby (one report stated she had cut some tags during the incident). Ryder popped up once again in Jacobs’ recent fall/winter campaign in an apparent throwback to Beetlejuice,2626Savvy marketing once again, Tim Burton told IGN at the end of 2014 that the Beetlejuice sequel was “closer than ever.” blunt bangs and lengthy black-watch tartan skirt included (Wes Gordon's Spring 2016 fashion show also alluded to the film, according to Vogue, via its “dark, swampy” reproduction of Lydia's 'do).In December 2015, Jacobs revealed that Ryder’s first-ever cosmetics campaign would be the spring 2016 collection for Marc Jacobs Beauty. He announced it on Instagram, a medium that, in the words of The New Yorker,  emphasizes “photography as an elegiac or twilight art, one that rushes and fakes the emotion of old photographs by cutting out the wait for history entirely, and giving something just a few seconds old the texture of time.” This is the Internet’s answer to Fredric Jameson's nostalgia for the present,2727Though in his case the past becomes present, where here the present becomes past in which we curate our lives with filters and frames to form a false life worth remembering. On Jacobs’s, Ryder’s eyes were painted with a monochromatic swoosh and he wrote, “I am reminded of one of my all time favorite films: The Last Year at Marienbad. The flawless cool, elegant and timeless chic of actress Delphine Seyrig has long been a reference of mine.”2828For the short film supporting the campaign, he was reminded instead of his mother. “She took a piece of black velvet ribbon and she’d scrape it with a knife so that she could take the pile from the black velvet and make the lashes even thicker,” he says in voice-over as Ryder acts out his memory. Alain Resnais’s new wave nod to the silent era presents Seyrig as a latter day Louise Brooks who may be little more than the memory of a dream, because nothing is clear —neither fact nor fiction nor time nor space. Everything here is as fluid as the images that swipe across our screen, as the liquid liner that swipes across Ryder’s eyes. But Seyrig’s fluidity is not Ryder’s. In 2014, the latter appeared in Rag and Bone’s fall/winter campaign, her shaggy crop reminiscent of her Reality Bites days. “To us, Winona Ryder is a bona fide icon,” designer Marcus Wainwright said. “She also has this beautiful timeless quality.” But it’s actually her timeliness that gives her value—she is a human incarnation of ‘90s nostalgia.We cannot see Ryder without seeing the grunge era. In the New York Times Magazine in 2011, Carl Wilson riffed on the “20-year cycle of resuscitation” that had finally turned to Gen-X nostalgia.2929Define irony: an anti-nostalgia generation becoming nostalgic “In intimate terms, nostalgia is a glue that reinforces bonds of solidarity and shared experience,” he wrote. “And it’s a reminder that it matters not only that an idea or an image was created, but when—that things speak most fully in chorus and counterpoint to other events and concepts of the same era.” As Tavi Gevinson told Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “how I feel when I see pictures of teen Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp holding hands in leather jackets, like, nobody can match that.” The only person that can come close is Winona Ryder now, because embedded in Winona Ryder now is Winona Ryder then. She carries her past with her. The teen actress who sought to make her own life nostalgic before it had even passed her by peeks out from within the woman Marc Jacobs3030The most recent of which adds another layer of nostalgia in the guise of Resnais’ 1968 film, which itself references the ‘20s and so on… now imbues with nostalgia—she is a Russian nesting doll of reminiscence. That Winona Ryder’s image makes more of an impression than her current performances—in The Ten, The Last Word, Stay Cool—confirms our culture’s chronic desire to preserve the past rather than accept the present.*Back in 1991, when Ryder was not yet 20, Rolling Stone praised her for finding the “strong roles for women” that so many other actresses couldn’t. “See, the thing is, that hasn’t been a problem for me yet, because I haven’t really played any women yet,” she astutely pointed out. Beyond the adolescent angst canon, Ryder had as much trouble as everyone else. Last year, The Journal of Management Inquiry released a study which stated that female stars’ earnings peak at 34. For men, it’s 51. “Men’s well-worn faces are thought to convey maturity, character and experience,” it read. “A woman’s face, on the other hand, is valued for appearing young.” This could explain why, at 52, Johnny Depp, once on par with Winona Ryder, is leading a franchise and being paid $30 million a film while, at 44, Winona Ryder’s entire net worth is reportedly half that, with the media throwing her crumbs of praise for looking ageless. “He’s still an Oscar contender in his early fifties and unfortunately she probably never will be again,” Shary says, recalling that Ryder’s most high-profile role in recent years was as a “has been” in Black Swan. “That is symptomatic of the way the industry treats male and female performers.” You could argue that “the incident” is to blame, except that her old 1969 co-star Robert Downey Jr. has been arrested many more times than she has and is currently the highest paid actor in the world (oh, and he was recently pardoned for a 1999 drug conviction). Women aren’t allowed to make mistakes, older women even less so.[[{"fid":"6692916","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"770","width":"770","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]There’s a reason J.D. Salinger, who is celebrated for his realistic depiction of anti-conformity, almost always writes “about very young people.” While Johnny Depp has profited from his quirks as an older leading man—Pirates of the Caribbean, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland—Ryder has not. The same way they aren’t permitted to err, women aren’t entitled to be outsiders, and older women are barely tolerated at all. What older women, which Ryder is considered now, are authorized to be is wives (The Iceman, Experimenter), girlfriends (Homefront) and mothers (Netflix’s upcoming Stranger Things). Ryder must thus settle for supporting roles, which do little more than highlight how much more watchable Lydia Deetz, Veronica Sawyer, and Charlotte Flax were, and why we can’t forget them. As she told Interview, “you get used to thinking that things are going a certain way because of something, but then you just kind of grow up.”But grown up is not how we remember her. “The true Ryder heroine is a gentle soul in tremulous transition to maturity,” wrote Richard Corliss in a 1994 TIME article about the twentysomething “Winona Generation.” And though last year Vogue made claims of a Winonaissance, the actress herself acknowledged it was based on her past, that the images on Instagram were largely “of this waifish, big-eyed girl.” “Nostalgia is holding onto our youth in relation to what we enjoyed at the time, when we were young, but also the people we remember being young with us,” Shary says. “You have to have a memory of the thing that happened in order to have nostalgia. In another generation or so what was once so affirming and heartening about Winona Ryder’s late ‘80s roles will have dissipated.”  