Hot Reads 8/10/14

From our Pinterest Hot Reads board, a list of our favorite reads on the internet during the past week. Enjoy!

huffpoflapper1. From HuffPo: “Dating in the 1920’s: Lipstick. Booze, and the Origins of Slut Shaming”
Favorite quote: “The new woman of the ’20s was totally different from her mother. She worked and voted. She smoked, drank and danced. She dated. She celebrated her new freedoms in style. She was a flapper.”

2. Also from HuffPo: “The Real “L” Word (Especially in the Bible Belt”) Is….”
(H/T: Part Time Monster)
Favorite quote: “Ministry isn’t always a sermon or a church service. No! Ministry is about loving people — all people. Jesus was radically inclusive. Just look at the woman at the well and the lepers, all considered abominations by the religious people. Jesus loved them, and He included them. That’s what I want to do with The Dandelion Project.”

3. Aaaaand, three times the charm. From HuffPo: “These Are the Things Men Say To Women On the Street”
This is shit that happens when you’re just walking down the street minding your own business. No favorite quote here. The pictures tell the story. huffpo

4. From Humanistic Paganism: “A Pedagogy of Gaia: How Lammas Changed My Life” by New Orleans blogger and activist Bart Everson.
Tagline: What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?
Favorite Quote: “We may discover unexpected depths and make new connections if we are open to possibilities.”

photo(2)5. From Thought Catalog: “How and Why To Keep a Commonplace Book”
Favorite Quote: “Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books. Marcus Aurelius kept one–which more or less became the Meditations. ”
Note: I’ve keep one of these little books off and on over the years. Here’s two of my old ones. For me, it’s a creative addition to traditional journaling. Plus, I love quotes.

 

6. From TammyVitale.com: “Things That Strike My Fancy”tammyv
Favorite Quote: “So each new creation we allow to come through us may have been written/sung/painted/danced/spoken before, but in this instance it is filtered through our unique human experience and so it must be something new under the sun. Bayles and Orland, in Art and Fear say: Each new piece of your art enlarges our [everyone’ else’s] reality. The world is not yet done.”
Note: this is a really great essay on nurturing inspiration in your art and writing.

7. And our list for the week comes from Part Time Monster: “Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I’d Give to Readers Who Haven’t Read Southern Literature”
A great book list that you should check out. I’d add Mystic Pig by Richard Katrovas,  Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp by Gwen Roland and French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia edited by Joshua Clark.
What book would you add?
8. And finally, great poem of the week is “Don’t You Miss the Phone Booth” by Kate Peper on Rattle. Well, don’t you? If you haven’t thought about it, read this poem. Really.
A little snippet:

Oh, sure, back then it meant people couldn’t reach you 24/7,
photos snapped from your cell at a dinner party couldn’t be sent
to your loved ones in Zurich, or your pre-teen’s thumbs
couldn’t get the workout from texting, but hey—

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“It’s boring to play the girl role.”

This is a good video of Olivia Wilde speaking and participating in a panel on “The State of Female Justice 2014: What Makes You Rise?” “The State of Female Justice” panels bring women from diverse movements together for a shared public conversation about justice and equity. In this short video (4 minutes, 2 seconds), Olivia talks about why women aren’t being empowered by the media and shares a story about an acting exercise she participated in that’s very interesting. Enjoy.

More about “The State of a Female Justice” here.

Least Favorite Love Songs Kickstarter Campaign

Helen Krieger, of Flood Streets fame (and one of our Femme Fatales in 2011), is working on the second season of her webseries Least Favorite Love Songs. To raise a budget for the the show, she launched a Kickstarter campaign that’s winding down in the next five days. They’ve already made their minimum $5,000 goal, so now they’re stretching for an amount that will allow them to pay their crew just a lil something for their time and expertise.

They have low contributor levels ($1 and $5 backers get updates and swag!) and every little bit will help — maybe they’ll even be able to provide lunch to their crew on shooting days. 🙂 Even if you can’t contribute, you’ll help them out enormously if you watch Season 1, talk about it and share the Kickstarter page with your friends. There’s also a Kickstarter Campaign Wrap Party this Sunday, at Banks St. Bar (4401 Banks Street), from 7 to 9. The suggested $5 donation gets you a screening of Season 1, music from ROARSHARK and some improv.

