COLUMNS

  • Passages

    James Lee Byars

    JAMES LEE BYARS DIED in the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo late on the night of May 22 or early in the morning of May 23, 1997. Cancer had planted flags of occupation in his body for several years, and finally claimed it all. Toward the end he said ruefully, “My bones stick to the chair.” Yet in the days and hours before his death, he was engrossed in the lingering issues, problems, and satisfactions of his life—working on a new will, speaking on the phone with friends on other continents and vigorously pursuing his artwork up till, literally, the final minutes.

    Late on May 21 a turn for the

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  • Books

    Valley of the Dolls

    VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, to be reprinted next month by Grove Atlantic, was one kind of quintessential trash novel of the ’60s (another kind was Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s Candy), written with an insider’s eye on the showbiz of the ’50s. Its Ike-era prototype, Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, describes the adulteries and out-of-wedlock pregnancies of a small New England town; in Metalious’ sequel, Return to Peyton Place, heroine Allison Mackenzie writes a book very like Peyton Place, finds a New York publisher, and enters a swirling cesspool of Manhattan glamour and corruption. Like Allison,

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  • Film

    the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival

    WEEKS BEFORE THE LAUNCH of the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival, the competition lineup was eliciting groans. By midfest, finding a film that generated passionate support was like securing a parking space on the Croisette, Cannes’ waterfront main drag. Critical dissent was running unusually high—even for Cannes, where one buff’s noir is often another’s bête. Whereas one critic, for example, proclaimed Curtis Hanson’s L. A. Confidential “a disaster,” another saw it as “the bright spot of the competition.” Decisive trends were visible from the start. Many hoped a spate of literary adaptations,

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  • Film

    D'Or Prizes

    AS EVERYBODY KNOWS, the best parties happen all by themselves. Nonetheless, the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival seemed compelled to plan exactly how they’d celebrate 1997 (supposedly Cannes’ fiftieth anniversary, but actually the fiftieth festival, since there wasn’t one in either ’48 or ’50). And they certainly came up with an impressive array of events. There were ceremonies and speeches, balls and fireworks, a ballet by Philippe Decouflé, and a “Palme des Palmes” awarded by all the living recipients of the Palme d’Or to Ingmar Bergman, the greatest of those yet to be so honored. Bergman

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  • Passages

    Willem de Kooning

    WHEN I HEARD THE NEWS of Willem de Kooning’s death, I was speeding down a highway in New Mexico. I had just left New York where an exhibition of his late paintings at the Museum of Modern Art was still on view. The artist had been in fragile health for years and had recently taken a turn for the worse, but I was still jolted by the irrevocability of the event. De Kooning had not been “with” the world for a long time, but suddenly he was gone from it. Needing to gather my thoughts about an artist whose work had been the focus of my thinking for the past three years and whose example dominated my

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  • Books

    David Foster Wallace

    GIFTED IRONISTS DIE HARD. Which is why it’s so painful to watch David Foster Wallace’s awkward attempt to transmogrify from arch metafictionist to champion of Meaning. In his recent A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a collection of magazine articles written between ’92 and ’96 and revised for the book, we witness Wallace’s protracted struggle to shed the glib, ironic armor of his early fiction by declaring his willingness “to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs . . . the ‘Oh how banal’” of the gifted ironist. For veteran Wallace-watchers, this New Sincerity

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  • Architecture

    MoMA's Architectural Competition

    INSTITUTIONS MOVE FORWARD by renegotiating their own history. Drawing on its legacy of architectural provocation and promotion, beginning with the International Style show of 1932, the Museum of Modern Art is nearing the final stages of preparing for its renovation and expansion. Though a number of recent museum statements describe the expansion as simply the next logical step in MoMA’s historical growth and development, deputy director for curatorial affairs and chief curator at large John Elderfield goes so far as to call the scope of the project “a reconceptualization of the entire facility.”

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  • Film

    Elia Suleiman's Chronicle of a Disappearance

    “MY LIFE MAKES ME LAUGH,” Elia Suleiman writes in his notes to Chronicle of a Disappearance. “I am far from being courageous. I hate venturing. I wish to settle down and lead a linear existence, but even when I purposely attempt to conform, something is bound to go wrong.” Suleiman’s first feature film is like a diary full of such false starts, but it is animated by wary optimism. Screened in New York recently in the “New Directors/New Films” series, copresented by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, this truly thoughtful movie deserves to be seen by a larger

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  • Music

    Digital Reggae

    MAKING LIKE A CROSS between Mondo 2000 and Condé Nast Traveler, Business Week recently offered its readers a peek at the business trip of the near future. The CFO of the twenty—first century, the magazine testified, will be a cyberpunk in all but name, required to don a pair of VR goggles and “‘fly’ over a 3-D landscape representing the risk, return, and liquidity of a company’s assets.” And damn if the accompanying computer graphic of one such landscape—a pastel mesh of aquamarine blue and salmon—didn’t make that glowing moor of financial data look as inviting as a sunlit beach in the

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