Our memory of Winona Ryder is muted youth, a soft face, a remote voice, a patient performance. Winona Ryder now is sharper, her face angular, her voice piercing, her approach aggressive. “Terrified,” is how Lui now describes the eyes that once made her famous. It’s as though, no longer getting roles that she can simply be rather than perform, she is acting out. Ryder recently told The Daily Beast that when she joined HBO’s Show Me a Hero, creator David Simon warned, “Better not show those Winona eyes.” It was the opposite of what her bible had always told her, which was to be honest, innocent, pure. And in response, Ryder—never unable to be real—cut off her eyelashes. It’s virtually impossible not to make the connection to Samson, the Biblical hero whose source of power was his hair. Like Holden said, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
‘It’s Not Sane to Just Stay in a Little Paradise’: An Interview with Anne Émond

The Quebec director on tackling suicide, absence, and inherited melancholia in her latest film. 

Recently, The Globe and Mail published a piece by Barry Hertz inventorying the frustrations of acclaimed French-Canadian filmmakers whose work is only rarely seen outside of Quebec. That this marginalization is hardly a new story doesn’t make it any less of a problem. The paradox is that the very same regional and cultural references that make these movies vital to their immediate Francophone constituency limit their appeal beyond provincial borders. "No matter how great these movies are,” wrote Hertz, “they may never matter to the rest of English-Canada.”Of course, the only way to keep this lament from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy is to point up the quality of the movies themselves, as often as possible. One of Hertz’s subjects, Anne Émond, is a 33-year old writer director who stands as one of the most promising talents to emerge from la belle province in years. After winning attention with a series of richly naturalistic short films, she unleashed a spiky debut feature called Nuit #1 (2011), which surveyed the chatty aftermath of a rave-club hook-up. Its lean, agile portrait of kids clinging to each other against a lonely metropolitan backdrop suggested a vigorous new voice, but the film was overshadowed by the even younger Quebecois auteur Xavier Dolan’s flashier, fatter-bottomed melodramas.Her follow up, Les êtres chers, which recently won the Toronto Film Critics Association’s annual Jay Scott Prize, and was nominated last week for seven Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, feels like a breakthrough. It’s a sprawling yet controlled account of a family living in the St Lawrence Valley in the shadow of chronic depression. David (the wonderful Maxim Gaudette) is a fit, attractive, sensitive young man who feels crippled from within by the legacy of his father’s suicide; rather than expressing his grief, he internalizes it, with dangerous consequences. As David’s grip on happiness slips away over the course of twenty years (in scenes set in the 1970s, '80s and '90s), Émond shifts her gaze to his daughter Laurence (Kate Tremblay), who is trying to cope with several generations’ worth of inherited melancholia.This is difficult subject matter, and Émond meets it head-on while allowing room for poetry and metaphor. Her screenplay has the rounded, absorbing quality of a good novel; With its bright, luminous cinematography and smartly chosen pop soundtrack, Les êtres chers should be accessible to viewers on either side of the linguistic divide; its emotional appeal is broad, while its subtleties potentially transcend subtitles. When I spoke with Émond, she said that she wasn’t sure if her film was going to get wider distribution from eOne after concluding its theatrical run in Quebec. But even if it doesn’t, it should still matter to the rest of Canada that films this good are being produced (if not released) right under their noses.You were interviewed recently for an article in The Globe and Mail about the commercial struggles of French-Canadian cinema outside of Quebec. Beyond the fact that it’s always better to make more money from exhibiting your work, does it bother you that English Canada is so indifferent to films that come out of Quebec?   It matters very much. I wish our films travelled more in the rest of Canada. When I was in Locarno, I had people tell me there that they felt the family in the movie was their family, and in Mexico as well. I think this movie can travel, because it’s honest. But [in Canada] there’s nothing I can do. I wish I could do more. Do you think that other directors in Quebec share your frustration? Is it something that’s talked about within the community?There’s a general feeling of frustration about this, about not being seen so widely. And that’s also true about being seen in Quebec. Maybe in Toronto, filmmakers have the same feelings? A lot of films play for one or two weeks in Quebec, and that’s it. Is there a pronounced division in Quebec between art-house and commercial filmmakers? Is there a split based on the budgets that people work with? Does it have to do with different genres and styles? Is it more generational?Of course there is a division. My first film, Nuit #1 was sort of edgy, and brash and young. The new film is more of a popular film, or a commercial film. I’m not ashamed of that. I love that. Sometimes I feel like I’m between those two circles. I’m not quite one of the young, cool people anymore, but I’m also not quite a commercial filmmaker, I don’t think.I thought that the biggest difference between Les êtres chers and Nuit #1 was that this time, the characters don’t want to talk about their feelings. It’s the contrast between these self-conscious millenials living in Montreal and a family from the Saint Lawrence Valley, living off the grid a little bit…A lot of people have said how different these movies are. To me, they’re not that different. They have a lot of things in common. They’re both about people who are not happy, who cannot be happy, who are trying to be happy, somehow. It’s true that in Nuit #1, the characters talk a lot—maybe too much. They can’t stop talking, and some people might say, “shut up already and do something!” That’s what they said to me, anyway. In Les êtres chers, it’s the opposite—David has this pain, and he can’t articulate it. He needs to protect himself, or to try and protect his family from that pain.  