It should be noted that Least Favorite Love Songs has some strong adult themes, is very funny and includes partial nudity. Season 2 is likely to be funnier and perhaps even nuder. Nudier? How do you express that there may be more nudity? Well, how about you check out the short, funny, almost nude video for the campaign?

Those Who Came Before Us

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Marilyn Monroe, Isak Dinesen, Carson McCullers

I came across this photo of three women I admire, all together, and had to share it with you. Isn’t it fabulous? “On this day in 1959, Carson McCullers hosted a small luncheon party in order that Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke (Isak Dinesen) could meet Marilyn Monroe.” Read more here.

“Where the storyteller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there, in the end, silence will speak. Where the story has been betrayed, silence is but emptiness. But we, the faithful, when we have spoken our last word, will hear the voice of silence.” ~Isak Dinesen

Beasts of the Southern Wild: My Thoughts

Recently, Lunanola and I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild which, as most of you know, is a locally produced film with local actors. This is not so much a review of the film as just an assortment of my thoughts during the movie and in the days following. Indeed, Beasts is a grand over-the-top gothic fairy tale as told by a child called Hushpuppy whose imagination runs wild with the stories told to her by her alcoholic father, Wink. They live on a mythical swath of land off the Louisiana coast called The Bathtub by its inhabitants, a small community of people living on the edge of civilization.

Beasts reminds me of poetry in that the poet tells her story in such a personal way that the reader may never grasp its deepest meaning. The reader reads the poem, or story, through the lens of their own life experiences, often completely missing the poet’s intent. And that’s ok – it doesn’t negate the meaning of the work but enhances it by expanding and challenging the reader. The same can be said of this film and how I feel about it. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing the film because I didn’t want any other opinions influencing, even subconsciously, what I was going to see on the screen.

Having said that, I found myself wincing through much of the film; reacting to the squalor of Hushpuppy’s existence, the harshness and obvious mental illness of her father and the rampant alcoholism of most of The Bathtub residents we met. I didn’t see this isolated community largely as a celebration of a self-sustaining culture as much as the smaller stories of a few delusional souls, who’ve long since forgotten the real meaning of community, compassion and care, barely hanging on by their fingernails to a dysfunctional life. There was more about Beasts that bothered me than delighted or awed me and maybe that’s the film makers intention. In any case, it gives the viewer much to ponder.

I felt sad for Hushpuppy and the absence of a positive adult figure in her life except for an apparently cursory relationship with Little Jo (played by Pamela Harper), the resident Shaman, who taught the local kids about medicinal herbs, the flora and animal life in The Bathtub and the importance of being good stewards of the land and water. (Thank you for portraying her as a real three-dimensional healer instead of the stereotypical Voodoo queen!) She was the only positive, grounded character in the film and the only adult who attempted to prepare the kids for a real life instead of encouraging a life based on fantasy.

The interaction of people with each other, and the cause and effect of that interaction, has always fascinated me. I suppose that’s why I focused so much more on this aspect of the movie, while I was actually watching it, over the surrealism and symbolism the film was obviously pushing. In retrospect, though, the symbolism and subsequent cautionary tale is a vital part of what makes this movie unique. For instance, although I found the glacier avalanches jarring and somewhat disruptive I can acknowledge the part they played in the tale and beauty of the cinematography.

Generally, I thought the acting by all of the actors to be just about perfect. There’s a lot of Oscar buzz around this film and Quvenzhane’ Wallice, who plays Hushpuppy, and it appears she’s the darling of the Indie film set this year. There’s no disputing the child has a beautiful and expressive face but I always felt like someone was just out of view saying, “Now look fierce; now cry; now act crazy”. For me, Dwight Henry, who played the dad, was pretty incredible. I felt like he WAS the person he portrayed with all the nuances and warts of his character’s personality played completely naturally and believably. Children are so close and open to their emotions that I think most of them can act simply by following directions. But adults have to peel away layers of their own experiences and feelings to find the place where a character can come out. For this reason, I think Dwight was the better actor in this film and it’s a shame his achievement is being overshadowed when it should be equally acclaimed.

