Wednesday, December 18, 2019

New Projects

There is nothing simple about T.S. Eliot.  At least, that's the simple conclusion to be drawn from the existence of thousands of books, essays and dissertations about the Nobel Prize-winning poet.  Collectively, this body of critical work has created a popular conception of Eliot as an impossibly complex writer and a man of many contradictory masks.  Critics have presented him as an avant-garde poet and a conservative critic, a modernist and a traditionalist, a Romantic and a Classicist, a philosopher and a moralist, an American and a European, a proto-fascist and a pseudo-mystic, a bigot and a sage.  Each of these masks can be peeled away, but then what are we left with?  Who was T.S. Eliot and what did he really stand for?

“The next time I teach Eliot to undergrads I will assign this swift, witty, enjoyable invitation to T. S. Eliot’s work and thought. Maddrey knows everything about Eliot, but he grinds no axe which frees professors and students to grind their own. Scrupulously footnoted for professional use, not short but concise, it is stuffed with unfamiliar and apt quotations. Maddrey quotes a 1949 interview about The Cocktail Party, in which Eliot said, 'If there is nothing more in the play than what I was aware of meaning, then it must be a pretty thin piece of work.' There’s the New Criticism in 25 words, 21 of them monosyllables. Eliot asks us to quit asking what he thought and to do some thinking ourselves. This book will help.”
—George J. Leonard, Author of Into the Light of Things and The End of Innocence. Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities, San Francisco State University

“Joseph Maddrey provides an illuminating spiritual biography of T.S. Eliot that treats his writings as markers of Eliot’s lifelong spiritual drama and development while avoiding reducing his poetry to biography because he treats the texts as products of creation that all can contemplate. Maddrey admiringly captures the creativity of both Eliot’s character and his poetry. The two are elusive not only because Eliot’s poetry employs a vast and encyclopedic storehouse of poetic images ('3,000 years of word made flesh'), but also because his poetry strives to move 'beyond poetry,' at the apophatic 'ever-present frontier of consciousness—where words fail, though meanings persist.' Maddrey introduces Eliot to a new generation of readers, and guides wanderers anew at the 'point of intersection with the timeless / With time.'”
—John von Heyking, Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

“T. S. Eliot considered that 'a worthwhile biography should show the development of an artist and give readers a proper sense of how each work of art fits within the whole.' In Simply Eliot Joseph Maddrey has fulfilled the directive, brilliantly compressing a gargantuan amount of previous Eliot studies and providing a fresh dynamic manual for understanding this storied literary icon.”
—Quinton Hallett, Poet, and Author of Mrs. Schrödinger’s Breast 

Simply Eliot is an accessible, artfully-written book that positions a well-known literary figure in a seemingly new landscape. One of the book’s greatest strengths is its extensive engagement with archival sources. Maddrey draws on those sources to give weight and depth to his narrative, which weaves interpretations—close-readings, even—of Eliot’s poetry into the broad strokes of his biography and intellectual genealogy. The approach is neither reductive nor esoteric, and Maddrey’s way with language draws the reader—one suddenly realizes one is reading and enjoying literary criticism. For this reason, the book will appeal not just to an audience of academics or students, but to intelligent, cultured people of all kinds.”
—Dr. Siân White, Associate Professor of English, James Madison University

“Joseph Maddrey's Simply Eliot is an elegant addition to the Great Lives series, providing an authoritative introduction to T.S. Eliot's work and influences. Accessible and yet well researched, Maddrey's biography gives readers a deeper understanding and appreciation for Eliot's life and his development as an artist by tracing the personal and critical influences of the individual poems and plays written throughout the writer's long career. Maddrey focusses on the individual works themselves to demonstrate how each fits into the whole and represents Eliot's journey as a spiritual seeker and artist. Maddrey's book will make a great introduction to all who are interested in Eliot as well as to everyone and anyone who wants to learn more. Simply Eliot is simply what all biographies should be.”
—Carol Scarvalone Kushner, Professor of English & Humanities at Dutchess Community College