It’s a generational thing, maybe, or it’s about age. I thought it was very daring to make a film where the main character disappears and is effectively replaced with a second protagonist. It’s unusual.It was a hard thing. We had problems with that at the writing stage, and when it came to funding. A lot of the questions we got were about the fact that the main character dies and the movie keeps going, for half an hour, without him. I don’t know if you’ve seen the film The Father of My Children, by Mia Hansen-Løve, but it’s a bit similar to that.Her movies are all about people disappearing; I’ve interviewed her and told her that I think she keeps making the same movie, with small little changes each time.Yes, in a good way! I met her at a few different festivals but I was a little shy. That kind of changeover in her films works so well, anyway. That’s what I wanted. When David dies in my film, you miss him. You feel this emptiness. But I was afraid when we were editing, because we loved his character, and we were worried about what would happen [to the movie] when he was gone. It was a great discovery for us that  [Kate Tremblay] is capable, that she’s a good actress, and that she could take the movie with her. I shouldn’t read reviews and comments on the Internet, but I do—everyone says “don’t go there”—and a lot of the comments are about that. They say the movie loses something without him.  I don’t agree, though. The last half hour is important. It’s what the movie is about. How do you go on when somebody you love is gone? Was the idea always to do a movie based around the topic of suicide?It started with suicide. That was always the idea. I knew I wanted to be more generous and more open than my first film. I didn’t want to make something that was obscure, or for cinephiles.Is that what you think of Nuit #1?A little bit. Well, no, but it was what happened with that movie. I’m working on my third movie now, and I’m slowly realizing that what I think is commercial or appealing is not really those things.Based on your short films, I’d say that your major interest is in young people. You keep telling stories about people on the verge of adulthood, and the challenges that come with that transition.I do love young people. I think you can feel that in the movie. It was easy for me to direct scenes where they’re high and lying around and listening to music. That’s fun for me. I’m getting older, and so I’m more interested in that time of life.In that scene you’re mentioning, Laurence and her friend are listening to “No Rain, “ by Blind Melon, which is an interesting choice since Shannon Hoon died young. I’m interested in the contrast between the American pop songs on the soundtrack and the traditional ballad that David says he wrote for his wife when they were getting married.He didn’t write the song: he claims to, to impress her. Nobody will know that unless they live in Quebec. It’s a well-known song here. That part of the movie is very important. The lyrics are so devastating: the singer plants a tree, and in time it outgrows him. I was very moved by the sentiment even though the song is also really very cheesy.I can understand you saying it’s cheesy, but it’s not! It’s from the Seventies, and it’s beautifully written by a great writer! I love it. In the film, it’s played three times, and the first time, when David is young, and has long hair, and is in love and having a baby, it connects with all those things in his life. And the last time we hear it, he’s older and more sad and tired, and the same words mean something very different, coming at the end of a life.You also use “Common People” by Pulp, which is such a rousing song—it really changes the tempo of the movie.When I was out running, the song came on my playlist and I had the idea for a scene. Laurence comes home to see her friend, Antoine, who is sick, and suddenly she’s strong enough to be there for him and to take care of him. And they choose to dance and to be alive.It’s interesting you mention Antoine, because he’s a mirror of David in some ways: he is a young man in this part of the country struggling with his mental health. I wonder if Les êtres chers  is in some ways a movie about the dark side of an idyllic, pastoral existence—it suggests that this is not a totally safe space in some ways.David has a beautiful house. He has a family. He has security—a security perimeter. On these grounds, in this place, he’s ok. He has the river. He has the woods, where he can go out and shoot, and hunt. It’s safe there. But it’s not enough. You have to go see the world, though. That’s what his daughter is able to do, when she goes to Montreal and then to Barcelona. It’s not sane to just stay in a little paradise.It’s where you grew up, right?I grew up in the country. I grew up almost in the exact same area as in the movie.So you know it well?I know it well. Antoine is somebody I knew, or I would say that this kind of story happened all the time there. We had nothing to do. We would do drugs, strong, cheap drugs. It doesn’t help to do that if you’re already a little bit sick… there’s a kind of despair in this sort of place. I was 17 then, and I’m 33 now, so it’s like a halfway point since then, and I’m thinking of going back. Maybe later. I miss it now. When I was 17, I needed to get out. You couldn’t share your pain. That’s what happens to David.David makes puppets for a living, which seemed like a crucial choice. Why did you choose this motif of marionettes?I was thinking I wanted David to be an artist, but not a complete artist. More of an artisan. He’s doing something beautiful, but it’s always the same. He can paint these puppets’ faces, and he can do anything he wants, but he doesn’t always know how to make them look. I thought that this was very rich.He’s a guy who