The cinematography was magical and pleasured us with torridly beautiful landscapes and seascapes. The manipulation of ordinary pigs into the hulking, mythical aurochs was nothing short of genius.

This movie had parts that I loved (Miss Jo with the kids) and parts that I hated (mamma shooting a gator while naked except for huge white diaper-like panties – WTF?). It made me laugh (the joyous fireworks scene) and cry (the death scene). In the end, I still can’t say if I “liked” it or not; I can only say it was a wild and interesting ride.

However, the most amazing aspect of Beasts is that it was made at all on the hand-to-mouth budget that produced it. The creativity of the film makers and the ingenuity required to make it is impressive and showcases the best this city has to offer artistically. That makes me proud to be a New Orleanian and, ultimately, happy I watched the film.

(And I’m still processing it.)

Femme Fatale Friday: Helen Krieger, Producer of “Flood Streets”

“A nuanced view of the city and its people, Flood Streets shows the changing landscape of New Orleans as it has never been seen before, dispelling the stereotypes about this tragic, defiant, joyful city.”LaFilm.net

“Flood Streets is dotted with incidental wit and wry observations of life in the Big Easy, which isn’t always.”Amy Biancolli/The Houston Chronicle

“A unique story of hope and despair, of determination and crazy-ass creativity, told bravely and told well.”Harry Shearer

Helen Krieger

These are just three of the many positive comments I found while researching Helen Kriegers production of Flood Streets, her first film production.  Helen and her husband Joseph Meissner, who directed and acts in the film, moved to New Orleans in 2001 and quickly fell into the eclectic, artsy community life in Bywater. They evacuated for Hurricane Katrina and were displaced, like so many New Orleanians, for six weeks of an enforced exile. The screenplay for Flood Streets is based on Helen’s book of short stories, In the Land of What Now, a fictionalized account of her experiences in post federal flood New Orleans. 

Flood Streets‘ awards  include:
Best Picture winner at the 2011 Action on Film Festival
Gold Remi winner at the 44th Annual WorldFest-Houston
Best Director, runner-up, at the White Sands Int’l Film Festival
Best Director, nominee, Action on Film Festival

I recently spoke with Helen about Flood Streets, life in New Orleans and the crafts of writing and film-making.

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Helen, I understand Flood Streets is based on your book, In the Land of What Now, and is your first film production. What made you decide to produce a film with no previous film making experience and how do you think that impacted your film? 

Although I had made a couple short films before Flood Streets, they were on a much smaller scale and were done basically as practice for this movie. Flood Streets was my first feature.

When my husband, Joseph, and I were evacuated for the storm, we didn’t know what we could come back to from our former lives. We didn’t know if the city was going to come back, so it was really like an early midlife crisis for both of us. For six weeks we sat at my parent’s house up in Wisconsin and started thinking about our lives and what we most wanted to do.

I realized I’d neglected my writing, and Joseph really wanted to get back into acting. We decided to put the two of these interests together to write a movie Joseph could act in. That’s really how I made the leap from fiction to film – it made so much sense for us to work together like that.

Once I got into script writing, I really enjoyed it, because one of my favorite things to write is dialogue. Also, I enjoyed the increased collaboration and input you get writing a screenplay. Everyone from the actor to the caterer has read your script so you get a wide variety of opinions and input. It’s really exciting. Having said that, I love writing short stories, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Short stories are where I really connect with myself creatively and where I feel free to develop ideas.

Producing a movie for my first time could have been a disaster except that I had so much support from the community. I was mentored by two veteran New Orleans filmmakers, Glen Pitre and Michelle Benoit. They’ve been helping me with this project for the past three years. They helped me with the script, with getting everything ready to shoot, with editing, and now with publicity and the festival circuit. They’re really an amazing resource.

I also took a lot of classes at the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC). I joke with people that NOVAC was my film school.

What was the first concrete step for you in learning how to produce a film? 

I read a lot of books and took a lot of classes for the years preceding our shoot. I took a Film Accounting class at NOVAC that helped me put everything into perspective. The accountant is the one responsible for paying everyone else, so you get a good long view on what it takes to make a production happen. That was amazing experience.