“Joseph Maddrey’s brief vita of Eliot is a tale of a search for identities both human and divine. Maddrey is right to say that 'Eliot’s total commitment to the church transformed his poetry.' Was that church, though, the Church of England, with its distinctive patrimony of the King James Bible, and Lancelot Andrewes, and George Herbert, and their like, or the Anglican faith as a world religion which Eliot experienced first in the USA during his flight from Unitarianism? Maddrey’s analysis of Eliot as an American High-Church Anglican living in Britain insightfully explores the relationship between religious and cultural identities, and helpfully places Eliot, nationally and religiously respectively, as 'stranger and pilgrim.'”
—The Reverend Graeme Napier MA MPhil (Oxon), Rector, St. John’s in the Village, Greenwich Village, New York

“This relatively brief account of the life of T.S. Eliot admirably enlarges one’s appreciation of his poetry and other writings by situating them within their historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Not of least value is the final section entitled ‘Suggested Reading’, which is actually a summary of the responses of critical scholarship to Eliot’s work rather a mere list of books.”
—The Reverend Dr. Paul Bradshaw, Professor Emeritus of Liturgical Studies, University of Notre Dame

“I had to stop my daily life, almost, to read Simply Eliot;  for me, it is compelling, refreshing, and genuinely exciting to read a biography that speaks to Virginia Woolf’s “common reader.” Cats saved Eliot for millions of people, but it did not make people want to read Eliot’s challenging poetry. I think Maddrey’s book will.”
—Charles W. Spurgeon, Professor Emeritus at Marymount University and Author of The Poetry of Westminster Abbey and J. Henry Shorthouse, The Author of John Inglesant (with Reference to T.S. Eliot and C.G. Jung)


The makers of Brainstorm (1983) spent more than a decade transferring the revolutionary concept of an “empathy machine” from page to screen, only for the famously troubled production to be met with critical and commercial indifference on release. But since 1984 the film has continued to inspire viewers to imagine possibilities for the future. As a result, Brainstorm now seems less like a fixed piece of film history than an idea in evolution. The screen story embodies the ambitions of sci-fi cinema going back to the 1950s, as well as the turbulent culture of the western world in the 1960s and 1970s. It also foreshadows technological breakthroughs around the turn of the twenty-first century, making the film startlingly relevant to our digitally-enhanced information age. To fully appreciate the film’s “ultimate experience,” it helps to understand exactly how the film evolved. This book aims to provide context for such an understanding, beginning with a brief history of science fiction cinema and setting up a careful consideration of multiple drafts of the Brainstorm screenplay by three different screenwriters: Bruce Joel Rubin, Philip F. Messina, and Robert Stitzel. It will also briefly examine the production history of the film (including the tragic death of star Natalie Wood), the career of the director and special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull, the particulars of the completed film, and the film’s influence on future storytellers like James Cameron.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

PACIFIC NORTHWEST #4: A Trip to Twin Peaks

I have never been shy about expressing my love for David Lynch’s TV series TWIN PEAKS.  I did it here.  Here.  And here.

Somehow, this series manages to balance the uncanny darkness of a feverish nightmare with the transcendent lightness of a mystical experience.  The series isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee, but I recently re-watched Season Three and I remain spellbound by Lynch’s unique method of storytelling.  There is an undeniable mystique about his fictional universe—and much of it is rooted in the Pacific Northwest, where the filmmaker grew up among shadows and tall trees.

I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time this past week, and was overwhelmed by the lushness of spring.  Maybe it’s because I have been living in a desert for 12 years, but I just couldn’t get over all the moss.  It seemed to me that if I stood in any one place for very long, I would end up looking like Jordy Verrill.  (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist one more Stephen King reference.  Somehow, his stories seem to belong here too.)  

We started our TWIN PEAKS tour near the town of Edgewick, in the shadow of two small mountain peaks, at the Twin Falls Trail.  I don’t think these specific places inspired the series, but it’s hard to know for sure.  So many places along the Snoqualmie River (especially businesses) share names from the series that it’s hard to know which came first; hard to tell where reality ends and fiction begins.  This area was used as the backdrop for a gateway between worlds in Season Three.

The "twin peaks" above Edgewick.  Note the name of the gas station on the right.
Twin Falls trailhead in Olallie State Park
"Nursery tree" or Day of the Triffids?
Does this image make you nervous?
Or this one?
Welcome to David Lynch's world of shadows and tall trees
Twin Falls overlook on the Snoqualmie River
We followed the Snoqualmie River east to the town of North Bend and one of the most iconic locations in TWIN PEAKS: the Double R Diner.   The real diner, called Twede’s Café, is actually pretty unassuming.  At least, it was on the lazy Tuesday afternoon when we stopped by for some damn fine coffee and cherry pie.   The interior is thoroughly decorated with behind-the-scenes photos and news clippings related to the series.  And, yes, the cherry pie is amazing.

