1. My poem "Godfather Drosselmeyer" is now online
at Goblin Fruit
. It was written in 2012 for Shaun O'Brien
, who danced the role in Balanchine's Nutcracker
until his retirement in 1991. I saw him in 1987. I never saw him in another role. I've never seen a better take on it
OH JEEZ I JUST REALIZED THAT'S WHO I ASSOCIATE JARETH WITH FROM LABYRINTH THE GOBLIN KING TURNING INTO AN OWL AS THE CLOCK COMES ROUND TO THIRTEEN SHAUN O'BRIEN'S DROSSELMEYER CROUCHED IN PLACE OF THE ORNAMENTAL OWL ATOP THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK BEATING THE TWELVE STROKES OF MIDNIGHT WITH HIS BLACK CLOAK LIKE WINGS I IMPRINTED ON THAT SCENE MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE BALLET AND I JUST NOTICED ALL THE RESONANCES NOW?
and I say that with no disrespect to The Slutcracker
's dildo-bearing Godmother. (The year I saw the ballet, she was a silver-haired, sashaying hellcat in leopard mesh panties and shitkicker boots, displayed to equal advantage by a high-and-low-cut purple gown that fell open everywhere. That's a valid interpretation as far as I'm concerned, but that early trace of nonhumanness is never going away.) The poem draws more from Hoffmann's "Nussknacker und Mausekönig" than from the ballet itself, but the memory is still there.
2. I've mentioned it before, but I love the treatment of the Seven Deadly Sins in Derek Jarman's video for the Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin
." The tableaux of the main narrative have Neil Tennant on trial for his life before the Inquisition, beautifully lit and balanced like paintings, deliberately recalling the style of Caravaggio
(1986), which Tennant and Lowe had seen the previous year and fallen in love with; Tennant in captivity with Lowe as his ambiguous jailer looks ahead to Edward II
(1991), as does the political directness of the song. The sins themselves seriously anticipate Wittgenstein
(1993). Each is filmed against a black backdrop, a single figure with an identifying color and attribute. Avarice turns coins between his fingers and his mouth, the same minted gold as his skin; Pride dressed in beauty-mark black preens with a peacock-tailed fan; green-faced Envy is caged behind his own clawing nails. The prevailing palette of the trial is dusty, shadowy, fire-lit—torches, candles, bonfires, stakes—in a sinking twilight frame. The monks in their dun robes are medieval, the band look not too far off the turn of the twentieth century. The sins belong to no particular time at all. Spiky-haired Wrath is wearing a motorcycle jacket, throwing punches at the camera in the smoldering red light. Lust's fair hair is styled short, pearl earrings in the powdered curve of her shoulder; her nails are polished and she slowly peels a single glove. I find this interesting partly because I had believed that the visual style of Wittgenstein
was dictated strictly by Jarman's available budget and AIDS-damaged eyesight, rather than being a technique he had previously experimented with; it works brilliantly there, for philosophical reasons
. Here it might be indicating universality, but it's also just arresting. The sins must be invoked to appear: it's a, it's a, it's a—it's a sin
. Avarice and Pride are seen in the first chorus, Envy and Lust in the second, Gluttony in the third and Wrath and Sloth in the final fadeout, the line repeating over and over again. By then we're cutting among all seven in flashes, never more than one to a shot. And none of them is ugly. Gluttony is the one I find most striking, because eating to excess should be easy to represent grotesquely—she's a fresh-faced young woman biting juicily into fruit, wiping her mouth on her wrist with unashamed relish. We should all look that good with whipped cream in our hair. Sloth (the only one not filmed against the void, because she has a pillow under her head) drowses like a fairy tale beneath the veil of her own finely braided hair. It suits the lyrics: the narrator's had a sense of shame beaten into him for everything he wants (no matter when or where or who
), but he still doesn't think he deserved it. It's not like the sins are unique to him, besides. Gluttony's lustful eating is intercut with monks taking communion, the jailer breaking bread to share with his prisoner. Wrath throws a punch that cuts to a pyre, Sloth shifts slightly in her sleep as monks yawn and the tired jailer stretches. (Lowe looks thin and boyish for all the chains and leather gauntlets of his office; his tin hat gives him a saintly halo and I would swear an early shot of him tipping his head back is a three-second homage to the prologue of A Canterbury Tale
(1944), the falconer watching his falcon become soldier watching a plane.) I will have to look through my Jarman books to see if he mentions the shoot anywhere; I'd love to know what he thought he was doing versus whatever I've taken away from it. It's one of my favorite music videos, no matter what.
3. Following on the previous, how was I unaware until tonight of Jarman's complete video for Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English
" (1979)? I'd seen the last third, "Broken English" itself; it didn't click with me. But we open with "Witch's Song" and there's the mysterious and indescribably horrifying masked figure making its reappearance from The Art of Mirrors
(1973) along with the angel-summoning flash of the mirror itself; the circling dance around on a fire on waste ground, as in Jubilee
(1977); a man and an androgyne make love in the smoke. A lot of skull-masks. A lot of gold. I feel like I'm looking at an allegory, but I don't know for what. 1979, maybe.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day! I have to go to sleep.