I also had many meetings with Glen and Michelle where I just furiously scribbled down notes as they went over my budget and explained what I needed and how it would work. Then we were really fortunate to get an experienced indie line producer to work with us, Miceal Og O’Donnel. Once we had pulled our key team together, he helped us get everyone moving in the right direction.

We didn’t always know what we were doing, but we were fortunate enough to have a lot of people around us who did!

I read that Katrina and life post-K was a big influence on your decision to persue writing and film-making full-time. Do you think your life would have taken this turn if you hadn’t experienced the storm and life after?

That’s a great question. I think about that sometimes, and I just don’t know. I think eventually I would have gotten to this path because it’s something I’m so interested in, and it really suits me. But it may have taken a lot longer for me to get here.

Like I said, Katrina was an early midlife crisis, so without Katrina and that six-week hurrication of stress and soul searching, maybe my midlife crisis would still be some years away.

Oct 16 is the New Orleans premier of Flood Streets. How does it feel to be presenting your film about life in post-K New Orleans in New Orleans?

I’m so excited, because I’ve been working on this film for years, and so many people in the city have helped me and have been waiting to see it. We didn’t have a huge budget, but we wanted to create the best film we could, so we took our time editing, almost 15 months.

This spring we had our world premiere in Houston and that started a tour of film festivals across the country. We’ve had such great response, but audiences don’t get the inside jokes that New Orleanians will get. Also, the film shows a part of the city that often gets lost in post-Katrina films or documentaries – our sense of humor. When I tell people this is a film about Post Katrina New Orleans, I always have to add, “But it’s not a downer.” We wanted to show what there is that still draws us to this city and that draws all the people who have moved here since the storm.

It’s now over six years after the storm and I’m wondering if, when you talk about the subject of your film, you encounter any lingering “Katrina fatigue” or do people now get that it was the levees, not the storm, that really devastated New Orleans.

We get some Katrina fatigue when we first tell people about the movie because they think they’ve seen it before, and that it’s going to be one of those very depressing stories about flood victims. But our story isn’t necessarily about Katrina and none of our characters consider themselves victims.

Flood Streets takes place 15 months after the storm, and we use that surreal backdrop in the movie a lot, but essentially the movie is about the characters and their struggles. These struggles are definitely heightened and changed in unexpected ways because of the storm, but ultimately I wanted to show how life goes on, no matter how surreal the backdrop. By picking up this story well after the initial shock of the storm has passed, we get to show that weird stage after a disaster when you realize you’re still essentially the same person with the same problems to deal with. Only now you can’t get mailed delivered to your house…

In terms of the people being educated about what devastated New Orleans… I don’t think that’s happened yet. There’s still this narrative out there that New Orleans is all below sea level, and it was only a matter of time. Very few people know about the complicated system of human decisions that resulted in the federal flooding of New Orleans. People like Harry Shearer have been doing a great job educating people. His documentary about the levees, “The Big Uneasy,” has been touring the country educating people, so I’m hoping people start to understand.

Do you think locals will be more critical of the film than outsiders?

Definitely, because it’s their story that we’re telling, but I’m pretty confident they’re going to enjoy it. One of the reasons we wanted to do an ensemble storyline with multiple characters is because we wanted to hint at the diversity of stories in the city. There is no one post Katrina story and no one way of reacting to the storm, so I hope locals will see themselves or people they know in the characters we’ve chosen.

I understand you show a diversity of the musical talent we have here in Nola instead of relying only on Jazz or Brass Bands as is seen in many  film and TV productions. Was that a deliberate decision? How did you choose which genres and/or musicians to include?

That was a very deliberate decision. We love traditional New Orleans music, but we’re even more interested in how traditions continue to evolve with each new generation who takes them on. This is what makes New Orleans such an exciting place for musicians and artists to live. We didn’t want to portray a museum to jazz or funk; we wanted to shed light on the contradictions and collaborations at the edge of our ever-evolving culture.

We also wanted to put more of the musical focus on youth culture because this is where changes are often happening. When young musicians couldn’t get into mainline brass bands they formed their own. Influenced by hip hop as well as jazz, a new generation of second-lining was born. When indie rocker Clint Maedgen joined the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, he brought a new voice to the most traditional band in New Orleans. The Zydepunks blend traditional and new to create a heart-pounding new style. The Panorama Jazz Band takes influences from jazz, klezmer and brass bands to pull together their unique sound.