feels like somebody else is pulling his strings, maybe. Have you shown the film in rural Quebec? What was the reaction?We showed the movie in different little towns, and people were proud to see their region on the screen. I don’t know the statistics on suicide. I think it’s higher in Quebec than the rest of Canada, and higher still outside Montreal. When people saw the movie, they saw that I was filled with love. There’s no condescension. They told me that the people reminded them of their family. I think that they understand that this is where I’m from.You’ve made a couple of comments in interviews that the film has an autobiographical dimension…I put a lot of myself into this movie. I didn’t tell a lot of people about it. I haven’t shared that with journalists, because the film was just going out and I didn’t want [to talk about it]. It’s very personal. It’s very autobiographical. And I’m happy when people come to me to talk. A woman told me about her son, and that something happened to him that was similar to what we see in the film, and that she was relieved to watch something that didn’t have judgment in it. It doesn’t ask about the reasons. When somebody commits suicide, everyone’s first question is always “why?” Was he sick? Was he depressed? Most of the time, there is no way to know the reason. Or, if you knew the reason, the person wouldn’t be dead, because you would have said something, or done something. I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not making movies for social reasons, but with this sort of film, you have to accept that it has this subject, and if people want to talk to me about this subject and how it’s affected them, it makes me happy. It’s funny that you said you aren’t sure what makes a movie appealing or commercial. I think you’re right: you made a movie about depression and suicide, which aren’t really commercial subjects.I’m slowly beginning to understand that a lot of the time people go to the movies to forget their own lives.Sure, but escapism isn’t always the goal of a moviegoer. People go to mediocre movies to escape; the ones that they really love are the ones where they recognize themselves in some way. Nobody says “I loved that movie because I can’t relate to it at all.”Maybe they say that about Star Wars. Star Wars is all about family trauma. It’s sort of a Dad movie, like yours.I should see it.
Saul Bellow’s Last Interview

The story behind the last known interview with the author of Herzog, Ravelstein, and The Adventures of Augie March, with exclusive video.

[[{"fid":"6692831","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original"},"type":"media","attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]In the very last years of his life, when he was well into his eighties and his memory had more or less gone, Saul Bellow took great delight in uncomplicated pleasures. He liked to feed grapes to his daughter, Naomi Rose, arms draped around her. He’d play Bach on the recorder, the same melody again and again, as the six-year-old girl, whom everyone called Rosie, danced. “She’s so beautiful!” he’d say. “She’s such a little angel!” And night after night, Bellow and Rosie would watch The Lion King.”Their strange interests matched in those last few years,” Janis Freedman-Bellow, his widow, said recently. “Those were the kinds of things that were eerily perfect, given how difficult the situation on the face of it was.”***In 2000, I was one of a dozen students in Bellow’s class at Boston University. We were culled mostly from the arts and sciences college; I was the odd man out, from the film school program. We all understood our weekly meetings of An Idiosyncratic Survey of Modern Literature to be a gift.Each Wednesday, the students sat around a conference table, while members of the Evergreen program—senior citizens who, for a small fee, could audit university classes; Elie Wiesel’s was a hot ticket—filled out the room’s periphery. They would place a bottle of iced tea at the head of the table, for Bellow. He ambled in, never late.Bellow chose novels he loved: Denis Johnson’s Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, Denis Diderot’s Rameau's Nephew, James Joyce’s Ulysses. During the first class, we asked Bellow why, unlike Wiesel, whose class I’d taken the prior semester, he declined to teach his own work. That, he replied, would be needless self-aggrandizement. He was fond of a Yiddish proverb: Why chew your own cabbage twice?For ninety minutes, Bellow led a loose discussion of the week’s text. He allowed us to unspool theories about the books, and would gently correct us. We were young and often wrong. But that was okay. He didn’t condescend to students or compromise the material. As Freedman-Bellow, who took her husband’s class as a graduate student, told me, “If there was something he felt we didn’t know, he was going to give us the background and have us delight in it. If I know it, you can know it, too.”Teaching was Bellow’s way of taking a "humanity bath with us. But it wasn’t dirty bath water. When he came to us, everything would pour out in full sentences. It was so richly in him and so fully articulated, that he didn’t need traditional ways of preparing.”The notes I took are gone, but I remember certain things. The pleasant disorientation of watching Augie March teach Nathan Zuckerman, for example. And the week we discussed Ulysses. That morning, we sat nervously as Bellow took his seat. “Have you finished the book?” he said. Had we read every page of one of literature’s most famously difficult offerings? In a week? Not one of us had gotten to that last Yes. Bellow laughed—not the marvelous, head back, teeth-bared laugh for which he was famous, but a small laugh—and brandished an ancient copy of the book, which, he said, had been smuggled into the country for him in the 1930s. And for the next hour, he read to us from Ulysses and, without notes, annotated it. Bellow’s deep recall, fluency, and confidence seems, now, to be a beautiful, cerebral high-wire act.Bellow was eighty-five then, and seemed to be in the catbird seat: a marriage to Janis, his brilliant former student; the miracle of an infant daughter, whom we saw in the halls, cradled by her mother; and, of course, Ravelstein, an ode to his late best friend, Allan Bloom, which made the cover of The New York Times Book Review.Sure, there were instances when Bellow would pause for uncomfortable lengths, or meander a bit before returning to the topic at hand, but at no point during the semester did he visibly, or