The Blue Raccoon

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Day Late and A Dollar Short
Part III: From Glamour To Grammar

From, Wit of the Staircase, May 10, 2007

But Stardom was made a year after THOG. Still, the themes are similar. Girl from the sticks (in THOG's case Antler, Ohio, though neither Grace Greenberg the editor of her chronicling fashion magazine Ooh La La nor her agent Alphonse Harlan, can remember where she's from) stumbles into fame that she at first enjoys but--as seldom occurs in reality--she rejects the trappings. Well, in Charles' case, she "goes into seclusion" after staging a gothic fashion show case death ritual with her fashion designer friends, Osage and Orange. In Stardom, Tina marries a physician whose demanding career prevents him from giving her any affection.

One becomes isolated by choice, the other by a poor choice in husband.

Duncan was aware, too of director William Klein's antic and absurd 1965 satiric "mockumentary" about high fashion, Where Are You Polly Maggoo? This was the single film made by Twiggy-esque model Dorothy McGowan. The story behind the story is that McGowan made "Polly" then quit public life for good. See a bit of it on Sundance's site --which is where the elbow raised image of Polly is from.

The most striking and bizarre scene in the Duncan-Blake film -- given subsequent events-- is a funereal fashion show. One thinks of Duncan's "Los Angeles Lunar Society" and its full moon rituals and the memorial service for fake novelist JT Leroy, and the strange demise of both Duncan and Blake.

The Osage and Orange event features models in grim high fashion wearing jewelry with words
LEFT and GONE (also references to the "dead" Charles Valentine's music). Charles herself is laid out in an open casket--much as Duncan herself.

An unseen male questioner--like the reporter in Citizen Kane--asks Grace Greenberg, "But didn't she have problems in New York?" And she replies, "Well, we're all allowed to indulge ourselves, aren't we?" This includes swilling Chanel No.5 "on the rocks" at hip night spots. (Given that Duncan's decease first got into the Interwebs via a perfume blog...w

And, in similar fashion, Grace Greenberg says with enthusiasm, "Charles was like a beacon! When she was in a good mood, it was like being by the Hope diamond!" Otherwise, Charles could be at best aloof or at worst a pyromaniac. The film implies that when Charles gets tired of a difficult situation, she burns it down--as happens with her family's cosmetology salon and the headquarters of Ooh La La.

I am reminded of anonymous critics of Duncan who claimed she was like a "bright and polished apple with a rotten core" (LAist, Aug. 4, 2007); "Beauty. Brains. Bonkers." (SoMA: Society of Mutual Autopsy, Aug.2,2007), and a July 28,2007 post on BLDBLOG that described Duncan as
a "paranoid schizophrenic who went out of her way to be very insulting to a lot of people. Her suicide just seems like one final selfish gesture, especially since her being "at peace" with the decision did not diminish the huge impact this act had on the lives of her loved ones."

Likewise, ardent and grieving defender Mike Payne wrote in DreamsEnd on August 10, and a similar entry on August 4 on the Laist blog, "She was righteously capable of lording over one. The namesake of her blog-didn’t really apply to her-of course she would think of things to say later-no she’d probably be asleep-because she would have already blown everyone away with her quick tongue. She cracked me up so fast I can’t remember what she said-she was that quick."

Charles Valentine dreams of leaving Antler. She lays in the grass with her friend Sarah Barnicle and imagines how the clouds resemble famous people, like those she read of in New York or London, who may have been real, or, as Barnicle recalls, "made up." If this was just a movie and not, also, a person's life, we'd call this foreshadowing, considering accusations both pre-and most belligerent post-mortem, that Duncan's relationship with objective truth was, at best, a creative one.

Charles Valentine achieves a level of pop icon status that Theresa Duncan didn't. Artist Jeremy Blake, her partner of a dozen years, is commemorated now in museums. He's regarded--at this early juncture--as a pioneer in new media art. As artist friends discussed over the Thanksgiving table yesterday, we won't know in our life time what art is in fact the Great Work of our time. We are too close to have the understanding perspective affords.

For a recent musing on the joining of the two, and a semi-hemi-demi recap of the late and unfortunate events, see the appropriate named Memoirs on A Rainy Day.

"They were like two weird people from a circus or something," says Loren Valentine, Charles' brother about his sister's first boy friend Lyle Borkan. Together, they start a music club in a bathroom stall of Antler, Ohio's only night club where Lyle whispers the lyrics of his songs into the ears of adoring girls while Charles strums her guitar. "I sold your love for $1.50," is such a line. Lyle's unfaithfulness--it is implied--and the crushing lack of imagination in Antler leads Charles to seek a way out--by hitching.

She juts out her thumb by the gas station with a sign around her neck proclaiming, "Wherever" and arrives in New York City via a family from St. Louis. She sees the skyline for the first time and in her minds's eye--and an image made jarring by intervening events-- the World Trade Center towers turn into surreal fingers adorned by fire engine red nails.

At the conclusion of this animated female bildungsroman, Charles has rejected the trappings of fame and is living in a shack in Antler, smoking, drinking, and trying to write the demons out of her while her janitor brother (who resembles a hick version of Jeremy Blake) dozes on the front porch.

Charles Valentine made a transition from glamour girl to grammar girl, as Duncan has her say. Charles' creator has in a way achieved these two titles--but she extinguished herself in the process, and the grief of her loss caused Jeremy Blake to walk into the surf off the Far Rockaway beach.

Theresa Duncan, Wit of the Staircase, July 8, 2005.

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At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles lays on the grass and stares at the clouds, just like the little girls in Chop Suey do.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Thanks for dropping into this corner of the Interwebs. The image of Charles and Sarah, their hair spread across the grass, is quite sensual and beautiful. With their heads so close together, their hair spraying across, they seem like the two faces of one psyche.

Karen Kilimnik's drawing is quite effective in that moment; if I'm not mistaken, there may be a similar scene in "The Virgin Suicides" that also came out that year.


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