This was the New Orleans music we really wanted to share, and audiences across the country are really excited to hear it. After screenings, people always comment on the music and say how surprised they are by the diversity of music in the city, so I guess we’re doing our job!

All but two of the actors and all of the crew were New Orleanians.  Why do you think that was important for the telling of your story?

It was important to us to use locals on the cast and crew as much as possible. First, it’s just part of our mission as local filmmakers to showcase the talent we have here in the city.

Also, for the kind of story we were telling it was so important to have those authentic voices. This isn’t a crime story or an action adventure with lots of graphic effects. We’re telling a character based story about a very particular time and place, so it was so important for us to make sure we were getting that voice right, and it was nice to know we could rely on our actors.

Almost all our actors had been through the storm or the evacuation, and they felt we were giving an accurate portrayal of the city. Based on the script they trusted us to tell this complicated, nuanced story, and we in turn trusted them to tell us whenever something didn’t ring true. They brought costumes, props, they really went out of their way to help us do this right. And because they were from New Orleans they got that subversive sense of humor we have, even in disasters. They didn’t feel like they had to walk on eggshells about the material, because it was their story too.

I read in the press kit that your neighborhood rallied around you and the film became a real community effort. Tell us a little bit about that.

We filmed most of the movie in Bywater, in about 48 different locations, and almost all of them were donated by neighbors who wanted to see us make this film. Coffee shops, corner stores, shotgun apartments, warehouses, flooded houses in various stages of repair… people opened up all these spaces to us despite our meager budget.

In one case we were shooting a scene where a band places on the street. The band was Debauche, a young, local band that plays very energetic Russian music, and we needed to shoot this in front of a Bywater house. We knocked on doors up and down the street and let people know what was going to be going on, then when we got to the house we were going to be shooting in front of, we knocked and tentatively told the owner, “We’ve got this band, and we wanted to know if it’s okay if they play in front of your house…” It was an older guy, so we didn’t know how it would go over. “Who’s the band?” he said. I told him it was Debauche, and I figured he was too old, but he immediately started clapping his hands. It turned out he was a big fan! He told us to do whatever we needed to, to come into his house if we had to. He ended up dancing in his living room the whole time they were playing!

We also had so much luck getting background people in our film. As soon as a musician would start playing, people would come out of their homes or stop on their bikes and dance. A lot of people made it into the movie that way!

Are you working on any other projects you’d like to share with us?

Why yes, thank you! I’m working on the scripts for two projects right now.

The first is another feature film, this one set in the heart of an impoverished New Orleans neighborhood. A group of punk, DIY activists stage elaborate puppet shows and dangerous tall bike jousts in their communal-living warehouse, but when a pregnant friend arrives with nowhere else to go, it’s their chance to remake their social experiment into a true community. We’re excited to work with some of the amazing artists in New Orleans for this project.

The second is something totally different for me. I’m working on episodic writing, an original musical comedy series I’m creating for web or cable. Molly is a sex-starved, struggling writer who can’t get the attention of her indie rocker boyfriend, so she takes a job exploring New Orleans amorous underbelly. I’ve been describing it as “Sex in the City” meets “Flight of the Conchords”. It deals with journalism, art and sexual politics while featuring original music and a beautifully choreographed tribal bellydance sequence in each episode. I’ve gotten together with a composer, lyricist and choreographer, so I’m really excited to get working on this.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in five years? What are your goals?

 The more I write, the more I realize I love writing, so my future plans all have to do with finding more ways to do that. I’m very interested in writing for TV or cable because story is really king in these mediums, and so the writers get a lot of control over their sets. From casting to choosing props and working with the directors, the writers are typically the head producers in charge of their series. Having had experience producing shorts and now a feature, I feel like this could be a good fit for me.

With episodic writing, you get more time to tell a story than you do in a 90-minute feature film. With shows like “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” TV writing has risen to the next level. By following multiple characters’ storylines throughout the season, episodic writing has become a modern version of a sweeping, 19th century novel. It’s become a place where some of the best writers go to tell their stories, and with original web content starting to get some serious viewership, it’s easier to get into this highly competitive field.

