Sunday, March 27, 2005

Swerve #13 + Max Gordon on Oprah Presents: Their Eyes..."

Tonight I ventured over to Brooklyn to attend a launch party for the literary journal Swerve's issue #13, which features original hand-painted covers by a friend and collaborator on a book project, artist Christopher Stackhouse. Images of some of them are available on Swerve's Website; unfortunately for art-lovers (but fortunately for Swerve), the issue has completely sold out, but they are always accepting new subscriptions (and the poetry they publish is quite good; this issue includes poems by m. (Mike) loncar, author of 66 galaxie).
Christopher's covers truly are works of art, and I don't use that term lightly, or just to roll logs on his behalf; these tight pieces, which form the first, outer panel of the z-folded periodical, span a range of styles, some of them redolent of Japanese rice-paper paintings, while others recall in miniature form such painters as William T. Williams, Sam Gilliam, Richard Diebenkorn, Agnes Martin, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Gerhard Richter; yet they are evidently Christopher's own creations and follow from other larger works on canvas and paper that he's done. They're neither echoes nor knock-offs. Viewing the covers up close reveals many details like the speed, intricacy and delicacy of the brushwork; the screen-like layering on many of them; the richness of the covers, and the tinier touches, such as the splatters, grisailling and subtle geometric patterns. They're like visual versions of piano studies, of considerable melodic and harmonic range and color--études diverses. I hope Christopher decides to issue prints of many of them, and to produce larger works (he's said that many of these are studies) in this vein. He'll have a winner of a show.

Tisa B. called my attention to Max Gordon's trenchant analysis of Oprah Winfrey's ABC version of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. I missed it (no TiVo, didn't videotape or DVR), because I went to see Lydia Diamond's fine stage adaptation of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater. Hallie Gordon was the director. (I was weary of how a staged version of Morrison's first novel might turn out, but the outstanding acting, the inventive sets and lighting, the condensation of the narrative, and parceling out of Morrison's third person narration, both the exposition and the more lyrical, interior sections, to the various characters, sometimes in varying chorus-like groups, all succeeded).

As for
Their Eyes, I did enjoy Oprah's somewhat misguided take on Beloved, an unfilmable book because of its narrative density and complexity, its lyrical interiority (which Jazz, I think, exceeds) and in general I am all for adaptations of black literature--God knows, we need to draw upon sources that might provide something else besides the rampant, unironic schmaltz, minstrelsy and ersatz depictions of our lives that fill movie and TV screens on a daily basis. But I still had misgivings, based on advance commentary that I was reading and hearing.

At any rate, if you saw the TV movie and want one writer's astute and acerbic take, read Gordon's commentary. I especially took to heart the passages on the differences between witnessing and watching, particularly in light of the truly f*cked up society (and world) we're living in now. Zora was a witness; Gordon, as I read his review, is saying that instead of her powerful, challenging and beautiful art and testimony, we got something quite different, lacking, mangled, therapeutic: something geared primarily for us to watch (and soon forget).

Here are fifteen novels by black authors I'd like to see adapted--adroitly, of course--into films: Calixthe Béyala's Loukoum: The Little Prince of Belleville; Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here; Octavia Butler's Kindred; Cyrus Colter's The Catacombs; Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions; Louis Edwards's Ten Seconds; E. Lynn Harris's Invisible Life; Paule Marshall's The Chosen Place, The Timeless People; Gayl Jones's Corregidora; Andrea Lee's Sarah Phillips; Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness; Ishmael Reed's Reckless Eyeballing; Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá's The Renunciation; Sherley Ann Williams's Dessa Rose; and Shay Youngblood's Black Girl in Paris.
Easter = Redemption.


  1. A number of folks on the Af-Am Lit e-mail list were dissapointed at how much of the language and nuance of the novel was missing. They also raised the issue of how much of it might have been retained it instead of being on ABC it had been done by a HBO or Showtime. Sad that things had to be 'flattened' for the mass audience.

    BTW: I've visualized a film of Marshall's The Chosen Place, The Timeless People since first reading that fantastic novel!

  2. man! i can't believe i missed all these things! i had to miss swerve for the bday of a beloved parent but i thought their eyes was on cable. can't believe i missed that, too. would love to see some of those works. i think i'd like to see an adaptation of gayl jones' Mosquito. there is an audio adaptation of Kindred on Seeing Ear Theater. may be worth the listen . . .

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Reggie, is the commentary on the Af-Am e-lit list online somewhere, in html form? I'd love to read it. Though it was flattened for a mass audience, I read Gordon saying that perhaps it didn't have to be, but that was Oprah's impulse, in this film as in Dorothy West's "The Wedding," which also starred Halle Berry, didn't it? The books, which she loves, become extensions of her show and its ideology (I hadn't realized till I started typing this reply how Michael Ealy could be a stand-in for Stedman...LOL!). Do you think she's going to do the same thing with "Sula"? I hope not, but....

    I'm with you both on the adaptations. Rogue D, I thought of "Mosquito," and also "Eva's Man"; and there are several stories in "White Rat" that could be turned into films too. I'll check out the audio version of "Kindred"!