We drove north and continued east on Reinig Road, beside the river and beneath the looming monolith called Mount Si.  This is where the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign stood in the opening credits of the original series.  More recently, a replica of the sign was placed in the same spot—but quickly stolen by vandals.  So you’ll have to use your imagination. 

Just a few hundred steps to the east is a fork in the road where we found three more sites associated with the show.  In the original series, this intersection was known as Sparkwood and 21.  To the north on 396th Drive is the old Twin Peaks Sheriff Department, now the DirtFish rally school.  The building and the lobby still look pretty much the same, but I was stunned to see what was out the front door.  It had never occurred to me that, throughout three seasons of TWIN PEAKS, we never see a turnaround shot.  Apparently, at one time, the Packard Sawmill sat right next to the Sheriff Department.  Today, there’s not much left of the old mill. 
The former Twin Peaks Sheriff Department
The turnaround view
The remains of the Packard Sawmill
Back on Reinig Road, just past the turnoff for 396th, we encountered a small railroad bridge that has been converted into a footpath.  It leads down into the town of Snoqualmie, which is the closest thing you’ll find to an actual town of Twin Peaks.  This is where the kids went to high school in the first two seasons, at Mt. Si High School (currently under construction and unrecognizable from the show).   

Fans will recognize Reinig Bridge as the spot where the traumatized Ronette Pulaski is seen wandering back toward town.  Despite the fictional air of torture and tragedy, it’s a beautiful location and a great place to observe the swirling, hypnotic eddies of the Snoqualmie River as seen in the opening of the original series.

Sparkwood and 21

Just a bit further east on Reinig Road is another significant intersection.  To the left is a one-way bridge leading down into Snoqualmie.  To the right, the road meanders along the banks of the river toward Snoqualmie Falls—and the location of the iconic “Great Northern Hotel,” a.k.a. Salish Lodge and Spa.  The view from the upper observation deck beside the hotel looks even more impressive in real life than it does in the series, especially at this time of year when there’s so much water rushing over the falls. 

The view from the lower observation area was also featured in TWIN PEAKS.  I had to make the hike down there because I read that there’s a hidden cave at the base of the falls, and also that “strange things” have appeared in photos taken down there.  I took more than my fair share of photos, but didn’t see anything strange.  Still, it’s a beautiful spot—and the juxtaposition of this majestic natural beauty with the imposing machinery of a nearby hydroelectric plant is certainly worthy of David Lynch.
Snoqualmie Falls is a pretty tough act to follow, but we rounded out our trip with a meal at The Roadhouse in nearby Falls City.  This was a good reminder that things are not what they seem in TWIN PEAKS.  The filmmakers only used the exterior of The Roadhouse in the show.  Interiors of the biker bar, also known as the Bang-Bang Bar, were shot in the Raisbeck Performance Hall at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.  (Apparently, this was one of several interior scenes there were shot close to the city.  The inside of The Great Northern Hotel is actually the Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo, and Laura Palmer’s body was found on the beach near that hotel.  The Palmer house is in nearby Everett, Washington.)

One last twist: According to the menu at The Roadhouse, the exterior of The Bookhouse (meeting place of the TWIN PEAKS secret society) was shot right out back, in a currently-abandoned—and, naturally, moss-covered—shack.  The interiors, however, were shot at The Old Place in Cornell, California.

During our time in Snoqualmie, we happened upon a place that might have been an inspiration for The Bookhouse—a historic meeting hall known as “The Woodman Lodge,” which sits right behind the Northern Pacific Depot in downtown Snoqualmie.  I shudder to think that David Lynch’s Woodsman is hiding in there. 

PS - For a more expansive virtual tour of Twin Peaks, check out this website.   Or, let this Snoqualmie local be your guide.  The Salish Lodge and Spa gift shop also provides a free map of the main locations.  And if you reeeeeally want to make an event out of it, there's an annual Twin Peaks Festival in North Bend and Snoqualmie.  This year, it takes place over the weekend of July 12 - 14.