Plus, how fun would it be to put together a writers room where one of the most solitary tasks, coming up with storylines and characters, can become a group effort? I could definitely do that for the rest of my life.

But like I said before, I’ll never stop writing short stories and other kinds of fiction. It’s where I feel free to really play with an idea no matter how ridiculous. Short fiction was my first genre as a writer, and I think I’ll never truly get over my love for it.

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The New Orleans premiere of Flood Streets will be during the New Orleans Film Festival on Sunday, October 16 at 4:45 at  Pyrtania Theatre.  The trailer can be viewed  below and up to the minute information can be found on their FaceBook page.

48 Film Project August 12-14

Team Gefilte Fish Eye shoots 'Damned Love' in Tel Aviv in 2008.

A friend of mine recently told me about 48 Film Project, which is about to start its fifth year in New Orleans (and tenth year overall).

Teams register online and then spend 48 hours writing, producing, editing (and scoring) a 7-minute film. Later, the films are screened for audiences (always sold-out audiences in New Orleans) and the winning films will be screened at the New Orleans Film Festival. They’ll also compete with the winners of other competing cities for a screening at the Cannes International Film Festival.

There are a limited number of team openings in each city, so register now if you’re interested. You can also register as an individual interested in joining teams by providing your name and contact info, as well as skills and experience.

The kickoff event will be Friday the 12th at 6 p.m. at The Big Top/3 Ring Circus. The dropoff event will be at the same place on Sunday at 6 p.m. In between will be 48 hours of no sleep and lots of creative chaos for each of the teams. Don’t forget to register BEFORE the kickoff event as there is limited availability for teams. You can, however, sign up for a waitlist if they’ve already reached their maximum number of teams and you register to join an already-formed team. Check it all out at the website: http://www.48hourfilm.com/neworleans/

If any of our readers compete (or have competed), we’d love to know about your experience!

Photo taken by Rob Hatch at Cinequest 2006.

Hollywood Car Wash by Lori Culwell

Lori Culwell was doing a giveaway of Hollywood Car Wash on Twitter. I missed the actual giveaway, but when I read the description of the book, I wanted to read it. So, I wrote her and asked her if she’d still send me one to review. And, she did, so that was extremely cool of her. Here’s the description that made me want to read the book:

From college student to Hollywood star in less than one year, Amy Spencer is living every girl’s dream. But will she survive the Hollywood Car Wash?

I was intrigued because of my background in movie production, primarily because I don’t have a lot of experience with the acting side of things. I thought it would be an interesting and fun read.

First, Hollywood Car Wash looks like (and is) light “chick lit” reading. The kind of book best suited for a beach or for carrying you away on boring plane trips. It’s so easy to get sucked into the story and care about Amy immediately that the pages will just fly by.

But, this book is also sneaky and really smart. During Amy’s transformation from an insecure, grieving theater major to a successful (but still insecure) lead actress, there is an actual physical transformation that might haunt you at night, like it haunted me. Think the Miss Congeniality sequence in the big airplane hanger mixed with any sequence from any SAW or Final Destination movie. Amy’s being pushed toward a “perfection” that can be measured by ratings and opinion polls but which demands bigger and bigger emotional and physical sacrifices. Leading up to and during the scenes at the dentist’s office, I was screaming for Amy to run just like I would during any horror movie.

This book made me think a lot about the price of fame and success (especially for women), but was wrapped up in humorous, scandalous pleasure reading.

My only complaint is that because there’s a romance (of course), I wish it had been developed a bit more. Part of me kinda likes that Amy and her Hollywood transformation/burnout are the main focuses of the story, but because the romance was there, I wanted more. Even as slightly underdeveloped as it is, it’s still believable, which is a big plus.

Originally self-published in 2007, Hollywood Car Wash won “Project Publish” and was re-released in 2009 by Simon & Schuster. It might be turned into a t.v. show (ironically). You can visit Lori Culwell, who also founded an Internet consulting firm, at her website.