audibly, lose his way. “He would digress,” said Chris Walsh, Bellow’s longtime secretary and teaching assistant, “but almost always circle back to the point.” To say the least; Bellow could effortlessly speak in paragraphs, structured of exuberantly complex sentences. (This is true, too, of Freedman-Bellow. They were well matched.)Bellow had taught similar classes for years, going back to his days at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, where he’d been on faculty since 1962, and first co-taught with classicist David Grene. The survey course was “his own take on a handful of meaningful books that had formed and shaped him,” said Freedman-Bellow, who took the class in the 1980s, when it was co-taught with Bloom.Bloom, she recalled, “played a kind of straight man and drew him out in a way that we students couldn’t, because it might have seemed disrespectful or we didn’t want to pit ourselves against him and ask questions that might have seemed overly combative.” Bellow left Chicago for Boston University in 1993, on the heels of Bloom’s death. Classes during the Bay State years were considerably less argumentative; Bellow lacked a counterweight, but we students were neither equipped nor inclined to push him.The class was not an exercise in vanity. We learned a lot. (It was, I thought, a punishing syllabus.) But as the most famous writer on campus, Bellow was open to the usual criticisms of the “celebrity professor”: infrequent classes, no office hours, and so on. Worse, said Freedman-Bellow, was the belief that he didn’t prepare, that he had no interest in it.“This couldn’t be farther from the truth,” she said, observing that Bellow would talk about riding the L in Chicago because, as he wrote in Ravelstein, he needed a “humanity bath.” Teaching, as she sees it, was Bellow’s way of “taking that humanity bath with us. But it wasn’t dirty bath water. When he came to us, everything would pour out in full sentences. It was so richly in him and so fully articulated, that he didn’t need traditional ways of preparing.”“There was so much of it,” she said. “You could hold a bucket underneath, you could never have caught it all.”***In 2000, while wandering the halls of the university's College of Communication—where I took film classes—I smelled smoke coming out of an office. I looked in and saw a long-haired man puffing a pipe. This was curious, because it was well understood that smoking in classrooms and offices wasn’t allowed. The flaunter of the no-smoking rule was Keith Botsford, a colleague of Bellow’s and, with Bloom dead, his closest friend.Botsford is one of the brighter people I've ever known. He speaks a dozen languages, including Japanese, and has written in most of them. He worked with John Houseman and spent time with Robert Lowell in Mexico. “Keith is now coming to see me about some prose translations of you,” Lowell wrote to Elizabeth Bishop. “He comes through Rio traffic wobbling on a bicycle—with his large wobbling pipe leading.”11Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton, Words in Air (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), 414. (There’s a reported CIA connection to all this. Botsford, wrote Frances Stonor Saunders, was tasked to “keep an eye on the poet.” It didn’t go well; in Buenos Aires, an unmedicated Lowell gave a speech in which he “extolled the Führer,” then “stripped naked and mounted an equestrian in one of the city’s main squares.”) Like many of Bellow's friends and enemies, he was grist for the novels. Here’s Botsford-turned-Humboldt's Gift’s Pierre Thaxter: “Sometimes he was a purple genius of the Baron Corvo type, sordidly broke in Venice, writing something queer and passionate, rare and distinguished.”I began to visit him each Wednesday. It was sort of like Tuesdays with Morrie, except Botsford would blow smoke into the vents, tell me not to have sex with American girls (advice I studiously ignored), and impart lasting writing advice.I began to visit him each Wednesday. It was sort of like Tuesdays with Morrie, except Botsford would blow smoke into the vents, tell me not to have sex with American girls (advice I studiously ignored), and impart lasting writing advice (Don’t say “portly” when you can say “fat.” Fewer syllables and everyone knows what you mean). I loved hearing him talk.Botsford and Bellow, whom he met at Bard, had since 1960 jointly edited journals with such names as ANON, News from the Republic of Letters, and The Noble Savage. The latter publication, their first, had among its contributing editors John Berryman, Harvey Swados (who, in the first issue, wrote about the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson fight), Arthur Miller, and Ralph Ellison.22Zachary Leader, The Life of Saul Bellow (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 549-50. Bellow and Botsford were early champions of Thomas Pynchon and Robert Coover, but managed to reject Elie Wiesel’s Night and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.In late 2000, they’d just finished a large anthology of these journals. Botsford proposed, as a means of promotion, an on-camera interview series with a number of the anthologized authors—Bellow, of course, but also Arthur Miller and Edward Hoagland (of whom, he knew, I was fond). He and Bellow would be first. The idea was that, as Bellow rarely did such interviews, the project would quickly find an audience and drum up interest in the book.On a snowy December 16, 2000, two classmates and I trudged to Bellow’s office with our equipment and, in my pocket, a single page of a dozen questions. For a man of such achievement, his office was conspicuously lacking a vanity wall or—with the exception of the National Book Award for Herzog which hung on the wall—a sense that he was arguably America’s greatest living novelist.I don’t remember being nervous—just cold. We shucked our jackets and the girls chatted with the men. Having a female crew ended up being good for Bellow and Botsford’s morale; I was happily ignored as the camera was affixed to the tripod and mics were threaded through shirts. The interview went well, with much back-and-forth between Bellow and Botsford. The rest of the project didn’t materialize. Regrettably, I never interviewed Miller or Hoagland.Several years ago, when Zachary Leader was announced as Bellow’s new biographer (James Atlas had previously published an extensive examination of his life in 2000), I wrote him and asked if he'd found any interviews done after mine. The year before, in December 1999, a “super-lucid” Bellow had been interviewed by Norman Manea. Leader, whose The Life of Saul Bellow was published in May, replied, “Don't know of a subsequent one.”