This week’s Bookshelf is a cinematic crop of alternative texts from designer and editor, Sam Ashby. We are well familiar with his creative consultancy especially when it comes to poster design for some of the coolest films from the last few years. As do we know about Little Joe, a regular magazine published from Sam’s studio about “queers and cinema, mostly” – what we don’t know is what he would save from the flames of the rapture (when it comes), that is, until now…
Amos Vogel: Film as a Subversive Art
I was first introduced to Film as a Subversive Art by my friend Thomas Beard who co-runs the amazing Brooklyn-based film space Light Industry, which was itself inspired by Vogel’s Cinema 16 film society. In his introduction, Vogel says that “subversion in cinema starts when the theatre darkens and the screen lights up.” Reading this book makes me realise how little I know and much I still have to see, and it is exhilarating.
The design of the second issue of Little Joe is a direct homage to Film as a Subversive Art and I like to think the magazine fosters the spirit of the book’s mission to document a more liberated cinema. Sadly Amos Vogel died earlier this year. As a tribute, we are hoping to screen a number of the films featured in the book as part of the Scala Beyond season organised by Little Joe’s deputy editor Michael Pierce.
AA Bronson and Philip Aarons: Queer Zines
I’m borrowing this from the bookshelf of the wonderful Martin McGrath who I share my studio with. It has been an incredible resource and very exciting for me to place my work on Little Joe within this rich history of queer zine-making. I recently hosted an evening of films with the Kunstverein gallery in Amsterdam to coincide with their current exhibition, Closer: The Dennis Cooper Papers. The exhibit features Dennis Cooper’s own personal collection of queer zines. Being able to hold and read these publications was an incredible experience and really underlined the importance of creating your own content, your own culture, your own world.
Kenneth Anger: Hollywood Babylon
One of the single most influential books of my life, I constantly return to Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon; it has informed my view on the world and fed my obsession with cinema. Anger is in thrall to the glamorous veneer of Hollywood and yet cuts through it with his sardonic humour, gleefully describing the downfalls of Hollywood’s most tragic figures with his purple prose. We recently screened Mark Finch’s BBC Arena documentary of the same name from 1991 which boldly fuses reenactments of some of the book’s most famous passages with interview footage of Anger describing his career and clips from his extraordinary films. An expert myth-maker, it’s fascinating to see how he blurs the lines of fact and fiction with his own life.
Gore Vidal: Myra Breckinridge
I found a beautiful hardback 2nd edition of Myra Breckinridge while browsing the shelves of Counterpoint Records & Books on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles, the first stop of my trip to the States in 2010 which saw me lugging copies of Little Joe – No. 1 from city to city in the hopes of finding stockists. I read it poolside at my friend’s parent’s house in Los Feliz, from where I could see the Griffith Observatory (immortalised in Rebel Without a Cause). Somehow the adventures of Myra, the film-buff transsexual with a hard-on for Parker Tyler and the films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, merged with my own and even now my memories of that trip are intrinsically linked with this book. There is a film adaptation starring Raquel Welch, Rex Reed and an almost catatonic Mae West which contains one of my favourite opening title sequences ever, ever, ever (it’s just a shame the rest of the film can’t live up to Vidal’s perverse masterpiece).
Yoshiro Tatsumi: A Drifting Life
I loved the film Tatsumi, which interweaves Japanese manga artist Yoshiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical A Drifting Life with a number of his dark, dark short stories, so I was very excited to receive the book as a gift from Soda Pictures, one of my clients, who released the film. A Drifting Life documents Tatsumi’s struggle to find a unique voice as an artist and is completely absorbing even as it goes into detail one might find dull such as the minutiae of the manga industry. I identified with many of the frustrations of Tatsumi as I all too often feel despondent or overly self-critical about my work, or disappointed by the industry I have put so much energy into. It gave me hope and sparked a renewed appetite for graphic novels which is continuing with Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?.