Weird Shit from the New Orleans Public Library

Weird Shit from the New Orleans Public Library

Volume 1: Absurdistan (2008)

When I moved here from New York, I was so excited about making a new home for myself I gave very little thought to what “home” actually meant.  It took exactly one week for me to start missing things: first bagels, then pizza, then more substantive things, like walkable sidewalks and meetings starting on time.

I tried to create a comfortable space in my house that would bring me daily reminders of what I love about New York, like subway maps and photos of my family.  Yet there was always an unsettled quality about this space, and it wasn’t for a while that I realized it was because I had no books.

I had left all of them in New York, thinking that it wasn’t worth the schlep (meaning “haul”; Yiddish aphorisms are another thing I miss about New York)for an indeterminate time of staying in New Orleans.  But their absence weighed on me, so I had to take action.

I went to the Alvar Street branch of the New Orleans Public Library, where I was assisted by an elderly seersucker-clad man with an impressively loud “indoor voice.”  Apparently, the only document they need from potential patrons is proof of residency, which in my case was the envelope from my latest bank statement.  I could also, the desk attendant stage-whispered conspiratorially, have addressed and mailed an envelope to myself.

But I was not out for such tricky business, and armed with my new card I set about exploring the stacks.  I found some curious organizational methodology to the shelves at the Alvar Street branch:  In the nonfiction section was the King James Bible alongside the Frommer’s Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States and an exposé on Mao Tsedung as the mastermind of the Cold War.  This was not exactly the Dewey Decimal System of my youth.

I decided to see what the DVD section had to offer, and boy were there some gems.

Nestled between a documentary on Mardi Gras Indians and a collection of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, and below the greatest hits of Ravi Shankar, was a German film called Absurdistan.  Billed as “Fellini-esque” and “lusty,” the movie called out to my sleazy arthouse impulse.

I checked it out, in addition to some short story anthologies and that documentary on Mardi Gras Indians.

Absurdistan turned out to be a bizarre Russian-language romantic dramedy that parodies the classic Aritstophanes play “Lysistrata.”  That work was of course the one in which the women of Athens persuade the men to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until they call a truce with Sparta.

In Absurdistan, an Eastern European village of the title name is threatened by a broken water pipe that has left the citizens unbathed and unable to tend properly to their industries, which appear mainly to be baking, shoemaking, and bee-keeping.  The only people who can fix the water pipe are the men of the village, who are so lazy they make time only for drinking tea and having sex.  According to the film’s narrators, “the men maintained that their virility was famed all the way to Samarkand…The men busied themselves with proving their reputation” while “the women tried to stop the village from going to the dogs.”

The film’s protagonist is a young woman named Aya, who, despite her lust for her boyfriend, Temelko, convinces the other women of the village to withhold sex from their husbands until the water pipe is repaired.  Eventually (spoiler alert!), of course, it is, as the men simply cannot survive without sex.

The film suggests that women hold the power in the village of Absurdistan, as they do in life, because men are so thoroughly motivated by female sexuality.  However, this power is situated within an overly simplistic gendered paradigm that actually disempowers women in relation to their own sex lives.

Firstly, in Lysistrata, the women clearly suffer from abstinence.  They constantly remind each other why they are imposing celibacy upon themselves, in order to prevent women from defecting from the cause.

The women of Absurdistan show little compunction about their decision to withhold sex, and only a scene depicting an orgiastic performance betrays any untapped physical desire on their part (with the exception of a shot in which the women snuggle with each other as they fall asleep, a behavior not unlike the communal bathing the women did before the ban on sex was enacted).  This performance is later shown to have been a trap for the men of the village, and therefore not trustworthy as a reflection of the women’s experience of celibacy.

Absurdistan’s women are in this way denied sexual agency.  Yes, they choose not to have sex with men.  But their sexual pleasure is deprioritized to almost a non-issue in this film.  Sex is clearly for the benefit of the men.

This dynamic is exemplified within the relationship between Aya and Temelko, who are virgins.  As adolescents, they call upon the spiritual advice of Aya’s grandmother, who forbids them from sexual contact until the stars align appropriately.  They must wait over four years for this event, which ends up coinciding with the sex ban.

Although these two characters are presented as outliers in the film – Aya is the gutsy ringleader of the other women and Temelko is the only man who returns to the village after attending school in the city – their actions are consistent with those of the other characters.  Despite her grandmother’s promise of cosmic (and orgasmic) euphoria for the lovebirds, Aya withholds sex from the agitated Temelko, subjugating her own romantic and physical desires at the expense of the male libido.