***In November 1994, the Bellows visited Saint Martin. He worked on All Marbles Still Accounted For, a novel he never finished. He was in high spirits. “The blue of the Caribbean I see from this open door is my form of El Dopa,” he wrote to his friend, Eugene Kennedy.33Benjamin Taylor, Letters (Viking, 2010), 504. Then, in an incident dramatized in Ravelstein, Bellow nearly died of ciguatera poisoning after eating bad fish. He was in intensive care from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.The expected route for her husband, Freedman-Bellow said, was long-term rehabilitative care. But that would’ve been fatal. “He had it in mind to do it differently,” she said. Nearing eighty, he demonstrated his vigor by running up and down stairs. A nurse told Freedman-Bellow, “You’d better be careful of that guy. Your husband has no pain threshold.” He wanted out, and went home.Bellow resumed teaching that winter, not in the classroom, but in his Bay State Road home. Students would remove their snowy boots in the hallway and sit on folding chairs provided by the university. The seminar went on as before.***When I took Bellow’s class, six years after the near-death experience, he was strapping and hardy. It wasn’t difficult to see in him the man who, for most of his life, had taken exquisite care of his body. But not long after that semester he began to physically weaken. Freedman-Bellow, Chris Walsh, and university administrators felt it would be healthy for him to continue teaching, albeit with assistance. For a while, in 2002, he co-taught the seminar with James Wood, embracing the model that had served him so well in Chicago.A year later, a rotating group of writers—including Botsford, Wood, Roger Kaplan, and Martin Amis—was brought in to alleviate the burden of preparation.***Bellow was increasingly immobile. “We made a life upstairs,” said Freedman-Bellow. The man who, as well as anyone, could describe the natural world in such detail and vitality—”the riot of life,” as Wood put it—became cloistered to a hospital bed in his bedroom. Upstairs is where the family would have dinners, play music, and receive visitors. “We tried to make it just as much of a party time as we could.”Old friends stopped by. Philip Roth was “a constant presence” and telephoned often. This was no small thing, Freedman-Bellow told the New Yorker in 2013. “Saul could be repetitive, and a lot of people thought it wasn’t worth it anymore.” (He often didn’t know where he was.) He carried Roth’s The Plot Against America around the house, and took to calling it “the Book.” The world came to Bellow; he even got a house call from his dentist, who performed a tooth extraction.Wendy Doniger, his colleague at the Committee on Social Thought, visited twice, in March 2005. She had known Bellow since the 1976, when they were introduced at a dinner. Bellow told her he’d just returned from Stockholm. “Saul,” Doniger said, “were you on vacation?” When informed he’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature, “I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole,” she said.Doniger found Bellow’s bedroom to be less the quarters of a dying man than a salon. There were books strewn about (he wrote until the very end) and flowers everywhere. Bellow, who was dressed beautifully and was “as handsome as ever,” had changed. “He was much more relaxed with me than he’d ever been. We’d always had a bit of a sparring relationship in the past,” she said. “In these last visits, there was no edge at all. The edge was gone.”They talked about the samovar sitting in the middle of the room. Bellow’s grandmother brought it over from Russia, and it had followed him from home to home. They sang together, mostly songs that he and Rosie knew. As the old friends talked, the child went in and out of the bedroom, climbing on and off the bed. “It was like a moment out of time, in a way, as if there were no past and no future,” Doniger said. They told stories about outlandish things Allan Bloom had done. They ate delicious food. “It was the best time I ever had with Saul.”Some things didn’t change; there are photos, taken at the very end, in which he’s laughing. There’s also a photo, taken the day before he died, in which he’s smiling and holding Rosie’s hand. “It wasn’t all terrible,” said Freedman-Bellow.Rosie isn’t sure what she remembers of her father, who died at home on April 5, 2005. She doesn’t know if the memories are her own or simply things she’s been told. When she was very young, she remembered a great deal about him. She remembered his laugh.Fortunately, the work survives. As Freedman-Bellow says, “More than most people, I think, we all of us have him here.” Rosie is a violinist, and recently played a Mozart quartet. Bellow had written an essay about the composer, and Freedman-Bellow read it to her daughter. “I want you to know,” she told her, “what your daddy had to say about Mozart.”Rosie, who has big, blue eyes and long, straight, golden hair, often asks if she looks like her father. Yes, says her mother, but in truth she doesn’t really see a resemblance. “She looks like Rosie,” she said. “Nobody looks like her.”For Freedman-Bellow, it is important that people know who her husband really was. Recent years have not always been kind to his legacy. “Yes, of course we know all the mean, terrible things he did as a divorced guy and a terrible father,” she said. “But what about the rest of it? What about the rest?”***I’m aware of Saul Bellow’s failings, as a person and as a writer. His famous question—Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?—is grotesque. But that tin-eared line seems, to an extent, to have engulfed his legacy. His widow isn’t the only one worried that he’s been flippantly dismissed as “a dead white man.” At the very least, he’s drifting out of favor. As Sam Tanenhaus wrote, Bellow’s work has “gone out of fashion. The great midcentury emancipator is now in danger of slipping into a forgotten past.”Nevertheless, Chris Walsh, my old TA—who typed up Ravelstein for Bellow—has undiminished ardor for him. “He was my hero,” Walsh said recently, “and then I got to know him and he was still my hero.”
The Worthy Elephant: On Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

For the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication, a discussion of craft, veracity and the literary appeal of true crime. 

