PRINT September 2022


Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo, 1958, 35 mm, color, sound, 128 minutes. John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart).


An empty green frame, four and a half by three feet, made of two-inch-wide transparent green acrylic, is suspended from the ceiling about two feet forward of the window to the left of the desk where I write. It was fabricated for a film I made in 1977 but never finished. Bad idea from the start. The green frame was a gesture toward an often-cited scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo in which Scottie (James Stewart), the retired detective, waits for Judy (Kim Novak) to return from a hair-and-makeup session that he hopes will complete her transformation into Madeleine, the object of his obsession. By this point in the movie, we know that Judy and Madeleine are one and the same and that Scottie has been fooled twice over. Nevertheless, as he paces about the cheap hotel room that is washed in green light reflected from the fluorescent sign outside the window, and as Bernard Herrmann’s lush orchestral score swells and fades and swells again, I feel my body tense and my lungs constrict, as if I were waiting for a phone call that would determine that something has ended or is about to begin, the kind of phone call that one understands, long after the fact, hardly mattered at all. I’ve seen Vertigo so many times that I know exactly how the mechanism of this scene operates—how the illusion is created—and yet I am overwhelmed precisely by how movie-like it is.

In a letter that is quoted in Dan Auiler’s book Vertigo, Hitchcock explained that the film’s structure is organized around two stories. “First the ‘front story,’ which is the one the audience is looking at, and second the ‘big story,’ which is the conspiracy and which is only revealed to the audience in the final scene.” He goes on to say that the problem “was to make the ‘front story’ so seductive that the audience’s attention never wavers from it.” In other words, the narrative itself is constructed so that the audience is involved in as fetishistic a relationship with the film as Scottie is with Madeleine. Just as Scottie falls for a woman who is not what she seems to be, we fall for the ravishing images, the swooning score, the passionate depiction of love, loss, and déjà vu that constitutes the front story in order to shield ourselves from the ugliness of the big story, which is about a husband who murders his wife for her money, manipulates two people (Madeleine and Scottie) into becoming accessories to the crime, and gets away scot-free.

At this moment, when the planet is on fire, when fetus fetishism has become a legal means to deny women autonomy, when we are terrified that Eros has lost the battle with Thanatos, it seems to me at first embarrassing and a waste of time to hold out_ Vertigo _as a transcendent movie object. But its fusion of obsession and denial does not apply only to l’amour fou. It is the dynamic that glues us to our screens in search of a front story to paper over the big story that grows more horrific every day. We’ve used the search for a front story to shield us from the obvious truth: It’s too late to prevent disaster, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Please someone tell me what to do.

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor of Artforum.


When I first moved to New York, I used to read the picks for film and video by J. Hoberman in the Village Voice. One week, he said we should all go see “Nan Goldin presents her slideshow of the Ballad of Sexual Dependency at Aperture.” I was like, That sounds cool, I’ll go to that. So I went, and I saw Nan Goldin presenting her slideshow.

She had bleached-blonde hair, and probably she looked great. I was a rube, in a way, this young person from the other end of the New Haven line: very conservative, uptight, middle-class. F. T. Marinetti was one thing; getting into Area was another. The book had just come out then, and I bought it at St. Mark’s Bookshop. I loved it—it was so great, all those pictures—but I returned it maybe the same day.

And this is a singular anecdote for me. In the memoirs of my life, it will be on the first page: I returned The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986), first edition, first printing. Oh, the scandal of returning it when I liked it—but I just couldn’t have it around. It was so compelling, so interesting, so weirdly desirable, Georges Bataille in action—but too many people had dirty feet. I suppose I’d get over that, though this isn’t the Rubicon of disgust; it would be crossed again and again.

Nan Goldin, Cookie with Max in the hammock, Provincetown, Mass., 1977, Cibachrome, 9 × 133⁄4". From The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1986.

The book became almost branding for a certain type of rough-and-tumble lifestyle or downtown-ness. That ’80s—my ’80s—was the antithesis of the current Weltanschauung of care, of being careful, considerate, as opposed to my idea of consideration, which is a slightly more extreme version of the most banal politesse. In those ’80s, hostility was the aesthetic for large parts of culture, fashion, movies, and personal relations. A kind of bitchy, over-everything tone that antedates early-internet edgelordism or contrarianism. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency arrived on the cusp of New York being a very different environment than it was even ten years later. The colors are good, the people are sexy. All of them look terrible. Really desirable, but really terrible. (Dirty feet is nothing. Wait till you see what was happening outside the frame: track marks and diarrhea and vomit and AIDS and all the heavy, heavy dark curtains coming down on the scenes of high spirits and gritty avant-garde-isma.)

“This is a singular anecdote for me. In the memoirs of my life, it will be on the first page: I returned The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, first edition, first printing.”
David Rimanelli

Eventually, I went and bought the book again. Duh. Or maybe I didn’t buy it; maybe I was still embarrassed by the scandal of returning it when I so liked it. Either way, I don’t think I have it now. I moved a lot and lost lots of things. It truly was one of the most singular events of my whole life, and here I feel a lack of my usual profundity or intensity. But it seems like something I would have wanted, after a while.

David Rimanelli is a contributing editor of Artforum.

“One acre a total dream. The possibility of impossible reparation.”
Precious Okoyomon


Earth returns to earth, dirt to dirt, soil to soil; life slowly untwines, begins living again. Forty miles outside of Charleston, South Carolina, a one-acre parcel of land belongs only to itself, is only itself. Just months before the end of the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman, who, returning north from Georgia with an army trailed by thousands of ex-slaves, feared a bloody revolution, issued a field order confiscating the territories along the Atlantic coast where the Maxcy Place plantation and thousands of others like it were located, reserving the land for the resettlement of newly freed families, each of which would be entitled to no more than forty acres of tillable ground. The acre at 8060 Maxie Road was one of those acres, and for the brief period that Sherman’s edict was in effect, a group of free people lived and worked the land there. Within a year, President Andrew Johnson had reversed Sherman’s order. The earth there returned to plantation owners; freed slaves became sharecroppers on the same land they had been given or were evicted, facing arrest for vagrancy. In 2018, 8060 Maxie Road, Inc., a nonprofit entity formed by Cameron Rowland, purchased this plot and placed a restrictive covenant on its use, preventing any future development of the ground there in perpetuity. Afterward, the property was reappraised, its new value recorded as $0: hooray! The world, by which I mean capitalism, is a living monument to the atrocities of chattel slavery, to the enclosure of life and nature by economy. The historical forces, the legal frameworks that turned people into transactable commodities are entangled with those that made land into property. Industrial operations deaden birdsong. Ours is a hollowed life. Suffering moves us into a terrible momentum shift in this era of endless exploitation. But here, there is a single remove. One acre a total dream. The possibility of impossible reparation. Everything bursts like an overripe pomegranate; the abolition of value spills out in splendor. Inner core to inner core. We dispossess ourselves of ourselves. Wind leaps. Soil memory. Wind leaps. Soil memory. Oh I will be waiting in blackened faith for the end of everything.

Precious Okoyomon is an artist and writer living and working in New York.