In a somewhat convoluted plot twist, Aya becomes troubled when a traveling showgirl tries to seduce Temelko.  Time with the girl in her bedroom is the prize for a carnival shooting game, which Temelko wins.

The girl barely talks at all, and is featured only giggling, posing provocatively, and undressing.  Her value is in her physicality and what bodily pleasures she might provide for the sex-starved men of the village.

Indeed, the reason she is in the village at all is due to the enterprising game-owner, who believes rightly that he will profit from the conditions of the village.  The showgirl’s sexuality is commodified and sold in this way; her body is exchanged for the few coins it costs to play the game.

What is truly disturbing about this character is how little she seems to care.  Sex is assigned a high value in the village, where the men cannot seem to survive without it.  Yet for the showgirl and her traveling companion, it is something given away casually as a carnival prize, like a giant teddy bear.

It is possible that the way sex is treated in this circumstance is not so different than the way it is between the husbands and wives of Absurdistan.  Sex has a transactive quality in both, only with the showgirl it is more explicit.  In the village, the women also use sex as a bartering tool, specifically to get the men to fix the water pipe.

However, this interpretation does not really complicate the question of female power.  The women are still giving up something in exchange for getting something else.  In fact, the only arena in which female power is unquestionable has to do with Aya’s grandmother.  Her directive for Aya and Temelko to wait until having sex is obeyed.  This is truly an example of power:  How many teenage boys do you know who would agree to wait four years until the “stars are in order” to lose their virginity?

Also, the premise that the women are unable to fix the water pipe themselves is itself problematic.  They are able to do everything else that village governance requires, yet the men are mysteriously more competent in this regard.  Additionally, girls do not appear to attend school in the distant city; this privilege is extended exclusively to the boys of the village.

So at the end of the day, the library gave me a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to share the other weird shit I find there.  For now, I am scheming how to get my family to ship me some good New York bagels.  Because it’s really not home without books or bagels.

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You can read more from Arielle on her blog, Shtetl Chic.

Bragalicious

Over at my personal blog (which has recently been re-named), Jill of All Genres, one of my most regular types of post is what I call the “bragging post,” where I take the opportunity to brag about the accomplishments of my talented friends. It’s one of my favorite things to do and luckily, there are no shortage of accomplishments to brag on.

Charlotte suggested that I post my most recent bragging on post, Bragalicious, here, since many of my shout outs are local New Orleanians (or Baton Rougeians). It’s been too long since I’ve written a post on NOLAFemmes, so I am happy to post Bragalicious here for you.

Speaking of NOLAFemmes and bragging…Judy’s post “Up, up and away!” was a “Freshly pressed” pick on the front page of WordPress yesterday (now page 2). That is totally bragalicious.

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First and foremost, as we speak, pretty much all of The Peauxdunque Writers Alliance is gearing up for The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers. Four of our members are attending, including Maurice Ruffin, Terri Stoor, Tad Bartlett and J.Ed Marston. That means something like 40% or so of our membership was accepted.

Jamey Hatley is also attending the Summit. Additionally, she’s won a prestigious waitership to Bread Loaf later in the summer.

Also, Maurice Ruffin‘s short story “And Then I Was Clean” will be published in UNO’s Ellipsis Journal.

Another Peauxdunque member, Joselyn Takacs has been accepted into the MFA program at Johns Hopkins University and is on her way.

A little birdie told me that Barb Johnson will be receiving the Barbara Gittings Literature Award at the ALA Conference tomorrow.

Sarah Morton is creating a graphic novel out of a short story written by Bobbi Perry, who attended the LSU MFA with me and Jamey. You can read it online!

Helen Krieger and Joseph Meissner are screening Flood Streets at the San Antonio Film Festival on Thursday.

Lindsay Rae Spurlock‘s song “As for Now” was featured on Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital.” You may still be able to download it for free if you like her Facebook page. Here’s an awesome photo of her, too:

Lindsay Rae Spurlock, photo credit Julia Henry

Congrats to all my phenomenally talented friends!