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveller reaches them.-From In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteHas there been a more evocative opening of a nonfiction book than this first paragraph of Truman Capote's "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood? This year is the 50th anniversary of the book's publication in 1966 and it's a reminder that with this book, Capote managed to simultaneously achieve commercial success and earn critical respect. But his modern nonfiction classic is also among the most controversial of all works of journalism. In Cold Blood is seen as a pioneering book, and was originally published as a series in The New Yorker. It was the first conscious attempt to harness the techniques of fiction and journalism to document a crime, effectively inventing the modern true crime genre. Why a crime? Capote said “murder was a theme not likely to darken and yellow with time.” The book has sold millions of copies and is in print to this day; it has been translated into 30 languages and studied on university curriculums. It was the subject of a black-and-white movie in 1967, a colour remake in 1996, and films about the author’s reporting on the crime came out in 2005 (Capote, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular character) and 2006 (Infamous, with Toby Jones).At the heart of the text was the key technique that is perhaps the reason the work lends itself so well to cinema: reconstructing scenes and dialogue. Reading In Cold Blood is a singular experience, more engrossing than any of Capote’s fiction, showing a writer in command of his powers. But in the decades since the book was published, evidence of Capote’s elastic attitude toward the truth surfaced. In just one of many examples in Gerald Clarke's 1988 biography of Capote, Clarke detailed how a key moment at the end of the book, when Kansas Bureau of Investigation Detective Alvin Dewey met a girlfriend of Nancy Clutter’s at her gravesite, never happened. In the 2012 book, Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood, author Ralph L. Voss' research emphasizes the ways that Capote changed timelines, invented scenes and exaggerated the role played by Detective Dewey, his hero, among many other examples of fact-fudging, many of them departing from Capote's own 6,000 pages of notes.It didn't help matters that at the time Capote publicly declared his book was entirely factual. Also, he bragged that he didn't use a tape recorder nor take many notes when conducting interviews, relying instead on what he claimed was a near-photographic memory. After Capote's death in 1984, George Plimpton told The New York Times: "Sometimes he said he had ninety-six per cent total recall and sometimes he said he had ninety-four per cent total recall. He could recall everything but he could never remember what percentage recall he had."In a journal entry in 1967 about the actor Robert Blake, who portrayed Perry Smith in Richard Brook's film adaptation of his book, Capote wrote: "Reflected reality is the essence of reality, the truer truth … all art is composed of selected detail, either imaginary or, as in In Cold Blood, a distillation of reality."In Cold Blood really should have carried the disclaimer "based on a true story," like so many movies do today. But that wasn't Capote's ambition at the time. After successfully writing fiction, he wanted to create a masterpiece based on the power that comes when the public believes what they're reading is true.The book raises many questions. How much “fiction,” if any, is permissible in a work of creative nonfiction? Does artistic vision trump verifiable reportage? Can we forgive the sins of writers experimenting with long-form nonfiction at a time when clear guidelines hadn’t been established? Writer and crime specialist (both fiction and non) Sarah Weinman and I will discuss Capote and his legendary book.David Hayes: So, with all the talk of contemporary writers producing creative nonfiction books but mixing fiction in with it—I’m thinking of James Frey with A Million Little Pieces; Joe McGinniss with his biography of Ted Kennedy; Edmund Morris with his biography of Ronald Reagan—we often forget the classic In Cold Blood. Some believe that we can “grandfather” Capote’s crimes because in the mid-’60s, he and others like him were experimenting with forms and no one had laid out clear guidelines for this kind of long-form nonfiction. Do you think that’s fair or is Capote getting off too lightly?Sarah Weinman: An excellent question to kick off this discussion, and I think I go back and forth. On the one hand, even as far back as the late 1950s/early 1960s, when Capote (with Harper Lee) went to Holcomb to research the crimes and talk to everyone there, “standard journalistic practice” wasn’t as entrenched as it certainly is now—but was much more so than, say, the 1920s, when newspaperpeople trampled on crime scenes willy-nilly (cf. the Hall-Mills murders). But on the other hand that ending is entirely made up and is not defensible—why was it so important for Capote to end things that way, putting words in the mouth that were never said, by people who may or may not have existed? Still, the ending doesn’t take away from the power and the brilliance of the entire book, but does leave readers—or at least this one—with a slightly unpleasant taste. It seems another example of Capote’s self-absorption, valuing himself above the story. But it worked.DH: As much as I’ve liked re-reading In Cold Blood (twice when I was writing my first book, which was true-crime), I think Capote was more style than substance. To me, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the only novel of his that I liked. He wrote another supposedly factual piece after In Cold Blood: Handcarved Coffins, which he called “a nonfiction account of an American crime.” I loved it. It was as absorbing as In Cold Blood, but I noticed a few odd things from the start. Main characters with one pseudonymous name, for legal reasons, Capote claimed. When people started investigating the details of that story it appeared to be entirely fictional. So why didn’t he just write In Cold Blood and call it “fiction?” I think because nonfiction was the hot genre in the ‘60s and into the ‘70s. Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion and the rest of the “New Journalists.” That stuff sold and got a lot of attention. But nonfiction often doesn’t allow you to craft such perfectly symbolic moments (like the ending of In Cold Blood). And calling it a “nonfiction novel,” a new literary genre, guaranteed attention. And Capote was nothing if not a self-promoter.SW: Handcarved Coffins! I haven’t read all of it, and was dissuaded largely because of the Times (London) piece that thoroughly debunked its veracity (and was itself, as I recall, an entertaining exposé.) This would also be a good time to discuss how In Cold Blood was viewed within The New Yorker itself, since it seems like Capote kind of pulled a fast one on editor William Shawn, promising one kind of story—aftermath, about family—and then delivering a crime story above all, even if it was a crime story outstandingly written and doing things that “true crime” had not really tried to do before. And sure, the magazine printed the multi-part version first and those issues sold insanely well after what seemed like years of advance promotion, but somehow it never really sat well with Shawn. And how much of that came down to snobbery about covering crime, even though the magazine already had an “Annals of Crime” section? It’s interesting to look at this snobbery in light of what is purported to be a revival—Serial/The Jinx/Making a Murderer—but one that is more perennial. Capote knew crime stories sold, lurid stories already had an audience, but he was going to do it his way no matter what.DH: Time magazine and The New Yorker invented “fact-checking” and The New Yorker has always prided itself on its accuracy. Ben Yagoda, who wrote a book about The New Yorker, talked about Capote’s fact-checking materials being in the University of Delaware’s library. The checker was a guy named Sandy Campbell who went with Capote to Kansas at one point. According to Yagoda’s reading of the files, fact-checking at The New Yorker was mainly about verifying dates, spellings of names, distances, physical descriptions of buildings, etc. It seems a lot of stuff was accepted “on author,” as the saying goes. The more respected and valued the writer, the more likely a publication would accept a lot of what he/she wrote. Remember that another respected New Yorker writer, Janet Malcolm, was sued by psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson over some details in her New Yorker profile of him (which later became a book). Still, it’s surprising that Campbell wouldn’t have talked to some of the many sources who were still alive and appeared as characters in the book. (For example, ask Alvin Dewey and Nancy Clutter’s friend, whom Dewey supposedly met near the gravesite, whether that meeting happened. That’s the invented scene that ends the book.)SW: Fact-checking is a godsend, having worked with some incredible, thorough, sharp checkers on pieces over the last few years, but yes, it does seem to have been applied differently to those of differing fame. I did want to circle back to the idea of how “ground-breaking” the whole nonfiction novel concept was as it relates to true crime itself, since it does seem, as you pointed out already, to be of a piece with the emerging “New Journalism” genre. Is it that the substance of crime stories was already so suffused with lurid detail that it wasn’t necessary to apply distinctly literary narrative devices in the way Capote did? Without In Cold Blood would we have had Joan Didion writing about the Manson Murders, for example? DH: As long as there has been crime there have been town criers or writers telling people about it. In the early 18th century, Defoe wrote about a criminal named Jonathan Wild. Some of the most interesting early newspaper work of the 19th and 20th centuries was accounts of crimes or disasters. A crime has built-in drama, notoriety, and an opportunity to reveal aspects of a society at that particular time, so that would make it a natural subject for ambitious writers. In Tom Wolfe’s anthology, The New Journalism, which gave the movement its name, there were several crime stories. (Joan Didion’s “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream”; James Mills’ “The Detective”; an excerpt from Hunter Thompson’s “Hells Angels”.)SW: That it does. For the piece I wrote for the Guardian about true crime earlier this month it was amazing, if strange, to revisit crime stories written by Benjamin Franklin (!) not to mention Cotton Mather’s pamphlets and proselytizing, which would play out in such awful ways with the Salem Witch Trials. And later in the 20th century with coverage by the likes of Dorothy Kilgallen and Miriam Allen deFord (and my own personal touchstone of excellent journalism written on deadline, Mike Berger’s New York Times story on Howard Unruh’s mass shooting in Camden the morning after it happened, which deservedly won a Pulitzer).For centuries we’ve been enraptured and revolted, thrilled and petrified, by crime stories and what meaning they might have. So no wonder Truman Capote wanted in on that, so to speak. And it seems, now that we’re venturing near the end of this conversation, an excellent idea to talk about the ways in which In Cold Blood still influences us half a century on. For me it’s largely indirect: the novelistic way of telling a seemingly “just-the-facts” story. A good book to argue with over methodology. How do you see the book and its influence?DH: Oddly, I think Capote’s reputation rests almost entirely on In Cold Blood. But I’m sure Capote wanted his fiction to be what he would be remembered for. In Ralph Voss’s book, Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood, he argues that Capote was always an accomplished stylist but a second-rate writer of fiction. In Cold Blood, though, represented in the ‘60s the possibilities of writing about crime. That reportage could also be artful.SW: I am inclined to agree, even if that evaluation would fill Capote himself with utter horror. But it does show how culture makes its own judgment independent of an author’s hopes and aspirations. And In Cold Blood more than holds up, despite the flaws, despite the ways in which we can argue with how Capote put it together. Its power is so pervasive it got law enforcement to look at a similar crime in Florida, in a place where Hickock and Smith were apparently in the vicinity (though the connection appears to have been ruled out, or the evidence is too minute to test with proper results.) It overshadows everything Capote did after—and, it could be argued, everything Harper Lee did, too, since she tried her hand at a true crime story and did not finish it.As the crime popularity continues, and as people find different ways to tell those stories, it’s difficult not to think of In Cold Blood as the worthy elephant in the room. You can’t ignore it or discount it, and why should you? Fifty years on it has that dark, compelling power still.
Banner for Early Stories Pt. 2: Body Pods II
Early Stories Pt. 2: Body Pods II

“By Monday, the Body Pods poster was gone.”